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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an impressive action game with an impressive focus on exploration, but it’s also a new Star Wars story. It has some familiar faces (like Saw Gerrera from Rogue One, Clone Wars, and Rebels) and places (like the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk, which we’ve seen in Revenge of the Sith and … the Star Wars Holiday Special).
But when Jedi: Fallen Order comes out on November 15 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Star Wars fans will discover a lot of new characters and planets. After spending almost four hours of the games, getting a chance to meet many of the new faces and explore the Zeffo (a planet Respawn created), I interviewed the studio about the fun and challenge of creating its own slice of Star Wars material.
I chatted with producer Kasumi Shishido and writer Megan Fausti, who both seem to be having a good time getting to work with one of the biggest IPs in the world, even considering all of the pressure that comes with such a task.
GamesBeat: How much fun is it to work on a Star Wars game?
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Kasumi Shishido: It’s awesome. It’s been quite a journey, and it gets better every day. We’re so close to launch. It’s just full of excitement back at the studio. We can’t wait until it’s out the door so everyone can experience it.
GamesBeat: How much input did you have as far as what kind of characters you wanted, where you wanted to put it in the timeline, and the general world-building?
Shishido: From a story perspective, I think Megan can elaborate more. But from a visual perspective, we took inspiration from everywhere. We obviously wanted to make it look like a Star Wars game. We looked closely at era-appropriate visual designs. Rogue One was one of the biggest inspirations. Solo was also a big inspiration. We were actually in development before Solo came out, so we got a first look at what type of droids would be in Solo. You might recognize some of the droids that were in the movie. Same for planets as well. We have a lot of new planets and existing planets. It was a very different process for those two. For existing planets we wanted to make sure that it feels like Kashyyyk, or it feels like Dathomir. Everybody remembers and recognizes that.
Megan Fausti: On the story side, we had a lot of freedom to craft something new and different in the Star Wars universe, bring in our own characters, our own style, while still making something that was going to be both resonant and something that fit well in the larger Star Wars canon. That was a really gratifying experience, to be able to say, these are the kind of characters we want, and having people working with us who were really excited about what we were doing and trying to find ways to say yes, instead of saying, no, no.
GamesBeat: What do you think is more interesting to work on — going back to these planets that we’ve already seen, or creating your own places?
Shishido: There’s fun in both, but for me personally, building something new was definitely more exciting. Since we know that Zeffo will forever be remembered as a Star Wars planet from now on, and we had the privilege to introduce that into the universe — we had a lot more freedom in terms of, what is this planet? What’s the landscape? What kind of animals live there? From there we were able to build combat encounters within that planet. There was excitement in both, but it was really fun to create new content.
Fausti: There’s so much fun in both ways. The existing content is stuff you grew up with. You were always excited about the idea of, what if I could play in that world? And then you can. But on the other hand, the new content is something that speaks more to us as a studio, the kinds of things we were interested in, the kinds of stories we wanted to tell. That was fantastic, to be able to have that moment of, let’s all go around and figure something out without having to worry about what the preexisting things were there.
GamesBeat: Apex Legends is a big hit. Titanfall 2 is a critical darling. Now you’re working on Star Wars. Is it fair to say there’s some swagger going on at the studio now?
Shishido: [Laughs] For me it’s just that I feel lucky to be at Respawn. We have a very talented team of people. Apex Legends is a completely different team, but we still talk to each other. We always cheer for each other. Respawn, the studio itself, is just a culture where we build on top of each other and we try to work together. I feel lucky working there.
GamesBeat: A lot of people were surprised when they found out exploration would be a big part of this game. There was an assumption that it would be more of a straight-forward, linear action game. Why is exploration so important to the chemistry of the game?
Shishido: The word “retraversal” was one of our pillars when we were talking about the concept of the game. We didn’t want to just create a linear game. Because we did retraversal and exploration, that gave us the freedom to expand our storytelling as well. The story that we wanted to tell was pretty massive. Being able to retraverse and go to different areas that you haven’t explored yet will allow more opportunities for narrative design, to go in and tell different types of stories that already existed on that planet.
