Right now, however, the X-Wing exists only as four prototypes, and the Empire plans to seize them when they nationalize the planet within days. Hoping to keep the ships out of the bad guys hands, some of Incoms scientists who are loyal to the Rebellion have told Captain Raymus Antilles where to find the prototypes. As Empire at War producer Michael Fetterman and I watch, pod-shaped Rebellion landing craft descend through a cloudless blue sky to drop off troops and T2-B tanks.
The years before A New Hope takes place are some of the most interesting for us as game developers, Fetterman explains. This is the same time frame of Star Wars that we all fell in love with when the original movies were released, so it was a great opportunity to work with something we all know and love.
Fight in the Stars and On the Ground
Imperial stormtroopers waste no time launching an attack thats quickly countered by the Rebellion infantry. After a fierce firefight thats just a taste of the action to come, the tanks move out, followed by the ground troops and a quartet of pilots. A hologram of Antilles appears he reminds his men that at least one pilot must survive to get the X-Wing prototypes off the planet.
This is the same time frame of Star Wars that we all fell in love with, so it was a great opportunity to work with something we all know and love.- Michael Fetterman, producer
As the Rebel soldiers move across the planets surface, they capture landing points that allow them to bring in reinforcements. They also grab build pads where they construct anti-infantry turrets, bacta tanks that heal their wounds, and more. After regrouping and replenishing lost forces, they make a final push toward the X-Wings. Two of the pilots die during a last-ditch effort by the Imperial forces to stop the raid, but a bombing run by Y-Wing fighters stationed in orbit eliminates the last of them.
We follow the victorious Rebels back to the galactic map, where the installation of a garrison on Fresia places one more world under Alliance control. Mon Mothma, leader of the Rebellion, appears via hologram to inform her forces that they must head for the infamous spice mines of Kessel to save several Incom scientists headed for a sentence of forced labor. We watch the Rebels step up production of the spacecraft theyll need for their next mission, including several squads of their newly-acquired X-Wings and a few Y-Wing fighters, which possess a special ion cannon shot that can disable the shuttles transporting the scientists without destroying them.
It was extremely important for us to distinguish Empire at War as a game that finally allows players to be involved in all aspects of war in the Star Wars galaxy, Fetterman notes.
The ensuing space battle unfolds much like the ground conflict did, minus the landing points and build pads. The Rebels can only hope theyve brought enough firepower to keep the Imperials mighty Star Destroyers each possessing continuously-launching squadrons of pesky TIE fighters at bay while the Y-Wing fighters attempt their task. As we watch from a shuttle of our own, the Rebels barely succeed, disabling the shuttles and bringing the scientists aboard Antilles ship, The Sundered Heart, mere moments before they would have reached the mines. Such is the nature of the Rebels guerilla-style combat versus the Imperials brute force in this game.
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It was extremely important for us to distinguish Empire at War as a game that finally allows players to be involved in all aspects of war in the Star Wars galaxy.- Fetterman
Rather than have players fight single battles or scenarios, we wanted to offer them the ability to direct the entire war, Fetterman explains. We also felt that many strategy games celebrate things like complicated resource systems and heavy resource micromanagement, which detracted from the combat.
He adds: As a result, we tried to minimize the learning curve for players by streamlining a lot of the elements that we thought only increased the complexity of other strategy games.
To that end, Empire at War uses credits as its only resource, doling out ever-increasing amounts as you bring more planets to the Empire or the Rebellion, depending on the side you prefer. There are 43 worlds in the game, including many youll recognize from the movies Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor, for example as well as others that have appeared in the comic books, novels, and video games that comprise the Expanded Universe.
Planets that were featured prominently in the movies were given high priority, since we wanted to ensure that the universe felt familiar to players, notes Fetterman. Planets were also selected based on strategic value, such as those that served as shipyards in Star Wars lore and could be used for strategic importance in the game.
Some Things Old, Some Things New
Fetterman and his team also reached into the Expanded Universe for other elements in the game, including many of the ships and two of the heroes: Kyle Katarn of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast fame and Mara Jade, a character first introduced in author Timothy Zahns Thrawn trilogy as one of Emperor Palpatines personal assassins. Of course, youll also get access to many well-known characters, including Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Boba Fett, any of whom can help turn the tide of battle for your side.
Fetterman and his team also created about a third of the content found in Empire at War, including the Imperial AT-AA (All Terrain-Anti-Aircraft) Walker and TIE Mauler tank, as well as the Rebellions T4-B tank. LucasArts has a rigorous process for new content approval and anything that did not already exist in the Star Wars universe had to pass through their licensing department, Fetterman says. It was very inspiring to work with them, as they are so passionate about preserving that Star Wars look and feel.
He adds: Weve found that the golden rule when working with any license is to dedicate your time to creating a compelling game experience first. If the game itself is fun, youll inevitably find a way to work almost any lore into the experience.