Late last year, I attended a PAX Australia panel titled X-wings and TIE-ins, which advertised itself as "A brief history of very bad (and some not so bad) Star Wars games." The panel was enjoyable and seemed well pitched toward its audience, but it didn't dive as deeply into the chronology of Star Wars titles as I had hoped.
The original trilogy of Star Wars films, and a number of Star Wars games have been formative for me, and have not only sown some of the initial seeds of my own tastes, but also helped me to understand and have perspective on those tastes.
This article is available in two versions. In addition to the usual "Cheese Talks" article, I have put together another, cooler version styled loosely after a 90s Star Wars fan page, complete with yellow headings, and white text on a starfield background (obviously, this one is recommend!).
The themed version features an interactive timeline which attempts to provide a comprehensive chronology of licenced Star Wars games from 1982's The Empire Strikes back for the Atari 2600 through to 2017's Star Wars: Force Arena. Details on how to navigate and explore its data can be found in the Reading the Release Timeline section below.
In this article, I will be reflecting on my impressions from the Star Wars games I've personally played, looking at correlations of "good" and "bad" traits across the entire catalogue of Star Wars games, considering interpretations suggested by the timeline, and speculating on what a hypothetical Ideal Star Wars Game might look like.
To consider what makes a Star Wars game interesting, it's worth considering what makes Star Wars itself interesting. What does Star Wars have beyond an archetypal generic science-fantasy setting that makes it enduring and compelling? In this section, I will primarily focus on the original trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), as the success of these three films is the foundation that everything that has come since has built upon.
My earliest memories of Star Wars are of The Empire Strikes Back. Those memories are vague and non-distinct, but interesting in that they are not tied to any conscious awareness of Star Wars itself. I was born too late to catch Star Wars (retroactively subtitled "A New Hope") when it originally aired, and possibly too late to see Empire (I'll be using short-hand names for films!) until around the time of the VHS re-release. My father was a fan though, and clearly, Star Wars had presence in my household enough to leave an impression on a growing Cheese.
It wasn't until much later in my life that I was able to match my involuntary responses (predominantly in the form of undefinable appreciation for snowscapes and humid jungles, of excitement and fascination for robots and space ships, and of an understanding that the notions of "good" and "evil" are often intertwined) and early memories to the Star Wars franchise itself, but as someone who continued to grow up with the original trilogy and had become a fan, it was a welcome connection to make.
Star Wars' reception by and reflection of mainstream western culture is fascinatingly resonant. George Lucas borrowed and iterated on elements, motifs and even whole sequences from existing films, creating a pastiche work that expresses a homoginised amalgam of contemporary cinematography. Lucas also took inspiration from folklore, fairytales and mythology, leading Star Wars to resemble the monomyth from early drafts.
All of this builds up toward one of Star Wars' primary goals - the juxtaposition of newness and familiarity.
"I'm trying to make props that don't stand out. I'm trying to make everything look very natural, a casual almost I've-seen-this-before look. You see it in the paintings we've had done, especially the one that Ralph McQuarrie did of the banthas. You look at that painting of the Tusken Raiders and the banthas and you say, 'Oh yeah, Bedouins...' Then you look at it some more and say 'Wait a minute, that's not right. Those aren't Bedouins, and what are those creatures back there?' Like the X-wing and TIE fighter battle, you say 'I've seen that, it's World War II - but wait a minute - that isn't any kind of jet I've ever seen before.' I want the whole film to have that quality! It's a very hard thing to come by, because it should look very famliar but at the same time not be familiar at all." - Geoge Lucas, The Making of Star Wars - J.W. Rinzler
The most prominent and often cited aspect of familiarty that Star Wars carries is that of the monomyth, a pattern of storytelling that was originally used to compare and analyse mythology and historic storytelling, but in the 70s became popular among western literary and screenwriting circles. It serves as a definition for a narrative structure that, broadly, sees a hero called to adventure, confronted by crisis, exhalted through victory, and returned home transformed by their journey.
To see the impact of the monomyth on modern western storytelling, the character roles and events within Star Wars can more or less be interchanged without the narrative itself being fundamentally changed. Whether it's Neo's fear of following Morpheus' directions to climb along the outside of his office building instead of Luke's initial reluctance to respond to Leia's plea for help, or whether it's Merlin who sees to young Arthur's education instead of Obi-Wan introducing Luke to the Force, or whether it's Gandalf sacrificing himself to the Balrog so that the fellowship may continue instead of Obi-Wan sacrificing himself to Vader so that Luke, Han and Leia can escape, or whether it is Simba facing Scar on Pride Rock or Luke facing the Death Star trench, these characters and situations all play similar roles within their relevant stories.
The validity of the monomyth as a key to understanding historic storytelling is definitely debatable, but it is undeniable that it has been employed as a writing tool strongly and frequently in contemporary culture. The common narrative patterns and character archetypes create a kind of cultural resonance that allows stories which can fit within the pattern to become accessible through familiarity, matching audiences' expectations of pacing and structure.
Then there's the Force. In the original trilogy, it's presented in a less-is-more fashion that allows it to be interpreted as and imagined to be more than any explanation could encompass. It's described to be both internal and external, a spiritual view and philosophy of interconnectedness as well as a power to be drawn upon to perform inhuman feats.
Throughout the films, those on the "light side" typically "use" the Force to achieve inner peace, to enhance perception or to move small objects (although it seems that no Jedi is above performing the occasional mind trick or unscrupulously manipulating dice), while those on the "dark side" use the Force to choke people, hurl objects at their foes, and shoot lightning bolts from their fingers (pew pew). The resulting implication is that the Force represents both light and dark, good and evil, yin and yang, and that it is up to the essence of a Force user to determine whether that power will be used constructively or destructively.
Across the original trilogy, the Force is "used" sparingly. Ignoring sensing "disturbances" and "presences", characters make use of the Force about four or five times to overcome minor hurdles in the first film. With less definition, the capabilities and limitations of the Force are left to audiences' imaginations, where it can be the subject of fantasy.
Lucas has described the Force as being created to represent "the essence of all religions". The philosophies vaguely hinted at in the original trilogy feel familiar because they're assembled from common elements between cultures and institutions from across the globe. The Force resonates with audiences through existing cultural ideals surrounding good, evil and connectedness to the universe around us.
We also see the familiar in Star Wars' dirty, lived-in worlds and weathered characters. The quality that this gives Star Wars above so much science-fiction/fantasy/futurism that preceded it: believability. Star Wars has certainly since been surpassed in terms of grunge and grittiness, but at the time, it showed a vision that contrasted dramatically against the sterile, white cleanliness that then dominated the visual language associated with science-fiction and futurism.
70s optimism put humanity on a trajectory away from poverty and the perceived association with dirtiness/lack of order/harsh edges. This sounds nice, but is harder to empathise with/doesn't reflect the world we live in and the experiences we have as humans. It also carries the potentially menacing overtones of sterility, impotency, and uniformity/removal of identity.
In its props, costumes, and sets, Star Wars thoughtfully exudes believability. Scratches, scuffs, dents, and tears add character and imply backstory to almost all of the film's assorted robots, vehicles and ships. Switches and levers feature more prominently than touch sensitive surfaces, adding a greater sense of tangibility to the world (and more useful props for actors to work with). The Millennium Falcon stalls, C-3PO has an oil bath, malfunctioning escape pods are common enough to be ignored, Jawas offer reclaimed droids for sale that are of questionable repair - the Star Wars universe is shown to be a place where things degrade and the majority of people struggle or at least work hard to find a comfortable life.
Even in the Empire's trappings, which to a degree mirror those traditional motifs of sterility, still show some grime and maintenance hatches and work crews and so on. My favourite example is the Stormtrooper helmet, which has visible componentry suggesting respirators, microphones, cooling vents and so forth, which implies protection and separation from external reality, but most importantly, it has seams. The Stormtrooper helmet from the original trilogy carries with it a sense that it is field serviceable - an essential trait of any piece of military equipment, and one that helps make Stormtroopers feel that bit more real.
Lucas' directing style also tends to linger on world detail, starting shots early to give some impression of normal life before actors enter a scene, or letting the camera fall onto background characters as actors leave. There is much of Star Wars' cinematographic direction and production design that maps well against the ideals of environmental storytelling in games - using background or ambient environment to tell small stories as part of world building without popping out to a discrete vignette.
Star Wars gives us worlds where everything is familiar, but at the same time not familiar at all. Star Wars shows us a universe that has enough familiarity to relate to, but different enough to give us a taste of one of the most powerful feelings we can know: discovery.
So, to recap, Star Wars tells accessible stories, amplifies social ideals surrounding good and evil, and presents a detailed, believable universe.↑return to section top↑ ↑return to page top↑
On the left of this article (or on this page if you're reading the standalone version) is an interactive timeline that visualises the release history of Star Wars titles along with screenshots and some additional data points that may be relevant when trying to compare and understand these games' relationships with Star Wars.
By default, the timeline will scale to take up the available space to the left of the divider, which can be resized by dragging, or by clicking on the icons at the top of the divider. In the bottom left corner of the timeline are buttons providing additional control over timeline scaling.
The round "Cheese Talks" stamp icon on the top right of certain games within the timeline indicate that the article covers this game specifically, and act as links to the relevant section.
Hovering over a screenshot will expand to display a larger version. Hovering over the question mark icon above a screenshot will display information on the screenshot's origin.
Hovering over any of the six icons at the bottom of each game will display further information on the meaning of that icon.
The controls on the top left of the timeline allow for customisation of horizontal sorting/organisation, highlighting different relationships between the listed titles. From top to bottom, they are:
There are a number of assumptions/concessions made for the presentation of this data that are worth being aware of when reading:
Star Wars is typically accepted to be the domain of LucasArts, originally founded as Lucasfilm Games in 1982 (coincidentally the release date of the first Star Wars computer game, Parker Brothers' Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for Atari and Intellivision platforms) as the game development arm of Lucasfilm. Lucasfilm had licenced out the Star Wars IP to other game development companies, preventing Lucasfilm Games from exploring that until the early 90s.
The pre-LucasArts era of Star Wars games were a mix of platfomers, arcade space combat, scrolling shooters, and other oddities, landing primarily on PC and arcade platforms, but also on early consoles.
From 1992 onwards, LucasArts (as it had been renamed) was involved in the publishing of every Star Wars game (excluding Hasbro's Star Wars Monopoly and Star Wars: Millennium Falcon CD-ROM Playset) until 1998 when education oriented spin-off company Lucas Learning was formed. This early period, which ran between Sculptured Software's 1992 The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith saw LucasArts making use of both internal and external developers, working with the likes of Software Toolworks, TotallyGames and SEGA to make titles alongside offering from their own already mature internal development teams.
Games developed during this time primarily targeted PC platforms and consoles, and included platformers, arcade space combat, space flight sims, cinematic rail shooters, first person shooters, and first/third person action games. Several successful series have their origins in this era, including X-Wing, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, and Rebel Assault. Many of these games pushed the boundaries of both the current technology and craft, though not all were well received. Of particular note, Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi, a 3D fighting game in the style of Soulcalibur released for the Playstation regularly finds its way onto lists of "the worst Star Wars games."
Lucas Learning's first title was Star Wars: Droidworks, which made use of the Sith engine created for Star Wars: Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (title names in the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series get a little convoluted!), and the company had a comparatively short life, releasing nine titles before closing its doors in 2001. Primarily, their titles were puzzle oriented and centred around Phantom Menace tie-ins.
After a long and celebrated period of primarily creating new independent IP, LucasArts' focus shifted almost entirely toward Star Wars, with nineteen of their twenty two titles released between 1998 and 2001 being Star Wars themed.
During this period, Factor 5, TotallyGames, Big Ape Productions, Ronin Entertainment, and Luxoflux also worked on Star Wars titles, all of which were published by LucasArts. PC platforms were still dominant across the board, with several titles supporting consoles and/or handheld devices.
This era also coincided with the film release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the first installment of the prequel trilogy and the first Star Wars film since 1985's Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (which never received a game tie-in). Excluding one arcade title and Sculptured Softwares' four platfomers, no titles since LucasArts' early era began in 1992 had been straight film adaptations. After nineteen titles that told new stories (which typically intersected with the events of the original trilogy), Big Ape Studios released the game adaptation Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999.
Until the prequel trilogy ended with Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Star Wars game releases were mostly focused on the prequel trilogy era, supporting film releases with adaptations and intersecting stories. Beyond these, the Jedi Knight and Rogue Squadron series received new installments, and both Knights of the Old Republic titles were released.
Star Wars got its first MMO with Sony Online Entertainment's Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided, initially set between the original Star Wars film and The Empire Strikes Back, it also received film tie-in content in the Rage of the Wookiees and Trials of Obi-Wan expansions. In 2005, the first LEGO Star Wars game was released, adapting the entire prequel trilogy into a humorous brick based adventure. The first licenced browser based games also began to appear on StarWars.com, starting with 2003's Force Flight.
