VR Developers React to Microsoft’s HoloLens Announcement

Is Microsoft working in virtual reality (VR)? It’s quite possible, but today’s Windows 10 media briefing at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington didn’t confirm any such details. Instead, the technology giant revealed Windows Holographic, a new hologram-based concept that works with a see-through head-mounted display (HMD) named HoloLens. It’s certainly an exciting new concept, but what does the VR community make of it?

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VRFocus reached out to a number of developers working on VR projects across the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and Gear VR. The response to the device seems to be mostly positive, despite distancing itself from the VR technology that is rapidly growing in popularity right now. That said, there are some that are more sceptical about HoloLens at this point in time.

Jackon Rolls-Gray, one of the developers behind last year’s award-winning Nix was one such developer: “From what I’ve seen I’d be apprehensive about it until some more information comes out,” he said. “With Google scaling back/ending their Glass project as well, I worry about how useful either of them would be as game design tools.”

These thoughts were expanded upon by Blair Renaud, currently working on anticipated VR title Technolust. “Looks pretty slick, but at this point it’s all just marketing. Microsoft has done a really great job of making it look like they have everything figured out. Beautiful pre-rendered visual effect are one thing. The actual product is another,” he said.

“I’m of course interested in developing for it (assuming it’s as good as they make it look). I’ve been a fan of Microsoft products since DOS. I am however all too aware of the problems that can get in the way of making things work well enough for the average user. The one thing that jumped out at me more than any other was the seeming reliance on gesture control, which in principal looks and sounds great, but in my experience really sucks as an input method. Without some kind of really believable haptic feedback, what you end up with is the feeling of being a ghost in a world you can’t truly interact with. A ghost with a very tired arm pointing at strangers on the train.”

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It sounds as if Renaud needs more in the way of verification before he gets on board. “Aside from that, accurately tracking the real world around you with minimal latency is a huge hurdle that I’ve yet to see anyone figure out.

“Much like VR in its current state, I think it’s suited to more passive experiences than anything else for the consumer market,” he continued. “AR allows the added bonus of interacting with people in the same physical (as well as virtual) environment. For example, watching something with your wife on the couch. Being able to look at each other and have a conversation about what you’re experiencing. That can be very powerful. This of course applies to many situations, from business, to exploration and education, to art, sports and entertainment. It’s much more useful to be able to collaborate.”

Elsewhere, other developers are a little more excited, such as Gunner and The Assembly studio nDreams. CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh, for example, is looking forward to seeing the kit’s potential. “I think it’s very exciting – a wireless headset that can blend between AR and VR allows many kinds of unique experiences, and we have several ideas that we think would suit it perfectly. It’s another great example of the richness of the new breed of headsets, and why this is such an exciting space!”

Nick Pittom, the founder of Fire Panda and currently working on VR dungeon crawler Crystal Rift said: “I’m quite impressed with the vision they have for this; it seems like they have some good ideas for uses of the technology. If it works as it appears to then I can see a whole load of possibilities for fun and entertaining games or experiences.

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“I do worry that the range of software on offer will not quite manage to make the most of the device from a consumer’s point of view. Kinect is also great tech, but it’s most exciting uses were outside of gaming, with robotics gaining excellent, cheap vision systems.

“Yet of course they do have Minecraft and if anything could be a system seller it’s that, although I’m not sure how effectively you will be able to actually ‘mine’ through your coffee table. Holographic lego, anyone? Holographic lego that goes on an adventure in your living room – like in the movie? Ok I’m sold. I’d like to try one now, please.”

Dan Page, Marketing Manager at Salvaged developer Opposable Games was similarly enthusiastic. “It’s great to see Microsoft jumping on the HMD train, especially seems as the company’s chosen to go holographic. AR is massively complimentary to the VR revolution we’re seeing right now, and in many ways it’s a harder cookie to crack so good luck to them.

“I suspect it’ll be a while before we consumers see something up close but I’m glad the company’s finally made the reveal we’ve all been waiting for. The tiered pricing sounds like a great move and I’m impressed Microsoft’s opted for a self-contained unit. The possibilities for AR headsets in engineering and gaming are huge and of great interest to us at Opposable Games. I’m personally hoping the launch of the HoloLens doesn’t overshadow the great work we’ve seen from Jeri Ellsworth and the rest of the castAR team as they’ve already given some really interesting demonstrations. All in all, it’s an exciting time to be involved in a sector with so many interesting product launches. Your move Apple…”

Dark Deception developer Glowstick Games’ Vince Livings rounds things out with an even-sided approach: “I’ve definitely heard about the Hololens and it is an exciting addition to the rapidly growing VR landscape. Microsoft is going after augmented reality instead of pure VR. That puts them more in competition with Magic Leap (another device we are interested in).

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“After reading about early test sessions with the Hololens (ex- the electrician and Mars demos), it feels designed for social non-gaming content that is educational and/or entertaining. I feel like the Hololens will be more defined by these social interactive experiences than by gaming (although gaming will still play a large role). Online multiplayer in games such as Call of Duty would, obviously, be a lot more immersive and engaging with this technology. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done with the voice & controls. We’ll see how much it improves during the course of 2015. Regardless, it will be extremely exciting to watch! Of course, I am hoping we can get our hands on a dev kit in the Spring, but that’s up to Microsoft. We are still waiting on an Xbox One dev kit.”

Of course this is simply developers talking about HoloLens. It’s going to be interesting to see which studios are actually working with in in the months to come. VRFocus will continue to follow HoloLens closely, reporting back with any further updates on it.

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