This holiday season marks not only the overdue return of the Star Wars film saga in theaters around the world, but it sees Star Wars video games return in a big way. We're not talking free-to-play browser games or mobile apps, we're talking about triple-A, big budget blockbuster games - the type that make 'most anticipated' lists and hopefully contend for 'game of the year' awards, just like Star Wars games once did many years ago.
That's the plan for publisher Electronic Arts who signed an exclusive 10-year licensing agreement with Disney-Lucasfilm to develop Star Wars video games. The first of these is Star Wars Battlefront, a relaunch of one of the most popular Star Wars game series of all-time. While this new Battlefront is easily one of the must-play shooters of 2015, its journey so far hasn't been one without skepticism and controversy. After all, there are legions of fans who've been eagerly awaiting a third Battlefront title for years and the developers behind the game understand the pressure.
Patrick Bach, general manager of the development studio DICE, spoke with GamesIndustry about taking on such a large endeavor, especially when at a time when the studio was fully booked with work on current and future Battlefield games and a brand new Mirror's Edge game.
"...when someone comes around and says we have this thing called Star Wars and they really want to work with you… then of course your heart says yes. We have to figure this out."
Comparing development of an in-house original IP such as Battlefield to a property such as Star Wars with so much built-in history, previous iterations and massive expectations, Bach describes Star Wars Battlefront as a "completely different pressure" and refers to it as more of a Star Wars experience rather than a standard DICE one.
"If you ever own IP it can be anything, it's up to you to shape it, define it and also iterate it and turn it into whatever you want it to be for the future. Here we have a franchise that's been around for quite some time to be honest and people have very fond memories of what it was and maybe not what it is. Your memories are one thing and then the reality is something else. A lot of people get disappointed when they watch the movies again, if enough time has passed, because what they remember was not even in the movies.
Then you have the other breed of Star Wars fan that watch the movies over and over and over and they are extremely current when it comes to what Star Wars is. At DICE we are probably the latter, because everyone has seen Star Wars quite a few times and then some extra times after we got the deal with Disney and Lucasfilm to do this. So I think the pressure it very different, you are attracting a very different audience with the Star Wars fan but also the same audience with the shooter fan.
Our job has been to create a shooter that springs out of the IP of Star Wars and not the IP of DICE, if you see what I mean? It's not supposed to be a DICE game, per se, it's supposed to be have the DICE qualities but it's a Star Wars game first and foremost. That's the bigger challenge, first of all to figure that out - what is the difference between this and that? - and then also explain to people that Star Wars is so big it could be anything. We chose to create this because we want to create this experience, and this is the emotion we want to evoke so this is what we're focusing on. And that pitch is really hard because Star Wars is so many things. If you try to do everything then everyone will be a little bit disappointed. Instead we are staying true to what we think is the right thing for this game."
Bach continues, explaining that with their take on the Battlefront franchise, they're balancing between honoring the original two games and achieving their own ideas, much of which he describes as "truly original" and not just a re-skin of their already successful Battlefield series.
Gamers familiar with EA and DICE's handling of franchises and acquired studios - which helped them to be voted The Consumerist's "worst company in America" two years in a row - have a right to be skeptical though. DICE's latest game - Battlefield 4 - was in rough shape when it was rushed for release, and required extensive updates and community appreciation initiatives to put in on the right track. Couple that with Electronic Arts' at-times overly greedy push towards in-game microtransactions and post-release downloadable content, making the launch versions of the games bare-bones at best too frequently, and almost always rushed (see: Need For Speed, Battlefield 4, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Titanfall and many EA Sports titles), and it's hard to get too excited if it weren't for the fact this is a big Star Wars release.
For these reasons though, when details started emerging on Star Wars Battlefront revealing that it wouldn't include space battles (that previous games had) and would feature a minimum of usable iconic Star Wars vehicles, lower player counts, less destructible environments, only four planets, and no story mode to speak of, on the surface it seemed this was a cash-in on the property and DICE's already-built Battlefield game engine. Bach promises that isn't the case.
The latest reveal from the developer focuses on a new game mode titled Blast Mode - a standard core team deathmatch mode - doesn't do much to speak towards the innovation and original ideas Bach is promising for the title. Although it is a must-have when it comes to multiplayer options.
Just announced today, Blast Mode is more intimate than the larger modes and focuses on 10 vs. 10 Imperials vs. Rebels action with no heroes/villains (Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, etc.) and no vehicles. It takes place on specifically designed variants of existing maps that look and play differently than in other modes, each featuring a variety of pickups that can give players anything ranging from Droids to automated weapon turrets. A Blast Mode match ends when one team lands 100 kills or when the 10-minute timer runs out and is designed for that quick, addictive gameplay session.
Other announced modes include Walker Assault, Supremacy, Fighter Squadron, Drop Zone, Cargo, but details remain scarce on all except for Walker Assault. There's also a two-player co-op mode that supports splitscreen local gameplay. With these modes and 12 maps, and no story campaign, whether or not Star Wars Battlefront delivers enough compared to the earlier games and other shooters coming out this fall remains to be seen but with the presentation quality DICE is known for and the general hype building for Star Wars, in terms of sales, Battlefront might just be critic-proof. Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore revealed this week that the game is already earning "extremely strong preorders" since pre-ordering grants players early access to the first DLC pack which features a battle from a new location the film, Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens.
We'll know much more next week when EA and DICE head to Cologne, Germany to present Battlefront at Gamescom 2015. Except a new mode and new features, among other details, to be revealed.
Are you confident in Star Wars Battlefront and are you going to play it regardless? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Star Wars Battlefront releases for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on November 17, 2015.