Immersive Reality: A Star Wars Story

Immersive Reality: A Star Wars Story

The latest blockbuster instalment in the movie series, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is releasing in cinemas this week. From the surprise smash hit of the 1977 original to the shocking disappointment of the prequels, nothing prepared us for the news that everyone’s favourite space opera was to be acquired by Disney for a massive $4.05 billion in October 2012.

After millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, Disney ultimately didn’t infiltrate the franchise with mouse-eared Stormtroopers and abrupt musical set pieces as many had feared, but instead produced two great films - anything is a plus when compared to the prequels, right? Fans can now look forward to a roster of both standalone films and those that further the core story.

Thanks to George Lucas’ business acumen, Star Wars has always led the way with product licensing and Disney has certainly been paying attention. There’s a Star Wars theme park slated for 2019 and broadening the brand into tech, TV and toys, so many toys… 

Of course, one of those new technologies is VR and AR, with Star Wars already being used for everything from proof-of-concept announcements to lightsabre demos and X-Wing missions. Let’s take a look at the brand’s presence in the emerging medium in its first year-and-a-bit and its potential to make XR mainstream.

It’s true, all of it.

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  • Take The High Ground!

    Opening in the same week as The Last Jedi - 16th December - the next episode of immersion in a galaxy far, far away comes in the form of Secrets of the Empire, a cooperative VR experience from The Void available in the US and for a limited time in the UK.

    Secrets of the Empire puts a team together - you and your friends, family or willing strangers - to complete a mission for the Rebel Alliance. Disguised as Stormtroopers and accompanied by Rogue One’s very own K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), players have to navigate their way through an Imperial base on Mustafar to steal some cargo, the contents of which are not disclosed.

    Expect to see this technology on other experiences in the not-so-distant future.

    Building on its LBE VR success with Ghostbusters: Dimension, The Void is behind the latest Star Wars ‘hyper reality’ experience. Using physical props and real world space in conjunction with Rapture virtual reality headsets and controllers, The Void’s ‘hyper reality’ offers players a tactile environment in a relatively restricted play area.

    Players are free to walk and explore without cable restrictions, all thanks to intuitive design that misdirects users into thinking they are exploring a larger space than they are. It’s seriously clever; expect to see this technology advance to other reality platforms and experiences in the not-so-distant future.

    The Star Wars logo is like an oasis breaching the horizon of a scorching desert.

    There’s no doubt that when the pop-up experience sets up shop in London’s Westfield mall, or as a standalone in Disney’s Downtown Complex in California, that people will flock to it. No matter what experimental or less-known technology is being used, the Star Wars logo is like an oasis breaching the horizon of a scorching desert. It will sell tickets, which in turn could spark an interest in VR/AR tech, which is great news for the industry.

    Following a streak of Star Wars experiences and projects - we’ll get to those shortly - Secrets of the Empire further demonstrates that a galaxy full of space puffins and ruthless bounty hunters is fully invested in visiting another reality.

  • X Marks The Spot

    EA DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront may have divided opinion with its omission of a single player campaign mode in 2015, but opinion is unanimous that Criterion Games’ Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission is everything aspiring 'XR-Wing' pilots could hope for.

    We demoed the TIE-in (Groan!) for the first standalone movie at last year’s XR Connects London and were rewarded with queues of attendees anxious to try out the snubfighter for themselves. And gamers around the world have been asking for a full length version ever since to match the 90s’ X-Wing and TIE Fighter series.

    You can read more about its creation in our developer interview

    This VR experience is the closest you’ll get to becoming a true X-Wing pilot in the Star Wars universe.

    For now, it’s safe to say that this VR experience is the closest you’ll get to becoming a true X-Wing pilot in the Star Wars universe. Imagine your childhood dreams coming to life, pixel by pixel before your very eyes and that’s how it feels to play this special VR mission. Walk around the X-Wing for a sense of scale before sitting in the cockpit, mashing all the buttons and taking a Star Destroyer head-on – what’s not to like? The fact that it’s only one mission, most likely.

    Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there are no plans to add VR compatibility to the sequel, Battlefront II. This tear-jerking information was confirmed by Criterion General Manager, Matt Webster, in an interview with Metro in September.


    Instead of waiting like Rey on Jakku for a full Star Wars VR game, you can download Rogue One: VR Mission now.

    Do You Think You'll Be Able To Pull Out In Time?

    The space brakes may have been pulled on Battlefront’s VR offerings for now, but that’s not to say that a new mission, or full game, won’t be developed in the future.

    There’s no doubt that EA and everyone else in the games industry are looking at VR/AR’s upward trend in investment and adoption - $1bn invested in Q4 2017 - so it’s only a matter of time until the next breakthrough experience is announced. After all, EA will be following the money after seeing its share value drop after the recent loot crate controversy.

    Instead of waiting like Rey on Jakku for a full Star Wars VR game, you can download Rogue One: VR Mission now free on PS VR, as long as you have a copy of Battlefront.

  • These Are The Droids You’re Looking For

    Created by Lucasfilm’s own development studio, ILMxLAB, Trials on Tatooine lets players battle Stormtroopers with a lightsaber, patch up the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy for an emergency escape and enjoy the company of the galaxy’s favourite droid, R2-D2.

    The go-to place to swing the elegant weapon from a more civilised age.

    Since its release in July 2016, Trials on Tatooine has established a reputation as the go-to place to swing and slash frantically with the iconic and elegant weapon from a more civilised age. Made exclusively for the Vive, the experience is short, but extremely atmospheric.

    The soft sandy dunes perfectly match those filmed in Tunisia for A New Hope, R2-D2 beeps and whistles by your side and the sound of blaster fire takes you back to the firefight outside the trash compactor; the aesthetic design is on point.

    The only real downside to Trials on Tatooine is its short playtime. Clocking in at under 10 minutes, it’s a disappointing ordeal replaying the same short experience to revel in what a full-length Star Wars VR game could be.

  • Let The Wookie Win!

    Virtual and ‘hyper’ Reality aren’t the only areas Star Wars has immersed itself in; Augmented Reality also gets a look-in with Lenovo’s Jedi Challenges,  a hardware and app combo for mobile devices.

    Jedi Challenges is one of the quickest and cheapest ways of getting hands-on with Star Wars in another reality.

    Consisting of a Lenovo Mirage AR headset, a tracking beacon and a (beautiful) lightsaber controller, the Jedi Challenges bundle is one of the quickest – and at £199 until the end of the year, cheapest  – ways of getting hands-on with Star Wars in another reality. Compatible with iOS and Android phones, from the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S7 up, Jedi Challenges could provide the crucial first step into VR/AR tech for new adopters.

    Loaded with three AR game modes to get stuck into; lightsaber battles, Holochess and Strategic Combat, it’ll be the former that attracts newcomers and also keep fans coming back for more. Dueling with Darth Vader or Kylo Ren in your living room should be almost guaranteed to be a hit in the run up to Christmas. The other two game modes look a little tame in comparison and allow for more casual play.

    Released last month ahead of The Last Jedi, you can expect to find Jedi Challenges under many Christmas trees this year. Whether long-term replayability can match the initial cool factor remains to be seen, but could it reinforce criticisms of XR as a novelty?

    As with many mobile application-powered devices, like Sphero’s BB-8 for example, updates bringing new features and fixing bugs can be implemented regularly. This keeps things fresh and cushions concerns about whether a brand-new device or game will become obsolete within a few months. Jedi Challenges is in the process of updating compatible phones, though there isn’t word of new game modes, currently.

  • Do, Or Do Not, There Is No Try

    We know that Hollywood is eyeing up XR as the future of content distribution, but we also know that the big studios are hanging back while they work out what it means. As Warner’s Jessica Schell explained, until a compelling monetisation model emerges, VR and AR experiences are born from marketing budgets, with short experiences based on tentpole titles like Star Wars.

