You wanted it. I wanted it. Everyone wanted it. And now we’ve got it. STACK spoke with David Robillard about bringing a campaign to Star Wars: Battlefront II.
Back in late 2015 as the Star Wars: Battlefront release shadow lengthened, a chorus of criticism, led by such industry luminaries as The Force Awakens stars John Boyega and Simon Pegg, was levelled at EA for not including a campaign mode in the game.
It was understandable: DICE had just delivered the most authentic Star Wars game to date. It had special effects audio taken directly from the original source files at Lucasfilm, and the studio even gained access to the vault at Skywalker Ranch, accurately capturing all the helmets, weapons, armour and vehicles from the films using photogrammetry. Battlefront had everything – except an offline campaign. Fans wanted a narrative-driven adventure and Missions just didn’t cut the mustard.
“When EA looked at doing Battlefront II, the first thing they did was look at the fan feedback, and single-player was the number one requested addition,” explains lead gameplay developer at Motive Studios, David Robillard, during a recent trip to Sydney.
“That was an easy decision for EA to just jump in and say ‘We need to push a single-player campaign out on Battlefront II’. That’s where Motive came in.”
Motive Studios, owned by EA and based out of Montreal, was set up by ex-Ubisoft producer Jade Raymond when she joined EA in July 2015. Raymond had been instrumental in getting the Assassin’s Creed franchise off the ground a decade before. Motive was selected to produce the single-player component of Star Wars: Battlefront II.
“At the time when EA were looking at making the campaign, The Force Awakens was in theatres,” says Robillard, outlining how the narrative concept behind the campaign developed.
“The Force Awakens was kind of a bridging of the gap between the first original trilogy and the new era. We thought that was pretty cool and perhaps we could use that as an inspiration for the timeline we wanted for our campaign.
“We started bouncing ideas with DICE and Lucasfilm, and then somebody said, ‘Why don’t we take the events that left the Empire crushed after the Battle for Endor and show that side of the story?’
“We wanted to explore something that hadn’t really been covered before. The only other storyline that did it was the Shadow of the Empire comic books. It gave us a fresh outlook and a lot of room to play around.
“You’ll get to see some classic locations. Like I mentioned, you’ll be a part of the Battle for Endor but from another perspective, and you’ll also get a look at a new location we worked at establishing and creating with Lucasflim called Vardos – it’s an Imperial Stronghold; you might even visit other locations that we’ve seen in The Force Awakens…”
Robillard says Motive worked closely with Lucasfilm, telling STACK that “everything that you’re going to be playing in the single-player campaign comes through extensive collaboration with Lucasfilm.”
“They helped us keep the story authentic, keep the story true to the Star Wars feel; they actually even let a couple of our art direction guys visit their archives down on the West Coast.”
And there is always the office to turn to should any Star Wars lore questions arise; the studio is home to more than a few aficionados ready to discharge a wealth of collective knowledge.
“A lot of the people that we work with are super, super hardcore fans of Star Wars,” laughs Robillard. “I mean, I like Star Wars – I grew up on the original trilogy – but I never got into the nitty gritty details that some people get into. For me, there’s an X-wing – there’s one X-wing. But no, there are five models of X-wings, each with their own differences.
“There is so much more depth than I originally knew about. A lot of it comes from the team. Our game director, Mark Thompson, is actually a pretty gritty Star Wars fan. We had a lot of in-studio checks for whatever we were trying to do, and most of the time we’d go to Lucasfilm and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re trying to do’, and they’d say ‘Hey, you guys did your homework – it’s fine’.”
Finally, we broach the bane of all single-players around the globe – campaign length. For those – and there are many – who choose to dwell within the confines of an offline campaign, the quest for a prolonged single-player mode remains a constant struggle.
Remembering that the Battlefront series, since its inception in 2004, has always primarily been multiplayer focused, there’s still a sizeable chunk of campaign for gamers to sink their teeth into.
“We set out to build an authentic Star Wars experience and we wanted to convey the fantasy that we see in the movies,” Robillard responds.
“Depending on how you play, and your skill level, it’s probably going to be between six and eight hours. We thought that was good, and that was the right amount of time in order not to stretch things too thin.”