They say that greed and desire are the path to the dark side. I don't care.
I want to get my hands on the Star Wars Jedi Challenge that Lenovo and Disney have cooked up. Now. I got a brief demo with the Jedi Challenge after its unveiling at IFA 2017 and I think that it and AR games like it are definitely part of the future of gaming.
The Jedi Challenge is a multi-part system built around your phone (iPhone or Android, Lenovo's not picky). Your phone serves as the processing unit and display, oriented facing down over your eyes and reflected into your eyes off an angled transparent pane. The headset in which your phone is slotted is more than just a holder for the phone — it has a pair of fisheye cameras on either temple which pick up the light on the end of the lightsaber hilt (styled after the Skywalker family blade, naturally) and light on the floor slightly larger than a golf ball. The lightsaber also has motion tracking built in and communicates to the headset via Bluetooth, and the headset relays all of this positional data to your phone via a wired connection (cables are included to connect to Micro-USB, USB-C, and Lightning-equipped phones).
It all comes together surprisingly well. The projected AR lightsaber blade lines up quite closely with the IRL lightsaber in your hands, you swing and it tracks very closely, and when you move around the space everything tracks with you. It's an impressive set-up, especially for the $199 price tag.
I only got to try a brief demo of a lightsaber training battle against a holographic Kylo Ren, who was doing quite the number on me before I got a handle of how the training was supposed to work (in this scenario, you light up your lightsaber blade with yellow bands projected across the display to block his swings, and then attack when he's highlighted). This was just the first glimpse of what Jedi Challenge has to offer, with Disney and Lenovo building multiple worlds for ongoing training and battles, and even non-training materials like the classic holographic chess from the Millennium Falcon.
Pre-orders for the Jedi Challenge are live now for $199, with units shipping to eager padawans in early November — just in time for the holiday shopping season, but more importantly in time for the next Star Wars movie (you heard about that, right?)
Often times it seems like VR, and especially AR, is missing that "killer" app that'll be something to bring it into the mainstream. With the multi-generational appeal of Star Wars, the low barrier of entry of "you have a phone", a thoroughly entertaining experience, and (perhaps most importantly) the marketing dollars of Disney behind it, Jedi Challenge might be that killer app.
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Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.