The Star Wars Celebration is in full effect in London and the ever-groping tendrils of the brand’s reach have discovered new frontiers. The visionaries at ILM X Lab shared their VR experience Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine at the convention and after a bit of wait, we were able to try it ourselves. Having hands-on time with VR is exciting in its own right. For that session to be Star Wars-related takes it to the next level. Since VR’s hook is immersion, no Star Wars adventure can begin without a crawl:
It is a time of rebuilding. Having defeated the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance has reformed as the New Republic.
After many journeys to the distant corners of the galaxy, uncovering secrets from the forgotten past, Luke Skywalker stands ready to create a new JEDI ORDER.
One hopeful Padawan is studying the ways of the force on a distant desert world, awaiting an important delivery from Han Solo…
Granted, the crawl isn’t going to win any awards but it sets the scene fine.
ILM X Lab utilizes the HTC Vive system. Built on an architecture developed by HTC and Valve, among others to execute the experience, it is lightweight and unobtrusive. At Celebration they employ a one controller setup, paired with the Vive headset and headphones. The user is placed in a square room approximately 10 x 10 feet with a bit of walking room. A grid pops up whenever the user is near a wall but it’s ample room to execute a rather immersive experience.
Trials on Tatooine begins with the Millenium Falcon landing and in need of repair. As it approaches the surface of Tatooine, it’s difficult not to try and get out of the way. It seems as if the ship is landing directly on top of you. Unarmed, the player’s Padawan is asked by Han Solo to help R2-D2 repair an external part of the ship. With the droid nearby, the player has to press a few buttons and it’s a good way to ease someone into the VR experience.
The exercise allows for the interaction to become second nature. A little bit of walking is required as well as moving towards sounds and movement in the periphery. Then there’s the use of the controller and the approximation of distance. The player has to reach a little farther than they’d expect to accomplish something. Then, the bad guys show up and the experience really kicks into gear.
The meat of the experience occurs when the danger escalates due to attacks from Tie-Fighters and then the arrival of an Imperial Shuttle. Left alone with the R2 unit and the lightsaber it’s been holding, the player gets to participate in some true action and use their budding Jedi skills.
The lightsaber is a perfect pairing with VR. It’s astonishing how even the most subtle movements of the hand trigger an identical response in the headset. With a lightsaber, the ability to interact is resoundingly effective. Different swings and jabs create a perfect representation on the screen and though the environment is rather small, everything reacts to the blade. Though it’s fun to simply cut into various pieces of equipment, when Stormtroopers arrive everything else goes by the wayside.
Considering that we are currently in the early stages of VR and the limitations it currently presents it’s understandable why the experience is built around deflecting blaster bolts rather than actual melee. It’s fun to consider we’re in the Atari 2600 era of the medium and that the future holds untold possibilities. In this incarnation, there’s so much merit to execution. Stormtroopers fire from cover behind cargo crates and it’s the user’s job to repel the blasts.
It’s difficult not to be a little self-conscious when asked to perform somewhat animated tasks that must look silly to the observer. Once the bolts start flying towards the player’s head, it’s impossible not to duck or dodge. Soon enough the experience is fluid. The body is sidestepping and evading while the wrists flick at the bolts coming in from a variety of directions. While there’s no real penalty for getting hit there is loads of value to the experience.
Though the concept is finite and only scratching the surface, Trials on Tatooine is a big win. Without taking too much license, it’s as close to being in Star Wars as currently exists. It leaves the user wanting more and provides a gateway VR experience that sells the concept extremely well.
Now let’s get some Jedi battles cooking, ILM.