Unity and Universal Windows Platform

So… back in 2015 I went to Microsoft Ignite on the Gold Coast in Queensland and was lucky enough to attend Vaughan Knight’s session on Unity 3D and Universal Windows Platform.

The claim was that an application could be built and tested either on a PC or Mac and could then be deployed to many different platforms. The focus of this session was on Universal Windows Platform; specifically mobile devices as Vaughan had recently left Nokia.

So Vaughan fired up this application called Unity and started dragging and dropping things into what he was calling a Scene, including GUI elements and interactive objects.

He was then adding “scripts” to them and making them do things in real time, such as responding to user input or following out their own predetermined behaviour, sometimes they would just sit there until something triggered them.

That was my first exposure to C#, and it looked daunting to say the least… Vaughan then went on to explain it was using some sort of library called Mono that was apparently based on Dot Net whatever that was… Vaughan was making it all look far too easy…

Finally something didn’t go to plan and he had to start debugging. I’d never seen debugging like this before, switching things on and off and narrowing it down until the object that was causing the issue was highlighted. Then he could jump into the script and have it write debug messages out to the console… wow… all this and he hasn’t even deployed it to the device yet. It’s all running by clicking a little play button in the Unity Editor. Where was the five minute compile and build and deploy and register and launch and noooooo I forgot to save my changes routine I remember from programming?

Apparently this application he was building could be deployed to any Universal Windows Platform device, straight from Unity. I was looking round the room seeing if anyone else was as sceptical as I was… nope, people were suddenly clapping and the session was over.

Vaughan’s Presentation

Later at Ignite I saw someone called Rocky Heckman and remembered this thing he was talking about at the Key Note called the HoloLens which apparently was a computer you could wear on your head and look at these things he was calling “Holograms” as they moved about in the room with you… I remembered he said that was running Universal Windows Platform… Hmmmm interesting… I started talking to Rocky asking him about it, but it seemed that they didn’t even have a demo unit in Australia yet… well if they did, he definitely wasn’t going to be letting anyone like me play with it… next thing I know I accidentally overhear a conversation between two other high ups at Microsoft and apparently Rocky is going to be the HoloLens advocate for Australia… sounded like Microsoft were really serious about these “Hollographic computers” that can deliver something they are calling a “Mixed Reality” experience.

Rocky Heckman’s Presentations

Ignite 2017 and the HoloLens Golden Ticket

It’s been really hot lately and as I was slowly walking up the steps towards the Gold Coast Convention Centre and Ignite 2017 with sweat beading on my forehead I started thinking about why Microsoft chose the word “Ignite”. I was wondering “am I likely to spontaneously combust?”.

Clearly Ignite is all about sparking your imagination, opening you up to new experiences and gently fanning the flames of new start-ups. You can feel the excitement as you look around it’s almost as if it hangs in the air like cosmic background radiation and everyone is eager to hear Microsoft’s take on the future.

The first few sessions I attended felt like they were building to something. There was also some mention of an elusive Golden Ticket that would win you some time with a HoloLens.

It was great to see the familiar face of Vaughan Knight again. This time he was demonstrating the use of natural language to interact with a computer. His bot even had some witty responses; when he asked where he should park his car it quipped “where all the other cars are parked” before showing him the way there.

A few sessions later and it seems computing is for the most part going full circle. People used to pay for time on giant computers that filled whole floors of buildings. Then technology advanced and computers got much smaller and you could have your own. Then we filled whole floors with our own computers. Finally we had so many computers we realised we had to do this better. Computers were so fast now that one person couldn’t use a whole one, so we invented pretend computers that could run inside the fast computers and then we could give people a pretend computer. People started realising that all these pretend computers running inside of the fast computers have a lot of duplication and there were bits of the pretend computer that they didn’t even want. So we bundled up the bits we wanted in some sort of pretend container and started giving people those instead. Soon people got tired of messing around with pretend computers and pretend containers and now they just want to pay for some time on a giant computer that fills whole floors of buildings.

Fortunately for us the next phase of making the computers smaller means they are so small that you can comfortably wear them, a screen and a bunch of other technology straight out of science fiction strapped to your head.

The next session I attended was by Lars Klint and Alex Mackey, and these guys actually have a real live HoloLens on stage and are giving an amazing presentation they’ve called “Reality Check. AR & VR for Fun & Profit“.

There’s more talk of that elusive Golden Ticket and apparently you can win one by asking an interesting question… a couple of slides in and they present the following facts:

Screen Refresh Rates of current VR devices:

  • 60MHz – Google DayDream
  • 90MHz – Oculus Rift
  • 90MHz – HTC Vive
  • 90-120MHz – Playstation VR

So up shoots my hand and I nervously ask “How many times a second is that?”… Lars and Alex look at me blankly, there is an uncomfortable silence and then I say “I think you mean Hz not MHz”… more uncomfortable silence… and then Lars recovers by walking over and handing me a Golden Ticket.

I felt like I might spontaneously combust again, Ignite had sparked a burning desire to get my hands on a HoloLens and just like Charlie getting a Golden Ticket to visit Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, I now had the means to do that…

Find out what I did with my time in the HoloLens in my next Blog post: Unity plus HoloLens equals Amazeballs.

It’s going to be a lot easier for you to get your head into a HoloLens, simply come along to the next Mixed Reality HQ meeting.