Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption Designer Diary #3 - How to Create a Star Wars Story and Characters

Lead designer Pat Pannullo gives us a more detailed look at the characters and story that will populate the expansion to this year's hit real-time strategy game.


Star Wars: Empire at War

Even though it's almost 30 years old, Star Wars remains as popular as ever thanks to the recent prequel movie trilogy and games such as Star Wars: Empire at War. Released earlier this year, Empire at War is a real-time strategy game that gives you command of the armies and navies of the original trilogy. The upcoming Forces of Corruption expansion pack will add a third playable faction to the existing Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire sides. This time, you'll be able to control the forces of the criminal underworld. Coming up with a story can be challenging, though, because when you play around with something as beloved and popular as Star Wars, there are many rules that you have to obey to make sure everything makes sense. We have lead designer Pat Pannullo to explain. Forces of Corruption is scheduled to ship later this year.

An AT-AT versus a rancor? You'll be able to see which one wins in Forces of Corruption.
An AT-AT versus a rancor? You'll be able to see which one wins in Forces of Corruption.

Meet Tyber Zann

By Pat Pannullo
Lead Designer, Petroglyph

Don't let anyone tell you differently--creating a story for Star Wars is hard. Not because stringing together words into sentences is hard. No, it's hard because everyone in the universe knows Star Wars. Sure, we have the wonderful guys at LucasArts in our corner, ever ready to tell us how many years Grand Admiral Thrawn was in the Imperial academy or how many turbolaser banks are on a Star Destroyer, but we also have thousands of fans out there in the world who know the very same facts, and those fans are ever ready with the torches and pitchforks to use on a lowly designer such as myself if I happen to get those facts wrong.

So where do you start? We had a time period. For Forces of Corruption, we wanted to set the campaign story in the same time frame as Episodes V and VI, and in fact we touch on events through the entire original trilogy time period (and a little beyond). We knew we wanted to do something different. Everyone knows the story of the Rebellion and its triumphant victory over Emperor Palpatine and the Empire, and revisiting it seemed too easy. So we decided to start with characters. Whose story would we tell? Eventually we came up with the idea to tell the story of the criminals, the smugglers, the bounty hunters, and a crime lord who could control it all. And thus, Tyber Zann was born.

Of course a crime lord needs his retinue; first he needed a loyal follower. After playing around with some concepts, we came up with both a new character and a new alien species: Urai Fen, Tyber's long-lived, distinguished yet brutal bodyguard. Now we needed a female presence, someone powerful and not the loyal follower that Urai was. We also needed a representation of the Force in Tyber's crew. Since Jedi and Sith are rare, we decided to go with the Nightsisters from Dathomir, and Silri took form.

New interior missions will give you certain tasks, like escaping from the spice mines of Kessel.
New interior missions will give you certain tasks, like escaping from the spice mines of Kessel.

But of course, how do we add three completely new heroes, new ships, and new weapons to a body of lore already chock-full of stuff? Very carefully. We worked closely with Lucasfilm Licensing to make sure that everything we create and every event that takes place in the story can fit into the history of the Star Wars universe without breaking anything that has gone before. And equally important is making sure that everything feels like Star Wars, right down to the wookiees and lightsabers.

Those of you who played Empire at War's story campaigns will be familiar with how the stories unfold in-game. We've been tinkering with our map editor to create some unique new landscapes for Forces of Corruption, including a few interior missions. Now you can match wits with Darth Vader on a mining platform floating in the Bespin atmosphere, go deep beneath the ground to discover an old destroyer droid factory on Hypori, and dodge the pull of black holes in The Maw.

So what is the story? Forces of Corruption introduces Tyber Zann, a crime lord who was set up for a fall by Jabba the Hutt (though he definitely deserved it). Tyber's story starts at the bottom; thanks to Jabba, he's been cooling his heels in the Kessel spice mines for a few years. But as is the case with most crime lords, Tyber's connections don't end while he's in prison; Tyber is able to orchestrate his own escape and from there reclaim his power.

Like in any good prison tale, Tyber learns of a major score from one of his cellmates, one that would make him rich and powerful if he has the guts and brains to pursue it. It won't be easy, however; to achieve his goal of controlling the galaxy's criminal underworld, Tyber will have to face off against such personalities as Jabba the Hutt, Prince Xizor of the Black Sun, Rebel hero Garm Bel Iblis, and Imperial mastermind Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Yoda, Luke, and other familiar faces appear, as well.
Yoda, Luke, and other familiar faces appear, as well.

Of course, Tyber has help in his nefarious schemes. Urai Fen is ever present, and he can also call on the powers of the Nightsister Silri, though her motivations for following Tyber are highly suspect. Trust is hard to find in the underworld, but with enough credits, anything is possible. Tyber buys black-market technology, makes deals with underhanded weapons manufacturers, and hires the best bounty hunters to remove enemies in his way.

And then there is the Super Star Destroyer Eclipse. Even though it is incomplete during the time period of our story, it still plays an important part in Tyber's plans, as does a mysterious Sith artifact. How do these things relate to each other or to Tyber's ultimate plans? You will have to play Forces of Corruption to find out.

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