This morning I flew an X-Wing, and it was good
Boone Calhoun is the man that put me inside an X-Wing.
“Keep in mind this is just one of the projects I'm working on in my spare time, and I'm not a professional,” he said in an e-mail when I asked for a copy of his Trench Run Oculus Rift demo. “So it's probably not very good.”
Boone Calhoun is being very modest.
The demo is clearly unfinished, and as a game it’s only so-so. As an experience for someone who is a life-long Star Wars fan, however, it’s priceless. I put on my Rift, picked up the controller, and looked around the cockpit. It felt like being inside a damned X-Wing, and the cockpit seemed to be a good representation of what we saw in the films. You aim by looking at your targets.
I turned all the way around, and saw my R2 unit behind me. He trilled and beeped at me. My little nerdy heart just about exploded. R2 knows when you’re looking at him, and he always reacts to you in some way as you play the demo. It’s one of the little details Calhoun has put into the experience that makes is so memorable.
You fly down the trench, shooting down TIE fighters and avoiding the walls while also dodging fire coming from turrets. There’s much to keep track of, and you can use the trigger buttons on a wired controller to speed up or slow down. Looking to your right or left and seeing the beautiful textures of the Death Star screaming past your wing gives you an effective sense of speed, and my stomach lurched more than once as I flew up or down to avoid the structures in my path.
You can fly above the trench itself, and again Calhoun’s sense of detail and authenticity shown through: When you rise out of the trench the screen is filled with laser blasts, giving you a sense of the battle taking place around you. I dove back down to avoid the fire, and once more my stomach felt the movement.
It’s an absolutely thrilling thing to fly around the Death Star, even in such a limited fashion. This isn’t playing a game about what it might look like to be a rebel fighter, the Trench Run demo lets you know what it would FEEL like to attack the Empire’s most imposing battle station.
The demo gives you two wingmen in their own X-Wings, and they shoot down a few targets here and there. They also get out of your way as you weave around the trench, and it's neat to watch one fly under you and pop up on the opposite side if you get too close to one side of the run.
They're not exactly smart, but it adds another piece to the illusion of being there. Your target computer is also operational, showing you targets in red, and when you look down at the screen in the cockpit the targeting cursor moves with you, allowing you to fire at targets directly from the targetting system. It's a neat touch.
The original John Williams score is blasting in the background, and the whole thing feels so damned authentic. This is the promise of VR: The ability to actually put the player inside their favorite scenes from movies, and I've had a great time this morning making run after run through the trench.
The Trench Run demo isn't available to the public yet, but we'll let you know if Calhoun ever releases it widely.
The header image for this story was taken from this version of the Trench Run.