Interactive Cockpit: Ambitious Star Wars VR Shelved Concept
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
Star Wars: Squadrons (2020) is without a doubt the best tailor-made Star Wars flight simulator that has come out in at least a decade. One of its top features which consistently garners praise is its virtual reality headset support. VR unlocks the full potential of that game, but back in 2016, there was a glimpse of what Star Wars virtual reality flight could be with an ambitious control scheme idea that was left out of Star Wars: Squadrons.
Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) was the first multi-platform Star Wars game to hit the shelves after the intellectual property was purchased by Disney on October 30th, 2012. Like its predecessors from 2004 and 2005, Battlefront 2015 is a combined arms first and third-person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. Players are able to engage in infantry combat while playing as their favorite heroes and villains, fighting armored all-terrain walkers and flying iconic starfighters. As part of Battlefront's downloadable content, a movie tie-in mission was released on December 6th, 2016. With the somewhat clunky official title "Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: VR Mission," the player flies an X-Wing as a member of the Rebel Alliance's Red Flight (not to be confused with Red Squadron). An everyday fleet escort turns into a rescue mission to save the main characters from the movie Star Wars: Rogue One. Unlike all other downloadable content for Battlefront, this free mission could only be played with the PlayStation virtual reality headset.
Writing about this in 2021, it's easy to see certain parallels between this one-off VR mission and Star Wars: Squadrons' own VR presentation. But a game function I'm both relieved was not implemented and disappointed that it was not reconsidered: a clickable cockpit.
I think this was the last place anyone would have expected an interactive cockpit. Players can press every button visible using a specified button on the PlayStation 4 gamepad and the on-screen headset cursor (white dot). Every button seen does not have a use, but some have essential combat and support functions. The most pressing functions are listed below:
A: Fire All Blaster Cannons / B: Launch Proton Torpedoes / C: Engine Boost (Afterburner) / D: S-Foil Position Control / E: Energy Shield Control / F: Initiate Lightspeed Jump / G: Cycle Blaster Cannon Firing Pattern / H: Clear Windscreen / I: Targeting Computer
As someone that thoroughly enjoys virtual reality gameplay, being able to look around the cockpit and click buttons is terrific, but in this form it is somewhat impractical. If not for around 90% of the essential controls being redundantly mapped to the gamepad, flying while relying primarily on the in-cockpit controls is somewhat dangerous.
The button placement and the importance of their functions are an immediate concern. Glancing downward in the cockpit to activate engine boost (afterburner) while flying through an asteroid field is less than appealing. Even worse, taking your eyes off target to launch Proton Torpedoes is a good way to lose lock on the target. Though, specialized functions like bringing up the targeting computer and being able to change laser cannon firing patterns were wonderful to have access to and were placed in reasonable positions. A rethinking of button position alone would have made this clickable cockpit concept perfect for further pushing Star Wars: Squadrons deeper into the flight simulation genre. But a significant part of that also means addressing how these buttons are interacted with.
This is where hindsight, wishful thinking, and game development collide. While it's easy enough for me to say that refinement is all that was needed, when discussing interactive 3D cockpits in virtual reality, compatibility and implementation challenges related to physical controllers like gamepads and flight sticks into the virtual space become forefront. The Battlefront VR mission fell into the same balancing act other flight simulators continue to contend with today. Titles like Aerofly FS2 Flight Simulator, Digital Combat Simulator World, and VTOL VR and their implementation of virtual reality alongside physical controllers come to mind. But it's important to remember the scope of development for each game and project is different.
The Battlefront VR Mission was built to be a standalone experience using a somewhat multipurpose game engine and a single controller method. It did not have the dedicated flight sim development path of Star Wars: Squadrons which prioritized implementing standard screen displays and physical controllers with virtual reality acting more as an optional enhancement. A fantastic addition but not required. Honestly, Star Wars: Squadrons was designed in a way that made it just about as accessible as a flight simulation style game can get, so the inclusion of an interactive cockpit that would require players to get familiar with their sensors and switches would mostly likely be a high-hurdle for many casual players or first time flight simmers to get over.
All this being said, I truly do enjoy the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: VR Mission for what it is. I have had a blast revisiting it after years to write this article. Perhaps in the future, now that an appetite for Star Wars flight simulation has been confirmed, a full-on 1:1 simulator using a Digital Combat Simulator World style touch controller method could exist. This may be yet another case of a product appearing before its time while shining a light in the direction of the future. I just hope that future has a bit better button placement.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.