Coming off the Star Wars: Battlefront II beta just a few days back, I was pretty optimistic at the future of the Star Wars franchise over at EA. Well the first Battlefront game left me disappointingly cold, the beta seemed to indicate a sequel that vastly improved over its predecessor, fixing all the problems the original had and delivering the truly exemplary Star Wars multiplayer of our dreams. If EA could make something this potentially good, then surely Star Wars was in the right hands, no?
Yes…the answer is indeed no. Because the most promising thing about this EA/Star Wars acquisition, Amy Hennig’s Uncharted-style Star Wars adventure, is pretty much no more. And the reason why seems to be the worst part of it all.
But, first, some background. This untitled Star Wars game was first announced to be in development from Visceral Games (of the Dead Space series) quite a while ago, way back when EA first got the Star Wars video game license in 2013. The involvement of the Visceral Games team alone was enough to get me excited, but shortly after, another fantastic cherry was thrown on top: the hiring of Uncharted creator and series creative Amy Hennig, who was recently ousted from Naughty Dog following a rough development period for Uncharted 4. Hennig was writing the script for the game alongside Todd Stashwick, and the project was said to be a single player focused, story driven adventure in the vein of Hennig’s work on the Uncharted franchise. So, basically, it sounded GREAT.
But the emphasis is sadly on the past tense now, as some sad times have befallen this long in development project. After months of radio silence on the game, EA announced today on their official blog that the game is set to be completely retooled, taken away from Visceral Games and now given to EA Vancouver. Visceral Games would be shut down in the wake of the transfer, which is bad news enough. But adding insult to injury was the blog post attached to the news, which rather condescendingly paints this whole thing as JUST THE BEST, and exactly what everyone wants! But when you actually read what EA is saying, none of it sounds all that promising. Some snippets:
Our industry is evolving faster and more dramatically than ever before. The games we want to play and spend time with, the experiences we want to have in those games, and the way we play…all those things are continually changing. So is the way games are made. In this fast-moving space, we are always focused on creating experiences that our players want to play…and today, that means we’re making a significant change with one of our upcoming titles.
That’s the opening paragraph, which right away assumes what games you would like to play, since there’s no way there’s ANY interest in a single player, story based, campaign focused experience, right? It just gets worse as the post shifts to this Star Wars game in particular:
Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe. In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.
Once again, EA is blaming the consumer, saying “Oh, you don’t really want this!” even though, yeah, a lot of players REALLY want this. In fact, those players feel increasingly left behind in this world of Destiny and The Division and all these other multiplayer focused experiences, feeling like there love of playing games alone and experiencing a fantastic story are being completely ignored. I know, for I am one of them. But sush!, let Daddy EA explain what’s best for you.
We will maintain the stunning visuals, authenticity in the Star Wars universe, and focus on bringing a Star Wars story to life. Importantly, we are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency, leaning into the capabilities of our Frostbite engine and reimagining central elements of the game to give players a Star Wars adventure of greater depth and breadth to explore.
This is of course extremely vague, with EA refusing to actually say what this game will be other than throwing out buzzwords like “variety,” “player agency,” and “greater depth and breadth to explore.” But it’s telling that the first thing EA wants to assure fans is that, hey, the visuals will be pretty! That’s what you nerds want anyways, right?
The world of single player, story based campaigns have been hit extremely hard this generation, and I can’t help but read EA’s entire statement on this debacle as a way of saying that, yes, this game is shifting away from a focus on story and a compelling, single player experience. And if that’s truly the case, then I’m not afraid to say that this game as it was originally conceived is now dead. The pieces remain, or at least we assume: Amy Hennig has yet to officially leave the project, with EA just saying that “We’re in discussions with Amy about her next move.” But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her departure from the company coming very soon. That will of course be followed by a blog post by EA, claiming that the industry is moving on from developers anyways, so this is actually a good thing!
And in this whole mess, one other piece of sadness is getting the short shift: Visceral Games is dead, and that’s a massive lost. I LOVED the Dead Space series, warts and all, and clearly there was a very talented amount of people working at that studio. As I’ve said many times in the past, losing ANY AAA developer in this industry is always a sad thing, and Visceral is no exception. My sympathies go out to the people effected, and I can only hope their talents will be better utilized in the years to come.
As for this Star Wars project? I have lost all faith. I was more excited for this thing than pretty much anything else coming from this franchise (movies included,) and this “pivot” to me is the video game equivalent of the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller from Solo: A Star Wars Story (recently titled, btw.) It’s likely that the assets used to build this game will still be there in some form, with whoever picks up the pieces making the bland, corporate project that EA is asking for. And, who knows, that bland, corporate project may end up being okay, at the end of the day. But it won’t be the project Amy Hennig and Visceral promised us…and that alone is alone is one hell of a bummer.
Also published on Medium.