Video games are magic. I’m exaggerating obviously, but the technology that goes into games is often mind-boggling. Despite the wonders of tech intersecting with creative media, it’s easy enough to go back through gaming history and trace how we got from point A to point B.
The fun part about that is how much irony is seeped into those developments. So many times, you can see examples throughout gaming history of an idea landing a bit too early. When we look back, we think of these examples as “ahead of their time,” and when you go back to today, that line of thinking makes a ton of sense. Here are a few classic examples of cool gaming tech that failed, but established a path to today.
Sega has a long and brutal history of trying a wild new idea way too early for it to work, failing, then seeing some other company do the same thing better years later. That’s the unfortunate risk in trying new things, and Sega just happened to have awful luck. One such arena is VR, which is a pretty extreme example.
VR is just barely getting off the ground in a way that works for video games, and here was Sega trying to make it happen in the early 90s. It was an oddly similar setup, with a clunky headset feeding information directly into your eyeballs… just with technology far too primitive. The device barely made it to arcades, then was canceled before the planned console version came to fruition.
Now we have several competing VR rigs out there, and the technology is only getting better with each iteration. Shout out to Sega for being so bold.
This one’s a bit of a reach, but hear me out. I think that the Virtual Boy, despite being an infamous failure, is an important step in the ladder for the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo’s history is rife with experimentation, but it generally follows a canonical sort of logic. The Virtual Boy was an evolution of the Game Boy, sharing a lot of development DNA and even ideas. It was a cheaper device, meant to be portable in a sense, featuring innovative display technology. We would see all of these concepts continue through the Nintendo line of portables, including similar (but much more refined) technology feeding the 3DS’ glasses-free 3D. The Switch is a sort of culmination of everything, reuniting Nintendo’s separated development houses and merging the portable innovation and family-friendly console ideas into one behemoth of a platform.
I remember seeing advertisements for OnLive. The idea of being able to play games on your computer without beefy hardware was incredible. It was an idea so disruptive, it sounded too good to be true! But, well, that was exactly the case. OnLive was neat, but not functional enough by any measure to achieve its own goals. But the idea stuck, and large companies like Sony pushed onwards in the hopes of eradicating retail. Now we have a ton of similar services, all of which are significantly more functional than OnLive. There’s even Stadia, which emerged as new competition for outfits like Sony, so that plan sure didn’t backfire or anything!
If the Virtual Boy was a part of the Nintendo Switch’s evolutionary ladder, the Sega Nomad was a mutation that maybe could have gotten to that point sooner. Unfortunately, it had weak lungs, and died of exposure before it could reproduce. But man, what a concept.
This was a device, a handheld device, that played Sega Genesis games. You had the Game Gear, which was effectively a bad Game Boy with a battery-devouring color screen, and then you had the Nomad. The Nomad was just as hungry for batteries, but it did a much better job justifying that cost. This was real power, not cool power that didn’t really do anything special. You know what? Scratch the Switch comparison. The Sega Nomad is more comparable to the PlayStation Vita, it seems.
Even back in the 90s, people were comparing video game consoles and PCs. Sure, shooters hadn’t moved beyond DOOM’s linear plane of aiming yet, but PCs still had functions consoles could not replicate. But you can never count Nintendo out when it comes to opportunities to try something stupid.
In this case, the idea was a mouse attachment for the Super Nintendo with a plastic “mousepad.” Now, Mario Paint is a great nostalgia piece and I love Mario and Wario for some reason, but neither game exactly changed the world. Heck, one of them wasn’t even localized. But what the SNES mouse did show was a willingness to play with unique modes of input and output from controller-oriented platforms.
It didn’t work beyond some cute novelties, but think about it. Not only are there straight-up mouse and keyboard solutions for consoles today, but Nintendo has constantly found new ways to control gaming and make them work.