Your living rooms will contain podracing campaign

Friday, July 22nd 2011. | Games News

The Kinect Star Wars panelists at Comic-Con should have seen it coming: of course they were going to be upstaged by the droids. Near the end of the Thursday panel that included representatives from Microsoft, LucasArts and Terminal Reality who were working on the game, due for the Xbox 360 this holiday, R2-D2 made an entrance to massive applause rolling into the room.

Also on the receiving end of the crowd’s adoration: a new Xbox 360 with R2-D2-styled coloring and a C3P0-emblazoned controller. And fans oohed and aahed when they were told that the console emits R2-D2 beeps and tweets when it is turned on and the disc tray opens. Pre-orders for the $449 console are being taken now at retailers; for more details on the console go to our announcement story.) “Early on we came up with the idea that you were a Jedi and these were your droids in the living room,” said Microsoft’s Richard Hanks. Microsoft, LucasArts and developer Terminal Reality also announced that the game will include a podracing campaign.
Players will start on Tatooine in the Mos Eisley races and eventually make their way to a showdown with young Anakin’s rival Sebulba in the Boonta Eve Classic. The game explores “where does podracing go after you have seen it in (The Phantom Menace),” said LucasArts’ Craig Derrick. “That is kind of the small story we are going to tell.”

You can choose from one of nine different podracers and 20 or so pods. There will be unlockable characters, too. About playing the game, Derrick said, “as soon as people stand in front of the camera, they are racing and they get it.” Wielding a lightsaber and using The Force comes into play in the Jedi Destiny campaign. In the Star Wars universe this takes place a year after The Phantom Menace.

Players choose from one of eight Padawan characters who train to become Jedi Knights. The story takes you to several planets including Chewbacca’s home of Kashyyyk and you will meet “marquee” characters such as Obi-Wan, Anakin and Kit Fisto. “We didn’t want to recreate scenes from the films,” Derrick said. “We thought it would be more interesting to tell new stories and weave them through the events of all six films.

The beginnings of the game go back to 2009 when Microsoft and its game studios began testing the hands-free Kinect motion controller, then called Project Natal. Microsoft’s executive producer on the game Jorg Neumann was a programmer at the time and saw a demonstration of “this jury-rigged thing and he had this little piece of plastic in his hand and he started acting out and swinging his lightsaber like a crazy person,” Neumann recalled for the audience. “We were all sold. Yep. Star Wars. Gotta do it.

A similar tremor in The Force occurred when Derrick and the team at LucasArts saw it for the first time. He remembered them planning to “stand up in front of the camera and put up (a) hand and see if it does anything for the Force. … Somebody went like this (raised hand) and knocked over a bunch of droids and we were like, ‘OK. We are in. That’s cool.'”

As opposed to the more recent and darker The Force Unleashed games, Kinect Star Wars is aimed at families. Kids and parents can play together, two at a time. The designers harkened back to concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s work for the game’s look. “We wanted a style that was really accessible, light and have that feeling,” Derrick said.

Neumann said, “There is a 100 million Star Wars fans but not all of them play (video games) because it is really hard and has all these buttons. (With Kinect Star Wars), you just step up and play and have fun.” But players won’t have to go through trials as tortuous as those Yoda put Luke Skywalker through. The developers designed the game software so that it enhances the players’ body movements to make more like Jedi “to make you look more heroic,” said Terminal Reality lead animation engineer Seth Hawkins.

For instance, the character on screen is always poised for combat even though the player may not be. And when players swing a lightsaber, their character will more more precisely, Jedi-styled. And while the game is intended to be played with nothing in your hands, those Star Wars fans who have a make-believe lightsaber can wield it. “I have a lightsaber on my desk and have used it frequently. It keeps people away,” Hawkins said. “Just be careful you don’t destroy your television.”

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