Star Wars Republic Commando Designer Diary #1 - Building the Squad
Director Tim Longo fills us in on the upcoming shooter's unique use of the Star Wars military.
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Currently scheduled for release in February next year, Star Wars Republic Commando is a first-person shooter that will see you assuming the role of an elite clone trooper in command of a crack squad tasked with carrying out special missions for the Galactic Republic. Locales in the game will include the Episode II planet Geonosis, a large Republic ship, and the wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk, and as you progress through the game you can expect to encounter a number of characters that will feature prominently in the upcoming Episode III movie. The focus of Republic Commando, though--as explained by the game's director Tim Longo in today's designer diary--is on the military forces that so often only have supporting roles in the Star Wars movies and games.
One Touch Squad
The military aspects of Star Wars have always been a major part of the mythos. Though the stories often revolve around the melodrama of the heroic journey, a military force is always in the background fueling the fire of conflict. However, the interesting thing is that the military characters are very rarely brought to the forefront (with the exception of the classic X-Wing and TIE Fighter games) neither in the movies nor in the games. Well with Star Wars Republic Commando we made a conscious choice to change that and explore an entirely new perspective of the most famous science fiction conflict of all time.
Luckily, a military entity was also created around the time we were first forming our initial ideas about three years ago. The Clone Army was revealed to the world by George Lucas and the literal birth of the most powerful army in science fiction history is matched with its biggest conflict. It seemed like the perfect time to get the ball rolling.
There is just something compelling about that white armor. The protagonist of the game actually started out as a standard Clone Trooper. He was just your regular grunt on the ground meeting the droids head-on on the battlefield, as seen in the movies. But another one of our major influences at the time was the rising number of squad-based military games coming out. Games where you played the "Special Forces" version of the military and went behind enemy lines to accomplish the impossible. Some things started to gel. We had one of the greatest fictional settings ever. We had the perfect event fresh in the public's mind. We had the gap in the Star Wars mythos. And we had a kernel of an idea to make a squad-based game set within all of those parameters, and we ran with it. There was only one remaining big question.
How were we going to bring this unique Star Wars experience to our audience? Though we all played and loved the squad games out there, there was a fundamental flaw that kept bugging us. Too much work. Squad games had a lot of micromanagement and babysitting. So we sought to solve those problems in three ways.
We introduced a new mechanic to the genre that we had not seen before or since and pushed it as far as we could. The marketing folks called it our "One Touch Squad" about a year ago and that was just about the same goal for the design itself. We call them squad maneuvers and they allow the players to control their squads using contextual world objects with a click of the "use" button. The magic green "A" button ("F" on PC) is used for everything in our game. It's clean, simple, and fast. The way a squad really acts back here on Earth. Sniping, hacking (or as we like to say on Tatooine--"slicing"), demolitions, anti-armor, door breaching, and so on. And all with one button. Less "work" and more play.
The second mechanic we call Squad Commands. We needed a way to put the squad in different "stances" while in combat so they would generally behave as the player would want. This is separate from the "maneuvers" and both can be used at the same time. So by holding down the "A" button and using the D pad on the Xbox (Function keys on the PC) you can quickly ask your team to form-up, secure area, search and destroy, and cancel all maneuvers.
So with these two systems in place, we quickly saw that we were able to keep the fast pace of a standard FPS, but we were also able to order our squad along the way. The best of both worlds. The last aspect that was needed was a very advanced squad AI. You'll hear from our squad AI engineer in a later diary, but our advancement in this area has ensured that while you are fighting, so are your commandos. They aren't waiting for the next waypoint to be placed or the next elaborate button combo to be pressed, or god forbid, the game to be paused. They are right there with you, reacting to the states of the world and covering your ass, just like in real combat. Our own armed forces probably wish that they could pause the battle or control soldiers with waypoints and button combos, but guess what, they can't. So neither can we.
Meet The Guys
So you'll see by now that we have been heavily influenced by real-world military mentalities too. We hired a Navy SEALs instructor to come in and give us some training and were inspired to develop the game under those same rules. We wanted to make a very real-feeing squad game set in a hard-edged version of the Star Wars universe. The squad is sent to the depths of the galaxy to accomplish the deeds no one else can do. And they accomplish them with great success and really end up making a name for themselves. Delta Squad becomes legendary throughout the game and, even compared to the thousands of other elite Republic Commandos out there, they are seen as heroes. We pushed the world into a direction that ended up being inspired as much by modern military films as it was by the Star Wars films. These guys don't have lightsabers or force powers, they only have their training, their weapon (and oh what a nice weapon it is), and their squadmates. Lucky for the Republic, that makes a winning combination. Which brings me to the last part of the puzzle.
The squad themselves has been probably the most challenging aspect of the game's development. The gameplay mechanics actually haven't changed too much from the original design. The squad fortunately has. We started out really trying to leverage the "clone" aspect of the mythos. I guess we were mesmerized by the idea of clean slates that become something greater than their training through experience. But in the end, who wants to play a bunch of guys who all sound, look, and act the same? One of the best parts of being in a team is the personalities of your brothers. So later than we'd like, we shifted gears (with some good suggestions from Mr. Lucas) and it ended up being the right move. Now we have a great combination of "new clone" and "motley crew." Having trained together from birth on Kamino, each member of the squad starts to form his personality much like humans do, right out of the gates. And much like twins, voices change, experiences differ, and some guys turn into saints while others turn into bastards. Each one is critical though, together acting as pieces of a larger weapon that is called "the squad." And the player uses them as effectively as their own rifle.
The squad leader is 38 (the full designation is RC 01/138, and you can guess what the RC stands for). He plays the part of the player and thus in a very traditional FPS way, has little character. "You" are 38. 40 (aka "Fixer," his nickname) is the right-hand man to 38. He is a by-the-book, no-nonsense soldier who has a talent for hacking into computer systems. 62 (aka "Scorch") is the joker of the group. Loves explosives and anti-armor weaponry, he takes the edge out of combat with his witty banter while putting the pressure on the armored enemies (or all enemies for that matter). And then there is 07 (aka "Sev"). He is the hunter of the group. Fairly antisocial and pretty much pissed off all of the time. Favoring the sniper rifle, he really doesn't care how he defeats his enemy, as long as it counts as a kill. That's Delta Squad. And you'll grow to love them as much as we have, I know it. At times it feels like we've been raising our own little batch of clones. Complete with the beakers and everything.
We are currently in our alpha phase of the project and are only now seeing the major pieces come together and work in reality rather than in theory. Squad tuning and balancing is well under way and we are heavily debugging the game in preparation for beta. Our squad character changes are paying off as well, and though we just went through hell getting them all in, it looks like it was well worth it.
Its been an amazing development cycle on RC. With one of the most talented teams in the industry, we have been able to put all of these pieces together to create something no Star Wars fan has ever seen before and we are extremely proud of that fact. Even after three years the game is still extremely fun to play due to its emergent gameplay and youll be reading much more on all the aspects of the development in later designer diaries. So stay tuned.
Rendezvous with Delta Squad we must. Upon them we rest much hope. Yoda (Battle of Kashyyyk)
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