A new chapter of Star Wars lore is set to unfold in just a few short weeks. Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment are preparing to explore the aftermath of Order 66, Emperor Palpatine's fateful decree that spelled the end of the Jedi Order. Last week, Shacknews got to take an extended look at Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Now we're ready to talk to learn some more about the game from some of the people who helped bring it to life.
While Star Wars fandom waits just two more months for December's Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, Shacknews hopes to make the wait a little easier with this conversation we had with some of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order's developers. Last week, we spoke with Narrative Lead Aaron Contreras and Lead Level Designer Jeff Magers and we touched on the Fallen Order story, the game's combat, the expansive worlds, the game's resemblance to Dark Souls, and new favorite droid BD-1.
Shacknews: How did you decide where in the Star Wars timeline this would take place?
Aaron Contreras, Narrative Lead: I think that was out of a collaboration with LucasFilm. It was also before I joined the studio, I've only been with the project for about two years.
Jeff Magers, Lead Level Designer: What the "dark times," as they're called, allows us to do is be in a place that's very familiar to anyone who knows Star Wars, right? You recognize Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters, the Empire, all these kinds of iconic staples and pillars of the brand are present. But it's also a place that's a little different. Luke Skywalker's not around yet, there's no Rebel Alliance yet, and the galaxy is totally dominated by this fascist, totalitarian Empire, which makes it a perfect place for a video game hero, as a flickering candle of light in a very dark place.
Shacknews: What are some of the challenges you see in telling the story of an all-new character as opposed to telling the story of an already-established character?
Contreras: There's obviously the risk of creating a character who the audience doesn't perceive as being authentic or authentic to Star Wars. And I think we really got lucky in casting Cameron Monaghan to be Cal. He's really passionate about the project, he's a huge Star Wars fans, an incredibly talented actor, and an active hardcore and skilled gamer, as well. So he brings this triple threat of skill and relevance to what he's doing with the character. That's probably the most important ingredient right there. I'd say past that, we have to really understand what makes a Jedi hero tick for the audience and, for my money, that's understanding the hero's journey and that kind of mythic, heroic figure and where they come from and their arc that they travel throughout the story.
Magers: I think using our own new hero lets us carve out our own space in the universe, too. We can collide as much or as little as we want with the other aspects of the property.
Contreras: I'd say it's actually easier that we have an original hero rather than if we had tried to take on somebody else's character. That would have been a much more difficult path to go down.
Shacknews: Speaking of new characters, I want to ask about BD-1. How did you come up with this new kind of droid and what's he opened up to you, in terms of the story and gameplay?
Magers: It was a big-time collaboration. Part of the Jedi fantasy is being with a droid. You've got Luke and R2, you've got Rey and BB-8. It felt really natural to have a companion droid for our hero. And BD-1 works really great from a gameplay standpoint, because he is a… exploration droid? What's his official title?
Contreras: He's an explorer's companion droid! So his custom-built purpose is to go with somebody much like Cal, though Cal's not his original owner. He goes out to these remote, out-of-the-way places and are just isolated for months and years at a time. So BD-1 is going to be your best friend, he's always looking at Cal, checking his emotional state, much like a dog who's very tuned in to his master. He's got medicine, he can hack stuff, and fix stuff, he's sort of a little swiss army knife of usefulness.
Magers: He's also the perfect all-terrain droid, because he just rides on your back.
Shacknews: We're visiting some new worlds. What were some of the goals when designing these new worlds?
Magers: What we really wanted to was make the worlds feel authentic to Star Wars, even if they're new entries. So we've got a mix of established like Kashyyyk and these new planets that we're carving out and defining. But they both have to feel authentic. Kashyyyk, for example, has to fit into everything that's happened before and people's perceptions of what Kashyyyk is, while also hopefully having some surprises in there.
The new worlds, you have to make scream "Star Wars" while also adding something new to the IP. We try to also have a unique gameplay feel for each of these planets, so they all feel distinct from each other.
Contreras: Going into the collaboration between level design and narrative, there's a lot of player agency. The player can choose to go where they want to. You started off today being able to choose to go where you want to. And that's very much the experience of playing Fallen Order. We're taking this challenge of having this player-driven exploration through a Star Wars story, which has been a balancing act that Jeff and I, in particular, have had to look at and put a lot of time and attention to over the course of the game, because we want to be an authentic Star Wars story, which is a very cinematic experience, but at the same time, we're a game and we want to let the player choose how they experience the worlds in their own way. And if they want to immerse themselves in a particular location, we want to say yes to that.
