Microsoft's Project X-ray and Minecraft reveal the power of HoloLens gaming

Microsoft's HoloLens is still making some news here at E3 2015 in sunny Los Angeles. Earlier today, I had the opportunity to don yet again the augmented-reality headset for a fourth time. Yesterday, I saw HoloLens used a training tool for Halo 5. The focus for today's briefing was gaming itself.

Ever since Microsoft shocked the tech world with their AR headwear back in January, people have been using their imaginations to come up with useful scenarios. As it turns out there, is no shortage of situations where AR could make things better.

Gaming is on that list, and although virtual reality headsets like the Rift from Oculus have controlled that message, HoloLens has a lot to offer as well. I managed to try out two games being developed by Microsoft and here are my thoughts on both!

Project X-ray

Project X-ray is one of those ambitious games that was developed to show the power of AR. The game is quite basic, but that does not distract from its wow factor.

Project X-ray works like this: Some alien enemy is in the walls of your room. Occasionally, they break a hole in the wall so that they can enter your space and, well, attack you. One baddie was a scorpion like creature; another was a floating evil-doer who reminded me of the enemies in the classic 3D game Descent (1994). As these creatures floated in the air or scurried across your walls, they would fire at you. Getting hit would mean you take damage.

In response, you as the player have two options: fire back and slow down time/x-ray the room. Both of these actions are controlled with an Xbox One wireless controller so that your gaze through the HoloLens is your targeting reticle but your fingers to the work. It feels very much like a traditional first-person shooter, except for the part about floating 3D holograms in your bedroom.

Speaking of x-rays, the reasons the game is called that is because you can x-ray your room. This weapon tells HoloLens to create a wireframe of the walls in your space, and you can see those bad guy scorpions through the wall for a short duration (they also slow down like bullet-time). Firing your railgun takes them out and puts a hole in your domicile. Mind you, this is all done on the fly since the HoloLens already creates the wireframe for spatial reasons. The game is merely revealing this to you in real-time.

There is also a helpful AI in the form of a robot who guides you through the process, giving you hints for success. He kind of looks like a cross between GLaDOS and the Ghosts in Destiny.

Finally, the sound, as always, was great. HoloLens has two speakers placed above the ears, and the spatial machinery works extremely well. In the game, you can hear in the room when an enemy was coming, much like how surround-sound speakers work for movie theaters. It's tight.

The Experience

One thing I can say about HoloLens: it is very finicky as to positioning. If it is off slightly, your experience will be less enjoyable. If fitted just right though, it is a great. This time, my exposure to HoloLens was the latter: it worked and felt seamless. In fact, this was the most fun I had with HoloLens since January.

Now, I cannot be 100% certain if anything was vastly different with the hardware (which is still being tweaked) or it was just lined up right. All I know was playing Project X-ray is fantastic. Granted, due to the game's simplicity, I am not sure you would get _hour_s of enjoyment out of it. However, as a demonstration of how holograms and the real-world can create a sensational gaming experience it totally works.

This finding brings me back to my point about fitting the HoloLens. Due to time and the newness of the technology, figuring out how it should fit on your head the first time is not at all obvious. It's one of those things I could probably tinker with for 10 minutes to get it 'just right'. It reminds me of getting fitted for snow skis – it takes precision.

This critique may be trivial in the long run: once you fit your HoloLens, you don't need to change anything except the tightness. And just like a catcher donning his catcher's mask, you become an expert on putting it on and adjusting it on the fly. On the other hand, for people in the media, if they do not get the right fit, their experience will be poor.

It is true that the field-of-vision is still a direct line of sight. However, I did not find it distracting or an issue in Project X-ray, perhaps owning to the right fit this time around of the hardware.

I should note, I also had one of the highest scores amongst the media, ahem.

Minecraft for Realz

Back in January, some of us were able to experience HoloLens for the first time. One of the more impressive experiences was the Minecraft one, which everyone there seemed to enjoy.

Here at E3, things have changed. You see, the version in January was a demo but not real code of the game. What I saw this afternoon is the real game running on HoloLens.

