Way back in June 2016, EA announced that Respawn Entertainment, the developer behind the acclaimed Titanfall 2 and overnight phenomenon Apex Legends, was working on a third-person action game set in the Star Wars universe. For nearly three years, players knew almost nothing else about the project — except that it apparently involved an elegant weapon from a more civilized age. On the morning of April 13 at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, Respawn lifted the veil on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the story of a young Padawan named Cal Kestis in the wake of Order 66.
StarWars.com leapt at the chance to sit down with Douglas Reilly, vice president of Lucasfilm Games, and Respawn CEO Vince Zampella, to see what other secrets they might be keeping about the first all-story, single-player Jedi action game in almost a decade.
StarWars.com: How does it feel to finally reveal this thing?
Vince Zampella: Amazing. Especially at an event like this. You get that response from the fans — there was like six, seven thousand people in the audience, and you hear the swell and the cheer, and it’s so uplifting.
Douglas Reilly: There’s nothing like showing a trailer on a big screen and getting a huge crowd reaction.
StarWars.com: What’s special about telling a Star Wars story in this specific medium?
Vince Zampella: Games is all I know, right? To be able to tell a story in the Star Wars universe, in the way that I’ve done for other properties I’ve worked on — Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Titanfall, Apex Legends — and now we’re able to tell a story in one of the biggest IPs on the planet. And not only big, but core to my childhood and my identity. I grew up with Star Wars, and it formed who I am, so I feel lucky to be part of that.
StarWars.com: Titanfall 2’s campaign is a massive achievement; people love it. Did that kind of set the bar for you guys?
Douglas Reilly: It’s interesting, because we’d been working together, obviously, before Titanfall 2 came out. [Game Director Stig Asmussen] talked about the team that he has assembled, and it is an all-star team of folks. And we’ve known this from the very beginning. That, working with Respawn, we were gonna get a great, immersive Star Wars experience.
StarWars.com: There was a lot of concept art, and various story iterations, thrown around —
Vince Zampella: So many.
Douglas Reilly: So many!
StarWars.com: What’s exciting about the direction you ultimately took?
Vince Zampella: It’s the ability to tell that hero’s-journey story. It’s very Star Wars, but it’s set kind of in a way that we can control the curve of the hero’s power throughout the game. You’re a Padawan with incomplete training, so you learn as you play through the game. And it’s exciting to be able to explore and discover your abilities as you play.
StarWars.com: In terms of the combat loop — that Jedi fantasy with the Force abilities and saber techniques — is there anything else you can tease that you didn’t get a chance to mention during the hour-long panel?
Vince Zampella: No.
StarWars.com: No? ’Kay, that’s all right.
Vince Zampella: [Laughs]
Douglas Reilly: We’re looking forward to you guys learning more about the combat.
Vince Zampella: It’s great. Combat is so core to what the game is. It’s about exploration, agility, and combat. It’s all those things coming together.
StarWars.com: Agility. So you’re really moving, like in the other Respawn games?
Vince Zampella: It’s different, but yes. A Jedi has to feel like a Jedi.
StarWars.com: What sort of challenges have come up in production?
Vince Zampella: There were none. Everything was perfectly smooth.
Douglas Reilly: I think it’s part of the iterative process of making video games, especially when you’re working with a licensed IP. They’ve got a very strong point of view about what kind of gameplay needs they have; we have a very strong point of view about story. And sometimes those things can be difficult to sort out.
Vince Zampella: Absolutely.
Douglas Reilly: But when you’ve got partners who you trust, and people who are really talented, you find a solution to them.
Vince Zampella: We have clashed, and I think that’s made some things better. Because we’ve pushed beyond that to make something greater than what we would’ve come up with alone.
StarWars.com: We’re in the aftermath of Order 66; you’ve got this Jedi on the run. What was the advantage of setting the game during the Revenge of the Sith era?
Douglas Reilly: For us, it’s the opportunity to have that story of somebody who’s on the run, where there’s an omnipresent threat throughout. And he’s having to deal with that, and being constantly on the move and being challenged, and using all of his growing powers to counter those threats.
StarWars.com: Is there a stealth element, would you say?
Vince Zampella: No. The hiding-in-plain-sight thing is kind of how the game starts.
Douglas Reilly: It’s setup.
Vince Zampella: And then you’re discovered, and the rest of the game you’re now trying to stay ahead of the enemy, and learn and grow until you can really face them.
StarWars.com: Given the response you got at the panel, how do you think players are gonna react when they get their hands on this thing?
Douglas Reilly: I can’t wait for people to see more of what we’re doing. They’ll be blown away.
StarWars.com: Can we expect lots of boss fights?
Vince Zampella: I don’t know what we’d call “lots” or not, but there’s a variety of fights throughout the game. They’ll ramp in difficulty, but it’s varied depending on what type of troops you’re facing. You saw the purge troopers; they’re gonna be a whole lot tougher than…
Douglas Reilly: Your regular standard, cannon-fodder stormtroopers.
