HoloLens Dev Edition pre-orders open for March shipment, includes new Conker game

Conker! Hologram murder mysteries in your living room! Robot-busting walls!

Microsoft today opened pre-orders for the development edition of its HoloLens augmented reality headset. The $3,000 self-contained headset will begin shipping in March and comes with access to a number of free “experiences,” including three games, according to a Microsoft blog post.

The system will only be available as a pre-order to developers in the United States and Canada who apply for the HoloLens and are accepted. Microsoft has not yet said when the device will be available for sale to non-developers or how much it will cost.

The HoloLens was announced as a general Windows device, initially shown off with a variety of experiences including Skype, an exploration of a photo-realistic Mars, sculpting and games. But gaming is obviously a big push for the device, with games being nearly half of the free experiences available for download on the HoloLens.

“Gaming is clearly an exciting and lucrative genre of content on any development platform,” wrote Kudo Tsunoda. “Having been a gamer my whole life, and a game developer all of my adult life, it is an area of passion for me as a developer.

“For the HoloLens Development Edition, we have delivered 3 unique examples of mixed reality games that demonstrate the elements of holographic gameplay that no other platform can deliver.”

Young Conker sees the return of the eponymous red squirrel, originally developed by Rare for Nintendo games, in an augmented reality platformer.

Young Conker is unique because it takes traditional platform gaming mechanics and sets them loose in your real world environment as the gameplay level,” Tsunoda wrote. “This creates gameplay that can only be done in mixed reality. One of the most exciting things we discovered with Young Conker is how unique the gameplay is based on where you play.”

Young Conker is designed to build levels around the environment in which you play, according to the blog post.

“This means every person gets a unique gameplay experience since each gamers’ real world environment is unique,” according to the blog. “It is amazing how different the play experience feels based on playing the game in your living room versus your kitchen or your bedroom.

“Even starting the game from a different position in a single room creates an entirely new gameplay dynamic.”

Fragments is a mixed reality crime drama that takes place around you. Gamers investigate clues and work to solve crimes that take place around them.

“As a holographic platform highlight, Fragments demonstrates how creators can build characters and storylines that drive a higher level of emotional engagement and attachment than you can with any other medium,” Tsunoda wrote. “Trust me, the first time one of our Fragments characters comes in to your home, sits down on your sofa, and strikes up a conversation with you it is an unforgettable experience.”

Tsunoda calls the game the sort of experience that “bridges the uncanny valley of your mind and delivers a new form of storytelling.”

Both Fragments and Young Conker were created in partnership with Asobo Studios.

The third game, RoboRaid, was originally called Project X-Ray when it was shown off at E3 last year. The game has players shooting robots that break through the walls of the room you are in.

“The basics of RoboRaid were built during our team’s ‘wacky week’ where we let our developers build anything with holograms they want,” Tsunoda wrote. “Within a week, a small group of developers had an enormously compelling first-person holographic shooter up and running.”

A team of eight created the game over 12 weeks.

Along with the three games, there will be four other experiences available for download on the HoloLens.

Those experiences include Skype, HoloStudio and HoloTour, all of which were shown off when the HoloLens was first unveiled, as well as a new program called Actiongram, which will hit this summer.

Actiongram is described as a new holographic storytelling medium which uses mixed reality capture to layer holographic content onto real world settings.

“These are videos that previously could only be created using expensive effects packages by people with extensive 3D training,” Tsunoda wrote. “We will be delivering new content for Actiongram regularly so that you can continually express yourself in this holographic medium.”

A bit surprisingly, the HoloLens version of Minecraft, shown off when the device was announced and during last year’s E3, is not among the list of early experiences of which developers will have access.

Those experiences are not necessarily indicative of applications and games that will be commercially launched. Instead, they are meant to be examples for developers interested in creating their own HoloLens programs.

“As a developer, I believe the documentation and tutorial videos will be instrumental in making holographic development as delightful as the holograms themselves,” Tsunoda wrote. “But nothing illustrates key development strategies and best practices like being able to see and experience a comprehensive portfolio of actual holographic apps.”

Today’s blog gives no indication of whether any of these programs will be commercially released. Microsoft also still hasn’t released the specs for the wearable computer.

The augmented reality news comes as developers prepare for the Game Developers Conference next month, a show that will see a number of virtual reality talks and demonstrations for devices like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR.