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Homebrew Virtual Reality using REND386/VR386

In the early 1990s I - like many others - built a homebrew Virtual Reality system using an off the shelf PC, Nintendo PowerGlove, Sega Shutter Glasses and REND386 software. Over 20 years later I thought I'd have a go at building a similar system again.

I still had my PowerGlove and got a pair of shutter glasses from eBay. A suitably old PC was a fairly easy find too, and REND386 - and it's successor VR386 - was still available on the Internet. Putting it all back has so far taken a few weekends of configuring and hacking.

I used old books and websites to get the information I needed to build the system. I've put links to everything I used on this page. If you want to use the PowerGlove and Sega Shutter Glasses then you will need to do what I have done - find an old PC, install MS-DOS on it and build some hardware - however you can run REND386 on a modern computer using DOSBox. It won't be fast, but it works.

REND386 was developed by Bernie Roehl and Dave Stampe in 1991 and went through a number of improvements over the years. I am using the VR386 version of the software from around 1994 since it seems to the be most complete and easy to use. All the software included on this page was developed by by Bernie Roehl and Dave Stampe and other talented people in the 1990s. If you need a credit or a link please let me know.

23/3/14 - This page is still under construction. The final piece of the system to be documented is the Sega 3D Glasses interface.

14/6/17 - The complete system will be on show at the Cyberculture exhibition in Leicester. REND386 World for Google Cardboard will also be released at the event.

Videos

Hardware

Pentium II PC running MS-DOS 6.2.2. This is a fair bit faster than my original PC, but it has all of the right ports needed to support the various parts of the system. MS-DOS can be found on the web as a free (non-official) download.

Sega 3D Glasses. These simple LCD shutter glasses were made for the Sega Master System in the late-1980s/early-1990s. The the left/right switching of the LCD panels in the glasses synchronises with the left/right switching of the image on a TV to enable you to see 3D image. The glasses still come up on eBay today and you can expect to pay anything from £20 to £100 for them. Sega compatible glasses are also available, these tend to be cheaper as they are not so sought after by collectors. The 3D glasses are connected to the PC via a home-made serial interface.

Nintendo PowerGlove. The PowerGlove was produced for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the late-1980s/early-1990s and was strongly influenced by the much the more expensive VPL DataGlove. Bend sensors in the fingers plus an ultrasonic positioning system allow the PowerGlove to be used as a whole-hand game controller. They can still be found on eBay costing up to £100. I still had my original glove. The PowerGlove is connected to the PC via a very simple home-made parallel port interface.

Software

VR386 was the final rewrite of the earlier REND386 Virtual Reality software system. It allows 3D objects to be defined in files and grouped in to 'worlds' that are rendered in real-time by the VR386 engine. Simple by modern standards, it has a great 1990s aesthetic and comes with quite a large selection of demo objects and worlds to explore. Other worlds, such as the DZZYLAND Virtual Amusement Park can be downloaded and imported in to your system, or you can design your own.

Books

1993. Virtual Reality Creations. Dave Stampe and Bernie Roehl (with disk).
1994. Playing God. Bernie Roehl (with disk).
1994. The Virtual Reality Construction Kit. Joe Gradecki (with disk).
1996. The Virtual Reality Homebrewer's Handbook. Robin Hollands (with disk).

Links