Living the Jedi Dream in ILMxLAB’s Trials on Tatooine
Regardless of how invested you are in the Star Wars universe, there has been a time in nearly every person's life when they imagined swinging a lightsaber around. The iconic weapon of the Jedi is such a cool piece of technology, it's hard not to want to be able to use one yourself in real life. Though you can buy replicas for fans of any age ranging from simple toys to expensive recreations, at the end of the day, they're just facsimiles. With ILMxLAB's Trials on Tatooine virtual reality experiment, you may only get to hold a HTC Vive controller, but it's undoubtedly a much more authentic lightsaber experience.
We stepped into the world of ILMxLAB's Trials on Tatooine at Star Wars Celebration Europe this weekend, after waiting for many months to finally give it a go. Announced earlier this year, the experiment serves as a tech demo of sorts, letting ILMxLAB and the team at Lucasfilm try out some techniques to see what works and what engages the audience. In it, you're stranded on the home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker as a test of sorts for your Jedi training. That means you get a lightsbaber, and with it all the excitement it entails.
"The evolution of this, it really was an experiment," said Rob Bredow, chief technology officer at Lucasfilm, and co-writer/director of Trials on Tatooine. "We were very curious about how storytelling can work in virtual reality, where you can transport people to new environments, put people into Star Wars first hand, and what kind of storytelling makes sense.
"This was a very simple, five-minute test where you get to be a Jedi in training on Tatooine, and our idea here was to test some different mechanics and gain some experience about what does and doesn't work in this world. We can use this for a starting point for our very much larger and more immersive experiences that are actually in development."
The demo starts off innocently enough, with players able to look around a landing pad in the middle of the desert. Not long after you're dropped in does the familiar engine sound of the Millennium Falcon appear in the distance. Sure enough, Han Solo and his ship soon land right on top of you, but you won't be boarding the ship. As it turns out, Han's just here to drop off R2-D2. Before he can leave however, some TIE fighters interfere with his exit, and a short battle takes place. You don't get to help fend off the TIEs, but you do get to watch the Falcon blow them to bits.
The Millennium Falcon takes some damage though, and you and R2-D2 have to fix a converter before Han and Chewie can get back to smuggling. Some more Imperials show up, and this time it's a ground contingent of Stormtroopers. You've got no weapons to star with, but thankfully R2 came prepared with a gift from Luke: your very own lightsaber. The HTC Vive controller has a fairly good balance and weight to it, and you definitely feel like you're holding one of the most legendary weapons in all of science fiction.
"For this experience we're using just one controller, which is better for wielding a lightsaber," Bredow explained. "But the idea is you can interact with the environment properly and it gives really good registration from a technical perspective. Where your hand feels like it is, it matches perfectly in VR. You get a pretty good experience without having to reach into the environment and touch buttons and wield a lightsaber and have the accuracy we were looking for."
It takes a moment to settle in while we're playing, but once we get the hang of swinging the lightsaber around, fending off the Stormtroopers is a snap. You can't move and rush the Empire soldiers, but you can use your lightsaber to deflect their laser blasts right back at them. The deflections aren't automatic though. You actually do have to aim your deflections back at the hapless troopers. Many a Wilhelm Scream were heard this day, friends. We've seen it done in the films and cartoons endlessly, but it's just so satisfying to do it yourself. That's particularly true if you can line up a good groin shot.
While we thought the experience was limited to to the lightsaber action, Rob Bredow did inform us there were some Jedi powers to explore in there as well. Kind of wish we knew about that before hand because who hasn't dreamed about thrusting their hand forward and Force pushing a Stormtrooper into a rock? Maybe next time. Then again, maybe the next experience will have a bit more depth to it as well.
"We're excited about lots of different aspects in VR," Bredow said. "We're very fortunate to be partnering with EA and DICE working on VR games. ILMxLAB is really focused on immersive experiences, and they'll still have some interactivity, but we'll have both games and experiences going on.
"For me personally, when I look at things that are most exciting in VR, it's the kind of experiences that engage something creatively within the person. I really like painting in virtual reality, I like building and constructing; you see the creative expression of the player or user in VR, and those are the kinds of things where I think there's a lot to uncover and a lot for us to learn from."
A home version of Trials on Tatooine will be available on Monday via Steam for compatible devices. ILMxLAB also announced this weekend it would be teaming up with David Goyer for a Darth Vader VR experience in the future. Little else was shared about this interactive title, but that another is already in development is good news for VR and Star Wars enthusiasts.