To the delight of many developers and technophiles, Microsoft announced the development edition of its HoloLens virtual reality headset is about to start shipping. The tech giant is also hoping to inspire gaming developers as well.
Each device will arrive packed with a trio of games, two of which were created by French developer Asobo Studio. Those titles are the platform action game Young Conker and the murder mystery Fragments. The third game rounding out the trio is RoboRaid, produced by Microsoft itself, making Asobo the only external developer with hands-on for game development on HoloLens.
According to David Dedeine, chief creative officer at Asobo Studio, no classic game uses reality like HoloLens does.
“With this Microsoft device, your table, your chair, or your couch becomes the platform,” says Dedeine. “Everything will have a direct impact on the game. Playing can be a very different experience from one room to another.”
The games Asobo developed can detect a room's configuration and adapt to the environment automatically. For example, if there’s a couch in the play space, a character in Fragments will come and sit down next to the player and have a conversation, or evidence may be hidden behind it. In Young Conker, a horizontal surfaces such as a table, cupboard, or shelf might be used to hide a sniper or offer power-ups to collect.
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While much of the media attention since Facebook acquired Oculus VR in 2014 for $2 billion has focused on virtual reality, Dedeine, who has explored both new technologies, is more excited about augmented reality.
“For artistic direction as well as game design, sci-fi movies like Minority Report and Iron Man are now within reach,” Dedeine posits. “Those types of featured futuristic holographic interfaces are now coming to life with HoloLens.”
Dedeine believes that by the time there’s a consumer edition of HoloLens, which has not been officially announced, new video game genres will emerge around augmented reality.
“By definition, AR has reality as a base,” Dedeine explains. “As a result, it’s pretty hard to make the user pretend he is someone else. Instead, you need to make the user believe he–playing as himself in real life—is the one in the experience. In AR, it’s hard to make the user actually believe he is in a spaceship. He knows he is not. Instead, let’s pretend there are zombies in your own house. This opens up a different approach of user immersion in a fantasy universe.”
For role-playing games, Dedeine suggests augmented reality could change the focus from playing a warrior in the Middle Ages to a person (yourself) who discovers he was “modified” as a kid and has unexpected powers that can be unleashed to save the world.
“The gameplay would probably focus on his relationship with other characters, and how you interact with them verbally or even physically,” Dedeine says. “And it could end with an actual combat sequence in your own living room.”
With new developers just getting their hands on Microsoft’s augmented reality technology, Asobo hopes Young Conker and Fragments will serve as inspiration of what is possible through this new platform.
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“Being yourself at the center of all these interactions, having your world as the canvas of the game, this is the revolution,” Dedeine stresses. “We’ve tried to explore new fields, go beyond traditional gaming constraints, and proposed new solutions in visceral ways to live out stories. This is the future of gaming experiences, and we hope this will incite other developers to try and create all kinds of memorable moments with HoloLens.”
Digi-Capital forecasts that augmented reality will generate $90 billion by 2020, compared to the $30 billion virtual reality is expected to bring in. There’s even a new incubator and investment fund from Super Ventures allotting $10 million solely on augmented realty startups, including game companies.
“AR is so much a game changer that it’s much harder to predict its boundaries in any field,” Dedeine reflects. “It’s already so functional that enterprise companies have instantly seen how they can improve their process by using HoloLens.”
Microsoft also used its Build 2016 Developer Conference to highlight some of the enterprise and educational uses for HoloLens as the $3,000-headset goes out in the mail to game developers and companies around the globe today.