Interviews & Opinion

Has Microsoft HoloLens helped augmented reality overtake virtual reality?

Has Microsoft HoloLens helped augmented reality overtake virtual reality?

While everyone else (with the possible exception of Magic Leap) has been chasing after virtual reality as the next big gaming revolution, Microsoft casually blew our minds by announcing its entry into the augmented reality race instead, just as Google pulled back.

Early tests of the HoloLens have been cautiously optimistic and no small amount of attention has been snatched away from the likes of the Oculus Rift as we're forced to ponder whether augmented reality might trump virtual reality.

It now looks as though it may not be such a simple decision for gamers when the day comes between choosing AR or VR.

It's a question that's likely to remain without a solid answer until both options are commercially available, but we've asked our VR Mavens to chime in on the subject and give us their predictions for how HoloLens might affect reality gaming.

Does Microsoft's HoloLens announcement show the VR/AR market demands more sophistication that offered by solutions such as Google Glass?


Neal Nellans CEO Ghost Machine

Mr. Nellans has over 14 years of professional game making experience. After Graduating with a BFA in Computer Animation from the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL, Mr. Nellans was immediately recognized for his work in Animation by being awarded the 1998 Gold Medal Academy Award for his Animated short entitled, “Jataka” later earning the Digital Cinematography Scholarship from the Hollywood visual effects studio Rhythm and Hues, where he also interned.

Following his initial introduction in the film industry, Mr. Nellans was approached by Steven Spielberg to work first at Dreamworks SKG and then Electronic Arts on an Original WWII video game which later became known as Medal of Honor. He continued to work on the first three Medal of Honor titles developing 3D environments and multiplayer level design.

Mr. Nellans founded the mobile games company, Tiny Utopia in 2006 and has also written and directed a feature film entitled, Fossil which received accolades in both domestic and international film festivals for its unique blend of live action and computer animated film making.

I think that the HoloLens is a unique twist on the AR/VR revolution.

The problem that Google faced, and one that Microsoft must address in the future, is how will developers build an experience that will encourage adoption and bring in new users.

The HoloLens

In order of this new technology to gain mainstream appeal, the service that the device provides must radically improve or exceed what currently exists, primarily being the smartphone.

If the device is simply an additional extension to the Windows ecosystem, or to the Xbox platform, it will lack the usability to entice casual users to buy it and never reach mainsteam appeal.

Microsoft clearly has the resources to produce a useful and technologically advanced device, but it remains to be proven that there is sufficient interest from the public to support it.

Jeff Minter Co-Founder Llamasoft

Jeff 'Yak' Minter is an independent British video game designer and programmer. He is the founder of software house Llamasoft and has created dozens of games during his career.

Minter's games are often arcade style shoot 'em ups. They often contain titular or in-game references demonstrating his fondness of ruminants (llamas, sheep, camels, etc.). Many of his programs also feature something of a psychedelic element, as in some of the earliest "light synthesizer" programs including his Trip-a-Tron.

Minter's works include Neon (2004), a non-game music visualisation program that has been built into the Xbox 360 console, and the video games Space Giraffe (Xbox Live Arcade, 2007 and PC, 2008), and Space Invaders Extreme (Xbox Live Arcade, May 2009).

I think AR has a bit of a steeper hill to climb than VR with regard to 'sophistication'.

With VR you're wearing the gear with the express purpose of closing off reality and going to do something specific elsewhere for a while. People already wear quite silly-looking gear for specific sports - bike hats and ski goggles don't exactly look like high fashion but we're happy to put them on to enjoy those sports.

AR has got to pass the "Would I use this on the bus?" test.
Jeff Minter

With AR though, you're going to be wearing stuff out and about in the real world, interacting with people in public places, and it's got to pass the "would I use this on the bus?" test.

I think Glass showed that if you make the gear obtrusive, it'll be seen in a negative light by people who see you wearing it.

I suspect that AR will only start to break through to mainstream when the gear can be made as unobtrusive as ordinary glasses, and, at least in the short term, I wonder if trying to put everything in the glasses is overambitious.

Perhaps having the glasses just handle display and location information and wirelessly hand off the processing to a locally held CPU - such as we all have in our pockets anyway these days - might be a better way to go. Oh, and leave the camera on the phone; no matter how innocent the intent I think people will always be distrustful of unobtrusive cameras.

Google Glass was unobtrusive but the camera was an unexpected issue

I'm sure it will get there, and perhaps a solution such as Microsoft's with larger headgear will work to get things started in the short term, but in the longer term AR needs to become unobtrusive before it's suitable for prolonged public use.

For VR that's not so much of a problem as it's a specialised activity that you'll likely be doing at home anyway.

Stan Kuhn Founder Live Game Board

Live Game Board is a physical printed board for playing game. It is a gate batween real and virtual world of games. Games played on our game board are control in unique way. You can see game from all angles which you normally can't.

Controlling the game using phones camera brings new way of playing. Imagine you had Angry Birds in your living room all in 3D. Or carts on your table without having to unpack and assemble track.

