Reality Fusion GameCam from 1999 - LGR Oddware
[oddly laid-back jazz music] [computer buzzes, beeps] Greetings and welcome to LGR Oddware, where we're taking a look at hardware and software that is odd, forgotten, and obsolete. And this time around we've got the GameCam by Reality Fusion. Yeah this is one of those motion, gesture-controlled camera gaming devices, from 1999! Years before anything like the PlayStation 2 EyeToy, or the Kinect, or any of these other motion-controlled things we've had over the years. It's got some, uh, well
it's got some fascinating stuff that it can do. Let's take a look at it! Alrighty, so! I hope you’re ready to play INSIDE the game with the Reality Fusion GameCam, produced in partnership with Logitech. Basketball! Karate! Be... There! Ah yes, 6 action-packed games available for your Windows PC in the fall of 1999. And selling for a suggested price of $129.99, as seen in this newspaper ad for Amazon.com. Hehe. So yeah, the GameCam is impressive for its day, but at its core it’s some special software bundled with a normal Logitech QuickCam Home, which itself cost $100 back then. PC cameras, or webcams, were still exciting and relatively uncommon in the late 90s, with global shipments hitting 606K units in 1997. But the GameCam was next-level stuff, taking a no-frills webcam and turning
it into a gesture-controlled gaming system. Which it accomplished though software, examining the difference between consecutive video frames to detect player motion, and using color and contrast data to remove background visuals on-the-fly. And despite its claim of being “the ONLY computer game that puts you inside the PC,” it did have a competitor in the Intel Me2Cam, also unveiled in 1999. Which, may actually have been based on the same tech from Reality Fusion? I’m not 100% sure, but there were articles then saying they partnered with both Intel and Logitech so it seems plausible. Anyway, the GameCam generated all kinds of
excitement in the press, from mainstream media journalists and enthusiast tech sources alike. As demonstrated in this episode of Computer Chronicles on October 12, 1999. -But one company has just introduced one of the more revolutionary approaches to interacting with a game. It's the reality Fusion GameCam. What's the idea behind GameCam?
-You actually control the game with your natural body movements and gestures, so rather than relying on a keyboard or mouse, you just get up and your use your hands or your head or any body part in order to immerse yourself. -And the deal is you have like, this is a Logitech QuickCam that's actually taking your picture and inserting you visually in the game and giving you control of the game. -That's correct it is capturing your live video image and projecting that. -This is where seeing is believing, we've
got to actually do this, not talk about it. Show us. -I’ll do a far better job of demonstrating it... -And I can hit a rebound. If I was a little bit more skilled I'd make a few baskets. But you are literally immersed in the action, you'll notice that it's just cutting out my image. So it really creates this fantasy world where I could be playing in Madison Square Garden or The Forum. And I just see my image inside of the game.
-Yeah we’re gonna have to try that for ourselves here in a bit, but first, we’ve gotta talk history because the GameCam legacy is far more fascinating than I thought! So originally the technology was known as “FreeAction” while in development in 1998, and that’s what it was known as when it won the people’s choice award at the Demo 98 conference. The fact that it was using such simple hardware to achieve the results it did was a BIG deal, since before this, similar video effects and interactivity required far costlier video hardware, bespoke software, and blue screen backgrounds for chromakey effects and so on. This was not commercially available stuff, we’re talking specialized solutions like the VividGroup Mandala System of the late 80s and into the mid 90s. A version of which was famously used on the television shows Total Panic and Nick Arcade airing on Nickelodeon. Which I not only enjoyed watching back in the day but actually got the chance to try myself! Kind of! In particular I tried the Mandala GestureXtreme System, which was set up for play at a local science center sometime circa 1997. I don’t remember many specifics
of the venue itself, but I vividly remember playing “SHARKBAIT,” a game that completely blew my mind. In my mind it was straight-up like being in Nick Arcade, ahh it was so cool! You stood in front of a blue screen, got chromakeyed out in real time being blasted by these lights in front of you, and moved around trying to collect stars while avoiding electric eels, swordfish, and sharks. You’d “swim” by pointing up, left, and right, or ducking to move down. Yeah it was awesome, and absolutely unobtainable at home, making the Vivid GX
System that ran it one of my top 3 holy grail pieces of computer hardware, doubt I’ll ever find it. But anyway, back to the GameCam! It was created by Mr. Barry Spencer, who founded Reality Fusion Incorporated in Santa Cruz, California in 1997. The 39-year-old was a former Lotus programmer, employee #24, and was actually one of the original programmers for Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet program. After a decade and a half programming for companies like Borland, Corel, and Oracle, he chose to pursue an idea he had for interacting with computers using motion. And so Barry founded Reality Fusion, largely funded by his own savings, with he and four others working out of his garage in California. Classic.
