Microsoft’s Hololens made an impressive debut during the company’s E3 2015 press conference, thanks to a demo of the augmented reality device being used with Minecraft. Quite frankly, I figured the demo was pre-recorded for the show, so I had a hard time believing it could produce the same quality video images shown on the stage at the Galen Center, but after giving it a personal test during a Halo 5: Guardians Warzone demo on the E3 show floor, my tune has changed, drastically.
The Hololens wasn’t used for gameplay purposes in this demo, rather it served as an innovative way to suck you into the world of Halo 5 while explaining the rules and objectives of the newly announced 12 v 12 Warzone multiplayer mode. Going into the demo, we literally had our eyes measured with a device you’d expect to encounter at an optometrist office visit. We then were personally fitted with our own Hololens unit by Microsoft employees wearing lab coats and told to follow the waypoint marker in our viewfinder, the exact same style from the Halo universe, and I immediately began to realize the amazing potential this holographic device contains.
After reaching my first objective, which cleared the moment my physical form reached the waypoint targeted in the Hololen’s visor, I was instructed via the built-in speakers to look out a window. This window in real life was just part of the amazing set Microsoft built for the E3 demo, but thanks to the magic of the Hololens it turned into a viewport into the bustling docking bay of a UNSC frigate. I could see ships taking off, soldiers loading into spacecrafts, and other activities that take place on a massive spacefaring vessel. The illusion was impressive to say the least, and it totally felt like I was on board this spaceship taking a peek into what it’d be like to be in space on a war vessel.
From here, another waypoint marker appeared in my viewfinder, which led me to a war room of sorts, complete with a briefing table in the center. Through the Hololens, I could see a fully 3D projection of the ship that I was “on.” Using my head, I could point a reticule at certain parts of the vessel to read up on details related to the specific area of the ship. I was blown away by how clear the 3D rendering looked, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Dejarik match between R2 and Chewbacca in A New Hope, or the planning table used in Avatar to plot the attack on the Na’vi’s massive tree. At this point, I was fully immersed in the world 343 had built through a practical set and the Hololens projections.
The illusion was further reinforced by a briefing from Sarah Palmer, the female Spartan leader first introduced in Halo 4. She popped into my Hololens viewfinder in a similar fashion to Princess Leia’s message for Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Darth Vader projecting himself onto the bridge of an AT-AT in The Empire Strikes Back. The effect was uncanny to say the least. I felt like I could reach out and touch Palmer as she barked at us about the upcoming objective and the areas of the map we should focus on. It was hard to not feel like I transported to the 26th century thanks to the impressive use of augmented reality Microsoft’s Hololens employs. I was living in the future, and it was all because of a video game and the dreamers at Microsoft.
After Palmer’s briefing we were treated to the final illusion of the Hololens, which consisted of following a glowing red orb to a data chip embedded in the war room table we were all huddled around. Even this effect felt real, which was bolstered by the fact that 343 had actual data chips (aka USB sticks) plugged into the table for us to physically grab at the end of the briefing.
At this point, the Hololens piece of the Halo 5: Guardians Warzone multiplayer demo ended, but I couldn’t help but be blown away by the experience it offered. I’ve used many of the VR devices that have flooded the market, and have appreciated the gimmicky experience they offer, but I couldn’t help but think that MS has a gem on its hands after briefly experiencing what the Hololens can do for gaming. I felt like I was in the future and I appreciated that emotional response greatly. Outside of having to keep the center Hololens viewfinder focused on the surfaces that can display holographic images, the headset works flawlessly. It’s comfortable to wear, has multiple angles and placements to choose from for the most comfortable experience possible, and the imagery it displays is straight out of a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster.
I went into this brief Hololens demo with a heavy amount of skepticism, but after experiencing it first hand I’m a believer. The potential of this device is massive, and its gaming applications barely scratch the surface of what it can offer to humanity. I found it to be the best use of augmented reality I’ve ever used, and it was able to suck me into a game world unlike any piece of hardware before it. There’s no doubt that I’ll be a first adopter of the Hololens now, and I can only hope that developers from all genres embrace its potential. Microsoft blew me away with the Hololens demo, so I can’t wait to see how other developers, from any medium, utilize it to change the way humanity consumes media.
See how others reacted to what I saw during this impressive tech demo!
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