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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Preview

publisher: LucasArts
developer: LucasArts
genre: Action

ESRB rating: T

release date: Sep 16, 08
» All About Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on ActionTrip

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is one of the most highly anticipated games for this fall. It's in development for a variety of platforms including the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Wii, DS and PSP. The game is scheduled to hit retail on September 16, 2008. So, with only a month away from release, the developers are busy with finalizing the project. Mind you, they were kind enough to spare a few moments to satisfy our journalistic curiosity and speak about what makes this game tick.

The Force Unleashed Project Lead, Haden Blackman is a veteran at LucasArts and has been involved with this particular title for several years. We discuss some of the key points of the project, from storytelling and the developer's cooperation with George Lucas, to gameplay specifics such as lightsaber combat techniques, balancing the AI, Force powers and more.

ActionTrip: How long have you been with LucasArts and what's your part in the project SW: The Force Unleashed?

Haden Blackman: I've been with LucasArts almost 11 years. I served as the Project Lead on The Force Unleashed, which at LucasArts is essentially a hybrid between an executive producer and creative director. I set the vision for the game and was accountable for bringing it home across all platforms.

AT: To what extent was your team restricted while working on characters, worlds and other aspects of the game. How much of the development was overseen by George Lucas?

HB: I don't think we ever felt restricted at all. Early on, we worked with George Lucas to determine the setting for the game -- the era between Episodes III and IV -- and he gave us a rundown of what is happening during that time period. He told us the types plots Darth Vader might be hatching, what some of the major characters are doing, and how the Emperor might play a role in any story we create. Once we had an approved story (which took many months), we checked in with George Lucas and Lucasfilm Licensing periodically, but we basically had a great deal of freedom to explore the time period, really push the boundaries of the Force, and tell the story in a way we felt would be most compelling.

AT: What about storytelling? Does the game follow a linear plot or will players be able to choose how things unfold?

HB: The player will have some choices that impact the outcome of the game, but we really focused on a strong central narrative that feels true to the Star Wars films and allows for character development. In terms of player choices, we also wanted to invest a lot of our energy and effort into gameplay significant choices: so, you can choose how to rank up and improve your powers, or which combos to buy, for example.

AT: Other than Vader and Bail Organa, will we see any other familiar characters from the movies or the SW: Expanded Universe?

HB: Yes. Princess Leia has a pivotal role, as does the Emperor. We also have a few surprise cameos from the films and the Expanded Universe, which I think will show fans that we are committed to staying true to the existing continuity wherever possible.

AT: The main character's Force powers are clearly the heart of the gameplay. However, we would like to know more about the lightsaber fights. Have you guys worked on perfecting the combat techniques for lightsaber duels?

HB: From the outset, we considered the lightsaber one of your most important Force powers - we wanted to treat it like the other powers, re-imagining how the main character might use it in the context of the Force "unleashed." In all versions of the game, we focused more on accessibility and having something visceral and cool happen every time you hit a button (for wing the Wii remote, in the case of the Wii version) over hardcore dueling or hardcore fighting game mechanics. We created a versatile combo system that allows you to not only string together lightsaber attacks, but also combine them with Force powers: you can charge up your lightsaber with lightning, for example, or end an attack with a violent Force push that sends your enemy into the upper decks. There are dozens of combos, ranging from "easy" two-button press combos to advanced launchers. The lightsaber also has two distinct attack patterns: if you button mash really fast, you get a series of light attacks that are quick, but do only moderate damage. If you time your button presses right, you get a series of really flashy flourishes that actually hit an enemy multiple times, dealing a huge amount of damage. On the harder difficulties, mastering this can be really key.

In keeping with our focus on accessibility, the main character auto-blocks a percentage of blaster attacks coming at him, but you can also manually block which allows you to increase the chance that you'll block and actually reflect a bolt back at an enemy. Blocking is important in fights against melee units, including Jedi: if timed right, you can create an opening for a counter. Finally, we have both lightsaber and Force power lock mini-games, which occur when fighting specific units, including our bosses.

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