Star Wars Bounty Hunter Q&A
We talk to LucasArts about its upcoming GameCube and PlayStation 2 adventure game starring Jango Fett.
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Star Wars Bounty Hunter is a bit of a departure for LucasArts. Rather than putting you in the role of a hero fighting for the forces of good, the game will put you in the shoes of everybody's favorite mercenary, Jango Fett. Well, the father of everybody's favorite mercenary, at least. Jango's sense of right and wrong is pretty flexible, and he usually swings in whatever direction benefits his bank account the most. We had a chance to talk to Jon Knoles, the director of this forthcoming GameCube and PlayStation 2 game, to find out how Bounty Hunter is coming together.
GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?
Jon Knoles: We were asked to make an Episode II-based game featuring Jango Fett in November 2000. We presented the game design proposal in March of 2001, and actual development began soon thereafter.
GS: How do you approach a game focused on Jango Fett? What were the key gameplay elements you felt the game had to have?
JK: First and foremost was the importance of developing Jango Fett as the ideal action-based video game character. That is, he must be exciting to watch and fun to play, and his controls must be exceptionally well tuned. Second was building Jango's character, which means developing a story that fleshes out Jango Fett more fully than he was presented in the film Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, while at the same time remaining true to the spirit of his character as seen in the movie. It was also important to not bog down the game with a leaden script or slow-moving story. We wanted to have the story propel the action forward, not slow things down. Working a fine balance between back story, narrative, and action-packed gameplay was our goal.
GS: Can you give us an idea of how Jango's moves will work in the game?
JK: Jango Fett was developed to be an extension of the player's will, the ideal vessel through which the player could live out the fantasy of being the galaxy's most dangerous bounty hunter. In order to accomplish this, we needed Jango to be totally familiar with his environment. His movement and animation blending system was designed to automatically react to ledges, platforms, ladders, beams, and other world objects. For visual flair, Jango's animations are very stylized, fast, and exaggerated, making him exciting to watch. It also was crucial that he is never unable to use his weapons or devices and that in every situation he is a ruthless badass. He grabs and hoists himself up to platforms fluidly, and he can use his blasters and even toss a thermal grenade while hanging from a ledge. He can fly with his jetpack without ever having to pick up fuel. He can target multiple enemies with his blasters, and at times it seems like Jango has a mind of his own, blasting away at things behind him, beside him, and above him, but all the while we make players feel like they are totally in control.
For example, when running around in the game, Jango's movements are camera-relative. That is, if you push up on the control stick, he'll move away from the camera. If you pull down on the stick, he'll turn toward the camera and move toward you. Push right or left and he'll turn and run in that direction. This is a very familiar and comfortable control mechanic that's used in some of my favorite third-person games. It also allows you to marvel at how cool Jango looks from multiple angles, whereas a character-relative, or "camera on a stick" control scheme would limit your view to Jango's rear end, which might serve another famous video game character well, but...
As Jango is sneaking, walking, crouching, or running around, players can choose to fire his weapons. If they do, the weapons will fire straight out in front of Jango. However, if an enemy character is in front of Jango, he'll auto-aim on that target. If two enemies appear, he will auto-target both of them when using his dual blasters. Jango will now maintain his auto aim on these characters within a certain range even if they move out of the initial target-acquiring range. In some cases, he'll even cross his arms to track multiple enemies who cross his path. Jango's accuracy will depend on his proximity to them and the speed that Jango and his enemies are moving relative to each other. Pressing the fire button will alternate shots from his two pistols.
