Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron Developer Interview
Star Wars fans rejoice. Your gaming needs are about to be met with Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron. This is not some port or retread of a PS2 or PS3 title. Renegade Squadron is being developed by Rebellion, a UK based game development group responsible for such titles as GUN: Showdown and Rogue Trooper. Rebellion is a unique developer in that they also produce comics under the 2000 AD label with titles like Judge Dredd and Nemesis The Warlock. It’s this tie to the world of comics, and the storytelling aspects that both gamers and comic fans should get excited about. Battlefront has been known for it’s fun multi-player, a feature Rebellion expands on and enhances with a unique Han Solo storyline.
Q: How were you approached to develop Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron?
[Mike Burnham] Our business development team sat down next to a representative from LucasArts at a games conference a couple of years go. LucasArts just happened to be looking for a top quality developer for the next PSP Battlefront game. We had just successfully finished a number of high-profile PSP titles and are obviously huge Star Wars fans, so it seemed like a match made in heaven… and with a name like Rebellion, it was obviously meant to be!
Q: Were there aspects of the first Battlefront PSP title you’ve tried to keep in your game?
[Mike Rosser] The first title was very successful, so we tried to retain all that was good about it, and improve wherever we could, adding new content and features. On a general level, we tried to keep the fast and furious action that fans of the franchise expect. Being more specific, the game defaults to an improved control scheme that’s new to Battlefront PSP, but we’ve also kept the ‘Default’ control scheme from Battlefront II PSP for returning fans.
Q: Which features, if any, did you not like and remove or take a shot at improving?
[Mike Rosser] We removed a few features that we felt didn’t add much to the experience, such as the ‘Challenge’ game modes. Other than that notable exception, it was mainly a case of improving and upping the ante. So where the first title had four-player Ad-Hoc multiplayer, we have eight-player Ad-Hoc and 16-player Infrastructure. The first title didn’t feature a campaign story, ours does. One of the largest overhauls has been for the Galactic Conquest mode — we’ve added layers of strategy onto the meta-game, so that it’s like playing a game of Risk-lite in which you actually get to fight each battle, if you so choose. I’m very happy with the way this turned out, and I hope future games in the franchise can continue in this vein and improve even further.
[Mike Burnham] The “Class” based character selection system is tried and tested in the FPS genre but we felt that Star Wars — and its fans — deserved more, so we designed a customization system to really allow the player to play in their own style. Along with this, the personalization system was added allowing the player to not just play in a style unique to their character, but to also look the part as well. Remember that all this had to fit on a PSP, so we gave special attention to the menu systems, but hopefully that will be obvious once people see how easy it is to set up your character the way you want.
Q: How is the experience with a Star Wars based title? Have you been to the Ranch?
[Mike Rosser] Working on a Star Wars title has been great! We didn’t get to go to the Ranch, but we did visit the Letterman Digital Arts Center (the new home of LucasArts) several times. It was a bit like a geek pilgrimage — we just wandered around in a state of bliss, checking out all the cool Star Wars/Indy concept art that graces the corridors. Then we got taken on a tour of the ILM studios, which are littered with pieces of movie history, such as Han frozen in carbonite. After that, we went outside and took photos of ourselves by a fountain with a Yoda statue in it. Yes, we are that nerdy.
Q: Have there been unique hurdles working on a title set in such a vast universe such as Star Wars as opposed to creating a unique title in Gun?
[Mike Rosser] Rebellion only handled the PSP version of GUN, so I can’t really comment on creating that particular IP from scratch. In general, however, working with the Star Wars universe is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ve got this established, resonant universe to draw inspiration from, and that’s great. On the other hand, the fact that the “canon” is so sacrosanct can also be a bit constrictive. For Renegade Squadron’s campaign, our creative brief was to create a story that stretches from the Battle of Yavin to the Battle of Endor, heavily involves Han Solo, and is as non-Expanded Universe as possible. This presented us with several challenges to overcome. The “non-EU” directive meant that we had to change tack somewhat from our initial drafts, changing our Zabrak protagonist to human, and changing some of the more esoteric worlds to more familiar ones like Tatooine. Even Saleucami, which is actually featured in Episode III (albeit briefly), was nearly axed because it was thought to be unfamiliar to most fans. The main challenge was crafting a story in which Han could play a part, despite the game occurring during a very congested period in terms of prior fiction. Basically, lots has already been written about Han’s many adventures in a relatively short space of time (in novels, comics, games etc.), so trying to figure out gaps in his schedule was a bit of a headache! In the end, however, we’ve created a story that I hope will appeal to both casual and hardcore Star Wars fans.
Q: Since Rogue Trooper many of your titles have been PSP in origin, is this a direction you’ll keep going, or do you have plans to tackle the next-gen’s?
