The organizers of MIGS 15 paid my way to Montreal. Our coverage remains objective.
MONTREAL — After Electronic Arts scored a deal to make Star Wars games in partnership with Disney’s Lucasfilm, the company decided to add more creative firepower. Among the new blood are Jade Raymond, the former creative exec at Ubisoft and now founder of EA’s Motive game studio in Montreal, and Amy Hennig, a former script writer and game director at Naughty Dog and one of the principal creators of the Jak & Daxter and Uncharted video game franchises. She’s also the new creative director at EA’s Visceral Games studio in Redwood City, Calif.
Creators like Hennig and Raymond have kept triple-A console and PC games at the top of the pyramid of the $91 billion game industry. Their games have generated hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars for the companies they have worked for. They are reminders that video games are fundamentally at their heart a creative business, and they believe deeply in the importance of stories in video games.
Now they’re teaming up to create games based on the Star Wars universe to coincide with the launch of the new Star Wars movies coming from Disney. We asked them why they wanted to join EA to make Star Wars games and how they became convinced that they would have a lot of creative freedom to create new stories within the canon of George Lucas’ enduring entertainment franchise.
Neither Hennig or Raymond contributed to EA’s first Star Wars title, Star Wars: Battlefront, and they’re not ready to talk about what they’re working on for future games. Multiple EA studios are working on Star Wars titles. Raymond oversees both Visceral and Motive while Hennig is attached to Visceral, which is run by general manager Scott Probst.
Along with Gamesindustry.biz journalist Brendan Sinclair, I was able to interview Hennig and Raymond about game storytelling at a dinner during the Montreal International Game Summit this week. I caught them just before they did a fireside chat the next morning in front of the MIGS 15 audience.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
GamesBeat: What philosophy do you have about storytelling? What’s your own talk you would give about how to do story in a game?
Amy Hennig: My talk would be about how there’s no right way to do it. The right way is what works for your audience, and that’s all kinds of things. There are games that have linear stories, games that have branching stories, games that have minimal story – you’re inferring the story as you play. But they’re all effective.
I would argue that people who call out Journey as not being a traditional narrative—It’s an incredibly traditional narrative. But the player engages with that story through inference, so you feel like you’ve experienced it. Our challenge as game designers is not so much to be dogmatic about the right or wrong way to tell stories.
One form of interactivity is interpretation. I find poems and lyrics more interactive than a non-fiction book, because I’m actively engaged in interpreting that experience through the collision of metaphor and information. Games are like that. If you lead the player, even at the level of a linear-authored story that allows room for interpretation, it’s already more interactive in some way. The more austere a story is, like Journey, it leaves even more room for a player. But it doesn’t mean that anywhere else on that spectrum of authorship is right or wrong. It’s just a different genre.
Our goal as game-makers, always, is to make sure we enable as much player agency and choice as possible within the space that makes sense in the game. That doesn’t mean we want to make absolutely linear games where the player is just along for the ride. They should be able to freestyle within that experience. But there’s also a lot of evidence that people love being taken on a journey by a good storyteller.
GamesBeat: Your stories are better than the stories that other people tell, though.
Hennig: My stories? No, no.
GamesBeat: Or the stories in the games that you’ve made.
Hennig: That’s very flattering. But the games that have moved me the most are games like Journey, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and I think it’s because—Even though I’ve made very authored games, very traditional stories, my ability to interpret that experience within the frame of my own experience has been a more emotional journey for me.
But that would be the wrong thing to do for a game like Uncharted, which is meant to be a romp in the spirit of classic pulp adventure. One could argue that it’s the wrong thing to do for Star Wars. You have to respect your genre.
Jade Raymond: I agree that there are different types of players, though, and they’re looking for different experiences in their games.
Hennig: Something I think is interesting philosophically is that idea of, what does a story mean? I don’t want to get dogmatic either, because I don’t like dogma about things. Like I said, story implied authorship. It implies intent and structure. A well-told story generally doesn’t meander. It has very specific landmarks and beats and upturns and downturns and obstacles and reversals. It has a resolution that you want to feel both surprising and inevitable. That’s story.
The risk of a game that is a completely open experience for the player, without any structure, is that a series of events will happen to the player and they may interpret that as story in their experience. But in the literal sense, is there a story if there’s no author?
Raymond: You also might think that it’s a great marriage of the two. Different players are looking for a different amount of authorship and a different amount of agency. We’re trying to find how to push and redefine that type of narrative-driven experience. We’re looking for more player agency and different types of interaction.
