Stay on target
We catch up with DICE to talk Battlefront, the Death Star, sequels and how you convert the world’s biggest movies into games
Since Disney killed off LucasArts, EA have had the run of Star Wars games – and they seem determined to do a good job. We used our best bounty hunter skills to track them down at London’s Star Wars Celebration event, where we discussed DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront and heard all about their other, unannounced titles
Battlefront first. EA showed us the new DLC based around the Death Star, with fan favourite Chewbacca and Trandoshan bounty hunter Bossk as new playable heroes. It’ll be available in the autumn. Though firm details are sparse, it’s certainly going to feature the key elements from the movies, and will include player combat both inside the station and out in space. Taking either side in the mission to rescue Leia will be an iconic moment. About time, right? As DICE’s design director, Niklas Fegraeus, tells us, “I don’t think it’s a complete Star Wars game until you have space battles.” Lead designer Dennis Brännvall adds, “We’re definitely going to do a trench run. And our fans have been asking for a lot of capital ships in the play area, so that’s something I guess we do want to add.” Sadly, it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to fly a Star Destroyer or a Mon Calamari cruiser, and when we ask about playing as the Death Star or Starkiller Base, we’re met with outright incredulity. The Rogue One spin-off movie was also revealed at the convention to be a prelude story about the construction of the Death Star.
There will be another expansion DLC to coincide with the cinema release in December. Set on the new planet of Scarif, it will feature hitherto unseen types of Stormtrooper. Building these DLC packs requires the team to balance gameplay and accuracy carefully. The first step, Brännvall explains, is to discuss with Lucasfilm which setting they’re going to use. Then “we look at the blueprints and behind-the-scenes photos. Obviously, when they built Jabba’s Palace, Lucasfilm didn’t think, ‘This would be great for a capture-the-flag map,’ but that’s something our players are asking for. “We usually make sure that these are the scenic locations that people actually want and make them as authentic as possible. We try to stay within the film, but ‘just around the corner’ – so you feel like you’re part of the action but you’re outside the scenery. Our fans say they appreciate how you almost feel as though you’re walking around the set.” Brännvall says he was particularly happy with the mud bath in Jabba’s Palace
Bring solo to me
For those players who can’t keep up with the speeder bike pace of online play, DICE revealed a patch that brings Skirmish mode to the Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron maps. These are the most spectacular elements of the current game, involving playercontrolled starfighters and giant attack walkers. By bringing solo play to these, DICE are allowing any player to get a chance to fly the Millennium Falcon or Boba Fett’s Slave I. Each map has three difficulties, ranging from Normal, where you will dominate the leaderboard and almost never die, to Master, where the AI actually puts up a stiff challenge, even for veterans. During hands-on time with the game, we got to play as the iconic ships and heroes we normally have to scramble for during online matches. Both of these announcements are a continuing part of EA’s response to the player reception to Battlefront. While the critics were relatively kind, its user scores at launch were rock bottom, with people citing the lack of a single-player campaign, the poor combat mechanics behind the oh-so-shiny Star Wars finish and the high price for a slim package. “We see what people are asking for and then we just try to give them as much of that as possible,” Brännvall says. “I wish it was more strategic – maybe that would be more interesting.”
“We see what people ask for and try and give them as much as possible”
Certainly, the Skirmish mode isn’t going to keep fans of Dark Forces or Jedi Knight sated for long. Some may recall that no less a figure than Star Wars actor John Boyega (Finn in The Force Awakens) called DICE out on Twitter, asking for a single-player campaign. Yet although the studio’s multiplayer combat is unparalleled, they have long had issues producing a top-notch solo experience. But who could DICE farm that out to? For those wondering whether the Montreal-based EA Motive is involved in building the campaign, the answer is… ‘Maybe?’ The new Canadian studio, which operates under Jade Raymond, is aiming to create “the world’s next blockbuster franchise” in the Star Wars universe – and Raymond has talked about how they are working on their own IP. But they’ve announced that they’re collaborating on Battlefront 2, too. As well as working on their own game and Battlefront 2, Motive are also helping with the Unchartedlike Star Wars game coming in 2018 from EA Visceral. At Celebration, Amy Hennig, Visceral’s creative director (and former creative lead on the Uncharted series), tells us that this is an “original Star Wars story with new characters, locations, tech, creatures – you name it – which sit authentically alongside the stuff people know.” Given the nature of the screenshots, some of which depict Star Destroyers and Storm Troopers, it’s likely to be a new setting, inside the current Star Wars timeline. It won’t focus on a single protagonist but offer an ensemble story with “a swashbuckling charm”. It’s definitely not anything to do with Battlefront. Of course, we try to extract some information on Battlefront 2 from DICE, but they are as close-mouthed as a Corellian clam. Were they holding anything back from Battlefront for the sequel? “It’s not really about keeping and saving stuff,” Fegraeus says. “It’s more about listening to what people want and trying to give it to them.” That said, EA have already announced that, aside from the Battle of Jakku, Battlefront will only get content from the original trilogy; locations from the new movies are exclusive to Battlefront 2, out in 2017
There is no try
One thing they are willing to talk about is their struggle to match the look of the new movies compared to the old. “Of course, the technical challenges, in terms of trying to make it authentic to the way it looks in the movies, are great,” Fegraeus says. While capturing the look of the old movies is relatively straightforward, thanks to the primitive special effects, the new movies have a cutting-edge look that’s much harder to match. “We have special rendering stuff that even I don’t understand, because it’s super tech magic,” Fegraeus says. “We basically made that decision because we want to try and keep up and make it so that this really looks like the thing that you know – so you can have that immersive quality, that feeling of ‘I feel like I’m there’.” Of course, that gets harder with each new movie because of the speed of advances in the graphical tech. Despite his reticence to reveal too much about Battlefront 2, Fegraeus isn’t tight-lipped about which of the heroes he most wants to get into the game: “I would love to play Rey or Kylo or Phasma,” he says. It looks like he’ll have to wait until winter 2017 before he has any chance of fulfilling that dream.