GDC 08: LucasArts Talks Force Unleashed

"That whole thing with the Rancor blowing up from the inside we couldn't do due to ESRB reasons. We tried."

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed project lead Haden Blackman is talking of the painful restrictions that a Teen rating imposes during his lecture at the Game Developers Conference.

But even more painful was the act of imposing restrictions on the over-the-top designs his team came up with on the onset of production.

"This turned out to be more challenging than I had ever imagined," he said of his project.

Blackman has been working on The Force Unleashed since 2004, when LucasArts essentially relaunched in an effort to revitalize the business of making Star Wars and Indiana Jones video games. Set to release later this year, The Force Unleashed is the most anticipated title to come from the studio in many years, and represents a milestone in both technology and scope.

"We really had unchecked ambitions at the outset," Blackman remarked, speaking of the outlandish scenes of carnage that the team cooked up. "This did become really problematic for us."

But Blackman recognizes the need for experimentation early on. His team ditched plenty of early concepts, including a game based on Darth Maul, titles that would have been set in the Knights of the Old Republic era or 100 years post-Star Wars trilogy, the First Rebel Fighter, a Wookie Warrior game, and a game based on a smuggler.

"As we walked through all these concepts, we had the opportunity to present them to George Lucas."

Lucas emphasized the importance of drama to the team, and also provided them with a wide range of background information. When the team had decided on the period between Star Wars Episode III and IV, they realized Darth Vader would have to be featured in the storyline.

"George had told us that Vader had his own plots and scheme during this time," said Blackman. "He's very evil during this period."

However, the team didn't want to create just another Star Wars game with Darth Vader as the central figure. Instead, they put the player in the role of his apprentice.

"Someone Vader had trained from a very early age to take down the Emperor with him," Blackman described. "Ultimately, working with George, we agreed that redemption is a very strong theme for the films.. It really was becoming the next chapter in the Star Wars saga."

But it was also about ass-kicking.

"We focused on this concept of kicking someone's ass with the Force."

In a demonstration, the player could use force powers to both unlock doors and blast through them. TIE Fighters were chucked about. At one point the player bent a giant support beam, causing a flying TIE to run into the unanticipated obstruction and explode. Even enemies can be used as flying projectiles, slamming into TIEs like missiles.

Using the internally-developed Ronin engine, it was a long slog to get the game working from a technical standpoint. A typical culprit was named.

"It really turned out to be a long, slow battle to get everything working on PS3."

Still, with the game nearing completion on multiple platforms, Blackman doesn't regret his team's ambition in the least. Over two hours of original score have been recorded for the game. A full storyline featuring motion-captured actors will flesh out the narrative. The Force Unleashed is an important step for LucasArts, and it's looking like it might deliver.

"It is good for us to start shooting for the moon. I don't regret that at all."

Expect Star Wars: The Force Unleashed to hit on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, and Nintendo DS this summer.