Facing the Don:
The Demise of Innovation.
-By Don Komarechka-
-Presented by DMG
-Food for thoughts-
-Presented 04/06/2005-

Many people remember Nintendo as a company with huge successes in the videogame industry, mostly by delivering outstanding first-party games with innovative game play. What happens when Nintendo tries to get innovative on the hardware side of things is a different story. In August 1995, Nintendo released their Virtual Boy, designed by the famous Gunpei Yokoi (developed the game&watch as well as the gameboy) and brought about the idea of depth perception using two slightly different images of the game each sent to a different eye. Boasting eye-popping (not in a good way) red and black graphics, the system failed to sell and was dropped soon after, making it one of Nintendo’s only huge blunders.

Innovation is something risky, especially when the public easily and quickly develops their own ideas of what is a success and what is a failure. The Virtual Boy was obviously deemed a failure, but why? Two years of development should have some impressive outcome and catch the attention of all gamers in some form or another. First, lets take a look at what first impressions are based on.

In the video game industry, most first impressions are based on the graphics the system is capable of. To begin with the Virtual Boy was only capable of 4 shades of red with 32 intensity levels, which made for a smooth monochrome screen. Seeing this system in action first hand would give you the depth perception that the graphics were able to offer with one RTI light-emitting LED for each eye, but to see pictures, ads, or commercials would make it look flat, ugly, and give you no reason to run out and buy it.

Another drawback that caused the little innovator grief was the lack of any substantial game development. Only around 20 games in total were released in both the United States and Japan, with the system not even making a European release. Though some very interesting titles such as Dragon Hopper and Faceball 2000 were scheduled to make an appearance and use the unique visual style of the Virtual Boy in more creative ways than the existing games, but never saw public release. Only three known prototypes of Faceball 2000 exist for the VB, but you can find an unreleased retail version of Dragon Hopper if you are insanely lucky. Sadly, this was the fate of all of the second generation of titles for the system, which were never released because Nintendo pulled the plug on the project.

In order to fully understand why such a system failed you also have to look at why others succeeded. The Nintendo 64 enjoyed massive success with only a few games, most notably GoldenEye 64. People would gather in huge numbers in college dorms across the country to play games like this and tournaments were a frequent thing. Playing the Virtual Boy, however, invited no one but yourself to even see what was going on. Although multiplayer was planned, it never made it out of development. So the Virtual Boy became a solitary system with slight hopes for something more, but even those were crushed.
Among other shortcomings were the inherent warnings that the visuals might damage the eyes of children age seven or younger, which was a concern to parents buying gifts for their kids, which is a continually growing sales demographic in the video game industry. Even though the unit had no other competition in its market, it seems it just didn’t have a market at all.

A decade after the release of the Virtual Boy, Nintendo is back at the innovation tables with its Nintendo DS. This bizarre handheld wields two screens, though this time not to create depth perception, but to allow for fluid control via the bottom touch-screen and easy viewing of menus and maps. The technology can give the game developers much more creative freedom than what its games currently display, but the same could be said for the Virtual Boy 10 years earlier.

A system branching into a totally different direction, coupled with a less than stellar launch title list seems to be history repeating itself, but the DS has much more going for it. Wireless multiplayer, possibility for internet game play, and voice communication are all areas which will see improvements as the handheld matures. Seeing as Nintendo will not be pulling the plug on this project any time soon, hopefully we’ll get to see exactly where creativity and innovation stand, if there is still room for it in today’s market. Or maybe we’ll just see more of the same rectangle screen with fancy graphics for years to come

-Editorial by Don Komarechka-
-Sources: Nintendo
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