Jedi usually mean big things: battles aboard Death Stars, planets destroyed, seats of government changed, galaxy-wide conflicts, etc. But if the non-Jedi mini-story focus of the first Anthology film Rogue One is anything to go by, there’s a push away from big spectacle to smaller focused stories for everything Star Wars without an Episode number and I feel like the same will be true for the beginning of EA’s video game content: expect games with a single player campaign (i.e. not Battlefront) to, at least at first, give the game’s protagonist a good blaster at their side instead of the mystical lightsaber.
This new era of Star Wars storytelling, where everything matters, is getting its first test within the video game realm with the “Battle of Jakku” DLC for Battlefront, where players will live out the battle which causes the already iconic opening shot of the second teaser for The Force Awakens. But by and large, Battlefront‘s single player “Missions” are only canon in the broad strokes, as in what starts the battle and the outcome of said battle, while your actions on the battlefield are left in a murky bit of Dagobah swamp mist canonically speaking. This isn’t a bad thing, by any means, but it certainly makes one crave getting their hands on the first video game to be fully part of the new canon, with little to no murky swamp mist to be found. It’s nice to finally imagine a game where events and characters won’t just get wink and nod mentions or their ship appearing in a Special Edition of a film, but they could potentially find their way into books, comics, and even the films; Heck, they could even be about main characters from the films and it would all matter.
Sure, they sort of tried that in the past, specifically with the Shadows of the Empire and The Force Unleashed multi-media projects, but both of those got passing mentions in other material, at best: Leia never seemed to mention her meeting Starkiller, a powerful Force user, ever again while Dash Rendar got a cameo flying through Mos Eisley and a decent caper book. But now there is no forgetting or handwaving, as this new storytelling era means any one format could impact or crossover with the other and they would have to respect/mind the other’s content as all canon. An easy way to keep the canon clean at the offset would be to have stories with contained narratives, like what we’ve been seeing with most of the new canon novels (i.e. A New Dawn, Heir to the Jedi, and Lords of the Sith), the first of the Anthology films, and the Marvel comics. Piggybacking off that smaller focus, I believe the best way for video games to approach this new era is with the same caution and from said caution comes my idea they’ll likely stay away from Force-focused games…initially.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph for this article, Jedi typically mean big things, whether it be galaxy-wide consequences for their actions, lightsaber wielding baddies, or penchant for property damage, they never tend to keep on a small scale. On the other hand, those who aren’t Force-sensitives like smugglers, bounty hunters, merchants, pilots, soldiers, etc., can keep a much smaller profile across the board, something we’ve seen in previous games including: Republic Commando, Bounty Hunter, and SotE. This is not to say non-Force users can’t also make big splashes in the galaxy, but they’re just easier to reign in for story telling purposes related to game design.
To give you an idea about how important game design is to my idea for this article, I’d like to take a moment and look at TFU series and how having a Force-wielding protagonist affected game design. Once LucasArts decided to give Starkiller a fully unleashed Force, they had to make enemy types that would challenge the player along their journey through the game: hulking War droids, Force acolytes, an alarming amount of standard trooper modifications including personal cloaking devices or Force-resistance shielding, the giant Gorog, and even making Palpatine into a boss battle. While all these enemies were all well and good in the previous era, now each of those new enemy types and designs need to have actual stories and actual purposes outside of just being made to give players a variety of enemies. For example, where did the Empire get Force-resistance personal shields and how come we never see them in use again or where did the Empire get all those Force-sensitives to become acolytes? Do these enemy types make sense in the larger world now and can they find an appropriate story for them? But if you take Force-users out of the equation, suddenly things have a better chance to get a lot less messier and lot less harder to explain. And cheaper.
Because while it is possible for game designers to go out of their way to create elaborate stories (the expansive Codex in the Mass Effect series is a great example) to give in-universe explanations for design choices, as with everything in this business, it all comes down to money. EA might seem like some giant who can throw buckets of cash around if they want to, but they most certainly don’t and we don’t want them rushing a game because it’s getting too big for its budget, seeing as we’ve dealt with rushed messes before for Star Wars games (TFU II, KotOR II). And weirdly enough, not animating female characters has been cited as a money saving measure, as despicable as that sounds, so it’s not impossible to see them cut costs anyway they can. At the same time, with the interconnected storytelling now they could just let a novel adaptation or a comic series flesh out the stories behind everything crazy and new they’d be adding to Star Wars canon, thus eliminating the monetary concerns a bit. However, money could decide if it’s worth it to have an adaptation of the game in another media anyways, so it’s going to be even more complex to get that type of ball rolling.
