‘Star Wars Battlefront: Battle of Jakku’ (EA)
When it arrived in 2004, Star Wars Battlefront finally delivered on the promise of a worthy Star Wars video game, earning enthusiastic reviews and blowing up the sales charts. The following year’s sequel was another smash; but then the franchise went dormant, as George Lucas’s LucasArts games division fell into disarray, and the third installment got shelved indefinitely.
But, after Disney snapped up Lucasfilm and woke up the Force for another cinematic go-round, Battlefront got its long-coming reboot. Designed by the Electronic Arts subsidiary DICE and released two weeks ago, the next-gen Battlefront immerses gamers into photorealistic combat as Luke, Han, Leia, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, or Emperor Palpatine through classic environments on Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor. EA expects sales of 13 million units by the end of the first quarter of 2016.
Original ‘Battlefront’ cover (LucasArts)
Beginning Tuesday, owners of the game will be able to download the free Battle of Jakku module, which serves as a prequel to The Force Awakens, explaining how the planet’s sandy surface became littered with the remains of starships (called the Graveyard of Giants) following an epic clash between Rebel and Imperial forces months after the events of Return of the Jedi. Up to 40 players can engage online in Jakku’s “Turning Point” mode.
Here, in their own words, the creators of Star Wars Battlefront explain how they used unprecedented access to Lucasfilm’s treaures and J.J. Abrams’s desert set to translate the movie saga into one of the year’s top video games.
‘Battle of Jakku’ module concept art (EA)
Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir (Senior Producer, Star Wars Battlefront): I have always loved Star Wars and I remember it from a very early age, playing with my Kenner toys and running around with made-up blaster pistols. Through the years I’ve watched the movies, acquired some Legos, decorated my Christmas tree with Kenner toys, and even been given Darth Stewie — a mashup of Family Guy and Star Wars — pajama pants. Which I sleep in. Now that I’m working on it, I’ve completely geeked and allowed myself to be completely surrounded by Star Wars on a daily basis.
Niklas Fegraeus (Design Director): It was a passion project. We really, really wanted to do it. We have such fond memories of the original Battlefront games. … The scary thing was of course to pitch this to Lucasfilm, but fortunately they loved the idea! Getting access to [Lucasfilm’s] archived material and experience was the amazing thing that happened as a result, and I can’t thank them enough.
Once Lucasfilm was onboard, the team got to live out every fan’s dream: They got the run of the company’s archives in San Francisco — the ultimate Star Wars museum — to create the game’s movie-accurate graphics.
Ingvarsdottir: Being on the campus in the Presidio, seeing all the props and images and posters from the work that has been done by them and by ILM, felt like being at a place where very important work is done that furthers moviemaking and storytelling for our time.
Examining Vader and Stormtrooper helmets in the Lucasfilm archive (Lucasfilm/EA)
Andrew Hamilton (Lead Environment Artist): In our extensive trips to the archives we captured all kinds of assets – from characters to vehicles. Working with the content from the archives was an ongoing process throughout production. We visited the archives multiple times to capture all the pieces we needed to faithfully recreate our key characters and props in digital form.
X-wing fighter blueprints (Lucasfilm/EA)
After acquiring hundreds of unique assets, our talented character artists team here at DICE set out to recreate them with a strong focus on incredible detail and authenticity.
X-wing vehicle sketches (Lucasfilm/EA)
Ingvarsdottir: We had incredible access. We’ve held lightsabers that are used in the movies, captured Darth Vader’s and Boba Fett’s costumes to bring into the game, and been given access to tons of reference and production materials used to create the original trilogy. We’ve also been able to look at the original production concept art by artists such as Ralph McQuarrie and listened to lectures by the likes of [Oscar-winning visual effects legends] Dennis Muren and John Knoll, people who’ve had phenomenal influence in movie-making.
Darth Vader’s disassembled helmet and prop lightsaber (Lucasfilm/EA)
Hamilton: Bringing objects from the real world into the digital world is possible through a technique called Photogrammetry. This process involved taking hundreds of photos of a single object from all possible directions, then running these photos through photogrammetry software to piece a high-quality 3D object together.
Photographing an AT-ST model (Lucasfilm/EA)
When this high-quality 3D object is then in the hands of an artist, they thoroughly and painstakingly work over the object to make it ‘game-ready,’a version of the object that works within our game engine. What the players see in the end while playing Star Wars Battlefront is an accurate and authentic representation of a very quality 3D object.
Some assets were quite difficult to capture, such as the shiny black helmet of Darth Vader, and needed to be accurately recreated by our character artists at DICE.
Preparing Vader helmet for photography (Lucasfilm/EA)
Outside of characters and machines, we also recreated all of our environments from capturing content in the real locations where filming took place in the original trilogy, traveling to amazing locations such as Death Valley in California [Tatooine] and Finse in Norway [Hoth].
The level of detail extends to numerous Easter eggs sprinkled through the game.
Ingvarsdottir: If you look closely you might see a Stormtrooper bumping his head in one of our cut scenes, echoing a famous scene from A New Hope, or see a Wampa or a herd of Banthas, or find Ewoks and Jawas trying to stay out of harm’s way in combat. There are plenty to find and exploration is for sure rewarded.
In addition to extensively mining the archives, the team also had access to Abrams’s top-secret Jakku location in Abu Dhabi to capture the feel of the desert planet key to The Force Awakens’s plot.
Hamilton: We were on set in Abu Dhabi for just under a week, after signing quite an extensive NDA for the understandably tight security. These were the very first days of production shooting for The Force Awakens, and we were right in the heart of the action, situated far out in Liwa Desert with the production crew, with the temperatures soaring to an almost unbearable 50 degrees Celsius, 122 degrees Fahrenheit. While we were pointing our cameras at the sand to capture our surface materials, enormous explosions were booming in the background from a desert settlement under attack.
‘Star Wars Battlefront: Battle of Jakku’ (EA)
While their time on set introduced the game designers to the next wave of characters and vehicles, their brief visit precluded them from seeing too much. So is there anything they’re particularly psyched about seeing in The Force Awakens?
Ingvarsdottir: Yes. All of it. Repeatedly.
‘Battle of Jakku’ key art with downed Star Destroyer featured in ‘The Force Awakens’ trailer (EA)
With Disney planning Star Wars sequels and anthology series from here to eternity, beginning with The Force Awakens, we might not have to wait a decade for the next iteration of Battlefront, at least if the producers have any say.
Fegraeus: It would be amazing to be able to do more Star Wars and Battlefront. Like everyone else, I am looking forward to seeing the new film and experiencing the new era of Star Wars that is starting now. What that is and what it could be in terms of games, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be super cool. If I get a chance to contribute and be part of that, I’d take it with a smile on my face!