Minecraft in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

minecraft_ar_godview

Microsoft recently created possibly the best demo they have ever done on stage for E3. Microsoft employees played Minecraft in a way no one has ever seen it before, on a table top as if it was a set of legos. Many people speculated on social media that this may be the killer app that HoloLens has been looking for.

What is particularly exciting about the way the demo captured people’s imaginations is that they can start envisioning what AR might actually be used for. People are even getting a firm grip on the differences between Virtual Reality, which creates an immersive experience, and augmented reality which creates a mixed experience overlapping digital objects with real world objects.

Nevertheless, there is still a tendency to see virtual reality exemplified by the Oculus Rift and augmented reality exemplified by HoloLens and Magic Leap as competing solutions. In fact they are complementary solutions. They don’t compete with one another any more than your mouse and your keyboard do.

Bill Buxton has famously said that everything is best for something and worst for something else. By contrasting the Minecraft experience for Oculus and HoloLens, we can better see what each technology is best at.

 

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The Virtual Reality experience for Oculus is made possible by a free hacking effort called Minecrift. It highlights the core UX flavor of almost all VR experiences – they are first person, with the player fully present in a 3D virtual world. VR is great for playing Minecraft in adventure or survival mode.

minecraft_ar_wall

Adventure mode with HoloLens is roughly equivalent to the adventure mode we get today on a PC or XBOX console with the added benefit that the display can be projected on any wall. It isn’t actually 3D, though, as far as we can tell from the demo, despite the capability of displaying stereoscopic scenes with HoloLens.

What does work well, however, is Minecraft in creation mode. This is basically the god view we have become familiar with from various strategy and resource games over the years.

minecraft_ar_closeup

God View vs First Person View

In a fairly straightforward way, it makes sense to say that AR is best for a god-centric view while VR is best for a first-person view. For instance, if we wanted to create a simulation that allows users to fly a drone or manipulate an undersea robot, virtual reality seems like the best tool for the job. When we need to create a synoptic view of a building or even a city, on the other hand, then augmented reality may be the best UX. Would it be fair to say that all new UX experiences fall into one of these two categories?

 

Most of our metaphors for building software, building businesses and building every other kind of buildable thing, after all, are based on the lego building block and it’s precursors the Lincoln log and erector sets. We play games as children in order, in part, to prepare ourselves for thinking as adults. Minecraft was built similarly on the idea of creating a simulation of a lego block world that we could not only build but also virtually play in on the computer.

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The playful world of Lego blocks is built on two things: the blocks themselves formed into buildings and scenes and the characters that we identify with who live inside the world of blocks. In other words the god-view and the first-person view.

coffee prince

It should come as no surprise, then, that these two core modes of our imaginative lives should stay with us through our childhoods and into our adult approaches to the world. We have both an interpersonal side and an abstract, calculating side. The best leaders have a bit of both.

minecraft_ar_limburgh 

You apparently didn’t put one of the new coversheets on your TPS report

The god-view in business tends to be the synoptic view demanded by corporate executives and provided in the form of dashboards or crystal reports. It would be a shame if AR ended up falling into that use-case when it can provide so much more and in more interesting ways. As both VR and AR mature over the next five years, we all have a responsibility to keep them anchored in the games of our childhood and avoid letting them become the faults and misdemeanors of the corporate adult world.

Update 6/20

A recent arstechnica article indicates that the wall-projected HoloLens version of Minecraft in adventure mode can be played in true 3D:

One other impressive feature of the HoloLens-powered virtual screen was the ability to activate a three-dimensional image, so that the scene seemed to recede into the wall like a window box. Unlike a standard 3D monitor, this 3D image actually changed perspective based on the viewing angle. If I went up near the wall and looked at the screen from the left, I could see parts of the world that would usually be behind the right side of the wall, as if the screen was simply a window into another world.

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