Now, let me be clear I do not play Minecraft. Heck, I barely get the appeal. Today's experience though was very impressive. So much so that it piqued my interest in the game. Here's why. In the HoloLens Minecraft, you can project the game on your wall like a TV. Except with this TV, you can control the size (small up to a huge version) and you peek inside the world, much like there was a hole in your wall with Minecraft inside. Unlike the current console version, Minecraft on HoloLens has more 3D to it, including an external and first-person viewing toggle.

If you don't like the Minecraft TV experience, you can simply bring up your created world on a table, a floor or wherever. For this demo, the Minecraft staff has me build my world on a flat wooden table. Once initiated, the world grew out of the table top. And just like in the demo video you could walk around, move the world up and down, zoom in, track players, and more.

As I said, I'm not into Minecraft but seeing it as a hologram was certainly eye-opening. I could only imagine how hardcore fans would react (and from what I have heard, they love it). The developers behind the game are intent on shipping this as a HoloLens experience, so now it is just a matter of waiting.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, my experience with HoloLens waxes and wanes from enthusiastic to a more desensitized 'yeah, it was cool'. Today I am back in the enthusiastic category. This conclusion is not to say there is no need for improvement (there is) but today's experience showed me that this technology can work.

There are still many questions to be answered, including pricing, availability, battery life, and head fatigue, for starters. Nevertheless, I feel much better after my first real exposure to holographic gaming. All I know is that it can only get better from here, so let's just give it some time to grow.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • I want to see hololens used by Ikea or similar so I can see what my new cabinets will look like in my kitchen for example.
  • Think of how much wall space you could save by getting rid of your TVs
  • Any clue on a release date? This would be a great Christmas present...just saying.
  • 300-700€ I guess.
  • Since when do we count days with euros ?  jokes aside, i'm pretty sure it will be >500€
  • Yeah, I'm also expecting it to be "console priced."
  • No, I think it would be priced way higher. Google Glass was $1500, for that crappy small thing. I think it will start around $800.
  • Google Glass never actually released. What you're talking about is a prototype version that does not have any mass production cost reductions. But yes, I agree that it will probably start at $800 at least. My guess is anywhere between $800 to $1500 due to the fact that it seems like it could replace a PC. Microsoft has stated "significantly more than the XBox One", which for what it does, surprised me that they didn't compare the cost to a PC. Because of that quote though, I'm not estimating as high as $2k, which would put it up with high end gaming computers.
  • Heck u could get rid of your pictures and half the stuff in ur house.
  • you actually paint everything white, with a some sort of grid for tracking, and then you can live any where you want. :)
  • You'll notice in the original video and the images above that there's typically something dark behind the holograms, I don't think that's a coincidence. I reckon you'll get better results if you go with a grey paint. ;)
  • @BeneathTheSurface think of how much I'll save on paint! I can just prime the walls and change the color on the fly. Heck, I can have holo windows and change the outside!
  • Perfect for a loner I guess, but not so great for anyone that entertains.
  • naw, just get a bunch of 'guest' devices for when your friends come over!
  • I'm not paying whatever price it is for a Hololens to cover people visiting, I'll just use my TV.
  • Swedish instructions & missing parts challenge anyone
  • Nice try @FarStrider2001, instructions are in the universal language of pictures. :)
  • I never understood that joke... the instructions are easy to understand and don't use language as they're all pictures. I've assembled dozens, if not hundreds, of Ikea items and I've never had a piece missing - a few extras, yes, but never missing.
  • Great idea
  • Imagine when it can fit in a contact lens.
  • Yea. It is my vision of the near future that, in around 5-10 years or less, we'll have all these VR devices at least in regular glasses size and weight
  • i want it nowwwwwwwwwww
  • Who doesn't?
  • Lame. You can do better. Next time: use a Hololens first before expressing your thought.  
  • Comparing HoloLens to the Wii? That's just stupid.
  • A bit disappointed to hear that the FOV is more narrow as I was at BUILD, but imagine you'd get pretty used to it before long. How was the weight and fit of the device in your time with it, Daniel?
  • Weight depends on positioning. You do not want it resting on your nose (bridge) so your head should take most of the weight. As someone who wears a full motorcycle helmet, this was not bad at all.
  • You want something thats really agitating try a pair of the motorokr headphones worse a2dp headset ive ever had It was just uncomfortable to wear