You can have monsters fighting in your room. Imagination is endless here.

These concepts are always fascinating, and that's where the world of wearables and AR certainly leads to.

We have just prepared beta version or our game Monsters which you can play in mixed/blended reality in front of you just as Minecraft was shown by Microsoft.

While the Microsoft HoloLens seems promising, right now it's still just a vision.

Tom Beardsmore Creative Director Coatsink Software

After co-founding Coatsink Software Ltd in 2009, I've worked on over 10 successful mobile (iOS / Android / Windows Phone / Blackberry) game / app projects and (more recently) 3 console (PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Wii U) / PC games and 2 games for Oculus VR / Samsung Gear VR. I'd describe my primary roles as Lead Producer / Creative and Managing Director.

AR has more difficult, and different challenges to overcome compared to VR.
Tom Beardsmore

Oculus' route over the past few years has shown that not only is high fidelity in VR in great demand, but that it's right around the corner.

I've not tried either Glass or HoloLens so I'm less sure about whether AR has reached market potential yet.

There are more difficult, and different challenges to overcome than there are in VR.

It's clear, however, that Microsoft appears to be approaching AR in a different way than Google; more as a home or indoor device than Glass's wear-on-the-street design.

Ana Ribeiro Indie game designer

Game Designer/Developer programmer, artist and cosplayer.
Pixel rift is a reflection of my life experience playing games since I can remember.
This game is my final Project is for my masters degree in Games Design and Development at The National Film & Television School. Back in Brazil I ran my own Pie business, but that's another story.
I almost forgot to report that I also love cooking sushi and no one beat me eating ice cream.

I see HoloLens as a natural way of using technology. The way we use tech these days feels wrong. We separate ourselves from others because we're constantly holding a device in our hands.

HoloLens will dominate the mobile market.
Ana Ribeiro

The interesting thing is that it connects data with our reality pretty well. It'll be a transformation on the way we behave as individuals, and especially in society.

HoloLens will dominate the mobile market, and I wonder what Apple is developing right now.

AR will be the new way to interact with technology, which will be used by everyone. I don´t think it will be a big thing for gamers, who always prefer a more immersive experience. And VR is the one for this.

To be honest I'm more interested and excited to work with VR at the moment. The idea of travelling to different realities is what excites me the most and the stronger media for this is still VR.

Guy Bendov CEO Side-kick Games

CEO, Side-kick Games, makers of Mini Ninjas Adventures for Kinect, Dr. Jolt, Romans from Mars and other exciting games.

VR and AR are two different propositions, and it's time to separate them given the unique experiences each display technology provides.

In VR, low cost goggles are winning mass market hearts over the more sophisticated VR solutions that are required by premium VR users.

We're still in research mode and exploration of market segments [for AR].
Guy Bendov

AR is still very early. We see a wider array of form factors of AR headsets. This suggests that we're still in research mode and exploration of market segments. There might be a light version (like Glass, which, to be fair, graduated from Google Labs and is not dead just yet) and a pro version, like the HoloLens.

Based on the HoloLens vision video, Microsoft's headset providers a surrounding AR display and can provide way more display options, at the cost of a heavier headset. It seems it's geared for the pro market segment, a safer first-step into the AR market and maybe a gateway into the VR headset market.

Scott Harber Owner Sc0tt Games

Sc0tt Games is run by Scott Harber, an eleven-year games industry veteran whose previous credits include The Getaway, Black, Burnout 3, Burnout Revenge, Burnout Paradise, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Need for Speed Rivals, and Battlefield Hardline.

I think it's less about sophistication and more a case of Google misunderstanding the VR/AR market.

It's self-evident in their promotional videos. Google Glass aimed to become part of everyday life, depicting a man shopping and navigating a city with the help of an on-screen HUD. Meanwhile, HoloLens is positioned as more of a tool for leisure and productivity, depicting people using it in office environments, or using it at home to watch TV and play games.

HoloLens - something to wear inside, not outside

In retrospect, the latter was the wiser solution, because it addresses the human aspect of augmented reality. Frankly, no one wants to walk around in public wearing an AR headset.

Having a thousand dollar device on your face that's designed to partially rob you of your visual awareness makes you a target for theft. Not to mention the socially awkward aspects of talking to thin air in public, on a video call that only you can see.

No one wants to walk around in public wearing an AR headset.
Scott Harber

All of this is before we get into the creepy implications of putting voice-activated digital cameras on everyone's heads.

However, offering a similar experience in the privacy of your own home, or in your office, is much more socially acceptable.

At home, it means that you can own a virtual TV screen of infinitely-adjustable size, or play Minecraft on your kitchen table. In your office, you can plug it into your 3D modelling software and pretend to be Tony Stark while you work. And most importantly, in those environments, no one cares that you're talking to yourself with an awkward-looking device over your eyes.

Yes. Spanner's his real name. And, yes, he's heard that joke before.