One month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens fires two proton torpedoes down the exhaust shoot of the worldwide box office, another Star Wars series which has been absent for a decade is also set to return.
LucasArts' Star Wars: Battlefront series perfectly captured the war part of its IP's name, but went awol in 2005 after a stellar sequel. The third game in the series is now just a few months away, and at Gamescom 2015 I spoke to senior producer at DICE Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir about the game and its freshly announced multiplayer mode Fighter Squadron.
IBT: It's your experience with Battlefield that made DICE the perfect team to bring back Battlefront, but how does this game differ to that series beyond the obvious Star Warsiness?
Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir: I agree with you, DICE is a great candidate to bring Battlefront back and obviously the original Battlefronts were somewhat inspired by Battlefield. It was important for us to give the game its own identity from the get-go and to give people a great shooter experience. One of the things that Battlefield has done well is vehicular combat and that's a big part of the fantasy of Star Wars.
We've made very different design choices, very consciously in terms of making the game feel like its own thing. A good example is that we don't have classes, another would be how our power-ups work – giving you in-game vehicle and hero experience to unlock the Millennium Falcon or Darth Vader or any of the series' other icons. Those power-ups are randomly placed too, which makes for a very different kind of strategy. There are big differences, small differences but of course we're DICE and we've been making Battlefield games for years, so there are still some similarities.
You're clearly big fans of the series - that passion really shines through - but do you think that can also be dangerous in a way? Is it important to take a couple of steps back every now and then and try to view things from a neutral perspective?
Predominately the passion and the fandom has an incredibly positive effect. It means people have a shared understanding when building this game on a long-standing and well-known IP. Its not like a new IP when you have to teach developers what the world is and how it works, here there's that knowledge already. At the same time though, a movie is not a game so you have to adapt what works for a movie so it works in a game. Sometimes people can be quite married to the way that things look, feel and sound from a movie perspective rather than making it work from a gaming perspective. That would be my only negative example.
When you were developing Fighter Squadron did you guy back to classic Star Wars games like Rogue Squadron and X-Wing vs TIE Fighter?
As we were developing we were looking at the best in class in terms of air combat, but at the same time games that focus explicitly on that combat can be pretty hardcore and focused on a specific audience while this is a mode in a first person shooter. For us it meant a lot to have the controls feel intuitive. We didn't want it to be niche within the game, we want it to be popular and enjoyable.
One part of Fighter Squadron I don't think it will translate well in video is the power management bar at the bottom of the screen. Could you explain how it works?
The idea of it is, it's the ever-present battle between accuracy and speed. You want the speed to fly as you want but you also want to deal serious damage out at other points. So you divert power between the engine and weapons system, so you can get away and step on the gas when you need to but then – for most players – going at speed makes them less accurate, less able to lock on. So they can divert power to the weapons, slow down a bit and take aim and do damage.
As cool as it is to see and play as Vader, don't you agree it's also a bit odd that an anonymous rebel is able to shoot him dead or land an X-Wing on his head?
[Laughs] It goes back to adapting to the medium. There's this incredible power fantasy – becoming the hero, being the hero, playing as Vader or Luke or piloting the Falcon – it doesn't necessarily need to feel logical. We try to avoid the silly when taking out a hero...
When I was playing it I dealt a fair bit of damage to the Falcon and that felt great. As soon as I saw the ship I knew I had to do what I could to take it down because it's this iconic thing...
Exactly, that's the way that works. As soon as you become this incredibly powerful enemy, suddenly everyone turns their focus to them to take them down. I think it's a difficult balance – to make those heroes feel powerful but not over-powered as to spoil the enjoyment for other players – but it's a balance I think we've struck well.
There's Luke, there's Vader, there's the Falcon, there's Boba Fett. Will there be heroes from the new film?
We have more heroes to announce but in terms of our time period, we're sticking to the classic period of the original trilogy.
DICE's last full game was Battlefield 4, which had a very rocky launch. How did that affect the team's confidence? They certainly took a lot of flak for it.
Well our last Battlefield was Hardline [mostly developed by Visceral Games] and when that launched it was perfectly smooth. We take that very seriously and have throughout the development of Battlefront. We learned a ton from that, everyone did, and we've seen from the Hardline launch that those lessons have been put to good use.
It seems clear that Battlefront has to come out around the same time as the new movie. Was that strict deadline ever a concern of DICE's?
It's been absolutely clear from the get-go that this is when we launch, the game needs to be ready, it needs to be steady and polished and released November 17th [in North America]. That's been at the top of our minds throughout and we're in a very good position for that.
Will the post-release plan for Battlefront match that of recent Battlefields or will it work differently?
We haven't announced anything on the post-launch plan. We will support the game post-launch but we're not talking about that now.
Which Star Wars series from the past would you like to see brought back?
[lengthy pause] I have a super-weak spot for Knights of the Old Republic. Many people do. Those kinds of games appeal to me quite lot.
Star Wars: Battlefront will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC on 20 November.