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GDC: The Force Unleashed presentation

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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is no doubt one of the largest undertakings LucasArts has ever worked on. In 2006 LucasArts hired 181 team members and in 2007, it shot up to 221. What makes this title so massive is that for the first time ever, this is a project that combines LucasArts, LucasFilm, and Industrial Light & Magic studios. Furthermore, George Lucas himself is directly involved in the development, throwing out a few points and requests here and there. So why is a Star Wars videogame garnering this much attention? The answer to that can be found in the timeframe for the game.
During the presentation, Hayden Blackman, detailed the early development process. In the early stages, many ideas and concepts were tossed around the table as to what direction exactly LucasArts will go in regarding the next step in the Star Wars videogame franchise. Ideas ranged from a Darth Maul game, Knights of the Old Republic era game, and to even a game set in the far future of Star Wars, possibly thousands of years after the events of Return of the Jedi. Finally the team came to the conclusion that a game set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope was a far more interesting concept than anything else.

“We really wanted to focus on the time frame between Episode III and Episode IV. It is a very fertile time period, a vital time period in the galaxy,” Blackman said.

Blackman described how they did not want to create another “Jedi in hiding” game because that concept has been done before numerous times in novels and comics. They also did not want to do a Darth Vader game because his character development would be very limited and linear for the simple fact that that time in the saga, he is very dark. That is how they came up with the apprentice, a character that can go many ways in the story with redemption being a key theme.

“While you begin the game as Darth Vader’s apprentice, that isn’t where you will end up,” he said.

When LucasArts decided to go with this project, they felt as though they needed to re-imagine Star Wars and they wanted to re-imagine the force. In the beginning stages of development, Blackman described how the team came up with the “Big Five Questions”. These questions served as the outlying touchstone to which the team will go by throughout the whole development cycle.

- What is the Vision of the force?
- Who are you?
- When does the game take place?
- What is the concept?
- What is the theme of the story?

To give a clear scope on just how big this project is, Blackman said that they have done more concept art for this title than any other previous LucasArts project, including Knights of the Old Republic.

Towards the middle portion of the presentation, we were treated with a nice pre-visualization video. The video was separated into 3 parts: Group Combat Simulation, Pre-Boss Battle, and a Boss Battle.

The group combat simulation showed the apprentice tearing threw a horde of storm troopers, using his immense force powers. The Pre-Boss Battle showed the apprentice facing off against a female Dark Jedi named Maris Brood whom it is assumed that you must destroy. The Boss Battle showed off the famous Rancor that has been seen in many screenshots.

It’s understood that what we saw was a very early build of the game. Still I cannot get past the idea that the actual lightsaber combat is just a mere afterthought to the development team, since the concept of force powers is heavily featured. So for all of you lightsaber enthusiasts expecting a nice lightsaber game, do not get too excited. From what was shown in the lightsaber to lightsaber battle between Maris Brood and The Apprentice, I could only cringe in my seat as I was too embarrassed to watch. Here we are on a next gen platform and the lightsaber combat is on par with that of Jedi Outcast a few years back. So while the force powers are great to awe over, the actual saber combat is something that might take away the fun for many gamers.

The Boss Battle with the Rancor was pretty interesting to say the least. This situation played out like a typical boss battle in the God of War games and ended with the player jumping into the Rancor’s mouth and bursting him open from the inside out. The whole room applauded with cheers which later became pouted gestures as Blackman described that what just happened will not make it into the final game as they are shooting for a "Teen" rating.

After the pre-visualization videos were over, the developers flipped on an Xbox 360 to demo some of Force Unleashed gameplay. Everything that was shown during this presentation was running off of Xbox 360 hardware, however, Blackman did say that for future LucasArts projects, they would like to use the PS3 as the lead platform.

“We need to use the PlayStation 3 as the baseline for the next project.” said Blackman.

The in-game build began taking place in a Tie-Fighter hangar. The details in this video weren’t as detailed as they are in the trailers, which was a bit misleading. There were very little specific particle effects and like the pre-visualization combat video, the lightsaber was a really weak weapon, only used to deflect blaster fire and showing off pretty basic moves. Again, this could be contributed to the fact that the game is very force related but still should not relate to a weak lightsaber system. Looking at the video very closely, I noticed that there will be combat bonuses when certain techniques are performed, such as multi-kill bonus and a crush bonus. Those were the only two that I was able to pick out; however, I am sure that there will be much more. The hangar looked very much like the inside of the Death Star, but also featured its own unique structures in certain areas. In this level, Darth Vader, has sent the apprentice to destroy a remaining Jedi. Vader does not want any witnesses so he has told the apprentice to kill anyone who gets in the way such as storm troopers and other Imperial soldiers. So this explains why the apprentice is continuously beating up on storm troopers, when he essentially is on the same side as them.

On the music side of things, Blackman commented that aside from music pulled from the Star Wars films, there will also be another 2 hours of original score provided just for the game, giving the title its own fresh appeal within the Star Wars universe. This comes as a huge sigh of relief as I feared that all of the music will just be a simple “copy & paste” from the films into the game. That is not true as The Force Unleashed will provide all new music from a symphony orchestra.

The presentation ended with a brief cinematic that showed the apprentice meeting up with Lord Vader after he had destroyed a Jedi whom Vader sent him after. The apprentice walks in and tells Vader that he has destroyed the Jedi. This is where Darth Vader asks for the dead Jedi’s lightsaber, as a token for his death. The apprentice kneels down before his master, and using the force, Vader summons the dead Jedi's saber to his grip. Then Vader turns to the apprentice and explains how his powers are growing and soon all of the Jedi will be extinct. Players will find that there is already a movement to rid of the Emperor, as the Darth Vader wants to rule the universe, with the apprentice as his right hand man.

After that, the presentation came to a conclusion with a loud applause from the large audience in attendance.