Star Wars is one of the most celebrated franchises in history, and it only makes sense for it to make some sort of appearance in VR. Some VR companies had their own take on a lightsaber in the virtual world, but none could perfectly provide an experience that would please fans. That changed at GDC with the Trials on Tatooine demo from ILMxLab.
The Two Suns
The demo was available on the HTC Vive, and it was an extra surprise immediately after my playthrough of The Lab demos at Valve’s booth. You take on the role of a Padawan student living on Tatooine under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker. The demo started with the traditional Star Wars fanfare (including the story scrolling beneath your feet) before transporting you to the familiar sands of the planet.
I took a moment to look around, still amazed by the fact that I could actually visit Tatooine in the virtual world. In the distance, behind some clouds, I saw the familiar two suns setting on the horizon, and I quietly started to hum John Williams’ “Binary Sunset” piece from A New Hope.
At this point, a set of small lights illuminated around me to indicate that I was standing in a landing zone, and then I heard a ship approaching. As it came closer, I could make out its familiar shape -- it was the Millennium Falcon.
Service And Repair
Once the ship landed, Han Solo told me that I was getting some extra assistance with my “training.” The ramp opened, and R2-D2 rolled out, whistling and beeping. A few moments later, two TIE fighters swooped down from the sky and unleashed a volley of shots at the Millennium Falcon. This caused a problem with the ship's engine, and because I was already outside, Han told me to take care of it.
Up to this point, I had yet to interact with the environment. Pulling down a section of the ship to reveal the engine components was the first step. After pressing a few buttons with the controller, the engine was repaired. However, another problem arose: An Imperial shuttle was coming, and it was loaded with stormtroopers. To defend myself, R2 provided me with a lightsaber.
Stand And Fight
As the swarm of stormtroopers approached me, I pressed the trigger on the Vive controller to turn on the lightsaber. With it, I deflected an array of oncoming laser shots back to the soldiers, which was the only way to kill them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t swing my lightsaber anywhere near the stormtroopers to inflict some melee damage.
After some time, the guns on the Millennium Falcon shot down the rest of the enemies before the ship took off. There were a few seconds left with the demo, and I spent them swinging the lightsaber towards the ground and some nearby rocks. Each swing left a burn mark where it made contact with a surface. I even pointed the lightsaber towards R2, who slowly backed away. Then, the credits rolled, signaling the end of the demo.
A Dream Come True
Overall, Trials on Tatooine delivered on the Star Wars experience. We’ve seen the movies and played the games on PC and consoles, and it’s fitting that Star Wars would be available in VR as well. It was a bit disappointing that I could use the lightsaber only to deflect shots instead of actually fighting my way through villains, but it could be added as a feature in the next demo.
For the ILMxLAB team, the demo was a success in VR. Even with the short gameplay time and the lack of activities available, it was a much-needed proof of concept. Who knows? Maybe this demo will inspire developers to work with ILMxLAB to create more Star Wars experiences for fans to enjoy in a different medium.