Though LucasArts was still publishing the majority of Star Wars titles, the number of individual developers working on Star Wars titles continued to grow to its peak, with releases from Ensemble Studios, Factor 5, Rainbow Studios, Raven Software, David A. Palmer Productions, Helixe, Pandemic, Sony Online Entertainment, BioWare, Pocket Studio, Ubisoft, Obsidian Entertainment, TT Fusion (TT Games in the timeline), The Collective, Universomo, Magellan Interactive, Amplified Games. Additionally, Tiger Games and Jakks Pacific released TV games, and StarWars.com and CartoonNetwork.com published several browser based titles.
Console support increased dramatically during this period while handheld and mobile titles were still comparatively rare, began to expand as well, with THQ Wireless taking over publishing of mobile titles produced by third party developers.
In October 2012, Lucasfilm and all of its holdings were acquired by Disney. The period leading up to this generally continued trends established in the years before. A few new publishers entered the fray, but LucasArts still published the majority of Star Wars titles. Consoles and handheld/mobile platforms continued to grow, while support for PC platforms declined significantly. Browser based games of varying scale increased dramatically, with StarWars.com, CartoonNetwork, Winning Moves and LEGO releasing multiple titles.
THQ Wireless continued to publish mobile Star Wars titles until 2010 shortly before it was sold to 24MAS as part of THQ's restructuring efforts. The number of publishers involved with Star Wars games increased again, with titles released during this period being published by LucasArts, EA, LEGO, Ubisoft, THQ Wireless.
In addition to in-house titles developed at LucasArts, external studios including Petroglyph, Traveller's Tales (TT Games in the timeline), Magellan Interactive, Ubisoft, Flashlabs Entertainment, Rebellion Developments, G5 Entertainment, Krome Studios, Powerful Robot, Three Melons, Infrared5, Sony Online Entertainment, Vertigore Games, BioWare, Terminal Reality, 4T2 Multimedia (Amuzo in the timeline), Fuel, Soap, and Rovio Entertainment worked on Star Wars titles between 2006 and 2012.
During this period, LEGO produced a number of browser based games as well as mobile, console and PC titles. The Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series launched and gained a sequel, and the infamous Kinect Star Wars received praise and criticism for its approaches toward adapting the Star Wars universe for motion control. Following LEGO's lead, Rovio Entertainment developed two Star Wars themed titles, loosely retelling the Star Wars saga in Angry Birds' style.
Star Wars received its second and third MMOs in Sony Online Entertainment's 2010 Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and BioWare's 2011 Star Wars: The Old Republic. Eight and a half years after its initial release and shortly before The Old Republic launched, Star Wars Galaxies was retired. Clone Wars Adventures lasted for a comparatively short time, and was retired in 2014 after three and a half years of uptime.
Following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, LucasArts' development studio was closed and repurposed as a licensor, resulting in the cancellation of Star Wars: 1313 (not featured in the timeline) and several other titles which were in development at the time. Moving forward, EA was granted an exclusive licence to develop Star Wars titles, while allowing Disney and what remained of LucasArts to pursue "casual" markets consisting of "mobile, social, tablet and online game categories".
Developers who released titles during this most recent era of Star Wars games include LEGO, BioWare, Amuzo, Konami, Rovio Entertainment, NimbleBit, TT Fusion (Traveller's Tales in the timeline), Disney, DeNA Santiago, Gigataur, North Kingdom, Bandai Namco, Kabam, DICE, Capital Games, ILMxLAB, and Netmarble. Jakks Pacific continued to release TV games, and the now regular slew of websites to feature Star Wars browser based titles expanded to include the Disney website.
Primarily, mobile and browser based titles have dominated this era in Star Wars game history. EA continued to publish The Old Republic and its expansions, and eventually published a reboot of Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015, which was developed by its studio DICE. ILM's ILMxLAB produced their first Star Wars title in the form of Trials on Tatooine, a free virtual reality game letting players wield a lightsaber in defence of a grounded Millennium Falcon set after Return of the Jedi.
Late in 2014, an agreement between Disney and GOG.com saw a slew of classic Lucasfilm Games and LucasArts titles re-packaged and released for modern platforms. Of these, X-Wing, TIE-Fighter, Dark Forces, and both Rebel Assault titles were released for Linux. In the broader context, this isn't particularly noteworthy, but it's the platform I use and it's been lovely to be able to legally share these games with my fellow Linux users.
Another legacy of the Disney acquisition that has particular relevance for me is the relationship between Disney, Sony and Double Fine that lead to the remastered re-releases of Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle Remastered, the latter of which I was contracted to port to Linux. So far, these projects have focused on titles that Double Fine founder Tim Schafer had worked on while at LucasArts, but should that ever expand to cover other games (which I have no awareness of plans for), then it's possible that Star Wars titles might end up on the table.
The future of prominent Star Wars titles is likely to lie with EA for now. It's unclear what terms their exclusive licence has, and it unlikely that they will be interested in picking up LucasArts' cancelled projects. In press releases, EA has talked about primarily focusing on creating "entirely original [titles] with all new stories and gameplay". That their first title created as part of this agreement (publishing The Old Republic and its expansions was negotiated prior to the Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm) was a reboot of a previously established Star Wars franchise throws some doubt on whether this focus fits with their current plans and makes it harder to predict what the long term outcomes of their involvement will be.
In addition to their Battlefront reboot and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, EA have announced that they will be working with Visceral Games and Respawn Entertainment on two separate action adventure titles, and creating additional content for Battlefront.↑return to section top↑
In addition to showing the chronological progression of Star Wars games, the timeline's various sorting options draw attention to a number of observations.
Early on, film adaptations were a high priority for Star Wars titles. Of the 13 titles preceding 1993's Star Wars: X-Wing (which included an adaptation of the original Star Wars film's climactic attack on the Death Star), Star Wars: Jedi Arena and Star Wars Chess were the only ones to not be a direct adaptation of film sequences.
X-Wing was the first Star Wars game with an actual story (Jedi Arena and Star Wars Chess don't seem to have much story content) to move beyond the confines of the films even if it still intersected with and was anchored around the events of the original trilogy.
Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire was the first title to feature a fully independent story (the first Rebel Assault game intersected with events featured in the original Star Wars film).
Since Star Wars Rebels: Strike Missions in 2014, no Star Wars titles have featured canon-friendly stories that intersect with the events of any Star Wars films or TV shows, suggesting that canonicity isn't a priority for developers working on Star Wars titles in recent history.
Games with original stories (discounting titles like Clones vs Droids which don't seem to have much story content) have become increasingly infrequent, with Trials on Tatooine, The Old Republic appearing to be the only titles that fit since The Force Unleashed II in 2010.
Excluding Jedi Arena and 1982's The Empire Strikes back (which didn't really depict characters), X-Wing vs TIE Fighter (which also didn't really depict characters) and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II were the first Star Wars games to not feature characters from the Star Wars films. Beyond those, are Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, then The Old Republic. This leads to the conclusion that Star Wars games, even for titles that have independent storylines, still end up leaning heavily on characters established in Star Wars films.
Up until 1997, playable Jedi and use of the Force in particular in Star Wars games was rare. 1983's Jedi Arena and the early film adaptation platformers (1987's Star Wars, 1991's Star Wars, 1992's The Empire Strikes Back, Super Star Wars, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) all allowed players to wield lightsabers, but the Force as a usable game mechanic didn't appear until Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1993 and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in 1994, but both of these failed (in my opinion) to map well against the Force as depicted in the Films. In 1997, Yoda Stories offered the Force as an inventory item that could be used to solve certain puzzles and detect hidden objects in narrative context, but gave no opportunity for expressive Force usage. Later that year, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II would be the first game to let a player use the Force for knowledge, defence and attack.
After Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II's release in 1997, the number of games with playable Jedi/Force using characters increased dramatically from 32% of titles to 73%, suggesting that the Force is an important part of developers' perceptions of what Star Wars games should be about.
1997's Star Wars: X-Wing vs TIE Fighter was the first Star Wars attempt at a truly multiplayer focused experience, but was quickly followed up with an expansion featuring more single player accessible content. Star Wars Galaxies brought the first Star Wars MMO experience in 2003. At least one Star Wars MMO has been actively running since, with Galaxies, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Star Wars: The Old Republic all running concurrently for a brief two day period before Galaxies' retirement.
The timeline also opens up the opportunity to dig into a range of otherwise difficult-to-explore questions. Are there correlations between playable Jedi and in-fiction film adaptations? Do particular publishers favour specific in-fiction time periods? Of all the good prequel era games, are there any that don't have multiplayer support? Were there any lengthy periods in the release history that didn't depict film characters? There are many angles to read the data from, and it is my hope that others will be able to find new questions and insights from this visualisation that haven't occurred to me.↑return to section top↑
Given that the timeline contains about double the number of titles that I assumed were everything when I did my first round of research, I am almost confident that others will have slipped under my radar.
I have made conscious efforts to not include Star Wars titles that are DLC for non-Star Wars games such as PinballFX's Star Wars themed boards, and reluctantly decided to not include titles that present themselves as applications rather than games like Star Wars: Making Magic. These lines aren't very distinct, however. The official Star Wars app has a VR component called Jakku Spy that might classify as a game, and on certain platforms some Star Wars themed PinballFX DLC has been sold as a standalone title.
I've also not included electronic handheld games unless they've qualified as "TV games". I'm certain that there are at least dozens out there, but tracking down details on them has been difficult.
The decisions I've made on these fronts are more out of necessity than any solid opinion. Ideally, I'd prefer to be more comprehensive than not, but a line needed to be drawn somewhere otherwise I'd end up with a project that could never be released (as it was, at least four new titles were released while I was working on this article).
If interest in this article is high enough, I'd be open to expanding it to include more detail and more titles. If the opportunity arises, I'd like to find better ways to display platform specific publishers for titles that have them, and improve the in-fiction period sorting to be more accurate and readable. It would be nice to throw in additional lines to represent the relationships between expansions, sequels, remakes and reboots. I can see value in having better indications for uncertainty surrounding data points. I'd also love to gather screenshots for the remaining titles in the timeline that I've not been able to locate permissively licenced screenshots for.
In the interests of making improvements and corrections less dependent on my own availability, I've put the data that drives the timeline up on GitHub where others can also contribute.↑return to section top↑ ↑return to page top↑
To continue this journey of exploring what Star Wars games are and have been, I've compiled a collection of memories and reflections on three dozen or so of the Star Wars titles that I've played. Additionally, I've tried to distill those thoughts down into small lists of "takeaways" that reflect something relevant from each game that helped define the title both as an interesting work, and as a part of the Star Wars franchise.
While researching for this article, the number that I've spent time with has dramatically increased, but many of the small-scope web games like Ewok Village or Yoda's Jedi Training (both of which I've now played a lot more than I care to admit) don't currently feel appropriate for this list, and the others I haven't quite spent enough time with to draw meaningful opinions from.
The titles listed here are sorted loosely in the order that I played them in, which does not coincide with the order of their respective release dates.
One of the earliest games my family had acquired for our Amiga 500 was the polygonal line art style Star Wars: The Arcade Game (known to us as Star Wars). Loosely adapting the climax of the first film, Star Wars: The Arcade Game had players taking on the role of Luke Skywalker, piloting an X-wing through a dogfight around the Death Star, then down onto the Death Star's surface to destroy turbolasers (and towers for bonus points), before diving into the trench for a final run at the thermal exhaust port. Upon successfully launching proton torpedoes, the Death Star would explode, final scores would be calculated and the game would repeat with a slightly higher number of enemies and obstacles.
Star Wars: The Arcade Game takes a few liberties with its subject matter: TIE fighters shoot "fireballs" that the player must destroy to avoid taking damage, the towers that Wedge and Luke mention in the film are pillars on the Death Star surface that the player can shoot the tops off, and the trench is full of fireballs and "catwalks" that the player must avoid.
Mechanically, piloting during the dogfighting sequence felt more or less cosmetic, with 'steering' doing little more than panning the starfield and background Death Star around. The movements of Vader and his entourage are unaffected by the player's movements, but in the heat of the moment, it's not particularly noticeable.
The Death Star surface sequence employed a similar movement mechanic, but this time towers and turbolasers rising in the distance before zipping by gives more of a sense of control over movement. When Luke dives down into the trench, there's so little room that every movement feels exaggerated, though there is no collision with the trench walls, so this doesn't add any sense of risk.
There's a less-is-more aspect to the game's wireframe aesthetic that, combined with a few Star Wars sound bites and voice grabs, allows the game to feel more authentic than it probably is, and was enough engage my 7 year old imagination's suspension of disbelief.
Coming back to play Star Wars: The Arcade Game in preparation for writing this article was both an exercise in nostalgia and an enjoyable experience in its own right. Before playing, I was expecting the fireballs, catwalks and weird towers to feel gratuitous and out of place, but they fill worthwhile gameplay roles, providing moment-to-moment objectives and obstacles that the game would definitely feel weaker without. They also don't seem too out of place thematically - in the films, we do see TIE fighters shooting at the rebel X-wings as they approach, we do see Red Wing's pilots destroying stuff on the Death Star surface, and the trench is shown to be an effort to safely navigate.
