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!