While the distant future of Star Wars games is up in the air, in the here and now we have Star Wars Battlefront II to look forward to, as it heads to release on 17th November. A key part of that is in the single player campaign, especially after the disappointment felt with the first game.
We played the first couple of chapters in the game’s story, meeting the badass Commander Iden Versio and having fun while trying to crush the Rebellion. Afterwared, we spoke to Art Driector Chris Matthews and Writer Mitch Dyer from Motive Studios about how they’ve worked to create a rather different story from what we usually see in the Star Wars universe.
TSA: One of the things you’ve talked about is how you’ve really tried to make things familiar as you go between single player and multiplayer. How important is it to have those familiar foundations for players?
Chris Matthews: How do three studios – and one studio that was built at the same time as making the game – put a game in the box that feels contiguous so you can move around it? We have been on a lot of flights, spent a lot of time on phones, and we collaborate in a way that I’ve not seen a modern development studio work before.
From a writing perspective, we’re going to need space inside the game to tell a different type of story, so we’re given a gift there by getting to work directly with Lucasfilm and DICE were really cool with the ownership of that. They were like, “You guys have a lot of ideas about telling this story. Work with Lucasfilm, we’ll give you guidance, and we’ll take what you create.”
They’ve been very involved in making sure it feels authentic within the Battlefront galaxy and product, but we wanted to start with the same controls, with the menu systems. We didn’t want it to be very jarring when you jump from one part of the game to another.
Mitch Dyer: Campaigns should never feel like a separate video game, it needs to feel like Battlefront. It needs to feel when you can hop from one to the other, do a mission then do a multiplayer match and go back, it has to feel like the same game.
Chris: The campaign lent itself really nicely to the same kind of progression system that’s in the multiplayer as well.
TSA: Yeah, that’s something I noticed, where you still have the Star Cards and can swap abilities.
Mitch: Yeah, but Iden has her own that are distinct for the campaign.
Chris: And if you want to play it in a stealthy style, we wanted to offer that, which isn’t something that’s overtly present in multiplayer, or if you want to run and gun and enjoy that style of play, you can do that. You can take those cards and customised Iden back and forth.
She’s also a multiplayer hero that stands alongside Rey and Kylo Ren.
Mitch: DICE actually built a specific kit so that she feels like herself. On the them it being a coherent experience, Iden in multiplayer has to feel like Iden in single player, but with a limited tool set. Then you can customise that toolset with the cards.
TSA: Speaking of her toolset, I was thinking back to Rogue One and the now iconic scene with Darth Vader at the end. Iden manages to feel almost more powerful than Darth Vader! [laughs] It is a video game, so you do want to be pretty powerful, I guess…
Mitch: If you were in a video game about Darth Vader, you’d probably feel pretty powerful too! [laughs]
Chris: I’m sure that Vader would have cleared those corridors even quicker, but she’s the clean up crew for the Empire that just makes problems go away. She’s given access to special armour, she has a droid, she’s part of this military family and comes from this Imperial homeworld where her entire life has been about combat, training and bringing Inferno Squad together.
So yeah, when she clears a corridor, people are scared of her! They already know who she is and Inferno Squad has this reputation.
TSA: That does almost feel that if Inferno Squad is so well known, they’re not doing their job quite as well as they should be? [laughs]
Mitch: [laughs] It’s funny and we did wrestle with that. How well should they be known to the Empire and to the Rebellion? Are they publicly known? Are they threatening the galaxy?
Chris: The story resonated so much with Lucasfilm, and these things begin to snowball once we cast Janina Gavankar as Iden. Once these guys got done dealing with the fact that they wanted to change the story and rewrite it around Janina because she was so compelling, we started being given opportunities that video games rarely get, like Christie Golden wanting to write the Inferno Squad book for their origin story.
You see how terrifying that have been in the lead up, but [in the game] we meet them at their lowest moment. The Death Star II has exploded, and now what do they do now? That’s a great story to be able to tell a space that’s got some awesome literature with the Aftermath books and Shattered Empire, and it gave us space to develop the characters and tell their story.
