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Virtual Reality: The Next Step?

In the current home console war between the Xbox, GameCube, and Playstation 2, none of the systems appear to have a clear lead. The Playstation 2 has outsold its competition, it was released a year earlier. The Xbox possesses the most power, but it still struggles to sell in Japan, where the GameCube and PS2 already have a large market. After the release of these three systems, especially the Xbox, I got to thinking-�home consoles can't get much better than this.

Specifically I am speaking of the Xbox. It has an insanely powerful CPU, broadband capability, a hard drive, and a boatload of other awesome features. Anyway, the point is how much better can home consoles get? The answer is: they can't get much better. Graphics can only improve very little from here on out, and same with sound. The only features that can really be improved greatly on any console are speed and networking.

With that said, I think the "big two," or now, the "big three," really need to begin working on an affordable home virtual reality system. Virtual reality is already a possibility, but some problems that arise from this are cost and space. At this point in time to have any decent virtual reality system it would most likely cost in the $400-$700 range and it would either occupy a heck of a large space or it would be bulky as hell. I have envisioned an affordable virtual reality system that would easily sell millions within a week.

First of all the virtual reality system would have to be an actual console like the GameCube, but even smaller. That way you'll be able to take it to a friend's house with no problem. Software would be in the form of a mini-disc, similar to the GameCube's. The system would cost about $150 and each game would be $40-50. There would be no controller ports and no memory card slots � just a 2.5GB hard drive, which is the equivalent of about 312 PS2 memory cards. There would need to be a link cable to connect consoles together so you can transfer data to a friend's console, and a USB port is also needed for PC hook-up.

The controller would simply be a body suit available in four sizes � small (for children ages 3-7), medium (ages 8-12), large (ages 13-17), and extra large (for larger people). Each suit would cost approximately $50 (depending on size), and they would be adjustable in the waist, chest, arms, neck, and legs. The suit would include hundreds of sensors, so no buttons would be needed, except for maybe a start button and an extra button or two on the forearm. A helmet (of two standard sizes) would be sold separately, and it would be attached to the suit. The helmet, which would include a microphone, an earpiece for each ear, and a television screen, would cost about as much as the suit. There would also be a start button and some extra buttons on the helmet. Six people would be able to play on one system at a time. There would be no television required, since the helmet already has one, so the system could be played just about anywhere where there's an outlet.

I also have to mention the suits and helmets would be completely wireless, simply so the player has complete freedom. They would be resistant to damage and made of lightweight plastic. Another requirement is a �moving pad�, a treadmill-like pad to move on, which would only cost $15-20. This way the player can walk around in the game without taking up a lot of space. This pad would not be required for players with large rooms, but most people would need one.

Since the suits and helmets have sensors, the game would rely 99% on player movements. To pick up a sword, for example, in a game, the player would just reach out and grab it. Then he could swing the sword in any direction and the player on-screen would respond immediately using the same movements. With a gun, the player would simply move his index finger to pull the trigger. The on-suit and on-helmet buttons could be used to aim or reload. When you move your legs, the player on the screen moves his legs, and so on. With the networking feature players can play with people across the world by connecting to the network.

The virtual reality system does have its limitations, however. Obviously it would not work for sports games. The player would be required to run and it simply wouldn't work. The system would also cost about $350 with all of the pieces; that's another drawback. However, the system would work for a majority of games and it would still be worth buying.

The production of this system would require a joint effort between the major technology companies of today, including Sony, Microsoft, Intel, and many others. There could be money issues, but if they split everything evenly, it would work out. The virtual reality console would be a universal system, much like the PC, so everyone would have one system. At the same time another home console, much like the ones we have now, would have to be on store shelves so sports games don't die out. In addition there will always be those people who will stay with home consoles for many reasons including nostalgia and money. But that system would be universal too, and it would be compatible with the virtual reality system.

In conclusion, my wild vision will most likely never come true. I believe it can come true because we do have the technology to make a body suit and helmet like I envisioned, but companies will never want to put the time and money into making it that versatile. They also would never exist cooperatively, and they would purposely make the system $400-500 to make huge profits. As a result of these dilemmas the types of consoles we have now will always be existent, but there needs to be a revolution. A gaming revolution into virtual reality, dang it.

By Nate Weaver - 05/05/02

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