Category Archives: sci-fi

New Way To Tell Stories – Star Wars and The Void

Hey everyone!

With our honeymoon coming to a close, I wanted to tell you all about an incredible experience we had here in Orlando!  And that was Star Wars – Secrets of the Empire!

Haven’t heard of it?  Worry not, because I wanna tell you all about the state of the art in Virtual Reality Technology, and the new possibilities it opens for story telling!

Total Immersion – Holodeck-like Experience!

I know, I know, this is about Star Wars, but when I first heard about Secrets of the Empire, the first thing I thought about was Star Trek TNG’s holodecks.  If you’ve ever watched any of the Trek shows after the original series, you’ve probably seen this wondrous technology, where you step into a room, and whole other environments, complete with interactive people, suddenly appear!

Is that what Secrets was like?  Well, we’re not to that level of tech yet, but it certainly was the most immersive experience I’ve ever had.

After signing a waiver, my wife and I, along with another random couple we were paired up with, followed our guide into a room with a big screen, where we received an urgent message from Cassian Andor (from Star Wars Rogue One).  After that, each of us were able to choose the color of our Stormtrooper armor’s pauldron.  There were lots of colors to choose from, but it’s a good idea to coordinate your choice with the other members, because you can double up and this can make it confusing in game!

After that, we were led into the gear room, where an Oculus Rift headset and haptic-feedback suit awaited us.  After putting our gear on and getting them synced up with our wristbands, we were led into a square room, and lowered our visors.

And suddenly, we were stormtroopers.  All of us.  My wife, with her purple pauldron, stood next to me, and was rendered with her accurate height!  I think I even made the joke of ‘aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?’  The other couple was across from us, the tall guy with his black pauldron (I chose blue) and his significant other, who also had a purple pauldon but thankfully was a little taller than Beck so I didn’t lose track of who was who.

We were in a small compartment on a troop transport, and suddenly the door opens…and K2SO pops his head in to give us a mission update!

What was really incredible was that we were free to move around in the rendered environment.  When we moved into another compartment and were asked to sit in the rendered seats, we sat and there were chairs.  When asked to get onto a moving platform, we did and it felt like it moved.  When entering a lift and told to pull the lever, there was a lever we could actually pull, and it was rendered in real-time as we pulled it!

What’s more was the feel and smell.  I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but when we were in a place with fire, there was heat and I could smell burning wood!  When stormtroopers shot at us, I felt the impact and heat from when I was hit!  The designers and creators, The Void, did a really good job mixing a physical environment with virtual, creating an incredible experience!

It wasn’t perfect…to save money and time, there were no gloves, so your avatar’s hand movements were tracked with motion sensors.  This sometimes glitched, and when my hands were in my lap, I’d look over and it would look like I had my hand in my wife’s mouth.  And one of the four blasters kept malfunctioning and not showing up in the game, so they had to start us over two times before it worked properly.  Plus blaster bolts moved annoyingly slow (like Elder Scrolls 4 – Oblivion arrows) and that made the fights a little less intense than they should have been.

But all said, the experience was incredible and immersive, and is definitely the closest we have come to holodecks!

What Does This Mean for Storytelling?

I’m extremely excited about what this represents!  Right now, Secrets of the Empire is the only thing like this that I am aware of, but it opens the door for some unique storytelling!  As the technology improves, things will only get better.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Trek jumps on the bandwagon soon.  I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to step onto the bridge of a Starship or fight through a Borg ship?

Or what about Harry Potter??  Some more tweaking of the tech, but as you wave your wand and speak the words, the system reads it and you see your spell unfold before you!

Unfortunately right now, I don’t see sword fights happening with our level of tech, but how long before they figure out a way to make that happen?

What stories could be told interactively?  Sure the settings are finite, but some amazing stories can be told in small spaces.  Such as the Star Trek bridge mentioned above.

Secrets of the Empire was pretty much scripted, but as we’ve seen with video games, stories can change depending on choices, and as long as those choices are planned ahead…there could be some pretty big facilities made for some impressive interactions in the future.

I think that this is just the beginning!!  Now if only The Void would open more locations…like one in Denver!

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The Return of Stargate and the Prequel Trend

Hi everyone!

If you haven’t heard yet, Stargate is finally making a comeback!  And I’m not talking about a reboot of the movie franchise, which has either been fully cancelled or at least postponed.  Rather, this is the next ‘chapter’ in the SG-1 Universe.