And they had lots of ideas for possible applications, like gesture-controlled kiosks at malls, theme parks, and museums. Entertainment for kids and rehabilitation for those with disabilities. And video conferencing for educational institutions and businesses. Like golly, just imagine students attending a virtual classroom, or workers joining into a meeting remotely through a webcam, with the background able to be changed automatically through software. Yeah. A little
ahead of its time. And it’s no surprise that the first applications to hit store shelves were things like the GameCam, with simple entertainment time-wasters bundled alongside webcams that computer users already wanted for video conferencing and stuff. And while they did eventually sell an estimated 6 million Intel and Logitech cameras bundled with the software in the end, it only lasted a couple of years on store shelves. Folks complained of iffy performance in rooms that were either too bright or too dark, and having to move at a speed not too fast or else it couldn’t keep up. While also being prone to instability and crashing, due to general Windows 98 and Millennium Edition driver wonkiness and early USB woes. However, Barry and Reality Fusion kept the dream alive past that, evolving with
the times and rebranding to Santa Cruz Networks. They went onto develop SeeSaw Commander, a video conferencing app that became TeamView. Unrelated to TeamViewer, SCN TeamView allowed 250 people in a meeting room simultaneously, with up to 6 on-screen at once. In 2002! With some of the folks behind it going onto develop the tech powering the first generation of video conferencing in: Skype. Yeah. From Jumpin’ Jive to Skype in just six years, not bad. And as of 2022, Barry Spencer is with his latest startup, D3Labs, working on, quote: “cool new vision technologies for the Metaverse.” Indeed. Oh and in case you’re wondering,
yes, there is some shared lineage between the GameCam and Sony’s 2003 EyeToy for the PlayStation 2. But from what I can tell, even though both involved Logitech, the PS2 EyeToy only “borrows from” the GameCam in principal, with no direct connection other than using the same underlying techniques for computer vision and gesture-controlled gaming. Alright, enough backstory, let’s see what’s in the box and try the thing out for ourselves! [unboxing noises, jazz intensifies] First up in this sealed package is an assortment of the expected paperwork. With the first item being a brightly-colored paper all about troubleshooting, always a good sign when a product unboxing leads with what could and likely will go wrong. Followed by a 31-page
black and white instruction manual, again with a good chunk dedicated to issues of problem-solving, and the rest going over the basic operation of the camera and gameplay for each individual title it comes with. And finally we’ve got the camera itself and its associated plastic mounting stand. The camera is your standard Logitech of the era, model VCAM-U1. With a built-in microphone, a focus knob, sliding lens cover, and a shutter button up top. And it connects via OG USB, good ol’ full speed 1.1. And the plastic monitor stand is a stand made of plastic for your monitor, with a couple of adhesive circles for attaching it and an adjustable base that slides into the back of the camera. Neat. So let’s go ahead and get that attached to an suitable CRT, and I was happily surprised to see the old adhesive still holds up so that’s what I’m using. And hey look at that! Nothing like an old
color-matching off white webcam to really complete that late 90s aesthetic! Unfortunately, that was the last positive thing I can say about the setup process, cuz um... well, the driver installation went wrong, immediately. [raucous BSOD-induced laugh] -Oh no! What is that?! -Ahh the Windows 9x USB experience, not something that I miss at all. So I restarted the computer and reinstalled everything, which seemed to go off without a hitch this time around! But then whenever I try to start the software, ah...
-”What?!” [chuckle of defeat] After that the system grew so unstable that it wouldn’t even start anymore so I had to reinstall Windows, which thankfully in this case is done as easy as swapping SD cards. And uh, now you see half the reason I have this setup to begin with. And thank goodness, things were perfectly fine now--NOPE! It got through the installation okay but the GameCam program refuses to start no matter what I try. Just deathly screens of blue. Followed
by system instability that stops accepting all inputs, and all that happens now the computer farts at me anytime I move the mouse. [PC speaker farting] -”Yaaaay, webcams.” -So uh, desperate times call for desperate measures. Like Windows Me! [chuckles] Yes I’m serious. Despite the box specifically calling out Windows 98 as a requirement, I recall having decent luck with USB imaging devices on Millennium Edition in the early oughts. Annnnd yep! Despite the setup process locking the system up with a new blue screen,
after a restart... Everything worked out fine! For real this time! Finally we’ve got a working Reality Fusion GameCam setup circa 1999, and I’ll let the intro tutorial take it from here. -”Hit the icons once to select, hit twice to launch. Some screens are submenus that
contain other icons. Games like Shoop contain buttons you hit once to activate. Side to side movements work best. Move chairs and breakable objects away from your computer, especially when two are playing. Slow movements can actually be more accurate than fast ones.” [music fades] Okay, finally got some GameCam stuff set up, ready to go. So let's try this out. So I've got that camera right here, microphone right there, don't know how well it's gonna sound but whatever. It is what it is. I got the computer being captured over there so I'm just going
to switch back in tween -- back and tween? Back and forth between the two as needed, we'll see how this goes. [GameCam startup sound] -Ooh! There's a lot of me in the background there when it's doing the adjustment startup thingy. All right here we go! Yeah, look at me. Uh that is some quality. It has... some quality. I think there's actually-- [gets cut off by computer voice rambling] ...And-- [computer continues talking nonstop] So this lady kind of never stops talking, the computer lady. So let's turn her off, uh... okay I'm gonna have to figure out my optimal distance here.
