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Star Wars fans are going to want to pay attention to the next mobile game, even if they typically stick their noses up at free-to-play stuff.

Star Wars: Uprising is an action-role playing game from developer Kabam that lets players make their own characters and go on missions to earn loot alone or with friends. However, the real exciting part is that Uprising takes place after Return of the Jedi and before the new movie, The Force Awakens. This makes it the first Star Wars game set after the death of Darth Vader and the Emperor since Disney reset the canon (sorry, Dark Forces fans).

And this also means we now have our first idea of what happened in the Star Wars galaxy after the movies.

Uprising is set in the Anoat Sector, the area of the galaxy that contains familiar planets like Hoth and Bespin. After the Emperor’s death, the region’s Imperial governor closed off the sector from the rest of the galaxy with a blockade, shutting out the Rebellion and destroying anyone who tried to spread word of the Emperor’s death. Now, local smugglers, bounty hunters, and concerned citizens (including you) are fighting to find out the truth.

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GamesBeat talked to Daniel Erickson, who was the creative director of the role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic over at BioWare. He talked to us about the new game and working with Lucasfilm to help establish Star Wars’ new canon.


Uprising even gets its own Star Wars-style poster.

Above: Uprising even gets its own Star Wars-style poster.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: You must be in an interesting position. You’re talking with Disney and Lucasfilm, obviously, and getting some information about what should be happening in this post-Return of the Jedi world that no one’s really heard before.

Erickson: It is in fact the most carefully orchestrated and beautifully done multi-discipline thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve done everything from getting to sit down and look at different books to being taken to fully white rooms with no details in them, given a single piece of paper that I’m only allowed to read and not take notes under guard, and then marched out again. It’s unlike the old Extended Universe [now called “Star Wars: Legends” and all non-canon], which tended to get a little out-there — it had a lot of different people putting things in. Before Knights of the Old Republic, you had to almost put it together like old religious scripts and try to find the truth of things.

They had a central story team at Lucasfilm that is very, very carefully laying out everything that’s happening in this space. We get these interesting, strange pieces where we try to do something, and someone will say, uh, you actually can’t do that because of things I can’t tell you about. Or things where, hey, what you’re doing here is actually kind of interesting and looks a little bit like what these other three people are doing in different places. Let’s get this all together and make it the same thing. Let’s connect these dots. You have a really interesting character that you’ve put together here. Let’s make sure we know how this would look in these other properties. So fans are going to find a lot of threads, not just between Uprising, but between all of the things that are being pulled out from Lucasfilm right now.

GamesBeat: You said this is in a sort of quarantined sector. Should we not expect to see any famous characters?

Erickson: The interesting thing about that is, there are sort of pluses and minuses to it. You will definitely see particular people make appearances. They are not the stars of this thing. The most controlled storylines are obviously what’s going to happen to that small handful of people. We know what’s going to happen to them, so we can include some of that stuff, but we are not trying to tell that story.

GamesBeat: I do have to ask specifically about Lando, though. You have Bespin in there. Cloud City is floating around there.

Erickson: Yes, yes, yes. That’s part of the excitement, to get in there. Obviously, it’s Bespin that is most closely — we have to really dig in there and say, OK, let’s build a timeline. The Emperor is killed. There’s a celebration in Cloud City because the Imperial garrison pulls out. What happens next? Those are all fun things to work with.

stuff

Above: Ominous.

Image Credit: Kabam

GamesBeat: Is this going to be a free-to-play game?

Erickson: This is a free-to-play game, yes. Kabam RPG is dedicated to doing what we call “white hat free-to-play.” We come at it very much from a “there are no pay gates” angle. There is never something that doesn’t drop in the world. There is never any time you would have to pay. Our players pay because they are incredibly involved, because they are paying against the grind. They say, hey, I’d rather take a roll of this for premium currency than I would to hunt down that boss and hope I get the drop. The first game we did was Spirit Lords. There were things in there that still smelled to our players of free-to-play games, where they had bad experiences. We did work on the stamina system. We’ve removed anything you see — as a walk-in, first impression — that looks like free-to-play done in a way that people have not liked in the RPG space.

GamesBeat: What kind of things would people be buying?

Erickson: We still have a system where you can go to the supply guy and get random rolls for loot and gear. But all that loot and gear also drops out in the world. Through the sector battle system you can go in and — you basically run scouting missions to get battle plans, and you use those to do really high-powered missions and get the most victory points. You can pay directly for that if you want. If you don’t want to do the work to get the battle plans, you can directly pay through with the premium currency and just do you battle plans. Everything is either about maximizing what you’re doing at the moment or saving yourself time in the aggregate.

GamesBeat: When you talk about a Star Wars RPG, a lot of people will think of Knights of the Old Republic. Do you take any inspiration from those games, or are you doing your own thing?

Erickson: I’d say both. Before this, I was creative director on the Old Republic MMO. Before that I did Dragon Age over at BioWare. I definitely have a lot of experience there. At the same, we’re doing an action-RPG. We’ve also pulled in a lot of ex-Blizzard talent, a lot of Diablo vets. What I like to say is, as far as the depth of storytelling and how much you’re going to learn about Star Wars and how it’s going to feel to be in a place like this, it’s going to be more like KOTOR when you’re outside of running a mission. When you’re inside running a mission, it’s more like Diablo, an action-RPG. You can play simultaneously with your friends. We’re not doing a lot of chit-chat during the dungeon time. It’s a lot of smashing things, collecting loot, building cool characters and so on. But on the other side, Alex Freed is writing our script. We have several hundred pages of Star Wars script from someone who was a lead writer at BioWare, also a Star Wars novelist and a Star Wars comic book writer for Dark Horse. We’re taking the fact that we’re going to be making additions to the canon extremely seriously from the storytelling side.

