Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Devs Explain Why VR Works Well for Star Wars

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge – Enhanced Edition is one of several PlayStation VR2 release games, as well as one of its several ports. ILMxLab has updated the 2020 game to take advantage of the power of the headset and make the experience more immersive. Director Jose Perez III and producer Harvey Whitney recently sat down with senior games editor Michael Ler to discuss what VR is doing. Star Warswhy it works so well, what the team was proud of and more.

Michael Leri: Since the PS VR2 is more powerful than both of the Quest headsets that the game was originally on, how do you figure out how to update a previously released game to take advantage of the new system?

Jose Perez III: I think one of the great things about working at Industrial Light and Magic and ILMxLab is that we have access to some of the best artists in the world. And so when we’re actually building these resources, even though we’re building it for something that might be cheaper as far as the technical side of it, the headset, we’re still building the resources at a really high resolution before we bake them down. So what we end up doing here is taking the high-res models and cleaning them up and making sure everything works and works.

And so you go through the whole process of taking the super beautiful items that you’ve brought down to make them look really good, to make them look super beautiful again. That’s a lot of it. Then they rebuilt entire scenes and turned on all the lights. It’s literally a lot more than real-time lighting and dynamic lighting and stuff like that.

Harvey Whitney: Early on we worked as a team, and we’re quite collaborative in ILMxLab, we all got together and figured out what the hardware was, what it could do, how we could take it and make this game an enhanced experience. This really optimizes what we can do with this hardware. And we spent a lot of time going through all the specs and what we could do and what we couldn’t do and we talked about it as a group and really figured out in certain areas where we really wanted to hit. And we rebuilt these environments, and Jose was pretty modest about his work, but there was a lot that went into making these look really great.

And luckily, we’re starting with something very good, and we went through every environment and every interior and thought, “How can we really make this shine and what’s the most important thing we want to do here that works with the technical budgets for this hardware?”

Perez III: These little things become a really big deal. Like all blaster bolts now have dynamic lights. So it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s like, “Ah, you just ate the lights on the detonator.” But when it beeps down the hall and you see it pass you by, it opens up a whole new dimension. And so just finding those little things where it’s like, “Oh, just turn on that light! Get the shadows in there!” All of that, I think, is a big part of it.

Whitney: The lighting on the detonators is a great example of Jose really pushing the team like, “Hey, this might not seem like much, but when you get it in, it makes a huge difference.” And we’re all like, “You’re absolutely right.” And so it did brilliantly, and all those little things make this just a visual and audio experience that much better.

And this likely means the special features of the PS VR2 headset.

Perez III: The way the haptics work, we really attach them to sound and we have such a strong sound team…

Whitney: Skywalker Sound. You may have heard of them. [laughs]

Perez III: It just works. So like when those blaster bolts whip your head and you feel that little vibration, it’s pretty damn cool.

ILMxLab has done a lot of things in and around VR. Why do you think Star Wars works so well in VR media?

Perez III: It’s a fantasy world, right? And so to me when I think what Star Wars was for me as a child and as an adult and everything, it was so immersive. I am there. Whether I’m playing with my toys or running around the playground or watching some movies, it felt like you were there. And VR is a way to really take that one extra step where you’re inside it, and now your body is part of this experience where you’re moving and moving through that space. Everything changes a lot. So to me, it’s a fantasy that right now is kind of almost the best realized in this world because it’s as close as you can get. And I think what’s really cool about this project is how it ties into Galaxy’s Edge.

We’re keeping the real story of the physical space going here, and they’re really connected. So when you go to the park, you also have this memory that you don’t get in the same way from consistent experiences when you’re in VR that sticks with you. There you remember you were in that place, even if you weren’t. So when you have that and then you go to this physical park, there’s this weird moment where you start going, “Dude, have I been to this place before?” And things start to come together in a way that I think is a little weird in a good way.

For me, again, that connection to the real world and the parks, even outside of all this other stuff, there’s something really magical about it. And to me, the realism that you get in this headset and seeing this art and stuff in that level, and then going to the actual park and seeing Dok-Ondar there looks like Dok-Ondar here, because we scanned him. That’s really cool. And so I hope that people will play this experience either after they’ve already been to Galaxy’s Edge, or they’ll play this and then go to Galaxy’s Edge and start comparing and contrasting, because we did a lot to connect those stories.

