The Halo HoloLens experience in Microsoft's mammoth E3 booth feels more like something you'd find in a theme park than a trade show.
Microsoft invited press onto the show floor a couple of hours before it opened. We were escorted through a backdoor and into a line outside what looked to be a futuristic base. After a short wait, the faux steel-plated doors slid open and we walked along steel grates into a room decked out to look like something pulled from the Halo universe. Seats lined the walls and scientists in white jackets bustled about the room's center column which included two seats and an array of scientific equipment.
"Alright Spartans listen up, welcome to Halo Warzone," one of the scientists said. "This is an exclusive event using Microsoft HoloLens for a personal immersive experience."
One by one, we were asked to take a seat in the center of the room and don the HoloLens headset. Once on, the headset projected objective markers into the air in front of me. It felt a bit like being inside the game. Walking toward the first floating arrow, it counted down the distance until I arrived, then directed me to turn left and walk down a hallway along metal grating. The next objective directed me to take another left and then to stand up against what looked like a bulkhead and stare through a "window."
The window, an image created by the HoloLens on the wall of the hallway I was in, overlooked a hanger packed with Spartans, marines and ships. We're in the UNSC Infinity, I suddenly realized.
Next my heads-up HoloLens display directed me to a room almost completely filled with a large round table with a sunken top. The HoloLens projected a full hologram filling the entire top of the table.
A Spartan appeared in the center and started walking us through the objectives of a match we were about to play in Halo 5's recently revealed Warzone mode.
The hologram moved and talked, but was transparent, looking like something projected out of an R2 unit in Star Wars, or any other science-fiction movies. The spartan, displayed head-to-toe, spoke from the center of the table as information popped up around her. At one point the figure of the spartan was replace by a holographic model of the map we were about to play on. Different objectives on the map were marked in red and labeled. The spartan suggested we lean in close to get a better look at the map. Leaning side to side also offered different angles on the floating image.
When the briefing turned to describing the enemies, the floating images seemed to solidify, offering up a much more detailed look at each alien we would be facing and where their weak points were.
Finally, the briefing ended and we were escorted out to play a match of Warzone, but not before removing our HoloLens headsets.
The experience offered interesting insight into some of the ways a developer might use the headset to augment a gaming experience. While it was entertaining, it also felt a bit like filler, an unnecessary way to deliver information that could have just as easily been delivered in a typical video game method, through images on a television.
I also found this, my latest experience with the HoloLens, to be the first that was somewhat diminished by the headset's tiny viewing screen. I've noted before that the image projected by the HoloLens is about the size of a deck of cards. But in the past that's never been an issue. Every other experience has been so captivating that I quickly forgot about that tiny viewing window. In fact, even thinking back, I rarely can remember the size of the image.
But in this case, the viewing size sometimes cut off the very top or very bottom of what I was supposed to be seeing. It was a little disappointing, but most importantly, it broke the spell cast by the HoloLens' seemingly magical technology.
And once broken, you start to fidget with the gear, shift in your view, and think about the delivery mechanism more than the content.