Obi-Wan Q&A

We recently traveled to the LucasArts studios in San Rafael, and sat down with the entire development team to talk about Obi-Wan and the direction the team is taking with its third Star Wars action game.


Star Wars: Obi-Wan

Without any question, LucasArts' most valuable property is the Star Wars license. For years now, the company has been both developing and publishing quality Star Wars games, be they action or simulators, on the entire spectrum of gaming platforms. For the most part, these games have consistently been regarded highly. Last year, however, that license's value was threatened to be forever tarnished with the release of Episode I: The Phantom, a top-down hack and slash that was mediocre at best. The game was clearly developed to coincide with and profit from the release of the long-awaited Episode I movie, and as a result, it received its fair share of floggings by the gaming press.

LucasArts, however, is not going to let the Episode I license languish in mediocrity. Currently in development at the San Rafael, California-based offices are a number of Phantom Menace games the company hopes will redeem the Star Wars property, the first of which is the third in the Dark Forces 3D action game series. Called Star Wars: Episode I Obi-Wan (Obi-Wan for short), the game places you in the shoes of young Obi-Wan Kenobi during the sequence of events that made up the movie, and it could very well position LucasArts as one of the top action game designers, the same standing it had after shipping Jedi Knight in 1997.

We recently traveled to the LucasArts studios in San Rafael, and sat down with the entire development team to talk about Obi-Wan and the direction the team is taking with its third Star Wars action game.

GameSpot: A lot of people are referring to Obi-Wan as Dark Forces 3. Is the game actually part of the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series at all? Are any of the original Jedi Knight designers contributing to the game's development?

LucasArts: Obi-Wan is a continuation of the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight 3D action gaming series, but it is not a direct sequel (that is, it does not pick up the Kyle Katarn storyline from previous games.) Some key members of the Obi-Wan team were involved with Jedi Knight through their work on the Mysteries of the Sith expansion.

GS: Is the game running off a revamped version of the Jedi Knight engine, or did you create brand-new technology from the ground up?

LEC: The Obi-Wan engine code (referred to as the Tanis engine) is entirely new from the ground up. None of the Jedi Knight code has been reused. It is a completely modern object-oriented architecture built to take advantage of today's 3D hardware, processors and gaming advances. It is written entirely in C++ and is very modular, which will allow us to continue to improve the technology in the future without a complete rewrite.

GS: A lot of games that have flaunted their accurate physics models, like Trespasser, have ended up falling flat in the end. Describe the balance between physics and gameplay and how it plays into Obi-Wan.

LEC: We are using physics primarily as a means of enhancing the realism of the experience. Environments become much more dynamic as players interact extensively with the locations, and the worlds gain new levels of unpredictability and natural behaviors. The team however is not trying to use physics technology as a substitute for solid game or level design.

GS: In the movie, Obi-Wan Kenobi didn't wield any other weapon except for his lightsaber. Will he have any additional weapons in the game, or will the lightsaber be his only physical means of attack?

LEC: With the focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi as the central character of the game, the team has been working on ways to bring the lightsaber to life in entirely new ways. The lightsaber will look more realistic than ever, with dynamic lighting, blurs, and audio. And we are adding a much broader range of moves and control techniques for the lightsaber. We have designed the lightsaber to be the coolest weapon in your arsenal so that the player will rarely need to use other weapons.

The lightsaber is not only your primary offensive weapon, but it is also your primary defense. To lower your guard could leave the player open for devastating attacks.

There will be other weapons such as blasters, Tusken rifles, and grenades, to name a few. It is important to stress that these are "clumsy weapons" that shouldn't be exchanged for the lightsaber lightly.

Multiplayer mode will offer additional weapon choices, particularly as players take on different characters that would not use lightsabers. For example, some weapons unique to multiplayer will include Gungan plasma orbs, ascension guns, and others.

GS: Jedi Knight introduced lightsaber swordplay into the world of 3D gaming. How is Obi-Wan's lightsaber fighting technique any different?

LEC: Obi-Wan has introduced a new control system to the lightsaber that will allow the player to easily learn and select from a wide palette of offensive and defensive moves in a more natural manner. Additionally, we have added a "lock-on" mode that will allow the player to focus their movement and attacks toward one opponent. There is also a large group of flips, rolls, spins, etc, which capture the acrobatic moves of the Jedi. Many of these moves are based on motion capture and designed to truly give the player the feeling of playing the Jedi from the films.