The second Star Wars game I'd played was the 1985 sequel, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which took the same model of repeating a series of sequences from the film with increasing difficulty. Rather than focusing on a single event within Empire, this game attempts to cover more of its film's story, which ends up not feeling quite as tight or cohesive an experience.
The game opens with the player (presumably Luke) flying a Snowspeeder and attempting to take down probe droids before they can transmit the location of the Rebels' Hoth base. Once enough transmissions have made it through, the game transitions to a sequence where the player is defending the Rebel base from approaching AT-ATs and AT-STs. The player is then given control of the Millennium Falcon as it fights off TIE fighters before the game's final sequence, which only requires steering as the player flies the Falcon through the asteroid field seen toward the end of the first third of the film.
Unlike its predecessor, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back tracks true 3D positioning, giving a greater sense of control during the snowspeeder sequences and, to an extent, the TIE fighter battle. This is abandoned during the asteroid sequence, which mechanically plays out similarly to avoiding the catwalks in Star Wars: The Arcade Game (although the asteroids themselves are far less readable than the previous game's catwalks).
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back brings in a performance reward system for each sequence, where killing enough enemies (or making it through the asteroid field) would award the player with a letter from the word "JEDI". When all letters were collected, the player would be invulnerable for a short amount of time, which could be extended by fulfilling the requirements to get another letter. Additionally, bonus points would be awarded to players who successfully flew between AT-AT walkers' legs.
Although the individual sequences feel a little stronger than the first game's, the disparate nature of the scenes depicted in the game prevents it from having any kind of resonant pacing or meaningful climax.
Like Star Wars: The Arcade Game, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back makes use of sound samples from the films, which enhance the experience. It uses a more up-beat version of the Star Wars main title for the menu music which features an unexpected key change that I never know whether I should rock out to or feel disdain for.
The Amiga ports of both of these games varied a little from the arcade releases, with the original arcade cabinets having a little more geometric detail and maneuverability, and the Amiga ports having improved audio. Interestingly, this contrasts with Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (the third title in the series) which eschews the 3D wireframe style of the previous two games for a more traditional isometric sprite based presentation.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (which I'd not played prior to writing this article) attempts to represent a string of connected events, starting on Endor with Luke riding a speeder bike to where C-3PO and R2-D2 wait at an Ewok village, then transitioning to to Chewbacca piloting an AT-ST toward the Death Star Mk II's shield generator intercut with Lando piloting the Millennium Falcon around Star Destroyers, before finally switching to the Millennium Falcon's flight through the Death Star's core and back out. When playing on easy mode, only the initial speeder bike and Death Star core sequences are present. As with previous titles, completing the final sequence will increase the difficulty level and return the player to the beginning.
In general, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi seems significantly weaker than the previous games, but cutting away during the AT-ST sequence to heighten tension is a really interesting piece of storytelling that feels way ahead of its time.
The first time I saw X-Wing was at a friend's house. They were the only other person I knew who had an Amiga, but they'd recently gotten a machine that ran DOS, and with it came access to games we'd never seen or heard of before.
After some questionable use of PKUNZIP and a stack of hand labeled floppy disks, we were presented with a "security check". I can't recall whether we had a partial copy of the relevant information or whether that particular version only used one Aurebesh code that we weren't entirely confident of, but to this day, I have vivid memories of us typing "Dantooine" with crossed fingers and holding our breath.
The comms chatter, sound effects, dynamic cockpits (none of the previous Star Wars games I'd played had any kind of practical value to their cockpits) and ship models all support the kind of atmosphere presented in the films.
Coming from flight simulators like F/A-18 Interceptor and action dogfighting games like SkyChase and Wings, X-Wing felt like it ticked all the boxes for everything I ever wanted from a Star Wars flight sim. It had a level of interface complexity that was deep enough to make it feel involved, but shallow enough to not get in the way when a wing of TIE Advanced are on your tail.
I wasn't given much opportunity to play, but I was always happy to watch. There was something magical and above all else authentic about X-Wing that (to me at least) put it on-par with watching a dogfight sequence from one of the Star Wars films. For a few brief moments, I was Luke, I was Wedge, I was Biggs, and I tried my hardest to not be Porkins.
Years later, I would eventually own my own copies of X-Wing and discover the extent to which it attempted to flesh out the Star Wars universe and Rebel Alliance's narrative by exploring not only the events leading up to the destruction of the Death Star, but also through mission packs, the impact of the rebel presence on Yavin IV's discovery and the events leading up to the establishment of rebel base on Hoth. For the most part, these blank spots around the film's narratives were respectfully handled, and although X-Wing didn't push the kind of storytelling that its sequel TIE Fighter would, exploring the Star Wars universe in a way that's deeper than grazing or adapting what's covered in the films starts to open up the opportunity for giving the same sense of "discovery" that the films provide.
X-Wing's use of the iMUSE music system to create dynamic scores approximating the kind of cinematic work done by John Williams for the films did a fantastic job of keeping tension up and helping keep the Star Wars atmosphere ever present. Peter McConnel, Michael Z. Land and Clint Bajakian's work in expanding the musical vocabulary of the Star Wars universe's dogfight and combat music still impresses me to this day (although, it's hard to say how much of that is my current, more mature tastes, and how much is nostalgia - I do find to harder to enjoy re-renderings of the original MIDI music with modern synths/samples, so the latter is definitely at play to some extent).
When I eventually got my first computer (that is, the first computer that was mine and mine alone), the first software purchase I made was the LucasArts Archives Volume II. It was Star Wars themed and released in the leadup to the 1997 Special Edition re-release of the original trilogy. The primary reason for my purchase was that it included Star Wars: Making Magic, a CD containing interviews and featurettes on the kind of work Lucasfilm and ILM were doing on the films.
I spent many hours pouring over that content, but it could realistically only go so far, and I eventually fell back to exploring the games it came with, and aside from TIE Fighter, the Dark Forces demo was probably the one that captivated me the most (at least until I got the full version with the LucasArts Archives Volume III the following year).
Rather than put the player in the events shown within a film or let the player fill a role explored by the film (eg: a rebel pilot in X-Wing), Dark Forces invited players to become Kyle Katarn, a former Stormtrooper turned mercenary working with the Rebel Alliance.
The game opens with Kyle infiltrating an Imperial facility on Danuta and retrieving the Death Star plans, and then proceeds to follow a narrative that is entirely separate from the films aside from a later mission that has Katarn rescuing defecting imperial officer Crix Madine, a character seen briefly in Return of the Jedi.
Weaving a story around events depicted in the film help anchor Dark Forces firmly around the Star Wars canon (a position that is likely to be compromised by Rogue One which at the time of writing has not yet been released), but also allow it to explore new ground while feeling tied to the Star Wars universe we know.
Dark Forces' plot centres around the development of a new type of battle droid called the "Dark Trooper" by Imperial General Rom Mohc. Through a series of seemingly unrelated missions, the player is exposed to a notion of what Kyle's mercenary life might be like before he is tasked with discovering more about the Dark Trooper project and confronting General Mohc.
Where X-Wing explores the question of "What would life as a rebel pilot like Luke or Wedge be like?," Dark Forces explores "What would life as a rogue like Han be like if he were a bit less smuggling oriented?" Katarn is clearly the protagonist of Dark Forces, but his role within and impact on the Star Wars universe as a whole is far more understated than Luke's is in the films. While Rookie One and the player's pilot in X-Wing (the only two preceding Star Wars games with any proper attempt at telling stories beyond the films) play prominent roles in pivotal events, Kyle's actions are in the background, but no less critical.
Herein lies some of the most fertile ground for storytelling in spin-off properties. It's no surprise to me that the first live action non-mainline Star Wars feature since 1985 (Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, the second in a pair of Star Wars films aimed at younger audiences centring around the adventures of a family crash landed on Endor prior to Return of the Jedi) explores a similar premise to the opening of Dark Forces.
Gameplay-wise, Dark Forces feels inspired by Doom, but its engine, the Jedi Engine, featured additional mechanics and functionality that were comparatively unexplored in the first person shooter (FPS) genre at the time of its release.
Most notably, the Jedi Engine allowed the player to look (and aim) up and down, and allowed level designers to create overlapping rooms necessary for true verticality - something the Doom engine (id Tech) was never capable of. To me, these two features compliment each other. The latter lets Dark Forces feature intricate environments, and the former gives players a way to better explore and appreciate them.
Dark Forces also had more intricate lock/key/switch mechanics than other FPS games of the time, and has often been celebrated for its "puzzles".
With new capabilites come new pitfalls though, and some of Dark Forces' levels feel a little obtuse and difficult to navigate when seen through the lens of modern design sensibilities. That said, I definitely loved the hell out of it at the time, and still find Dark Forces to be enjoyable and well constructed.
I won't say that first person games are inherently more immersive, but I do think they enable some things that make supporting a sense of presence easier. Being able to peek around corners to see marching Stormtroopers or jump through some blast doors guns blazing, and to be able to have the agency to control whether, when and how those actions happen was unprecedented. Being able to look around an Imperial facility with something approximating human eyes is a big thing - for the first time, Dark Forces offered the opportunity to "exist" within the Star Wars universe with the freedom and agency to move through and explore its environments.
Dark Forces also paid more attention to atmosphere than most of its contemporaries. Seeing burned skeletons ("Owens and Berus" as I tactfully called them in my youth) in the city streets as a light contingent of Imperial troops patrolled the burned out husks of buildings on Talay was eerie. Being dragged through Anoat City's sewage processing plant while fighting off dianogas was tense. Hearing nearby Dark Troopers through walls in the robotics facility on Anteevy was terrifying.
Like X-Wing, Dark Forces make use of the iMUSE system to create dynamic music cues that responded to the situations players found themselves in, with Clint Bajakian providing additional composition around John Williams' Star Wars score.
Dark Forces was the first FPS game that I truly "got into", and it will always remain special to me for that.
X-Wing put players in the shoes and seat of a rebel pilot and explored a continuation of what the films depicted of that role. While this allowed for new stories to be told and for Star Wars lore to be deepened, there was still a lot of possibility space left untouched both from a narrative and a structural perspective.
I'd need to spend more time with both games to have a solid opinion, but in my memory, X-Wing was limited by depicting the underdog in the Galactic Civil War (the conflict covered in the original trilogy). The Rebel Alliance could never gain a decisive upper hand without upsetting Star Wars continuity. Any major victory outside of those depicted in the films needed to be more or less immediately quashed, whether that was at the end of a mission or as part of out-of-mission narrative.
TIE Fighter on the other hand had range to explore the concentrated force of the Imperial Navy at its might as well as outmatched engagements featuring encounters with not only the Rebel Alliance, but also unaffiliated forces and even traitorous elements from within the Empire itself. The game takes place between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, where the Rebels have suffered a significant setback on Hoth, and the Empire is seeking to push its advantage by pursuing new combat technologies.
Presenting the Empire as a positive force for peace and order in the Galaxy, TIE Fighter casts the Star Wars universe in a new light never before seen in a game. Fan-favourite Thrawn from the Heir to the Empire trilogy (a series of then-recognised Expanded Universe novels by Timothy Zahn) features heavily in TIE Fighter, giving the game's plot a less overtly dark side oriented/evil figurehead. While the twin shadows of the Emperor and Darth Vader hang over the game, and plenty of dark overtones are at work within it, Thrawn's presence helps keep things relatable.
iMUSE is employed once again to deliver a dynamic soundtrack, focusing primarily on the original trilogy's darker themes but recomposed to deliver a more heroic tone in a major key, nicely supporting the game's alternative perspective.
TIE Fighter improves over almost every aspect of X-Wing (with the possible exception of the concourse - the Independence will always be more interesting and exciting to me!). Graphical improvements, improved targeting controls allowing components of enemy ships and structures to be targeted independently, and increases to the complexity of mission structures pushed the look and feel of TIE Fighter's gameplay ahead.
Between missions, in addition to the animated briefing map seen in X-Wing, players were able to discuss mission specifics with the Flight Officer via a point-and-click adventure style dialogue system. This allows for a little more characterisation and plot context beyond the minimalist briefing text. An additional character appears in the briefing room for certain missions, a representative from the Secret Order of the Empire who, through similar dialogue mechanics, reveals secondary objectives that the player can perform as a service to the Emperor.
TIE Fighter's approach to storytelling outside of cutscenes is fairly minimal, but the between mission dialogue and in-mission events contribute a lot to the sense of participating in a living, breathing universe. The development of new Imperial fighters across the course of the game's campaigns builds anticipation and rewards progress in a way that has tangible impact on gameplay.
