I sat down to talk to DICE Lead Hero Designer Jamie Keen about something called *checks notes* “Star Wars: Battlefront.” Do people know about this? Is it a big thing? I think it’s one of those indies. You’ve probably never heard of it. Anyway, here’s a transcript of our conversation at the Tokyo Game Show.
PlayStation LifeStyle: You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not necessarily the “Star Wars Guy” on staff, so a lot of these questions might not roll off super naturally.
Jamie Keen: That’s fine, no worries.
PSLS: So you did the characters?
Keen: Heroes design mostly.
PSLS: Is Luke Walkingsky in the game?
Keen: Is Luke Walkingsky in the game? Yes indeed. And Darth is Vading and Boba is Fetting. There’ll be more characters to come, but those are the ones we’re talking about right now.
PSLS: Who is playing the role of Harrison Ford?
Keen: In terms of voice acting or in terms of the actual character in the game or…?
Keen: We have soundalikes for the characters as much as possible. Obviously, when the original movies were made so many years ago… it can be hard to find people who sound exactly like those characters did at that moment in time. In terms of the visual representations of that, it’s kind of them when they’re at the peak of their moment. You know — when they’re “The Most Skywalker” or something like that.
PSLS: What is the max rank?
Keen: Being a DICE game, as you might expect, we have ranks for players to go through. I’m not 100% sure what the maximum rank is, but I think it’s been changing as we’ve been polishing up the game.
PSLS: As most things do.
Keen: Even toward the end of things, yeah. So there will be ranks aplenty.
PSLS: Ranks aplenty?
Keen: Ranks aplenty.
PSLS: Anything like a special reward or… once you reach the maximum, whatever it is….
Keen: As you progress through the game, you’ll be able to unlock — ah, as you rank up — you’ll be able to unlock different blasters, different Star Cards, which is kind of the way we’re running the class system. Rather than it being formalized classes, per se, as you unlock different Star Cards, you can decide on the kind of gameplay that you want or make different gameplay combinations.
So, for example, right now, you’ve got a mix of Torpedo A, Jetpack, and I think one of the cards is a personal shield. You can mix those up, depending on how you want to play.
PSLS: The characters I saw running around have that?
Keen: Yeah. It depends on how you want to mix that up or define how your gameplay role is gonna be. You’ll use that recipe.
Star Wars Battlefront Interview About Ranks, Servers, More
PSLS: About how long might it take a player to max out all that stuff or do everything that can be done?
Keen: I think plowing through, I don’t know, it’s gonna be tens of hours, but if you’re going for full completionist, that number will go up significantly. The other thing that we have is the diorama, which will be an area we’re going to be showing a lot of the characters and things, and there’s where you’ve got the real completionists — what they’ll be looking at. There’ll be very specific gameplay actions that you need to complete that will then unlock certain characters in the diorama.
PSLS: It’s a DICE game, so I have to ask if there’s Levolution.
Keen: There are destructive elements. It hasn’t been quite so much of a focus for us, so much as faithfully relaying…we want it to feel like you’re playing the movie, basically. To get a sense of “I’m in the middle of this film,” but where different things and interesting things can happen.
PSLS: Ah, that was kinda my next question. Okay, so, how much control of your own destiny do you have?
Keen: What we want to do is take the moments from the film and make sure they feel as much like that as possible and then let novel things happen. So for example, when you’re sitting in the cockpit of a TIE Fighter, you’re like “Wow I’m really in the cockpit of this TIE Fighter,” but then what would it be like to hunt down the guy who’s going for a control point on a Speeder Bike, from a TIE Fighter? That’s not something we’ve seen in the films, but the two things happen.
PSLS: *Eyes move side to side* Of course!
Keen: So you’ve got things that are very, very familiar to [fans], like you’ve got Han Solo in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon saying these one-off lines in the middle of a battle or something. It’s not something he said in the films, but it evokes the feeling of Han Solo.
PSLS: It seems like the character.
Keen: Yeah. He would’ve said something like this.
PSLS: Who did you work with particular that helped you come up with key moments or things like that, to say?
Keen: We worked with Lucasfilm on those as well. We came up with the gameplay we wanted for both the heroes and the hero vehicles that we have, and then we kinda said okay, so these heroes have this power and this power, and we kinda think he’d say something like this, and after this certain gameplay moment, we feel like the player should feel like it’s a reward for having done that. And then we work with the writers from Lucasfilm, who say, “Okay, he wouldn’t have quite said it like that, he might’ve said it more like this.” So then we put the script together like that. It was a real collaboration on a lot of fronts when it comes to working with Lucasfilm that way.
