Following today’s reveal of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I chatted briefly with Steve Blank, Lucasfilm’s director of franchise content and strategy, and Stig Asmussen, Respawn Entertainment’s director of the project, to learn more about what players can expect. The duo didn’t want to go much into story specifics or gameplay at this point, but did share some new tidbits about the setting and the overall development process of the project.
It’s a time of desperation for the Jedi. They are either on the run or are in hiding, hoping that the Empire doesn’t find them. Walk me through Cal’s place in this universe. What concept did you land on for him as a character?
Steve Blank: Cal came organically out of a story we were crafting. What you were alluding to is the dark times, after Episode VI, when the Jedi have fallen and predominantly eliminated. We thought that was a really interesting space to start a story. What do the Jedi look like in that space? What does it mean to have lived through this purge, and how do you deal with that in this new era? Cal came out of that. We have a padawan that hasn’t been fully trained, but now sort of is living in this space. The layers of personality and specifics of story all of that came when Cameron [Monaghan] got added and found his voice. It was a process to settle on the specificity of that character.
Stig Asmussen: Even before any of that, the team was thinking more about [the game] mechanically. There was something that really drove us to have a younger character. We didn’t want it to be what you often time see in games. I’m not going to say what it is, but you know what I mean. We like the idea of him being younger because he can learn and he grow. That works well mechanically because you can build up your abilities over the course of the game. Even stripping it back from something that isn’t even Star Wars made us think what is the framework that we need for this character just for a video game.
You say he is a padawan learner cut off from his training. In the trailer we briefly meet Cere, who you say is a Jedi mentor to Cal. I assume that means she isn’t his master?
Will we learn about that as the game goes on?
SA: You’ll learn a lot of things. [laughs] What’s great about Star Wars is people want to know what the details are. They want to know more. We really want to answer questions like these, but they are spoilers.
It’s not my fault. You guys showed a story trailer.
SA: There is something interesting to that. It’s the first project I’ve been working on that every major milestone we’ve done has been a gameplay milestone. This is the first time that we did a cinematic trailer type of thing.
Funny how it works out like that, right?
SA: A lot of teams are like, “We really need to pitch what the game is like, and the tone, and setup.” It’s easier to do something like that with a movie. For Respawn, we really focus on the gameplay. Everything that we were delivering to Lucasfilm and sharing internally at Respawn and EA was all “Get your hands on the sticks and play it,” and watch how it’s evolving.
SB: It speaks to their great partnership there, and the process of developing the game. We knew Star Wars Celebration was going to be the moment in which we were going to unveil stuff, we started having those conversations of what does it look like publicly.
SA: It was the right way, considering it was Celebration. It pains me that we aren’t showing gameplay right now, but it wouldn’t be appropriate. Trust me, we have a lot of it to show – and get your hands on.
Bracca is a new planet in the Star Wars universe. Can you walk me through what we can expect from it. Are those big sarlacc pits beneath the ships? If so, that’s a dangerous place to work.
SB: It’s a planet in the mid-rim and there’s this scrapper guild here. It’s a ship-building and ship-breaking world. You see a giant machine that is cutting through a ship in the trailer. That monster that you see is eating the debris, like a giant garbage disposal.
SB: That’s why they built the shipyard there. [laughs] As you see Cal in that one scene where he’s eating in that space with the lights, there are obviously places for the people there too.
Is BD-1, the droid that is apparently Cal’s closest friend, someone we meet over the course of the game, or does Cal have it at the start?
SA: They are going to meet early on, and they are connected by more than just their friendship. They are both kind of outcasts. There are things that are relatable to the two of them.
A lot of the concept art we saw focused on Cal and BD-1 alone in the wilderness – evoking thoughts of isolation. Star Wars stories are usually about ensembles. Are you going for more of a lonesome tone?
SA: We do have more characters to reveal. The trailer showed Cere. We knew were weren’t going to be able to make a game that has huge crowds in it. I don’t want to worry about things like creating crowd tech. We decided to make a story that’s more “man versus wild.” That allowed us range to go to different places and explore different places. It’s not just Cal versus the environment, but also Cal versus the elements. To a certain extent, the Empire versus the elements as well.
Is all of this on Bracca?
SA: It’s kind of a them that continues through the game.
The saber, you obviously won’t reveal too much about that, but when we meet Cal at the beginning of the game, is he capable of using something like that? Where was he in his training?
SB: When Order 66 hit, he was still a padawan. We’re not quite ready yet to talk about the specifics of where you’ll find him, but he is still a learner. There’s going to be growth there for him.
We got a good look at the Second Sister and the Purge Troopers. You talked about how the Purge Troopers are new to Star Wars, but they’ve been in stories before. What makes these versions new or different?
SB: We’ve teed them up, but they are based on a design by the Respawn team. They were developed in conjunction with Marvel. They needed a very specific type of trooper to accompany Inquisitors at the same time, Respawn had that need. We connected the dots on the Lucasfilm side. Respawn took the lead on development because they needed them for gameplay. That was one of the first things they delivered to us, based on Marvel’s timelines. They’ve been in a couple of Marvel issues, but you’ll see them for the first time as an enemy combatant in Jedi: Fallen Order.
What engine are you using to make this game?
Coming off of God of War, was there anything that you learned from that project that set the stage for a Star Wars experience?
SA: [With] God of War we had been working on sequels for so long that it kind of became a machine that we knew how to make the game, but we just kept making it bigger and bigger. I really respect how they stepped back to make the new version. It reinvented the series. I was kind of feeling that too. We have to make sure whatever game we start here at Respawn, we just worry about the basics first. That goes back to the earlier point of not worrying about trailers. We wanted to get the motion model down, and get things to the point where we can evaluate them – make a game before anything else. We got to the point in God of War, where we were making the script first, and everything was going to follow it. For Respawn, we just had a page we used to get everyone inspired and to start interjecting their own ideas. We started small and grew out from that. Lucasfilm doesn’t work that way, they figure out the story first. Over the years, we developed a good cadence and developed a respect to how we both approach [a project].
What has Cameron [Monaghan] brought to the project that you maybe didn’t expect when you were dreaming up Cal as a character?
SA: He completely understands the character, and probably understands him better than anybody. He can challenge people on the writing team because he’s living the role. He’s been on a pretty rigorous shooting schedule recently. This is when he’s living and breathing it.
SB: In any audio and visual medium, the actor who is selected as a character will always bring their own energy to what that is. Cameron just brings this energy that made Cal something real.
SA: He can read the script, and look at the scene and say “Hey, wait a minute. Cal wouldn’t do this. I think it will work better if we do it this way.” He’s more aligned with Cal than anyone.