  • Daniel, how is Hololens working when you close one eye? As i read somewhere, someone lose sighting on one of his eye and 3D cinema effect is broken.
  • Still no comment on the FOV? ofcourse, because its dissapointing. 
  • He did talk about FOV "It is true that the field-of-vision is still a direct line of sight. However, I did not find it distracting or an issue in Project X-ray, perhaps owning to the right fit this time around of the hardware."
  • The hardware is still not final. They said they didn't use a wider fov to prevent motion sickness, but they may concede as more and more reviews ask for a wider field of view. Heck they may make it expandable so you can switch between the two.
  • If that is indeed the issue: A possible solution could be a slider, very similar to Nintendo's 3D slider on the 3DS. A FOV slider, so it can be as wide or as narrow as you want, whenever you want, based on you and what you're comfortable with.
  • Great idea, would also make it better for wearing while walking around.
  • It wouldn't even be that complicated. If the HW supports a wider FOV, SW can just alter the size. I do expect a similar annoying effect similar to a 3D movie. Where the image goes past your FOV. Just like a well framed shot in a 3D movie, good programming could handle the limitations of limited HW
  • Where did you get the $2000 figure, I've never seen it mentioned?
  • Source ?
  • Do you have a link to where they said that?
  • The reality is that you replied to a comment that wasn't directed at you (ralexand56 asking twelvetudors) and I just posted a link back to yourself for my amusement. No one wants to have a a serious discussion with you - or your alt account. Anyways *ignore wpkevin*
  • I already want one.
  • HoloLens looks amazing, I will be one of the first to sign up for a demo when it becomes available at my local Microsoft Store.
  • thats so yolo of you.
  • Sweet
  • I wonder what battery life will be like......
  • Just get a TYLT Energi+ pack
  • How the hell did they not use this as your hud for halo 5 wtf ?
  • Its to early to tell if they gonna use it or not
  • Cool story bro! it seems with these demos and stuff Holoens are showing the nice ways it can be used for. I mean VR looks nice and all. but AR seems nice not only for videogames but for 3d software and other stuff, like the ones they have shown in the first videos. yeah it wasn't real code, but it still seems possible and better, because while minecaft seemed nice on those videos, seeing real code and how it can be used, was really so much better. Autodesk with Maya already said they would support it. so imagine all you can do with it. in many fields and industries. and in gaming industry it seems it has a different but wider room compared to VR. it's nice demos have made hololens look better.d of course price will be high and I won't get one but I like it and hope a cheap consumer version will be available someday in the next years.
  • Yeah ar was interesting but not enough interest in developing it on 3ds for example. Liked the ar Tetris
  • But Nintendo really did it half-way. They promoted it a little but never did much else with it outside of the AR Cards that came with it. I think Hololens is a more appropriate application of the technology where you can wear it instead of holding your handheld steady to keep the image from being shaky.
  • Speaking of ar seen this
  • Looks like a neat concept, abeit kind of creepy.
  • The small field of view still concerns me. I used on at Build and it was a bit too jarring. I really really hope they fix that before they ship, otherwise people are going to write it off like they did Kinect, imo. It's amazing, but that really made me feel like something was wrong with my device (but there wasn't.) Even if it increases the price by 25-30% to increase the FoV, they should do it.
  • You tried Hololens? That's amazing! Is the stuffs you see through the real Hololens as good as in the photo of this article? It seems to be extremly clear and coloful.
  • In an interview with giantbomb they admitted that the fov will not improve much.
  • Dan's house must be like FAO Schwarz on some days.  lol.
  • Oh boy....My daughter is already afraid of "ghosts" in her walls. Have you ever played a game for so long that after you stop playing you still kinda feel like your in the game world? (I had that with driving around in Grand Theft Auto--- it was NOT a good idea for me to be driving for real in that state!) I can't even imagine how this will feel after a long session.
  • Now that was incredible. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I strongly believe HOLOLENS are the future not only for Microsoft but as a natural replacement to smartphones and smartwatches and gaming consoles and maby some computing devices
  • i hate to say this but you should read what polygon said about this. hopefuly they are still working on what you see.
  • Who is the actual developer of Minecraft on HoloLens? We know it's not Mojang, but I'm curious which team it is (the HoloLens team? Do they have a name?). Did they say anything about how Minecraft on HoloLens will connect with other versions of Minecraft, if at all? Like, on E3 they showed someone playing on a Surface with someone playing on HoloLens. Was that Surface version the standard PC version? Is it a new Windows 10 Store version?
