Game director Jamie Eden talks with StarWars.com about the latest entry in the bricks-meets-blasters saga.
Beginning with the release of 2005's LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, the LEGO Star Wars series has become one of the most popular gaming franchises set in a galaxy far, far away. There are many reasons for this. LEGO Star Wars games combine the creativity of LEGO building with the action and drama of Star Wars, neither outweighing the other. Their controls are intuitive, whether you're a lightsaber-wielding Jedi or bowcaster-carrying Wookiee. And they're completely hilarious. (In just one of many, many examples, see LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, in which Artoo initially refuses to accept the Death Star plans from Princess Leia. In response, she just lifts up his dome and angrily throws them in. It's in-character and really kind of brilliant.) But most importantly, LEGO Star Wars games are really, really fun, plain and simple, exemplifying a true all-ages take on the saga. They're games for everyone and, finally, the next chapter is here.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an adaptation of the film that kick-started a new era of Star Wars, continues the series' tradition of everything mentioned above. Yet it also takes some bold chances. It goes beyond the film with new "Star Wars Adventures" -- stories that tell untold tales from the movie, like how Lor San Tekka made his way to Jakku with the map to Luke Skywalker. There are side missions, in which you can play as a wide array of characters in tasks that complement the main game. The building mechanic has been revamped, allowing for more configurations and choices. Blaster shootouts have also received an overhaul with an eye toward How-Are-We-Gonna-Get-Out-Of-This Star Wars intensity and authenticity. It goes without saying, but everything is definitely awesome here -- you can even play holochess! -- and StarWars.com spoke with director Jamie Eden about the making of the game.
StarWars.com: I was wondering if you could talk about where you begin with a LEGO Star Wars game, because you've got to follow the movie, you have to add LEGO humor, you have to come up with builds. And then there's, of course, level design and gameplay, so there's a lot to juggle. So where do you start?
Jamie Eden: I think the place we tend to start is, look at the film, look at the set pieces, look at the parts that would make good levels. So, for example, you know, Rey and Finn being chased through Niima, the flight of the Falcon at that point -- when they first get control of the Millennium Falcon -- that's perfect for a level. That's a perfect escape sequence. They take down TIE fighters. Usually, we'll just break it up into bulk parts of, "This section, this section, this section." We'll go through and list all the characters we recognize from the film, memorable characters that people would pick out, cool-looking background characters, and then, after that, it's a case of deciding what abilities all these characters will have. So, you know, Rey's got a staff, and that's key to her character, so we use that as part of her mechanics. BB-8's a sphere. We play on the fact that he's a sphere, so his mechanics are, treat him like a pinball, use him like a track pad. Then we just go from there, really.
StarWars.com: I'm really curious about the writing of a LEGO Star Wars game because the humor is so important. Do you write organically, or do you do a kind of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to the movie, where you see if there are openings for humor?
Jamie Eden: There are sort of two ways we do it. We'll obviously look at the film and then see parts where [we can] make light of things that happen in the film or have a joke in that section. And then, secondly, there's the pass of the writing that goes on that's part of the levels. We have a really talented lead writer named Graham [Goring]. He'll go through the levels and assess the puzzles we have, the set pieces, the characters that are in them, and then write cool dialogue for them. So yeah, some of the best bits in the film are off-the-cuff remarks between say, Finn and Han, and the lines we recorded for the game work really well. He's added extra lines for Han and Finn. John Boyega and Harrison Ford reprised their roles. [Laughs] Some of it's great. We have one mission where, jokingly, we have to get Wookiee Cookies for Chewie and, unbelievably, we managed to get Harrison Ford to say "Wookiee Cookies." [Laughs] That's still one of the highlights of Graham's career and mine, that we managed to get Harrison Ford to say that.
StarWars.com: I'd imagine it would be a little frightening to [direct him and] tell him how to say Wookiee Cookies.
