Star Wars: Episode I Obi-Wan Preview - Part 2

Part two of our Obi-Wan preview looks at the game's single-player campaign, its multiplayer component, and the robust Tanis engine.

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Obi-Wan Preview - Part 2

See the first part of GameSpot's Obi-Wan preview here.

We kicked off the first part of our Star Wars Episode I Obi-Wan preview yesterday with a look at the game's force powers, weapons, and gameplay mechanics. Today, we continue our coverage of LucasArts' third game in its Dark Forces series by detailing its single-player campaign, robust Tanis technology that brings Obi-Wan to life, and multiplayer component. We begin with the game's single-player aspect.

Obi-Wan is split up into twelve missions that follow the basic timeline of the Episode I movie. Some levels will seem instantly familiar to gamers who've seen the film, while others will take place in entirely new locales. This is all part of the game's attempt to intertwine the plots of the movie and the game in order to provide a foundation of knowledge for gamers, while still giving them brand new areas to explore. The following twelve missions have all been finalized by LucasArts, and since each level is both vast and complex, some will have a number of goals to accomplish before successful completion is attained. Here's what the final single-player campaign looks like:

Mission 1: Federation battle cruiser:
The first level mirrors the plot of the movie and finds both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon as the unwelcome guests of the Neimoidians aboard their battle cruiser. After an attempt on their lives fails, the two Jedi Knights have to make their way to Neimoidian command quarters and ultimately find a means to reach the surface of Naboo in order to save Queen Amidala.

Mission 2: Federation drop ship:
At the end of the previous mission, Qui-Gon and his padawan student, Obi-Wan, become separated. The events in the movie simply show Obi-Wan making his way onto a landing craft in one scene, and exiting it on the planet surface in the next. This level, which takes place aboard the massive Federation drop ship, covers the sequence of events in between those two scenes and will pit Obi-Wan against new enemies in his attempt to reach the ship's controls.

Mission 3: Swamps:
After managing to land the drop ship on Naboo, Obi-Wan finds himself without the use of his light saber in a remote swamp in the outlying regions of Theed. The young Jedi learner must sneak through battle droid encampments, steal what weapons he can, and rendezvous once again with Qui-Gon Jinn.

Mission 4: Theed A:
The events toward the end of the third mission depict the Jedi pair meeting up with the Gungan Jar-Jar Binks. However, the Jedi master and his student are once again split up, and Obi-Wan must make his way through the besieged city streets of Theed while protecting Jar-Jar and as many civilians as possible.

More Missions

Mission 5: Theed B:
The Theed level is quite massive, and it'll take Obi-Wan two missions to make his way through the colorful streets of the city before reaching the royal palace.

Mission 6: Palace:
Having reached the palace, Obi-Wan is reunited with Qui-Gon, and the two will pair up with the royal guards and fight hordes of battle droids and destroyer droids who've stormed the palace in order to arrest Queen Amidala.

Mission 7: Tatooine - Jundland Station:
The seventh level is another mission that separates itself from the movie's plot. Apparently, during Qui-Gon's visit to Tatooine and his subsequent meeting with Anakin Skywalker, a band of Tusken raiders kidnap Queen Amidala and the handmaiden Padme. Obi-Wan and Captain Panaka give chase and confront the Tuskens in the deserted town of Jundland Station.

Mission 8: Tatooine - Tusken Village:
Night has fallen, and although Panaka and Obi-Wan have managed to save the Queen and Padme, the young Jedi will continue after the Tusken raiders, following them into a deep canyon. In the final confrontation with these sand people, Obi-Wan will come across the Tusken sniper rifle and the Gaffi stick.

Mission 9: Coruscant:
A brief skirmish at the end of the previous level reveals the existence of the dreaded Sith Lords to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The two hurry back to Coruscant to report their finding to the Jedi Council. Along the way, however, the Jedi pair will be ambushed by light-saber-wielding Sith and their hired help in the middle of the sprawling city.

Mission 10: Swamp river:
After the meeting with the Jedi Council, Obi-Wan and the rest of the party decide to head back to Naboo to ask the Gungans for help. While Qui-Gon, Amidala, Panaka, and Jar-Jar board a small raft and head down a swampy river toward the Gungan's "sacred place," Obi-Wan is left on the banks to provide them cover.

Mission 11: Catacombs:
In the movie, after the party members meet up with Boss Nass, Queen Amidala points out a secret entrance into the royal palace through a holographic image. In a sequence of events not depicted in the movie, the party heads into the catacombs below Theed. The passage starts at the base of the Theed cliffs and winds its way through the ruined cities below.

Mission 12: Showdown:
In this last level, the mission is the final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul, and the saber duel that will ensue promises to be as frantic as the film's.

Friends and Enemies of the Jedi

As you can tell, Obi-Wan's scope is quite massive, and the game's dangerous environment alone is enough to give even the most seasoned gamer a tough time completing each mission. If it were only that easy. Attempting to stop Obi-Wan every step of the way are a number of enemies, both new and old. Aside from the battle droids, destroyer droids, and Trade Federation tanks that pit themselves against the pair of Jedi in the movie, Obi-Wan will have to go up against other enemies like Tusken raiders, Sith agents (including the young Sith lord Darth Maul), garden-variety aliens like Rodians and Nikto, and several new Federation droid designs not seen in the movie.

But you won't be expected to go up against this horde of enemies alone. At Obi-Wan's disposal will be several vehicles, including speeders and tanks, as well as a robust buddy system that lets the young Jedi interact with the NPCs around him. You can issue one of several commands to virtually anyone in the game who isn't an enemy. These commands include "follow me," "stop," "go to marker," "defend target," "attack target," and "retreat." All the characters Obi-Wan talks to will follow these commands as long as they are within their grander orders, meaning that you won't be able to tell Qui-Gon to attack Padme, or coax Jar-Jar into stumbling off a cliff.

