I was joking before going to Celebration Europe 2016 that if the only thing I did there was ILMxLAB’s Virtual Reality Experience, Trials on Tatooine, I’d be perfectly content. On the convention’s final day I got my chance to play and I kid you not, over Thrawn’s introduction in Star Wars Rebels or the new Rogue One footage, Trials on Tatooine will forever be my top moment from SWCE 2016. Not only was it an wholly immersive VR experience, as it felt like my childhood imaginations came to (virtual) life, it also helped sell me on VR technology and its potential.
Before we get into all the fun stuff, I’m going to go over some of the details regarding the technology and set-up first. At the ILMxLAB booth, players were taken in clumps to go through orientation regarding the technology, how to play, and given an intro to the game’s story. Before those in my group got split off to play Trials on Tatooine, two helpers gave us an overview of the HTC Vive technology and the background setting for the experience. The Vive consists of the VR headset and track pad (they provided headphones), all with as close to 1:1 movement as they can get, which means your real-life movements translate directly and seamlessly into the game so there’s no lag with swinging the device in your hand or with looking around. A lot of the motion sickness worries with VR come from having that delay, which thankfully isn’t as prominent with the Vive. They also warned us that if you see a blue, grid-like wall appear in front of you, don’t go any further since that meant you’d be walking dangerously close to the actual walls of the demo room. With the Vive, it not only tracks your head movements, but also your position in a 3D space, which is vital for several parts of the demo. Once the orientation was over, each player got their own decently sized room and given the controls. And yes, “This is where the fun begins!”
The story’s pretty simple: Set not too long after Return of the Jedi, you’re a Jedi hopeful trying to join Luke Skywalker’s New Jedi Order and are on Tatooine as part of a mission. Han Solo shows up in the Millennium Falcon, with R2-D2 in tow, but things aren’t peaceful for long when the Empire shows up and attacks both via TIEs and stormtroopers on the ground. The overall game lasts barely ten minutes, but it was the most magical ten minutes of gaming and immersion I’ve ever experienced. It starts where you’re just chilling on Tatooine and almost immediately I was sucked right into the world, as it really felt like I was there. And just as you have a few moments to take in the vista of the sandy surroundings, the Falcon comes swooping in and lands over you, which caused me to flinch and duck a little bit. Besides the occasional snag of the cord from the headset, at this point in Trials, I was all in on the illusion of me actually being in Star Wars/participating in the drama of my favorite saga. I mean, besides getting to one day stand by the Falcon they build for the films (or will at Star Wars Land), standing underneath the virtual one feels like the next best thing at the moment.
Something is broken on the Falcon, because of course it is, and Han’s voice comes over the speakers as he directs you to help Artoo fix the ship. TIEs attack the Falcon, with laser blasts searing the sky over your head and jolting around Han’s piece of junk ship, which part of it nearly breaks off and squashes you. Before your controller becomes a lightsaber hilt, it’s some simple multi-tool, which you use to grab a piece of the Falcon and pull it down to the ground. You assist Artoo with repairs and once stormtroopers start to swarm the area, you’re requested to push whatever buttons you can on the panel, which had me frantically pressing everything glowing which, thanks to responsiveness of the controls and the game’s ability to register my jerky movements without fail, kept up the magic of being in the world. As the stormtroopers move in, Artoo reveals a gift from Luke: a lightsaber.
I’m already geeking out beyond belief, living in what feels like a dream where I’m physically interacting with the Falcon on Tatooine, but the moment the lightsaber lit up just about blew my mind. Here I was, seeing a virtual representation of all the ways my imagination used to bring the crummy toy lightsabers of my youth to life, and what’s the first thing I do? Start writing my name in the sand…then swinging it wildly around like a madman, lashing out at Artoo (who backs out of the way), and trying out poses like Obi-Wan’s in Revenge of the Sith. I was kid again, but once the first blaster bolt whizzed past me, I was pulled back into the moment. To defeat the stormtroopers, who look really intimidating in virtual life as they take cover and swarm your position, you have to deflect the bolts back at them with the lightsaber. The Jedi make this look really easy, but initially I was having some trouble and started to worry about my chances of getting into Luke’s new Order. But once I got the hang of it, I managed to take out several troopers, some close and some far away, before the Falcon‘s guns save the day and drive them back. As the Falcon leaves and the game world begins to fade to black, I struggled with the idea of taking off the headset because that would mean I’d have to leave Tatooine, leave the Falcon, Artoo, and my lightsaber behind. Even in those short few minutes, it felt like I had been there forever and that the world I would see when taking off the headset was the dream, not the reality.
Well, it wasn’t that melodramatic of a moment when I took off the headset, but there’s no denying the immersive nature of the experience and how much I so eagerly wanted to just jump right back in and do it all over again. Everything, from the graphics, sound design, and the way you interacted with the VR world combined to truly make the short experience feel totally immersive. It was a solid showcase of VR’s potential, as moving around the virtual space, pressing buttons on virtual ships, and swinging the lightsaber felt real because your physical movements translated directly into the world around you. Likewise the game reacted to your ability to randomly interact with the environment (writing name in the sand, Artoo backing away) making you the controller, which helps to sell the world’s illusion of you being in it, whereas typical non-VR games only give you button commands and certain things to interact with (though some boxes nearby didn’t have a scratch on them despite me swinging the saber through them). The sense of scale was the tasty sprinkles on the icing on the cake, as the Falcon certainly looked to be sized appropriately, as was Artoo, who I could compare in size with all the ones I had seen for several days around the convention floor.