GamesBeat: Usually, pushing down on the D-pad tells your droid buddy, BD-1, to scan or activate something. But I noticed that pushing that button while BD-1 had nothing to do had Cal just call out to him to make sure he’s there. It’s cute. It seems like you were having fun with BD-1.
Fausti: Yeah, we love BD-1. The BD-1 button, what you’re talking about right now, was actually a late development addition. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to get it in.
GamesBeat: The pilot character, Greez, was really impressive to me, too. Sometimes the Star Wars aliens can feel out of place next to humans, but he fits in well. Was that a fun challenge to take on, that kind of alien character?
Fausti: Yeah, that species is actually a Latero, which we also created in-house. He’s brand-new, and so is his species, to the Star Wars canon. It was really cool to be able to figure out what he would be like and what he would want, how he grew up, how the Clone Wars would have affected him, all those kinds of things together. Trying to figure out what this guy’s personality would be. We also didn’t want him to be the pilot archetype. We didn’t want him to be the cool Han Solo guy. We wanted him to be someone who was very much his own character, someone who could add a lot of his own lightness to the story.
Shishido: We had something in mind, and it actually went through a lot of different concept designs. We knew that, as a pilot, we wanted him to have four arms. That was the main thing. This guy needs to have four arms, so he can steer the ship while he’s sipping on his pop and eating a candy. We wanted to do all kinds of stuff with this character. That was the main thing. We also had this idea that on his planet, or within his species, he’s considered a really handsome guy, and he knows that. He’s a little bit on the arrogant side. He knows he’s a little bit handsome. But there’s always that relationship between Cal and Cere that gives you a little chuckle.
There’s also a soft side to him. If you walk through [his ship, the Stinger Mantis], you’ll see a lot of plants. He loves plants. That’s one of his things. The ship is his baby. He loves his ship, he takes really good care of it. There’s a lot of backstory with Greez. Even when we talk about Greez internally, we’re always chuckling about what he should say and what he can do.
GamesBeat: I was surprised by how much customization I saw. That’s not something I was expecting with a story-focused game. Was that important to the team from the beginning, or did it come about as a good way to give people something to collect when they’re out in the world?
Shishido: We always had customization in mind, but within the limitations of — we know who Cal is. He’s our main character. We still wanted to give some freedom of choice to players. Even within a single-player game, players could enjoy something like giving a different poncho to cal, running around in a pink poncho and a different lightsaber. Making BD-1 look different, giving a different paint job to the Mantis. Wherever we can, we try to give players the option to do cosmetic customization.
GamesBeat: With Cal, how difficult is it to make a new Star Wars protagonist without making him too similar to past heroes like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?
Fausti: We definitely wanted to make sure Cal stood apart and could stand on his own two feet. I think a lot of the ways we do that are — because of the fact that he was a Padawan when Order 66 happened, that’s a hugely traumatic event to happen in a young person’s life. Through the game that you play, he’s now rediscovering his power and rediscovering his identity a bit as a Jedi. You’re really becoming a Jedi and growing in power as you go. I think that’s unique. Even Luke, who was discovering what it meant to be a Jedi and that they existed, I don’t think he had that same kind of journey.
I think that Cal grows up a bit faster than Luke does as well. He has to, as a result of the challenges he faces. I’d also say that Cal — how do I put this? I think Cal benefits a lot from having BD-1 around all the time as well. They have a really beautiful and genuine relationship. I think Cal is always at his best when he’s with BD-1, when he’s being that empathetic person, after all the personal tragedy he’s been through.
GamesBeat: You’re close to the finish line here. Jedi: Fallen Order is coming out next month. What does it feel like to see that in sight?
Shishido: Doing this even today, it’s starting to feel real. Our focus was just to finish the game for the past couple months. We were working really hard to do that. It’s definitely a relief, mixed with excitement. There was a lot of reaction we saw from the content that’s already out there, but I can’t wait for people to get hands-on with the game and see reactions from everyone.
Fausti: There’s excitement. There’s a bit of anxiety with it too. “Okay, we’ll see what people have to say, what their impressions are.” As a creator that’s really gratifying, too. What are people going to enjoy? How are people going to perceive things? Will they see the same story that I see? Will they see the same combat that I see? Everybody plays games differently. It’ll just be fun to see everyone’s different impressions and see what their relationship to the game is.
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