PSLS: Was there anything written that made Lucas just walk in and go “…No.”?
Keen: There may have been a few of those. “Please, can we throw this one in there?”
PSLS: Any examples?
Keen: Aaaah, maybe not. But I think this is the overall, what we really wanted. I personally am a huge Star Wars fan. It was the first film my dad took me to go see. So from that moment on, [Star Wars] became a hallmark of who I am, so I want to make sure that I’m doing justice to these characters when they’re realized. And that’s the thing: everybody wants these to be the best that they possibly can and the most evocative they can be of the films. That makes collaboration much, much easier at the end of the day.
PSLS: Star Wars being the first movie that you saw, okay, I’m off the prepared questions because I’m genuinely interested as a human: you grow up as a super fan of this, and now you’re working on it, you’ve got some level of control over it, you’re a member of the team making this hugely important, publicized Star Wars thing. What is that like? Vague question.
Keen: No, no, it’s a good one, and it’s one that you actually try not to think about too much. It’s like, I joined the team and they said “Okay you’re going to be working with the hero characters.” It’s like *eyes widen* Oh, my god, really?
PSLS: Starting out small!
Keen: Yeah, right? And there’s a responsibility that comes with that, because this is really going to be under the microscope, something a lot of people are going to pay attention to.
PSLS: Is there a certain pressure like “I do not want to mess this up,” or like “I don’t want to make somebody do or say something that I’m gonna get emails message board posts about?”
Keen: I think there’s an inevitability about that, definitely, but at the same time, rather than focusing on “I don’t want to mess this up,” I’ve actually done more thinking about “I wanna make this right.” When people play the game [I want them to feel] my passion for these characters. I have such respect for who they all are, and I want people to feel that come through in the game. I want them to feel like “It’s a slightly different take than maybe the way I would’ve gone, but at the same time, I get it. I buy it. This feels right.” Like there’s kind of a gut reaction to it for a Star Wars fan, they go, “Yeah, that’s cool.” It’s not a direct translation of what’s on the screen, but it does feel like, yes, Darth Vader would have said that, in that context.
One of my favorite lines, all through development and stuff is Darth Vader when he kills one of the rebels–
PSLS: A throwaway.
Keen: Yeah. He’ll just kinda go, “You will die by my Lightsaber.” And it’s just like, that’s awesome.
PSLS: But if anybody else says that, it’s just like “That’s dumb.” But for him–
Keen: For him it feels right.
PSLS: Well, he can say “I am your father” and it sounds awesome. Most people it’s like “Oh, that’s…socially awkward.”
PSLS: We know it’s skill-based, but we don’t know if that means no more dedicated servers. So is the skill-based matchmaking going to use peer-to-peer connections or can players expect dedicated servers?
Jamie Keen: We’ll still have dedicated servers. Absolutely. It’s one of the hallmarks of making sure we deliver an unparalleled online experience for the game.
PSLS: Haven’t heard about Star Wars Premium or whatever the season pass is called. What are DICE’s/EA’s plans for that?
EA PR Representative: I guess it’s like “What’s the DLC plan?” I would say.
Keen: It kicks off with the Battle of Jakku DLC which will be dropping…if you pre-order you get slightly earlier access to it, but I think after a couple of weeks, depending on your region, we’ll be coming out with the Jakku pack, which is the team in the new Star Wars trailer, you’ll see these wide pan shots of like a derelict Star Destroyer with a Speeder going in front of it. The whole premise of that is that this is the Battle of Jakku that happened right after The Return of the Jedi. We will actually let you play through the moment when the Star Destroyer crashes into the planet and stuff. So it’s this really cool linkup between the game’s chronology and the new film that’s coming out.
PSLS: When you said it comes out earlier if you pre-order it…for free?
PSLS: And then it comes out later (for those who didn’t pre-order), also free?
PSLS: The difference is just the timing.
Keen: The timing is the thing.
And with that, my interview time was up.
I boarded a ship alongside famous George Lucas creations Harrison Ford and Growly Fur Monster — both now played by younger actors — and we took off singing the Star Wars theme song. A great little time we had. I promise that was actually what happened next. Really.