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Sharpen your lightsabers and let the force flow through you once again because Star Wars is back on your games consoles...
The Star Wars movie saga is over, scattering its midi-clorians across the galaxy and leaving vast hordes of people wanting more. Never fear, though, for LucasArts has carved out a fresh new storyline (set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope) for gamers to unveil with the help of their trusty lightsab... I mean joypads.
We caught up with Adam Kahn, the Senior PR Manager at LucasArts, to see what's what and discuss Battlefront 3, Free Radical Design and BioWare...
TVG: Being the huge Star Wars fans that we are at TVG, we're dying for more stories from the extended Star Wars universe now that the motion picture saga has ended, and The Force Unleashed looks set to provide that. Even the few snippets of game footage that you've shown us show some genuinely dramatic, Darkside related twists and turns. In terms of game length, how many hours of this story and gameplay can we expect when SW: TFU is released?
We're not talking about that specifically, but I guess it depends on what kind of gamer you are. For the gamer who wants to explore everything and get the whole scope of the game, it'll probably take a couple of weeks to get through it depending on how often you play (that's not real time, but in terms of sessions where you'll play it, leave it, and then come back).
If you're the kind of hardcore gamer who comes home on a Friday, puts the disk in the drive and is not going to get up until you've finished the game (skipping all the extra stuff along the way), then it's probably a couple of days worth of playing.
TVG: With that story, it certainly has some of the Star Wars feel from the films. In terms of writers, do you outsource for that or do you have staff writers at LucasArts who produce that sort of thing?
The guy who wrote the story is Hayden Blackman, who's the Project Lead for the game. He's written a lot of Star Wars books and graphic novels; he started in LucasFilm and he was there for ten years, so he's been involved (in some way) in almost every Star Wars game that we've done in that time.
TVG: In SW: TFU the key words are Forced Unleashed. The first level pits you as Darth Vader with a menagerie of force powers at your disposal. If you look at previous Jedi Knight games, they had you gradually building up your force powers as the game progressed, but SW: TFU throws you right into the action. What was behind your decision to give the player all those powers straight away?
We make games and games are supposed to be fun, so I think the idea was 'Let's start this game off with a bang'. There was some talk really early on about what the next Star Wars game was going to be. There were some thoughts like 'Maybe we want to make the Vader game', and there are a bunch of reasons why that doesn't work. One of the holdouts there was, 'Maybe we could make one level of the game about Vader', and when you look at the game it's a perfect choice.
TVG: The format of the early levels we saw has the player battling a load of soldiers of various classes throughout the bulk of the level, culminating in a boss battle with a Jedi Knight at the end. How much is that format carried into the later levels of the game? Is what we've seen so far the general gist of most of the levels?
That's the general gist of it. You may encounter sub-bosses as you go through the level, but you're sent with an objective. So, early on Vader says "Go and kill Master Koda," and he's your objective at the end of the level. Then he says, "Go kill Kasbin Boradus," this other Jedi on Raxus Prime. You go do that; there are mini-bosses in between, but he's the end of the level. We're telling a story that has a pretty linear path throughout the level.
TVG: The other thing I was going to ask you about is combo moves in the game. How many are there in the game when they're all unlocked?
There are 23 I think.
TVG: And, once they're all unlocked, what sort of variation are we going to see in the combos for lightsaber attacks etc., specifically on the next-gen consoles?
Since they're all combos of your four core force powers and some of your others, there are a lot of permutations. For example, early in the game you get a saber slam, which is X and B (on Xbox 360). That performs one swipe of your lightsaber and then you twist around and do a push. As you ramp that up you can do saber, saber, push (that does two things and then a little bit more of a push). The next level is X, X, X, B, which does a couple of swipes and then he turns around and whacks the hell out of the enemies in front of him with a huge force push.
You also get things like Aerial Ambush, which is (on Xbox 360) X,X,X, and then you hold B. What that does is it hits the guy a bunch of times; he slams down on the ground; everybody around him explodes up in the air, and then (if you hold down A again) he'll jump up in the air and he'll do a swipe at them (if you press X) while he's in the air. I think you saw one example of that where you just vaporise the guy in the middle of the air.