It's not Star Wars without bounty hunters.

Above: It’s not Star Wars without bounty hunters.

Image Credit: Kabam

GamesBeat: Since the Disney merger, we’ve seen a couple of other Star Wars mobile games, like Commander. They’ve maybe been a bit more what we’ve come to expect from this market. What you’re doing here sounds more like a traditional PC game.

Erickson: That’s how we define ourselves. We’re a traditional RPG studio. Except for the constraints of the platform and how people use it — that’s really all we look at when we think of what it means to be mobile. We have hugely powerful devices that kick the crap out of the computers we had when we started playing RPGs. The idea that a mobile RPG has to be a simulator of an RPG, or a short attention-span thing that plays itself, or something that runs out of story content in the first 20 minutes — it’s just something that never entered our minds. We’re here to make the next great Star Wars RPG. We fully expect that when people talk about this in the future, they will talk about playing KOTOR and they’ll talk about playing Uprising. As the generations turn, we see this a lot with younger players. They don’t differentiate between the two. There’s not that gap anymore — I play this, but I don’t play that. Mobile is now the go-to, because so many people have it sitting around. As people upgrade their phones, they give their old phone to their kids to use with their wi-fi. It’s become this super-high-power equivalent of a Game Boy.

GamesBeat: Is this RPG experience going to have a definitive end to the story when it comes out, and then it’s supported by new content? Or is it going to be more open-ended?

Erickson: A little of both. The way we approach it, chapters one and two are what we’re scheduling for launch, which is a huge chunk of content. A few hundred pages of script. We try to parse it into kind of movie chunks, if you will, although obviously they take a lot longer because it’s an RPG. Chapter one would be a great stand-alone, meaty RPG by itself. We give you a good satisfying ending. There’s a good pace to it. But obviously the story isn’t over. You head into chapter two and we continue the Star Wars piece. Chapter one and two are what we’re looking at for worldwide launch. Chapter three is already in script approval and going through Lucasfilm. This is something that we are — we have built this thing and the structure of it planning for years in the future.

GamesBeat: Talking about the constraints of the time period you’re working with, I know a lot of people, when they think about playing a Star Wars game, they imagine playing as a Jedi. You’re in a time period where, aside from Luke, Star Wars doesn’t have a lot of Force-sensitive people. Are you going to be working in Force powers, or are you looking at different kinds of character types?

Erickson: We’re definitely focused on the other side of Star Wars. Our people tend to be street guys, bounty hunters, people who came from that underground perspective. That said, we are still Star Wars. What we can talk about, what will come in the future — we are set to evolve as the canon of the new movies evolves and introduces things back into the universe.

Nice shoulder pads.

Above: Nice shoulder pads.

Image Credit: Kabam

GamesBeat: Are these plotlines that you’re introducing in the game, will they tie directly to The Force Awakens?

Erickson: Not actually even allowed to touch that one. No comment.

GamesBeat: I feel like if I ask any more Force Awakens questions, a little red dot’s going to appear on my forehead.

Erickson: Or on my forehead.

GamesBeat: It must be exciting, though. A Star Wars mobile game would get some attention, but you guys are going to likely be the first game set in this post-Return era. You’ll have a lot of extra eyes on you. I wonder if that adds any extra pressure.

Erickson: It does. It also adds a lot of thrill to it. Having worked on the expanded universe for a long time, getting to have the main content to play with is incredibly fun. Knowing that people are going to be as passionate, especially because of the age range of the people making this — we tend to be original trilogy fans. We love all the Star Wars, but this is what we grew up with. Because the new movie has played that note so loudly and we’re coming in right after Jedi, we get to be the first thing that’s actually done in canon after Jedi in decades. People have been waiting to see this stuff. And we’re a return to the Star Wars flavor that we all grew up with and really loved. It’s exciting. There’s a lot of pressure and it’s very carefully managed. Every once in a while you do get a note from way, way up high. The two super-important people say no and you say, OK, that’s cool. But it’s a great space to work in. It really is a dream come true.

GamesBeat: As somebody who worked in the Expanded Universe quite a bit, now that all of it is no longer canon, if you could bring back one idea or character from there, what would you choose?

Erickson: The interesting thing about that is that we don’t even really have to. What they did is they wiped the canon officially, but they kept everything under a classification they call “Legends.” They’re really strongly encouraging us to keep with that stuff as long as it doesn’t argue. We’re taking the best of the Expanded Universe stuff, taking it through the careful process they now use to put things into Star Wars, and tweaking and tucking. I don’t actually have to ask that question, because that’s a lot of what we’re doing on the project. We’re bringing in Expanded Universe worlds. There’s still so many things that smart people and creative people have done through the times. I don’t feel the need to go out and make up something wholesale when there’s even a kernel of a great idea that some fan somewhere is still attached to. We’re going to take that instead and bring it into the new canon.

GamesBeat: So we might see an HK-47 cameo someday still?

Erickson: It is absolutely possible.

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