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Debugging Lenovo + Disney’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges

by Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Lenovo + Disney’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is an imperfect augmented reality game. This product can be ordered direct from the manufacturer or online. Best Buy had this product as an exclusive before the movie The Last Jedi. Fans lucky enough to get this product as a gift were no doubt excited, and hopefully, they did not have to return it as not all smartphones work. This product supplies the hardware to play and the software needs to be downloaded. This game is definitely for the lightsaber enthusiast. Trials of Combat, provides one heck of a workout for the arms and the other two (Insight and Leadership), knowing some board game battle strategy helps.

However, one huge problem exists: The tracking beacon (aka the Holocron) is supposed to indicate where the “floor” is. When I held it in my hand, the software did not recognize how close it was to my face and the hologram being projected did not scale down like it is supposed to (as seen in the series). I was often staring at the lower part of the map or my opponent’s feet.

Either I did something wrong in calibrating the game or the projections do not adjust at all. The game’s online FAQ does not address this problem. All the opponents appear floating a few feet off the ground. The best distance for this beacon to be placed is about seven feet. Players walk towards the training circle, battlefield or chess table. If real obstacles are near, the simulacrums will jut through them like ghosts. Even though Lenovo provided a video on how to properly set up the hardware and software, I still feel a few details are missing.

With the lightsaber game, my opponents are not standing on the ground. To have an in-game preference to fix this problem is preferable. I’m okay with the game of Dejarik or the Battle Simulator (it kind of plays like Games Workshop’s battle game Warhammer but is far better) hovering in front of me. To walk around the battlefield like a God manipulating how the miniature monsters or Rebel Alliance fights makes a great experience but these other games will not be for everyone.

The bugs in this game mainly deal with the latency issues of moving the lightsaber around. It also has a habit of it bending to a crazy angle when rapidly swinging the sword. Fortunately, there’s a reset button that can be pressed in game. A booklet is included but it does not address potential problems like the FAQ. The online help suggests holding the lightsaber at a 45-degree angle in front of you when calibrating and you want to make as wide of figure eight as possible and move it as fast as possible. The data sampling time needs to be longer because the initial information does not show a gamer’s swing at full speed.

While the fights dealing with the peons (Stormtroopers and the like) offer the most rewarding moments, the other battles where the game tells you where to position the saber and how to swing is not. The battles with Darth Maul and the other bosses do not necessarily offer a realistic fight. When compared to Trials on Tatooine VR, I prefer this demo.

I suspect the best solution to fix the sword bending issue can be corrected if the light up cap on the hilt is made longer. The camera may not be seeing it all the time. An alternative idea is to have two points of light at least four inches apart to provide tracking a straight line. The troubleshooter in me thinks this problem happens because the stub disappears from the tracking camera’s field of view.

The headset where these extra eyes are located fits very nicely over my head. I look like Boushh. I do not recommend playing this game on wooden floors which tends to be reflective and when wearing a brightly coloured shirt. To see either through the nose pad or lens is distracting. A dark carpet or dimly lit room is preferred.

Fortunately, this trip to the Dark Side does not mean players will turn Sith. However, to become a Jedi will require patience. Each level increases in difficulty. To learn the ways of the Force, players will have to depend on the lightsaber to activate Force abilities. The first ability one learns is the Force Push and I naturally wanted to use my hand instead of pressing a button. This problem can be fixed with the game offering object recognition. To offer a pair of light up gloves is most likely too much, but to suggest players buy a white glove (and put reflective tape on) can help.

While I have not progressed far enough in the game to find out if I can use more than one ability, I am fairly sure this option does not exist. I doubt this company will provide a version Microsoft’s Kinect to recognize motions from the body. The game can be programmed to recognize sudden shifts with the motion sensor to have players leap for real. This hardware has the potential to be used with other AR games if Lenovo decides to release a software development kit.

I have no faith in Niantic to give fans an experience which defines Harry Potter’s world with a smartphone. Their idea is “to have players learn spells, explore their real-world neighbourhoods and cities to discover & fight legendary beasts and team up with others to take down powerful enemies.” This game may well be more about the secondary series, Fantastic Beasts to catch them all than be about Harry. Plus, no one will want to whip their expensive devices around like a stick and shout, “Wingardium Leviosa!” lest their own phone flies out of their hands.

At least with a lightsaber, players can do whatever type of swing they want. In their first game, everyone will be visiting Naboo to fight the robots from Episodes I to III before challenging Darth Maul. On Garel (the second level) there are Stormtroopers and the Seventh Sister (from Star Wars: Rebels). The third is Lothal (with perhaps the Grand Inquisitor waiting), fourth is Hoth (perhaps fighting Vader), the fifth is Takodana (Kylo Ren) and last is the Core (i.e, the Galactic Center where The Emperor waits). When players reach Hoth, to engage in fending the Rebel Base against AT-ATs will be the highlight! Instead of fighting as a trooper, players will be moving the forces around in the Trials of Leadership game.

My test smartphone is Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and it did a great job of rendering all the figures running towards me. To witness the robots getting sliced in half with a non-generic animation made me revisit this scenario often. This game operated better using the low graphics setting. The only issue is whether or not I wanted to keep the protective slim case still on (the guide suggests taking the mobile device out of it) or not. I fear the aluminum clasps might scuff up the sides. Also, not all cell phone cases can easily come on and off.

This game offers about 12 hours worth of gameplay from start to end. If this product is to stay fresh, then it will have to offer new Trials. I like to see a Missile Command style of game (like Inbound for the HTC Vive); players can wave the saber and use force abilities to parry and bounce back objects. Alternatively, to recreate the chase scene where Luke used the Falcon’s cannons to shoot down Falcons can work. The head can act like the swivel and the saber fine-tune targeting.

This game is by no means complete. An expansion is planned, like a multiplayer mode (confirmed in the FAQ). The bugs need to addressed and expansion into other franchises (Disney or not) to help. I feel an Iron Man AR game is being planned. Not many games exist to perfectly interact with the digital environment and with the AR headset, if Lenovo and Disney can partner with Sony, their range of motion controls can help add to the video game pool. I own the gun cradle for playing shooters and possibilities has my imagination going!

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