One of the strangest accessories ever for a video game system was the SegaScope 3-D Glasses, designed for the Sega Master System. The 3-D glasses were not at all like the standard flimsy cardboard green-and-red glasses that came with comic books and the like (and, notably, were included with some Nintendo games in order to provide 3d effects). Instead, these glasses were large and impressive; wearing them made you look all space age and nifty rather than like a B-movie watching little kid.

The glasses, released in 1988 for $50, were designed to look like wraparound sunglasses, kind of like those the Terminator wore in the 1984 film; now, fifteen years later, they resemble the sunglasses worn by the elderly that fit over their large prescription lenses. Of course, this was even more of a godsend to those children with poor eyesight, since the SegaScope fit over their normal eyeglasses perfectly, with none of the fumbling and awkward placement of the cardboard 3d glasses. In fact, the glasses even did work as sunglasses of a sort, altho very few people probably wore them out in public.

From the outside, the glasses appeared to be a smooth, glossy black. Inside, you could see how they worked. In front of each eye was a small rectangular opening, with one darker than the other. There was a cord running down from the right side of the glasses which terminated in a jack; the jack was plugged into an adaptor device, which was itself plugged into the card slot of the Master System. When a compatible game was plugged into the cartridge slot, the glasses would activate.

The 3-d effect was caused by the lenses. The lenses were made of liquid crystal, and the system sent impulses up the cord to alternately darken and lighten each lens. The screen image was similarly designed so that alternate refreshes of the screen would display different perspectives for each eye to see. (See FlameBoy's writeup under 3-d glasses for a better explanation of how this works).

Only six games were ever released for the system, since the Genesis/Mega Drive was released the next year and Sega started focusing instead on their 16-bit systems. The six games, however, were fairly entertaining (and 3-d!): Blade Eagle 3-D, Maze Hunter 3-D, Missile Defense 3-D, Space Harrier 3-D, Poseidon Wars 3-D, and Zaxxon 3-D. Reviews follow for four of the six games.

Sega even considered those who couldn't afford this peripheral, coding sequences in most if not all of the games that allowed them to be played in regular 2-d mode, usually immediately upon starting the game. The games were actually fairly playable in 3-d mode without the glasses; rather than confusing, overlapping red and blue images, the sprites appeared as fuzzy double images in standard color (if perhaps a little brighter than standard Sega games to make up for the dimming effect of the glasses).

The glasses themselves were fairly sturdy. The connection was occasionally tricky to start, since the card slot was rarely used and occasionally got dusty. However, once the glasses started working, they were good for the entire game. The fact that it was a two-piece interface (cord that plugged into converter that plugged into the SMS) had a dual advantage; if the player got up suddenly and yanked the glasses out, the cord would slip out of the converter rather than the entire adapter coming out and messing up the system; plus, the player could walk around with the cord in his/her pocket and the glasses on without corroding the contacts.


Of the six games released, I have played four of them:

Missile Defense 3-D: required both the 3-d glasses and the Light Phaser. It was a fairly standard target shooting game, except of course being in 3-d! The concept was the user as the Star Wars defense system (this was never explicitly stated, and should be considered the paranoid rantings of one fifteen years older than he was when he played the game); using the light gun, you shot at missiles as they left their silos and flew off in random directions, often straight at you. Any missiles you missed would make it to the next stage and you would have a second chance to shoot them down; you were then given a third chance as the missiles neared their target.

Maze Hunter 3-D: well, it was a maze game in 3-D. Your character would wander around a tri-level maze (one floating above the screen, one level, and one below the screen), trying to get out of the maze by finding a key. You were hindered (surprise) by various creatures floating randomly around the maze; if you found a club, you could attempt to kill them, but you were otherwise defenseless and had to jump over or avoid them. The main draw of this game was that the 3-D effect was really damn cool; otherwise, the SMS's built-in snail maze game was more exciting.

Space Harrier 3-D: again, the Sega standard Space Harrier, but in 3-D. This was a pretty cool game, and a nice extension to the first Space Harrier game. The added perspective added to the illusion of the character's flying and the enemies rushing at you from afar. There were some strange tweaks to the game: rather than allow you to play in 2-d from the start, you had to play well enough in 3-D (or fuzzy 2-d without the glasses) to put you on the high score list; only then could you input a code which allowed you to play your next game without the glasses. Also, the secret code in Space Harrier which allows you to turn into a jet still exists, but instead displays a secret message.

Zaxxon 3-D: rather than the 3/4 overhead view of the original Zaxxon, you played from behind your ship as the enemies and platforms came towards you. Fairly nifty, especially when the enemy ships would float offscreen and fly away.


Later versions of the Sega Master System removed the card slot, making the glasses and their related games useless. Sega released an adaptor for the Genesis which allowed you to play SMS cartridge and card games; however, I don't remember getting the glasses to work with this adaptor. YMMV.

The glasses and games shouldn't be that hard to track down, either on the Internet or at used video game stores. If you're picking up a Master System, or still own one, they're probably worth getting your hands on. If nothing else, they were probably the coolest 3-D peripheral ever.


Sources:
http://www.classicgaming.com/museum/sms/
http://www.geocities.com/ifkz2002/all.htm
http://www.thevideogamecritic.com/index.htm
http://www.hut.fi/~jmunkki/cards/sega.html has instructions on how to adapt the glasses to work with a modern computer
http://be.emulationworld.com/info/3d_glasses_1.jpg is a picture of the glasses

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