There we go. Yeah. Seems -- okay, seriously. There we go. So it definitely seems to be optimal between like four and six feet. I'm about maybe five feet away right now and I can... hit the buttons up above me, and it works very well. Yeah! So we've got an options menu here for our video quality. It recommends medium, I've tried it on high it doesn't seem to be any more or less responsive. And really the difference in picture quality is nominal so whatever. Yeah, color, contrast, hue. Sensitivity, you can see there, down the bottom right. It's
actually that – that's the difference in frames that it's noticing, so when I'm not moving there's no difference. But then you can see that sort of optical flow that it's measuring, or whatever you want to call it. And yeah, it's pretty darn neat, man. It's really effective. We're just gonna leave it on default settings. You can turn on pixie dust! Turn it on with my head.
So now there's pixie dust going around whenever you move. And the cutouts, this is the feature that lets you just get rid of the background behind me here, on the fly. Supposedly. Let's try this out. So I move out of the camera's view and then I come back in. Oh and there we go it's mostly working. Like I mean for a very basic webcam on Windows 98, or Windows Millennium Edition in this case, I mean it's not bad. So I can mess with the
sensitivity just a bit here, and uh yeah. There we go, put it right about there... Lemme change my aura color to green or whatever. Yeah let's put it green. All right, I guess we'll just go through these in order. So first up we have Karate. I've not tried this yet, so. Oh geez. I just–I just punched my ceiling fan. Oh hey hey, there we go. Punch this guy... Um, so I think you can like, customize this other character. Yeah you can pick their body. Oh my goodness
is that a baby, or a Sumo baby? Okay we just have a couple of bodies, or you can create... Come on now. Again I'm trying to get that–that distance thing is a little bit weird, but Oh hey we can we can just put in faces, so I could fight myself. Yeah. Perfect. Oh man, that's terrifying. Yeah let's fight that thing, I want it to die. Step outta view of the camera... [laughs] Well this actually kinda works! Come on get over here, you dumb baby me! I mean y'know... I lose?! Can I just like grab something and kill it?
Kill it with – I got a tripod here. Get over here! [repeatedly strikes LGR sumo baby] Ah there we go! [satisfied exclamation] Okay that was kind of great actually. Let's play BBall. All right, Shoop Setup. So I'm just covered in all this green weirdness
uh so it goes. It's just like ectoplasm over there going nuts. I feel like I'm getting radiated. Yeah perfect! Hey I got a basket just like that! Yeah! Dude I'm doing really good at this today, I was doing terrible at it the other day. [strains to basket ball] Get over there! See if we can... Yeeeaaah! And that's all this does, that's about it. Like you can try to do like some dribbling or whatever down here, I don't know trick shots or something. But you really just try to get as many points
as you can before the time runs out, so it's kind of like a glorified version of those like, basketball machines you see in arcades and stuff. Get over here. See this is about how I was doing the other day, just badly. [groans] Get one more, get one more! One second left! Okay well... I mean, you know. Yeah I still want to resort to just going back and using the keyboard, so much easier to navigate these menus than having to do this all the time. VBall is next. So in this one we can actually pick from a few different pre-made
players. Create a custom opponent by capturing your motion in all action sequences. Walking to the left... sure. So jump up... [laughs at janky recording] I don't know what this is going to look like when it's done.
Hit the ball mid lower left, whatever. This is gonna look like an abomination of 90s weirdness when it's done, I think. All right let's see what kind of monstrosity we're fighting against. Myself... um.
[absurd laugh] Oh look at the opponent: me! My terrible moves pre-recorded. All right. Let's see what happe-- [slightly loses it] Okay! Well that's -- that's wonderful, that was well worth doing. The terrible-- [laughs] Yeah get it, me! It's so dumb! We're both just the worst players! Oh wow, hey we actually got a couple -- I'm gonna -- get over there, over there, there you go. Ya doofus.