The combos can get pretty complicated. We wanted the depth to be there for someone who wants to go crazy and learn that stuff. But it's super fun to just hit those face buttons and kick ass.
TVG: You upgrade three different traits throughout the game. We've obviously talked about combos and Force powers are pretty self-explanatory, but there are also Talents. These individual Talents include things like Resilience and Vitality, so what do they entail exactly?
That's kind of like your more passive stuff such as getting more health and having your force power regenerate faster. I don't know if you've noticed, but when you're running around then the Apprentice and Vader will deflect a lot of incoming fire, and you can make that so he deflects more. When you hold down the left trigger he does a block, and this will block more shots, but then you can ramp this up so he's blocking even more and reflecting the shots back at the person who's firing them. So, the Talents are kind of passive powers.
TVG: The Euphoria technology looks really good in SW: TFU and we've obviously seen a lot of that recently in GTA IV...
Well, you have. I've been out on the road, so I can't wait to get home and play it.
TVG: Rockstar North actually bought in the Natural Motion guys to carve a bespoke solution for GTA IV out of the Euphoria technology. How did LucasArts find working with the Euphoria technology and how have they adapted it for SW: TFU?
For the nitty-gritty of that you'd have to ask one of the tech guys. I can say that we worked really closely with Natural Motion. This was years ago when they were still developing the tech itself, but with both Natural Motion and Pixelux on DMM it has been a really close partnership.
TVG: As you mentioned earlier, there's no multiplayer in the game. Was there any specific reason for this?
To be specific, there's no multiplayer in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, because there is on the Wii, PSP, and DS. As far as specific reasons are concerned, we don't really like to get into the reasons why we don't do things because I don't think there's really a satisfactory answer that people would really be happy with. So, there isn't multiplayer and that's kind of how it is...
TVG: What form does it take on the Wii, PSP, and DS. I assume it's offline, but is there co-op etc.?
On the Wii there's the Duel mode, which is one-on-one, same console duels. On PSP there's 4 player Wi-Fi with a bunch of different modes: King of the Hill, a regular Deathmatch etc. And on DS there's also 4 player Wi-Fi.
TVG: Battlefront is obviously one of, if not the biggest Star Wars game franchise at the moment, so I'm guessing we can assume that Battlefront 3 will be released at some point. With Pandemic announcing the release of The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, that pretty much puts them out of the picture for developing the third title (having developed the first two). Can you give us any clues as to if and when we'll see a Battlefront 3?
I can't give you any clues. I can say that Battlefront is huge. As you know, it's the crown jewels of the crown jewels at LucasArts, so we'll certainly be revisiting it but we don't have any announcements right now.
TVG: LucasArts does have a project with Free Radical Design at the moment. That wouldn't be at all related, would it?
You never know... You never know.
TVG: BioWare has obviously been acquired by EA now, and yet they still have an untitled project with LucasArts. With LucasArts being another third party publisher and BioWare being under the EA label, how does that work with you guys?
It works exactly the same way as the day before they merged with EA. We're working with BioWare on a game; it's a joint project, and there's been no change in how we work with them.
TVG: Would that stop you doing a project with - just for example - Pandemic again if you wanted to, or is that just a case of your contract with BioWare overlapping with EA's acquisition of the studio?
You know, in business I don't think anything stops anyone from doing anything. We certainly don't have anything to announce with Pandemic and I don't know if it would stop us from doing a game with them. I think it would just be what the opportunity is and how EA feels about it. I don't think there's any legal reason why we couldn't work with them. I'm not a lawyer but, you know...
TVG: That LucasArts/BioWare project certainly sounds interesting. Can you tell us whether that's related to Star Wars at all?
TVG: And it's not related to the BioWare MMO project at all?
You're going to have to wait and see on that one.
TVG would like to thank Adam Kahn, the Senior PR Manager at LucasArts, for taking the time to talk with us about Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which is due out on September 19th