It was a real shame that El33tonline didn’t get to see the next big Star Wars game from LucasArts at E3 in June this year, but we were very fortunate to get an opportunity to see the game in action (live and in real time) during a presentation at gamescom 2012.
Titled ‘Star Wars 1313,’ the game is set in the bowels of the storied planet of Coruscant (famous in the Star Wars fiction), and is in development at LucasArts’ studios in San Francisco and Singapore. LucastArts’ Craig Derrick was on-hand to walk us through the game while the company’s Mark James (platform technical director) was also lurking in the darkness of the demo room (located in Activision’s booth) to oversee proceedings.
Our live demo of Star Wars 1313 was running on what appeared to be a PC of epic proportions, and I soon discovered why there was so much power necessary – visually, the game is quite simply jaw-dropping. Within the very first few split-seconds of the real-time demo beginning, the first question I had on my mind was ‘Is this a pre-rendered cut-scene?’
The developers have chosen to put a framerate counter in the corner of the screen for demonstration purposes to let those watching know it is indeed real-time, and the counter was (for the most part) locked at 33.22 frames (with a few tiny drops and increases here and there). In previous demos, the framerate counter wasn’t there, which lead to too many questions about the nature of the presentation, so they thought it was a good idea to clear up any misconceptions and put it back in.
“Star Wars 1313, for us, is our first mature-themed game at LucasArts,” Derrick began. “It’s about playing as a bounty hunter in the most dangerous place in the galaxy – the ruthless criminal underworld of Coruscant’s Level 1313. More simply, though, the game is really about three things.
“[Star Wars 1313] is about what it means to be a bounty hunter, it’s about surviving this dangerous world, and for us as developers, it’s about delivering a playable, cinematic experience.”
One of the mantras at the developer for Star Wars 1313 is not to show a cinematic that players would want to control for themselves – instead of taking that control away and playing a sequence, LucasArts wants players to interact with that sequence in real-time. It’s critical for the developers that players maintain control over the action during the cooler set-pieces.
“When it comes to playing as a bounty hunter… that’s one of those core gameplay fantasies that we hear from gamers and fans alike. We think that’s in part due to the amazing gear that these bounty hunter characters have. Playing with an expanded selection of gadgets, weapons and gear, and experimenting with how they behave in this world, is really what we consider the ‘toy’ at the heart of our gameplay experience.”
Derrick explained that the core mechanics of Star Wars 1313 are “a blend of agile cover-based combat and death-defying platforming,” and there were very definite strains of Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 gameplay in the demo as the protagonist leaped up burning wreckage as it tumbled kilometres down into the gaping abyss of Coruscant’s belly. “That mix,” says Derrick, “really connects the player to a more grounded, relatable world.”
If you’re expecting to see Jedi in the world of Star Wars 1313, you’re going to be disappointed. Derrick says there are no Force-wielding superhumans in the game, but instead you’ll need to make it through the dangerous, threatening world of Level 1313 relying on your own skills, gadgets and weapons.
Derrick says that Star Wars 1313 “is a mature expression of the Star Wars universe” and claims that it’s “unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’s a dark, vast subterranean metropolis located thousands of levels below the surface of Coruscant – it’s where the criminal underworld live, and the bounty hunters thrive.”
Derrick was also keen to let us know that the world of Star Wars 1313 is “painted in shades of grey,” and continued to reinforce the idea that this area of the Star Wars universe is almost unrivalled in the levels of danger (and grime) – one wrong move and you’re dead.
LucasArts is working “very closely” with the other LucasFilm companies to deliver a fully playable cinematic experience: “But at LucasArts, for us,” Derrick continued, “it always begins and ends with making a game.” The sister companies at LucasFilm have mastered their own crafts and “feed a game like this,” says Derrick, “and their impact will be felt throughout the experience… and probably shine brightest during our epic set-pieces.”
Derrick then showed us what he meant with a live gameplay demo of Star Wars 1313.
The demo began with a few close-ups of vehicles and a few environmental shots that in most any other game would seem pretty standard, except in Star Wars 1313, every last bolt, scratch and scrape is displayed in glorious detail – as I said before, I couldn’t believe that this was all really running real-time at a playable framerate.
The characters, too, benefit from an incredible level of care and attention and while their faces, bodies and movements still appear ‘game-like,’ it’s at a point where it truly does look like the CG you would expect in a Star Wars film, or a Pixar animated movie.
The story followed two bounty hunters as they transported what appeared to be extremely dangerous aliens in a regular cargo ship. The pair didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention to their quarry, so they thought it best to make use of a beat up old ship to blend in. While transporting the fiends, the bounty hunters are making their way down through the levels of Coruscant but are soon attacked by another faction made up of robotic enemies and more fleshy soldiers intent on your destruction.
After attaching their ship to your own, they forcefully board the cargo ship and launch an all-out assault, which is where we were shown the cover-based shooting system of Star Wars 1313 – nothing out of the ordinary (allowing you to duck into cover, jump over smaller obstacles, shoot from behind walls and grab enemies in hiding and drag them over to you) and the system seemed to work well.
What didn’t work well after a while was the cargo ship the characters were on – it didn’t last very long after an explosive entrance by the enemies. Walls and glass panels were torn from the craft, allowing the player to shove an enemy or two out of the holes and into the seemingly eternal abyss below. Before long, it was time for the bounty hunters to make their way over on to the enemy’s ship, not that it really mattered – by now, both vehicles were tethered to one another, both swinging and circling the other as they free-fell down dozens of levels a second.
Both ships, too, were completely wrecked with exposed interiors, as raging fires and thick black smoke billowed out of their hurtling carcasses. And what was happening in the midst of this chaos? The player-controlled bounty hunter managed to make a death-defying leap from one ship to the other and then proceeded to climb and jump over the outside of the ruined hulls to reach his friend waiting inside.
That high action set-piece concluded the live demo for Star Wars 1313, and with our jaws on the ground the audience was shown two videos to fill in some blanks, the first of which was a developer diary featuring members of the team speaking about the inspirations, themes and mood of the game – the words ‘pressure,’ ‘danger’ and ‘filth’ were used a number of times to describe the atmosphere of Star Wars 1313.
This was followed by a new gameplay video, which you can watch below:
Star Wars 1313 – Gamescom 2012 Trailer
Derrick stressed the fact that Star Wars 1313 is still very early in development, so much so that the developer isn’t discussing the story or characters just yet. In fact, the main playable character we saw during the demonstration is in fact a ‘test character,’ and not the main hero at all.
Despite how early it may still be for Star Wars 1313, it’s already looking visually astounding and while I may not have seen anything brand new gameplay-wise, experiencing the action as it explodes around you in such high quality set-pieces may just be enough to draw players in and keep them moving ever forward into the depths of Level 1313 when it’s released – no release date has been announced, however, and judging by the game’s graphics it may very well only be available with the next generation of consoles, along with the PC version.