However, this doesn't mean that skilled players won't be able to dispatch Obi-Wan's enemies without the help of other characters. In addition to the weapons available to Obi-Wan (see the first part of our preview for more details), you can make use of a wide array of Jedi acrobatics to complement your melee fighting. Making this possible is a feature that lets Obi-Wan "lock" onto a target in a fashion similar to Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This force power centers the nearest enemy within your reticle, and all of Obi-Wan's subsequent motions occur in direct relation to his target, allowing him to perform a number of wild maneuvers while keeping a straight line of sight with his enemy. Obi-Wan has the ability to not only roll forward, backward, and from side to side, but the nimble Jedi learner can also perform more daring feats like cartwheels and force jumps over the sides of ledges.

The Tanis Engine

For the most part, the 3D engines that were available on the market during Obi-Wan's initial design process were limited to rendering straight walls and allowed for only a single-texture pass. To overcome this roadblock, the designers set out to create a new engine for Obi-Wan: Tanis, a 3D engine that combines a number of existing and new technologies, was born. Key among its features is the ability to support 3D levels with detailed geometry and multiple textures, and seamless integration between massive outdoors areas and highly detailed enclosed areas. Tanis is also scalable to accommodate for varying processor speeds, and can gradually remove or add polygons from character models to maintain a consistent frame rate as is required.

After development on Obi-Wan and Tanis had started, the team at LucasArts was forced to rethink the traditional design process for a typical 3D-action game to accommodate for the levels' grandeur. Traditional level design would have been too inefficient, according to LucasArts, and a triumvirate process was developed. Project lead Stephen Shaw explains, "There are generally about three people involved in a level at any one time. A level designer [is] responsible for the overarching goals of the mission, the feel of gameplay, the various puzzles and encounters, the placement of objects and enemies, and the conceptualization of various scripted events. The modeler [then] comes on and builds specific sets of geometry for the level designers - sometimes modules, [and] sometimes unique pieces - textures, and light geometry. The third person in the triumvirate is the texture artist, who creates textures for the geometry, and unifies the 'look' of the level from an art perspective."

Almost every model in each level features three texture passes: a standard decal texture, a detail texture that adds effects like moss and dirt, and the light-mapping pass, which colors objects according to the color and distance of the surrounding light source. In one area demonstrated to us by the team, Obi-Wan walked into a lighted room containing a shelf with several pots and other objects stacked upon it. When he used his force push to topple the shelf, the objects in the room not only fell on the floor and scattered realistically, but the force also hit the overhanging lamp, causing it to sway back and forth, dynamically changing the light source throughout the room. This dynamic lighting effect is also evident every time Obi-Wan holds his light saber near any object, as its crystal-blue light splashes onto the surrounding environments.

The entire world is colorfully brought to life in vibrant 32-bit per pixel color depth. However, all this visual flair comes at the cost of performance, and while the game will be able to run just fine on lesser systems, a 3D accelerator is required to run Obi-Wan.

Multiplayer

The single player campaign isn't the only aspect of the game that the robust Tanis engine is being used to power. Episode I Obi-Wan will boast a multiplayer component with a wide number of gameplay modes, playable characters, selectable weapons, and usable force powers. "We have a completely new client-server architecture for multiplayer, and we are definitely planning to make significant improvements upon the number of players supported in past LucasArts multiplayer games," says Shaw. While the final number of simultaneous players hasn't been decided upon yet, Obi-Wan is expected to support at least eight players over the Internet, and possibly more through a LAN connection (Jedi Knight supported a maximum of four players).

Regardless, you will be able to create your own multiplayer game and jump in as any of a number of characters from the single-player campaign, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, a battle droid, a Naboo soldier, Captain Panaka, Mace Windu, Darth Maul, and a Sith agent. You begin the game with your character's default weapon, but you can pick up and use any weapon available in that level. The designers have also added a couple of new force powers strictly for use in multiplayer games. These powers, both from the dark side, are lightning and the infamous force choke. Of course, all the force powers available in the single-player game with the exception of speed and distraction will also be completely usable in the multiplayer mode.

Several gameplay modes will grace Obi-Wan's multiplayer component. Of course, the standard deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes will be included, but the designers are also adding two new modes. The first, called Jedi Arena, is a straightforward one-on-one match: Two contenders enter the arena, duel it out, and the winner gets to challenge the next player while the loser waits for another chance to fight. The second mode is called Escort the Queen and modeled after Team Fortress Classic's "The Hunted" map. Here, a group of players have to escort Queen Amidala across a map while protecting her from a second group of players, whose sole goal is to successfully assassinate her.

LucasArts hasn't decided on the final number of maps, although most will be smaller iterations of the larger single-player levels. Incidentally, LucasArts was fiddling with the idea of making the destroyer droid and Jar-Jar Binks playable characters in the multiplayer mode, but as of press time, these characters were not on the latest list of selectable player models.

Even though Episode I Obi-Wan was announced only one year ago, the game looks quite spectacular. Initial development on Obi-Wan started shortly after LucasArts released Grim Fandango back in October of 1998, and has since come a long way. Now, two years later, the game is nearing the twilight of its development, and LucasArts hopes to have the game on store shelves in time for this year's holiday season. And when it does release, Obi-Wan's intriguing gameplay ideas and technological innovations will undoubtedly separate it from the glut of uninnovative action games. Be on the lookout for this one in the fall.

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