Whitney: Early on when I came to ILMxLab, I would put on a headset and I had a controller in my hand and I had a lightsaber and I pressed a button and the lightsaber lit up and I look at it and I hear it. Nothing compares to that, right? It’s not the same on the board. You put a lightsaber on a flat screen and it’s cool, but when you’re in VR and you can feel this thing, you see it and you hear it, it blew me away. That was one of the best experiences early on when I was at ILMxLab and I was just like, “This is really, really cool.” You’re completely immersed in it and you just can’t do it anywhere else.

It’s just such an immersive and immersive world, and just being in it is so much different than being in most other worlds that aren’t as deep or fantastical as Star Wars.

Perez III: It’s a beautiful IP, isn’t it? It’s the real world, but different, and you have so many stories.

When you return to this game again, you will likely see places that you can build on in the future. So how about this experience where you can make advancements or improvements to future Star Wars games you could be working on?

Perez III: Especially for this, the first version was kind of two-part. We’ve combined everything into one and the way it unfolds, you don’t have to play through the first part before the second part happens. Everything overlaps. So the game can expand and have more optional experience. If you start going out into the desert and fighting Guavian Death Gangs and you’re like, “I just have to go back and get a drink at the cantina. This is too crazy.” You can do it.

And then out of there suddenly Dok-Ondar might appear early before you’re ready. So the world is more open. And that was something we always strived for. We wanted to make it feel like the world is going on and it’s up to you to decide what you want to participate in. If you just want to sit in the cantina and listen to your jukebox, you can do that.

So I think that was a big part of it. Structurally, when you look at something like this and look into the future, it’s built to tell more stories. So I love that we told this great droid repairman story and that you can get the full droid repairman story here. And if there was ever an opportunity to do more stories, someone let me know, if anyone wants to call me and do it. [laughs]

It’s such a ripe premise to just, like you said, continue with different stories. If you look at the history of ILMxLab, everything progresses with each new experience. So Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge looks like it could be a stepping stone to something bigger.

Perez III: What you say is really true. At ILMxLab, we don’t say, “Hey, we’re just doing something because we want to make money from it.” We want to tell a meaningful story and we look at the future of storytelling and we want to look at advanced technologies and how we can integrate these technologies to tell new stories. And whether it’s virtual reality, augmented reality, location-based experiences, theme parks, or anything you want to participate in. We’re looking at what’s the weirdest, coolest new thing we could tell you? Like where people say, “Wow, this is actually pretty different.” Right now PS VR2 is the place.

There are more cool things we can even do inside this. I think there are a lot of things and all kinds of things that can get really interesting with speech recognition. But even if we look past this, we’re here to make the most engaging, strange and unifying Star Wars things we can. What’s the weirdest new technology you’ve heard of lately? Tell us. Let’s see if we can cool down Star Wars on top of it.

Whitney: Doing more and bigger is not really something we are concerned with. That’s how we manage it into something that makes sense, and we love telling stories, so there’s a lot to tell. So it’s just a matter of what makes sense and when.

And on the flip side, what were you particularly proud of going back to it?

Whitney: Some of the work that I think the design team did, with Jose working closely with them and taking advantage of all the haptics of the headset and the controller and really tuning them to make it feel really good. And every single weapon feels different and you can tell what you’re doing just by the feel of the haptics. And I think that was one of the things that went really well with this project. And I love how it turned out, and Jose may have a different opinion, but it’s really one of those great moments. We put a lot of time and energy into it and make sure it really fits. And that was all because of the hardware and what we were able to do.

Perez III: To me, you start playing it and you get the “wow” factor, like “Hah, the graphics are better and blah, blah, blah”. And it’s all great. It’s all a real plus. But what I was really proud of when I played it again was, “Oh, we told a really great story.” Like when you play through the whole thing, there’s this really cool story about a found family and what it means to be a hero and what it means to be a true Jedi. And it’s not just about chopping things up. It’s about balance and growth and things that aren’t just murder.

So when it was all said and done, I looked at the quality of the animation that our team brought and the quality of the art and seeing it there with all the lighting and everything, it was all fantastic. And I feel like we got the story we set out to tell when we finished everything. So I was really proud of that.

Since this is a port of a previously released game, are there plans to port Vader Immortal as well?

Whitney: Well, like I said before, we have a lot of stories we want to tell, but today we’re just talking about Stories Galaxy’s Edge With PS VR2.

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