It’s day one of Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California, and I’m standing in the briefing room from Return of the Jedi, where Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar laid out the plans for the Rebel Alliance’s assault on the second Death Star. Barely an hour ago, Star Wars Episode VII director JJ Abrams revealed the second teaser trailer for The Force Awakens. Everyone in the room is starry-eyed, riding high on the rush of seeing Han Solo for the first time in 32 years.
We’re not standing in the real briefing room from Return of the Jedi, of course, but a recreation built to showcase the public’s first real look at EA and DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront. The three-tier risers encircling the room are filled with journalists, not Rebel pilots. And when the presentation begins, it’s disappointingly on a large screen built into the wall, not a hologram projected up from the circular console in the middle of the floor. Someone in the room lets out a squeak of delight just the same, when the forest moon of Endor appears on the screen.
If it weren’t for the telltale shimmer of aliasing as sunlight streams through the canopy, I’d swear the ferns and towering space redwoods of Endor rendered in DICE’s Frostbite engine were the real deal. It looks incredible. Then the action starts: a blaster and minimalist HUD appear on screen and we’re running across Endor in first-person, blasting stormtroopers off speeder bikes and blasting other stormtroopers right in the face. An AT-ST shows up, and another Rebel trooper uses a jetpack to leap into the air and blow up its cockpit with a rocket launcher. It all looks far better than any Star Wars game before it, and DICE swears it’s in-engine, captured from a live session.
We’ve seen Frostbite flex its graphical muscle before, most recently in Battlefield 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. But seeing it applied to the Star Wars universe, and such familiar locations as Endor, is something else again. As blaster bolts pepper the screen and speeder bikes jet through the forest, exploding into oversaturated orange fireballs, Battlefront makes me think of the vivid digital effects of the Star Wars prequel films meshed with the used, worn-down aesthetic of the original trilogy.
That latter bit is key, as the DICE team will repeat again and again as they talk about their new Battlefront, due in November 2015. Authenticity is their overriding goal.
“When we started the process of creating the concept for the game, we already knew that we wanted to go really classic original trilogy,” says Sigurlína Ingvarsdottir, senior producer on Battlefront. “These fantastical planets of Endor, Tatooine, and Hoth, that’s where we wanted to go. We wanted to really bring you to that world in a way that no one had before.”
Ingvarsdottir runs the Battlefront development team out of DICE’s office in Stockholm, Sweden, coordinating with the other producers, design director Niklas Fegraeus, EA, and Lucasfilm.
Like most of her team, Ingvarsdottir is a diehard Star Wars fan. “You know, I cannot remember not knowing what Star Wars was,” she says. “One of my first memories as a kid is being really really scared of a dark, ominous being in a movie. I can’t place it in time, but it’s when I first saw Darth Vader.”
Ingvarsdottir has years of history in the games industry as a producer at EVE Online developer CCP, but she never worked on Battlefield. To make Star Wars Battlefront, DICE built a new team, combining Battlefield veterans with newcomers. It’s hard to tell, so far, exactly how much Battlefront will feel like Battlefield with a very pretty coat of Star Wars paint (and some original trilogy weathering)—even though it’s been two years, EA is still keeping most of the game’s details tightly under wraps.
The Endor demo is of a new mode called Walker Assault, which will support up to 40 players online—Battlefront’s maximum player count. As players zip by on speeder bikes, a trio of Rebel troopers advance down a creek towards stormtroopers, their bodies ensphered in effervescent blue energy shields. Then a towering AT-AT comes lumbering through the forest. Rebel troops scramble to avoid its blaster fire, while the trooper our demo is following walks between its legs, narrowly avoiding one foot as it crashes to the ground.
He dashes up a hill towards a satellite uplink and interacts with it while a bar quickly fills up—the interaction seems comparable to capturing a control point in Battlefield—and after a few seconds, the uplink calls in a flight of Y-Wings to take out the looming AT-AT. We hear the Y-Wing pilots over the radio as they make a quick flyover, barely visible through Endor’s thick canopy. Then they’re back, raining down pulsating pink proton bombs onto the AT-AT. One erupts on the cockpit, and the walker elicits a metallic death groan before topping forward onto its front knees and collapsing to the ground.