I'm a pretty good player against myself. Don't have time to play with myself. Oh crap, I'm getting too far away from the camera. There you go. Ah this is actually kind of fun, in the jankiest way possible. Oh man! Crap. There we go... Yeah the game itself is doing a lot
of the work in terms of the moving around, I'm basically just standing here doing this. So it's a good thing that it does that movement automatically, otherwise this would be a disaster. I mean it is a disaster, but it's a different kind of disaster. Come on, me! You can do it! See I can't move like that myself, but my AI uh, abomination character’s doing great! [laughs at how un-great it is] I'm ready, I'm ready whenever you are, me. Come on! Oh what a goof. Well anyway, you get the gist. Good grief it's actually a bit of a workout. Just a little bit! Okay and then we have a couple of more here that I don't think are games. I think those are the only three games. There's a couple variants
of them, but you know. So the next one is Be There, which I think this is just uh... I'm not actually sure what this is. I think it just puts backgrounds behind you. Uh what? Oh no this is not what I expected at all! Well hey there! I got a a bit of a different form now don't I? Press spacebar to take picture. Oh! Put it right about... and yeah that's great, that's great. Yeah save that. What the heck is this?.. This is way dumber than I thought it would be. All right this "Places" one is more of what I was thinking, it's -- you're supposed to be able to be like, oh you're you're in this place. Unfortunately it's not very great at getting rid of this background. At least with these settings, so it doesn't look like
I'm there it just sort of looks like I'm a blob on top of a picture. Great. Hey look, I'm here! [shutter sound] Yeah. Looks just so realistic. Here's another category, it just multiplies your face and it makes the you look like a bunch of strawberries if you'd like. Here's one called Surprise, but I don't actually think this is any different than the people one.
It's just um, slightly different looking people? Why is this called surprise? Uhh I don't know about this. And here's one called Whatever. Yeah whatever, you get the idea. This is really dumb. And not very effective unfortunately, because of the whole background. It's getting worse the longer that I play. Let me try to recalibrate this. I mean, that's not really
better, I have kind of a half of my head missing, my face is just -- yeah we'll go for a Two Face vibe, how about that. The last thing here is called Jumpin Video. It's called Jumpin Jive on the box and the manual and the files, but I guess they changed the name. Anyway. I think it's supposed to be like a music interactivity thing, yeah you can play music CDs. Or you can just go with the default music so we'll just do that. And um. Whoa, that's
kind of trippy. [chuckle] Whoa dude! Yeah oh whoa, okay yeah so we got some good old trick video effects here... Oh what, my head is changing the effect. [chuckles] Heyyy! Neat. Yeah this is pretty fun, this is the kind of silliness that I kind of expect for a camera like this. It's way better than "Be There." What is this one, it doesn't look
like anything. Okay. Ooh hey, yeah dude! Got some 90s... 90s music video type of stuff. Oh yeah, it's -- I feel like I'm in like a house/techno music video. Dude this is great. Wahh yeah dude.
It's a lot of the same stuff though, so it's a little bit underwhelming. Some of these I mean, look at that. That's just like, what is that even? All right, well that's about it for the Reality Fusion GameCam. I will say the execution is a little uh, questionable from time to time, let's put it that way. And the sensitivity keeps
going nuts, and of course there was the whole problem of like, just, getting it to work to begin with. I see what a lot of reviewers were saying and being like, this was such a pain to get going on computers back in the day, with the drivers and software issues. But like, when it works, it's really pretty cool. Especially for the late 90s. I gotta say bravo, Reality
Fusion, for making this happen on the low budget kind of hardware that this is. Yeah, when it works it works, this is pretty neat. Yeah I don't know about you but I certainly felt “inside the game” there by the end. Once you start learning this thing's quirks and where it wants you to stand, how fast it wants you to move, the lighting situation and all that kind of stuff, it actually does function pretty close as it's intended. I mean, that's just not something you always get here on Oddware, especially with something like gesture and motion control from the 90s.
You expect it to be complete garbage and it's absolutely not. I think this is really impressive for its time, and uh, yeah. Let me know if you had any experiences with this yourself, or, yeah there were six million of these things sold. Not this exact model, but variants and things by different companies that just bundled Reality Fusion software. The games or maybe, there were other versions of games. Anyway a bunch of webcams came with this, curious
what your experiences with it might have been. And you know, it's just a fascinating rabbit hole to go down and explore. So I hope that you enjoyed seeing wherever we went here on LGR Oddware! [gesture-controlled jazz tunes] And if you enjoyed this episode of Oddware then fantastic, you might want to check out some of my others. I've covered a bunch of weirdness in the past, and will continue to do so here on LGR in the future, so stick around if you'd like. And as always thank
you for watching!