Make It A (Virtual) Reality: Star Wars VR

A small ship darts down the narrow gully, its wings are spread, splayed into an X shape. The ship’s shadow, generated by the seemingly endless barrage of green blasts flying past, flashes over the metal walls on either side as it dodges watch tower pillars, criss-crossing gangways and volleys of laser. The target lies ahead. All that matters is the target. Star Wars Trilogy ArcadeReaching up the pilot flicks a switch and the targeting computer prepares itself, only for a voice in the pilot’s head to indicate another choice of action. Was it all in his imagination? A delusion perhaps brought on by the stress of intergalactic battle, something he had never been involved in before. Or, was it real?

The small fighter, utterly dwarfed by everything around it, is rocked by more explosions as fire comes this time from behind. A ship of a slightly unusual design. It’s pilot, cold and calculating as he tries to line it up in his crosshairs appraises the small white craft ahead. “The Force is strong with this one.”

If you’re a long time reader of the our Make It A (Virtual) Reality column you might be scratching your head a bit since we’ve already touched on Star Wars once in this series. However, whilst that article was indeed about Star Wars, it was specifically related to making of the films (or a film related experience) in virtual reality (VR).  In this instance we’re looking more into the gaming legacy of Star Wars.

In a lot of these articles we do a little back and forth over whether or not this week’s topic would be ideal for a VR makeover but in this instance it really isn’t needed. Firstly how many space-simulations, roguelike fighters or intergalactic shooters have we seen come or know are coming to VR already? Off the top of my head I could list Stellar, Elite: Dangerous, Descent: Underground and Sublevel Zero. Star Wars has nothing to worry about in terms of the practicalities. Secondly it’s Star Wars; its gaming legacy is as rich and varied as the universe that has been crafted over film, books, television and more.

As such what direction could you go to make a Star Wars VR experience? Here are a few potential paths.

Star Wars: Pod Racing VR

Now this opinion may cause some interoffice tension, if not have me thrown out off the site completely, but I actually like the prequels and I especially like The Phantom Menace.

Whilst it gets a lot of flak for the performance of a small child and the fact it starts with Jedi dealing with tax issues (and if that’s not a clear sign of a Galactic Republic stagnating under the weight of its own bureaucracy, thus giving the Sith the opportunity they needed I don’t know what is) it was a film full of fantastic visuals and action. It didn’t have much in the way of good video game spin-offs, but the one that has shown great longevity is SEGA’s arcade racer based on the Pod Racing section.

Star Wars: Racer Arcade was developed by SEGA’s (then) AM5 team which had quite the racing pedigree, responsible for the early SEGA Rally titles and Initial D in later years. With fast-paced action, the need to be aware of your surroundings at all times and varied courses and locations you can see where a virtual reality section comes in, especially if you’re dealing with different elevations and orientations. As in the film you could even bring in an element of problem management by being able to interact with the pod’s dashboard.

A fast and furious sci-fi racer with multiplayer possibilities where you really are making adjustments on the fly to maximise your speed and compensate for any problems you might have would be great to play and have potential for a truly engaging experience both in VR and as a racing videogame.


Star Wars: Path Of The Force

If you remember back when the Nintendo Wii was announced one of the first things the Internet really got excited about after they took everything in was the possibilities of a full and proper Star Wars lightsaber game.  Of course that didn’t really happen in the end sadly, but through virtual reality there is a chance we could finally get that opportunity.

Moving from a Padawan trainee, understanding the basics and blocking laser blasts through basic combat to more advanced duelling before finally taking on a rogue Jedi/Sith master or two. (Always two, there are.)  Now take that a step further and imagine if you were actually instructed by Yoda, or Luke or even Kyle Katarn in the other ways of the Force. Using hand motions to manipulate the Force itself: pull, push, levitate, grip or unleash some Force lightning you’d end up with an experience somewhat akin to the Kinect’s Fable: The Journey.

There are of course already lightsaber related VR experiences but these are mostly tech demos and there is nothing actually official. There is though a clearly defined line of progression and difficulty ready to be implemented and the idea of truly being a Jedi Knight sells the experience itself.

“When thirty two years old you reach, look as good you will not. Trust me, I’m actually thirty two.”

Atari’s Star Wars VR

A long time ago in an arcade far, far away… there was one machine that you navigated all others by. One iconic experience that stood out amongst all the others and dominated the gaming floor for years and years and years.  I am of course talking about the classic Atari Star Wars game from 1983.

When thirty two years old you reach, look as good you will not. Trust me, I’m actually thirty two.

Everyone who grew in the eighties with Star Wars knows this title. The vector based shooter where you survive a dogfight with Tie Fighters only to take on the Death Star ‘Trench Run’ is according to The Killer List of Videogames #4 on the list of most popular arcade games according to their readers. It sits in rarefied air, with only Pac-Man, Galaga and Donkey Kong ahead of it. The look of the cabinet, specifically the ‘proper’ enclosed seated version, is part of the fabric of arcade history– and you can still find them out in the wild over thirty years later.

Star Wars (1983) - Atari
Atari’s classic Star Wars cabinets were an iconic sight in arcades around the world.

How you actually represent that would depend upon your preference, you could take a full model experience akin to various other games, as in Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (which you can consider as an honourable mention for today’s article) or stick with the coloured vector style of the original. Either way you have the frenetic space battle aspect as you steer Luke Skywalker’s Red Five down that channel to ensure the Death Star’s destruction. The ability to have an enhanced field of vision, to get a real feel of the X-Wing moving around. You’d even have the odd experience of using a head-mounted display (HMD) to use a very similar device in the X-Wing’s targeting computer.

However for me, when you consider how amazing Jeff Minter’s VR version of TxK looked before the recent legal issues with, ironically, the modern Atari, you can imagine how amazing a modern iteration could potentially be, keeping but updating the original vector style.

I’d certainly be first in line to try it out. Who knows, maybe it would be around thirty years later as well.

VRFocus will be back next week with another ‘Make It A (Virtual) Reality’ article. What Star Wars game could you see being developed in VR? Leave your ideas in the comments.