GS: All of the screenshots that LucasArts has released to date have shown the game played from the third-person perspective. Is the camera locked at that angle, or can players switch to a first-person view?

LEC: With the focus on the Obi-Wan character as a nimble Jedi and the lightsaber as the primary weapon, third-person view seems to be the best point of view thus far. When one wields the lightsaber in first person view, they would just see a beam of light flash in front of their eyes. And we are making significant efforts to capture the acrobatic skills of the Jedi portrayed in the film. With our goal of delivering a truly unique Jedi and lightsaber experience, we are focusing on a third person view and believe it will be the best choice for the game. We are currently evaluating the extent of first person options for the game.

GS: Jedi Knight presented players with a lot of Force powers, and players could advance only a handful of them. Has the Force-power system in Obi-Wan changed since Jedi Knight?

LEC: The Force power system has been redesigned as a natural extension of the Jedi's power rather than as an arsenal or inventory of weapons for the player to select form. Force powers are selected and utilized by using a Force "modifier" key (similar to the run or strafe modifier keys) with normal movement keys. For example push is the force modifier key in combination with the nudge key.

GS: The game focuses on the events in the Phantom Menace movie that the audience didn't see. Without spoiling any secrets, talk about Obi-Wan's plot.

LEC: The best way to describe it is that Obi-Wan's plot takes place within the framework of the Episode I movie, but whereas the movie was more about Qui-Gon and Anakin and their journey, our plot focuses on Obi-Wan's progress from Padawan learner to Jedi Knight. We get to follow Obi-Wan's as he matures and develops, and get insights into his feelings and motivations toward the events that unfold through the course of the film.

Obi-Wan begins much the same as the movie, with the escape from the Trade Federation Battleship. But from there, we begin concentrate primarily on Obi-Wan. We see how he got down to the planet, and why he was running away from that STAP in the swamp. We also get to experience what exactly it took to get through the streets of Theed and to rescue the queen, as well as a little misadventure with Panaka while on Tatooine.

Obi-Wan's plot really describes the movie from his point of view as the protector, as a sort of bodyguard to the queen. All these other events are happening around him, but his primary concern is her safety, and the safety of those around her. And because you are a Padawan, you must also obey your Master and act in accordance with the Jedi code of honor. In the end, the players should get a greater appreciation of the process by which a Jedi advances to the stature of Jedi Knight.

GS: Will Obi-Wan confront Darth Maul?

LEC: Yes, definitely.

GS: What other members of the Jedi Council, if any, will make an appearance in the game?

LEC: You will be able to interact with a good number of the Jedi Council members.

GS: Were you given a lot of creative license to twist the story to fit the game, or does Obi-wan remain true to the movie?

LEC: Yes, it remains true to the movie and the universe. However the game uses the movie as a framework or an outline in which we tell our story of Obi-Wan. We actually follow Obi-Wan through the entire story, expanding on the development of his character and his perspective of the events that occur in The Phantom Menace.

GS: Will players get the chance to pilot any vehicles in the game? Dark Forces and Jedi Knight had a fair amount of interaction with TIE fighters and bombers. Will vehicles be adopted to Obi-Wan's gameplay as well?

LEC: Yes, we are experimenting with the technology to determine the extent that we might give the player access to the vehicles. The flying and tank vehicles present us with interesting design challenges to overcome when trying to work with them.

GS: What about multiplayer? Are you only including the standard deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes, or will you be expanding the arena of online multiplay? It seems that you can do a lot with the unique combination of Force powers and lightsabers.

LEC: In addition to traditional deathmatch, we also hope to expand the notion of multiplayer by including a gladiatorial-style deathmatch where you and an opponent square-off in isolation. We also are including a game in which your team must escort the queen or the viceroy through dangerous territory, while an opposing team attempts to prevent you from accomplishing your goal.

GS: Will Obi-Wan use the soundtrack from the movie, or is LucasArts composing an original score?

LEC: As with all LucasArts Star Wars games, we will be using the John Williams score as a framework for ours. There will be remixes, reedits, and such to help keep it fresh and interesting.

GS: Will the game offer any teasers in regard to the forthcoming events in Episode II?

LEC: Episode II is a very well-guarded secret at this point. However, the game does include several characters, vehicles, and other details omitted from the Episode I film, and a couple of back-story items that might prove interesting to the eagle-eyed player.

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