  • Commenting for answer
  • 1 question Daniel. Is it harmful to your eyes?
  • I can't wait to try it with Notepad at work. It's like the program is right there in front of me! Wooha...
  • I'm thinking I'd use it in a similar way. When you are working on something that had lots of components or reference material and a couple of screens is not enough to have what you are working on as well as your notes. I am hoping Evernote extends their app to allow you to pin whole notes to your environment. If not, this may be what finally makes me jump to OneNote (I personally prefer the simplicity of Evernote, although I do appreciate some features of OneNote I'm missing out on).
  • I agree, Jessicator.  As a programmer I deal with many open text files at once. Instead of having a million tabs in Visual Studio open, maybe I could drag them around the house and actually get out of my chair..
  • Great to see a new HoloLens demo, beyond Minecraft.
    Disappointing that Microsoft still representing HoloLens capabilities with images showing Holographics being shown all around the player, rather than only directly in front of his Narrow FoV.
  • I want Age Of Empires for HoloLens
  • This
  • How much do the glasses darken the rest of the room. Pictures make them look like rather strong sunglasses level of darkness. And how opaque is it? If the resolution and feild of view got there in v2, and everything else is the same, would it be good enough to watch a movie in a normally lit room w/o the background coming through?
  • I wonder that would it already be technically possible to have AR and VR on the same headset? Like sliding somehow VR displays in front of your AR view and off. Now that device I would definitely want to get as my own! :D
  • Can we do Pokemon Battles with this thing?
  • MS said Hololens can run any Windows 10 apps, so i think you can do that with a simulator app, but it seems that Nintendo won't make a specific Hololens's version of Pokemon. MS and Nintendo are competitors in gaming.
  • That would require Nintendo to get on board and that won't happen.  I forsee a bunch of different Japanese versions of the same technology that won't make it out of the country and then companies will complain about no one buying their stuff because they didn't make it available for anyone else outside of Japan.
  • First-generation product usually doesn't worth purchasing. I do not have any plan to buy this version of Hololens.
  • Really need to improve the fov!
  • I always wondered how they get the photos/videos of the holograms for media articles and for Build. That makes no sense haha.
  • imagine playing yu gi oh on Hololense?
    that would be an epic experience...
  • Its too good to be true. I feel like it's still gonna take time for the hololens to live up to want we've been promised, to perform the way microsoft claim it performs.
  • I'd love to play holographic board games like Carcassone, table-top, with other HoloLens players miles away.
  • Great idea! I just imagined playing a game of chess with the virtual board right there on my coffee table. Cool potential application if you ask me!
  • Thanks a lot Daniel, for letting us know how the HoloLens product in just 6 months got much better. I'm sure this hologram experience will attract not only mature gamers (25 to 40 years old) , but also milenials and kids (5 to 24 years old). This will give a boost to the video game industry in which their players today have an average age of 37 years old
  • I would really really like to have hololense. Wouldnt it be fantastic to play games behind your house, in the woods or just anywhere. Just load the game, Zombie attack, Warzone or whatever, and then just grab your Xbox rifle and start playing, alone or with your friends, and then just wait for the zombie holograms to attack you.
  • Ha, exactly... Wonder how rugged these are. Though we already know about alignment issues... Lasers beaming into your eye, perhaps outdoor playing might be too much to ask for at V1.
  • Zombies in your house!
  • Daniel, how are you able to use a controller with this without a wireless adapter?
  • Microsoft should not release Hololens until it is a truly immersive and jawdropping experience. It seems to be a jawdropping experience already, but the limited FOV kills much of the immersion. Microsoft absolutely has to fix this, because if they release Hololens with that small FOV, they may actually kill the product, even if they improve it in the future. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
  • Can Hololens allows me to put a fish in my empty aquarium? And I can only see them when wearing the Hololens.
  • Can you imagine what this tech can do with one of the largest industries in entertainment?   Porn. There are so many applications for this tech.
  • I'm board it it now, Minecraft is so 10 years ago (PC gamer when it first came out), If this is the only game it will work with, I'll be sick of it in a few days. From a graphics standpoint, Minecraft is nothing impressive.  I want to be impressed, I want to see more games than 1 and a bunch of contstuction or TV on the wall uses...