Windows 10 and the ‘HoloLens Academy’ – A Game Dev View

I wrote an article about my time with the HoloLens which was posted on Microsoft UK Developers. I wanted to post it here as well in case you didn’t get a chance to see it.

Link to the original – (https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/developers/articles/week04aug15/windows-10-and-the-holoLens-academy-a-game-dev-view/)

I recently got the chance to go to Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, WA and experience the “HoloLens Academy”. This is where Microsoft staff take you through a tutorial with the HoloLens and show you how to make a simple app/Hologram (can I coin the phrase HoloApp?).

The HoloLens itself

The many years, companies and parts that have gone into the circular architecture of the HoloLens helps form one beautiful piece of tech. It’s not too light and not too heavy, and sits very nicely on your head so as not to place pressure anywhere unnecessary.

As I went through the various elements of the tutorial, the real genius behind the design begins to shine through. The cleverly positioned speakers provide 3D audio over the top of real world sounds, allowing me to figure out where my holograms were just by listening.

The holographic display, centred on your vision but not all consuming, allowed me to see objects in the real world. And when I say this, I mean the objects which I had been able to create and place in the world in less than an hour, but more on that later.

You still retain your peripheral and general vision, so the integration of the virtual world with the real world is almost seamless, and at times you do find yourself believing the holograms are actually real, but what really makes you believe the holograms exist is the way in which you interact with them.

Interaction

Because you essentially have a computer on your face, any gesture that uses your head can be passed into the HoloApp (phrase coined!). This includes gestures such as gaze, finger recognition, and voice. The HoloLens is constantly sending information to the application about all these features, and all of them can be used to interact with the virtual world.

HoloLens, Windows Holographic and Windows 10 can recognise these actions and allow you to react to them in code. For example, an object can be made to follow a person’s gaze around the room. More impressively the HoloLens, powered by Windows 10, can recognise voice or, more specifically, keywords set up in the code or at run time. This incredibly powerful tool means you can detect when and if a person has stated a keyword or phrase, and react accordingly.

Windows 10 will even give you the level of accuracy to which it’s sure the person has said the keyword or phrase. The HoloLens also recognises finger based gestures, with the finger-down-finger-up action becoming a staple gesture in the HoloApp experience.

Ease of Design

The thing that surprised me most about making an app for HoloLens was how easy it was. I’ve been making VR apps and games for around eight months now, so I’d like to consider myself as somewhat experienced. Yet creating a HoloApp was considerably easier.

The only “HoloLens” part of the development which was different to usual Unity development was using a different camera to the standard Main Camera. Other than that HoloLens made everything simpler.

There was no need for complex or graphically intensive skyboxes; the skybox is now the real world. What that means is that I can focus purely on the development of the hologram and how a player interacts with it, as well as the quirks of design that could really get a player invested in the HoloApp, instead of worrying about the design of the background.

It’s especially worth noting that a lot of VR development goes into improving the player’s sense of immersion in the virtual world, but with the HoloLens the fact that the virtual world is a part of/at one with the real. Your mind allows itself to believe the holograms are real, that they exist.

It’s this aspect of HoloLens that really give HoloApps a completely different and much greater sense of immersion compared to what I’ve experienced before. That, partnered with how easy it is to create a HoloApp, makes it a lot of fun to develop for.

Holographic Magic

The final thing to mention is something Microsoft likes to call “Holographic magic”. The thing with a lot of the holograms is that they are small objects in the world. They have height and width and depth, but they still sometimes feel a little alien.

Where HoloLens comes into its own is when the holograms involve whole areas. For example, the “Holographic magic” section of the academy involved blowing a virtual hole in the floor of the real room, revealing a holographic world below; with rivers and hills and real complexity.

When the holograms you were playing with before fall through this hole and down into the new world, you actually feel like it is there, as though if you stood on the hole you would fall in. And that is the magic of HoloLens; bringing your imagination and creativity into the real world and making you believe it could actually be there.

I haven’t covered every detail so I’m happy to answer questions about my experience (I’m on Twitter!). But these are the key aspects that I think should show you how exciting a prospect it’s to be able to develop HoloApps for HoloLens and bring forth new and exciting ideas into the real world.

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