Feature Article

It's Time For Star Wars Games To Get Weird

With LucasArts opening its properties to studios beyond EA, this is a great opportunity to take some risks with the Star Wars license.

With LucasArts opening its portfolio to studios beyond Electronic Arts--The Division 2 developer Massive Entertainment, for instance, has already announced it's creating an open-world Star Wars game--I'm feeling excited about Star Wars video games again. And I'm not just saying that because this likely means we'll see a lot more big Star Wars adventures in the coming years; though, I am happy at the idea of getting more experiences like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Squadrons. No, I'm most thrilled at the prospect of LucasArts finally allowing indie studios to take a stab at making Star Wars games, opening the possibility of getting more unorthodox gameplay loops or riskier storylines.

I can't help but think that any Star Wars game we get from a AAA studio may just cover genres and storylines we've already seen before (Massive Entertainment, for example, is doing what it does best and making an open-world game) but if indie studios are also involved in this resurgence for new Star Wars content, then I think we could get a brand-new type of experience that's not designed to appeal to the mainstream. And it's there that I think developers can find more exciting opportunities for Star Wars. Hopefully, LucasArts believes the same.

And look, I have no doubt that Massive can create a good Star Wars game, but I also assume it will cater to the strengths and gameplay systems that Ubisoft studios already know sell well. I'm willing to bet that this new game will be another open-world action game with RPG mechanics and a skill tree that stars a character who can be a man or woman and has enough side quests to keep audiences playing for over 30 hours--and then painted as Star Wars. That's not shade, I'm down for it, that sounds super fun, but it isn't all that weird for a Star Wars game. And Star Wars is at its best when you explore the stranger parts of its universe.

Indie studios traditionally don't have as big a bottom line to meet in comparison to AAA developers, allowing them to be a bit more experimental with what they make. We've seen this before with other major film, TV shows, or comic book properties. Bithell Games transformed John Wick into a top down strategy game with John Wick Hex, for instance, and Telltale Games made The Walking Dead into a choice-driven episodic adventure series. Neither are obvious genre choices for their respective franchises--personally, I'd expect John Wick to be a shooter and for The Walking Dead to be a survival horror game--but both worked surprisingly well.

So imagine Echodog Games--developer of Signs of Sojourner, a deck-building game that uses cards to convey the intricacies of how relationships change through conversations--making a game about soon-to-be Mandalorian duchess Satine Kryze, the woman who Obi-Wan Kenobi almost left the Jedi Order for. You could take this entirely unexpected gameplay format and tell a story about her striving to make a peaceful Mandalore and coming to terms with needing to let Obi-Wan go. Or maybe Happy Ray Games--the studio behind Ikenfell, a turn-based RPG that incorporates timing mechanics into its challenging combat, has a bangin' soundtrack, and includes excellent gender identity representation--making a queer as hell story-driven game about a Dathomir Nightsister trying to discover herself on a new planet.

Or perhaps see if MERJ Media--the team that created Floor Kids, a breakdancing game where you must carefully match your moves to the audience's expectations and the rhythm of the music--wants to make a game where you're a Twi'lek living in the bowels of Coruscant during the reign of Palpatine and you're trying to be recognized as a talented dancer. As a non-human who's not good at manual labor, maybe it's the only way a second-class citizen like you can move up to the more prestigious levels of the city. Hell, or what if Lucas Pope--the developer behind Papers, Please, a game where you're an immigration officer at a border crossing--designed a game where you're in charge of flight control for a Separatist world during the Clone Wars, having to do your best to determine who's allowed planetside and who's too risky to be let in because they might be a Republic spy or terrorist saboteur?

Star Wars is so huge and so weird. And I get it, maybe a studio like Massive doesn't want to tackle a Star Wars game about Mandalorian politics, or an all-women society of witches ostracized for being different, a rhythm game that points out how Palpatine's xenophobic policies shaped many planets, or the different aspects of immigration during wartime. But maybe there are indie teams that do--folks who have grown up on Star Wars and have always wanted to explore the really niche parts of the universe, the stuff that mainstream media usually glosses over. That's the stuff that turns someone from being a Star Wars fan to a Star Wars obsessive because it explores relatable and valuable parts of the universe in unexpected and meaningful ways.

Star Wars is more than blasters, lightsabers, space battles, the Force, Mandalorians, and Wookies, but that's what usually sells and so that's typically what AAA studio Star Wars games cover, and only cover. I mean, the franchise is called Star Wars, but except for Jedi: Fallen Order, I can't think of any Star Wars video game in the last decade that acknowledges that a galaxy that's filled with war after war is likely to leave behind a lot of people with severe trauma. The whole point of the Clone Wars was that one side had droids and the other had clones genetically bred to not suffer mental disorders, and yet there were still victims of mental and emotional trauma on both sides. And, okay, that's getting into the weeds of a completely different tangent for a different article--but my point is that there are fascinating aspects to Star Wars that the games almost always overlook because they aren't easy to convey.

And like I said before, I get it, a AAA studio that's investing millions of dollars needs to make something that appeals to the mainstream to recoup those costs. But if that's the case, then just let a smaller indie team tackle riskier stories that maybe won't sell a million copies but that still sound really cool or fun, and will create new fans or make old ones see Star Wars from a fresh perspective. I'm willing to bet that a popular AAA Star Wars game will find the success that LucasArts expects, and that can also create room for indie games to get experimental and reach a new audience, despite any potential risks. I mean, LucasArts probably has enough money to cover for any deficit already--it's Star Wars, for god's sake.

Now, admittedly, I'm guilty of wanting more AAA games too--I say as much in our feature about Star Wars games we'd love to see, as I want Ninja Theory or Obsidian Entertainment to make an action RPG about Asajj Ventress. And beyond that, I hope EA DICE is allowed to take another stab at Battlefront and make a Battlefront III, and that Respawn can make a sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order. I don't think these giant AAA games are bad--but many of them cover ground we've seen in games before or utilize game mechanics that have been used in Star Wars games before. Star Wars has had shooters, it has had space battles, it has had action games, it has had RPGs, and it has even had racers. There are so many other game genres and storylines that could be explored with this property. And why wouldn't you? Especially when licensed games can already feel a bit redundant anyway, seeing as they cover an established universe and run the risk of repeating something that's been done before, but better.

LucasArts opening its vault of properties to other studios is sure to lead to some popular games, but I hope that a few are at least made by indie studios. Because it's with indie teams where I think we'll get the chance to see sides of Star Wars and storylines that even some of the most hardcore fans of the franchise haven't even thought of. And that just sounds so cool--way cooler than just playing as another Jedi or Sith or bounty hunter or soldier again.


jordanramee

Jordan Ramée

"Higher beings, these words are for you alone."

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

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