At any time, the player can choose to "lock on" to a target within a fairly wide range. This is done by pressing and holding a shoulder button. Once a target has been locked on to, Jango's movements will cease to be camera-relative and will instead become relative to the locked target. This means that when the player moves to the left or right Jango will "strafe" or circle around the locked-on enemy. If you pull back on the control stick, Jango will backpedal away from the enemy. Evasive moves such as dives, rolls, and somersaulting leaps are all performed in relation to the locked-on enemy. Even Jango's movement with the jetpack is now relative to the locked-on target. For example, Jango can lock on to an enemy and use his jetpack to fly up and circle around the target, all while maintaining his lock. And check this out: with his free hand, he will still be blasting away at other auto-targeted enemies! This often leads to Jango perform some visually dynamic shooting. It's a trip to watch. Or, as I like to do, you can fly around a locked-on enemy and fire a rocket from your jetpack right into him.
The flamethrower built into Jango's wrist gauntlet is a bit different. Jango must stand still when using it, and if you hold down the fire button, you can use the control stick to sweep his arm around in a complete circle--again, all camera-relative--a little like in Robotron or Smash TV.
Finally, Jango can manually aim with any of his weapons. For all weapons except the sniper rifle, which uses a scope, we use a slightly over-the-head view when Jango is in manual aim mode. We felt this was important to maintain the third-person game experience.
Tools of the Trade
GS: What kind of weapons will Jango be packing?
JK: Jango uses these deadly tools of his trade: dual blaster pistols, toxic dart caster (a wrist gauntlet weapon), whipcord snare (a wrist-mounted cable), sniper rifle, cutting laser (to cut through doors and vents), wrist gauntlet flamethrower, missile-equipped jetpack with a special "scatter missile" power-up, thermal detonator grenades, and an ID scanner (to pick bounties out of a crowd).
Throughout the game, Jango can also find and use stationary laser turrets, heavy repeating ion pulse blaster rifles, blaster rifles, and thermal grenade launchers.
GS: What games did the team look to for inspiration?
JK: We love playing games, and there are tons of great ones to look to for inspiration. In describing the type of control we were looking for, we would often tell the team that Jango should move with the responsiveness and ease of Spider-Man, and be armed to the teeth with all kinds of weapons and gadgetry like Batman and James Bond, but his weapons should each serve a unique purpose. We also felt that the game should have the level of action and shooting mayhem of terrific shooters like the Medal of Honor series, which also had some incredibly fun enemy animations and behavior that raised the bar for console action games. Graphically, we looked more to our favorite graphic novels for inspiration, as well as the wonderful visionary concept artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, Doug Chiang, Joe Johnston, and others who created the "look" of the Star Wars movies We also have our own amazing concept artists. And, of course, having been involved in the Super Star Wars trilogy for the SNES, I often referred to those games when describing certain aspects of Star Wars Bounty Hunter to the team, if for nothing else than great graphics and fast-paced frenetic action, as well as the deep story-driven gameplay tradition that LucasArts is known for.
GS: What have been the biggest challenges in developing the game?
JK: Jango's jetpack was a real doozie. Talk about a design challenge! In the original design, the jetpack was to be used "in areas specifically designed for its use" (as in a few levels built around flying). But once we got it working, it was apparent how naive that idea was. Using the jetpack is fun! You want to use it all the time! Jango Fett without his jetpack is like Superman without his cape, or Spider-Man without webslinging. But we did not want the game to become a flight shooter. We also did not want to limit the jetpack to a super jump, or force the player to run around looking for fuel. The jetpack was a powerful thing that we had to control--without unfairly limiting the player.
The solution? The jetpack has self-recharging fuel cells and a burn time of up to three full seconds--up to 10 with a power-up. Enough for the feeling of flight, to outmaneuver enemies, and to make fantastic leaps, but not enough to break the game. It also makes a lot of noise and attracts enemies, though, so you must use it wisely. Jango's jetpack is probably the most important feature of the game. It was a tough design problem to solve, but it came out great.
However, being able to fly at 10 meters per second for a distance of 20 meters out and 10 meters high means your levels have to be larger than a game without a jetpack. So for our level designers, finding just the right scale for the worlds they were creating meant a lot of trial and error. In a couple of cases, we took the jetpack away to make the levels more fun for shooting. Jango simply decided to go to work the old-fashioned way that day.