Shacknews: How much of a hand has Lucasfilm had in helping put the game's story and worlds together?
Contreras: We, Respawn, are the creators of the game, but Lucasfilm has been there every step of the way with feedback. Every line of dialogue, every line of voice acting, every moment of every cinematic, they've given notes on and commented on and given us feedback on. So they've definitely been there steering us towards making an authentic Star Wars experience.
Shacknews: How have the game's mechanics factored into the level design? Has the game's checkpoint system led to more freedom in terms of making larger, more explorable worlds?
Magers: Level design is all kind of based on the player's mechanics. It's actually kind of a foil to the player's mechanics. We put challenges ahead of the player that makes them use and leverage their different abilities that they're acquiring in different ways.
As far as the save system, we found that it kind of feeds into this thoughtful approach and strategic approach to combat. When you've had auto-save before an encounter, you can muddle your way through a fight. But when you have this save system, you have to really learn and use your abilities and approach these encounters and grow in your mastery of the abilities.
Shacknews: Was there ever a temptation to add space combat at any point?
Contreras: A temptation? Probably depends on who you ask on the development team. Obviously, space combat is a huge ingredient in Star Wars. But for us… no, I don't think for us sitting here.
Magers: No, we really wanted to focus on that hero's journey. And as our first entry into this IP from us, we wanted to focus on that quintessential Jedi experience and focus on Cal on the ground. That doesn't mean you're not going to be in vehicles, as you've seen with the AT-AT sequence. We've got these Star Wars moments that are epic and scream "Star Wars," but our main focus is boots on the ground and focus on the growth from a Padawan to a Jedi.
Contreras: It's kind of an in-the-weed game developer response, but it's tough to make a new franchise, a new game that's single-player, story-focused in today's climate with how high of a target you have to hit. And we really wanted to live up to the pedigree of what Respawn has done in the past with the Jedi experience and that's what we're all about at the end of the day. But the future, though, is wide open.
Shacknews: There has been a rich history of Star Wars platformers and adventure games and I see a lot of that DNA here. Which of the past Star Wars games have influenced what you've put together?
Contreras: Is it terrible to say all of them? (laughs)
We've played all of them, from other melee games, first-person action-adventure games, other Jedi games, other games that are set where we are in the timeline, other games that have interesting narrative structures, like TIE Fighter. Really, the whole spectrum!
Magers: And also, we're gamers at heart, not just Star Wars games, all sorts of games throughout. So we're trying to make something unique and something we want to play, borrowing elements from other games and bringing our own twist into it, as well.
Shacknews: I'm so glad you set me up for that segue! Speaking of influence, I'm sure you've heard people, like me, make the comparison between Fallen Order and Dark Souls. So what goes through your mind when you hear somebody, like me, say "This is the Dark Souls of Star Wars games?"
Magers: Like I said, we have multiple influences. There's no one game that defines what kind of game we are. If you look at our mechanic of getting your experience back, we've approached that as a comeback and friendliness mechanic. It makes fights easier by getting your health and Force meter back. We've just made the decisions we did to try and feed into this fantasy of becoming a Jedi and growing as a Jedi.
Contreras: Some comparisons are easier to make than others and we play everything, so we're kind of influenced by everything. Hopefully, the more time you spend with the game, the more we hope people will be surprised by what we are influenced by. And it's not always the obvious thing. There's a whole rich layer in there. And there's some stuff which is on the surface, which people call out all the time. But there's a whole lot of influences at work.
Shacknews: And last question, on a much lighter note, I wouldn't be much of a Star Wars fan if I didn't ask… is there any chance we see BD-1 merchandise in the future?
Contreras: We sure hope so! They have my credits already!
Magers: I bought a BD-1 sweatshirt already! It's more of a Lucasfilm/Disney question, because they're in charge of the merchandising. But I would be lining up, as well.
Contreras: For sure! I think everyone on the dev team would buy it!
Shacknews: We will make our voices heard!
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is just around the corner. The game is set to release on November 15 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. For a more detailed look at the game, be sure to check out our recent hands-on preview.