    We’ve seen Walt Disney Studios team up with RealD and ILMxLab to promote the first standalone movie with a 360 immersive VR preview of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story called Rogue One: Recon.

    This year’s movie, The Last Jedi, got an AR app for iPhone and Android, where users could unlock characters from the movie with Find The Force.

    Opening just last weekend, Star Wars fans can now visit The Lost Art of Star Wars as part of Sansar’s Hollywood Art Museum. The app features never before seen designs and artifacts from the making and marketing of the Star Wars saga. Including works from Colin Cantwell, Drew Struzen, Joe Johnston, Ralph Macquerie, Phil Tippet, and others.

  • You Will Never Find A More Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy

    Star Wars in VR isn’t just about ‘selling’ the series in VR though. Other brands are also keen to be associated with the IP to promote their own products.

    Google used the franchise at its I/O event in May to demo the Seurat software that it claims enables developers to ‘achieve desktop-level graphics or better with a mobile GPU’. 

    Similarly, when Apple wanted to announce at its Worldwide Developer’s Conference that it would bring VR to Mac users, it turned to a galaxy far, far away and the Sith lord everybody loves to hate. ILMxLAB’s John Knoll said that, “This content can be made by the same people who (create) the films - and that’s incredibly powerful.”

    More recently, automotive manufacturer Nissan partnered with ILMxLAB and Lucasfilm to release Star Wars: Droid Repair Bay - Astro-Mechanic for the Resistance, primarily through select dealerships in the US, Mexico, and Canada and now free to play via Steam Store or Oculus.

    And just this week - riding the crest of the wave to the release of The Last Jedi - Google has added Star Wars AR stickers for its Pixel phone, first revealed at its October event.

  • No, I Am Your Father!

    But the relationship between VR and Star Wars isn’t entirely a one-way street. The tech has also helped  filmmakers to bring the movies to the big screen.

    It felt like what it was like to be on the final set of the film.
    Gary Whitta

    Speaking at this year’s GamesBeat Summit in Berkeley, California, Gary Whitta, screenwriter on Rogue One revealed, "We would go down to Industrial Light and Magic and say, 'We need a rebel base and a tower.' They went away and built them all in VR and AR spaces. We had Wiimotes, and we could walk around a rebel base, or on top of the Imperial communications tower on Scarif.

    "It felt like what it was like to be on the final set of the film. The real thing was only 20 feet up, but we were 500 feet up in VR. When the time came to build the sets, [film director] Gareth Edwards felt like he'd already been there, to an extent."

  • We’ll Take The Next Chance. And The Next. On And On Until We Win

    Recent projects such as Secrets of the Empire and Jedi Challenges are a sure sign that Star Wars is big business in the virtual space. But what can we expect from the series in the future? Sadly, no full-length VR games have been announced, but it’s only a matter of time...

    In the meantime, VR instructional site, FusedVR, is working on bridging the divide between VR and AR by developing a Star Wars project across both media.

    Both more exciting and less likely is the prospect of Titanfall devs, Respawn Entertainment, working on a Star Wars VR game. Following its acquisition by Electronic Arts, we know that the studio is working on a Star Wars title and ‘a VR gaming experience’. Could they be one and the same? We have a new hope...


  • There Has Been An Awakening. Have You Felt It?

    If one brand has the force to bring VR/AR into the mainstream, it’s Star Wars.

    There’s one question that bounces back and forth in the VR/AR world, seemingly without an answer: when will the tech become mainstream? Will it be with the development of more reliable, refined and robust tools? Or added convenience at lower cost to consumers? Or does the medium really need that one elusive killer app that will make it irresistible to the public?

    In truth, it’s likely to be a cumulative effect of these considerations and more, but if there’s one brand that has the force to bring VR/AR into the mainstream, it’s Star Wars….

Intern Staff Writer