The other piece of evidence I had towards blaster-friendly video games being first and foremost is of course (in what seems like an obligatory mention) what the cancelled game 1313‘s focus was to be and the possible teases coming from the Visceral Games team working on their SW project. 1313 was going to put us in the boots of Boba Fett, deep underground Coruscant in the lower levels, and feature no Force-users. It also had a distinct Uncharted-vibe to it, from the third-person cover based shooting, AI partner, and traversal elements. The excitement level for the game after it’s initial reveal was palpable throughout the gaming-sphere and the disappointment over it’s cancellation has continued to be a sting in many gamer’s hearts. I’ve been speculating the hiring of Amy Hennig (pictured right) and Todd Stashwick at Visceral Games to work on the still unannounced SW game could see that studio’s project be similar to 1313/Uncharted as Hennig knows how to capture nuanced character interactions and make tight story and character-driven experiences. She’s easily one of the top choices to help make an engaging, but focused story in the SW universe that wouldn’t step on a lot of other (canon) toes. Plus, it seems they are teasing a Han Solo and space pirate themed game, which would likely see little to no Force-user involvement, especially if it takes place during the Dark Times, and definitely give you a good blaster at your side.
But let it not be said: I have nothing against Force-using protagonists and eagerly look forward to another game in the veins of Jedi Knight series or even an RPG like the KotOR series. It’s just that, looking at some of the business end of Star Wars’ future instead of my personal wants and desires, it’s hard to see a focus on Force-users for the time being. Unfortunate? Yes. Unexpected? No. Eventually changing? You bet.
Here are a few other things:
- To be honest, it took me awhile to write this because I actually couldn’t find a decent enough argument, especially one I could actually support, to say Jedi characters weren’t going to be a focus in some of the new video games. It wasn’t until the Rogue One panel at SWCA 2015 that inspiration finally struck.
- Alexander Gaultier over at Eleven-ThirtyEight has an expansive look at where Star Wars games have been and where he hopes they can go.
- I didn’t want to include this in the full article because it’s pure speculation based on the speculative Han Solo game Visceral may or may not be working on, but I had some ideas for such a game: 1) With Hennig responsible for the witty and natural sounding dialogue from the Uncharted series, I’d love to hear that with Han and Chewie bickering during battles. Sure, you can’t understand Chewie (and I hope they wouldn’t subtitle it), but Han’s reactions to whatever the Wookiee might be saying could be pretty hilarious and something we’ve never really had in a SW game before. 2) Also, the Uncharted series has two of the better represented female characters in gaming, Elena and Chloe, and if there’s one non-Force sensitive female character I’d love to see brought into the new canon that would fit well in a Han game written by Hennig: Scarlet Hark, from the Legends novel Honor Among Thieves. As I said though, all speculation at this point. We’ll know more at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2015 which runs June 16-18.
Pretty soon I won’t need to theorize about the future of Star Wars gaming because we’ll actually be in that future. But until then, and until more games come out, I’m going to stick by my assertions that choice-based gaming won’t be part of SW’s future, that mobile gaming is here to stay but at least in less annoying freemium capacities, and there’ll be a dearth of Force-using protagonists to start off the new era of SW gaming. But I could even be proven wrong by this year’s E3, though I certainly won’t mind either way as long as there are new SW gaming experiences coming out.
OTHER BUTLER CONFESSIONS:
Always On The Move: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 2)
Choice Isn’t an Option: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 1)
EU and Gaming: Thoughts on Their Relationship
Star Wars Ring Theory: An Interview with the Author, Mike Klimo, and Why You Should Read It
The Great Reboot of 2100: Just How Evergreen is Star Wars?
Chutes, Shafts, and Sinkholes: Star Wars and the Descent into the Underworld Mytheme
Star Wars Netflix Hopes: The Rule of Two
With New Eyes: The EU Reboot Changed How I View Ep. VI
Preserving the Mystery of In-Universe History
Story Fight Night: Game of Thrones VS A Song of Ice and Fire
VIDEO GAME REVIEWS:
X-Wing | Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy | Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast | Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith | Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II | Dark Forces | The Force Unleashed II | The Force Unleashed | Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords | Knights of the Old Republic | Republic Commando | Bounty Hunter | Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike | Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
EA Provides Minor Updates on Upcoming Star Wars Video Games from Visceral Games, Respawn Entertainment, and More
Battlefront Trailer, Gameplay Demo, Battle of Jakku DLC, and Novel Details (SWCA 2015)
More Classic Star Wars Games Hit GOG.com (Updated)
Star Wars: Battle Pod In Arcades Now!
X-Wing and TIE Fighter Flight Sim Games Re-Released
Footage And Details For Cancelled Rogue Squadron Games
Star Wars: Battle Pod Arcade Game Coming 2015
VR Demo Lets You Train Like Luke Skywalker
Lead Uncharted Writer Joins Visceral Games Star Wars Project
Execution vs Ideas: Another Cancelled LucasArts Game Surfaces
New Star Wars: Battlefront Trailer Shown at E3