Magic Leap of faith: This robot-zapping game looks totally trippy

The secretive maker of augmented-reality goggles releases a video showing off some jaw-dropping game action.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
2 min read

Magic Leap, the startup working on goggles to bring 3D images to the real world, has released its first-ever video showing its technology in action.

The secretive Florida-based company was to have shown the same minute-and-a-half clip at the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, this week, but canceled its appearance instead. That cancellation has only added to the aura of mystery around Magic Leap, which has yet to show what its device looks like or disclose how its tech functions.

Magic Leap is just one of many companies investing in bringing 3D objects to life before our eyes -- and not through screens. The startup has received $542 million in venture capital funding from Google and others to develop Hollywood-quality augmented reality, which overlays digital images onto the physical world around you, and lets you interact with them. That puts it in direct competition with Microsoft, which is doing the same with its HoloLens goggles.

At the same time scores of other companies -- from Facebook-owned Oculus VR to Samsung to game maker Valve -- are building virtual-reality goggles, which simulate entirely alien worlds in full 3D glory. Filmmakers, ad agencies and sports firms also see augmented and virtual reality as lucrative new forms of entertainment.

Magic Leap's video is a first-person display of what a user may expect to see. It contains the typical use cases of augmented reality: We see the user float a YouTube video in midair before cycling through his email inbox and swiping away objects after he's finished.

What comes next is so astonishing that it would seem too good to be true. The Magic Leap user picks up a real toy ray gun and unleashes it against a small army of invading robots that drop from square holes in the ceiling. After dispatching his enemies, he sees tank treads blow through the wall of his office -- ending the session in a flurry of gunfire.

Magic Leap promises to bring 3D images to the mundane, like 3D robots and ray-guns to an empty office space. Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

Magic Leap claims in the video description that employees are actually playing this game around the workplace.

While that may be, it's worth noting the video was produced in conjunction with Weta Workshop, the New Zealand-based special-effects company responsible for the computer-generated images of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. That suggests Magic Leap could be stretching the truth a bit -- showing a level of image clarity, smoothness and motion control that's more advanced than what it can achieve today.

When I tried Microsoft's HoloLens in January, it did everything Magic Leap's demo showcases, but with images that were far more transparent and with gesture controls restricted to a single finger, not entire hands or independent objects like ray guns. And Microsoft also had to design each of its four HoloLens demos specifically around a room's layout, none of which were this wide open.

Magic Leap did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the video shows a concept or a live-captured video feed.