The farther you descend down Coruscant’s subterranean levels, the further you get from Star Wars’ more familiar staples. On level 1313, there are no Jedi or lightsabers. The only luminous objects are a rabble of neon signs that colour the dangerous streets, and the only force used in this sprawl of iniquity is of the brute variety. It’s here that LucasArts’ story of a young bounty hunter attempts to resonate with a more mature audience, eschewing The Force Unleashed’s wild power fantasy for a grounded action-adventure that, in making you vulnerable, forces you into cover. And it’s here that a significant collaboration is happening, with visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, Lucas Animation and LucasArts all working together for the first time – now under Disney’s banner.
A dissection of mechanics alone doesn’t suggest the project is particularly emergent. Creative director Dominic Robilliard will freely admit his love for the Uncharted series, though he hardly needs to: the platforming sequences in Star Wars 1313 demonstrate an admiration for Naughty Dog’s intuitive character movement and rapidly changing climbing environments. Your onscreen hero gestures towards accessible ledges and achievable jumps just as Nathan Drake does, and the colour-coded, climbable fuselage that reveals itself during a showpiece aircraft crash sequence is familiar to the point of overplayed. Likewise, the cover shooting gives the impression of dependable yet unambitious combat, the like of which you’d be odds on to find if you dived into a sack of action titles from the last four years.
But writing 1313 off on the grounds of being derivative would be disingenuous, because it would require you to ignore the astounding visual fidelity and convincing character movement that envelops the gameplay. If nothing else, it’s important because it may well be our first detailed look at the next console generation’s launch title calibre; LucasArts is still staunchly ‘not discussing platforms’, but concedes that the PC running the E3 build in realtime is powered by three Nvidia GeForce GTX 680s. In a plush cinema built into the Lucasfilm HQ in San Francisco, the developers excitedly load the E3 reveal level, an action sequence that shows the player character’s cargo ship being ambushed by enemy forces, resulting in a firefight, fireworks as two spacecraft collide in an enormous elevator chasm, and some impromptu platforming. They’re keen to pause and move the camera around during the more intense moments, zooming in on each character’s pores to prove everything’s being rendered on the fly and in-engine. And they’re right to: the number of light sources and absurd clarity makes it genuinely difficult to distinguish from a prerendered cutscene.
But above all, the detail and complexity of each animation cycle and the believable facial movement conjures the same kind of tingle you might once have felt watching Sega CD’s full-motion video, or N64’s multitude of onscreen polygons. If 1313 is any indication, the next generation is going to be as much about motion capture as it is about going beyond HD quality or new control schemes. The onscreen results aren’t just the product of a platform with a higher performance ceiling, though. LucasArts is in a novel position: it has one of Hollywood’s best visual effects studios right on its doorstep.
Winner of 15 Oscars for best visual effects, ILM has a history of firsts, such as creating the first fully CG living creature in Jurassic Park. Visual effects supervisor Kim Libreri is an Oscar nominee himself, and explains how the studio and effects house united: “We brought over people that a) have a passion for visuals and interactive media, and b) are experts in the field that we need them in. [So] Peter Daulton from LucasArts and Jeff Brown from ILM [work] as a team designing all the shots. [Peter] was a camera man on Return Of The Jedi. So we were like, ‘How do we make sure this feels like a Star Wars shot?’ And he said, ‘I’ll tell you exactly how you make it feel like a Star Wars shot.’”
The benefit of ILM’s expertise is blindingly evident in Star Wars 1313, even to the extent that its gameplay doesn’t feel like the focus of the project as of yet. Even if that remains the case, 1313 will be one of the year’s most fascinating games for the convergence of media forms it attempts.