Not to be outdone by Oculus and the HTC Vive, Microsoft devoted a large portion of its press conference to a demonstration of how their own HoloLens technology will work with Minecraft. The HoloLens is Microsoft’s entry into head-mounted gear, though instead of creating fully immersive virtual reality, HoloLens presents players with something different: augmented reality, or AR. Basically, it means you can see and interact with holograms that are overlaid on the real world.
Microsoft chose Minecraft to demonstrate this technology, and they could not have chosen better. Mojang representative Lydia Winters and Saxs Persson of Microsoft’s Minecraft team hosted the demo. Saxs wore the HoloLens while Lydia joined him in Minecraft on her Microsoft Surface. Projecting their Minecraft world onto a giant screen, Persson could play Minecraft in first person, as you can on a regular computer or console.
Using the command “create world,” Sax moved the hologram to a small table in the center of the stage. The Minecraft world rose out of the table as a fully interactive 3D hologram. Persson was able to use gestures and voice commands to manipulate the world, even zooming inside structures to see their interiors, like an omnipotent Minecraft deity.
The hologram stayed confined to the surface of the table. He used a voice command to follow Winters, and as she moved towards the boundaries of the hologram it began to scroll across the table, revealing more of the world. Persson was even able to grab and lift the hologram to reveal what was underground.
The HoloLens is being marketed as the beginning of an “era of mixed reality.” The Minecraft demonstration was certainly impressive, but HoloLens is all the more interesting because it will have applications outside of gaming. Minecraft is going to be a killer app for the HoloLens because there are real reasons that the player would want to see the game from an overview perspective, in addition to the traditional first-person view. The fact that players can collaborate in a Minecraft world across platforms is another smart move.
No other games have been announced for the HoloLens yet, and it will be interesting to see if Microsoft can continue to find meaningful ways for games to be represented as holograms.