Earlier today, LucasArts announced that it had entered into a partnership with Day 1 Studios to develop a new, unnamed next-generation console game. The developer made its mark in 2002 with MechAssault, one of the first games to take full advantage of Xbox Live. It released a sequel, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, in late 2004 and is currently working on the Xbox 360 port of F.E.A.R.
LucasArts, of course, is most famous for its myriad games based on properties from its sister company, Lucasfilm. However, it describes its collaboration with Day 1 as a "new next-generation entertainment franchise." Though some speculate that the game could be the rumored Darth Vader backstory game, it appears more likely that it will be set outside the Star Wars universe that has inspired the majority of LucasArts games.
Indeed, Day 1 president Denny Thorley told GameSpot that the deal with LucasArts was partially inspired by Mercenaries, LucasArts' non-Star Wars-related collaboration with Pandemic Studios. That game won widespread critical acclaim for its innovative gameplay; its success was also a factor in Pandemic's merger with similarly esteemed developer BioWare last year.
Thorley said that LucasArts' desire to create a similarly cutting-edge franchise for next-generation consoles was what made him want to work with the publisher. Such admiration was reciprocated by Peter Hirschmann, LucasArts' vice president of product development. The executive spoke with GameSpot about the deal and told us what he could about his company's top-secret project.
GameSpot: Why did you want to work with Day 1?
Peter Hirschmann: Well, why not? When you're a publisher, you meet hundreds of developers and teams. Sometimes their ideas are cool but you don't think they can execute. Sometimes they've got some really smart people on staff but their ideas are retreads of something else. You just always wait and wait and wait for that magic combination of people coming with some great ideas you can actually pull off. Day 1 fit the bill.
I remember when his original MechAssault shipped and that was the killer app for Xbox Live. I think a lot of people forget, now that Live is such a success, that if it had gotten off on the wrong foot...well, who knows what would have happened. But I still remember reading about the penny arcade guys going crazy about playing MechAssault online.
So I was a fan of Day 1's product, and we had some people here who had worked over there before moving to California and really spoke highly of them. It came down to a meeting at E3 in 2005 where they came in and presented a whole bunch of stuff. They were just so wound up and so crackerjack that you couldn't help but be really impressed.
GS: How far along in development is this game that you can't name?
PH: We are up and running on [a] next-gen [console SDK]. It's playable, it's fun, and that's the telltale sign of a game. If it's fun to play even in its earliest prototype stages, you know that you're in for a wild ride. The various builds we've gotten over the last few months, I mean, people just sit around and play them and goof around and have fun with them. It's something that's truly unique, new, and different. That was the key thing for us. It definitely is a next-gen experience. It's not just a current-gen experience revved up--it's something that you can only do on next-gen.
GS: Do you think the only way to push the industry into the next era of gameplay is to do stuff you couldn't do before?
PH: Look, God bless anyone who shipped a title with the 360 launch and who's gearing up to do the same thing with the PlayStation 3. I mean, getting a game done is hard enough under the best circumstances, and to finish a game on hardware that's evolving is even worse. We went through it at LucasArts with Rogue Squadron II for the GameCube launch. It's incredibly tough.
So if some of the 360 and PS3 games were, arguably, just souped-up current-gen [games], that's because of the production obstacles those guys were up against. Now they've got great traction going into their next titles cause they've already gotten their feet wet. So I think it's real easy for people to sit back and go, "Aw, that was just a current-gen game, I'm not impressed." Well, you know, you want to try making it yourself?
So I think it's part of any natural hardware cycle. You'll see with the second and third wave you'll start seeing stuff that truly takes advantage of the hardware. These new machines are deep enough and complex enough that I think you're going to see a longer period of new things rolling out. I think it's going to be a few years until we come close to maximizing what these machines can do, just because they can do so much.
GS: It sounds like it's a pretty technology-driven project.
PH: Well, one of my favorite George Lucas quotes is, "A special effect by itself is a boring thing. A special effect with a story is potentially something truly special." Technology by itself is a waste of time, right? What got me hooked first was the idea for the game. You have people who have great ideas but can't pull it off and vice versa. They had the great idea, and then they came in and gave us a prototype. After seeing it, I was like, "OK, you guys can do this."
I don't mean to be vague about it, but we want to show it off in full glory when the time is right. But we are a technology-driven form of entertainment, and the key thing is they're building technology and tools that's going to help their designers and their artists. It's not just tech for tech's sake. It's actually something that affects gameplay. It affects how the game is designed and how the game is experienced. I think it's an action game and...not a puzzle game. I'll put it that way.
GS: Now Denny told us that one of the reasons he wanted to work with LucasArts is that your smaller release slate would provide for more support for this game.
PH: LucasArts is always only going to publish a certain number of titles a year. We want each one of them to be a home run and something that truly is next-gen. That was one of the biggest criteria, because if it was a really great idea but it could be executed on current-gen, well maybe we're not the right home for it. That was the package deal.
GS: Did they shop the project around to other publishers before they came to you?
PH: As far as I know, this was an idea that they came to us with first. I hope I didn't come on too strong with them! When I first met them at E3, I was really so impressed with them as people and the way they handled themselves and the materials they were presenting. At E3, they weren't pitching us the game. They were pitching themselves as a company, saying, "Here's our tools pipeline. Here's how we're organized. This is our past portfolio." I knew from that moment, man, we really want to work with these guys.
Over the next couple of months, the idea for this game came into form, and we talked about it and it developed into what it is now. So, I think it's fair to say that while we worked together exclusively on developing the game, it's their drive. Creatively, it's their great idea. I want to give them all the credit.
GS: You say you wanted to make a game that would be possible only on a next-gen platform. I was trying to wrap my head around what that could entail. Is there anything specific you can talk about?
PH: I can neither confirm nor deny any and specific features or feature set of the product.
GS: OK. I know LucasArts is tied into other mediums. Is there any chance we could see this property spread into maybe film or something else?
PH: You never know. Right now we're focused on coming up with the best ideas for games. I think if the game we wanted to live in the best gaming experience possible and if it makes sense for it to manifest itself in other forms of media, heck, yeah, we're on board with that. But we're focused on delivering the best next-generation game experience possible.
GS: How do you guys keep your mouth shut about all these things you're so excited about?
PH: That's a great question. I mean, we deal with some incredibly sensitive IP. I saw Star Wars: Episode III a year before it came out. So it's part of the culture here. Our IP is one of our most valuable assets, and if you spill the beans about a movie or game, it really robs it of its potency. Everyone loves the instant rush of a spoiler on the Internet. Then, after you read it, it's like, "Oh, I wish I hadn't seen that. I wish I had seen how that played out in a theater or in a game."
So I think it's traditionally, it's very important to maintain an integrity about what we're working on because, like I said, there's stuff in the pipe that I can't wait to talk about. But it's not the right time for a variety of reasons. You know, there's stuff going on with Star Wars that is really cool and exciting, but, you know, again, there's a time and place to talk about it.
Culturally, at LucasArts, I mean, we share a lot of information with Lucasfilm. Our new people are always surprised how much detail we go into at our company meetings, but it sort of says, "Hey, we trust you as a Lucasfilm employee. You're going to be exposed to a lot of really rockin' stuff and you got to keep it under your hat because that's part of the job." And I think everyone here then signs up for it.