In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, you battered Darth Vader and The Emperor, yanked a Star Destroyer clean out of the sky, and pretty much made every other Jedi ever look like a baby swinging a glowstick. So, of course, the question arises: how the hell do you top that?
We got a chance to quiz senior product manager Gavin Leung about what the TFU team’s doing to ensure that its force-fueled sequel is the next Empire Strikes Back and not the next Star Wars Christmas Special. Click past the break to hear Leung’s thoughts on why bringing back Starkiller’s the right thing to do, how to design a compelling story when we already know how it ends, stormtrooper-disintegrating force fury powers, and more.
VG247: Why did you decide to resurrect Starkiller for Force Unleashed II? His story arc had a pretty definitive conclusion, after all. Why not hand the spotlightsaber over to a fresh face or move to a different time period in the Star Wars universe?
Gavin Leung, senior product manager: We really liked Starkiller’s character, and a lot of fans also did. When we decided to do a sequel, we actually went through a few different directions. We looked at different time periods, we looked a different characters. But at the end of that, our heart was really still with Starkiller. We liked how he developed in the first Force Unleashed, but we thought we could also go into a much more personal story in the second one.
In a way, you can almost think of it as our Empire Strikes Back. It’s a darker turn in the story, but it’s more of a personal journey. Whereas the first one’s more on an epic scale. We’re tying the loose ends between the two [movie] trilogies. We’re giving you a lot more insight into how the rebel alliance was formed. But the second story’s really a more personal story about Starkiller’s own journey.
You say TFU 2’s your Empire Strikes Back. So, the obvious question: will TFU have its own Return of the Jedi as well? Are you tying to the two trilogies together with a trilogy of your own?
We’re not ready to talk about that right now.
Last time around, players weren’t too keen on the force-resistant enemies that ran rampant through the later portions of the game. What’s the point of using the force, after all, if the force is useless? Have you done away with those enemies in Force Unleashed 2?
Our production team took a lot of the feedback from the first game to heart. We put a lot of focus on tweaking a lot of details. We really put more focus on refining our big powers for the game. All the small things through and through. We’ve really made a lot of improvements on the targeting system and camera work. We put more focus on the pacing of the game. We’ve added a lot more variety to the game. It’s not just fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. It gives you a lot more peaks and valleys. We’ve added more navigational puzzles throughout.
Putting everything together, the whole gameplay experience is not like a big one thing we can stick on the back of the box and shout about. But you really get that sense of power and refinement.
The game’s story – to my mind – is a bit of a conundrum in itself. After all, we know that Darth Vader’s still alive and wheezing in the original trilogy. Thus, in a sense, we already know how your game’s going to conclude. Vader’s fine and Starkiller’s nowhere to be found. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together there. How do you design a story around that sort of constraint? How do you maintain suspense?
That’s a great question. I think it’s similar to the challenge George [Lucas] had when he was putting the prequel trilogy together. You know how the story’s gonna end. And I think that’s true when you’re doing any prequel type of storyline. But I still think you can tell a very compelling and interesting journey of how you got to the back end.
Like, you’ve got “Pulp Fiction.” They start from the back and tell you how they got there. It’s so interesting. What happened? How did it happen? And I think the other thing is creating a lot of interesting characters. Let the characters drive the story forward.
I know one way you sort of broke free from the constraints of the original trilogy was through DLC. You released a couple “what if?” scenarios as separate levels, and those had Star Wars geeks like me jumping for joy as something Star Wars-related destroyed our childhood memories – but in a good way this time. Do you plan on doing more of that with TFU 2?
Yeah, we’re definitely looking at different options. And I think DLC provides a lot of interesting opportunities – how we want to take it in different directions later on.
Move and Kinect are both launching right around the same time as TFU 2. Do you plan on including support for either of those in the game? Or maybe patching it in later?
We find the technology really, really interesting, so we have a whole team evaluating what we want to do with it. I think we’re gonna let it breathe a little before we incorporate it.
Are you sharing any technology or resources with the team that’s developing the Kinect Star Wars game? Is the team behind it an extension of the Force Unleashed team?
It’s actually two entirely different development teams.
So there’s no real back-and-forth between the two?
Is the Wii version of TFU 2 gonna be a separate experience again? Is it going to be more than a Wiimote-enhanced port of the Xbox 360/PS3 version?
The Wii version of Force Unleashed 2 is going to have the same story. It’s being developed by Red Fly Studio down in Austin [Texas], so the gameplay is going to be slightly differentiated – optimized for the motion-sensing controls of the Wii.
But I think the core of it is that we want to deliver the same Force Unleashed experience – which to us is an over-the-top action game and a really good story in the Star Wars universe. And the backbone – what makes it a little bit different – is all about reimagining the scope and scale of the force like you’ve never seen before in the movies. We blow that out of control – make it over the top. So whether you play on 360 or PS3 or even the Wii, you’re still gonna get that feeling of being a badass Jedi.
You say it’s over-the-top. So is TFU 2 even going to have a moment that eclipses dragging a Star Destroyer out of the sky?
We have some. We were trying to find these big kind of epic awesome moments for it.
Do we get to pull down a Death Star this time?
Nothing to reveal right now. We’ll be rolling out more information [at a later date].
Force Unleashed was very much lauded for its physics engine – especially, Euphoria, I believe it was, that powered the stormtroopers. Have you made any big improvements to that side of the game? Loving embraces are all well and good, but will baddies have other reactions to your force powers this time around?
It’s not just Euphoria. It’s an interesting mix of Euphoria – which is a biomechanical AI – and Digital Molecular Matter (a physics engine) along with Havok. It’s combining Euphoria with DMM with Havok. The first game had all three, but it was also just coming together. Now we’re a much better oiled machine. A lot of muscle memory from the first game is being put into the second game.
So I believe – just by sheer nature of the same team working the second time out – we’re going to be able to provide more interesting experiences. We definitely have a priority on immersive and real experiences.
Force Unleashed 2 is, obviously, a brand new game. At the end of the last game, though, players had control over all kinds of crazy powers. How many of those will carry over to the start of TFU 2? Or is it going to be a Metroid sort of thing: lose your powers at the beginning and get them back over the course of the game?
We’ve added a few new force powers – one of which we’re calling “force fury.” In the first game, you kind of had to level up your powers. So in this one, we’re gonna give you the first moments, but there are certain times in levels where your force powers just kick-up, like, four times. So in the first game, you’ll remember your force push, for stormtroopers, was like being nailed by a canon ball. This time, you can do a force push and blast a whole radius – a whole row of stormtroopers – really far into orbit. And you get that a few times throughout the level. So you don’t have to wait until the very end. You get these bursts.
So I’m guessing that’s what you were alluding to in the pre-E3 CG trailer when Starkiller literally vaporized a horde of stormtroopers?
Yeah! Basically, each force power will have a force fury. Like, normally, you have the repulse. When you have the force fury repulse, you get the disintegration.
As with the first Force Unleashed, are light side and dark side choices going to play a role here? Can you be “good” Starkiller or “bad” Starkiller?
I think our focus is on telling a linear story – not so much on the light and dark side. It’s more on the gameplay side and the action side.