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Respawn: Built to Make You Feel Like a Jedi

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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is far and away one of our most anticipated titles to come out this holiday season. Having recently gone hands-on with the title, we came away incredibly impressed with its level of depth, colorful cast of characters, and its non-linear approach to navigating this exciting Star Wars universe. To talk through more of the game’s features, gameplay, and narrative design we chatted with Respawn’s Narrative Lead Aaron Contreras and Lead Level Designer Jeff Magers.

Xbox Wire: Let’s talk about the challenges of balancing gameplay and narrative for a game of this caliber.

Narrative Lead Aaron Contreras: We have bruises that we’ve inflicted on each other (laughs).

Lead Level Designer Jeff Magers: With the structure of game, this road we’ve gone down, we really want to give the player agency and let them explore and kind of choose multiple planets and re-traverse between these different planets. So, with that, we also want to tell this authentic Star Wars story of becoming a Jedi, that Star Wars cinematic experience, so we also need to hit these story moments as well. There’s definitely been a kind of like, a balancing act and working together to define those choke points and those gates on these levels so we know where the player is in their journey based on how far they’ve progressed in a level even though it’s not fully linear. You can go in these different directions.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Xbox Wire: For narrative, regarding the story you wanted to tell, was this something that Star Wars and Disney came to you with a bag of stuff to pull from, or did you have something in mind that you pitched them to start creating the experience?

Contreras: Before I joined, the team was already working on a melee game and then Star Wars was opened to them as an opportunity. And our Game Director Stig Asmussen, I believe he had in mind once that opportunity became a thing, this sort of, Star Wars story he always wanted to tell, which is a classic hero’s journey about a good guy, a young kid, who’s standing against the forces of darkness and kind of going with him on his rise to become a Jedi. That’s always been our guiding principle and narrative is realizing that specific story and that came from the team at Respawn. Of course, Lucasfilm has a heavy presence in everything we’ve done, and they’ve certainly offered up ideas and suggestions and helped shape the story along the way.

Magers: And we think and hope the public wants a lightsaber game. There’s a kind of hunger for this. And with Stig’s background and the background of the team, we’re built to be a melee team, even before we got the Star Wars license. So, as soon as we had this opportunity, we thought lightsabers for sure.

Xbox Wire: Single-player, story driven games like Control and The Outer Worlds are on the rise. What do you hope Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order brings to this next wave of storytelling, narrative adventure games?

Contreras: I think our focus is on, kind of what Jeff has spoken to of Respawn’s pedigree, of really engaging gameplay focus; a gameplay focused videogame. It’s a game made for gamers. While also introducing this cinematic Star Wars storytelling experience, and we’re targeting a very broad audience from hardcore gamers to more casual people. I think a big goal for us in terms of going into that single-player, story driven space is where we want to find ourselves is being that perfect union; we’re trying to find it, right? That’s the inspiration. You’ve got player driven, you have a lot of agency, you’ve got strong verbs, you have tight gameplay mixed with this super cinematic story that appeals to everyone who loves Star Wars and loves Jedi.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Xbox Wire: Speaking to the combat of the game, how did that evolve through the process of the creation of the game. Like, where it’s at today, is that where you were aiming, or did you have another idea in mind?

Magers: Of course it’s an evolution, an iterative process, but where we started, and I think we’ve stayed true to that, is we wanted to make it feel like a lightsaber. So, first thing we did is get the character up and running. Make it feel good on the sticks, make it feel good to press the button. And then we wanted to kill a stormtrooper in one hit. We didn’t want it to feel like a baseball bat where you had to wail on a character for a long time before you take them down. That’s where we started.

But in melee action games, it doesn’t usually feel good if everything can be killed in one hit. Part of what feels good is pressing the button and getting multiple hits on these guys. So that’s where we brought in the Guard Meter, so enemies with weapons have the ability to sustain a couple of hits with their block, but you can find windows of opportunity to shortcut that with one-hit kills. On top of that we have a pretty diverse cast of creatures and monsters that can have thicker skin, be larger, be more resistant to the lightsaber so you can kind of get more of the hit-this-guy-a-couple-times to take them down. But even then, we want to sell the power of the lightsabers.

One of our tenets; we’ve got four difficulty modes to appeal to a large audience. One of the stakes in the ground that we set is that we’re not going to add more health points to enemies on the higher difficulty modes. So, we changed things like parry windows and enemy aggression and stuff like that to make a more difficult experience, rather than seeing that a stormtrooper now takes four hits to kill.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Xbox Wire: So, the player just finishes the game. The credits are rolling. What are some of the things you’re hoping they take away from their experience with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order?

Magers: I hope they felt like they became a Jedi and got this power fantasy curve of starting as a Padawan and becoming a full-fledged Jedi Knight. And I hope that the player learns and gains mastery along with Cal gaining mastery of the Force. A combination of the character leveling up and also the player learning and becoming better and having a greater understanding of exploration of the map and all the different powers kind of at the same time in parallel.

Contreras: We aspire to be one of those games where players engage with and learn. So, you’re not bashing your way through a linear experience or going on a content tour ride, where you’re just kind of engaging it. We want to make it accessible so that very a broad audience can do that. But I think it’s a real goal for us that you actively engage with it and that there’s this dialog between the game and the player.

Xbox Wire: So, here’s a fun one: what does Star Wars mean to you?

Magers: Star Wars is lightsabers, droids, big sci-fi epic hero journey. It’s all those great things rolled into one. It’s so many things to so many people… it’s kind of a hard question, to try and distill that down into just one thing.

Contreras: It’s definitely all those things. I’d say Star Wars is, in my opinion, especially “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” — when you say Star Wars I go to “A New Hope” — I would argue it’s the most perfect realization of the classic monomyth in modern civilization. There is no better iconic realization of this timeless story that speaks to us as humans than Star Wars. The opportunity to add to that legacy is really exciting for us.

Magers: That’s more poetic than my answer.

Contreras: Well, I had more time to work on it. (laughs)

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Xbox Wire: And lastly, what’s your favorite Star Wars scene?

Magers: My favorite Star Wars scene… uhm, you go first.

Contreras: Throw me under the bus! (laughs). My favorite… oh, man…. I’m going to give you two.

Magers: Wait, I’m going to jump in before you steal one of mine (laughs). If you’re going to take two, I’m going to take the Cantina from “A New Hope.”

Contreras: So, my first is from my favorite film, which is “A New Hope,” and that is Obi-Wan explaining the Force to Luke. When he explains for over a thousand generations, the dark times for the Empire, and he talks about the Force and how it binds us and penetrates us. That’s just the whole thing in a nutshell for me in that one scene.

The other is from my least favorite film which is “Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” and that’s where Luke is with ghost Yoda and lightning strikes the tree and Yoda starts laughing. This film… but this gets it, this moment. These two points for me and for Star Wars. On one hand this tradition, this history, this ethos of honor. And then there’s this Taoist immortal just laughing at everything.

Thank you to Aaron and Jeff for their time. You can pre-order Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order today on the Microsoft Store. It’s set to release November 15, 2019 on Xbox One.

See the rest of the story on Xbox Wire

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