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Developers Speak Out: Obi-Wan

Obi-Wan is a third person action game with a unique and intuitive player control system that gives the player an advanced degree of control over the lightsaber, use of the Force at their fingertips, and the ability to pull flips, rolls and cartwheels with ease. The story begins in the weeks leading up to the events of the Star Wars: Episode I film and ends in a face-off against Darth Maul. The environments the game is set in include Coruscant, Tatooine and Theed as well as a brand new swamp planet called Obreedan.

When we set out to do Obi-Wan we had one goal that was the focal point of our design effort: to create a gameplay experience that made the player feel like they were a Jedi Knight. We often visualized a combat scenario where the player when confronted by a group of enemies would use all of his Jedi skills to win the confrontation. He could use the saber to reflect a shot back at one enemy, flip out of the way of an incoming shot and slash the next enemy, then Force throw an object onto a third enemy. To handle this situation elegantly the player would need total mastery of all their Jedi skills as well as a quick mind for decision making. The teams challenge as developers was to first create all the functionality necessary for this and then deliver it to the player in an intuitive and easy to use fashion on the Xbox controller.

In early development the design team, consisting of myself, Kevin Bruner (lead programmer) Chris Ross (designer) and Ian Milham (lead artist), really wanted to nail the control of the saber first since that was what the rest of the game would be built around. Most sword fighting/saber games are generally either button mashers or feel rather canned, either way it doesn't leave the player feeling like they are in control. This of course is contrary to the idea of being a Jedi. During the PC development, we attempted to give the player more control over the saber with the "glyph" system, but because of conflicts with the mouse, serving as both the saber control and look around, it didn't completely work. We did learn a lot from it however and we took the idea over to the Xbox.

Kevin Bruner, first had the idea of putting the saber control on the right thumbstick and it sounded great to all of us. So Kevin and animator David Bogan went to work building the system. The way it works is simple you move the stick to the right Obi swings right, move the stick to the left and Obi swings to the left, move the stick up and Obi swings overhead. There is another set of swings if you go from left to center, center to right and left over to right. These swings aren't nearly as obvious as the first level of swings but give the system a nice flow that gives the player a swash buckling kind of feeling. There are also a series of more powerful and flashy moves for when you are using the Force.

The Force powers serve as the games projectile weapon set and help diversify the gameplay experience. The Force powers in the game are Force Push, Force Pull, Force Throw, Force Saber Throw and Force Focus. The Force Powers work in ways that are different from the way they have worked in past games, push only effects enemies, throw effects objects, and pull effects blasters. We originally had the Force Powers set up more traditionally, but we found them difficult to use in a precise manner. When we made the change to new system it felt a lot more like the way you see the Force portrayed in the film. The coolest things about Force Push and Throw is moving objects through the world and seeing the rigid body physics system at work. The game runs a very sophisticated physics simulation that causes very realistic contacts between objects and characters. The Force Powers are the perfect gameplay mechanic to exploit this.

Force Focus is actually a slow motion and this got in the game by complete accident. Early in development we added functionality to take screenshots on the Xbox. Pressing down on the left stick would put the player in slow motion and then press down on the right stick to take the screenshot. As people were playing the game they were accidentally pressing down on the left thumbstick and going into slow motion. People who were checking out the game would inevitably be saying wow cool ! Finally right before E3 we showed it to a group of LEC upper management including marketing and the rest is history. We moved it off of the left thumbstick because people would accidentally trigger it all the time and moved it on to a button that puts you in Force focus for eight seconds.

The look we wanted for the game was one that would show the complete breadth of the environment. In the movie Theed is a vast and architecturally impressive city and landscape, and we went to great lengths to try to capture it--and believe me, it was a painful experience. The amount of geometry that is rendered to achieve some of these vistas is a testament to the power of the Xbox. In the end we came out with a very beautiful representation of Theed as well as other exterior levels Tatooine and Coruscant. It should be a nice change from typical running through hallways of mines, dungeons and spaceships that people tend to do so much of in these kind of games.

Ultimately, the team feels that the final game delivers on our goals for the project--and even exceeds them in many places. We set out to create a unique and action-packed gaming experience for people and I think we have achieved that. Obi-Wan completely captures the feeling of being a Jedi.

By Dan Connors, Luca... - 12/05/01

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