If there’s anything I would hold against Trials, besides the brevity of it, it was the restricted area of movement. The moment the game started I kind of wanted to run off in whatever direction I was looking and see where it would take me, but that was simply not allowed due to the cord running from the headset to the demo computer and the physical walls of the room I was in. VR developers and peripherals have solved movement issues in-game and in a person’s limited space at home in a few ways: there are VR treadmills, which are small and circular that use your input on the treadmill to translate into movement in the game, but that would certainly get exhausting in something like an open-world game à la Grand Theft Auto (though at least it would be great exercise!); while some games have set areas you can warp to and explore in a limited fashion. Either option would be pretty amazing to bring to whatever ILMxLAB thinks of next for Star Wars VR experiences, but Trails on Tatooine without a doubt makes me believe they know what they are doing with the technology and will do their best to take advantage of all the quirks and intricacies of VR gaming. Now I just need the money to shell out to get the HTC Vive (currently over $800!) to play this on Steam VR (and I can only dream and hope this comes to the PlayStation VR after it releases in October, which is slightly cheaper though not as powerful).
Here’s someone playing through it via Steam VR (this was one of the first ones I found where someone didn’t draw a penis in the sand or containers nearby, which of course that’s what some people just have to do with a VR lightsaber, I guess)
Here are a few other things:
- Shortly after I exited my demo, someone came out of their room and just started screaming stuff like, “holy $#*=×!+@& s*%t,” stealing the words right out of the mouth. My friends who played similarly loved it at as well, enjoying the chance to strike a pose and wield a saber.
- B.J. Priester and Tricia Barr talk about their positive reactions to Trials over at FANgirlblog, which was very neat to read as to get a non-gamer’s opinion on it.
- There was a helper in every room, but once I was immersed in the game (very quickly, I might add) I totally forgot about him sitting in there, watching me frantically try to repair the Falcon or swinging my lightsaber around like a madman, laughing out of pure enjoyment. Once it was over and I took off the headset, I kind of jumped when I saw him. I wasn’t embarrassed one bit because I was having so much damn fun, but I did ask him if I had, at any point, accidentally swung at him or almost hit him, but it seems the way they have the game world orientated, he’s effectively behind you/away from the action; Which is probably a good thing because I was maybe a little too into it and I probably would destroy something in my house if I didn’t have the proper open space set up before playing this.
- This wasn’t my first experience with VR, as I played a demo of the PlayStation VR at a local Best Buy about a week prior to SWCE, though after that I didn’t walk away completely sold or excited about the technology. It was partly due to playing the Into the Deep demo, which is where you’re being lowered in a diving cage far into the depths of a creepy sea setting and are promptly attacked by a massive great white shark. I got into it a little bit, picking up my feet or flinching back when the shark swooped in, as the scale and immersiveness certainly heightened what was obviously not real (my antics and occasional words of exclamation led a group of people to be suddenly standing around the demo station, watching, but I wasn’t too embarrassed by it. It’s to be expected with VR, as I mentioned above with the helper in my cube). With that though, the software isn’t quite as strong as the Vive and I left with a little motion sickness, as well as a lukewarm feeling about the future of VR and that great experiences might be a few years off; Trials on Tatooine taught me that’s not necessarily true and that this is only the beginning.
- At SWCE, it was announced screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy, Blade Trilogy) was working on a new Star Wars VR experience with ILMxLAB and it’s a Darth Vader story experience. No details were released, but here’s a trailer!
Video games have always given you the ability to feel like you’re part of the action, but this time you are the action. You are a Jedi Knight in training. You are blocking blasterfire with your lightsaber. You are assisting the Millennium Falcon with repairs. You are a part of Star Wars. VR is just beginning, but if we can get quality experiences like this as the tech continues to improve, gaming will never be the same. Trials on Tatooine, despite its brevity, is a stunning example of the platform’s potential.
+ Childhood imagination brought to virtual life
+ Responsive, intuitive controls
+ Good showcase of being in an VR environment/VR’s potential
– Very short
OTHER VR NEWS:
Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission Teaser, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Demo Impressions
EA Provides Minor Updates on Upcoming Star Wars Video Games from Visceral Games, Respawn Entertainment, and More
Star Wars VR Experiences from ILMxLAB Teased
OTHER SWCE 2016 NEWS:
It’s a Wrap: Celebration Europe 2016 News Roundup – Han Solo Casting, Ep. VIII Teases, Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel Author Revealed, Battlefront DLC
Cosplay Gallery and Celebrity Sightings (SWCE 2016)
Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Panel/Press Conference Details: Trailer, Grand Admiral Thrawn (& Novel), New Characters (SWCE 2016)
Star Wars Rebels Season Three Premiere Review: “Step Into Shadows” (SWCE 2016)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Panel and Costume Exhibit (SWCE 2016)
Ahsoka’s Untold Tales Panel Impressions (SWCE 2016)
SWCE 2016 News Roundup Pt. 3: Ahsoka Untold Tales and Future Filmmaker Discussion Panels Announced
SWCE 2016 News Roundup Pt. 2: Panel Schedule is Live, Exclusive Art, VR Experience (UPDATED)
SWCE 2016 News Roundup: Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Premiere, Rogue One Props, Podcast Stage
Star Wars Show Launches, Reveals Special Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 Rogue One Panel (SWCE 2016)
STAR WARS VIDEO GAME REVIEWS:
Knights of the Old Republic Series:
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
Knights of the Old Republic
Dark Forces/Jedi Knight Series:
Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike
Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
The Force Unleashed:
The Force Unleashed 2
The Force Unleashed
OTHER VIDEO GAME REVIEWS:
Telltale’s Game of Thrones:
Season One: Ep. 1 “Iron from Ice” | Ep. 2: “The Lost Lords” | Ep. 3: “The Sword in the Darkness” | Ep. 4: “Sons of Winter” | Ep. 5: “A Nest of Vipers”