Tag Archives: Star Wars

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: A “Real” Virtual Reality Experience

The Force was with me! During my recent trip to California for the DelliVR conference, I had the opportunity to visit Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Park in Anaheim. Although this website is devoted to immersive technology (including virtual reality), I thought it would be interesting to cover an immersive entertainment experience that’s more “real” than “virtual.”

Although Galaxy’s Edge offers minimal use of virtual reality in a traditional sense, it’s main attraction does incorporate some VR elements (more on this below). Much like the rest of Disneyland, and theme parks in general,  the entire environment is a “real” experience in which elaborate sets, props, and “cast members” are all working together to convey the illusion that you have traveled to another time and place: the planet Batuu, on the outskirts of the galaxy.

Disney and Universal are undoubtedly experts at creating immersive experiences in highly themed environments. Galaxy’s Edge is no exception, and at this point in time it serves as the  pinnacle of theme park experiences available anywhere.

No headset required

20190617_082035When Walt Disney created Disneyland in 1955, he invented a brand new category of entertainment. For the first time, visitors could enter worlds of fantasy and adventure, or travel into the past and future, simply by passing through the gates of his new theme park. This was “virtual reality” long before computer simulations were invented. The objective of Disneyland was to immerse visitors in environments that transported them to other times and places. Through the use of elaborate set design, special effects, and costumed cast members, Disneyland managed to create virtual worlds out of brick and mortar.

From 1955 until today, Disney and Universal have evolved the theme park experience to include much more detail, immersion, and interactivity in the various “lands” of their parks. Notable examples of such immersive environments include Cars Land (Disney California Adventure), The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Orlando/Hollywood), and Pandora, the World of Avatar (Disney’s Animal Kingdom). As each of these attractions have launched over the years since 2010, they have truly raised the bar for theme park design by both companies.

20190617_092411Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is comparable to Universal’s Wizarding World, as far as the high degree of immersion and interactivity provided. However, Galaxy’s Edge has gone the extra mile in creating back stories for its cast members, in order to truly bring life to the world of Batuu. Guests can interact with cast members and learn various greetings, such as “Bright Suns” (good day), or “Rising Moons” (good evening). Cast members are trained to remain in character when interacting with guests, to avoid spoiling the illusion.

Various shops and eateries are present, all themed in the world of Star Wars. There’s even a cantina that serves Blue Milk, one of the other-worldly beverages depicted in the films. Opportunities to build your own lightsaber or astromech droid are also present, for those who wish to spend the credits. Iconic characters like Chewbacca, Rey, Kylo Ren and stormtroopers make appearances throughout the day, interacting with guests in authentic encounters which outperform the typical “meet and greet” experiences found in the rest of Disneyland.

The main attraction

20190617_095857Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run is currently the only “ride” available in Galaxy’s Edge. A second attraction (Rise of the Resistance) will be launched at Disneyland in January 2020.

Smuggler’s Run is probably the most authentic recreation of a movie experience ever presented in a theme park attraction. A great example of immersive storytelling, this attraction fully engages guests via visual, tactile, and auditory features that combine to create the illusion that you are actually piloting the Millennium Falcon. The use of elaborate architecture, vehicle/set design, props, sound effects, and CGI video all contribute to the effectiveness of this experience.IMG_0188

To compare it to a typical VR experience, Smuggler’s Run surpasses anything currently available in VR today. The ride is experienced in a life-size cockpit (exactly as depicted in the Star Wars films) which serves as a motion simulator. This enables the physical sensations of traveling through space, by making quick dives and turns through various planetary and space environments. The experience is also enhanced with interactive elements, where each of the six crew members can participate by pressing various buttons or levers to perform specific tasks.

Lessons in VR design

20190617_080211Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge has raised the bar for location based entertainment. While the LBVR industry is also thriving with venues such as The VOID and Dreamscape, they simply cannot replicate the tactile, visual, and physical elements offered at Galaxy’s Edge. Although Disneyland’s new themed area has a limited number of attractions and activities, it has effectively created a sense of reality unmatched by VR.

Because of its ability to efficiently manage multiple guests at a time, Galaxy’s Edge succeeds as a social, multi-player immersive environment. A microcosm of real-world role playing, it includes many elements that would be right at home in a multi-user VR game. Comparing it to current social VR platforms like VRChat, Disneyland’s new Star Wars land provides many features that could potentially enhance those platforms by introducing more organized activities and structured gameplay.