The targeting system I described earlier also took a lot of time and tuning, and getting it right was essential to the core gameplay. This also meant developing enemy behavior that could stand at least some chance of reacting to such a well-armed and ambidextrous foe like Jango.
The Technical Nitty Gritty
GS: Tell us about the game's graphics engine. Is there a separate one for the PS2 and GC versions, or are both games sharing the same code?
JK: The PS2 and GC versions of Star Wars Bounty Hunter have totally different custom in-house graphics engines, each designed specifically to take advantage of the two very different platforms' unique strengths and work around their unique limitations, but the core game engine (including controls, AI, animation, and so on) is identical.
GS: How are you taking advantage of the PS2 and GC hardware? What kind of polygon performance are you getting out of both systems?
JK: For the PS2 version, we are fully taking advantage of both vector unit (VU) chips to drive the graphics for maximum performance. We're also taking advantage of the huge DMA bandwidth to use an unusually high number of textures. There is full-screen antialiasing (yes, this can be done on PS2) and texture mip mapping support. We use the second VU chip (called VU1) to handle all the character skinning, rather than just a portion of it. We use VU0 (the first chip) to handle all the skeletal animation transforms. What this means is that dozens of characters are onscreen without bogging down the frame rate. We have 10 individually optimized rendering loops on VU1 to speed up the rendering process. Our PS2 graphics engine can move 10,000,000 triangles per second, but add the gameplay, collision, logic, textures, sound, and all that, and this number obviously goes down accordingly. In the end, the PS2 version of Star Wars Bounty Hunter draws around 30,000 to 50,000 triangles per frame, all at an average frame rate of 30fps.
For the Nintendo GameCube version, we're taking advantage of the system's fast CPU to achieve a higher frame rate, and we're adding more polygons to characters, especially Jango, who has roughly twice the polygon count on GameCube. The GameCube's texture compression allows us to use high-resolution textures. Texture compression also allows for improved color variance on textures. Mip mapping support across the board on all textures helps provide a rich and consistent environment. We are exploiting additional memory to improve load times. You'll also see projected shadows on all the characters, as well as an increased draw distance to allow for vista views.
Both versions will include advanced shader effects, dynamic character lighting, and tons of sprite effects.
GS: Will the GameCube or PlayStation 2 support progressive scan?
JK: Yes, the PS2 and GC versions support progressive scan for high-definition TVs.
GS: What kind of audio will the game have?
JK: Both versions of the game will support Dolby Pro Logic 2.0 surround sound.
GS: Can you give us an idea of the game's structure?
JK: Star Wars Bounty Hunter is a story-driven, third-person action game. The game's plot, which centers around Jango Fett's hunt for a deranged dark Jedi, spans six chapters and 18 levels. A rendered cinematic sequence precedes and follows each chapter to draw players deeper into the game's original story, which takes place a decade before the events of Episode II and explains how Jango Fett was chosen to be the genetic template for a clone army. Throughout the entire game, there are 56 in-engine cinematics that drive the action forward and keep the story moving quickly.
The game moves forward in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The levels, while also fairly linear in overall design, are large free-roaming worlds that offer a great degree of freedom of movement, and in most cases, multiple ways to get past a given scenario. And, adding to the central bounty hunting mission, there 150 "secondary" bounties hidden throughout the game. These can be enemies, civilians, druids--even jawas. Basically, bounties are everywhere, and the best bounty hunters will look for all of them. Did I mention bosses? We have one for each chapter. Some of them are huge, and we also introduce a brutal archrival of Jango's named Montross, who weaves in and out of the game to mess with Jango.
The Game's Structure
GS: Can you take us through the game's levels and give us an idea of what they're going to offer?
JK: Each of the game's six chapters takes place on its own unique world, and each of these worlds has three levels. Each level features a unique environment and theme.
