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5 things developers should avoid in new Star Wars games

16 May 2013

Star Wars is one of the most expansive and revered science fiction universes ever created. So how has this amazing series fared in the video game industry? In all honesty, not so great. The history of Star Wars video games is a mixed bag of greatness and not-so-greatness. We've had the fortune of playing great Star Wars titles like X-Wing, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and Empire at War. Unfortunately, for each great game that came out, there was another that was disappointing.

Below is a list of five things that developers need to avoid to prevent disappointing games like Rebel Assault, Masters of Teräs Käsi, and The Force Unleashed from making a return in the next generation.

1. Too much reliance on the Jedi and Sith

All of the galactic powers in the Star Wars universe have their own command structures. So why during all these years, when searching for an antagonist in the Galactic Empire, do game developers always default to a Sith? Has the famous “I find your lack of faith disturbing” scene merely been forgotten? That scene, from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, shows a large table full of high-ranking officers that are just normal people with no Force powers.

There is a lot more to the Star Wars universe than the Jedi and Sith. Within this expansive universe, there is a near infinite amount of character types ranging from bounty hunters to nomadic alien pre-owned-droid dealers. Give us a title that goes deeper than the Force--something with some real emotional impact. Focusing only on the blockbuster frills of the Jedi and Sith, out of all the content in the Star Wars universe, is a disservice to Star Wars fans and the breadth of Star Wars' extended lore. The Force is awesome, but to use it strictly for its flash value and marketability is to take a step toward the dark side of the entertainment industry. The Force is an extension of the characters who wield it; it cannot be a stand-in for character development.

On the Star Wars Wookieepedia--the hairiest of wiki sites--there are currently 103,400 pages (and growing) of information that has been passionately uploaded by thousands of fans around the world. This wiki covers everything you could imagine about Star Wars and it was all done without any form of pay. If game developers approached the Star Wars universe with the same passion and breadth that these fans have, we could all be in for a real treat.

2. The Force being a bit too unleashed

We all know the Force is the greatest power in the Star Wars universe, but in recent years developers have shown the force used in particularly powerful ways. For example, Starkiller, the main character in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, pulled a Star Destroyer down to the ground with the Force. Now this is certainly not an impossible feat with the power of the Force, but is having that much power in a game fun? Well, maybe, but for it to truly work would require some serious gameplay balancing that has yet to be seen.

It is important for gamers to feel a great sense of progression throughout a game. The game's difficulty must always remain balanced with the power of the player (and the Force) to remain entertaining or it just becomes too easy and senseless. Games that take place in the Star Wars universe have done this successfully in the past--Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is one such game. At the start of Dark Forces II, the protagonist Kyle Katarn has no Force abilities and no lightsaber--just a blaster and a pair of fists. By the end of the game, the player has a lightsaber and a few Force abilities of your choice. This gave players just enough to work with, without making everything too easy.

Developers must exercise a level of restraint with all things in the gaming industry, but especially when tackling something as daunting as the power of the Force.

3. Short, bland story mode

Not many Star Wars games have been successful without a strong narrative. A good plot is something fans of Star Wars expect (but don't always receive), and rightfully so. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and its sequel disappointed in these regards. Both games had disappointingly short story modes that lasted approximately five to seven hours. The storylines in these two games had some great moments, but with the short story length, it seemed to end as soon as it began, with little room for emotional involvement.

Creating a story mode that is at least 12 hours in length should not be difficult with all the content the Star Wars universe has to offer. Knights of the Old Republic is a great example of how a Star Wars game can not only have a long campaign, but also a thrilling, emotionally involved narrative.

4. Being afraid to take risks

As mentioned many times in this article, the Star Wars universe has a lot of content. The more content you have to work with, the more possibilities exist for the development of creative and fresh new games. The last thing we need is more sequels of the same games. We need some risk takers! Developers need to give us something completely new or a reboot of something so old that most people won't remember it. Bring on the Jawas! How about a TIE Fighter reboot? What would it be like to be digested by a Sarlacc for one thousand years? Imaginative ideas abound.

5. Dismissing where LucasArts left off with Star Wars 1313

In the Star Wars universe, there is one planet in particular that is considered to be the most important and wealthy planet--Coruscant. There is something to be said about taking the planet that is quite literally considered the center of the Star Wars universe (its hyperspace coordinates are 0,0,0). Instead of showing its glamorous side, which has been played up extensively by the prequel movies, Star Wars 1313 chose to show Coruscant's gritty, dark underbelly. This design approach seemed to be consistent across the game.

Before its indefinite cancellation, Star Wars 1313 looked to be a healthy mix of Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Judge Dredd, and Uncharted. The slums of Star Wars had never looked so dangerous--nor so appealing.

From the trailers released by the now-shuttered LucasArts, Star Wars 1313 looked as though it could be the game to avoid at least three of the aforementioned issues. It was risky because it was so different: the main characters were bounty hunters and didn't appear to have any Force powers. Hopefully, one of EA's development teams will pick this title up and deliver it to the many Star Wars fans and gamers alike who saw it as a breath of fresh air.

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Do you agree that these five things should be avoided by developers making future Star Wars games? What issues do you think need to be addressed? Any thoughts to share on Disney's closing of LucasArts and licensing the Star Wars game rights to EA? Let us know in the comments section below.

 


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