Final thoughts

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is a truly amazing achievement. As a life-long fan of the films (ever since I was a ten-year-old in 1977), I felt like I was exploring the biggest Star Wars playset ever created. Disney has created an immersive environment that captures the feeling of being present in those films, using physical and tactile elements that simply cannot be reproduced in VR.

The unfortunate “reality” is that such environments are few and far between, and can only be produced with exorbitant amounts of money. The good news is that VR has the potential to enable the creation of comparable experiences without spending billions of dollars. Let’s hope for the continued passion and hard work of talented artists, designers, and technologists collaborating to create the virtual worlds of our dreams.

20190617_080951

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

VR Review: Vader Immortal on Oculus Quest

When the original launch titles were announced for the new Oculus Quest VR headset, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Vader Immortal. As a lifetime Star Wars fan, the idea of entering the Star Wars universe in virtual reality is extremely appealing to me. Having played countless video games in George Lucas’s universe, it’s only natural to want to have a Star Wars experience in VR.

Last year, I was fortunate to have tried Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire at The VOID in Orlando, Florida. That was my first experience of Star Wars in multi-player VR, and I was not disappointed (see my review).

Vader Immortal is a single-player game, which takes plays in the same setting as Secrets of the Empire. Set mainly at Vader’s home base on the planet Mustafar, this is an episodic story (currently Episode One is the only chapter available), in which you play a smuggler who gets captured by the Empire. Brought to Vader initially as a prisoner, you are  eventually revealed as having inherent abilities which are key to the story.

Interactive Story

I will not spoil the plot here, but I will say that this initial episode hits on many of the iconic moments and experiences that fans have always wanted to participate in. Be the captain of a smuggler ship? (Check.) Use a lightsaber? (Check.) Escape from a detention cell? (Check.) Meet Darth Vader up-close? (Check.) There are more moments like this in the hour-long experience, some of them surprising and unexpected. Suffice to say this is a very satisfying experience of “living a Star Wars story” that you could not have in any other medium (books, films, or non-VR games). If you are a Star Wars fan and have not experienced virtual reality, Vader Immortal is the best way to do it.

The new Oculus Quest has been reviewed elsewhere, but I will say that the graphical quality and performance of Vader Immortal are fantastic. I experienced no glitches or technical problems, and the gameplay was easy enough to be enjoyable but not overly challenging. In fact, the main story mode had little if any gameplay elements, but mostly involved interacting with objects in the environment in order to advance the story. This was perfectly fine for me, as I embraced the experience more as an adventure rather than a challenge. (I also want to mention that the voice actor playing Vader gives an amazing impression of James Earl Jones. I really thought it was him, until I watched the credits.)

Lightsaber Dojo

Fortunately for those who are looking for more of a challenge, Vader Immortal also includes a wave-based game mode called “Lightsaber Dojo.” This mini-game involves lightsaber combat with training remotes (the floating drones which Luke Skywalker used on the Millennium Falcon). Highly replayable and offering rewards for completing different challenges, this mode provides more than an hour of additional gameplay. My only complaint would be that there is no combat versus other characters (only robotic opponents). Hopefully this will be included in a future update, or in an entirely new game.

For the price of only $9.99, Vader Immortal offers one of the best VR experiences currently available on the Oculus Quest (if not the best). I’m really looking forward to future episodes of the story!

vader-immortal-1172030-1280x0

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

My Trip to the VOID: Star Wars Virtual Reality

In October 2018, I had an opportunity to try The VOID’s virtual reality attraction “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” at Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The VOID is one of the top creators of “location based” virtual reality (VR) experiences. They have built facilities at a number of locations around the world, and are adding more as we speak. In addition to the Star Wars attraction, they also offer a VR adventure in the world of Ghostbusters, as well as a horror-themed attraction, “Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment” (whatever that means).

This was not my first time at a VOID attraction. I had previously visited the Ghostbusters experience at Madame Tussaud’s in New York City, and had a fantastic time. This time, I was looking forward to going inside the world of Star Wars, through the magic of virtual reality.

The venue

20181005_121653

Disney Springs is a busy place, and I was a bit concerned about the crowds. I did not make a reservation in advance, but decided to drop in around noon on a busy Friday in October. At the reservation desk, I asked if I should reserve a time later in the day, or just go in now. Surprisingly, the attendant said there was a group starting in a few minutes which I could join immediately. I was by myself, so I would be grouped with three random participants. I was given a wristband with my identification as “REBEL Roy.” The price (with tax) came to $37.94.

wristband - Copy

After registration, I had to sign a liability waiver using one of the iPads on one side of the lobby. Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about dying in VR. After all, this wasn’t an episode of Black Mirror. I was just here to have a good time!

