Lego Star Wars Designer Diary #3

Jonathan Smith reveals more of the quirky development process behind the endearing action platformer.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith may still be a couple of months away, but eager gamers will get to experience some of it in Lego form as early as next week, when Lego Star Wars hits the PlayStation 2 and PC. In our ongoing series of designer diaries, development director Jonathan Smith gives us an inside look at the creative process that's shaped this unique action game.

Feel the Force

By Jonathan Smith
Development Director, Giant

Welcome again to another installment in the diary of Lego Star Wars. Last time, I told you about the objectives we set for the game in our very first concept document. Here's how we developed them.

'I've got a bad feeling about this...'

Some design considerations followed very naturally from that initial plan. Our next document--still kept to a single page to keep things simple and clear--starts to get specific about some of the ways in which the game will actually work. We decide up front to go for a third-person perspective on the player characters to make the most of our planned character variety. We plan to use a context-sensitive action system to keep the controls straightforward.

We also decide to include vehicle-based sections as a key part of our aim to deliver all the most exciting elements of the movie story. We've started out with a focus on characters and character-based gameplay, but we also want to fly cool spacecraft, particularly when we have so many great Lego models to work with.

The crucial Jedi abilities are moving and jumping athletically, wielding a lightsaber, and using the Force. We know we want to be able to move objects around from a distance, but at this stage, we haven't quite articulated the idea of "transformation," that unique power where the Force can be used to dismantle and rebuild Lego objects.

Focusing on our goals for "a world full of rewards and surprises," though, as well as the ability to "play out movie scenes in your own way," we do develop quite specifically the idea of "free play," which goes on to become one of our key original features and the source of our major technical challenges. This encourages you to build up your Lego Star Wars collection, then take those characters and abilities back in to the game so they're not just cosmetic "bonuses" but are rewards that actually transform your game experience. We plan to enable players to "take the action in unexpected directions, reveal additional surprises, have fun, and expand their collections even further."

And at this point, when we started thinking about taking player characters from one scene and placing them in a different scene--even into a scene from a movie in which they didn't originally appear--we did begin to wonder what the folks at Lucasfilm were going to make of all this. The idea that you could, for example, play through Episode II as Darth Maul, create a small team of multiple Yodas, or match Jar-Jar against Obi-Wan Kenobi...that sounded like just the kind of mischief that licensors are typically hyper-anxious about. Everyone on the team had worked with "intellectual properties, stories, and characters" that had been very cautiously administered, particularly in the areas of character and scenario. Surely, the gatekeepers of the world's biggest entertainment franchise would react with dismay at the kinds of situations we were suggesting.

We couldn't have been more wrong. Right from the start, we received the highest imaginable level of support from the entire Lucas organization. Everyone there instantly "got" exactly what we were trying to do and had the vision and confidence to give us real impetus.

The game will feature occasional vehicular action stages, in addition to all the platforming.

Our fears were instantly dispelled. We'd not thought through how experienced everyone would already be in dealing with the kinds of issues we were raising...not at least through the company's long history of producing Star Wars games of all kinds. Often, when we felt we were pushing over the edges of the Star Wars universe, the team at LucasArts was able to point us to some precedent from Star Wars Galaxies, Knights of the Old Republic, or even Star Wars: Battlefront.

Our status as a Lego title gave us so much scope as well. We'd often find ourselves finishing discussions with the statement: "...because it's Lego!" That gave us so many options.

With the main ideas for the game now established and agreed, the time had come to start work on actually bringing some of those ideas to life. And it was here that the real genius of the team at Traveller's Tales immediately started to shine through.

I'll tell you how next time!

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