HoloLens needs more work, but using it with 'Minecraft' is so damn cool
Before going any further, let's be clear: HoloLens is clearly unfinished. You'll see a decent deal of enthusiasm below, but the head-mounted display (HMD) in its current form is in no way ready for mass consumption. It's the eye-opening possibilities these early HoloLens experiences deliver that drive much of the excitement.
What is this thing?
HoloLens is an augmented reality visor. Unlike virtual reality, which plunges the player into a private, immersive experience with the help of a completely enclosed headset, AR devices provide what amounts to a personal heads-up display.
Unlike VR, you can see the world in front of you. An AR headset's lenses are best thought of as miniature see-through displays that throw computer-generated imagery on top of what your eyes would normally see.
In its present state, an extremely limited field of view is the biggest limitation facing HoloLens. Imagine a small movie screen positioned inches away from your face; any AR experiences that extend beyond the boundaries of that "screen" are cut off. It's a jarring effect to see objects that don't exist at the periphery of your vision suddenly slide into view as you turn your head.
The HaloLens experience
The least interactive of Microsoft's three HoloLens experiences at E3 is little more than a teaser. "HaloLens," as we fondly call it, isn't necessarily bad, it's just a very limited showcase of what this unusual HMD can do.
Participants are escorted into a chamber — a set, really, modeled after what a war room might look like in the Halo universe — where they're fitted with a HoloLens and sent off for a briefing. The first thing you see when you step into "live" area is a very familiar, diamond-shaped checkpoint at the center of your vision, leading the way to your "objective."
It's difficult to describe the sensation of suddenly seeing Halo iconography appear in the world you know. If you have played any game in the series, there's an immediate, instinctual understanding: You must proceed to the waypoint ahead.
First, you come to a "window" in a bustling hangar where soldiers mill about and Pelican air vehicles prep for flight. None of it is real, of course. Without HoloLens, the window is just a square of glass affixed to the wall. But the headset renders a window, and leaning in or moving around allows you to peer "into" the virtual space at different angles.
The experience continues with a combat briefing, where a HoloLens-enabled holographic display appears above a large, round "computer" (just a prop) sitting in the center of a small chamber. It's here that the field of view issues becomes more apparent; a holographic map of the coming battle is too large for the display, so you've got to move your head to take the whole thing in, which shatters the illusion.
The experience ends after the briefing; the whole thing is really just a lead-in to a Halo 5: Guardians hands-on session, with the briefing meant to prep players for a sampling of the game's new Warzone multiplayer mode.
Breaking through walls in Project X-ray
"Project X-ray" is the name of a simple first-person shooter tech demo built specifically for HoloLens. Participants start out standing in the center of a small, empty room with an Xbox controller in their hands. Only two buttons matter for the purposes of this demo: the right trigger, which fires laser blasts into the center of your vision, and the left trigger, which activates a limited-use "X-ray" power that slows down incoming foes.
The game begins when a mechanical tube bursts through the wall and spits out a stream of hostile robotic scorpions and hovering drones. You've got to defend yourself by shooting them all down while avoiding — by physically moving your body — the blasts they fire your way.
There's a satisfying feel to the shooting. When your beams connect with their target, the little robot foes are blasted to pieces instantaneously.Miss your shot and a chunk of the wall is destroyed, exposing the bricks behind it.
None of this is real, of course. Outside HoloLens, the room is completely intact, with no hostile robots shuffling around or insertion tubes sticking out through the walls. Once again, the limited field of view hinders the sense of presence, though directional indicators on your targeting reticle help point the way to incoming foes.
Project X-ray becomes a very active experience as the hostile robots show up faster and in greater numbers. You can't help but get into a groove of leaping around the small space to avoid the incoming fire as it flies your way. The field of view limitations make it tough to fight effectively, but it's easy to pick up on the spirit of what this tech demo is going for.
God mode in Minecraft
Before reading any further, it's worth your time to check out Microsoft's Minecraft HoloLens demo from its E3 2015 press conference. What you see there is pretty much what the actual hands-on experience is like. It's amazing.
There are two main components to Minecraft in HoloLens. The first is a virtual screen that, with the help of simple voice commands, you can throw up onto any wall. By default, the screen is a window into your standard first-person Minecraft view, though other commands allow you to make the screen larger/smaller or pop out into a third-person perspective.
You can even activate a pseudo-3D display, turning the virtual screen into a sort of window. You can then move to different positions, and as your angle on the display changes you find yourself peering into the world of Minecraft. During all of this, an Xbox controller allows you to actually play Minecraft on this virtual screen, the same as you normally would on a TV or monitor.
t's also possible to take the virtual environment and render it on top of a flat, horizontal surface, like a table. Doing so creates a sort of 3D diorama. The real thing isn't quite as sharp as what we saw during Microsoft's live press conference demonstration, and like everything else with HoloLens your ability to take it all in at once is limited by the field of view issues. But it's very close to that original demo.
Interacting with the diorama relies on a mixture of voice commands and simple gestures. The HoloLens recognizes two: there's a basic "click," performed by pinching your pointer finger down into your thumb, and a "click-drag" (for moving the world around), that requires you to keep your thumb and pointer pinched after a click as you move your hand around.
This is more tech demo than game at the moment. The "God's-eye-view" especially supports minimal interactions. You can move the world in any direction, even pulling it "up" to reveal caverns and other points of interest underground. You can also place signs — using a built-in mic to record the text that they display — and call down lighting from the skies. A small cursor at the center of your vision helps to "aim" these interactions, but it also speaks to the possibilities that could arise as more features are added.
The HoloLens Minecraft demo is astounding, especially as you coordinate with a second player who interacts with the world from a computer, at the ground level. It's fundamentally different from VR, which can be an isolating experience. Here, you summon a Minecraft landscape into pseudo-physical existence and (to a limited extent) manipulate it as a companion player hops around and does more traditional Minecraft-y things.
Of the HoloLens demonstrations at E3, this one is by far the most impressive. It makes a convincing argument for AR experiences as a separate-but-equal complement to VR. HoloLens may or may not be the first one to get us there — Microsoft still has a lot of work to do (it's hard to envision a 2015 release for this thing) — but as first steps go, the ones we saw at E3 are very promising.
#surface computing #augmented reality #microsoft #infizeal