Star Wars 1313: we visit LucasArts to find out why the next Star Wars movie is a game
Welcome to Coruscant’s Level 1313, the sleazy hive of criminal activity playing host to a landmark moment in gaming. There are no Jedis here telling you that there is no try, and the closest things you’ll find to a lightsaber are the fluorescent lighting strips that illuminate the squalor.
Star Wars 1313 – a new hope
There are no QTEs, either, or in fact anything to remind you of The Force Unleashed 2 – LucasArts’ recent ailing progeny that preceded a large-scale staff cull at the San Francisco studio. But although those departures from established maxims are both striking and encouraging in their intent, they pale in comparison to Star Wars 1313’s proudest attribute – the reason it’ll be talked about until release and remembered for years after. Screenshots can’t get close to conveying it: this project bridges the gap between gaming and cinema like nothing before.
If you’re anything like me, you watched movies like The Mummy and Jurassic Park as a kid and wondered, ‘How come videogames don’t look like that? Isn’t it all just CGI?’ And again, like me, you obviously sold your toys for a motion-control camera, turned tricks for CGI programming software and, while repressing those memories, quickly learned that it takes days to render a single frame of movie-fidelity digital animation.
Hence the long-running and frustrating disparity between videogame FMVs and in-engine graphics – a cut-scene draws you in, then the actual graphics kick in and pour vinegar over your eyes by comparison. Those days are drawing to a close. Moore’s law remaining constant, games have been able to claw themselves closer to movie-like digital effects at a steady rate, and right now we stand on the precipice.
Taking the industry over that precipice is an effects house called Industrial Light & Magic. George Lucas created the team to pioneer new techniques during the filming of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and they were the guys who provided the uncanny visuals in not only the aforementioned Mummy and Jurassic Park, but also in pretty much every other movie you care to name that has an impressive CGI sequence in it. Casper? Yup. Jumanji? Affirmative. Avengers Assemble? That too.
The company has more gongs than a church on a Sunday morning, maintains a reputation as a pioneer and visionary in the movie business, and you’re reading about it now because it’s taking all that expertise, and pouring it into PlayStation. All the footage you saw at E3 was in-engine stuff – the studio proved that by taking us into each scene, spinning the camera round, and zooming in on the individual pores of each actor. It was rather impressive.
It’s a unique collaboration between LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), LucasFilm Animation and Skywalker Sound, a sound effects, design, mixing and recording studio also in the Lucas family with an incredible 18 Academy Awards to its name.
All that expertise sits in the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco, nodding to each other in hallways littered with iconic movie props, queuing up for burritos at lunch – at first, it seems odd that it’s taken until now for the teams to pool resources into a game. But when you consider what games looked like five years ago compared to movies like Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – which featured breakthrough iMoCap tech pioneered by ILM – recruiting those CGI experts would’ve been like hiring a neurosurgeon to pop a plaster on your owwie.