Do it yourself virtual reality

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, December 1994

"The Virtual Reality Construction Kit"
by Joe Gradecki
1994, 339 pages
John Wiley & Sons
ISBN# 0-471-00953-9
According to a short item in the November COMPUTER PLAYER "more
R&D is needed" before virtual reality can become a real-life

Virtual Reality, "VR" to its boosters, would combine realistic,
3D graphics, with more natural input devices than keyboard
and mice, to use computers to better simulate the real world.
It's been said to have uses ranging from games to military
training, and in fact, early experiments were funded by a
strange combination of video game manufacturers and the US
Air Force.

Still, aside from a few primitive games and an exhibit during
the 1993 Pacific National Exhibition, VR has made little
impact on how real people use real personal computers.

One place there was some attempts to bring VR into the home,
however, came about in 1990 with Mattel's Power Glove-- an
add-on to the Nintendo game system.

Although discontinued within a year or two, a million or so
were sold, and they can still be sometimes found in stores...
marked way down from the original $100 (US) list.

Add a bunch of cheap Power Gloves to the large number of
computer hackers (in the original positive sense of people
who are always experimenting to push computers to their
limits), and you get a VR underground... swapping tales of
how to create a do-it-yourself VR personal computer.

Joe Gradecki, publisher of PCVR Magazine, a publication
devoted to VR on your PC, has assembled a collection of tips
and experiments for the home handy-person. "The Virtual
Reality Construction Kit", a soldering iron, a marked-down
Power Glove, and a willingness to experiment are all you need
to build yourself a VR system. (A little bit of C-language
programming background will also help).

The book takes you through a range of projects... starting
with hooking a Power Glove to your serial port, and moving on
to 3-D mice, head mounted displays, 3-D sound, and voice

Using these projects, and some of the included software, you
can end up walking through a virtual park, or playing a 3-D
combat game over a modem with another VR hobbyist.

Even then, you still end up with somewhat limited graphics.
As MIT's Dr. Nathaniel Durlack says (in the November Computer
Player piece), "With the limited technology that is currently
available, there is a tradeoff between realistic images and
real-time interactivity".

VR may still be an important technology-- it's time just hasn'
t quite come. With ever more powerful CPUs, and larger and
faster mass-storage, many of the barriers that are currently
in its way will soon be tumbling down.

In the meantime, if you want to get a taste of VR right now,
and you're not afraid of getting your hands dirty, "The
Virtual Reality Construction Kit" can point you in the right

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review. A decade or so later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan