New Microsoft patent may be the answer

he Holodeck. Where the executive officers of the Enterprise, DS9 and Voyager live it up with holograms in fantasy, sport, staff development days, rituals and ceremonies, holonovels; you name it, you can have it. There we see the revenge-consumed Captain Jean-Luc Picard mowing down a couple of pursuing Borg drones, bent on assimilating the universe. Hang on...I thought those were holographic bullets. That's right Alfre Woodard, but he's disengaged the safety features. The Holodeck, before or after loading. Beats the ticking hourglass... For those of you who aren't in to Star Trek, you probably should be, but I'll have a go at explaining what the Holodeck is to you. Basically, we have a room. Whilst outside, and sometimes inside, we ask the computer to conjure up a variety of things. In the video, we see Picard programming a scene from "The Big Goodbye" and the appropriate clothing. As the Star Trek Wiki, Memory Alpha, snappily puts it: "A typical Holodeck consists of a room equipped with a hologrid containing omnidirectional holographic diodes, enabling holographic projections through the manipulation of photons contained within force fields." Yes...well. In short, non-sci-fi terms: whatever you want, you can have in holographic form. A tantalising prospect for any fan of gaming, and even popular culture in general. What if you were able to immerse yourself completely in the world of Halo, for instance. Running around the map, gun in hand, getting completely annihilated because you keep being distracted by that flower that looks and feels totally real. I suppose we were starting to get there with Duck Hunt.

Microsoft's new patent...just a little further

How far away are we from this? Well, it's easy to see that we're lightyears away from the kind of technology we see on Star Trek (although, as Eddie Izzard fantastically points out, we do now have automatic doors), but interactive gaming is becoming more and more immersive. I remember the first time I went in a virtual reality simulator. It was rubbish. I had to look around while shooting pixelly purple triangles. This was about twenty years ago, and it's amazing to see how close we're getting. The Playstation Eyetoy released in 2003, for example, incorporated gesture recognition to bring in some relatively entertaining things, though never really reached the bigger titles. Then the Wii was released. Thinking about it now, it seems pretty obvious: a wireless controller that detects any gesture or movement; but at the time, I remember thinking how close we were getting to the Holodeck. Here was a console that you could stand up and interact with. Tiger Woods PGA Tour, a firm party favourite, was like actually going out and playing a few holes with my Dad, without the tedious walk to the next shot. Then the moment came that I was waiting for, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Yes. Finally. The chance to wield a lightsaber. I totally, and foolishly, believed that this was going to be my chance to become a Jedi, when all I was left with was a handful of one-directional slashes and a disappointingly button-driven Force arsenal. Though I haven't played it, Star Wars Kinect looked like a step in the right direction, albeit clunky, slow and reminiscent of shoot-em-up arcade gameplay. Gesture-based interactive gaming is on the up, though, and I'm happy to see gaming developers investing in it. Microsoft have patented technology that swerves towards the Holodeck-style gaming. A published patent application made by Microsoft demonstrates how a figure can be immersed into the gaming world by use of projectors against the four walls of their room and Kinect technology. The patent was filed in early 2011, so the research and development could well be underway. The projector is apparently capable of a panoramic image that should surround the user, but should only serve as a peripheral image with the television still being the main display. The projector should be able to sense the topography of the room, adjusting accordingly, so the projections aren't skewed. This would almost solve the problem of not being able to walk around the world you are supposed to be immersed in, and has come a long way from the caged gaming experience I had twenty years ago. Being able to walk around in a virtual world is something that concerned inventor Julian Williams, developer of the WizDish, which I recently reported on. The WizDish, offers a solution to the virtual reality gamer's movement: a platform with skate-shoes. Yes, it is a little crude, and as you may see in his demonstration video, the 'walking' is far from normal being more akin to shuffling. Williams asserts that the simple act of upper-body and lower-leg movement is more likely to make the user feel as though they are moving through the virtual world than simply standing in one spot as the Kinect dictates.