Virtual reality has the potential to reshape gaming, entertainment, and storytelling, not to mention engineering, architecture, art, and numerous other fields. Lucasfilm is fully committed to exploring these possibilities, and the company made sure that one of the highlights of the exhibit hall at this year’s Star Wars Celebration convention showcased the emerging power of their VR unit, ILMxLAB. Fans had the opportunity to experience Trials on Tatooine, a “cinematic virtual reality experience” that marks a first step into a larger world.
At the convention, the limited number of VR booths necessitated a distribution of tickets for various time slots throughout the day, rather than an ongoing queue. Each day the tickets were distributed quickly within the opening hour, so fans had to hurry to the ILMxLAB pavilion first thing in the morning if they wanted to ensure a chance to partake. Those lucky enough to experience Trials on Tatooine invariably declared the hustling worth the effort.
Upon arriving for the designated time slot on the ticket, fans initially gathered in a group to watch a short introductory video explaining the story context of the Trials on Tatooine experience, as well as to receive instructions on the logistics of the VR booth. With the preliminaries concluded, each participant entered a separate VR booth, where a technician assisted with donning the HTC Vive virtual reality headset and accompanying earphones that make the immersion possible. After greeting the arrival of the Millennium Falcon, talking to Han Solo, helping to repair the freighter, and receiving a lightsaber from R2-D2, combat with a squad of Imperial stormtroopers brought the adventure to a conclusion. Each experience in Trials of Tatooine will vary based on the reactions and interactions of the participant. Here are thoughts from FANgirl’s Tricia Barr and B.J. Priester:
Tricia Barr: Not being an avid gamer, Trials on Tatooine hadn’t been on my “must see” list for Celebration Europe. While meeting with the Story Group’s Diana Williams, who had agreed to moderate my panel “STEM Heroes and Heroines of Star Wars,” she offered to take me over to the ILMxLab area to meet Hannah Gillis, a project manager for the VR experience. Gillis holds a masters degree in emerging technologies was going to participate in the STEM panel, as well. It didn’t take long before Hannah was walking me into a booth to try the experience. I will admit to being intimidated because of my lack of videogaming experience, but I found with a few hints, such as how to reach out with the controller to assist in the Falcon repairs, the adventure was easy enough to follow. By the time I was swinging a lightsaber I was immersed in the world and only later wondered about practical matters of the design creation. Ultimately, I was most excited about the real world potential of virtual reality and how this artistic endeavor could eventually pave the way for engineers and scientists to interact with three-dimensional models.
B.J. Priester: Before the convention, I’d known that I wanted to try Trials on Tatooine if I could, but I’d realized it might be a challenge to fit in among all the panels I would be covering for FANgirl. Once I learned how quickly the tickets were running out in the mornings, I figured I’d miss the opportunity. Luckily, though, my schedule opened up on Sunday morning and I managed to get to the pavilion and pick up a ticket first thing on Sunday morning. A few hours later I joined other attendees for a round in the VR booths. Though hardly a frequent gamer, I’ve played enough videogames over the years that I found the interactivity using the handheld controller to be intuitive. On the other hand, by engaging with the experience standing up rather than sitting down, my inclination to walk forward toward the Falcon or the stormtroopers led me to several encounters with the in-experience blue-grid barriers warning of an approach to the real-world walls of the booth. Unlike Tricia, who managed to avoid being hit by the stormtroopers’ blaster bolts, I did not fare as well during my combat with them. Fortunately the VR for now is only visual and audio, so the only injury suffered was to my ego.
Tricia and B.J. share more of their reactions to the ILMxLAB experience and VR’s potential in storytelling on this month’s episode of Hyperspace Theories. Perhaps the best reaction to Trials on Tatooine came from Tricia’s fellow Star Wars author and STEM panelist Cole Horton, who announced that he could not decide whether the ILMxLAB experience was the best thing he had done at Celebration – or the best thing he had ever done.
Virtual reality is an exciting new tool for storytellers, but it will face the same limitations any artistic medium faces: value and demand will always be tied to the ability to create compelling adventures within the worldbuilding. Worldbuilding alone won’t allow the technology to flourish.
On Saturday evening during the Star Wars Rebels panel and screening on the Celebration Stage, the ILMxLAB team hosted their panel on the Galaxy Stage. In addition to discussing the future of Star Wars VR and other projects, the team announced that screenwriter David Goyer is collaborating on a virtual reality story experience starring none other than Darth Vader.
- StarWars.com interview with Rob Bredow
- Tricia Barr on Twitter @fangirlcantina
- B.J. Priester on Twitter @RedPenofLex
GIF from Trials on Tatooine via VR Scout
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