Jamie Eden: I didn't go to the session but from speaking to Graham, it was a bit intimidating at first. But he's just great. He's a joy to work with. Same thing with Anthony Daniels. We got him to reprise C-3PO. And he's been doing the character for so long, he owned the role. He'd say, "Well, C-3PO wouldn't say it like this, he'd say it more like this." He knows the character, and we just worked with him. He's great.
StarWars.com: Did they just add new dialogue that you guys wanted, or did they also re-record lines from the movie?
Jamie Eden: We have the lines from the films; we have the authentic lines that we use, and then there's a whole host of new dialogue written exclusively for the game. Especially for the levels we have set outside The Force Awakens, "The New Star Wars Adventures." Those all have full VO from the characters -- Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Oscar Isaac.
StarWars.com: I want to keep on the humor angle a bit. How do you know when to approach something and make it funny and when not to? For example, in the trailer that came out at E3, there's a moment in the final fight where Rey is drawing the lightsaber from the snow and it hits Kylo Ren in the head. There's like this really big dramatic moment and, initially, you might not think you could make something funny there. But you guys pulled it off.
Jamie Eden: Yeah. I think those are the points where it's probably easiest to make something funny or make a joke. They're the parts where someone is expecting to watch it like the film and go, "This is a really tense, serious moment. The lightsaber's gonna whiz past, Rey is gonna catch it... Oh, no! It bumped Kylo Ren on the head!" Those are the points where you try and catch people unaware. They're not expecting the humor, they're expecting you to play it straight, and that's part of the charm, really.
StarWars.com: So going back, when did you start development on the game?
Jamie Eden: I'm just trying to think back to when we started... Throughout 2015, there were various stages going on. So we'd find out information, we'd work parts of it up, get more information and just keep adding to what we had.
StarWars.com: When you started off, I'm guessing before the movie came out, what assets were you given? Were you given the script, were you given photography...?
Jamie Eden: We had meetings with Lucasfilm and worked really closely with them on what they would share with us. Obviously, they were very protective over any information regardingThe Force Awakens, just to make sure that people going to cinemas didn't get it ruined for them in the case anything got out to the public. So we worked with that. There would be some things where it would be, "Okay, you get to see this, but we can't explain it to you, or the full premise of it, right at this time." We were free to ask questions at any point and seek explanation. They were really good to work with, really clear. I think it was just a case of, we probed them for more information at each point, rather than getting a deluge of information. It was more, "Here's the information. Do you guys need more? Do you guys have enough there?" And in some areas, yeah, it was okay, we had plenty to go on. Other bits, we just had to ask a few more questions. And then other bits, we had to wait until the same time as everyone else to see some parts.
StarWars.com: I know the game itself has some gameplay enhancements over previous games in the LEGO Star Wars series. There are Blaster Battles and Multi-Builds, and I'm curious where these ideas came from and what they add to the experience.
Jamie Eden: First off, Multi-Builds. The idea behind those was, you know, building with LEGO objects in games has been the same since the first LEGO Star Wars. You hold down a button and the object would build. We really wanted to change that and think of, "How does someone interact with a physical pile of LEGO bricks?" You'll have a pile and you're free to build, rebuild, try different options, come up with different ways to tackle the same problem. You build something, destroy it, and then rebuild it again later in a different configuration to activate something new. So, for example, in the demo that takes place on Niima, the very first thing you have to do is destroy a First Order drop ship. What you have to do there, there's two options. You can either build turrets that Finn or Rey can control and blast the drop ship apart, or you can build a rocket that you can jump on and fire off to take out the ship in a different way. I like giving the player options, and it allows us to layer up puzzles to require the player to build and rebuild and sequence to get characters into new areas or solve puzzles.
