HoloLens and Halo 5 turned my E3 into a Disney theme park funhouse

"Alright Spartans, listen up."

A hologram projection of Halo's Commander Sarah Palmer is talking to me, pointing at me, and fascinating me. I see her thanks to the special glasses an E3 booth attendant has fitted me with - the HoloLens - and because of this techno-gadgetry, for a brief moment, I really do feel like a Spartan in the UNSC. But let me rewind a moment, and talk about how I got here.

Microsoft first announced HoloLens, a set of glasses that allows its wearer to see and interact with virtual graphics in the real world (a concept also known as "augmented reality"), in January of this year. During its E3 press conference, Microsoft showed how HoloLens could work within the world of gaming with an awe-inspiring demo of Minecraft. Today, I saw how HoloLens can be used to turn a simple hallway into a theme park attraction.

As I entered a room set aside for a mysterious "Halo experience" - which no one would explain beforehand, it should be said - I was greeted by four booth attendees dressed in UNSC scientist garb. Two-by-two they fit the room of attendees with a HoloLens headset, having us slide and tighten the device's straps until it was sitting comfortably in front of our eyes and we could see the hologram in front of us.

Once our HoloLens was calibrated, we were ordered to stand and face a hallway, where a familiar sight to Halo players hovered in the air: a diamond-shaped objective marker. Walking down the hallway toward the objective marker caused it to grow, a visual trick that fooled my brain into thinking it was truly floating in front of me, getting closer and closer.

Once I reached the marker, I was asked to peek into a window so that I could see the prep work of other UNSC personnel. I turned to face what in reality was a wall, but HoloLens rendered it as a window into the starship Infinity's hangar. As I moved my head around, I could see further up, down, left and right depending on my angle, providing a convincing sense of depth.

As fun as these visual tricks were, it was easy to think of them as just that: tricks. The final piece of the "Halo experience" is what's sold me on the possibilities of this technology. After being herded into a round briefing room, I saw a hologram of Sarah Palmer, commander of the Spartans aboard Infinity, materialize and brief me on Halo 5's Warzone mode.

A small model of Palmer, no more than a foot tall, walked across a table's surface in the center of the room, giving me a rundown of what was about to transpire. I paid attention as she spoke, not wanting to disrespect this powerful authority figure. I felt smarter and more tactical as I walked around the table to gain new vantage points and inspect a 3D model of the battlefield and analyzed its geometry. I felt capable and prepared as I inspected the 3D model of an enemy, taking mental note of weak points. In these moments, I was almost convinced that I was a Spartan, listening to my commander's advice on an upcoming firefight.

In hindsight, I suppose I could describe what I saw as a 3D instruction manual. However, thanks to HoloLens, it was an instruction manual that also happened to be deeply engaging and flat-out cool.

These are the types of experiences HoloLens offers - the ability to turn a table and a hallway into something out of a Disney theme park attraction, and absorb users into a world of sci-fi fantasy. It's clear the technology still has a long way to go, as the field of view in which I could see holograms was quite small (about the size of a pack of playing cards when held at arm's length), and the glasses would occasionally need to be readjusted for optimal comfort and viewing angle. Also, it's hard to imagine people putting on these glasses for a 10-minute briefing before heading into multiplayer, taking them off to play, and putting them back on.

Still, for a moment, I was no longer a journalist on a crowded and noisy convention floor, but a Spartan in a war room. I have HoloLens to thank for that.


Hi! My name's Sam Prell. I'm a games journalist with a soft spot for MOBAs, MMOs, and puppies. I also unironically like Todd McFarlane's Spawn. May the '90s never die!
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