…Except, it isn’t.  Announced only a few days ago, it’s called Stargate Origins (click here to check the announcement on Gateworld.net.)  It takes place…sometime before SG-1, though we don’t know when yet.  And reportedly follows an adventure of young Catherine Langford as she defends Earth against an unimaginable darkness…  More on why this is a problem for me further down.

Sci-Fi and the Prequel Trend

Image Source – http://www.techtimes.com

Back in 1999, George Lucas released the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace.  At the time, I was extraordinarily excited about it, I’d always wanted to see those first three episodes, to see the origin story of Darth Vader, and, well, I was excited to see more Star Wars on screen.

What I didn’t know was the trend that it would begin…and that is a trend in Sci Fi that has endured for nearly 20 years.

Prequels.  Though I don’t believe Phantom Menace was the first ever prequel, it was the biggest hit I’m aware of.  Since then, here’s what we’ve seen…

  • Star Trek Enterprise (followed by the 2009 Star Trek reboot, and now Star Trek Discovery.
  • X-Men Origins and X-Men First Class
  • Prometheus (prequel to Alien)
  • The Thing
  • Caprica
  • Oz The Great and Powerful

And that’s just a small list of well-knowns.  Now with Stargate Origins coming out, I find myself crying out “NOOOOO!”  I for one have grown tired of prequels.  Especially in Sci-Fi universes that are supposed to be about exploration and moving forward (Star Trek and Stargate both being examples.)

But why?  Why is this continuing?  Especially…well, do an experiment with me.  Go to google.com and type in the search parameter “Why are prequels so popular?”  I know that Google can tailor search results based on past browsing habits, but for me, the first 10 results talk about why the Star Wars prequels are so hated.

So if the first major prequel of a franchise was so horrible, once again, I have to ask…why is this trend continuing??

Theories of the Trend

One of the most common opinions I get when I ask people this question is “Hollywood can’t come up with anymore original ideas.”  An interesting theory, but I wonder how true it actually is.

Image Source – http://www.irishnews.com

In fact, until recently, I didn’t really have a response except “maybe that’s true.”  Until…Bright.  The name of an upcoming, Netflix-produced movie, Bright is about modern-day Earth, with elves and orcs and faeries living side by side with us.  Will Smith’s character is a police officer partnered with what appears to be a young orc.  This is radically different from any major sci-fi/fantasy movie I’ve seen in recent years.

But it’s Netflix.  It’s not a major motion picture studio, it’s a relatively brand new production studio.  And I think this is a key point.  Netflix broke the mold with movie rentals, and now is breaking the mold by producing it’s own TV shows and, now, movies.  Like Amazon, Netflix seems to be all about trying new things, innovating, and moving its company in an unexpected direction.  And it’s succeeding at it.

Major motion picture studios, however…it’s like an unknown author sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher.  You’re a big, big risk.  They are highly reticent to invest time and money into you, no matter how good your product is.  So more likely than not, you’ll be rejected.

I think the same can be said about major motion picture studios and TV production studios.  They want to invest money into something that has a proven history of making money.  And even as reviled as the Star Wars prequels are, they made a ton of money.  So prequels make money.

This, I think, is why we keep getting prequels and, for that matter, sequels, rather than truly original content.

This is also why I am becoming a big proponent of Netflix, and of self-publishing.  It allows those with innovative or new ideas to get their ideas out there.  They may not always succeed, but at least they can try.

Parting Thoughts on Stargate Origins

Image Source – http://stargate.wikia.com

I’m really really sad about the direction they are taking to try to revive Stargate.  I really want more Stargate, but a prequel?  A prequel that, at least at first glance, blatantly ignores established timeline?  For those who aren’t as familiar with it, before the Stargate was opened by Daniel Jackson in the motion picture, the Stargate was only opened one other time after it was unburied in Giza, with disastrous results.  It was subsequently shut down for decades.

Yet this premise seems to indicate that Catherine travels through the Stargate, either before or after Ernest is stranded off-world, to confront some darkness that, apparently, SG-1 and the SGC are never made aware of.

In essence, it’s making the same mistake Star Trek and Star Wars made in their prequels: ignoring continuity.

Worse still, the series is being released as 10 episodes…each episode 10 minutes long.  I can’t imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea…but then again…I’m kind of eating my own words now.  I released 10 short stories which will later be compiled into an anthology (The Orc War Campaigns.)  So…maybe this is a result of the trend of online and subscription based TV shows?

Anyway, I hope I’m wrong about Origins, but I really think this effort is going to fall flat on its face, and Stargate will once again be thrown into proverbial mothballs.  :(

What are your thoughts about all of this?

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik