Star Wars: Starfighter Feature Preview

LucasArts is almost done with its first PS2 project. Star Wars: Starfighter is a visually impressive flight-based shooter set against the backdrop of the events of Star Wars: Episode I. We sat down with Producer Reeve Thompson to get the inside story on this epic adventure.

LucasArts' first PS2 project is Star Wars Starfighter - a visually impressive flight-based shooter that melds the best elements of Rogue Squadron and TIE Fighter. Set against the backdrop of the events of Star Wars: Episode I, Starfighter tells a completely original story and introduces an involving storyline that parallels the movie's storyline.

Rhys Dallows

Starfighter is a story about three special individuals who find they have a common enemy and band together to stop the power-hungry Trade Federation from achieving its nefarious goals. The game mirrors the events seen in Star Wars: Episode I, and it features some familiar scenes and locations. However, Starfighter introduces three brand-new characters to the Star Wars universe, and it follows their journey through the events of Episode I. "The first [new character] is Rhys Dallows, who is a rookie Naboo fighter pilot. His motivation comes from the fact that his home planet is under attack," said Reeve Thompson, the game's producer. Rhys is a green pilot who must quickly learn the ropes and overcome his fears if he's going to liberate his homeworld from the Trade Federation. "[Starfighter's] second main character is Vana Sage," Thompson continued. "She's a mercenary who used to work on Naboo. During the game, she finds herself double-crossed by the Trade Federation and wants to get even." Vana is a resourceful and beautiful woman who's hired by the Trade Federation to test its new droids. But when she intercepts a private Trade Federation communiqué detailing the unprovoked attack on Naboo, she finds herself on the wrong end of a laser cannon. Then there's the pirate Nym. "Nym is the leader of a pirate clan based on the planet Lok," Thompson revealed. "When the Trade Federation attacks his base, Nym decided to join with Rhys and Vana as they head back to help the people of Naboo and get even with the Trade Federation."

Nym

Through the eyes of these three characters, you get a completely different take on the same events seen in Star Wars: Episode I. "[Starfighter's] story takes place at the same time and contains some of the same events, but because we follow three new characters, we see a whole new side to these events," Thompson said. As such, Starfighter's storyline could be considered an add-on to the story of Episode I - it provides more insight into the motivations and back story of Episode I without being essential to the actual script.

Vana Sage

The Star Wars universe has always featured a strong relationship between characters and their personal spacecraft, and Starfighter is no different. Because the whole game takes place in the cockpit of one of three ships, the developers recognized the importance of giving each ship a personalized look and feel, and they made sure that the ships matched the personalities and tastes of their owners. "We look at a character's ship as an extension of that character, much like the Millennium Falcon is an extension of Han Solo," Thompson remarked. "Each of our characters has a unique ship that fits his or her personality. Rhys flies the Naboo Starfighter you saw in the movie. Vana flies the Guardian Mantis, a ship that's very quick and agile, and Nym flies a large bomber that's very tough." Not only is each ship particularly suited to the mission it flies in the game, but each ship also handles differently than the others and features personalized weapons and power-ups.

Vana's Guardian Mantis

One of the most crucial elements of the game is the wingman interface. While you won't be able to switch ships or fire turrets like you could in Rogue Squadron or Battle for Naboo, you will be able to coordinate a group of friendly fighters. "Throughout the game, you will be able to command a series of wingmen in ways not generally seen on a console," Thompson explained. "This added element really changes the way players play the game. It's been interesting for me to watch new players start playing and simply ignore their wingmen, which is fine. However, the advanced players are constantly in touch with their wingmen and use them strategically to complete the missions."

Nym's Bomber

Starfighter is played in several different environments, and it features missions in open space and missions inside certain atmospheres. "We have a combination of space-based and terrain-based missions," Thompson revealed. "All of these take place on or in the space around three planets: Naboo, Eos, and Lok. Players will be familiar with Naboo from the film, but Eos and Lok are entirely new planets to the Star Wars universe. Eos is a developing planet covered with lava. We first see Eos because the Trade Federation has built a secret droid factory there that Vana inadvertently discovers. Lok is a harsh and rocky desert planet where Nym's pirate clan has established a base. We visit Lok when the Trade Federation attacks Nym's base in an effort to recover some stolen technology." And while the game features both types of environments, it doesn't allow you the freedom to move between them at will. "[The] missions were built to take place in either a space environment or a terrain environment," Thompson explained. "You cannot travel between the two during a mission. When we want the player to go down to the surface of the planet, we set up a separate mission for this new environment."

Rhys's Naboo Fighter

The completely new engine in Starfighter is reminiscent of the Rogue Squadron engine, and it finds a happy medium between the atmosphere-based controls of hard-core flight simulators and the futuristic vacuum-maneuvering controls of deep-space games. This control scheme is applied to both the space missions and the planetary missions to keep things familiar for the player. "The controls differ a tiny bit between space and terrain missions, but it was more important to us that we keep the controls similar from mission to mission so as not to confuse the player," Thompson said. "We do have a few different control configurations though, plus sensitivity settings, so players should be able to customize the controllers to feel right for them." Additionally, the team simplified the control layout and kept the controls basic. The ships will behave much like the ships in Rogue Squadron - they'll always move forward at a decent rate, and you can momentarily speed them up or slow them down by holding the appropriate throttle buttons. The game does feature a simple but effective targeting system that lets you cycle through targets or simply choose the closest one. The game features full analog support, and it uses the primary analog stick to control the pitch and yaw of your craft and the secondary stick to control the rotation of your craft. Altogether, these controls deliver an intuitive and effective control interface.

Vana relaxes after a battle

From a mission standpoint, Starfighter has plenty of action. "There are 14 linear story-based missions," Thompson revealed. "During these, you meet and fly as the three main characters. Each of these missions has a collection of mission objectives required to complete the mission and advance to the next step in the story." The primary mission objectives are always spelled out for you at the start of each level, but unexpected changes can lead to new mission objectives and an update of old objectives. These updates are always given to you in the form of vocal commands from your peers - freighters will call for assistance, wingmen will inform you of new threats, and commanders will issue orders on the battlefield. Additionally, each mission will have bonus objectives that are explained at the beginning of each mission but are not crucial to the success of the mission itself. "If you complete any one of these bonus objectives, you receive a bronze medal for the mission," Thompson explained. "Completing two bonus objectives gets you the silver, and completing all three gets you the gold. These medals are then used to unlock bonus missions, of which there are around ten."

Firefight above Eos

The missions range from simple search-and-destroy scenarios to complex escort duties, and the overall mission selection is very innovative. "Our missions kind of cover the map in terms of mission types," Thompson commented. "We have missions where you need to protect freighters as you would in TIE Fighter and Rogue. We also have bombing-run missions, missions with races in them, strategic-strike missions, and many more. Some of the best missions in the game are the ones where the objective changes as the mission progresses. I think all the mission designers on the game are pleased with the variety of experience we were able to achieve."

Rhys and his wingman, Reti

The Starfighter experience is conveyed beautifully through powerful graphics and cinematic sound. Starfighter boasts some of the best graphics ever seen on the PS2, with simply huge environments and incredibly detailed action. Thompson noted that Starfighter's graphical prowess has everything to do with teamwork. "The goal of the programming team on Starfighter was always to give the artists power to create beautiful-looking levels," he said. "They gave them the abilities to add detail textures to terrain and reflection passes to ships. The engine is very powerful, but it's these art techniques that really push the visuals of Starfighter over the edge. Starfighter is really a testament to the great working relationship we had between our artists and programmers." Through this interaction, the development team was able to create an astonishingly realistic universe populated with lush environments and spectacular visual effects. These visuals, combined with the cinematic sequences that explain the characters' motivations between levels, do an amazing job of conveying a sense of realism in the game. Additionally, the team went to great lengths to give Starfighter sound that is deserving of the Lucas trademark. "The sound in the game is exceptional," Thompson said. "One of the things that makes us excited about Starfighter is that we've finally been able to create massive space battles like you saw in Return of the Jedi. The experience of being attacked by a swarm of ships is just awesome, and thanks to the new generation of consoles, we're able to do this. And to accompany these visuals, the sound department here at LucasArts did a great job of bringing the sounds of one of these massive battles to the game. From the sound effects to the voice lines to the music, Starfighter creates an amazing sonic environment that works so well with the rest of the game."

Nym surprises Vana

This all points back to the PlayStation 2, which is currently the only piece of video gaming hardware powerful enough to convey the experiences the development team wanted to deliver in Starfighter. "We chose the PS2 because it was a good fit for the look and scope we wanted to achieve in Starfighter," Thompson explained. "We've had our share of difficulties with the PS2, but nothing we weren't able to overcome with a little hard work. The way we structured the team within LucasArts really helped a lot. We had a core technology group who attacked the nitty-gritty of the PS2 hardware, while the programming team of Starfighter focused on the game itself." In the end, the PS2 could deliver the most realistic and intense spacecraft action game to come from LucasArts yet.

Reti finds Rhys floating in space

With almost two years of development time invested in it, Starfighter should be one of the best-looking games for the PS2 so far. The interesting plot, amazing visuals, and cinema-quality sound are certainly enough to make Starfighter a game to watch for, but toss in the Star Wars: Episode I theme, and you've definitely got a game that will turn heads. LucasArts has been tight-lipped about Starfighter's official release date, but you can expect the game to jump to PS2s sometime in Q1 of this year.

Q&A Session With Reeve Thompson, Producer of Star Wars Starfighter

GameSpot: How does the story of Starfighter fit in with the Star Wars universe? When does it take place, what characters does it use, and how closely does it tie in with the first three movies?

Vana in the cockpit of the Guardian Mantis

Thompson: Starfighter follows a parallel story to The Phantom Menace. Our story takes place at the same time and contains some of the same events, but because we follow three new characters, we see a whole new side to these events. A good example would be with our character Rhys. Rhys is a Naboo pilot who cannot go home due to the blockade surrounding Naboo.

GameSpot: Who is the main villain in Starfighter, and how do the characters go about dealing with him?

Nym defends his base on Lok

Thompson: The main villain is really the Trade Federation. However, the Trade Federation often hires mercenaries to carry out some of their evil plans, and there is one mercenary pilot in particular who you run into a few times during the game.

GameSpot: What new characters does the story of Starfighter introduce? Who are they and what do they want? Are they original characters, or will we see them again in Episode II or III?

Vana, Rhys and Reti

Thompson: We have three brand-new characters for the Star Wars universe. The first one is Rhys Dallows, who is a rookie Naboo fighter pilot. His motivation comes from the fact that his home planet is under attack. Our second main character is Vana Sage. She's a mercenary who used to work on Naboo. During the game, she finds herself double-crossed by the Trade Federation and wants to get even. The third character you meet is the pirate Nym. Nym is the leader of a pirate clan based on the planet Lok. When the Trade Federation attacks his base, Nym decides to join with Rhys and Vana as they head back to help the people of Naboo and get even with the Trade Federation.

GameSpot: Can you talk about the spaceships in the game? Obviously, Star Wars characters have always had strong relationships with their personal spacecraft. How has this affected the characters and spaceships in the game?

Rhys defends Naboo

Thompson: We look at a character's ship as an extension of that character, much like the Millennium Falcon is an extension of Han Solo. Each of our characters has a unique ship that fits his or her personality. Rhys flies the Naboo Starfighter you saw in the movie. Vana flies the Guardian Mantis, a ship that's very quick and agile, and Nym flies a large bomber that's very tough.

GameSpot: Starfighter has some of the best graphics ever seen on the PS2. Can you talk a bit about the graphics? For instance, how does the graphics engine work, what sort of time was spent creating the levels and worlds of Starfighter, and what was the graphical team's primary focus with the game?

The Naboo Fighter is quick and agile

Thompson: The goal of the programming team on Starfighter was always to give the artists power to create beautiful-looking levels. They gave them the abilities to add detail textures to terrain and reflection passes to ships. The engine is very powerful, but it's these art techniques that really push the visuals of Starfighter over the edge. Starfighter is really a testament to the great working relationship we had between our artists and programmers.

GameSpot: Can you talk a bit about the locations found in the game? Where does the flying and fighting take place, and what can we expect to see in Starfighter? Also, are there any locations that would be familiar to Star Wars fans?

Nym takes out a Trade Federation command center on Eos

Thompson: We have a combination of space-based and terrain-based missions. All of these take place on or in the space around three planets: Naboo, Eos, and Lok. Players will be familiar with Naboo from the film, but Eos and Lok are entirely new planets to the Star Wars universe. Eos is a developing planet covered with lava. We first see Eos because the Trade Federation has built a secret droid factory there that Vana inadvertently discovers. Lok is a harsh and rocky desert planet where Nym's pirate clan has established a base. We visit Lok when the Trade Federation attacks Nym's base in an effort to recover some stolen technology.

GameSpot: We've noticed that half the battles seem to take place inside various atmospheres, and the other half appear to take place in open space. What is the relationship between the two locations? How does the character move from one environment to the next? Can you simply fly into open space from inside an atmosphere, and vice versa?

Vana orbits the volcanic planet of Eos

Thompson: Missions were built to take place in either a space environment or a terrain environment. You cannot travel between the two during a mission. When we want the player to go down to the surface of the planet, we set up a separate mission for this new environment.

GameSpot: Will Starfighter tie in with any other LucasArts titles? Will we see characters from Rogue Squadron or Battle for Naboo in Starfighter? Additionally, does the story of Starfighter tie in with any of these games?

Thompson: We have some crossovers with a few of the other games that take place in this time period and with events in the film itself. However, these are not big appearances by major characters from those games and films.

Nym defends a pirate frigate on Lok

GameSpot: Starfighter is very reminiscent of earlier LucasArts PC games like TIE Fighter and X-Wing. Are any members of the development teams from those games working on Starfighter? If so, what are they contributing to the development, and how have those games inspired the development of Starfighter?

Thompson: Nope, the Starfighter team is entirely new. We did have a few people who worked on Rogue Squadron, but the core design team was new to this type of game in the Star Wars universe.

GameSpot: Why did you choose the PS2 for Starfighter? Also, what's working with the PS2 like? Have there been any particular problems or snags in the development cycle?

The Trade Federation's scarab class fighters

Thompson: We chose the PS2 because it was a good fit for the look and scope we wanted to achieve in Starfighter. We've had our share of difficulties with the PS2, but nothing we weren't able to overcome with a little hard work. The way we structured the team within LucasArts really helped a lot. We had a core technology group who attacked the nitty-gritty of the PS2 hardware, while the programming team of Starfighter focused on the game itself.

GameSpot: Was there ever any intention to add a multiplayer aspect to Starfighter? If so, why did you choose to cut that aspect? And if not, why didn't you consider it?

Rhys runs escort duty for the Queen's ship

Thompson: There was a lot of talk about multiplayer in Starfighter. In the end, the process of making a game requires a lot of compromise, and we decided to hold back on this feature to focus on other aspects of the game. However, multiplayer is still something we think would fit really well with Starfighter's gameplay, so don't expect it to be missing for long.

GameSpot: How long will Starfighter be? How many different levels will be in the game, and how long are they? Also, can you talk a bit about how the levels themselves work? Are there mission objectives and certain things to be done, or is it just fast-and-furious action? Are the levels interactive? Can you change how the storyline progresses?

Vana targets a scarab fighter

Thompson: There are 14 linear story-based missions. During these, you meet and fly as the three main characters. Each of these missions has a collection of mission objectives required to complete the mission and advance to the next step in the story. Each mission also has three bonus objectives. If you complete any one of these bonus objectives, you receive a bronze medal for the mission. Completing two bonus objectives gets you the silver, and completing all three gets you the gold. These medals are then used to unlock bonus missions, of which there are around ten. Overall, there's a lot of gameplay in Starfighter.

GameSpot: Additionally, what type of missions should we expect to see in Starfighter? One of our favorite parts of both TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron was escorting capital ships - will we see any of this in the game?

Mercenary ships prepare to attack

Thompson: Our missions kind of cover the map in terms of mission types. We have missions where you need to protect freighters as you would in TIE Fighter and Rogue. We also have bombing-run missions, missions with races in them, strategic-strike missions, and many more. Some of the best missions in the game are the ones where the objective changes as the mission progresses. I think all the mission designers on the game are pleased with the variety of experience we were able to achieve.

GameSpot: We've heard that Starfighter will feature exceptional sound and voice work. Can you comment on the sound in the game? Are you using any famous actors in the game? Can you talk about Casey Kasem? Also, does the game feature an interactive musical score like the ones that were so innovative in X-Wing and TIE Fighter? How does the music interact with the action of the game?

Rhys destroys a mercenary ship

Thompson: The sound in the game is exceptional. One of the things that makes us excited about Starfighter is that we've finally been able to create massive space battles like you saw in Return of the Jedi. The experience of being attacked by a swarm of ships is just awesome, and thanks to the new generation of consoles, we're able to do this. And to accompany these visuals, the sound department here at LucasArts did a great job of bringing the sounds of one of these massive battles to the game. From the sound effects to the voice lines to the music, Starfighter creates an amazing sonic environment that works so well with the rest of the game. And when it comes to Casey Kasem, I'll have to go with "no comment."

GameSpot: How does the game control? Will there be a difference in controlling ships inside an atmosphere and in free space? Does the game use thruster-based space-style controls similar to those in TIE Fighter, or does it feature a more atmosphere-based control scheme like that of Rogue Squadron?

Rhys talks with his Astromech droid

Thompson: The controls differ a tiny bit between space and terrain missions, but it was more important to us that we keep the controls similar from mission to mission so as not to confuse the player. We do have a few different control configurations though, plus sensitivity settings, so players should be able to customize the controllers to feel right for them.

GameSpot: Do you spend all your time flying spaceships, or do you ever control other vehicles? Do you ever pilot capital ships or spend time behind a gun turret? Additionally, do you ever spend time outside a vehicle, in a third- or first-person mode?

Rhys races a friend through a canyon on Naboo

Thompson: You do spend the entire game in the cockpit of a ship, but one gameplay element that we were able to incorporate is the use of wingmen. Throughout the game, you will be able to command a series of wingmen in ways not generally seen on a console. This added element really changes the way players play the game. It's been interesting for me to watch new players start playing and simply ignore their wingmen, which is fine. However, the advanced players are constantly in touch with their wingmen and use them strategically to complete the missions.

GameSpot: How does the storyline progress in Starfighter? Do we see things through cutscenes? If so, how are the cutscenes rendered - do they use the in-game engine, or are there any CG sequences in the game?

Reti the friendly scavenger

Thompson: We use a combination of in-engine and prerendered cutscenes. There are five major prerendered cutscenes that focus on the characters and their interaction. This is where a lot of the "soul" of the story comes out. We use the in-engine cutscenes to advance the plot of the story and introduce missions. Both of these techniques worked well for us and really add to the experience of the game.

GameSpot: Is there anything I've left out that you wanted to touch upon? Any stories you'd like to tell or any specific details you feel need to be highlighted?

Thompson: Not unless you buy me a beer.



© 2000 LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC. © 2000 Lucasfilm LTD. & TM or ® as indicated. The LucasArts logo is a registered trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.

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