SWCA 2022: Respawn’s Stig Asmussen Talks Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Reflects on Its Predecessor – Exclusive

The director behind Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order speaks to StarWars.com about the new teaser for its highly-anticipated sequel and much more.

Released November 2019, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order quickly became one of the most critically-acclaimed Star Wars games ever, delivering fans the Jedi experience they’d long dreamed of. Jedi: Fallen Order followed Cal Kestis, a Padawan survivor of Order 66, and his loyal droid, BD-1, as they struggled to survive in the age of the Empire. In an engaging story, Cal found new abilities, allies, and purpose; on the gaming side, the controls were tight and the action thrilling. A sequel was announced in January, and now we’re getting our first glimpse at the game, along with some new details.

Lucasfilm Games, Electronic Arts, and Respawn Entertainment revealed a surprise teaser for the highly-anticipated sequel at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2022 today, as well as its name: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. In advance of this drop, StarWars.com spoke with Respawn’s Stig Asmussen, director of both Jedi: Fallen Order and Jedi: Survivor, about the reception to the original game, Cal and BD-1’s dynamic, and what the tone of Jedi: Survivor’s teaser might mean.    

Cal and BD-1 uncover a mystery.

Cal and BD-1 uncover a mystery.

StarWars.com: To start, Jedi: Fallen Order obviously went on to be a huge hit with fans. What I always find interesting is that when you work on something, you don’t really know how it is going to be received. What were your feelings when Jedi: Fallen Order was on the cusp of release?

Stig Asmussen: [Laughs.] That takes me back a few years. I was very anxious at the time. We had done a lot of internal play tests of the game and we were getting good feedback, but you never know once it goes into the wild with the public. Star Wars fans expect the best, so I didn’t really know. I knew that I loved playing the game a lot. I hoped that people would feel the same way that I did and people on the team did, and it turns out it worked out.

StarWars.com: And when the game came out and it received all that acclaim, and all the amazing reviews, what did that mean to you and the team?

Stig Asmussen: It was validation for all the hard work that we put into the game and the work that we did with Lucasfilm. I didn’t sleep leading up to the release, and I didn’t sleep afterwards because I was reading all the reviews. The points good and bad were fair, and those are things that we use to grow and build on the next game.

Cal’s lightsaber falls into enemy hands.

Cal’s lightsaber falls into enemy hands.

StarWars.com: One thing I really liked about it was that I found Cal Kestis to be a really great audience surrogate. I felt like you really did identify with him, because Cal was on a journey of discovery and you were discovering things with him. What did you want to achieve with that character?

Stig Asmussen: Well, it turns out it worked out for us very well, because we wanted to make a Metroidvania-designed game, and that kind of means the player is in lock step, one-to-one, with the main character. We got to see Cal growing from kind of this unfinished Padawan into a Jedi, and you got to experience it each step with Cal. And I think there was a connection for the player with this character, because as you get these new mechanics, as you get these new Force abilities, you were really feeling like you were in the journey with Cal. 

And Cam [Monaghan, who portrayed Cal Kestis] did a fantastic job really discovering and identifying who this character was. There was what he had in the script, on the paper, but also what he did and how he expanded off of that into a really relatable character.

StarWars.com: What would you say were your big learnings about bringing Star Wars into the gaming medium with Jedi: Fallen Order?

Stig Asmussen: I would say, for the team, our biggest learning was just learning Star Wars more than anything else. You know, everybody comes in, they can be the biggest fan, they think they understand Star Wars. But until you’re living and breathing it every day, you won’t understand that you haven’t really scratched the surface yet. I considered myself and members of the team as students of Star Wars. I know how to make a game, but making a game that works within this universe that feels legit and substantial was a learning process every single day.

StarWars.com: Yeah. And with modern technology in current consoles, you have so much more you can do, but how do you execute that?

Stig Asmussen: Yeah. The bottom line is Star Wars is an amazing toy box, ready-built with all these creative problems that are already figured out. Especially when you’re dealing with a Jedi. You’ve got Force powers, lightsabers. You have all these different worlds and planets that you can travel to, established characters that everybody understands and has expectations for. That’s all there. But you have to make sure, while you’re using these tools, that you’re building something that works with them and fits with them, and that’s where it becomes somewhat complicated, because you’re making mechanics that feel fun for the game, but they also have to feel right for Star Wars.

StarWars.com: Is there a specific aspect to Jedi: Fallen Order, whether it’s a gameplay mechanic or a moment, that you’re especially proud of?

Stig Asmussen: We had three major pillars. We had our combat, we had our exploration, and we had our story. Finding a way to marry those together at all times, that was our biggest challenge. But there were some places where I think that we really achieved that. I would say maybe the AT-AT moment on Kashyyyk, where Cal and BD-1 hijack and pilot the AT-AT and basically lay waste to the Empire. That is probably the pinnacle of all those pieces coming together.

