Nintendo And Sony Didn't Invent 3D Gaming, You Know

With the PS3 able to play games in 3D and Nintendo about to launch a 3D handheld, it's easy to get carried away with the "latest big thing" in gaming. And forget we had 3D games the 1980s.

Yes, long before Sony added 3D capabilities to the PS3 and Nintendo unveiled the 3DS, several companies made pioneering efforts in the field of 3D gaming. And while nearly all of them proved to be failures, the lessons learned from their departure and the technology they employed nevertheless played their part in paving the way towards a future that - whether we like it or not - seems destined to involve 3D technology, at least for the foreseeable future.

In 1982, a company called Smith Engineering developed a strange little video game console called the Vectrex. Unlike other machines, which plugged into an existing monitor or TV set, the Vectrex was an all-in-one solution, consisting of a console that had its own screen built into the front of it.

While it was an incredibly advanced piece of technology, the Vectrex had the poor luck of being released just prior to the great North American video game market crash of 1983, and thus never found much commercial success (though it is still treasured by collectors and game historians to this day).

Nintendo And Sony Didn't Invent 3D Gaming, You Know

In its death throes, though, it did see the Vectrex 3D Imager (pictured above), which is the world's first ever piece of 3D gaming technology. It used a spinning disc, one half black and the other not, which when placed in a pair of goggles put in front of your face gave the illusion that the console's vector graphics were three dimensional.

In all, only three games were ever released for the 3D Imager.

Four years later, console and arcade gaming powerhouse Sega unleashed the SegaScope 3D, a 3D glasses system for its existing 8-bit Master System console (which unlike the Vectrex was connected to regular TV sets.

If the Vectrex's 3D technology was pioneering, the SegaScope's was visionary, employing the same basic techniques that you'll see used in a 3D movie playing in a cinema today. They worked using a pair of "shutter" glasses, which would rapidly black out one lens at a time in tandem with a flickering image on the user's TV set.

For the time, the effect was impressive, however due to the complexity involved in making games compatible with the SegaScope system, titles had to be specifically coded to take advantage of the 3D effects. As a result, only eight games were ever released for the SegaScope, though many were classics, including 3D versions of Sega hits like Out Run and Space Harrier. Most of these games were also, in a nice touch, also coded to play in 2D.

While the SegaScope never found much commercial success either - blame the peripheral's $50 price, the lack of games and the fact it was not compatible with the Master System II, Sega's updated version of the console - the advanced nature of its technology showed that 3D gaming on a home console wasn't just possible, it was in many ways a step up from "regular" gaming.

While all this was going on, Nintendo gamers were not entirely left out in the cold.

Square, the developers of the Final Fantasy series, released three games for the Nintendo Entertainment System that, thanks to dedicated programming, were able to make use of "anaglyph" 3D, which is the simple kind that uses the red and blue glasses so synonymous with 3D viewing.

Nintendo And Sony Didn't Invent 3D Gaming, You Know

Japanese gamers were even "luckier", with the Famicom 3D System working much like Sega's glasses. Sadly, this getup was largely ignored in its native Japan (Nintendo surely blaming the glasses!), and was never released elsewhere.

Then, in the early 1990s, Sega would return to 3D gaming with its "holographic" arcade cabinets (which really just used mirrors to create the illusion of 3D), for which only two games were ever released, fighting game Holosseum (above) and FMV disaster Time Traveler. Both were awful, which may be why most of you have never heard of them or the cabinets before.

In 1994, of course, Nintendo would and release the doomed (and famous) Virtual Boy, a 3D "handheld" that was about as portable as it was easy on the player's eyes. It, ironically, can be deemed a failure, its lack of games, lack of sales and lack of and real technological contribution to the industry meaning its only use was in showing Nintendo what not to do when planning the 3DS.

So the next time Sony or Nintendo try and sell you 3D gaming as the 21st century's next big thing, remember: it was once the 20th century's next big thing, too.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.