With the Blaster Battles, obviously, in The Force Awakens, there's not hundreds of Jedi swinging lightsabers around. The Force, it's awakening, and there's very little lightsaber-on-lightsaber combat until the end. But there is a wealth of new blasters. You even see Chewie's bowcaster, which has been around for decades and has a slow rate of fire, but is very powerful when it connects. Han's blaster, Poe's blaster rifle fire differently. We really wanted to get the Star Wars feel of entrenched battles, where people are behind corridor corners, popping out to take shots at stormtroopers. It feels very, very Star Wars. People immediately think lightsabers and the Force when it comes to Star Wars, but as soon as you see these battles, they do feel exactly like, you know, the corridor scene in the opening of A New Hope, or the way Han and Chewie fight Kanjiklub and the Guavians on the freighter in The Force Awakens.
StarWars.com: What's the process in recreating that feel in LEGO form? Is it something that takes a long time to get right?
Jamie Eden: I think it does, yeah. A lot of games like that don't have to cater to younger audiences. Whereas, what we have to do is, we have to blend accessibility with fun and challenge, as well. One of the things we also try and do is make sure that the LEGO element shines through. It's not just about blasting characters. There are puzzles to be solved, which require character abilities, also. So again, in the Niima section -- that's the demo at the moment -- there's a part where you acquire BB-8 to sneak through, use his mechanics to reach a new area, and bypass something on the other side. There's sections where you'll have to grapple, make new cover, remove enemy cover. The other part of it is, we try and play up the humor of the reactions on the enemies being silly. They're not always going to drop to the floor and be destroyed. Sometimes the helmet will ping off, sometimes they'll get shot in the rear and they'll flee cowardly. There's a shooting gallery aspect, as well. There's lots of things to interact with in the environment.
We've really worked on the [Millennium Falcon] flight aspect of this to make it feel really, authentically Star Wars. There's lots of camera angles taken from the movies. We've got a completely new "arena flight" mode, where you can take full control, blast TIE fighters, barrel roll, loop-de-loop away from enemies. They'll lock onto you, as well; you have to break the lock. It just feels authentically Star Wars, but with the cute LEGO ships.
StarWars.com: On that note, when you were developing the game and creating things with these builds that maybe aren't in the movies, or famous ships that we saw in the movies [that had not been released as LEGO toys], were you coming up with the LEGO designs? Because they have to look Star Wars, but LEGO itself has its own iconic look. Were you working with LEGO builders to come up with these final designs?
Jamie Eden: Obviously, there's a host of ships that LEGO will have made themselves. Anything else, we build ourselves. So take, for example, Han's freighter, the Eravana. We've actually built the LEGO model of that, which you fly in-game. The best way to describe the process is, we've got a really talented team of LEGO Master Builders at the studio. It's their job to build these ships. They know the ins and outs of LEGO guidelines. They'll look at the reference, they'll get as much information as they can -- sort of, what we call cross-views, look at the inside, figure out how they're going to build it. Then once that's done, they will send it off to LEGO, and then LEGO will say, usually, nine times out of 10, "Perfect. Spot on." Sometimes they'll go, "Oh, you need to change this piece for this piece, because this is how we would do it if we were going to release a physical set." They're always in the mindset of, "How would we do it if we were to release a physical set, as well?" Which is good to have, because I really love the idea of maybe one day, the ships we make in the game, LEGO could just happily make them as a set. And then at that point, obviously, Lucasfilm will double check that it's authentic and feels Star Warsy enough.
There's a good few examples of ships we came up with that are unique to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In one of the new Star Wars Adventures, where we tell the story of how Han captured the rathtars, the enemy crew that are hunting alongside him, they have their own ships that we came up with the design for. It's really cool. They're part of the Star Wars universe.
StarWars.com: That's really cool. Well, if they ever make those toys, you should get a free sample.
Jamie Eden: Oh, definitely should! They're like, some of my favorite ships in the game!
StarWars.com: The Force Awakens introduces some new elements -- things like the cross saber. They look cool and they look Star Warsy, but did things like that pose a challenge to you in terms of game design? Just like, "How do we get this working in a game?"