StarWars.com: Fans were very excited when a Jedi: Fallen Order sequel, which we now know is officially called Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, was announced in January. When did you start hatching ideas for what a follow-up could be, and developing them with Lucasfilm?

Stig Asmussen: So we started working, in earnest, even before we finished Jedi: Fallen Order with ideas of what the second game could be. There were a lot of things that we left — I guess you would call on the editing room floor — from Jedi: Fallen Order that we knew that we wanted to put into the sequel. Some of that comes down to like, more stances for combat, or where we’re going to go with the story, how Cal and the crew are going to evolve and grow, how we’re going to approach the worlds and the levels in the game, and expand them and make them more vibrant than they’ve been in the past. But yeah, you’re thinking about this stuff every day. [Laughs.]

Cal and BD-1 search for answers in uncertain times.

Cal and BD-1 search for answers in uncertain times.

StarWars.com: The Cal and BD-1 dynamic, I thought, really worked from both character and gameplay perspectives, to the point where I wouldn’t be able to imagine a sequel without the two of them together. 

Stig Asmussen: Well, I don’t want to spoil anything about where we’re going with Cal and BD-1 in the sequel, but you can rest assured that they’re connected. They’re a really special duo. We don’t just think about Cal, we think about Cal and BD-1, and what they’re doing at all times. It’s part of our law when we’re making the game.

StarWars.com: Were you surprised by just how much of a breakout star BD-1 was?

Stig Asmussen: I wouldn’t say I was surprised. If people love BD-1, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that we love BD-1 and that we put that love into creating him, bringing him to life. 

When I saw the episode of Book of Boba Fett when they had a BD droid, and I’m watching that with my kids, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s something really special, that collectively we’ve created this lovable, endearing character that is going beyond that game that we’ve made.

StarWars.com: Something I loved about Jedi: Fallen Order was that it really dove into Star Wars lore beyond just the movies. Going to Dathomir was really exciting because I never thought I would see that in a video game, and I thought it showed a real love for the whole saga. Is that spirit something we can look forward to in Jedi: Survivor

Stig Asmussen: Absolutely. Dathomir was a planet I was interested in at very early stages of Jedi: Fallen Order, creating the game. Because Dathomir just seemed like this literally magical place where it was dark — it served the dark times tone we had during this time period. We’d seen it in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but it hadn’t been explored that much. But it was known. We felt like this was a place we could go to and we could establish a lot of the things that we want to achieve in the game, and the world was just very rich and a good kind of stomping ground for us to have fun with combat and gameplay. You’ve got zombies there. [Laughs.] I mean that’s video games right there.

StarWars.com: How has the power of current-gen consoles enabled you to expand or make things better in Jedi: Survivor from a gameplay perspective?

Stig Asmussen: So I think the biggest thing is ray tracing, or lighting. That’s allowing us to do real-time lighting, all the time, at a fidelity that’s well beyond anything that we’ve ever produced before. Since it’s real-time, we get to see the changes as we tweak the lights — immediately, essentially. That means that we have more time to polish, that means that we can iterate more, and we can get better results that feel more filmic.

Beyond that, we have these blazing fast drives on these consoles that are allowing us to load tons of content really quickly. I’ve always worked on streaming games — games that don’t have load screens. The fact that these consoles have such fast storage has made it even easier. Those are probably the two biggest benefits. PlayStation 5 has some really interesting haptics on their controller that we’re digging into, and it’s just an easier process in general. 

An Imperial senator makes a dangerous deal on Coruscant.

An Imperial senator makes a dangerous deal on Coruscant.

StarWars.com: Respawn just released a teaser for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor at Star Wars Celebration. I know there’s not much you can say, but something that struck me about it is the mood of the piece. It’s mysterious and menacing, and I’m wondering if you’d say that’s a reflection of what might be in store.

Stig Asmussen: Yeah, you nailed it. Right there, that’s the purpose in the tone of it, is to leave the player with a lot of questions but they’re very intrigued. The game is all about survival. That’s why it’s called Jedi: Survivor. They are in dark times, and Cal and the crew are doing whatever it takes to stay alive. That might mean that they are making connections with people that, in other times, might be considered unsavory. Some of that is portrayed in the trailer, and again, I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s definitely a sense of… I don’t want to spoil anything, sorry! [Laughs.]

StarWars.com: Is there anything you want to say to fans of Jedi: Fallen Order who are excited to continue the journey with the sequel?

Stig Asmussen: Yeah! We’re making the game for the fans. Every day we’re putting our blood, sweat, and tears into it. There’s nothing that’s more important to us than getting the controller into the players’ hands and having them have a Star Wars experience that they feel is worthwhile, they have fun playing, and it puts a smile on their face. We don’t take this for granted. We really appreciate the fact that we get to build in this universe and contribute to it. The fans are right there with us.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Check out the teaser for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor below!

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Dan Brooks is a writer and the editor of StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, Yankees, and Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks.

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