Star Wars Rebellion Preview

LucasArts returns with another Star Wars treat for die-hard fans

Nineteen years ago, after seeing the first Star Wars film, Scott Witte dreamed of making a computer strategy game set in the Star Wars universe. Lacking the right tools and finances, he settled for second best: He created a board game to play with his friends.

Today, he's the lead designer and director of Rebellion: The Star Wars Strategy Game, a strategy game of galactic proportions. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime," Witte says. "This is a game that's been waiting almost 20 years to be made and I'm glad to be the one doing it."

In many ways Rebellion is a dramatic shift for LucasArts, the company behind all the Star Wars action games like Rebel Assault, X-Wing, and Tie Fighter. It's their first strategy game and more surprisingly, it's the first time an outside developer has produced a game for LucasArts. "It's very, very, very difficult for an outside group to do anything for us," says LucasArts product marketing manager, Tom Byron. "We are very protective of our properties. It's really very much an exception."

That outside group is Coolhand Interactive, a Mountain View, California-based developer started by several Three-Sixty Pacific alums. These are the same people who produced Harpoon II, the deeply detailed, huge air/naval combat sim. After Three-Sixty's buyout by Intracorp/Capcom, it subsequently died. The Harpoon II team then turned to Three-Sixty's former product development vice president, Doug Mogica, to create a new company. The plan worked, and Mogica and Witte brainstormed product ideas - and were surprised when they both suggested Rebellion. "It simply had to be done," says Mogica. "It's the game we both wanted to play."

And despite LucasArts' professed allergy to outside developers, putting together the Rebellion deal was relatively easy. One phone call to LucasArts, followed by a couple of meetings, and the deal was struck. "Star Wars is such an incredible canvas to do a game like this," says Byron. "The idea was too strong to pass up."

More than a year later, Coolhand's 13-person programming team is still immersed in Rebellion. They believe they are creating a game worthy of the legendary status of some of Rebellion's competitors, notably Master of Orion and Civilization. And, they say, Rebellion will improve on the genre.

"This is the first grand scale strategy game that successfully integrates the use of characters," says Mogica. "It's the first with a true tactical combat mode and it is not turn-based, it operates in real time. Plus it's Star Wars."

Rebellion is set at the conclusion of the first movie after the Death Star's destruction. The game offers single-player or head-to-head mode and you command either the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire. The universe consists of 200 systems or planets with loyalty split evenly. Your task is to explore those systems, discover those loyal to or leaning toward your side, build fleets, and attack, sabotage, or use diplomacy to bring other systems your way. To win you need to capture the two enemy leaders (Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker and Mon Mothma) and their headquarters.

As you progress you'll run across familiar Star Wars characters whose attributes can be utilized to your benefit. When you attack you switch to a 3-D tactical mode where you command battle-groups by selecting coordinates, targets, and strategies. These battles, which can last up to 15 minutes, will feature intense, fast-paced decision making coupled with 3-D special effects including weapon fire, tractor beams, and interdictors.

"There's high levels of excitement," say Witte. "In other Star Wars games the universe tells you where to go next. Here you are the manipulator. You control all the characters, ships, and fighters you love to watch in the movies."

"For the Star Wars fan it's the ultimate fantasy," says Byron. "You get to command the galaxy."

Rebellion will offer substantial replay value. At the start of each new game the characters' attributes, loyalties, and locations in the universe will have changed and the planet's loyalties will have shifted. Think of it as a huge 3-D chess game where the characteristics of the pieces change not only with each game but also as the game progresses. An online encyclopedia and "agents" - notably C-3PO and IMP-22 - keep you abreast of developments.

The game's deep complexity should not scare off non-hard-core strategy players. "This is the Star Wars universe," say Byron. "One thing you don't want to do is shut out the fans." That's why Rebellion will have a very solid tutorial as well as the option of simpler gameplay.

One other advantage: Players won't suffer through the steep learning curve usually needed to understand a strategy game's storyline. "It's not often you get to work on something as popular as Star Wars," says Witte. "What's foremost in our minds is to make a game that is true to the Star Wars universe and create fun for the gamer."

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