2016 is set for some high-caliber game releases, but this year is more likely to be defined by hardware than software. Oculus Rift, the Kickstarted virtual-reality headset backed by Facebook, will begin shipping to those who pre-ordered the device on March 28. Though the device is the first high-end VR device to enter the market, it won't be without competition for long. The HTC Vive, which was created in partnership with Valve, will launch in April and Sony's PlayStation VR is set for release in the first half of the year.
VR is garnering the most interest currently, but Microsoft has chosen to back a slightly different horse: augmented reality. Microsoft revealed HoloLens, a device that augments a user's perception through holograms, in January of 2015. The device made an appearance at E3 2015, but information about the product's release has been scarce thus far.
Ahead of the Game Developers Conference 2016, Microsoft has officially opened pre-orders for the development edition of HoloLens and released new details about the headset. The device will only be available to developers in the United States and Canada who apply for a dev kit and are accepted by Microsoft. Those accepted will pay $3000 for the self-contained headset. There are currently no announcements about when the device will be available for the general public.
Along with a number of tutorial videos, Microsoft is including three games with the development edition of HoloLens to demonstrate what the platform is capable of. The first game is called RoboRaid, which was previously shown at E3 2015 under the title Project X-Ray. The game will task players with defending their homes from invading robots through a holographic first-person shooter. The second is Fragments, a crime drama that unfolds in the player's unique environment. Players will be tasked with searching for clues throughout their environment and interacting with characters that can appear anywhere in the room. A demo of this game can be seen in the above video.
The final game is Young Conker, a new platformer starring the red squirrel originally created by fan-favorite developer Rare. The game is unique in that, rather than playing through standard levels created by the development team, Young Conker makes platforming levels based on the environment. In theory, this will make the game a unique experience for every player, as no two environments should be exactly the same. The developers also indicate that simply changing the positioning of their body could offer players an entirely new level.
While there's an emphasis on gaming for the headset, HoloLens is being marketed as a general Windows device. As such, the development edition will also ship with a number of different apps for new developers to experiment with. HoloLens will also run an enhanced version of Skype, allowing communication via holographic images, as well as development tools for creating 3D images and holographic tours of exotic locales in a 360-degree panoramic view.
The games and applications already created by Microsoft are fascinating, appearing as though they've been pulled directly from science fiction. However, the most exciting idea here is that other developers will finally have a chance to experiment with the technology on their own. Imagine the type of frenetic experience a developer like Insomniac could bring to the device, or the stunning visual spectacle Ori and the Blind Forest developer Moon Studios could create inside your living room. Exploring the possibilities of HoloLens could end up changing how players experience gaming as a whole.
HoloLens Development Edition pre-orders are now open, with the device shipping on March 30th, 2016.