Ever since its initial reveal in January, we've been closely following the progress of Microsoft's HoloLens. Our hands-on experience earlier this year at BUILD provided us with a glimpse of its potential, but at its current stage of development, there was very little to offer.
However, that didn't stop the company from showing off HoloLens in gaming scenarios at E3, specifically with an onstage demo with Minecraft that received waves of "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd. Considering the high level of secrecy surrounding HoloLens from our previous interaction with it, I didn't expect to see it again after the Xbox event. But at the Halo 5: Guardians demo featuring the Warzone multiplayer, it was HoloLens that greeted players before they tried the new multiplayer feature.
The night before I tried HoloLens, I heard some rumors about it being used for Halo. I immediately dismissed them because the first time I played the Warzone multiplayer game, we only saw a brief video about how to play the game.
However, when I was in line again for the game at Microsoft's E3 booth, there was an employee with a device that measured my eye width. He then wrote it on a card, handed it to me, and told me to give that number to the people inside. Once we were allowed to go inside the demo area, I found out the card's purpose: HoloLens.
In the dimly lit room, a few employees were dressed in white lab coats. They gave us a brief overview of how to put on HoloLens, and then in groups of two, we were fitted with our own HoloLens to use. When it was my turn to put it on, I gave the number to the "lab technicians," and one handed me Microsoft's prototype device.
That "Whoa" Moment
After a few seconds of calibration with the software, I was told to stand and then head to my right, where a marker would tell me where to go. Sure enough, HoloLens provided me with a digital mark that counted down the distance left to reach it. It reminded me of a custom waypoint that you could place at any location in games, but this seemed to invade the real world without it actually being there.
Once I reached the marker, I turned right, where another person told me to look at the wall to my left. Again, for someone not using HoloLens, it would appear to just be a blank section of the wall. For me, it was a small window into a vast spaceship hangar. Crews were putting finishing touches on a ship or running around trying to grab more parts. Additionally, other ships were flying in and out of the hangar, once again keeping that entire atmosphere of the Halo universe around me.
This little hangar viewing also showed me the limitations of HoloLens for the first time. I knew from past stories that its field of view was small, but I didn't realize how tiny it was until now. The "window" to the hangar was a tiny slit in the digital wall, and if positioned correctly with HoloLens, you wouldn't notice the visual borders of the device. But move just a little bit and I could see the kind of area I was working with for the next few minutes.
After the little hangar preview, I was told to move to another section of the room that contained a round table, somewhat similar to the hologram tables you see in generic science fiction movies. Sure enough, there was a hologram of a large ship in the middle of the table. There was also a red reticule on the ship, which tracked my eye movements. I could use it to hover over specific parts of the ship, such as its weapons or rockets, and see more details about them in my HUD.
With everyone finally settled around the table, the ship disappeared and was replaced by a female Spartan soldier named Commander Palmer. She then told us how Warzone works, by showing a virtual map of the entire area as well as showing off the various aliens that inhabit specific parts of the map.
Again, the only limiting factor of the entire experience was HoloLens' field of view. The display area for Palmer's presentation was slightly larger than the hangar scene, which meant that you can't really keep the entire scene in your view unless you were a certain distance away. At that point you're either looking for a full view from far away or for better detail up close. For now, it's hard to get both.
Someday, Not Today
Other than the Minecraft demo at the Xbox event, this is the only other time we've seen HoloLens used for gaming purposes. Unfortunately, it's hard to see it having any kind of a permanent fixture for games. At BUILD, it was shown as more of a work-oriented device with some capabilities with games. Using HoloLens with Halo 5: Guardians works because it gives off the same science fiction vibe as the series.
Of course, HoloLens is still in early development with room to improve, so Microsoft could prove me wrong if or when the device arrives on store shelves.