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GDC: LucasArts' Haden Blackman Uses The Force

At the 2007 Game Developers Conference, LucasArts project lead for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Haden Blackman, along with members of his team, discussed the publisher's focus on story and characterization in its upcoming next-gen games.
At the 2007 Game Developers Conference, LucasArts project lead for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Haden Blackman, along with members of his team, discussed the publisher's focus on story and characterization in its upcoming next-gen games. Topics included LucasArts' internal definition of "next-gen gameplay," the early conception of (and subsequent George Lucas excitement over) The Force Unleashed, the shared pipelines between LucasArts' game developers, and the Digital Molecular Matter physics techniques first shown at GDC London 2006. Internally at LucasArts, the term "next-gen gameplay" is defined by its focus on simulation-based gameplay, as opposed to heavily-scripted and hard coded events. While still used, heavy scripting at is expected to be the exception, rather than the norm, in Lucas' next-gen games. "We're allowing our animators to focus on real character performance to drive story, and simulation to do the day-to-day actions," explained Blackman. There's also a heavy emphasis on story going forward at LucasArts, which Blackman says is in the company's DNA, going back to its early adventure games. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the focus of this talk, focuses on the use of "The Force," a powerful energy attack from Star Wars mythos, with gameplay emphasis on "kicking ass" using it. Blackman's team put together a "pre-vis" video to show what kind of interactivity they had in mind for the game, involving throwing physics-heavy characters around, destructible environments, and more. This video was the cause of "the most terrifying moments of [Blackman's] life," which first involved showing the video to George Lucas himself. "Here we were showing the guy who created the force where we wanted to go with the games," he said. "He turned to us and said, 'That's great, that's exactly what you need to do for games, go make that game.' And I was terrified because we didn't have the technology to implement this into a game yet." Internally, Lucas is sharing pipelines between the game developers and Industrial Lights and Magic, allowing game developers to use film assets and vice-versa. Blackman also discussed the LucasArts "Digital Molecular Matter" material simulation techniques, as first demonstrated at GDC London last year. In terms of impact on story and character, Blackman says this increases immersion by making environments more interactive, and directly feeds the "stories we tell each other" aspect of playing games - that is, sharing gameplay experiences with your peers. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is currently in full production, with content being built using Havok, euphoria and DMM together. The team is still collaborating with Industrial Lights and Magic on lighting, the development tools are nearly complete, and both facial likeness capturing and mocap are underway. A release window has yet to be announced.

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