Hennig: The more you leave the player to interpret their experience – if you don’t crowd them or control them too much – and the more room you leave for choice and the ability to freestyle the experience, the more they’re going to feel like they really lived that story. Those values are still present no matter what kind of story you’re trying to tell in a game.
While that’s something we’re still exploring, it’s completely valid to tell an authored story in a game. We’re just trying to figure out the best way to do that, with as much choice as possible, with as much discovery and creativity and agency on the player’s part that we can.
GamesBeat: I’m a big Uncharted fan. I do think that the leap from Uncharted to Uncharted 2 was a huge leap in storytelling. I’m not sure what it was, but —
Hennig: We were just firing on all cylinders.
Raymond: It’s always the second game, where you finally get to do what you wanted to do the first time.
Hennig: We didn’t even have that much time. But we had the whole studio. Everyone was raring to go and do all the things we weren’t able to do before. You’re just finding your feet the first time, writing the engine. Sometimes the stars just align, too.
GamesBeat: I like the line Elena says to Chloe when they meet the first time. “Hello. I’m last year’s model.”
Hennig: That’s one of my favorites, too. I love those characters.
GamesBeat: It had memorable dialogue.
Hennig: If you’re going to do it, do it as well as you can. That means taking the right amount of care and investment and approaching it in the right way. Maybe not all game developers do. Maybe story and character are afterthoughts sometimes. It takes a lot of nurturing.
Raymond: The difference between the first Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II was basically that we added narrative. With the first one, we had a mandate from the head office – no cinematics, no scripted events, never take away camera control from the player. We were experimenting with a bunch of stuff. And then the difference between the first one, which was an 82, and the second one, a 90, was that we added more narrative. Everyone liked. It was a better, more polished experience.
Hennig: I get just as annoyed as anyone by cinematics if they’re bad. I’m tapping the button trying to get past it too. But if it’s a well-told story and I’m invested in the characters and why they’re doing what they’re doing, I feel like it’s a reward for the work I did to get to that cinematic.
We’re still figuring out ways to tell story in the most interactive way possible. But sometimes you need the craft of camera and close-ups and all the things that realtime gameplay fights.
GamesBeat: I’m not sure I like the ability to do so many open worlds now. You get your big open world in a level, and then you reach the little bottleneck at the end representing some kind of choice you make. You go through that story part and then you get to the next open world and you can do whatever you want until you get back to the story.
Batman: Arkham Knight did a lot of that. The commercial has the line about, “This is the night Batman died.” So I want to go straight there and find out about that. But then I hit all this open world stuff and I don’t know where to go to follow that main narrative.
Hennig: We hear that anecdotally a lot. It’s like what we said – different tastes for different players. Not everybody likes the same movies. Not everybody is going to like the same type of game. But I’m like you. I don’t get that much time to play games. When I do play them, I want to be able to finish them. I want to have that complete experience. A lot of my friends feel the same way. They’re older gamers too, with families and other responsibilities. They find themselves lost in these games as well. I have to think there’s a happy medium.
GamesBeat: All they have to do is flag the next mission. There can be 10 different paths to go down, but just make it clear which one is the main path.
Raymond: There is something magical when surprising systemic things happen. You can tell people, “Oh, I did this, and then this and that happened! What happened to you?” That’s amazing. It’s something we’re looking for as well. When you can package that up, you get the perfect balance of a surprising, unique experience alongside the narrative. That’s a magic combination.
I don’t think anyone has found the secret recipe, though. Like you said, some games are striving for 100 percent player agency, and you end up getting lost or missing the story entirely or off on random quests to fetch things. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you feel like you have no agency. You’re just doing quick time events, pressing buttons. Neither of those is the answer. But I think there’s a sweet spot, and that’s what excites me personally. We have to find out what the perfect interactive game can be.
There’s something fundamental about humans and story, since forever. One of the first things people would do together was sit around the fire and share stories. It’s part of our culture as humans. That’s how traditions were passed on. It’s incredibly important to us, living other people’s experiences through stories. When we’re doing training events, learning how to speak to a crowd, the number one thing is to always communicate what you’re trying to say in terms of a story. All of a sudden our brains light up and we pay attention to a story.
But again, what does it mean to our interactive medium? The author isn’t necessarily the developer. The author is the player as well. It’s a little like real life. If you walk down the street and happen to run into your friend, you didn’t author that. Something else was at work. It’s part of a story that happened to you and you didn’t decide it yourself. I don’t have total control over the stories that happen to me every day. But what’s the perfect marriage? We’re still figuring that out.
Hennig: I think that’s it, and it’s an answer to your question as well. People’s Let’s Play videos on YouTube should look the same in some ways. They’re going to hit the same pinch points. But how they get there should be their own version.
The games I’ve enjoyed most, I feel like it’s a collaboration between the director and me. They were spooling out the story, but it was mine to interpret and experience. That should be our highest goal. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t author something. It means we should engage the player and collaborate with the player.
GamesBeat: I liked Until Dawn, this summer, with the whole butterfly effect.
Hennig: Yeah, I liked that too.
GamesBeat: It must have been a giant pain for a designer or storyteller, though. You have to write a thousand stories.
Hennig: I can’t even imagine what that document must have looked like.
Raymond: Especially for a smaller developer.
GamesBeat: They said that there were 10,000 pages of dialogue across the two games they created because the original version got cancelled and they had to redo it.
Hennig: I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve really been enjoying it. My family won’t let me play it unless they’re there, so it’s very slow going.
GamesBeat: I’ve played it three times. Doing a tips-and-tricks thing turned out to be my most popular story of the year – how to survive with all eight characters alive.
Hennig: I don’t think I’m doing that well. How’s the game doing?
GamesBeat: I think it’s done surprisingly well. But it’s a Sony exclusive, so it has a more limited market.
Raymond: Have you played Fallout?
GamesBeat: I just barely started. I’m in the first little town.
Raymond: I am too. It took me forever to install. All right, carved out an hour and a half to play this game, but—
Hennig: Between Fallout, Battlefront, and Tomb Raider, I don’t know—I’m going to have to take some vacation time.
Hennig: That keeps happening to me. I’m finding games that are still in the plastic at home. What’s been your favorite game lately?
GamesBeat: Rise of the Tomb Raider, actually.
Raymond: How much have you played?
GamesBeat: I finished it. I had a pretty hellish last month or so. I finished Halo 5, Tomb Raider, and Call of Duty as well. I had to almost do some all-nighters. But Rise of the Tomb Raider, they’re living up to the empowerment side of that story now.
Hennig: That’s the one I want to play first and most. I love it.
Raymond: It might be controversial, but I didn’t like the last one.
GamesBeat: The last one transformed toward the end into this mass-murdering thing again.
Hennig: Tone is so hard in these things. But I just mean, the whole franchise holds a special place in my heart. And a lot of my friends still work there.
GamesBeat: They give better justification for all the action in this one. But the action at the end of the reboot was getting ridiculous. She’s going from being sympathetic for the deer she kills to taking out ten guys at a time.
Raymond: That’s always the dichotomy that I feel like would be easy to fix. But no one’s ever done it very well. Even in Batman. You race around your Batmobile running over pedestrians so you can save people. It just isn’t reflected so well. I can only criticize so much. I’ve done tons of dumb things like that.
Hennig: But it was called Assassin’s Creed. You kind of gave yourself permission.
Raymond: But that’s the hard thing in general about games. If you’re trying to be a hero, but you have the ability to do all these things, how do you follow a story that’s written in a particular way when the player is able to do anything?
Hennig: And what we do is so variable, so iterative, building these things. Sometimes the solution is in genre. It’s easier to work around that stuff if it’s a fantasy in some way.
Raymond: But I feel like the link should be—If, for example, you’re writing 2000 lines of dialogue for your story anyway, wouldn’t it be easier to just say, “I have these five bits I’m tracking. How many civilians have you killed?” And just reflect that somehow in the story, so that when you encounter someone, they comment, “Okay, you must be a real badass now, because you’ve been driving like an asshole.”
Hennig: But if you have a game that has cinematics, now you have to maintain all these branches. This character’s going to call you out for being a murderer versus—
Raymond: But maybe there’s a smart way to do it. The camera’s on you when the character says X line, but then—You have to plan for it, but you can probably do something smart.
Sinclair: I like the way developers account for that but don’t quite do it adequately enough. Do you remember True Crime? I loved that game, because as a cop, I could go out and shoot five people in the street and get negative five cop karma, and then give five speeding tickets and go back to neutral. And people would react to you based on the cop karma numbers, so clearly the developers looked at it and said, “We need to make some kind of adjustment here for whatever actions you’re performing.” They had the idea, but the implementation is just kind of —
Raymond: When I think about games—You go to school and you take tests. You get it back and you got a 90. Great, good job, you’re a smart kid, pat on the back.
After you finish school you go out in the real world. You get evaluations at your job, but it’s all in this soft style. Who knows? It’s not like I got the math questions right. I don’t really know how well I’m doing. Your life is missing that sense of clear accomplishment and doing well. Promotions are so vague.
What I love about games is that a lot of these systems are trying to boil down the rules we deal with in real life into something simple. You can have the sense of clear satisfaction that you don’t necessarily get in real life after you finish school.
Sinclair: We play games because we miss math tests?
Raymond: That’s what I’m saying, if you want to put it very simply. We miss that digestible—There’s no formula. It’s interesting. In RPGs you see it in the clearest way. You can invest in different points and things that try to distill the skills we use in life. You want to be strong? You want stamina? You want intelligence? You want charisma? All of those things.
I’m playing Fallout now, and it’s funny. It just takes the rules of human interaction and systematizes them so they’re understandable. In real life you can’t do that, because it’s not as simple as going with your strategy of maxing out charisma. But I think that’s cool about games. You get to experiment with a lot of different approaches.
Sinclair: Is that another uncanny valley, though? Where you have systems that get closer and closer to being accurate to life, and any flaw stands out that much more?
Raymond: Maybe? But that’s what’s interesting in games. If you get the tone right, it can be a comment, a social commentary, rather than—For example, I’m a huge fan of science fiction. What I always loved about it is the way it exaggerates things going on in the present day to an extreme level as a way of highlighting what’s going on. “If you continue what you’re doing now, this is where you’ll end up.”
Games, by doing that kind of simplification—If you do it with meaning and intent, you can also make people more aware in a powerful way. Instead of falling in the uncanny valley, the opposite way to look at it is you can highlight some part of the human condition, some part of the rules we have in place in society.
Sinclair: I’d love to see that happen, and I’ve for the audience to recognize when that sort of commentary is put in a game. Right now, media literacy in general — even just with the written word, on the whole it’s so — it’s rare that people will actually look for substance in the stuff they consume as it is. And then to do it in something so soft as systems, as opposed to something so literal as the words on the page and what you’re saying —
Raymond: They might not be able to verbalize it, but they’re probably coming to conclusions. Early in my career I was at EA working on The Sims. There was a lot of research being done at the time about The Sims and why people played it and how they played it. What was interesting about that research is it found a lot of different people playing the game for a lot of different reasons.
People from outside the U.S., Europeans, were playing the game as a way to sort of role-play American life and the American value system – the capitalist ideal of getting more money and getting more things to become more efficient and work harder at my job and back around. That’s the gameplay loop of The Sims.
Hennig: What about trapping people in a walled area with no bathroom?
Raymond: That was a different demographic. That was the American bro thing to do. But people from outside the U.S. were actively role-playing an American lifestyle. I don’t necessarily think Will Wright had it in mind to codify capitalist values in his game. But without acknowledging it, people were still realizing, “Okay, this is the value system at work here.” They were coming to that conclusion without verbalizing it.
To me, that’s another exciting thing about games. We have the narrative level. Let’s not throw it away or discount it. We have all this stuff that exists in movies that’s so powerful. But we can also reinforce it with game systems. When you make sure that’s all in line, you can really impact people.
GamesBeat: The Last of Us might be my favorite game of all time. There was more of a match between —like, Tomb Raider, at the end of the game, you’re killing too many people. They become disposable. But in The Last of Us, every single fight is a life and death struggle. It matches.
Hennig: That’s what I mean about genre. It was very smart to pick a genre that suited the brutality of the gameplay. They could make sure there wasn’t this cognitive dissonance between what you had to do to play the game and what it meant in the context of the story. That’s very smart. But not every game can do that.
The question is, then—A game like Uncharted that might have that dissonance, should you not make that? Or do you just do your best to make sure it’s as non-dissonant as possible?
GamesBeat: It got to a point where Drake would joke about how many people he had to kill.
Hennig: That’s why we took some of that away. And we did do a little winking back at the audience at how ridiculous it was. “No, we don’t take this seriously either.” But it becomes tough. Movies are a passive medium. You’re the privileged observer. You aren’t necessarily meant to identify with the protagonist. If they have flaws, you just observe them. If that character is the one you’re playing, though, you’re complicit in their actions.
Taken to the wrong extreme, it means we’re very limited in the kinds of games we can make because we’re trying to avoid causing that dissonance, and that would be a shame. It’s a tricky problem to solve. I don’t think we throw up our hands and say, “It’s just a game, get over it.” But it is hard to solve.
