Last weekend at Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm announced that the first VR experience from ILM’s xLab, Trials on Tatooine, would be released to the public, along with news of a future David S. Goyer-penned Darth Vader-focused VR experience. Little mention was made, however, of the third known Star Wars VR property: the PlayStation VR exclusive Battlefront X-Wing VR Mission, announced at E3 2016 for a release later this year. Information on what that experience will entail is so far fairly vague beyond a brief trailer shown at the announcement event, which depicted a squadron of X-Wing fighters battling a group of Tie Fighters from the POV of a pilot.
'Battlefront’s X-Wing VR Mission' needs to be the Death Star trench run
Because Disney isn't eager to share details, fans have begun to speculate about their fantasy version of the mission. For me, Battlefront’s X-Wing VR Mission needs to be the Death Star trench run, and here’s why.
Piloting an X-Wing fighter is for many Star Wars fans (including The Verge’s Bryan Bishop) a childhood dream come to life. But simple spaceflight or dogfighting, Star Wars branding notwithstanding, already exists in VR – EVE Valkyrie and Elite Dangerous have both beaten X-Wing VR Mission to the market.
But the Star Wars branding is the ace that Lucasflim holds. Star Wars games benefit spectacularly from the power of a singular fantasy: to relive the events of Star Wars films firsthand. This fantasy elevates Battlefront, which is at its core an average multiplayer shooter. X-Wing VR has the same advantage and it’s already got the best story it could ever want in the Death Star trench run.
Flying an X-Wing is good; flying an X-Wing down the trench run and blowing up the Death Star is infinitely better.
Flying an X-Wing is good. Flying an X-Wing down the trench run and blowing up the Death Star, however, is infinitely better. It’s a sequence that millions of Star Wars fans have imagined, and numerous Star Wars games have tried to re-create from the original 1983 Star Wars Atari arcade game vector-based graphics, to the blocky 3D polygons of 1993’s Star Wars: X-Wing games for PC, or the N64 and Gamecube’s Rogue Squadron series.
More importantly, the trench run is rich with few details that would shine in a VR adaptation — looking behind you to see R2-D2, valiantly trying to repair a stabilizer. The chatter in your ears from Wedge and Biggs while dodging turret fire. The oncoming screech of Vader’s TIE fighter. Seeing the targeting computer extend out in front of you, numbers ticking down toward the exhaust port. Hearing the ethereal voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s spirit whisper to "Use the Force." The joy filled whooping of Han Solo, Darth Vader's Tie Fighter spinning overhead, as he clears your path to the exhaust port. And of course, firing the proton torpedoes at just the right moment to destroy the Death Star for good.
There are a few ways you could actually implement the trench run in VR. The actual run in the A New Hope, from when Luke enters the trench to triumphantly flying home only lasts around four minutes. A shorter VR experience could simply recreate it whole cloth from the film, perhaps with some additional padding of General Dodonna's briefing of the attack plan. Or the sequence could be expanded, as many of the preceding games have done, adding additional obstacles and turrets in your path to dodge as you make your way down the trench.
Fly like Luke Skywalker would
A similar approach could be used for controls — an option for advanced players to use flight sticks for daredevil flying down the trench is possible but a more forgiving, guided control scheme would be necessary for most players. For an experience like this to work, everyone, regardless of gameplay skills, needs to be able to succeed — to fly the trench not how you would, but to fly it like Luke Skywalker would. With the Force! A successful VR trench run would ideally walk the line between game and experience, combining user interaction and storytelling like xLab is already doing with their other projects.
And while there’s definitely an argument to be made for ILM to push forward, and focus on new experiences and stories instead of adapting old ones. But an integral part of Star Wars fandom is the tradition of the earlier stories, and Lucasfilm should use the recent technological advances and support for VR, and allow fans to revisit such a crucial part of the Star Wars canon more fully then ever before.
Until I hear more about the demo, I'll be dreaming about what it could be.