PROJECT STARDUST – X-Wing VR


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Project Stardust is an X-Wing cockpit simulator for Virtual Reality. The project was created Fall 2018 at the University of Utah for a Virtual Reality Sickness (VRS) research study of high-velocity simulations. The study maps the correlation between the number of reference points in a virtual environment and VRS symptoms.

The above is a video of version 0.81 — the most recent publicly released version of Project Stardust

This project was developed by a one-man team: Dylan Stout

If you would like to skip the gory details and just want to play the game, you can download the latest version HERE.

The Reason

This project was created for research purposes. The hypothesis driving this project was simply that the amount of reference points in high velocity virtual simulations directly correlates to virtual reality sickness symptoms.

High velocity simulations are important in many applications and Virtual Reality Sickness has been a major design challenge. Symptoms experienced by users can be any combination of the following: nausea, dizziness, sweating, headache, loss of balance, ataxia, vomiting, or malaise.

In order to test the hypothesis an infinitely large virtual environment would need to be created. This controlled environment would be used to sample a player’s VRS symptoms periodically throughout a high-speed experience. For the tests to be successful the user must be engaged an experience immersive enough to convince the user of the high speeds being simulated.

Since I am a BIG Star Wars fan, a VR space battle seemed like the only logical option. Conveniently, objects in such an environment can be scaled and added incrementally without it feeling unnatural. We could start with very small number of insignificant reference points such as distant starlight and then scale to larger objects such as planets/Death Star… you get the picture.

Influences

The original time constraint around building a prototype was about 7-weeks which is large reason why there are a lot of borrowed and re-imagined elements in the project. The prototype’s simulation was designed to re-imagine an old arcade game: ATARI Star Wars designed by Mike Hally. Here is a gameplay video of the original arcade game we sought to recreate:

ATARI : Star Wars (1983)

I played this game at an arcade near my house as a kid and distinctly remember the smell of the interior of the cabinet’s cockpit. You would climb inside the blue cabinet that had Darth Vader painted down the side and there was a very distinct dual-handed joystick control to steer your X-Wing.

ATARI : Star Wars (1983) – arcade cabinet

While the project sought to recreate this arcade game there was also heavy influence from other very important projects. The original X-Wing game series gave a well defined road map for the cockpit functions and interactions should look like.

X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter : Balance of Power Campaigns (1997 – Totally Games)

Also, on the Rift DK1 there was an experience called Battle of Endor (created by James Clement) released on Oculus Share that enthralled me when it first came out and gave a true vision of what flying an X-Wing in VR could be like.

The Battle Of Endor  (2014 – James Clement)

The original ATARI Star Wars game consisted of three stages. Each of these stages incrementally added reference points to the players environment and it was therefore suitable to port this game for our experiment.

Animated GIF X-Wing VR Star Wars Stage 1 1983

Stage One: The Approach

Stage 2 X-Wing ATARI

Stage Two: The Surface

Stage Three: The Trench

The Prototype

The above is a video of the first functional prototype version 0.4b.

Project Stardust is currently on public release version 0.81. and the experience continues to receive updates and improvements aimed at improving the game mechanics, input methods, audio design, art assets and more. These changes were geared at satisfying three goals:

Total Immersion – Realistic environments and movement have been proven to exhibit different responses for simulated environments; this will provide better VRS symptom measurements

Better Telemetry – the quality of data is directly impacted by quality of the experience and allows more precise analytics to be performed on VRS symptom data experienced by users. 

Widespread Adoption – gives a bigger population to sample from for analytics of VRS survey data.

There is a road map for future planned improvements and to complete it there is an ongoing cooperation with the Laboratory for Quantitative Experience Design.

The Research

This simulation recreates visual experiences that are consistent with high rates of velocity and rotation. As one would expect the craft the user pilots has six degrees of freedom (6DoF)  and the head-mounted display the VR user is wearing also has 6DoF. The only component necessary to complete the simulation would be to apply external forces consistent with the physics properties of the simulation. Since no such technology exists for applying such forces there must be an adaptation to visual-only stimulus.

One main obstacle of a visual-only adaptation is vection. Vection is the sensation of movement of the body in space produced purely by visual stimulation. This feeling can be explained by the impression of self-motion experienced when watching a moving train through the windows of a stationary train. You feel as though the stationary train is moving when it really isn’t; this is vection.  Unfortunately for most people vection is a main component of simulation sickness, also termed VR sickness (VRS) when using a Virtual Reality device.

So how can we alleviate feelings of vection & VRS when experiencing visual-only stimuli? The proposed answer of this project is that vection is tied to the number of visual reference points a user is presented with during a simulation. Project Stardust provides a venue for testing variable amounts of visual reference points and their impact on user experienced symptoms of VRS.

Previous to COVID-19 Project Stardust conducted in-person controlled tests of 308 users and used software based data collection as a baseline in order to validate remotely collected telemetry. Public access to the experience facilitated the ability of self reported data; the project has collected 687 self reported VRS symptom surveys. [Last updated 9/13/2020]

The project’s research is ongoing and there are hopes to provide findings in the near future as testing continues.

Going Forward

Up until a few weeks ago this project has been developed by a one man team, me (Dylan Stout)! To be quite frank, it has been more work than I could have ever expected. By choice, I’ve been forfeiting 99.9% of my late nights and weekends to this project because I have never been so passionate about something before. However, my time on the project needs to be considerably scaled back in the near future. For that effort I have been recruiting members to the team to help to finish this next update to take pressure off my schedule. Rogelio E. Cardona-Rivera, director of the Quantitative Experience Design laboratory recently has joined as Lead AI Engineer!

The next update (0.89) being released in November 2020 is targeted to be the last update with large amounts of new features. The remaining updates leading up to version 1.0 will be optimizations and bug fixes. Once version 1.0 is complete the team will be re-assessing if the project will continue to receive new feature updates. The research will continue until we are able to publish official findings.

This project has been such a WILD ride for the first game I have ever developed (let alone 1st in VR). It has been featured on Eurogamer, UploadVR, VRScout, Venturebeat, as well as being played by tons of streamers and content creators. I never intended the game to be for public consumption, only for research, and it has been crazy to see the reaction. All of you have instilled in me a love for VR, art, and game development; so THANK YOU. This project will remain a special part of my life always and I hope that it will for you too!

May the Force be with you… always.