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The new Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge VR experience releases today, and I had a chance to play through it and talk to a couple of the creators from ILMxLab about their latest steps towards their vision of “storyliving.” It represents a lot of progress from their initial three chapters of Vadar Immortal, but there’s certainly a long ways to go to be live fully into this vision of storyliving. Galaxy’s Edge does have a lot more sophisticated gameplay with smarter AI enemies, you have more agency to move around during the cinematic cut scenes with more aspects of open-world exploration, and the pacing of the story elements with interactive exploration has also evolved quite a bit as well.

For anyone interested in tracking the evolution of VR and immersive storytelling, then there’s certainly a lot of innovations that are building off what Half-Life: Alyx was able to achieve. There are more choices for missions or challenges to accomplish as well as a few different combat gameplay options as well, but it’s still mostly a linear unfolding of missions and stories. The full manifestation of storyliving will need a lot more technological innovations with AI and natural language processing, the underlying narrative structure with more dynamic character interactions, and finding ways to move beyond the constraints of the mobile compute capabilities of the Oculus Quest through the future of remote rendering and distributed compute. In the large context of storyliving, this represents some small incremental steps on a much larger and more ambitious journey for where this is all headed in the next 10-20 years.

ILMxLab is certainly pushing the limits for quality and fidelity as the worlds are very expansive and immersive, with a compelling cast of characters and virtual performances featuring some the voices of Frank Oz as Yoda and Anthony Daniels as C3PO, which triggered some deep fanboy nostalgia in me that was honestly a bit surprising.

It’s also worth noting that Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge has a significant amount of accessibility options for different types of locomotion, standing vs seated, torso & height customization, and being able to turn on sticky grip so you don’t have to spend hours holding down buttons. All of this is a substantial foundational work that will allow the team to release additional story chapters as told by the bartender Seezelslak as voiced by SNL’s Bobby Moynihan that can be unlocked by gathering enough ingredients in the world.

alyssa-finleyI had a chance to catch up with ILMxLab senior producer Alyssa Finley and art director Steven Hendricks to talk about the journey from Vadar Immortal to Galaxy’s Edge, how they designed around the story and compelling combat, and some of the different tradeoffs they faced along the way.

steve-hendricksThere’s some interesting use of augmented reality-enabled watch to help provide direction and guidance on some of your missions through a compass and destination overlay. You can also learn more about the world through scanning objects to unlock journals, and it’s also a holographic communications device so characters can provide you guidance to keep the story moving forward and provide some deeper context to situate you in this place and time.

In the end, I ended up completing all of the missions and achieving all of the challenges. I was hoping for more narrative payoff with cinematic cut scenes or pushing a deeper story forward, and so some of the tasks are more about the journey than the final destination. Going through each of the challenges and missions encouraged me to explore around and discover part of the world that I would’ve not otherwise stumbled across, and it also gave me more things to do in the world after completing the main campaign. The store shows up too late in the game to do anything meaningful with the accumulation of Galactic Credits, and some of the options are more cosmetic skins than changing any core mechanics of the gameplay. But it’s providing the foundation for future stories and expansions into new worlds and stories that will be told across space and time in the Star Wars universe.

Overall, I was satisfied with my time spent in the experience, but if anything wanting more bits of character interactions and narrative rewards for completing some of the side missions. There’s some really great sound design, soundtrack, world building, and overall polish that gives an immersive quality that makes it a joy to explore this world. And I expect there to be a lot more storyliving iterations and innovations as ILMxLab continues to explore this intersection between immersive storytelling and interactive gameplay.

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