One of my biggest E3 surprises of all time - and I've been to every E3 so far - came earlier this morning when I queued up for a demo of Halo 5 Guardians: Warzone. Expecting to see just a demo of the game, I first got the inkling that something else was afoot when someone took the measurements of how far apart my eyes were. Apparently, it's 61.5 mm.
Why did they need to do this? Because there was an initial briefing about the demo that was displayed using Microsoft's HoloLens. I was brought into a room that was built out like the inside of a UNSC ship, and fitted with the device, which fit quite snugly over my head, with the see-through screen in front of my glasses. Then I was told to look at the wall, which then showed an augmented reality panel with four dots and the word "calibrating…" floating in space. I was asked if I could see the dots - which I could - and was then told to follow the prompt.
I got up, and walked straight down a narrow corridor, which had a floating hexagon shape at the end of it telling me where to go - projected into the HoloLens - and when I reached it I was told to turn right (via a speaker in the HoloLens) and approach a table. As I did, a holographic display rose out of the table showing the USNC ship Infinity, which slowly span in place. It looked crisp and clear and pretty much like the sort of display you'd see in a sci-fi movie. I was deeply impressed. Even more so when I realized there was a little red reticule in the middle of the screen which I could aim by moving my head. As I did, parts of the ship were highlighted, and floating menus appeared that contained text, explaining what I was looking at. I was astonished, and felt like I was looking at something almost magical. I've seen augmented reality demos before, but this was so sharp - and rock solid, anchored to the table in a way that looked natural and realistic.
Then the ship slowly sank into the table I was looking at, and the image was replaced by a fully animated Spartan commander Sarah Palmer, who then started to explain the game I was about to play. After some preamble, she de-rezzed and up popped a 3D map of the level that was being demoed. She then continued to narrate the briefing, and talked about the nodes that we needed to capture and the general tactics required to win this particular battle. As the demo ran, I moved my head left and right to get a sense of how the HoloLens worked, and I must say it runs incredibly smoothly, with a completely convincing 3D effect. To be blunt, it blew me away. Especially when we were shown models of ships and mobs that we were expected to attack. These were fully animated and the ship actually flew up and out of view. Incredible.
Briefing over, a prompt then made me look down at the table, highlighting a chip I needed to take - which turned out to be a souvenir USB drive plugged into the console I was standing in front of. I grabbed it, and that ended the demo. It's hard to really describe how effective the sequence was, but I was absolutely blown away by the technology. It's basically augmented reality done in a way that I'd previously only dreamed of. It looked and felt completely convincing, and even though it wasn't interactive, I can just imagine the application of this technology for gaming: fighting games, RTS games, God games, augmented reality board or tabletop games… they're all possible with this technology and would take gaming - literally - into a whole new dimension.
I imagine that a gaming device that works like a console is quite some years away yet, but I think HoloLens represents the future. Perhaps not as a replacement for consoles, but definitely as something that would sit alongside them as a new way to play games.
I seriously can't wait.