StarWars.com: Can you tease any big set pieces? Quick-time events, or the environmental storytelling we saw in games like The Force Unleashed?
Vince Zampella: It’s an immersive world, so there are things going on around you.
Douglas Reilly: It’s epic and immersive, but it has its own identity.
Vince Zampella: It’s got the things that make Star Wars.
StarWars.com: Marvel’s Spider-Man came out last year, and people really embraced this story-driven, one-player game without any multiplayer. What do you hope players take away from this project?
Douglas Reilly: Storytelling is the core of the Star Wars experience, and so if we can deliver a Star Wars story through an interactive medium that people take away and remember and think of in the same vein as some other great games, yeah, that would be fantastic.
Vince Zampella: It’s playing as a Jedi, right? If you get into this game, and you feel like you’re a fledgling Jedi, that’s an amazing experience.
Vince Zampella: I have no response to that.
Douglas Reilly: We’re always looking to make the universe feel connected, so there’ll be more for people to discover on their own.
StarWars.com: How have you guys enjoyed being at Celebration?
Vince Zampella: It’s a great place to be. It’s full of like-minded people, and we have a passion for what we’re involved in, and to be walking through and seeing people in costume and signing things for people — it’s just so much energy and passion. And it aligns with how I feel.
StarWars.com: Can you talk about things like customizable outfits, or whether your character will have a big skill tree to unlock? Things like that?
Douglas Reilly: I think that falls in the “more to come” category.
Vince Zampella: More to come. This is a reveal, so…
StarWars.com: It was a good reveal.
Douglas Reilly: [Laughs]
Vince Zampella: Come to E3.
StarWars.com: I’m a big fan of the three games that I’ve played by Respawn. How does this differ from working in the Titanfall universe?
Vince Zampella: I mean, it’s Star Wars. They’re both sci-fi; they’re in space; there’s some similarities at the very base. But the identity, the music, the soundscape, and the characters are so uniquely Star Wars. A lot of the work that goes back and forth with the [Lucasfilm] Story Group is to nail that Star Wars feel, and you feel it in everything.
StarWars.com: And it’s different in terms of technology, right? It’s an Unreal game.
Vince Zampella: It is.
StarWars.com: What about influences? Did you look to the past of Star Wars games and make that part of the creative conversation? Because a lot of people are saying, “Oh, I hope this is another Knights of the Old Republic, or the next Jedi Knight.” And of course it’s not — but did you draw inspiration from that history?
Vince Zampella: Not necessarily directly, but those are games that we’ve all played, and when Stig and I sat down and said, “We want to do this,” we didn’t want to do a specific sequel or a copy of anything. It was just like, “We want to make a third-person, action-adventure, Jedi-hero game.” That was the core directive.
Douglas Reilly: We all grew up playing these games, so there’s a certain amount of influence that comes from playing them —
Vince Zampella: Naturally, yeah. And a hundred other games.
Douglas Reilly: Exactly right. It’s not just Star Wars games; it’s games in general. So it’s coming with a very clear perspective on the kind of games [Respawn makes], and working with our teams to go, “Okay, how do we make that a great Star Wars experience together?” And then it will hopefully have its own identity that everyone else will use at a later date to go: “Oh, are you trying to make a game just like Jedi: Fallen Order?”
StarWars.com: Would you call the Second Sister the headlining villain, at this point?
Vince Zampella: You tell me.
StarWars.com: I know how this works!
Douglas Reilly: [Laughs]
StarWars.com: There’s always the headlining villain, and then there’s the real villain, right?
Douglas Reilly: She’s awesome. She really is.
StarWars.com: And you guys aren’t gonna say who plays her yet?
Douglas Reilly: You’ll find out. Or you won’t.
StarWars.com: So it’s a Star Wars game, and it’s made by Respawn.
Vince Zampella: That’s all we’re givin’ ya.
StarWars.com: Any favorite memories or stories from working on the project?
Vince Zampella: I mean, we’re not done yet. There’s a lot there, but there’s a lot still to do to finish, so I’m gonna hold off on my favorite memory. So far it’s this — the unveiling.
Douglas Reilly: That’s exactly right. It’s the opportunity to finally take all this stuff we’ve been talking about amongst ourselves for so long — it feels like it’s been bottled up and bottled up and bottled up, and now we finally get to uncork a little bit.
Vince Zampella: It’s a process; working on something creative can be challenging. It’s not easy, but that’s what makes it rewarding and that’s what makes us push harder.
Douglas Reilly: Anything worth doing is not easy. That’s the truth.
StarWars.com: And the last six months is probably the hardest part of the job, right?
Douglas Reilly: It is.
Vince Zampella: I’m looking forward to it.
StarWars.com: Trying to stick the landing?
Douglas Reilly: Yeah, this is where it all comes together. This is where the thing you’ve been sort of imagining in pieces really congeals into something that’s magical.
Vince Zampella: We’re about to hit lightspeed.
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Fangoria, Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.
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