The Virtual Brewery

I never dreamed, when I first started researching virtual reality, that I would end up inside a beer bottle on an assembly line, in a mega-billion-dollar artificial city in Tokyo. The virtual brewery I visited is a time-delayed artifact of Tokyo's "bubble economy" of the 1980s, like the pomo skyscraper forests of Shinjuku. Yebisu Garden Place is a $3 billion commercial development that includes a 45 story office building with super-luxury condos at the top, a Mitsukoshi department store full of $45 slabs of fresh fish the size of a baby's hand and two-thousand-dollar shirts, a concert hall, a cinema complex, and a Westin hotel. But the crown jewel of the development is Sapporo's Beer Museum. And the inner sanctum of the beer museum is the virtual brewery inside. Designed by VR pioneer Scott Fisher, the Museum uses "boom" type 3D displays with head-tracking and joystick controls to give 20 visitors at a time a self-guided time and space tour of a bottle of Sapporo beer, from hops to bottle.

The Onyx reality engines pumped out sufficient computational horsepower to give the renderings a slightly-better-than-cartoonlike quality. Still, it felt half a click to the eerie side, using all this technology to get a hop's-eye view of the fermentation process.

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