Star Wars, Star Trek and Virtual Reality

by Kyle K. Mann

 
Virtual Reality, or VR, has been out for six months now. There I am, unboxing and setting it up.

I had decided to start with Star Wars. My first time putting the headset on. A bit nervous.

That initial experience is mind-blowing: there is stuff all around you!

As soon as I looked up, way up, at the gigantic Imperial Walker thundering by in the intro, I was sold on everything. The size and scope, the immersion, the sense of wonder.

It’s way too astounding. It’s 100 times as intense as a normal video game.

The game: Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission.

I already owned a PlayStation 4, so all I had to do was buy the headset and camera, which set me back about 4 bills, and the game, about 50 bucks. There are cheaper headsets, and more expensive.

Welcome to the future. The Star Wars game people do a great job of making you feel at home. The realistic “used” look is everywhere.

I prefer using my glasses, which the PlayStation VR headset accommodates. Plenty of room. But it takes a bit of adjustment to get comfy.

So, first some VR calibration exercises, looking around as you prepare to enter your X-Wing Fighter, during which your droid is rolling nearby and the ship is randomly venting steam. Ok, you enter the cockpit.

You can play as a male or female character. I find playing the female character disorienting. But, I’m a guy.

Looking around the cockpit, one has a friendly feeling, assuming you saw the first Star Wars. (Note: I did not see the movie Rogue One.) Everything seems a bit familiar.

We fade in high above the Galactic Plane. The stars are swirling below, though that isn’t at all realistic. But neither are sounds in space, which we hear when the Rebel Fleet joins us, so we suspend disbelief.

The ship controls, via the PlayStation controller, are simple and intuitive. I admit that it helped that previously I’d played No Man’s Sky, which has a space battle sequence.

If you crash your ship, or otherwise die, the screen fades to black for a moment, then resumes. Your deaths are tallied up at the end, which can be embarrassing.

You join your squad’s 3 other pilots, and the mission begins.

The way this plays out is cinematic, and by definition very linear. You dodge or blast meteors, escort a ship transporting a VIP, and attack enemy fighters and even an Imperial Star Cruiser, all to the wonderful John Williams soundtrack themes from the movies.

The excellent music is a huge factor. It’s like being in a Star Wars movie. It’s very helpful and comforting.

The mission is about 20 minutes long. There are other Star Wars games to play, but they are not VR.

I hate admitting this yet again in one of my articles, but I’m of retirement age. A senior. A goddamn old geezer, if ya like. But a proud survivor, and here’s why I mention this, I remember when we didn’t have video games!

There was a primitive arcade video game called Space Wars that came out in 1977. It was actually based on a precursor game from 1962 called Spacewar! But my memory goes back before Sputnik was launched in 1957, so my claim is valid. (Americans were upset about Russia, then as now.)

Think of it, kids, no video games of any kind. Hell, no personal computers or cell phones.

So, point being, for the spectacular spectrum of change, the virtual reality VR headset is a quantum leap.

I’m slow to adopt new technology. I refused to get a cell phone for years after they came out. Before that, in the 90s, slow to get a computer. So why did I get this damn VR headset?

Not for Star Wars, which I bought to ease into VR with, but Star Trek. There is a new game for VR called Star Trek: Bridge Crew that looks killer!

In this new VR game, the player assumes one of four roles: Engineer, Helm, Tactical (mainly weapons) and of course Captain. You can play with computer-generated players or real people online, and with the original old-school Enterprise ship as in William Shatner/Captain Kirk, or an updated craft. The game is due May 30, 2017. Yes, I preordered it.

Now you can actually be inside the Enterprise as a crew member! But will it be exciting and captivating? Only one way to find out.

I cheerfully admit to being a Trekkie. I’ve never gone to a convention, but I have worked on the shows Next Generation (the Insurrection movie) and Deep Space Nine (the Seventh Season.) Getting paid to work on Star Trek fills me with wonder and humor to this day.

So it was with great interest that I watched LaVar Burton waxing eloquently as he, the always-attractive Jeri Ryan and two other Star Trek cast members played the game in a promotional trailer. They appear to have loved it, and now I am looking forward to the experience.

All this of course begs the question, what’s next?

VR movies, I assume. Rock concerts, where you will roam the stage. New and crazier games, I don’t doubt.

There’s even already VR porn, which I haven’t tried. Nor am I likely to soon. Might not be good for your health.

As it is, I can only take so much VR at a sitting. An hour is a lot. The X-Wing swoops and turns like a bird, inducing vertigo. A couple hours later after stopping, mild queasiness is still noticeable sometimes. I’ve learned to keep an even keel with my X-Wing, as possible.

There’s another factor, and that’s how utterly cut off one is in VR. With headphones on, the immersion is nearly complete. I set my cell phone to vibrate one night when I was expecting a call. And if someone enters the room you are in, you are as helpless as a baby. Which can feel weird.

Still. It really is a ton of fun, and worth the dough.

Just be aware.

 

 

by Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

May 21, 2017