At a time when I was looking to distance myself from some of the realities of my existence, TIE Fighter gave me something deep and rich to come home to. Although it wasn't the first game I immersed myself in (Another World might have that honour), it did allow me to reflect on the relationships between immersion and escapism, and to consider the risks and benefits of those as coping mechanisms.
Rebel Assault's history is an interesting tale of a throwaway project exceeding expectations. The story goes that designer Vince Lee was instructed without much in the way of direction or resources to make something that utilised CD-ROM hardware and was Star Wars themed. With a background as an Amiga user and developer, Lee borrowed inspiration from Cinemaware's approach to storytelling and cutscenes as well as the Amiga terrain generator Vista (which he had worked on). The result was the INSANE game engine and the FMV rail shooter Rebel Assault, which pushed the boundaries of what was possible with streaming audio/video.
Rather than reworking the original trilogy, which didn't have the kind of ratios and combinations of plot and action sequences that would fit best with Rebel Assault's format, the game tells a similar story following another rebel pilot known as Rookie One. Rookie One's journey begins with a training sequence on Tatooine, and a few chapters later throws canon out the window by having Rookie One participate in the Battle of Hoth before going on to personally destroy the Death Star from the original film.
In addition to sequences rendered from newly created 3D models and a few shots of original footage, Rebel Assault also features digitised footage and music from the original trilogy. Although it was still fairly low resolution and had some visual discrepancies between painted, rendered and live action footage, the game still manages to retain some stylistic coherency that is consistent with the films.
Having the score from the original trilogy present in the game in its original form (compression aside) was a first for Star Wars games. Although reusing them for new characters, settings and emotional beats undermines the Leitmotif oriented structure of Williams' work, it doesn't feel wrong in Rebel Assault and ends up emphasising different aspects of the tracks. Rebel Assault and its sequel allowed me to rediscover and appreciate the original trilogy's soundtracks in new ways.
Interestingly, Rebel Assault featured the option to play Rookie One as a male character or a female character, making it the first Star Wars game with any level of character customisation and also the first to offer a primary female protagonist (even if the default was male).
After the unexpected success of Rebel Assault, its sequel, Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire was given scope to push for higher production values. Improved compression (and presumably CD-ROM speeds) allowed for higher resolution video. In response to player feedback, controls and joystick support had also been tightened.
Unlike its predecessor, Rebel Assault II tells a story that is more or less independent from the original trilogy, following Rookie One's adventures as he investigates a distress call that puts him on the path of a new weapon that the empire is developing. Also unlike Rebel Assault, this game's story avoids overtly contradicting film canon.
This time around, the developers focused primarily on using live action performances, borrowing costumes and props from the film and recording what was the first Star Wars footage produced by a Lucasfilm company since Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.
Presumably to keep costs down or maybe to avoid possible controversy that might have surrounded a same-sex romantic relationship between Rookie One and Ru Murleen, only one set of Rookie One footage was shot, removing the gender selection option from the previous game and establishing Rookie One as being male.
Actors were filmed primarily on bluescreen sets with ship cockpits and environments being composited from pre-rendered 3D scenes. The acting is a little hit-and-miss, but aside from that (or maybe in-part because of that), Rebel Assault II carries a huge amount of Star Wars authenticity.
Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault II have copped a lot of flak over the years for having shallow gameplay, but to me, it feels like it has pretty broad range for a pair of rail shooters and most complaints seem to stem from expectations for something else rather than significant issues with the games themselves.
Both games do have difficulty spikes that may or may not be appreciated by players. I recall the Mining Tunnels chapter giving me a lot of trouble, but it felt really good to progress past once I got the hang of it.
I haven't spent much time with Star Wars Arcade. Arcades aren't particularly common where I live and it was often difficult to have enough coins to have a meaningful play session.
The few times I did manage to sit down to play, I always found it unsettling that general ship handling didn't quite behave in the way that I was used to from X-Wing and TIE Fighter, but being able to sit in something that you could squint and pretend was an X-wing cockpit made up for that.
I never quite understood when exactly Star Wars Arcade is set. The unfinished Death Star Mk II on the title screen, the presence of Super Star Destroyers, the range of of TIEs, and the flight inside the Death Star superstructure all suggest that it is set within Return of the Jedi, but the opening shot recreates the opening shot from the first film, and the Death Star itself appears to be fully constructed.
The mix of open space dogfighting and tight-quarters makes the game feel well paced though, even if it takes some liberties.
When Dark Forces was released, apparently there was some furore about it not having lightsaber combat or force powers. I never knew anybody who'd played the game, and although I had from time to time wondered what a first person Jedi game would play like, I was super happy with Dark Forces as it was.
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II put protagonist Kyle Katarn on the path to becoming a force user and exposes players to the power and temptation that entails.
Moving beyond the 2D character sprites and limited Doom-style level rendering of Dark Forces' Jedi Engine, Jedi Knight's Sith Engine allowed for full 3D character models, complex 3D level geometry and 3D positional sound.
Like its predecessor, Jedi Knight carved new ground both in engine tech and in game execution, and like its predecessor, it also shows some of the rough edges that two decades' worth of hindsight and industry progression are bound to reveal.
Rather than making use of primarily 2D animated cutscenes like Dark Forces, Jedi Knight took Rebel Assault II's approach of combining live action performances with 3D rendererd elements. Like Rebel Assault II, it also suffers from wildly varying levels of acting proficiency (incidentally, Jedi Knight supposedly features the first recorded lightsaber footage since Return of the Jedi). It's hard to say whether it is Jedi Knight's ambition to move farther beyond fighter cockpits and fairly static/simple sets or whether Rebel Assault II's lower resolution/fidelity did a better job of hiding rough edges, but the combination here felt far more jarring to me, even though the 3D landscapes and characters were impressive for their time.
In an introductory cutscene depicting a bunch of angry people with lightsabers executing captives in the hopes of finding the Valley of the Jedi, it is revealed that Kyle Katarn's father knows the valley's location. The opening cutscene shows Kyle at Nar Shadaar, on the trail of his father's killer, negotiating with a droid known at 8T-88, who reveals that the "Dark Jedi" Jerec is responsible.
Players control Kyle as he hunts down a data disc belonging to his father that 8T-88 has escaped with. During this early portion of the game, Kyle uses familiar weaponry from Dark Forces as he faces off against staple Star Wars enemies like Gran, Rodians, Gamorreans, Tuskens and Stormtroopers.
Like Dark Forces, Jedi Knight leans on a combination of standard shooter gameplay, puzzles, and exploration. Secret areas feel more rewarding to discover and are often less obviously placed than those in Dark Forces were.
Jedi Knight's level design feels strongest when depicting artificial/constructed environments. Nar Shadaar's intricate passages, catwalks and spires are a great introduction to some of the game's most enjoyable moments.
While reminiscing with a friend about Jedi Knight before writing, I was reminded of a late level in the game, which has Kyle navigating a capital ship in freefall. The controls get a little clunky, but the sense of being able to navigate and explore familiar feeling environments in a new way is super powerful.
Partway through the game, Kyle inherits a lightsaber and access to some force powers. As the player progresses, they are able to allocate "stars" toward light, dark and neutral force powers, which play a role in determining which of the two possible branches of the game's narrative will play out.
There's something really nice about the game not overtly signaling the player's progression toward the light or the dark side of the force. There's the possibility of a wonderful "What have I become?" moment if the player's actions embrace the dark side.
Lightsaber combat feels awkward to control, and the key bindings for force powers make it difficult to use a range of them quickly. I'm aware that there have been highly skilled players who have mastered Jedi Knight's lightsaber and force controls, but they always felt less solid to me than the game's more traditional FPS style weapons and abilities.
In addition to the single player campaign, Jedi Knight also offered a range of mutiplayer modes, and was one of my first networked multiplayer games. I don't have recollections of playing it a lot, but I do remember us preferring to do stuff like use force speed to run at walls rather than kill each other. Without other people to play with, any kind of competitive play got old pretty quickly.
Jedi Knight has a sense of "rawness" to it that I think at once makes it less accessible and more charming. In the same way that Super Mario Bros 2 is dissonant with its predecessors and sequels, Jedi Knight often feels like it is pursuing something other than Dark Forces' strengths and also lacks the polish and more modern design sensibilities of Jedi Outcast, but in doing so, exposes something fundamentally compelling.
In the mid 1990s, Lucasilm embarked on an ambitious merchandising project that aimed to create and service the kind of market that would surround a Star Wars film without actually producing a Star Wars film. This project, which would be collectively known as Shadows of the Empire consisted of a novelisation, a series of comic books, action figures, playsets, statues, kit models, a computer game, and even a soundtrack.
The plot follows events between The Empires Strikes back and Return of the Jedi surrounding Han Solo-eqsue smuggler mercenary Dash Rendar and his role in the destruction of the Black Sun syndicate, although different adaptations take slightly different approaches (for example, Dark Horse's comic series primarily focuses instead on Boba Fett).
The game adaptation has players participating in the Battle of Hoth, confronting some of the bounty hunters seen in The Empire Strikes Back, and intersecting with key original trilogy characters as they become embroiled in Black Sun overlord Prince Xizor's plot to supplant Vader's position by destroying the Emperor's enemies.
I never owned Shadows of the Empire myself and the brief time I've spent playing was all on an interstate friend's N64 during a single visit. Not much of Shadows sank in for me. The third person sequences felt super cumbersome after playing Dark Forces and Jedi Knight (the first person camera mode never felt right either), and after playing X-Wing, most of the vehicle sequences felt like they were lacking enough complexity and control to feel engaging.
Low screen and texture resolution aside, Shadows of the Empire's world feels solid and well fleshed out, and the story is deep enough that it could conceivably work as a Star Wars film (although I'm uncertain how much of that opinion comes from my memories of the game and how much comes from the novelisation).
It was fun to explore a new Star Wars story with a friend, but in the end, I feel like I got more out of the novel than I did the game. The Shadows of the Empire game is often celebrated though, so I'm certain that most of my issues with it stem from me not fitting within its target audience.
Yoda Stories is a procedurally generated tile based adventure-game-ish thing, created as a follow up to 1996's Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures. These two games are difficult to classify in that they play a little like a turn based dungeon crawler, but focus on quest and a light version of the kind of inventory puzzles that might be found in an adventure game.
I've seen a lot of negativity about Yoda Stories that focus on it not being a large scale point-and-click adventure in the vein of Monkey Island (which would definitely have been wonderful to have). When taken as a small scale play-for-a-few-minutes-then-do-something-else game like FreeCell or Mine Sweeper, Yoda Stories has always felt solid to me.
Each game opens with the player controlling Luke as he lands on Dagobah and is given a generated quest by Yoda that will lead him to one or more randomly selected Star Wars locations.
Characterisation is pretty light, and the pool of inventory items is small. It's easy to learn the patterns that the game's generator will come up with and after a point, any sense of exploration or discovery fades away. What's left can still be enjoyable though, I think.
At the beginning of the 90s when I first got the opportunity to experience and start to explore the World Wide Web, I fuelled my passion for Star Wars by hunting down and absorbing as much information as I could, whether it was critiques, behind-the-scenes commentary, scripts, theories about what the next Star Wars trilogy would cover (so much hope that moved along different axes to what was realised in the Prequel Trilogy) or fan works.
I was particularly excited by rebel ships and pilots, and would often traverse webrings of fan sites hunting for schematics and systems diagrams.
It's hard to know whether it was before or after I'd first seen X-Wing (I'd played enough flight sims to want a Star Wars themed one), but at some point I began to stumble across pilot rosters and accounts of battles. At the time, I assumed that somewhere there must be a multiplayer Star Wars game where people were flying in squadrons together, doing their best to keep Imperial forces at bay. I wanted so very much to be a part of that, and this is exactly what the multiplayer oriented X-Wing vs TIE Fighter was trying to fulfill.
In hindsight, I'm pretty sure now that most of what I came across was either role play or fan fiction, but even to this day, I still can't think about early 90s web design with starfield backgrounds, blink tags and gifs or rotating 3D rebel insignia without feeling a sense of excitement.
I bought XWvT close to its release date, but hit a bunch of hurdles that prevented me from truly appreciating it. The first was its joystick requirement. My laptop didn't have a game port (which joysticks used at the time), and for a long time, I only had Amiga joysticks anyway. When I finally did manage to get my hands on a compatible joystick (which I think might have been a Quickshot Python), I discovered that I didn't have any friends who had joysticks or networking capabilities.
I played a little X-Wing vs TIE Fighter against AI opponents and enjoyed it, but the AI pilots never gave me the kind of cooperative squad experience I was hoping for (as an aside, Guns of Icarus Online isn't Star Wars, but does this wonderfully!). By the time I was able to effectively play the game, X-Wing Alliance had been released and ended up feeling like a better choice for mutiplayer.
A multiplayer focused successor to a story driven series is a risky proposition, and LucasArts quickly moved to release an expansion for X-Wing vs TIE Fighter that included two co-op narrative campaigns with cutscenes. Both campaigns broadly cover the same events but from each faction's perspective, resulting in two identifiably different sets of missions.