[Tim Jones] Our internal technology (The Asura Engine) is designed for cross-platform development, so we are equally at home creating games on the PSP, PS2, Wii, 360, PS3 or PC. We have some *really* exciting titles in development on 360 and PS3 at the moment that are looking absolutely fantastic and are guaranteed to blow your socks off — watch this space…
Q: I’ve seen pics of your offices, totally decked out in Star Wars gear. How big a Star Wars geek were you guys before getting this title to create?
[Mike Rosser] A lot of us were pretty hardcore Star Wars geeks from childhood, so landing this project was a dream come true.
Rich May (lead programmer), Wayne Adams (designer) and Dan Meeuws (lead artist) all have their desks adorned with original Star Wars toys from their ’80s childhoods. Indeed, so geeky were we, we felt it necessary to keep track of “Nerd Points” for the duration of the project. Whenever someone revealed knowledge of some obscure part of Star Wars lore, they were awarded a Nerd Point. When the scores were totted up at the end of the project, Wayne Adams was the runaway winner; we called him the “Oracle” because it was easier to just ask him about any aspect of Star Wars, no matter how obscure, rather than look it up.
Q: Speaking of geekdom, your IGN blog reveals Asajj Ventress from the Clone Wars animation is making it into the game. Being a comic based company are there any plans to incorporate Dark Horse comic created characters?
[Mike Rosser] Alas, no — that’s something that would have been very cool to do, but as I mentioned earlier, our focus for this game wasn’t really on the Expanded Universe.
Q: Which character have you most enjoyed creating in this game?
[Mike Rosser] The only new character to feature in Renegade Squadron is Col Serra — he’s a friend of Han Solo, and the leader of Renegade Squadron. We had a lot of fun coming up with his look and attitude, but he’s mainly there as a narrative device to tell the story. Personally, I had most fun with integrating existing characters (such as IG-88, Darth Vader and the Emperor) into the storyline. However, it’s also worth noting that one of the great things about Renegade Squadron, with its robust customization, is that you can create countless versions of your own Star Wars characters…
Q: Have there been thoughts about creating a unique novel or comic based on the Renegade Squadron?
[Tim Jones] It has been discussed and is certainly a possibility. A number of Rebellion’s titles have been adapted into comics or novels, including Gunlok, Judge Dredd, Sniper Elite and Rogue Trooper.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration for game creation? For Star Wars do you read the comics (Dark Horse), novels, play with toys?
[Mike Rosser] I try to draw inspiration from as many different sources as possible. At the beginning of the project, I spent days trawling Wookieepedia, just reading random articles and trying to immerse myself entirely in the Star Wars lore. I also went back to the source, i.e. the films, trying to pick up on throwaway lines and incidental details that we could flesh out. For instance, a diversionary attack on Sullust is mentioned during a conversation between Vader and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. In Renegade Squadron, you’ll get to take part in that attack. Or consider the planet Boz Pity, which is mentioned in passing by Obi-Wan Kenobi in one of the prequels. In Renegade Squadron, you’ll get to go there. Often, pulling at threads like these would lead to other sources; for example, I read a Dark Horse comic called (I think!) Obsession, in which Anakin searches for Asajj Ventress on Boz Pity, before sitting down to draft the design for that particular level.
Q: Your site mentions that many of your titles from 2000 AD are prime material for videogame adaptations. Which ones would be first up for creation if you were given the budget, staff and resources needed?
[Tim Jones] Probably Strontium Dog (the time-traveling mutant bounty hunter) , Slaine (the warp-spasming celtic barbarian king), or the ABC Warriors (the marauding war robots of Kaos) are the most obvious fan favorites.
Q: When will we see another Judge Dredd game stateside to wash the still bad taste of Stallone’s movie from our pallets?
[Tim Jones] All in good time…
Q: Will Rebellion be the first company to create a video game (Rebellion) with its own comic (2000 AD), novel (Abaddon Books) and major movie tie-in all created in-house?
[Tim Jones] It’s a distinct possibility!
Q: To wrap up this inquisition, favorite game all-time …
[Mike Burnham] Angband
[Mike Rosser] Day of the Tentacle
[Tim Jones] Star Wars Arcade Game (the original sit-down Vector graphic version)
Q: … favorite comic character all-time …
[Mike Burnham] Mister X
[Mike Rosser] Captain Haddock
[Tim Jones] Dream (aka Morpheus / Oneiros / Lord Shaper / Lord Kai’ckul / Lord L’Zoril / The Prince of Stories / The Carrion King / The Sandman)
Q: and who wins in a fight, Vader or Maul?
[Mike Burnham] Vader
[Mike Rosser] Vader
[Tim Jones] Vader would obviously kick Darth Maul’s butt (if Obi-Wan hadn’t already sliced it off!)