TSA: You made an interesting point about rewriting the story after casting Janina. Can you go a little bit more into that and what you wanted to achieve?
Mitch: Definitely, yeah. In the original draft for the game, we had a script where Iden was more cold and distant toward people. She’s still as brutal and calculated in the game now, but I think seeing Janina bring the emotional complexity to the character that she does, that you see in the performance capture with micro-expressions and animations, you see the way that she gives all of herself to a scene and that came through to the character in a way that we didn’t have on the page.
If you see Janina’s audition, you see that she brings not only heart to this character, but fire too. That’s just who Janina is and you’ll instantly understand why she is Iden if you ever get a chance to meet her. There are moments in the game where it’s shocking me looking at my friend Janina being herself, and then she flips a switch and she’s this kickass Imperial Commander who’s terrifying.
Chris: She added a complexity that you could draw a similarity to a character like Cassian in Rogue One. He was a good guy doing bad things to better their goals, and whatever your standpoint on Iden, she added a layer of complexity to the character.
She didn’t just catalyse change in the story, we went and got better facial capture rigs, we actually had a multi-studio effort the improve skin changes and lighting, to help support this brilliant character that we wanted to bring through.
TSA: With Iden being a bad guy at the start of the game, how do you really explore that side of the story? It’s something that the films don’t really get to do all that often, though we are seeing more of it with Kylo Ren in the new trilogy.
Mitch: Yeah, that’s why it’s been so exciting to do this story. When you watch the Star Wars films, you get that from the Rebels. You get to see Luke, Leia, Han and all these characters that we love, then you throw to Darth Vader and see something insidious and exciting, and then you throw back to our heroes to see how that affects them.
I’ve always wanted to see what goes on if you don’t cut back. What are the conversations people have as a result of things they’re doing? Because the Empire wants the same thing, everyone wants order, peace in the galaxy and control.
Chris: People willingly join the Empire…
Mitch: Yeah, Luke was going to go off and be a pilot! So I think it’s interesting that we have a cast of characters whose relationships and beliefs will be tested. They ultimately want the same thing, they work together to achieve the same goals for the Empire, but how they go about it is different. You can see that from the gameplay today, where they’re arguing a little bit, there’s tension with her Father, there’s the back and forth Iden has over the way that things should happen…
Chris: I love the way that after the very first mission, when Iden joins up with Inferno Squad again and has landed back on the Corvus after her fancy extraction, the very first thing she says is, “Job done. Zero casualties.” Really Inferno Squad could have destroyed the Rebel ship in a blink, they didn’t need to go in and delete it, but she deliberately got caught so that she could do this without murdering everybody!
TSA: You do still have the slightly campy Star Wars fun in there though. It’s not just all serious people doing bad things, such as the bit with the Ion Cannon being blown up and it then hitting another ship, which was wonderfully silly. I guess it was important to make sure there’s a levity in there still?
Mitch: And especially with Imperial characters. We get the question a lot asking how we make players care about these characters, and we make them people. When that Ion Cannon pops out and hits the other ship, Iden and Hask have to have a little jab at each other, like, “Yeah I 100% meant to do that.” It’s just, “Yeah, OK. Sure boss.”
TSA: You have all that kind of chat between Rebel pilots too.
Mitch: Totally, and you have to imagine that happens on the Imperial side too. Especially when these people have been with each other every day for years. When Iden gets back to the bridge after the first mission, they might as well be high-fiving, they just can’t break that protocol.
Chris: It’s surprising how natural it is to write. As the story’s written […] jokes that happen in the writing room have a habit of finding interesting ways into the story. They are authentic Star Wars characters, and Lucasfilm would’ve been the first people to jump on us if we hadn’t included that!
TSA: Finally, we’ve all seen the most recent Star Wars film trailer, and I have to ask, are there Porgs in the game and can you pet them?
Mitch: Oh man…
Chris: We have nothing to say at this time! [laughs]
Mitch: [laughs] As I said, we have many unannounced characters…
Thanks to Chris and Mitch to chatting to us about Star Wars Battlefront II’s single player campaign. You can catch our thoughts from playing it here, as well as head back for our coverage from the open beta that ran a couple weeks ago.