“Try to look straight,” a Microsoft employee tells me in a bright, cheery tone. I’m staring through an unusual pair of binoculars — the kind that’s normally used to test your eyesight in an optometrist’s office. My gaze is locked on the piercing white light inside, but I can feel my sleep-deprived eyes beginning to tire. “Oh, you’ve moved again,” my guide mutters with a hint of disappointment. I’m sitting in a small meeting room deep inside London’s Excel Exhibition Centre, waiting for the distance between my eyes to be measured. It’s not even 9AM, but already the first Minecraft fans are spilling through for the second day of Minecon — a fan convention that celebrates the blocky building game invented by Markus “Notch” Persson. Once an indie darling, the imaginative sandbox title is now a global phenomenon played by millions of children and adults around the world. But today, instead of queuing for pictures with creepers and famous YouTubers, I’m waiting to play Minecraft on HoloLens.
While Oculus, Sony and Valve are busy working on virtual reality (VR), Microsoft is focusing on something else entirely: augmented reality (AR). With the HoloLens headset, you can visualize and manipulate digital images overlaid on the physical world. One of its most impressive showings to date was at E3 in Los Angeles this year, where Microsoft demoed an AR version of Minecraft. The player was able to project the game onto a wall and later place the entire world on a coffee table. Unsurprisingly, the crowd went nuts. Now, here at Minecon, I’ve been given the chance to try the same demo for myself.