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Early in March 2005 Euro.Rebelscum.com received an invitation to meet
with Giant Interactive Entertainment, the software house who is responsible
for development of LEGO
Star Wars The Video Game. It was an invitation accepted with
pleasure and great excitement.
Deep in the English countryside, just outside the town of Slough (fans
of The Office will be surprised to learn that the town isn't all office
blocks, busy road junctions and pub quizzes), is an unknown hive of graphics
and rendering that is Giant. Oak trees surrounded the office, and a gravel
drive cut through a well-presented lawn - not what you would expect for
a state-of-the-art software house.
Inside was not what I was prepared for either; rather
than racks and racks of data-crunching
servers and enough flatscreen monitors to reduce the bridge of the Nebucanezzer
to the equivalent of a Nintendo Gameboy, it was a playroom I walked in
on. A quick visual scan of the room told me more about the people who
worked for Giant than anything I could have asked for because LEGO was
everywhere - from the mantle over the fireplace, along the tops of computer
screens, decorating the mug rack in the kitchen and even a box shipped
direct from Billund, Denmark - the contents of which made me bite my fist
in glee - but no amount of charm was going to get them to give up their
latest LEGO sets.
Giant are doing something in their game that is going to excite the children
who it is aimed at, and make adult fans sit up and take notice. It helps
that Giant has pedigree - all the staff have paid their dues either in
the gaming or toy industy. That gives them an insight into the fans who
are going to drool over this game, and the gamers who are going to spend
hours in front of their TVs and monitors completing the levels and exploring
every nook and cranny to unlock the myriad of special features and bonuses
that are hidden in the game.
Take the managing director, Tom, who was head of Electronic
Arts in Europe and worked to bring Harry Potter and the Philosopher's
Stone to life. In demonstrating that there was a huge audience for intelligent
games directed at young
players he caught the eye of LEGO, where he stayed until 2003 when he
left in order to form Giant. Jonathan Smith, the development director
at Giant, also has a lengthy background in video gaming, with years spent
and in computer and console journalism with Future
Publishing. Jonathan joined Tom at Giant in 2004 as the development
director and is tasked with maintaining the vision of the game. Kristen
Robinson, marketing manager, spent four and a half years working for LEGO
on both sides of the Atlantic, and joined Giant in 2004 to promote the
game in order to help achieve the success it deserves. The final member
of the team is Loz Doyle, who started in the games industry in 1994, also
at Electronic Arts, as a games tester and then moved into game design
before joining LEGO
Interactive in 2000 as an associate producer. Now he is the producer
at Giant and in charge of keeping the numerous creative processes on track
and on time.
Before Giant came up with the concept of putting their
mini-figs into a Star Wars video game environment they had already
been tinkering with ideas to create a game that was exciting, accessible
and had a depth of playability that was character driven instead of relying
on generic game features. In 2003 they hit upon creating a Star Wars
universe populated by mini-figs and took the idea to Lucasfilm who immediately
saw what they were aiming for. Both parties knew that the Star Wars
environment would prevent the game going off-track but still leave a massive
amount of material to build a cutting-edge title around.
The next step of the process was to bring a programming team onto the
project. Giant found Traveller's
Tales, a small and independent British programming company who already
had success with Crash Bandicoot, The Weakest Link, Haven and Sonic the
Hedgehog. As an added bonus Traveller's Tales also had gained knowledge
in working with film studios when they developed the Disney/Pixar Bug's
Life, Toy Story and Finding Nemo titles (and have gone on to capitalise
on this experience with the upcoming Narnia games).
crew in charge of the paint, palette and code going into LEGO Star
Wars The Video Game are James Cunliffe (lead artist), Jeremy Pardon
(lead animator) and John Hodskinson (lead programmer). Coincidentally
a number of the programmers and artists at Traveller's Tales are equally
comfortable with Star Wars and LEGO, giving them a creative edge
that other contenders couldn't match. Giant were very lucky in finding
a group of programmers who understood LEGO and Star Wars in such
depth - it takes a certain kind of genius to come up with the idea of
having a single stud piece as a clonetrooper embryo.
The tools and engines being used were written and developed by Traveller's
Tales which meant that the programmers were at ease with the demands placed
upon them, and with the forward planning Giant maintained deadlines have
not been an issue, which has allowed both Giant and Traveller's Tales
to explore new ideas and pursue alternate avenues of gameplay.
some license holders experience, Giant didn't find that working with Lucasfilm
was like having teeth pulled. The words "supportive", "fantastic"
and "a huge pleasure to work with" immediately sprang from Jonathan's
mouth. Lucasfilm provided a number of solutions to some niggling problems
that Giant couldn't overcome - including the colour of the player two
gunship in one of the later Attack of the Clones levels when
they directed Giant to the beige used on the Clone Wars gunship.
Lucasfilm even allowed Giant to commission new sound effects
and music from Skywalker Sound, including a funky disco track
that can only be found in a secret room in one of the levels.
Giant also had a great deal of help from LEGO in Billund,
Denmark who co-operated to an untold extent. There was a two-way flow
of inspiration resulting from Giant consulting with LEGO to come up with
new models of Star Wars vehicles and characters, while the designers
at LEGO enjoyed seeing their creations in a new medium. LEGO also assisted
in an amount of problem solving when Giant came up against brick walls
(no pun intended). Giant was able to visit the LEGO facilities in Denmark
in order to review the new Revenge of the Sith sets, and had
their own original ships built by LEGO in order to see them in real life.
And in order to keep abreast with the development of Revenge of the
Sith, key staff members visited ILM in San Rafel to view footage
of the film.
Sensing my excitement my host and tour guide,
Jonathan sat me down in front of a TV. At a flick of a remote
control I was assaulted by an explosion of the Star Wars fanfare
and then the Playstation 2 loaded up the game. Jon and Loz took
me to Dexter's Diner, which is the hub of all the activity in the game
- sort of like a waiting room in an airport terminal. from Dexter's you
can select which episode you want to play and then from there adavce through
the levels. I was given a quick tour of the first few levels of Episode
1 and 2, but I steered
clear of Episode 3 spoilers, much to the amusement
of the staff at Giant. Eventually I succumbed to my own inquisitiveness
and asked to see the first level of the Revenge of the Sith portion
of the game, because the action has already
been glimpsed at in the recently released trailer. As a reward for admitting
that my curiousity got the better of me Giant and Lucasfilm have granted
Rebelscum with an exclusive first - a screenshot of the opening level
of the first Episode 3 level. Spoiler Warning: click
on the thumbnail at your own risk. However in order to write
a full review of the game I am willing to put personal preferences to
one side in the best interest of our readers! But sadly this isn't the
place for a review - more on that soon.
visit culminated with Jonathan and Loz having a furious bout of head-to-head
two player action in freeplay mode, which lets you play any of the characters
you have unlocked. While they demonstrated the various special skills
and moves that each of the characters they have developed have I got to
enjoy watching a young Anakin Skywalker give Jar-Jar Binks the thrashing
he deserved, but no where near as entertaining as seeing Yoda and Count
Dooku duke it out in a Jet Li-like contest of lightsaber dueling. That
little green guy has got some moves!
Over the next week Rebelscum.com will be bringing you more LEGO Star
Wars The Video Game news, with a full review of the game, as well as a competition to win copies of the game
(PC, Xbox, PS2 and GBA)so make
sure to come back and check us out soon.
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