The games I’ve found most effective actually played into that. Did you play Brothers? That was a great example of using mechanics to make you feel something.
GamesBeat: Yeah, that was great.
Hennig: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus affected me in the same way. It’s interesting watching people play Ico and make that experience their own. Everyone had to get through certain gates of the story, but I watched some people play it – usually young guys – where they’d say, “God, this girl is so annoying. I’m going to plant her in a corner and do all this stuff and then go get her.” But other players were all about keeping the girl with them. Their experience was completely different, even if it was all still very authored within that. That’s the kind of stuff we should be aspiring to.
Any game that makes you feel something through mechanics is great. That’s hard to do. I feel like some of us have succeeded with it at moments in our games, but then the rest of the game maybe devolves into the typical. You just have these shining moments where it all comes together. And then there are games where they’re able to maintain it. Those are the ones I remember.
GamesBeat: What I remember about The Last of Us was that it was almost heavy-handed in some ways. The story was controlled by the game designer, not you. The first 10 or 15 minutes of it —
Raymond: The beginning of The Last of Us was really tough. It had to teach a lot of basic stuff – where I want to move, that kind of thing. It’s a great game. But I felt like, on a basic level, I wasn’t allowed to go where I wanted to.
GamesBeat: In a way that was one of the best beginnings in a game I’ve ever seen, though, even though it was one of the least interactive.
Hennig: The things you could do were meaningful.
Raymond: It was a great beginning, and a good seamless tutorial leading you into stuff.
GamesBeat: And then it’s intentionally bookended with the ending that’s not interactive at all. I think the whole point was to tell you that story in the beginning and compare it to the story at the end.
Hennig: Well, of course. If you had the last-minute branch, that almost seems like a betrayal of the director’s hands on the reins. It needed to end the way it needed to end. It’s like asking for The Road to have a choose-your-own-adventure ending.
GamesBeat: I think I only tolerated that, though, because the story was so good. I wouldn’t want that in every other game.
Hennig: That’s what I’m saying. It’s all a variable based on what game you’re trying to make, what story you’re trying to tell, and how much you invest in that. Rather than just saying, “Yeah, we’ll do that” and not pouring your heart into it. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to pour your heart into it.
We’re all trying to move the ball down the field. Even at Naughty Dog, it’s not like, “Well, this is how games are made. We want it to be rigidly authored.” Everyone wants to figure out how to make you feel the game more, to find that sweet spot Jade was talking about.
GamesBeat: Did you find yourself getting into arguments, as the scriptwriter, with the people who were designing the game mechanics?
Hennig: Sure. But we’re all game designers. One of Naughty Dog’s strengths – and that of other games that feel like they’ve been recognized for narrative – is the investment in the writer as one of the core creatives on the game, and not just somebody you hire to write the dialogue. You want to live the story through the actions in the game, not just the dialogue and the cinematics.
It’s a push and pull. Sometimes the game needs something the story doesn’t. Sometimes the story needs something the game doesn’t. You try to find that sweet spot as much as you can. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. But you learn from those experiences and try to carry them to the next project.
You’re not going to get it right out of the gate, and maybe you’re never going to get it right. You’re going to move the ball down the field, like I said. As long as each game we make expands on how we do it and shows us doing it better.
GamesBeat: And so, of course, Star Wars — what was appealing to you about this job? The movie guys are creating the story, right? Or that’s the assumption I’m making.
Hennig: It’s the wrong assumption.
GamesBeat: OK. But the other thing was in Battlefront, the demo of Hoth they showed us. You’re fighting there, doing all this stuff, and at the end of it you run into Darth Vader. That’s not what happens in the movie. There’s a constraint, right?
Hennig: Keeping in mind that I’m not working directly on Battlefront, there’s a reason they keep coming back to that nostalgic key phrase – “Let’s play Star Wars.” It’s a manifestation of that nostalgic urge to pick up your action figures and make your own stories. That means you can pick up Darth Vader and Luke on Hoth and put them together, because it’s you in the backyard in the dirt with your action figures. That’s the beauty of that game.
GamesBeat: On your project, do you find an opportunity to be a writer on a game that’s constrained by what’s being done with the movies and everything else? Star Wars as a universe is very expansive, I guess.
Hennig: Sure. And they would say that. They want people to understand that the galaxy is bigger than the Skywalker saga. The galaxy has a lot of stories to tell. You can see that in the stand-alone films. The saga is seven, eight, and nine, and that finishes it out. Rogue One is its own film. The Han Solo film is a stand-alone film. There’s lots of room for other stories and characters and worlds. The galaxy is a big place.