Jamie Eden: I suppose the one that posed the most initial challenge was BB-8. Just because he's a sphere in, generally, a world of squares. One of the issues we had was his ports -- where his welding torch and items come out of. We got him rotating perfectly and then we had an issue where we couldn't line up his thumb stick that comes out. Most of the characters, we've got a good handle on. BB-8 was one of the most challenging but also the most rewarding, because you look at him in-game and he feels real spot-on with the movie. His movement is perfect.
StarWars.com: Did you try, with the human characters, to make them all not just feel differently from each other, but from everyone else in every other LEGO Star Wars game? Does Rey play differently than, say, Jedi Luke does?
Jamie Eden: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, we always try to get every character playing differently. Poe, the way he fights and moves around, is a bit more military. He's sort of a slugger, as opposed to Rey, she's really agile and fast. She's really satisfying to play in combat, because she can just wade through stormtroopers with her staff.
StarWars.com: I got to play a little bit of the game here at Lucasfilm, and it was a nice surprise that the game did not start at the beginning of the movie. You're actually kind of thrown into the Battle of Endor. Why did you make that decision? And was it an extra bonus for you guys? Like, "We get to do some of Return of the Jedi in addition to The Force Awakens!"
Jamie Eden: I think that was two things. One, The Force Awakens is all about finding Luke Skywalker. Especially with younger audiences, they'll come in with The Force Awakens. First off, it's a really good level in terms of gameplay, because it's got a really good puzzle section, lots of combat, you get to use the Force as Luke, and there's a really good flight section of the actual Death Star destruction. It's like a perfect prologue. It's the right blend of all the gameplay types we wanted to show off. You want to give people a really good taste of what's to come in the game. It also sort of bookends the story of where Luke Skywalker was, where we left him, and where we find him at the end of [The Force Awakens]. It really tells the story of Luke Skywalker going and then being found.
Plus, we're also massive fans of the first Star Wars games. It's great to go back to a level that we did 10 years ago and look at it now and go, "Ten years later, how can we push the technology? What can we do here? We can do this, we can have more enemies, we can have more objects, we can have bigger worlds." It's a really good showcase, as well, of just how far we've come.
StarWars.com: These games traditionally appeal to kids and, really, all ages of gamers -- but especially to parents and their children being able to play together. Were you aware of that during development, and did it impact the way you approached the game?
Jamie Eden: Definitely. Yeah, I mean, there's been some times where we've actually redesigned sections to prevent arguments within our households. [Laughs] There will be people such as myself, who have two kids, or my boss, he's got two children. We look at sections and go, "Okay, so what's player two doing at this point?" You know, no one wants to be player two if they're not doing much. So we always try and make it engaging for player two, and always make sure there's a way for player two to do something that player one can't. It's almost a race to get into it. What it means is, for parents, you don't end up with, "Ugh, my older brother! He's always Luke Skywalker and I've gotta be the protocol droid instead!"
StarWars.com: Right. And then you've got to break up a fight on the living room floor.
Jamie Eden: Exactly. So it's quite handy, speaking from personal experience, to be able to do that -- to, in advance, solve arguments within my household.
StarWars.com: That's the perfect way to play test, I think. Just watch your kids play.
Jamie Eden: Yeah. A majority of the studio has young children. We look at how they play the games at home. They're all fans of the series. Similarly, we take onboard what they say, as well. If they say something doesn't feel good, we'll try and look at it and we'll go, "This is, essentially, our target audience. How do we improve this for those players?"
StarWars.com: What would you say are you most proud of with the game?
Jamie Eden: One thing I'm most proud of is just being able to work on new content that sits inside of Star Wars. With the guidance of Lucasfilm, we've come up with planet names, where planets sit inside the galaxy, and the stories that go on. Just to be part of that is like the most amazing privilege ever. For someone to allow us to craft part of the Star Wars galaxy is a massive, massive honor.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, editor of the StarWars.com blog, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.