One thing that I found an interesting emergent aspect of having a structured campaign using X-Wing vs TIE Fighter's multiplayer/mission setup is that any squadron on the battlefield can be joined. In X-Wing, it was possible to choose which ship within a squad you were flying, but since your squad had a specific tactical role, the impact was minimal. In Balance of Power's campaigns, ship configurations and loadouts are locked, so selecting a different squad allows for different tactical roles within a single mission to be explored.
X-Wing vs TIE Fighter's notion of "reinforcements" which would equate to lives or respawns in many other multiplayer games also creates a different kind of experience. It encourages a more battle-oriented view of the game where tactical sacrifices matter and TIE Fighters feel more like dispensable fodder. On the other hand, there is a lesser sense of risk when flying and no feeling that you have an avatar that is progressing through the campaign.
I never ended up having the opportunity to play a full campaign through with another player, so I can't speak to that aspect. Playing against AI, Balance of Power didn't have the same kind of impact or draw for me that TIE Fighter's storytelling or X-Wing Alliance's characterisation had, but it was still fun to play every now and again.
The first time I heard of Rebellion, I'd gotten the impression that it was a Westwood/Age of Empires style RTS. When I got my hands on the box however, it promised something entirely different. Rather than being disappointed, I was intrigued by the concept of a real-time 4X strategy game (which was new to me).
All up, I think I played maybe two or three whole games, so my memories are vague. I remember feeling that Rebellion didn't communicate enough of the information I needed to be an effective commander, and being disappointed by the lack of depth/control during to space battles (so far as I can recall, land battles weren't included at all).
I did appreciate that it attempted to show and allow players to control a broadly scoped, dynamic representation of the Star Wars universe in a way I haven't seen before. In spite of this, it felt like many of the game's intricacies were abstracted to a point that made it harder to appreciate their depth, and I found myself missing the Star Wars hallmarks of world building and characterisation.
Having played and enjoyed more strategy games in the meantime, I hope to return to Rebellion someday.
Sometime before Force Commander's release, I started paying attention to what developers were working on and keeping track of upcoming titles (I think discovering Morrowind's development after loving Daggerfall may have been the instigator), and picked up Force Commander as soon as it was released. I knew ahead of time what I was getting into, and I remember pouring over the faux-weathered manual with eager delight as I waited to get home and play it.
Force Commander follows the journey of a Stormtrooper named Brenn Tantor, who along with his brother rises through the ranks of the Imperial Navy during the first half of the game, before discovering Imperial secrets that lead him to defect to the Rebel Alliance.
During the first Imperial portion of the game, Force Commander feels like it manages to pull off a little of what TIE Fighter does with regards to rationalising the Empire and making its actions and priorities relatable, while still putting dark overtones that foreshadow the midpoint climax.
After defecting, Brenn works his way up the Alliance's chain of command, culminating in a mission to take control of the Imperial Palace on Coruscant after the Battle of Endor. Force Commander's story of inner conflict and redemption feels darker than what is ever shown in the films, but its ideals and execution feel Star Wars at heart as it attempts to explore and build upon the detailed environments and events of the original trilogy while giving its protagonist meaningful arcs to traverse.
Force Commander is often criticised for awkward controls, and while it's no Myth II (the earliest well executed 3D RTS that I know of), I have no memories of finding it cumbersome to play. The memories I do have are of an enjoyable and compelling game that explored what was at the time uncertain ground. I even have a soft spot for the game's soundtrack of original trilogy remixes.
All that said, I think I've only played through the game's entire campaign twice, and never had the opportunity to play it multiplayer. Force Commander hasn't stayed with me the way that TIE Fighter, Dark Forces or even Jedi Knight have, but I do look back on it fondly.
X-Wing Alliance was LucasArts and TotallyGames first attempt to tell a story about the player's experiences rather than a broader story about events that the player progresses through. It would also be their last collaboration and the last game in the X-Wing series.
Technologically, X-Wing Alliance primarily iterates on X-Wing vs TIE Fighter in expected ways. Improved input device support, 3D cockpits, some networking improvements, support for higher resolution textures and models and more complex mission structures, and support for more concurrently existing ships.
Gameplay changes include an auto pilot feature and the ability to control mounted turrets in ships that have them, multiple separate zones that the player can travel between when flying hyperdrive equipped ships, analogue cockpit camera movement, docking with ships/objects, the ability to pick up/drop cargo, and a tremendous number of playable ships.
Instead of being a nameless participant in a series of military campaigns, players take on the role of Ace, the youngest member of the Azameen family, which becomes an Imperial target after getting caught aiding the Rebel Alliance. Ace's story sees him balancing becoming a rebel pilot with family obligations, shown through "family missions" placed in among the Alliance focused "battle missions".
In terms of chronology, X-Wing Alliance runs parallel to TIE Fighter, depicting the Alliance's movements between the Battle of Hoth and the Battle of Endor. The game also intersects with a number of elements from other the then-recognised Expanded Universe, including Shadows of the Empire.
For the most part, X-Wing Alliance respects canon (and for this reason, it's listed as being canon-friendly in the timeline visualisation), though it does have Ace piloting the Millennium Falcon under the command of Lando Calrissian during the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star. When flying the Falcon, Chewbacca is visible in the co-pilot's seat, though he is shown to be on Endor with Han, Luke and Leia at this time in Return of the Jedi.
When I sat down to write about this game, I was anticipating talking about how it built on everything that had come before and noticeably improved along interesting and worthwhile axes, but in spite of its higher production values and increased story focus, failed to create an experience as compelling as X-Wing or TIE Fighter were.
In my memory, both of those ancestors of X-Wing Alliance had stronger presence. However, as I researched and immersed myself in the details of X-Wing Alliance (which I hadn't played in over a decade), I was reminded of the enthusiasm with which I threw myself into the campaign. I'd definitely spent more time playing X-Wing Alliance's multiplayer mode than single player, but when I sat down to be Ace Azameen, I was Ace Azameen until I was done (I may even have skipped classes to continue through the campaign).
The plot may not have the kind of suspense and sense of not having any idea what will happen next that Freespace 2 had (Star Wars' fairly formulaic structure makes it hard to expect or demand that), but the attempt to weave two storylines through the game feels ambitious and was executed well.
The more I reflect on it, the more I feel that X-Wing Alliance's impact on me was lessened by the number of other games and important events I was experiencing at the time. The excitement and enjoyment I now clearly remember feeling when undocking from the Liberty's hanger or checking out some new souvenir in Ace's quarters had been buried, and with that resurfaced, I find myself itching to play through again.
To this day, I still can't look at Jedi Outcast without grumbling about it not carrying the Dark Forces name. That said, it clearly follows and expands upon the foundations set in Jedi Knight rather than the original game.
Jedi Outcast picks up after the events of the Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II expansion Mysteries of the Sith, with Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors doing mercenary work for the New Republic. Kyle has renounced the Force after his struggle with the "dark side" as depicted in Mysteries of the Sith.
Players are introduced to the game's FPS mechanics without access to lightsabers or the Force as they investigate an Imperial facility on Kejim that is reported to be abandoned. Kyle and Jan discover evidence of experiments on captured civilians involving crystals similar to those used in Jedi lightsabers. As the story progresses, Jan is kidnapped by Desaan, a former pupil of Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy turned to the "dark side", who is working with the Imperial Remnant.
Desaan orders Jan killed, driving Kyle to return to the Valley of the Jedi in an attempt to restore his Force abilities and seek revenge. Desaan follows him and gains access to the valley's power and uses it to create an army of artificial Force users called Reborn.
Continuing the Dark Forces tradition of moving beyond traditional FPS gameplay, Jedi Outcast requires players to solve puzzles, rewards exploration, and even offers some opportunities for optional (and often not clearly signaled) stealth gameplay.
If Jedi Knight was the Dark Forces series' Super Mario Bros 2, then Jedi Outcast is Super Mario Bros 3; an incarnation that builds on its predecessors with polish and refinement in a way that creates a solid identity for the series.
Raven Software helmed Jedi Outcast's development, bringing their extensive FPS experience to bear on the project. Jedi Outcast uses id Software's id Tech 3 engine, but manages to escape some of the Quake 3-esque feel that is present in Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force (Raven's previous game made with the same engine) and many other id Tech 3 games.
Lightsaber combat has been refined and expanded to include combos, the ability to throw a lightsaber as a ranged attack and three distinct lightsaber "stances" that expose different attack styles/speeds. The timing and range of lightsaber attacks feels more readable than in Jedi Knight, although whether an attack was blocked and the amount of damage done if it wasn't could often feel arbitrary (that said, many players have mastered it!).
The emergence of more modern FPS level design sensibilities can be seen in Jedi Outcast, with conscious layout, enemy placement and visual cues working to keep players on the right track. Although it can be hit and miss in some places, Jedi Outcast has more directed and readable levels that flow far better than Jedi Knight's.
In April 2013, Raven Software released source code on Sourceforge.net for both Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy to commemorate Disney's closure of LucasArts as a development studio. Shortly afterward, the Sourceforge repositories were removed, likely due to licencing issues of proprietary middleware that was included with the initial code drop. Although the original Sourceforge repositories no longer exist at all, it appears that they were restored at some point sans offending code.
While writing this article, I wanted to play through the early part of Jedi Outcast so that I could get a feel for how well my memory matched the game's pacing, and ended up accidentally playing through the entire game. So that I could take notes more easily, I made some modifications to OpenJK to add in a mousegrab toggle and disable muting on loss of focus.
Jedi Academy introduces Jaden Korr as a new playable character in the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series, giving players the opportunity to incrementally learn the Force and lightsaber mechanics without resorting to giving Kyle Katarn Force amnesia again. Having players take on the role of a new, unknown character also opens the door for Jedi Academy's customisation options, which allow for race, gender, clothing and lighsaber customisation.
This focus on customisation feels like it defines the expressive core that Raven were aiming for with Jedi Academy. Jedi Outcast's flowing narrative approach is replaced with a mission based structure that lets players approach most of the game non-linearly. At the beginning of each mission, players have the opportunity to select a limited starting loadout, which can be expanded by picking up weapons during the mission.
Jaden begins the game as a new student on his or her (Jedi Academy offers full voice acting for male and female variants) way to Luke's academy in the Massassi Temple on Yavin IV. While fending off the attention of an over-eager student named Rosh Penin, the transport carrying them falls under attack, stranding them in the moon's forest. Rosh and Jaden work together to overcome Stormtroopers on their way to the academy. Jaden is knocked unconscious upon discovering a dark Force user draining Force energies from the temple.
Rosh and Jaden are assigned as Kyle Katarn's pupils and during his training, Rosh exhibits reckless, thoughtless and competitive hallmarks of someone at risk of turning to the "Dark side" of the Force. Once initial training is complete, Jaden embarks on various missions to learn more about and hamper the operations of a mysterious Sith cult.
Following in Jedi Knight's footsteps, Jedi Academy allows players to allocate points toward Force abilities to control their own progression. Also like Jedi Knight, Jedi Academy features divergent "light path" and "dark path" endings, though Academy uses conscious player choice at a deciding moment rather than cumulative player actions to determine which path, and pushes a philosophical notion that the abilities themselves aren't good or evil, it's how they are wielded.
Jedi Academy's levels feel like they offer a good diversity of gameplay, mixing conventional and non-conventional design. Academy embraces and expands upon the brief vehicle sections in Jedi Outcast and revisits a bunch of iconic Star Wars locations.
For better or worse Jedi Academy's levels lack a lot of the challenge and thoughtful puzzle content that I feel has defined the series. Whether that's a factor of having force powers and a lightsaber accessible from the outset, of level design that favours groupings of weak enemies ripe for lightsaber slaughter, or of not being certain of what force levels players will be at, Jedi Academy feels for the most part like it's comparatively easy to breeze through. This is fun at first, but combined with the game not having much continuity between non-linear missions often makes it hard to feel invested in what's going on, which is a shame because all of the agency afforded through customisation options and mission selection feel like they should allow players to feel more connected with Jaden and his or her actions.
All up, Jedi Academy is an enjoyable game, but it doesn't resonate as well as its predecessors.
I picked up LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy on a whim, thinking that I might be able to play some co-op with my then-partner (who it turns out was never interested, which was probably for the best as neither of us were gamepad players and my keyboard didn't support n-key rollover). I like LEGO's toys, but I didn't really have high expectations for this game to be something that would match my tastes or focus on things I appreciated about the Star Wars films.
Needless to say, I was blown away. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy was clearly crafted by people who have enormous love and respect for its subject matter, even if much of its approach is tongue-in-cheek.
