LOS ANGELES--LucasArts has already demonstrated with its publicly announced next-gen Indiana Jones game that it wants to employ innovative underlying technology, not just innovative graphics, in its next-generation games, and it reinforced that commitment today when we got a look behind closed doors at its next Star Wars game, due out next year on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Or at least, we got to see an interactive tech demo showing off some of the forward-looking technology that the company will be using. Lucas reps wouldn't commit to the nature of the game at this early date, but they indicated plans to bring the Force to life in radically explosive new ways.
From what we could tell, that translates into using physics and material systems to break a bunch of stuff. The next Star Wars game will use two pieces of technology LucasArts has developed in conjunction with third parties, called Euphoria and "digital molecular matter." The former is an environmental awareness system that will let artificial intelligence characters interact in ways like dynamically grabbing onto a ledge when falling. The latter simulates a wide range of materials realistically, which is a lot more impressive than it sounds. But let us explain.
The demo program was set in a "Star Wars natural history museum" where the player could fly around to various little demo kiosks made out of different materials. There were a couple of big wooden boards, one glass tactical layout showing the Death Star, a statue of a Jedi, and a life-size Jar Jar encased in carbonite (yes!). The player could throw whiny little R2 units at whatever material was there to see how it would behave, and then watch it break or fall over in a wholly realistic fashion. The wood board splintered differently every time, as did the glass breaking. The statue was actually made out of granite, while its base was a brittle crystalline material, and throwing an R2 unit at the statue would knock it from its base relatively unharmed, while launching one at the crystal would shatter the base. Lastly, the player hurled R2s at the Jar Jar piece, which was currently set to "metallic," and we watched it dent realistically. The material properties for that object were then changed on the fly to a jellylike substance, and it immediately sagged under its own weight and stretched around just like you'd expect. This stuff is more easily appreciated in person, but trust us, it looked really cool.
Next up was a gargantuan rancor skeleton, in the fashion of any good natural history museum's dinosaur skeletons. We saw how the skeleton would break apart at the joints when impacted, even taking down some obelisks scattered around its base. Above the skeleton was a framework of wooden beams, and it was here that we saw the second component, Euphoria, demonstrated. The player began to throw stormtroopers at the beams, and their innate environmental awareness caused them to grab on and hang with one hand, or two hands, or not at all. It was all totally random, according to Lucas reps, and the effect looked pretty convincing to us. After enough of the troops caught onto the beam, it began to bow in the middle under their weight and finally snapped in two, sending splinters and stormtroopers plummeting downward.
Finally, the demo driver took us out into an early environment from the actual game, which was set on the Episode III planet of Falucia. The gigantic pieces of fungus stretching up from the ground had a rubbery quality to them, as a number of hurled R2 units proved, and they bounced and swayed back and forth with very convincing realism. This section also gave Lucas reps a chance to demonstrate one of the fruits of their recent collaborative relationship with premiere special effects house Industrial Light & Magic. The developers of the new Star Wars game have adapted ILM's dynamic level-of-detail system to eliminate the unseemly pop-in effect that occurs when higher- or lower-detail models are swapped in as your distance from an object decreases or increases. This is accomplished by dynamically generating more or less geometry in real time, rather than swapping static models, which we got to see in action when the object was switched to a wireframe view.
Finally, we saw a CG concept trailer that indicated the direction LucasArts wants to go with this new game. The footage showed a number of unnamed Jedi characters essentially obliterating groups of stormtroopers and the environments around them with Force powers, sundering the ground and nearby objects and sending the bodies flying with mere thought. It looks as though the developers have a lot of the tools in place that they need to make this sort of gameplay a reality, so we'll look forward to seeing if they can acutally make it happen when more of this new Star Wars game is shown in the coming months.