ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment studio, has finally shared details on Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series, a story set within official Star Wars canon between the first two trilogies that can only be experienced in virtual reality. The news came during the Vader Immortal panel at Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
In addition to the Vader Immortal story trailer and gameplay details, it was confirmed that star Maya Rudolph will play ZOE3, a quick-witted droid co-pilot and first mate that players partner with. "Much in the way Alan Tudyk did with K-2SO, we needed somebody for this role that could create a unique character using their improvisation and performance skills,” said writer and executive producer David S. Goyer. “Maya truly was the first person we thought of, right from the very beginning, and her contributions and sense of humor have guided ZOE3 every step of the way."
The interactive story, a seamless mix if television and video game experiences, was announced previously as a launch title for the Oculus Quest headset launching in Spring 2019 ($399 USD for 64GB) but it will be playable on all Rift headsets, including the upcoming Rift S. ILMxLAB and Oculus had a large and impressive booth on the show floor and where we demo'd Episode I yesterday and chatted with the minds behind it.
Vader Immortal Gameplay Details & Impressions
You're the captain of the Windfall, a smuggling ship near Mustafar, but you get captured by Imperial forces and brought to Vader because he has chosen you. That's the starting premise
The segment we played of Vader Immortal Episode I begins in an Imperial interrogation room where a hovering IT-O Interrogator (from A New Hope) floats in the corner while a cyborg Imperial Officer (voiced by Steve Blum who plays Zeb in Star Wars Rebels), missing an arm and half his face (based on a Raiders of the Lost Ark concept), talks to you before Darth Vader enters want walks down a corridor to confront you. There are clips of this in the above trailer.
It's easily the best digital visual depiction of Darth Vader yet, bolstered by the fact that you're actually in the room with him, in first-person being confronted by the dark force user who is at first only visible as an intimidating and dark silhouette. Vader's voice is spot on thanks to actor Scott Lawrence returning for the part after voicing him in Episode III and numerous Star Wars video games.
In first person, the player can only see their hands. It's up to them to put themselves into the character which is why an age or gender isn't given. The character is you or whoever you want to be, and in our demo, your first task is to open a puzzle box for Vader. When you do, it impresses Vader and he's not confident in your power and usefulness to him.
In the next section you're given a blue lightsaber as training droids float around the room, including behind the player blasting in three-laser busts. With the right timing, and careful observation of sound, players can master dealing with multiple targets and additional large robots who wield their own lightsaber-esque weapons. This dojo sequence is where players will get a workout, but this and the intro with Vader represent only a tiny fraction of what Episode I of Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series will entail since its narrative storyline will run about 45-60 minutes. There are two additional followup episodes coming as well but no details or dates have been revealed on these.
In addition to the main story, the Lightsaber Dojo offers replayability and open-ended play. From a control standpoint, the Oculus Quest headset is wireless and allows freedom of rotation and movement, and in each hand the Oculus touch controllers only require users (at least in the demo) to use their index and middle fingers so it's a very welcoming learning curve.
Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series Story Synopsis
Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series is an original narrative adventure that lets audiences step into the role of a smuggler operating near Mustafar, the volcanic world that Darth Vader calls home. In typical Star Wars fashion, they’ll soon find themselves in the middle of a grand adventure as they are unexpectedly pulled out of hyperspace — and eventually come face to face with the Sith Lord himself.
Vicki Dobbs Beck (ILMxLAB Executive in Charge) tells us that the goal was to push visual fidelity on the Oculus Quest headset, but more importantly, to give users experiencing the story the freedom of movement without wires. This way they can truly look and move 360 degrees and engage in action sequences where enemies or objects of interest are in front and behind you.
Narrative Designer Mohen Lee, who worked on set for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, tells us that at the time general audiences were beginning to understand VR and Lucasfilm would be teasing Vader's castle on Mustafar in the movie and wanted to do more. "We wanted to tell a story where the character interactions and meeting iconic characters like Vader is just as engaging as the action moments, so there's really a balance between story and interactivity."
The ILMxLAB team worked very closely with the Lucasfilm Story Group to ensure the VR series is entirely within canon, and if you've read the latest story arc in the Darth Vader comics by Charles Soule, there are connections to that as well. "We worked very closely with the story group because it was important to us that this could stand as canon story and becomes part of the story of who Vader is," explains Lee who says they're "always" thinking about what stories to tell in the future after episodes and 3 wrap up the Vader Immortal series, teasing that players will be able to use force powers in the next episodes, beginning with learning these abilities in Episode 2.