The opening level has players controlling LEGO minifigures of Princess Leia and Captain Antilles as they work their way through the Tantive IV in search of R2D2 and C-3PO. The blockade runner's white main corridors and dark access ways look like they've been constructed from actual LEGO bricks, and even though many liberties were clearly taken to provide an interesting and fun-oriented experience (such as a room with forced perspective or a Stormtrooper wearing bathers), it still comes across as an impressive re-creation. While later levels such as those that take place on Tatooine have more conventional 3D assets for environmental geometry, they're typically used where LEGO bricks would struggle to convey the films' aesthetics, and that first impression of the Tantive IV really does a good job of setting the visual context that the rest of the game is taken within.
LEGO Star Wars games have a huge number of playable characters, which generally fit within one of several classes that offer different abilities and can use class-locked different switches. For example, Jedi can use the Force to manipulate certain objects and bounty hunters like Boba Fett or Bossk have throw grenades capable of destroying shiny objects that other characters cannot. Most characters have unique animations that give extra personality and/or reflect the tone of their appearances in the films.
For the most part, gameplay involves traversing environments from the Star Wars films while overcoming enemies, destroying obstacles, building easements and unlocking doors. Level design encourages and rewards exploration though, and minor puzzles that require players to make use of class-specific mechanics or small vehicles/mountable creatures helps keep things interesting.
In addition to character based levels, there are also flying vehicle based levels, which typically are progressed through by collecting proton torpedoes or towing mines to destroy strategic targets. Like the character sequences though, there's often side-content to explore by revisiting them with additional vehicles in freeplay or challenge modes and accessing class-locked areas.
Story is primarily presented during cutscenes depicting LEGO minifigures acting out humorous interpretations of key sequences from the Star Wars films. Instead of voiced dialogue, language agnostic grunts and hums convey characters' attitudes and emotional states. This is reflective of an undercurrent of minimalism in LEGO Star Wars II that leaves room for the kind of imagination driven experiences that for many define the LEGO brand.
The Mos Eisley cantina acts as a hub for the game, rooms dedicated to each film lined with doors leading to their respective chapters. Unlockables can be purchased from the bar, some of which (like stud magnet and indicators for collectibles) help reduce the grindiness of some of the optional objectives. Most collectibles have some kind of representation outside the cantina, where self-building minikit models of Star Wars vehicles will appear if the relevant pieces have been collected from the game's levels.
I think all up, I've sunk about 80 hours into LEGO Star Wars II. Between unlockables and collectibles, there's a lot of replayability here for anybody who enjoys the core content and gameplay.
After finishing LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, I sought out its predecessor, hoping for more of the same.
At the core is the same game, though there seems to be less of a focus on re-creating moments and scenes with LEGO bricks, relying more on non-LEGO 3D geometry and events between/beyond that's seen in the films.
The refinement and progression that went into its sequel doesn't create a jarring level of difference, and it is by no means a bad or disappointing game. It's truly interesting to compare the games and see which aspects the developers felt needed priority and tuning.
After playing LEGO Star Wars II though, it's hard for me to not come away with the sense that LEGO Star Wars The Video Game didn't receive the same level of attention, love and care that LEGO Star Wars II received from its creators, which is fair. After all, people who grew up with the Prequel Trilogy hadn't had time to become developers yet.
Star Wars: Episode I: Racer is widely regarded to be one of the strongest Star Wars titles ever made, and apparently holds a world record as the best selling science fiction racing game.
I didn't expect to enjoy Episode I: Racer, as the podracing sequences in The Phantom Menace felt contrived and gratuitous. LucasArts, however, managed to make use of and expand upon the nuances seen in the film to create a solid and engaging game.
Players take on the role of one of nearly two dozen podracers on 25 tracks across eight planets in the Star Wars galaxy. Tracks feature hazards, multiple paths and opportunities for ambushing or pulling ahead of opponents, which typically have situational benefit depending on the presence of other racers as well as the condition and handling stats of your pod.
An extensive upgrade system allows for six upgrades for each of a pod's seven components that can be purchased with race winnings. Damage and repair mechanics provide tension building consequences for and recovery from excessive acceleration, which lead to more opportunities for racers to gain ground on race leaders.
There's enough complexity and balance to Episode I: Racer's depiction of podracing for it to start to sit beyond the easy-to-learn-hard-to-master threshold that can make playing and improving feel immensely rewarding. I have fond memories of racing against friends when hosting LAN parties and have a huge urge to play again after writing this.
I'm uncertain whether I have solid enough memories of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace to have any meaningful opinions on it.
I played through the entire game, but it was definitely not a memorable experience. What memories I do have, are of a long, trudging adaptation of an already plodding Star Wars film. Character movement is slow, and animation production values are significantly below previous Star Wars games. The voice acting feels stilted and poorly paced even though the game's actors are re-performing dialogue from the film.
Star Wars: Battlefront is a class based shooter that has players take on the role of nameless troops in iconic Star Wars battles across the Original and the Prequel Trilogies. Battles are won by either capturing and holding all five "command points" in a map, or by exhausting the opposing team's reinforcements.
To break up attrition oriented stalemates and turtling, each faction has a powerful, lightsaber wielding hero NPC that can not be killed by conventional weapons. Heroes will also not engage each other, and will typically die when their faction's reinforcements drop below a certain threshold (it's possible to kill heroes by knocking them off ledges or by hitting them with vehicles).
Battlefront was one of the first games I'd played that mechanically encouraged teamwork. The class based structure provided interesting strengths and weaknesses that team members needed to account for when playing together, and it was interesting to see the mostly-generic soldiers of Star Wars refined and explored from that kind of angle. The notion of using respawns or lives as a shared, limited strategic resource was something that struck a chord with me and would provide inspiration for some of my own projects in the future.
Battlefront also offers a range of ground and air based vehicles that players can hop in and drive/fly around. For slower vehicles like AT-ATs, or the Rebel Landspeeder, this works well. They become points of interest that allied troops will naturally become focal points for both allied and enemy forces. Faster vehicles like TIE Fighters, X-Wings, and maybe even speeder bikes start to introduce a problem. Moving at speeds depicted in the Star Wars films, these vehicles would need spaces far beyond Battlefront's already generously sized maps to be controllable, and even at the slower speeds seen within the game they feel unwieldy when dogfighting, highlighting that aircraft and infantry combat happen on fundamentally different scales.
The game also has a single player campaign, but it wasn't quite as engaging and although I completed it, it hasn't stuck with me the way that multiplayer experiences in the game have. What memories I do retain are primarily of awkward AI that simultaneously made enemies easy to walk over and allies difficult to work with.
I have fond memories of playing Star Wars: Battlefront at LANs and discovering team synergy in a role-enforced environment.
The time I've spent with Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has been pretty limited. So far as I remember, the core game is effectively the same, though there are a couple of differences that threw the balance that I appreciated from the first game out of whack.
New space combat sequences address the issue of scale between fighter and infantry combat, but the end result is that it effectively segregates players. Further to that, new maps feature areas that are only accessible via spacecraft (flying to and landing in a hanger to access new locations), which allows infantry combat to be divided. With 64 players on Windows, this is potentially not so much of an issue if you can find 2^6 mates to fill a server with, but apparently the maximum player count was significantly lower on other platforms.
The real killer for me though, was the introduction of playable hero characters, which players could become for a limited period of time after earning a certain amount of points. Instead of being less-predictable forces that helped keep battle from becoming monotonous, heroes became the focal point of the game, with players focusing on individual performance over coordination. When individual players are given super powers and invulnerability, the dynamics of play shift dramatically. I stopped playing when it started to feel like every single game I tried to join was full of people who were waiting for their turn to be a Jedi instead of playing a team based game.
Apparently Battlefront 2 boasts improved AI, a better single player campaign, more classes and more game modes. Generally speaking, space combat is the sort of thing that resonates with me, and the objective oriented gameplay for taking down a capital ship seems like a really good fit for something like Battlefront. I'm sure that there's a good and worthwhile game in there somewhere, but it's clear that I didn't find it.
In Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D, players take on the role of Luke Sywalker as he leads an elite squadron of Rebel pilots following the destruction of the first Death Star, inspired by the Rogue Squadron book and comic series that were running during the game's development.
After the success of Shadows of the Empire, Lucasarts began working on a follow up, making use of an engine developed by Factor 5, who had previously formed a working relationship with LucasArts on PlayStation and SNES ports of games including Ballblazer Champions, Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures and Rebel Assault II.
The game's core concept arose from wanting to expand on the gameplay of the Hoth Snowspeeder level from Shadows of the Empire, and depicts Rogue Squadron's engagements as they pilot X-wings, Y-wings, A-wings, V-wings and Snowspeeders on assorted strikes against the Empire. Missions occasionally intersect with characters from the films, with Han Solo, Chewbacca and Crix Madine making appearances, and Rogue Sqadron pilot Wedge Antilles finding himself captured at one point.
There is some level of story continuity between missions, but I recall its narrative feeling more fragmented than say, Dark Forces (to pick another mission based Star Wars game at random), especially for the last mission, which jumps beyond the end of the Original Trilogy to depict a battle on Mon Calamari against the waning, but still powerful Empire.
As with Shadows of the Empire, I found the controls to be a little awkward. That said, the Hoth battle from Shadows which inspired Rogue Squadron was arguably one of its most accessible sequences, and Rogue Squadron doesn't feature the first/third person sequences that to me were its predecessor's most cumbersome sections. I recall limited visibility being a slight issue as well, with visibility extending about as far as the HUD minimap, leaving little room to line up shots when approaching targets at speed.
Rogue Squadron features a medal ranking system to indicate performance, which supports its arcade feel, adds a little replayability and allows the unlocking of secret levels including a re-creation of the Battle of Hoth. Also hidden within the game is a flyable Naboo Starfighter, which was not revealed until six months after the game's launch to coincide with the release of The Phantom Menace.
Shortly after Force Commander was released, rumour began to spread about a new, more classic RTS. Force Commander was apparently not met with the reception LucasArts had hoped for, and clamouring for "Age of Empires, but Star Wars!" had fallen on the appropriate ears to make a collaboration between Ensemble Studios and LucasArts happen.
Primarily, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds was a LucasArts developed game, created with Ensemble's engine, and making use of the experienced RTS studio's insights and advice along the way.
The result was a game that spanned the entire Star Wars saga up to that point in time. In Age of Empires fashion, it attempted to chronicle the technological progression of the Star Wars Galaxy from Phantom Menace through to Return of the Jedi. Across its campaign, Galactic Battlegrounds allowed players to take on the roles of the Trade Federation, Gungans, the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and Wookiees. In skirmish and multiplayer modes, the Royal Naboo also appear as a playable faction.
I didn't end up playing a lot of Galactic Battlegrounds, but the impression I got was of a fairly solid 2D RTS. I can't recall if I played all the way through or not, but the game's Wookiee campaign focuses on the liberation of Kashyyyk after the destruction of the second Death Star, which is an interesting piece of Star Wars lore to explore.
I feel uneasy making assertions about a game I don't have strong feelings or memories about, but it seemed a little like the game (much like Star Wars: Battlefront and arguably the Star Wars saga) struggled to maintain a cohesive and meaningful narrative across the two generations of events. Chewbacca and his family bookend the game, opening with the Wookiee accompanying his father Attichitcuk on a quest to expel the Trade Federation from the Kashyyyk system, and ending with Chewbacca freeing Attichitcuk from Imperial slavery. While the game does explore some interesting facets and threads of the Star Wars universe, I have vague memories of wanting more connection and continuity between the other factions' narratives a-la Force Commander.
I didn't end up playing Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith until long after its release. For a long, long time I had coveted it, but sadly never had the opportunity to pick it up until it was over a decade old.
As an expansion for Jedi Knight, Mysteries of the Sith progresses Kyle Katarn's story, but primarily focuses on the journey of prominent then-recognised Expanded Universe character Mara Jade. Mysteries of the Sith makes the assumption that players arrived at the "light side" ending of Jedi Knight, with Kyle having defeated Jerec without succumbing to the dark side of the force.
As the game opens, Kyle has become a Jedi Master and has taken on former special agent and assassin for the Emperor, Mara Jade, as his apprentice. Players take on the role of Kyle as he fights off Imperial forces attacking the base where he has been training Mara. During these introductory levels, players quickly accumulate late-game weaponry and low to mid-level force abilities as a taste of what's to come.
When Kyle leaves to investigate the origins of the attack, players gain control of Mara, who finds herself on a series of missions for the New Republic.
Unlike Jedi Knight, Mysteries of the Sith has a single, non-branching narrative that covers Mara's growth as a Jedi and confrontation with the ramifications of the dark side. It also does away with the live-action cutscenes from its predecessor in favour of in-engine sequences, which I imagine had a big impact on what was achievable for the project and justified the rough edges that some of the more cinematic uses of the in-game assets revealed.
Upgrades to the Sith engine allow for more complex scripting and some improved AI behaviour. Content wise though, with the exception of Dark Jedi boss fights, Mysteries of the Sith feels like a direct continuation of what Jedi Knight offered, with a few new weapons, enemies, force powers and puzzles on top of the base game's strengths and weaknesses. Missions flow together a little more smoothly than Jedi Knight's, and while the game still has some of the pitfalls of its predecessor, many puzzle solutions leave room for the player to feel resourceful rather than to feel like the character is being depicted as resourceful within the narrative.