My role, my mission that I was given when I joined, was to say, “How do we tell more stories?” I’ve been working closely with Lucasfilm since I joined, as has my team – with their story group, with their tech group, with Doug Chiang, their creative director. We’re trying to build more. They want people to be telling new stories. Not in the sense of, “How is this Star Wars?” It’s all connected. It’s like the Force. It binds everything together. That sense of destiny and inevitability and fate is really important to Star Wars stories.
But they’re very encouraging to their new creatives. Whether it’s Dave Filoni on Rebels and Clone Wars, or their new filmmakers like Gareth Edwards who’ve joined to work on the films, or Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, they’re very nurturing of their creatives to expand the galaxy and tell new stories with their guidance. They’ve been great partners.
GamesBeat: I’ve always thought of the Star Wars canon as both a restriction and in some ways an assist.
Hennig: Any time you’re trying to solve a creative problem, you want constraints. A blank slate is paralyzing. People tend to do their best work within constraints, whether it’s creative or time or whatever. They’ve been incredibly generous and free with those constraints.
Of course, it can’t be a free-for-all. “This character can’t be there in that time frame.” They’re trying to juggle all of these stories, including the comics and the novels and the games, to make sure it’s all woven together into this correlated whole. It’s been incredibly humbling to be part of that process. I’ve been working really closely with them for more than a year, fleshing out the story and working with the story group.
Raymond: Amy’s basically down at Lucasfilm every second week.
Hennig: It’s not like going in and saying, “Hey, can we get a rubber stamp for this?” We bring our story and our artwork and Doug Chiang is basically our art director. He’s worked with George and worked with Ralph McQuarrie. He reviews our stuff and helps us iterate on it.
We work with the story group, sitting down with Kiri Hart and Diana Williams and Pablo Hidalgo and the rest of the team. We walk through our story and brainstorm. They say, “Well, what if we did this?” and it grows. We talk to the filmmakers as well. It’s an unusual creative relationship. Their whole spirit is collaboration. They don’t want to have everyone silo’d off working on their projects.
I was skeptical when I came in. “How good could this be? It’s the biggest IP in the world. It’s Lucasfilm and Disney and Electronic Arts.” But it’s been amazing. To be able to work with these people who only want to nurture new ideas and good ideas and protect their creatives—It’s not what you would expect.
GamesBeat: Outside of the movies, do you have any favorite Star Wars stories?
Hennig: I’m a huge fan of the Christmas special. Bea Arthur is actually the hero of our new game. I know that’s going to be controversial, but she’s amazing. It was an awkward motion capture session, because she’s dead. It was a Weekend at Bernie’s kind of thing.
Honestly, I’d say that Dave Filoni blows my mind. I don’t know if you’re watching Clone Wars or Rebels, but the man learned at George Lucas’s knee. He knows Star Wars like nobody. I love what he’s doing with Rebels. It’s a kids’ show, but there’s a reason it’s considered canon. He knows his shit. He’s so passionate, and he’s been so helpful to us.
He’s such a fan of this stuff. He can look at our stuff and—I know that if I get a twinkle or a smile out of someone like Pablo, who’s studied Star Wars for his whole life, and Dave and Doug Chiang, I know we’re doing okay. It sounds like PR, but they couldn’t have been more supportive.
I probably wouldn’t have taken the job. I came in skeptical. “I’m going to be constrained by this giant IP and everyone’s going to be telling me what to do.” But it’s been the opposite. Just opening up the doors, getting to go the archives—We’ve gone to the ranch multiple times and just stayed there to soak up the atmosphere, work in the library, pull out all of George’s reference books and think about our story. We’ve studied all of Ralph McQuarrie’s original art in the archives, thinking about how we can build on that. You end up kind of tearing up now and again, when it hits you.
GamesBeat: Have you ever worked with someone else’s IP like this before?
Hennig: No. I’m trying to think? No. But it’s like my favorite thing ever. Everybody says that, of course. But I was 12 when it came out. I remember—You only have so many crystal clear memories in your life. For some reason they stick. I remember sitting in the theater in 1976 with my best friend, and the trailer for Star Wars came on. I could probably pick out our seats in the theater. We turned and looked at each other like, “Holy shit. The world just changed. What the hell was that?” From then on it, that was all I could think about.
Again, I’m not the only one with that experience. My co-writer, Todd Stashwick, he was eight, and he had the same experience. So did so many other people. Something just clicked into place. We felt it even then.