Star Wars Battlefront Dev Talks Breaking Canon and Balancing Overpowered Heroes
"In my experience, there is no such thing as luck."
Star Wars: Battlefront has a beta coming up later this week, and we gave you our impressions of the game so far in the video below. But how did developer DICE decide the look of characters in the world? And how is the team working to make sure that this will be a fun (and stable) experience starting on launch day? To get those answers, we recently talked with Jami Keen, a senior producer on the game whose primary role is leading the design of the hero characters.
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On Working With Lucasfilm and Disney:
"We work very, very closely with Lucasfilm, and it's been a close collaboration with them. A lot of alignment revolves around sharing goals, and I think, in particular with the hero characters, it's their baby. These are the very important parts and high points of the franchise, so we all want to make sure they're done and realized in the most faithful way possible.
"Working with them, we put forward what we wanted to do gameplay wise, what I wanted to realize, and those sorts of things. And Lucasfilm very quickly understood how much we felt for them as characters and how we wanted to treat them with the respect that they are due as such iconic figures in modern culture. It's actually been a really, really gratifying experience. I think it's something that, on both sides, we feel like we've been driving towards this shared goal."
On Breaking Canon (e.g. Darth Vader on Hoth):
"They're not behaving the way they would in the films. In the films, obviously everything is very, very controlled. Whereas in a game situation, particularly in the sense of player agency, and particularly for a multiplayer, online mode, a lot of stuff can happen. There's been a real give and take. There's some stuff where Lucasfilm has said, 'This character just wouldn't do that.' We have to respect that. It's their opinion at the end of the day, and that's something we have to fall in line with.
We want to make sure that when people get out there, they have the best possible experience.
"At the same time, they're very good about understanding this is a different situation. This is a gameplay situation. While that may not have happened in the films, it still feels like something they would do in that situation. That's the most important thing that we're trying to get with the characters. It's as much evoking a sense of their spirit and essence as it is a completely faithful translation. A good example for me of that is with the VO that we have. For example, Darth Vader has some lines that are pretty much straight copies from the movies. One of his emote lines is, 'Now you feel the power of the dark side,' which just feels like something that's straight lifted out of the films. But there's other parts, for example, when he kills a normal rebel soldier, he can say, 'You will die by my lightsaber.' The inflection and the line itself, you never heard that in the films, but it still feels like, 'Yeah, that's Darth Vader.'"
On Why Luke Skywalker Is Wearing His Return of the Jedi Outfit on Hoth:
"From a gameplay perspective, we wanted that moment that Luke is on his way to becoming a Jedi Master. It's probably the most interesting point from a gameplay perspective. It lets us put in powers that we can play around with, but at the same point he's not fully mastered his art yet. Whereas for somebody like Darth Vader, we want that sense of effortlessness. He is the Dark Lord. He is snapping his fingers and lifting people up, and he just has complete mastery of the force and the powers around him. Whereas Luke has huge power, but he's still finding his way through it slightly. So there's still a residual need for him to push through something. He has more of an active effort, and I think that's why we picked the Jedi Knight costume; he is at the zenith, and his moment of transition into becoming this kind of Jedi warrior."
On Balancing Hero Powers:
"We bounce back and forth, which is quite fun. We have playtests over at DICE and run user tests and things like that. It's a very delicate balance because you need to think about the person that is playing as the character, but also the people that are fighting against them. This is kind of weirdly counter-intuitive, but if they are overpowered, that actually becomes more boring for the people that are playing as the Jedi character, than the people that are fighting against them. You think, 'That would be great. I can destroy everybody, and it would be amazing.' But when you get to that point--and we've misbalanced it sometimes and have given too much--people get bored. They go, 'I can just kill everybody. It's super boring.' Whereas everybody on the other side is like, 'No, we must defeat him.'
"There's this balance between making sure that the person that is playing as the character feels empowered and the other guys don't feel like it's a useless exercise, and vice versa. When the other characters, the normal characters, can overpower the Jedi too quickly, that also isn't right. It becomes more about how many people group together at a time. There's a balance point or a tipping point at which you feel if about four or five people concentrating fire on these characters at the same time, that should be when it becomes really challenging."
On Ensuring a Great "Day One" Experience:
"We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to prepare. There's a beta coming up, which is to try to make sure we are moving towards understanding that the online system is going in the right direction. We want to make sure that when people get out there, they have the best possible experience. We're doing everything we can to try and ensure that.
"We had a closed beta before as well. It's just making sure we are keeping an eye out, and that the systems are doing what they should be as much as possible. And I think gameplay wise as well, it's making sure we've gone through a lot of user tests to make sure that things are balanced. Particularly with something like the Heroes, for example, there is an inherent imbalance in the way the game plays as soon as they come into it. But it's managing and understanding that there's an ebb and a flow to different levels and the way that the gameplay is actually working. It's about making sure we've done a lot of thorough testing, and that we have the ability to correct post launch as well, if need be."
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