Mysteries of the Sith is also noteworthy for being the first of very few Star Wars games to truly have a female primary protagonist. Unlike Rebel Assault, Mysteries of the Sith does not offer players a choice of gender, and unlike Leia in titles such as Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Mara's role is not fleeting. Holding true to the qualities that resonated with fans of her appearances in Expanded Universe novels, Mara is depicted as a strong, independent, and resourceful woman.
Running parallel to this, Mysteries of the Sith's developers made some brave decisions with the handling of series protagonist Kyle, which lend him depth through darkness and opportunities for redemption (which won't pay off till Jedi Outcast) in a way that perhaps mirrors some of Mara's own backstory.
At the time Star Wars: Starfighter was released, it vaguely piqued my interest, but not enough to get me motivated to play a game set around The Phantom Menace.
Years later when I eventually got around to playing it, I was pleasantly surprised in spite of it not being the flight simulator I was hoping for. In terms of gameplay, Star Wars: Starfighter is closer to Rogue Squadron than X-Wing, with simplistic controls, a focus on planetside missions, and action oriented pacing.
Starfighter weaves an interesting narrative that pulls three unlikely pilots together to deal a staggering blow to the Trade Federation, and does a good job of diversifying gameplay between the three playable ships.
To me, Rebellion, Force Commander and Galactic Battlegrounds both explore interesting and worthwhile facets of what Star Wars strategy games could be. Force Commander pushed new ground by embracing and exploring the possibilities that a 3D RTS offers, while attempting to tell a human scale story. Galactic Battlegrounds leaverages traditional 2D RTS heritage and experience to attempt to convey galactic progression across the Star Wars saga. Rebellion focuses on galactic level control that provides a rarely touched on perspective of empire management in the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: Empire at War feels like it manages to merge some of the best aspects from all three of its predecessors. Then-new studio Petroglyph, brings both traditional RTS sensibilities from Westwood alumni and a new 3D engine known as Alamo to the table. During its ground and space missions, Empire at War carries the presentation and feel of a 2D RTS with the visuals and camera flexibility of a 3D RTS. Between missions, a galactic map allows players to manage resources, production, deployment and reconnaissance.
The galactic map mode plays out as a grand strategy, and for players who aren't particularly interested in Empire at War's RTS aspects, can be the entire game thanks to an "auto-resolve" feature that will allow the computer to determine the outcome of military engagements based on the makeup of forces committed.
Ground missions handle like a normal RTS, though unit production is different for attacking forces, who are only able to call down reinforces from units in orbit when control of a "reinforcement point" has been obtained. Defending forces have access to any facilities constructed on that planet from the galactic map prior to engagement, and can purchase units and upgrades from those at the cost of credits. Defenders also have access to "garrison units" that are automatically produced over time.
Space missions play out on a 2D grid above the planet they take place at. Asteroids and nebulae prevent maps from being large, flat squares and can be used strategically during play as capital ships can't traverse asteroid fields, and nebula effects will mask ship presence. As in Rebellion, fighter squadrons are treated as individual units, positioning space battles at capital ship scale. Capital ships and bases feature hard points for subsystems such as shield generators and turrets that can be individually targeted for greater tactical control.
Ground and space missions are treated as separate engagements, though planetary defence infrastructure can fire on enemy ships in orbit during space missions, and bombers in orbit can do bombing runs during ground missions.
Empire at War offers two single player campaigns, one from the side of the Galactic Empire and the other from the perspective of the Rebel Alliance. Both campaigns cover the events of and leading up to the original Star Wars film, beginning before the construction of the Death Star and ending with its destruction or the destruction of the Rebellion.
I've only spent a few hours playing Empire at War, but I am super impressed by the way it combines grand scale and engagement scale strategy. The Empire campaign seems to treat Darth Vader as its narrative protagonist, depicting him as balancing his search for the Rebel Alliance with the pressures and demands of other forces within the Empire. This is an angle I wasn't expecting to see, and feels like a fantastic window into a rarely looked at facet of Vader and his relationship with the Empire.
As with Starfighter, I came to Star Wars: Republic Commando late. I'd avoided it because it was a prequel themed title and didn't seem to be the kind of Dark Forces/Jedi Knight-esque first person experience I was interested in.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised. Republic Commando does a good job of creating an engaging tactical shooter with small-squad character dynamics. Players take on the role of Delta-38, the leader of Delta Squad, a four-man team of Clone Trooper commandos active during the Clone Wars between the Battle of Geonsis and the Battle of Kashyyyk, with the game ending shortly before Order 66 is issued.
Orders allow players to give squadmates class focused objectives such as hacking or "slicing" a computer, placing det-packs, or setting up a sniping position. While any squad member can perform any task, each one has a specific proficiency, and making use of those can see tasks completed faster. Class agnostic orders can also be given for controlling squad member positioning and belligerence, as well as manning turrets or performing a door breach.
Republic Commando's tone feels darker than most Star Wars games are prepared to go. It's hard to know how much of this is intentional and how much is inherited overtones from the films that foreshadow the clone army's betrayal. Regardless, Republic Commando functions well as a window into the often-disposable fodder infantry seen within the films, and while the moment-to-moment gameplay is about killing everything in sight, the narrative avoids pushing a lot of the glamour that other military first person shooters carry and leaves room for the takeaway that war is harrowing.
The game's mechanics feel a little simple (perhaps a legacy of being developed as a console-first title?), but in the same way that Rogue One and Starfighter manage to be enjoyable in spite of simplistic treatment, it's not hard to overlook this aspect of Republic Commando.
I first started playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) as I was recovering from a repetitive strain injury that cost me the use of my hands for an extended period. I felt like I needed something that I could approach casually that wouldn't be too reflex oriented and would still be accessible if I needed to take breaks. KotOR ended up being a good fit.
Building on the world constructed in the Tales of the Jedi comic book series set four thousand years before the Original Trilogy allowed KotOR to explore Star Wars style and tropes without being bound by or subject to baggage from any other contemporary (so far as in-fiction timelines are concerned) Star Wars media, and makes for something that feels both new and familiar.
Star Wars feels like such a natural fit for RPG style character progression, but surprisingly, KotOR was the first licenced computer roleplaying game to use the Star Wars IP. The prehistory of the Star Wars galaxy provides an intricate and sprawling backdrop for KotOR's main storyline, which revolves around Sith Master Darth Malak. A former pupil of the Dark Lord Revan, Malak betrayed his master, and rose up to conquer the galaxy with a Sith armada.
The plot that unfolds feels both personal and epic, with the galaxy at stake and the player's amnesiac character's identity revealed along the way. Similar to (though more nuanced than) Jedi Knight, players' individual actions in KotOR influence the light or dark alignment of their character.
KotOR carries an air of mystery and adventure that resonates across its duration. Exploration, interesting characters and a masterfully executed story arc are the aspects that I enjoyed the most.
Apparently created with heavy consultation from George Lucas and Lucas Licensing, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed explores a period between the Prequel and Original Trilogies that follows the journey of a secret apprentice being trained by Darth Vader in the hopes of someday overthrowing the Emperor. The premise itself is fascinating and has implications for Darth Vader's character and redemption that reach across the Original Trilogy, but that it was considered for canon-compliant treatment to the extent that Lucas himself gave significant input into character development highlights it as something rare within the lineage of Star Wars games.
Across its development, The Force Unleashed evolved into the kind of cross-media "film without a film" project that resulted in Shadows of the Empire, being accompanied by a graphic novel, several lines of action figures, a line of miniatures, a LEGO set, a novelisation and an expansion for Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition.
LucasArts' vision for The Force Unleashed focused on a game that used physics systems to express the Force, with developers talking about wanting to create a "Force playground" where players could feel empowered by wielding "over-the-top," "amped up" Force abilities. Early concept art shows Vader's apprentice, Starkiller (named after "Annikin Starkiller" in early Star Wars scripts, whose character evolved to become Luke Skywalker) is shown using the force to pull a Star Destroyer to the ground. Previs tests show Starkiller using the Force to crush an AT-ST into a ball, or to hurl Stormtroopers incredible distances.
The game opens with the player controlling Darth Vader as he hunts down a rogue Jedi on Kashyyyk named Kento Marek. After dispatching Kento, Vader discovers the Jedi's young son Galen and recognises strong Force potential within him. Vader murders his own Stormtrooper contingent to keep Galen's existence a secret and adopts the child as his Sith apprentice, naming him Starkiller.
Players take control of adolescent Starkiller as he takes on missions from Vader to find and destroy survivors of the Great Jedi Purge from Revenge of the Sith. As the story progresses, Starkiller finds reasons to question his loyalties and beliefs as those close to him betray or are betrayed.
I've played parts of both the Windows and Wii versions of The Force Unleashed, which nicely highlights something that is potentially a double edged sword for all cross-platform games targeting systems with different capabilities. With some games, platform specific versions are complete remakes rather than straight ports of existing code and assets (the different incarnations of Star Wars: The Arcade Game across its platforms make for a good example). The level of work that a platform specific version of a game might need can vary wildly from game to game.
The Ronin engine, developed by LucasArts for The Force Unleashed integrates Euphoria, Havok, and Digital Molecular Matter to handle many of the game's dynamic interactions. These physics and behaviour technologies determine much of the game's "feel" and require resources beyond what is available on certain platforms. Additionally, certain platforms may have interface requirements or functionality that aren't present on other platforms, such as the Wii's motion controls, which allow players to swing the Wii remote to control lightsaber attacks or to express the intensity of a Force ability.
I found the Wii version of The Force Unleashed uncomfortable to play, and had a much more pleasant experience after moving to mouse and keyboard controls in the Windows version. Unfortunately though, it further highlighted something that was already starting to become apparent to me while briefly playing the Wii version: Starkiller's overpowered-ness makes it difficult to feel risk or danger. Most of the significant encounters within the game are resolved through interactive cutscenes, where pressing the correct action at the correct time will reward the player with grandiose cinematic finishing moves. At first this might be impressive, but press-X-to-chop-an-AT-ST-in-half fails to convey tension or stakes that are congruent with the rest of The Force Unleashed's gameplay.
I've not yet played through all of the additional content that shipped with The Forced Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition for Windows, but the base game's content often feels bland to me in spite of a potentially compelling story and Force abilities that are at first satisfying to use. At many points, the game feels like it's trying too hard to be epic or too hard to portray Starkiller as a torn, angry youth to the point where both become difficult to relate to.
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars seems to have moved dramatically away from the things that made LEGO Star Wars II enjoyable for me. Following the LEGO titles outside of the Star Wars franchise with both LEGO Indiana Jones games, LEGO Batman: The Video Game and the LEGO Harry Potter games, it has felt like each successive LEGO title has become visually more complex to the detriment of readability, less focused on creating interesting environments with LEGO bricks, and more focused on bringing non-LEGO elements and behaviours into gameplay.
Character expression has become increasingly complex to the point that it no longer carries the kind of minimalism I appreciated in LEGO Star Wars II. When we started playing the third game, I joked that if the developers kept this up, future LEGO games would probably have voice acting (which apparently has been the case for every major licenced LEGO game since 2012's Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes).
The pantomime cutscene humour feels less tailored to the subject matter and often comes across as forced or at the very least layered on too thickly for my tastes. Showy animation seems to have supplanted a lot of the caricatured-but-true-feeling effects that early LEGO games had. The most prominent example I can come up with is when destroying objects. In the original LEGO Star Wars game, attacking a barrel once would result in a small explosion and a collection of studs being released as the lid flew off, and then again for a second explosion and more studs as the barrel itself was destroyed. While it's not true to life, it does resonate with the kind of experience that one gets when breaking apart LEGO models - there's a moment of resistance before bricks let go that can give them a bit of a kick when they're finally free. By comparison, attacking a barrel in LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues results in a sequence of complex animations where the bin will rattle from side to side. Attacking it again will make the lid fly up into the air, spin around and land back on the bin. There's no feedback on whether this is having any impact, and it lacks the visceral, tangible feel that destruction in early games had.
So far, I've played 7 levels of LEGO Star Wars III and find it difficult to get the motivation to return to it. The chaos of large battles is OK in small doses, but it feels like those sequences long outstay their welcome. Controls often feel cumbersome, and it feels easy to misinterpret the layout of vehicle sequence environments enough to wind up stuck or accidentally leaving the area.
Linear level flow seems less of a priority this time around, and while less-directed levels wouldn't be a problem on their own, little effort seems to have been put into making objectives clear or understandable. Compounding this, levels have a lower visual signal to noise ratio, generally making the game less readable and goals less discoverable. It wasn't until watching an interview while researching for this article that I realised that co-op players being separated was an intentional design choice to allow different players to pursue different concurrent goals and not a gating bug that would separate us for no apparent reason.