Gearing up

There was a short delay while the group in front of us took a bit longer inside the attraction, but ultimately we were underway in about twenty minutes. We entered in two groups of four, and proceeded to the introduction area. Large viewscreens were displayed on both sides of the room, with each group of four facing their own screen. First we had to activate our wristbands (using iPads mounted on pedestals in front of the screen) and select a color scheme for our stormtrooper armor, which would be visible in the virtual environment. This would enable us to identify each other inside the experience.

An introduction film played simultaneously on both screens, with the audio piped in via speakers throughout the room. We would all be disguised as stormtroopers (in virtual reality, of course), and tasked to infiltrate an Imperial base. Our mission briefing was provided by Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). After the short introductory film, we were escorted into the next room.

This is where we were instructed to put on our gear, which consisted of a vest/backpack and a VR headset with built-in headphones and a flip-up visor. The attendant ensured that each of us were properly fitted and fully ready to go. Once ready, we were escorted into the attraction proper and told to lower our visors to begin the experience.

Amusement and amazement

Without giving away any major spoilers, the basic story involves meeting a few characters from the Star Wars universe (good guys and bad guys), and blasting at various enemies while walking around different environments on a lava planet. The most fun part of the experience is actually seeing yourself and your companions dressed as stormtroopers, and bumping into each other as you try to get through doors, across bridges and around various droids and other Star Wars props. Although I had just met my companions for the first time, we all laughed a lot just navigating through the experience. I’m sure it would be even more fun with close friends and family members (Grandma? – maybe not).

What sets the VOID apart, besides the ability to roam freely in a VR world, is the multi-sensory experience. Early in your adventure, you pick up a blaster rifle (an actual object in the real world, which looks like a stormtrooper rifle in VR). You feel the wind and heat when you travel on a troop transport over the lava planet. You can touch other real objects (walls, railings, even droids), while your VR stormtrooper hand touches them in the virtual world. The haptic vests provide feedback from blaster fire, and other environmental effects. All of these things add up to an amazing experience that you simply can’t have with at-home VR technology.

There were moments when I truly experienced a sense of “presence” in VR, where I felt like I was actually in another place. As I traversed a narrow platform high over a lava lake, I took baby steps for fear of falling over the edge. As I was blasting enemies with with my stormtrooper rifle, it felt as real as if I were actually in a Star Wars movie.

A few (minor) issues

Overall, the VOID’s Star Wars attraction is the best experience I’ve had till now in VR. Admittedly, there were a few times when the virtual imagery was out of sync, or there seemed to be a lag when my companions would appear to jump forward  or “slide” instead of walking more naturally. These cases were few and far between, and did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the experience.

Unfortunately, there was a point towards the end of the adventure (which lasted around 10-12 minutes), where we got stuck. In one of the final rooms, the end scene did not trigger properly, and we couldn’t figure out what to do next. Open a door? Hit a droid on the head? Eventually, an attendant had to escort us out of the experience, and allowed us to start over. In my case, I didn’t have time to go through again, but thankfully I was given a voucher for a free experience on a future date.

Given the advanced technology required for free-roam virtual reality, it’s understandable that there may be some hiccups or bugs as VR continues to develop and improve. However, the potential is enormous, and I expect that this type of attraction will proliferate worldwide in the months and years ahead.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

20181005_121648

 

Star Wars Virtual Reality Series Announced for Oculus Quest

ILMxLab, the immersive storytelling arm of Lucasfilm, has announced “Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series” this week at Oculus Connect 5 in San Jose, CA.

The three-part immersive story will debut in 2019 on the new Oculus Quest VR headset.

“Our mission at ILMxLAB is to have fans ‘Step Inside Our Stories,’ and Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series represents a significant step forward in that ongoing quest,” says Vicki Dobbs Beck, ILMxLAB Executive in Charge. “Our friends at Oculus share ILMxLAB’s ambition to bring compelling immersive narratives to life, and using Oculus’ hardware, we will invite fans to experience Darth Vader as never before.”

ILMxLAB has produced several Star Wars themed VR experiences, including Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire (a “hyper-reality” experience available at The VOID). This new VR series will provide a high-profile example of interactive cinematic storytelling.

Additional information is available via Oculus.