GDC 2008

GDC 2008: Rebooting LucasArts

Russ Pitts | 22 Feb 2008 19:00
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He says they started dreaming about over-the-top Force powers fairly early, starting with the Force Push, the power to manipulate objects, pushing or pulling them, or sending them flying. But The Force in this new game would be more devastating and powerful than ever before. Blackman told his team to make sure their Force Push was not "just knocking people over, but hitting with the force of a cannon ball. ... We focused on the concept of kicking someone's ass with The Force."

They drew up a proposal and put together the video everyone has seen by now of a Jedi warrior using The Force to fling Storm Troopers around like rag dolls, at one point tearing a chunk from a metal structure and hurling it - Storm Trooper and all - across a vast distance. They felt they had it, the whole team was on board. It was time to take it to George.

"We were nervous," Blackman said. They didn't have to be. Lucas called the concept "perfect for a game" and gave them the green light almost immediately ... and that's when things got really interesting.

"We didn't have a lot of technology, so we didn't know what our limits were," said Blackman. "Initially, as you could imagine, we bit off more than we could chew." He said they went through several "resets." "It is good for us to start shooting for the moon, but the team needs to be good about cutting often [and] aggressively."

Blackman said beginning development without a lot of the tools they needed to make the game forced them to work on far more concept art than they would normally have ordered. A pleasant side effect of this was it allowed the artists to work more closely with the programmers once the tools were in place to start coding, making the final product much more fully realized.

But although the results were largely positive, Blackman said he wouldn't necessarily do it the same way again. "If I had it to do over again, I'd set up a core team of prototypers." He says having technology in-house to begin production earlier would have saved them some eventual headaches. Among them: bad middleware.

"Some of our third-party technology came back and bit us at the eleventh hour," he said. "And it was really because we hadn't done deep enough evaluation." He said next time he'll be more careful about buying tech.

And while we're on the subject of next time, he had a little something to say about developing on the PS3 versus the Xbox 360. "Now that we know the inner workings of both platforms, it's important for the next project we use the PS3 as the baseline."

But the trials of working with other people's tech paled in comparison to getting their own new tech working. The team was building technology not only for the game, but that also might be used by Lucas' film unit, Industrial Light & Magic, most of which was breaking new ground for both videogames and movies. He said they were testing and developing so much new simulation technology that the main problem was getting it all to work well together. "If you're doing this," he said, "prepare for a massive bug count. Dealing with this stuff is incredibly unpredictable."

Blackman hesitated to call his presentation a "post mortem" because the game is still in development. But he feels confident they rose to the challenges set before them almost four years ago, and that the new studio (and the new game and the new technology and the new development team) will all live up to expectations.

"We're not building games for ourselves," he said. "We're building games for the consumers." And judging from the crowd's reactions to the all-too-brief glimpses of the story and combat still in development, I'd say they hit pretty close to the mark.

Russ Pitts is the Acquisition and Production Manager for The Escapist. His blog can be found at

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