Hands On With Mixed Reality And First 'Space Pirate Trainer' VR Experience

Every single one of the shows we visit always has at least one little gem, and our three days at Gamescom proved this phenomenon once again. A solid handful of the game demos were beyond impressive, but one that particularly stood out was the Space Pirate Trainer demo at the HTC Vive booth. The game was a great deal of fun, and we (and everyone else) have written about it plenty, but what made this particular demo a gem was that it took place in a green room (well, they used red instead of green), and a live ‘mixed reality’ view was streamed to overhead projectors for the audience to see.

How Does That Make It A Gem?

As tech journalists, we get access to tons of exclusive VR demos, and something we figured out early on is that it is extremely difficult to explain just how compelling VR is without putting an HMD on someone’s head. I've personally had trouble convincing friends and colleagues to simply just try it, but when they finally do they become enamored.

The mixed reality Space Pirate Trainer demo was a gem because this technology makes it a little easier for us explain the feeling of VR: It’s called virtual reality for a reason. You’re not controlling a character in a game through a monitor; you are the character, and you are inside the game. Even so, mixed reality doesn’t entirely explain the feeling of VR, but at least it takes us halfway there. So, without further ado, enjoy the video below where I embarrass myself in Space Pirate Trainer. Don’t worry, I’ve cut out the really boring bits and all but one of my deaths.

How Do You Record That?

In addition to your standard VR set, you’ll also need a green room (any color will do, but green is best), as well as an extra camera, and in the case of HTC Vive, a third controller to pinpoint your camera’s location in the tracking system.

From there, all that’s needed is a game that looks fun to play, a bit of specialized capturing software, and that’s it.

(Well, there’s a bit more to it, but this is the gist of it. A couple of my colleagues will be producing a few more of these on our own in due time.)

Enough About Mixed Reality, What About Space Pirate Trainer?

One way to describe Space Pirate Trainer is that it’s like Space Invaders in VR, but that isn’t giving it enough credit. You stand on a platform in space, and alien robots (or whatever they are) come at you roughly from in front. They’ll try to shoot you, and if you don’t dodge their lasers they will also kill you. Your goal is to kill them before they kill you. Wave one is easy, wave two a little more difficult, and so on.

As bullets get closer to you when you’re being shot, a ‘bullet time’ mode activates, which slows down time and highlights the bullets that are about to hit you. This makes it easier to dodge them at the last moment, but you’ll still get shot if you’re not careful.

To kill the enemy robots you’ve got a choice of weapons ranging from a slow-firing, single-shot kill laser cannon, to a space grenade launcher, to a laser blaster. If you arch your arm over your shoulder and back you’ll swap out the gun you’re carrying for a shield that you can use to deflect enemy bullets. If you’re accurate, you can even aim the deflected bullets right back towards your enemies.

However, the coolest weapon by far is the slingshot, which you activate by holding the shield in one hand and switching it to slingshot mode with the touchpad on the HTC Vive controller. Then, aim it at an enemy robot, press the trigger, and pull on it as if it is a fishing rope to reel him in, either so that you can shoot it with the gun you’re holding in your other hand, or straight up smash it onto the platform you’re standing on.

Space Pirate Trainer isn’t a complicated game, and definitely not a AAA title, but it’s still an arcade game you can spend tons of time in. Heck, it takes a decent bit of practice to master it, but you won’t be bored for a single moment. The only time you’ll be doing nothing is between the waves of enemies, but after wave 4 you’ll really appreciate that you have a couple seconds to catch your breath. Have an HTC Vive and want to play it? It’s already available as an Early Access Game on Steam for just $14.99. A beta release will be available towards the end of the summer, and I-Illusions promises a major release later this year.

Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.

  • loki1944
    Wow, less and less incentive for VR. The games are just so mobilesque and lacking. At this point that they still have no killer game says a lot.
  • bit_user
    I don't know how much this type of mixed-reality really adds, except to prove that it was you. If I'm watching VR eSports, I'd rather see untethered players running around with VR backpacks. Go ahead and show their avatars, while you're at it.

    I know that's not really the point of this tech, and thanks for posting it. Only downside was that it needed flash.

    I think this tech will be great for recording/streaming presentations (like weather people, on the news) and we've seen it used to make commercials of VR apps.