Once upon a time, AR was something pirates said to express all emotions then known to science - drunkenness, bloodlust, laryngitis. In our, more sophisticated but some would argue, less spirited age, it has come to be an abbreviation of the term augmented reality.
Thanks to Microsofts in-development HoloLens AR headset, announced this spring, the world will shortly become your holodeck. To recap, the device is able to project animated 3D graphics into the world that can be manipulated using motion and voice control. This is supposedly the future of online interaction and entertainment, but just how will Xbox games benefit? Here are some thoughts. Or perhaps, warnings.
And yes, I promise I won't bring up Minecraft. Too easy.
HoloLens allows you to throw a video stream onto any surface in your house, forming and stretching it between your index fingers as though opening a mystic sphincter. This has been billed first and foremost as a means of having Skype conversations or watching the footie, but theres no reason it shouldnt serve a higher purpose.
The Division features tablet-controlled drones that buzz around the battlefield, causing violent mischief - why not allow us to pinch open a secondary screen next to the TV that gives us a secondary viewpoint, doubling our field of view while adding the risk-reward of distraction? In fact, why have a TV at all? Everything you can see is a plasma screen-in-waiting. The underside of the toilet lid. That slice of toast youre eating. The face of a policeman whos reading you your rights. The back of your partners head while youre making love. Experiment!
Imagine approaching one of the weapons benches in Dead Space 2 and having it unfold right in front of you, across your coffee table. Your living room is now a gun factory. Rather than clicking at blueprints, you can then physically take hold of components and clip them together into a delectable instrument of limb removal. Just be careful you dont lose your cool at the sight of an approaching Xenomorph, mistake your cat for a vial of argon gas and try to screw it into the nozzle of a Contact Beam.
This doesnt have to end with Dead Space. Ubisofts Gunsmith customisation mode from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier already uses Kinect, and is crying out for holographic support. Come to think of it, ethereal guns that cry out would be a great use of HoloLenss spatial audio functionality. Also: youll never have to worry about sleep again.
Call of Duty
One of Microsofts HoloLens demonstrations sees you mapping the surface of Mars (as reconned by some bloodhound of a NASA spacecraft) across the floor and walls of a living room. This has been billed as a way of getting average Joes and Josephines to participate in the noble business of astronomy, but there are less educational applications, too. As eSports explode, what better way to learn a multiplayer game than to view it from the inside?
Spectate a game of CoD from a birds-eye view, or swoop down into a specific area to note camping spots and prime claymore bottlenecks. Or just have a picnic, allowing you to titter genteelly with friends as hysterical Yankee gorillas in Kevlar run in and out of the CD rack, yelling for ammunition. Perhaps developers could make it so that players can see you in turn - a huddle of golden avatars, lounging among the fallen like half-arsed Valkyries. You bastards, theyd shout. Dont you know theres a war on?
Games are getting more complex - you can tell, because titles like Battlefield bombard your eyes with so many digits and dials you'd often think you were looking at the thing in development, rather than the finished product. But, with HoloLens, no longer will you need to worry about ghastly health read-outs, ammo counts and minimaps hemming in a games graphical estate. Simply pluck these widgets, one by one, from the TV and place them carefully around the room, as though arranging a set of ill-advised novelty candles for a romantic dinner.
Actually, why not incorporate this into the politics of your living room? Allocate HUD components to the chests, faces and crotches of flatmates depending on how nice theyve been to you lately. Boyfriend a real tool? He can take charge of the QTE prompts, then, juggling them from hand to hand like hot potatoes. Sister on your good side? She can wear the health bar round her neck like a chain of office.
Games that pit diabolical armchair generals against teams of adventurers are all the rage nowadays - just look at Lionhead's new player-led approach to upending cauldrons of goblins all over rosy-cheeked swordsmen. Whats more, many of these are already handled by auxiliary devices, such as tablets or the fleshier kind of smartphone.
Take away the phone or tablet, strap on your HoloLens goggles, and what have you got? Well, youve got a Fable Legends level all over your lap. Watch out, your elbows inside an ogre. Try prodding one of those Redcaps to initiate a pincer movement - argh, youve just poked a hole in one of your own barricades. Quick, do jazz hands till everybody calms down!
Collectibles aren't really fun, are they? Chasing down Shards, Fragments or Pigeons scratches an itch, but itches are never that welcome in the first place. That said (providing you never take your goggles off) HoloLens could let you populate your shelves with collectible in-game items and concept art - most games are absolutely laden with this kind of tat, but not 'til now have we had a meaningful use for it.
If we were to be able to take the antiquities we helped Lara Croft pilfer and place them around our house, we might suddenly become a little more invested in the process. No puzzle will ever be as rewarding as the one that lets you say you got a pseudo-real Ming vase to put on the bureau as part of the bargain.
The Far Cry series has achieved great things by allowing its big baddies to make contact as you explore, like really obstinate telemarketers. With a HoloLens to hand, theres no reason these characters shouldnt invade your actual home. The menace of scenes like Far Cry 4's opening would be increased tenfold if it felt like the term "cutscene" might suddenly become horribly literal for you.
Or they could just make the whole thing a maddening distraction; imagine a hologram of Pagan Min walking into your apartment, for example, just as youve settled down with the crossword and a cup of tea. Ive just used up the last of your toilet paper, Ajay old boy, he cackles. And I didnt wash my hands. Now Im going to run my fingers over the contents of your fridge.
Gears of War
Well done - by dint of an artful thumb wiggle thats surely more befitting of the Kama Sutra than Gears of War, youve managed to dodge Marcus Fenix past a rocket. Trouble is, the rocket has kept on going - right out of the screen and into your living room. In fact, its just decimated one of those virtual Tomb Raider relics we were talking about you'd mounted above the minibar.
Playing with the space around you, as well as inside your TV, is the kind of concept that's hard to explain without seeing it in action, but the kind of game that chucks silos' worth of ammunition at you is a perfect fit, adding terrifying immersion. Plus, for extra heart-rending effect, Fenix could snap his head around, saying, come on, dude - that piece was a pre-order exclusive.
If youre anything like me - and youd better be, or much time will have been wasted writing/reading this feature - youll have jumped to one conclusion on hearing that HoloLens will let you scrape away the surface of a real object to reveal a virtual diorama. Why, thats the perfect basis for a sort of environmental discovery mechanic!
Some of the most enjoyable VR games are simply about finding stuff, like Gear VR extravaganza Smash Hit Plunder. Remember finding treasure maps in Dragon Age: Inquisition? The search was wonderful, but the act of finding your prize was a disappointing tap of the A button. With HoloLens, entering the vicinity of a hidden collectable might involve craning to root around under the settee, or lifting up cushions in hopes of uncovering a bottle of Ferelden bubbly. If nothing else, this sounds like a great way to combine recreation with housework.
All the others
It seems no pearlescent vision of a hotly approaching future is complete without a few notes of banality - so yes, absolutely, you can use HoloLens to queue up the next 10 Rock Band tracks if you like. You could use it to view and listen to impassioned (read: horrible) Xbox Live messages from FIFA opponents without returning to the dashboard. And I suppose if you absolutely must you can use HoloLens to Bing for DLC, or check on the progress of your downloads. Its a free country.
Necessity is the mother of invention, but comments threads can be helpful too. What would you do with HoloLens, were you some sort of game developer with actual knowledge of technology and things? Let me know below - Ill be back in a second. Pagan Mins got into the washing machine again.