Making a videogame based off a successful film or television series has always been a daunting task. Factors ranging from licensing restrictions, studio control, and other internal factors often take the best of intentions and turn it into something of a disaster. With the announcement of the upcoming Star Wars sequel trilogy as well as at least three and very likely more standalone films due in the next decade, it came as no surprise that a new wave of game set in a galaxy far, far away would be coming to consoles and PCs in the near future.
As a person who grew up with Star Wars games and all formats from the Atari 2600 up to the last generation of gaming consoles I’ve seen more than my fair share of disappointments along the way.
For every triumph that was the dark forces or Jedi Academy games there were numerous failures including Racer, The Phantom Menace, Star Wars” Obi-Wan and countless others. When it was announced that the promising Star Wars 1313 was being canceled and that Disney was closing Lucasarts many people worried about the future of the gaming franchise. I had noted that Walt Disney is fantastic and the entertainment department; big budgeted games have never been a strong point of their company. As such, it was not much of a surprise to me when they announced shortly after that they would be entering into a long-term arrangement with EA to publish Star Wars games both those based on an inspired by the new films as well as other standalone entities.
Word came out that Dice was working on a Battlefront style game using the Frostbyte 2 engine and that had been confirmed by a very brief trailer shown at last year’s E3. It has also been rumored that Visceral, best known for the Dead Space series, are likely working on a game as well. With E3 approximately 6 weeks away it is the hope of many gamers that we get to see something more than a brief teaser and we get solid news on what the future the franchise has in store as filming has already begun on the highly anticipated new film which is due in December of 2015.
So rather than poke around old rumors as to what we may or may not see in the years ahead and what we want to see I thought it be important to look at what is essential for a good Star Wars game. For me graphics are a good starting point but they are not the be-all and end-all of a successful game. I have seen many Star Wars games that looked good but had issues with the control system, save game, and other glitches that made the games highly frustrating to play. So first and foremost stability is a key factor for the long-term viability of the franchise. I will be honest, I am very concerned about the new Battlefront game not from the standpoint of not wanting to play it, but rather from the issues that have plagued previous games built on the engine technology the most recent being Battlefield 3 and 4, the latter which had bugs so numerous that months after its release developers were pulled off other projects including Star Wars Battlefront to fix the issues. One could say this extra time and attention can only bode well however the track record is definitely raise some concerns.
Another issue is that of cohesive storyline and interesting characters. Much has been made over the decision by Disney that only the films and the animated series are cannon and that stuff from the expanded universe is pretty much an afterthought in terms of its place in the Star Wars history. I actually do not have a problem with this because George Lucas himself many years ago had said only the films are cannon and that while there are some fantastic storylines in the expanded universe, that does not mean they are part of the official history. In gaming you will have to factors, games based upon movies and TV shows, and other set in the Star Wars universe. I imagine that there will be an attempted some kind of cohesion between the two but I think it’s important to make sure that regardless of its setting the characters, story, and setting do not conflict with what is been previously established. Some of the games have attempted to expand upon events that we have seen in the films however far too often it revolves around characters wandering around maps, flipping switches, jumping between platforms, and fighting wave after wave of mindless enemies.
I believe it is important not to insult the intelligence of the Star Wars gamers who probably have just as much history and knowledge of the source material as the developers behind the games as there’s no quicker way than to get yourself into a massive storm that my playing fast and loose with the series. Look at what happened with Star Trek when the prequel series Enterprise started to conflict events that had been alluded to in prior films and shows. People did not care that it was an artistic interpretation or about the production values of the show, they only cared that what they had held sacred was being altered by those who it was revealed did not have the history and love of the source material that fans had expected.
So now that we have addressed graphics, stability, and storyline related issues let’s look at some of the things that I believe are necessary for the future. Star Wars: The Old Republic was a grand effort although a very costly one as despite a lot of time, effort, and money being placed into its creation it did not have the impact with gamers that had been hoped. I think a first-person shooter that allows gamers to man gun turrets and pilot vehicles is a very good first step and this is likely what we’re going to see with Battlefront. I would also like to see some kind of flight simulator combat similar to the X-Wing and Tie Fighter series as Chris Roberts’s upcoming Star Citizen may breathe life into the combat flight simulator industry and provide a template for a Star Wars game.
Of course we had a have good villains and the Star Wars universe has been filled with all sorts of treacherous and deadly opponents for heroes to face up against. Having a variety of villains is important but it’s also important to make sure that players do not go against wave after wave of henchmen repeatedly. I also do not think the obligatory boss battle is a requirement for a good game. I do not need to have yet another person who falls to the Dark Side be the main enemy of the game. Let us have some creativity in this area and above all please, please, please, let’s make sure that the original voice actors provide the voices for their videogame counterparts whenever possible. I know that time and money is often a factor but there is nothing worse than seeing a beloved character appear and hearing a horrifically different voice attempt to do justice to the established character.
Finally let’s not forget the most important factor, fun. I want a game that reminds me of what it was like as a little boy when I first saw that Star Destroyer go over the top of the screen. The film changed the whole perception of Hollywood, blockbusters, and Science Fiction and opened countless minds to careers in science, technology, writing, entertainment, and beyond. I was utterly fascinated with the universe the George Lucas had created a universe with the countless possibilities that are contained within them. It surprises me how much of the Expanded Universe is not that good as for every good story there’s often 2 to 3 bad ones. I do not know how many books I’ve read with bland characters, dragging plot lines, and actions that would strain the patience of even the heartiest fans. I know that Lucas himself it taken a lot of flak for the Prequel series but I think it just goes to show how difficult it can be to appease fans hold the original films in such sacred and iconic fashion.
We become jaded with the advancements in technology but let’s try to get back to games that approach the thrill of opening that Star Wars playset or vehicle from Kenner back in the day or when your Boba Fett and Bossk figures arrived in the mail after you sent away proves of purchases and waited patiently for their arrival. Yet in some ways I’m asking for people to recapture my childhood which I know is impossible task. However, this is the task that I believe should inspire game developers to aspire to. Wow me, make me care, and make me excited for what I see and what is yet to come. I know from my years working in the game industry this can be very difficult as corporate realities and differing agendas often make this difficult but Lucas has given you one amazing sandbox in which to work with now show us what you can do.