Chapter One: The game begins in a run-down deep-space port called Outland Station. Outland Station is run by an eccentric female toydarian (like Watto) named Rozatta ("Roz"), who is Jango's only "friend." As long as she gets a finder's fee, that is. It includes a beast pit-fight arena, a crowded marketplace, and a hectic cargo conveyor system.
Chapter Two: Coruscant, the galaxy's capitol world, has three totally different levels: the bustling entertainment district, as seen in Episode II; a giant nerf processing plant in the industrial district (that's a Star Wars meat-packing plant, folks); and the opulent Upper City, where Jango hunts down a crooked senator and takes on the entire Coruscant Police Force that protects him.
Chapter Three: Oovo IV, the asteroid prison we introduced in Star Wars: Episode I Racer, is now the setting of a three-level adventure in which Jango infiltrates this maximum-security prison to extract a scumbag wanted alive by a nefarious crime lord (so he can kill the guy himself). This is also the level where Jango meets competing bounty hunter Zam Wesell, and the two form a tense partnership.
Chapter Four: Malastare, another world introduced in Episode I Racer. We see a whole different side to this planet this time--towering cliffs, lush jungles, and a dangerous crime lord's compound, guarded by an army of blaster-packing dugs (like Sebulba, the meanie from Episode I). This world also has Zam cooperating as a gameplay "buddy" with Jango.
Chapter Five: Tatooine, the middle-of-nowhere planet that keeps popping up in the movies as a pretty darn important place, is also featured in the game. To perform a "favor" for Jabba the Hutt (for money, of course), Jango will hunt down a gang of hooligan gunmen making trouble for the Hutts He'll blast his way though hordes of tusken raiders in the Jundland wastes, and he'll also take on a giant krayt dragon deep in the heart of Gardulla the Hutt's compound.
Chapter Six: If you make it this far, you're a hell of a bounty hunter, and one tough hombre, like Jango Fett. The final chapter will take Jango deep into the darkest corner of the Star Wars universe, where he will finally confront his ultimate prey--a twisted Jedi with two lightsabers, a bad attitude, and a sadistic personality.
All these levels are jammed full of more than 120 unique character model types and plenty of fierce creatures and galactic scum to blast into space dust, flame, punch, snipe, blow up, or tie up and capture. And sprinkled throughout are 150 characters with prices on their heads.
GS: How has working with ILM and Skywalker Sound been? Has the collaboration changed the way you work?
JK: We were thrilled to have fellow Lucas companies ILM and Skywalker Sound assisting us in making this game. The quality of work we've received is top-notch, as you might expect from two companies that have earned more Academy Awards than you can shake a lightsaber at.
ILM is a very professional group of talented people who were totally enthusiastic about this project and created terrific work. Both LucasArts and ILM learned a great deal from working together as well. This project allowed ILM to try new methods for creating scenes, as well as new tools and techniques. It also gave them the opportunity enjoy a good deal of creative freedom. We provided ILM with models, textures, and a storyboarded script, and they went to work applying their cinematic expertise in adapting the script into dynamic, visually stunning movies. I think it was fun for them, too. For us, it was a chance to learn new ways to better organize and schedule ourselves in the creation of in-engine and prerendered cinematics.
Skywalker Sound is stepping into a new frontier with game sound, and the quality of work we've received is top-notch. They are making sounds directly for game animations and events, and they're even creating movie-style Foley sounds (all the physical sounds actors make while running, rolling, walking, jumping, and so on). This adds the kind of depth and richness to sound that is common in movies but is unusual in video games. And, as with the cinematic creation teamwork we had with ILM, our sound designers and the sound designers at Skywalker sound worked together to create the game soundtrack.
We constantly communicated with both ILM and Skywalker Sound--both companies are only minutes away from us--to ensure that the work they created would serve the game best. Most of the feedback from us was something like, "Dude, that's awesome!"
And beyond the contributions of Skywalker Sound and ILM, the original music composed by Jeremy Soule is simply fantastic. It's the perfect compliment to the John Williams music from the Star Wars films in the game.
GS: Thanks for your time, Jon.