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Capturing iconic look and sound in Star Wars: Battlefront

"Film and games don’t always play nice with each other," says design director Niklas Fegraeus. "Games require balance and fairness to be fun, but a film does away with that in order to create drama."

Chris Kerr

February 1, 2016

5 Min Read

I think you'll agree when I say that the only thing better than watching Star Wars would be actually venturing to a galaxy far, far away. 

Alas, until we develop interstellar travel or succumb to our feverish delusions, the only way to make our fantasies come true is by diving into DICE's sprawling galactic shooter, Star Wars: Battlefront.

Released just a month before The Force Awakens made its theatrical debut, Battlefront tasked EA DICE with bringing Star Wars to life like never before. The challenge was clear: capture the essence of Lucas' revered original trilogy and rekindle the romance after the bitter break-up that were the prequels.

The consensus among critics and fans is that the game succeeds in capturing the iconic look, feel, and sound of the iconic action setpieces from the film franchise. We asked DICE about the process of working with such a well-established and beloved property.

Do or do not, there is no try

Stripping down the original trilogy's spectacular battles and recreating them digitally was no easy feat, but the willingness of Lucasfilm to let DICE use its experience and do its own thing helped the studio get to grips with the task at hand. 

"Of course, there are constraints and guidelines when working on something like Star Wars," says Battlefront design director, Niklas Fegraeus. "However, we were given an incredible amount of creative ownership. One could easily imagine dealings with a massive property like this to be very formal and directed, but that was never the case."

"Once we started seeing the first results in-engine, we knew we had something incredible going on."

"[Lucasfilm] gave us full access to reference material and even original props and recordings, allowing us to recreate things in great detail. I always felt there was a very welcoming spirit of common fandom in the whole process."

After getting access to the sacred Lucasfilm archives -- a world where nostalgia knows no bounds -- the DICE team set about developing a series of photogrammetry workflows to transport George Lucas' original models into their digital workspace. 

He adds that one of the biggest contributors to their success were the photogrammetry workflows they developed. "Photogrammetry is a technique that uses photographs of an object from multiple angles to calculate its 3D shape. It was quite the process to get to a result we were happy with, but once we started seeing the first results in-engine, we knew we had something incredible going on."

Actually bringing those models to life was a painstaking process of trial and error. With only the movies as a reference point, Niklas and his team had to use all of their experience to figure out how each ship and vehicle would feel in real life.  

"This is where I think we got a lot of good results out of our previous experience in developing physics systems for online environments. Combining that experience with a meticulous analysis of film reference, we basically tweaked things over and over to reach a result that felt genuine and authentic," recalls Fegraeus. 

"It’s not easy though, since film and games don’t always play nice with each other, such as when games require balance and fairness to be fun, but a film does away with that in order to create drama."

He adds that one vehicle in particular presented a massive challenge for the team. "Creating a huge AT-AT walker that treads the same ground as the players, with all the physics, animations and systems that go into it, was a monumental task. Let’s just say that there are some very good reasons why we don’t see real war machines built like that!

From screen to screen

In order to make sure those vehicles, along with the environments and blasters, sounded as authentic as possible, the design team was given unprecedented access to the original trilogy sound bank. 

"That made us geek out for a few days - but those were obviously from movies," says Fegraeus. The challenge then became integrating those sounds into a fully 3D world that would be reacting and shifting based on the actions of 40 online players. 

"The whole soundscape we needed to develop had to complement those originals," continues Fegraeus. "How does a blaster sound sound like when it bounces between sulfuric rock at a 150 meter distance? [We had no idea because it's] not in the films, so we needed to figure out how to treat the sounds in order for them to maintain their authenticity in all situations."

"We needed to figure out how to treat the sounds in order for them to maintain their authenticity in all situations."

Ultimately, says Fegraeus, it was a process that was as exciting as it was daunting, and it was one that the team relished from start to finish.

"I think my biggest takeaway is how costly, but also how rewarding, it is to really try and recreate something to this level of authenticity," he says. "When you are aiming for such level of detail, all based on your deep love and respect for the source material...it’s very hard work, but also so incredibly satisfying to feel like you were able to give something to fans like yourself, enabling them to feel that instant familiarity and immersion."

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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