I'm certain that LEGO Star Wars III has an enjoyable game within, but without being an adaptation of something I'm into (the Clone Wars show never grabbed me), there's not enough in it for me.
After looking over the entire history of releases, working through personal memories of playing these games, and considering the identity of Star Wars itself, there is now an opportunity to combine and reflect on not just the spectrum of attributes that these games possess, but also where some of the commonalities lie.
Pulling together the various distilled takeaways I've had from the Star Wars games I've played paints an interesting picture of the strengths and potential weaknesses that licenced games have had to work with.
Here they are broken down into four loose (and partially overlapping) categories.
There's a lot to reflect on here, and much of it isn't unique to Star Wars properties. The parts that are though, begin to address some of that "What makes a Star Wars game interesting?" question.
Once upon a time, I would have expected to be writing about how important canonicity is, but this list alone (remember that it is limited to the insights I've gained from the games I've personally played) highlights that strict adherence to source material and treating source material with respect and understanding are two different things. LEGO Star Wars II's ability to come across as a love letter for the Original Trilogy while having a very casual relationship with Star Wars canon proves this solidly.
That said, titles that don't overly contradict canon are accessible and potentially resonant on levels that may not be otherwise achievable. With Lucas, LucasFilm and Lucas Licensing's regulation of tiered canon, core Star Wars audiences are in some ways primed for works that contradict each other while still embracing the same spirit. The works that can fit together into a given person's "headcanon" can have greater personal meaning to them than works that fall outside of that. The relationships that Star Wars games have often had with Expanded Universe and now Legends works in other mediums has brought additional solidity and legitimacy that have helped these games feel like a part of the broader Star Wars universe.
Games that explore facets of the rich universe implied within the Star Wars films have the opportunity to bring extra depth and context. From a character perspective, seeing Vader butt horns with Tarkin or plot to overthrow the Emperor, as depicted by Empire at War and The Force Unleashed, expand upon character tensions hinted at in ways that can contribute to interesting character arcs that transcend the game itself. Locations mentioned in passing such as Mon Calimari, Dantooine and Sullust have provided games like Rogue Squadron, Knights of the Old Republic and Battlefront with interesting spaces to develop and explore.
Embracing Star Wars' detail oriented style by baking worldbuilding and player feedback into in-game scenes feels like another way of drawing value from the films. Across the entire saga are many examples of detailed cockpits and functional looking technology that can be drawn upon in the way that X-Wing did with its fighter cockpits. Idle chatter from unalerted Stormtroopers is a heavily used trope that many games have lifted from the film, but cliché as it is, characters discussing offscreen events can be a solid vehicle for ambient worldbuilding.
Beyond pulling content from films, Star Wars' style of filling environments with characters and objects with purpose implies backstory and context. As mentioned earlier in this article, this aligns well with modern design sensibilities around "environmental storytelling" and has often been used within Star Wars games, especially in first person titles such as the Jedi Knight series. In X-Wing Alliance, radio chatter and inspecting non-mission critical ships can sometimes reveal extra situational context or references to Star Wars lore. Knights of the Old Republic often uses character dialogue and anecdotes to peripherally expand on Revan's character and past actions.
The use of the Force and representations of Force powers can be a double edged sword. This feels most dramatically highlighted in The Force Unleashed, but even going as far back as the first game to feature an original Force weilding character, the way that Jedi Knight introduced a slew of powerful force wielding characters whose origins have been retconned into Prequel Trilogy era history was unsettling to me.
For better or worse, no Star Wars games that I have played have ever treated the Force with the minimalism seen in the original trilogy, nor the level of exertion required to use it (raising Luke's X-wing from the swamp in Dagobah is shown to be taxing even for Yoda). The upshot of this is that players are typically given access to an array of increasingly impressive abilities that can be used frequently and without consequence.
The obvious solution to giving players god-like abilities is to create god-like adversaries for them, and the result is a sort of game design arms race that, to me, feels like it often leads developers away from embracing the worldbuiding and detail that makes the Star Wars universe interesting.
Force capable adversaries typically take one of three forms, all of which have been explored by the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games: A previously unheard of Force user emerges (Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II); A new Force user abandons their training (Jedi Outcast: Jedi Knight II, Jedi Academy); Someone develops Force-using or Force-resistant technology (Dark Forces). The amount of times these tropes have been used across Star Wars games and literature gives the impression that the Star Wars universe is populated by former Sith Lords politely waiting their turn to throw off their disguises, that nobody who trains Jedi ever learns from their mistakes, and that the science behind the Force should be well understood enough that it should be accessible to and counterable by anybody.
Beyond making it difficult to harmonise with canon, this isn't problematic in itself, and I have a hard time denying that grabbing a Stormtrooper and using it to bop other Stormtroopers off ledges can be a bunch of fun. It does, however, create a problem in making players powerful beyond any non-Force related challenges and removing any sense of interesting choice when deciding how to handle those challenges.
Narratively, the Star Wars films put the safety and liberty of the galaxy at stake in the centre of a family conflict. When putting the fate of the universe on the line, there's a risk of over-dramatising and cluttering up the broader Star Wars universe with constant barrages of existential threats that serve to dilute the significance of the original films' stories.
The large scale galaxy-wide conflicts seen in the films are far-reaching enough to be usable as backdrops for stories without directly colliding with the film characters' journeys. By filling in gaps as Rogue Squadron did with the defection of Crix Madine, or Shadows of the Empire did by having Dash take on the role of another Snowspeeder pilot during the Battle of Hoth. Having stories intersect with the films like this allows for re-creation of iconic moments without being tied down to an adaptation.
It feels important to note that the large setpiece battles aren't the core of Star Wars though, and that without the emotional context that identifiable characters and meaningful character arcs can bring, they tend to feel flat. Comparing X-Wing with X-Wing Alliance immediately highlights the value that characterisation can bring. In spite of its interface shortcomings, Force Commander's tale of figuratively lost brothers finding themselves and each other elevates it above Galactic Battlegrounds in my opinion. If the stakes match the scope of a characters' presence within their world, then a small scale story can be just as compelling as a large scale one.
The Star Wars films themselves resonate with different people along different axes, and it's expected that this will manifest in games through both the perspectives of developers and the anticipated tastes of their expected audiences. What makes a Star Wars game interesting to me may not be what makes a Star Wars game interesting to George Lucas or Jim Ward or John Knoll or even you, dear reader.
The items listed above are definitely not comprehensive, and may include aspects that are fundamentally disinteresting or "not Star Wars" for many. It is my hope though that the process of considering these things highlights the importance of and potential benefits from being thoughtful when creating derivative works.↑return to section top↑
Although the previous section aggregates the insights I've had from the Star Wars games I've played, it is clear to me that this isn't a practical guide that an ideal Star Wars game should adhere to. Not only does it fail to represent genres and styles that are yet to be explored with a licenced Star Wars game, the range of successful Star Wars titles is diverse enough to not be combinable. A Brenn Tantor style story of a nameless Stormtrooper rising through the ranks only to be knocked down and join the rebellion would be difficult to execute within a grand strategy, especially if it were melded with a space combat game that was both simulation and arcade oriented.
The Ideal Star Wars Game would simultaneously be a wash of shallow elements and a warren of isolated depths. For the sake of amusement though, I've distilled down the aggregated takeaways list as best I can into a pitch for what would likely find doom as an unmakeable or an unplayable game.
Echoes in the Force, a first person, flight sim, grand strategy with puzzle, arcade and relationship mechanics.
Play as a Rebel Maintenance Officer stationed on Echo Base, who must manage power, cooling and heating systems on the frozen base. After successfully using emergency door seals to trap invading Wampas, you are promoted to Maintenance Coordinator and must manage Echo Base's maintenance crew. Write letters to your cousin on Deneb and learn about your family's wellbeing.
Simultaneously fight off ground troops and manage the evacuation when Imperial forces attack Echo Base, and accidentally become drafted as a Rebel pilot while looking for repair tools in an unoccupied Snowspeeder.
Relocate to the Roche asteroid field following the evacuation of Hoth to manage a small Alliance outpost supporting Admiral Gial Ackbar. Use dialogue mechanics and character relationships to connect with other Rebel outposts and increase your standing within the Alliance. Fly sorties with Rogue Squadron. Discover the location of ancient Force artifacts lost during the First Jedi Purge in a dream. Use temporary Force powers to prevent the Research Station Shantipole from being destroyed by asteroids. Gather resources while recruiting alliance supporters from nearby worlds.
Oversee the climactic assault on Sullust in the lead up to the attack on the second Death Star while also piloting an enhanced B-wing prototype, and reconnect with your estranged parents through a series of playable Force flashbacks.
Take part in the epic Battle of Hoth through the eyes of a terrified unskilled pilot! Hold a lamplight vigil for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo as they spend a night trapped outside the base! Repair and play a variety of arcade games in the Echo Base rec lounge! Build meaningful relationships with Rebel officers, troops and pilots! Work with Admiral Ackbar on developing the B-wing starfighter with a LEGO hood ornament! Wield Force Push as never before! Help Admiral Ackbar develop his iconic catch phrase!
More seriously though, if I were asked what hypothetical Star Wars games I'd like to see in the future, I'd be more interested in exploring comparatively untouched genres, mechanics and narratives.
Consequences are something rarely touched on in Star Wars games, and when they are, it always comes down to morally positive or negative actions determining whether a character finds themselves on the light or dark side of the Force. To me, there are far more interesting experiences and stories to be found when examining less black and white outcomes from the best decisions that people can make at the time. When Luke takes fear and aggression into his test on Dagobah, he is met with a confronting vision of himself as Darth Vader, and when he rushes to rescue his friends on Bespin, the outcomes are damaging for him and the future of the galaxy. At the end of the second act in Star Wars, Obi-Wan chooses to sacrifice himself in pursuit of positive outcomes. So far, I know of no Star Wars game that allows players to choose make their own sacrifices for meaningful outcomes (holding a point in Battlefront so that your teammates can fulfill an objective might come close, but sacrifices in emergent stories are a different kettle of fish, I think).
The Star Wars universe is vast, and procedural generation feels like a worthwhile approach to opening interesting, instance-unique windows into that. The small taste that Yoda Stories offered leaves me wanting more, and I'd love to see deeper glimpses into Star Wars using this approach.
Though there have been Star Wars games with strong narratives, I'm hard pressed to think of any that are as narratively focused as LucasArts' adventure games were. When I was younger, it always surprised me that LucasArts had never made a The Secret of Monkey Island or Indiana Jones And The Fate of Atlantis-esque adventure game set in the Star Wars universe. Today, I think I understand that when the opportunity to actually make Star Wars games arose, the people driving the adventure game genre at LucasArts - people like Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer - were more interested in inventing their own worlds than finding ways to tell stories inside of George Lucas'.
Yeah, I mean I think as much as I like Terry Pratchett and how fun that world is, I would say no, because I just like to make up stuff. I think it's more fun to make up stuff. Also, I worked LucasArts for so many years. If I wanted to work on a licence, that was pretty much had access to a magical licence that, you know, as much as you get sick of Star Wars, working there - this was back before Episode I was made, so Star Wars was pretty magical back then. - Tim Schafer, 2014 Double Fine Game Club Interview
While the kind of narratives that the Star Wars films have don't immediately feel like a good fit for an open world game, the universe depicted within them certainly does. The Knights of the Old Republic games offer a level of open world gameplay, and though I've not played The Old Republic, I assume it does as well. Being party oriented, KotOR doesn't carry the same sense of personal accountability or agency that many other open world games do, and so far as I'm aware, no Star Wars game has really explored what it would be like to be a Bib Fortuna-like character, riding the knife edge between being expendable and being a threat to a powerful crime lord while balancing internal pressures, volatile negotiations and staying off the Empire's radar.
With those thoughts in mind, here's a list of hypothetical Star Wars games that I think I'd enjoy playing.
I think that ultimately there is no such thing as an ideal Star Wars game, but it seems to me that the most interesting ones are the ones that embrace those Star Wars hallmarks of telling accessible stories, amplifying social ideals surrounding good and evil, and presenting a detailed, believable universe to explore.↑return to section top↑ ↑return to page top↑
Thanks for reading! This has arguably been the largest Cheese Talks project I've completed, and it feels amazing to push it out into the world (doubly amazing assuming that someone is actually reading this).
I began researching for this article in November 2016, and finished up toward the end of February 2017. When I pulled together details of the 90 or so Star Wars titles I had loose awareness of, I had assumed that I was more or less done. Not only was I off by about half, but four additional titles and one new Star Wars film were released while I was writing, making my focal point something of a moving target.
My research involved aggregating and prioritising data from many different locations, most prominently:
Additional thanks to MobyGames (in particular Simon Carless), without whom the task of finding games, getting them running and capturing screenshots would probably have extended the project's duration out by at least another two months.
Many of the titles in the timeline are not currently present on MobyGames though, and several shots have also been contributed by Cheese Talks readers (a number that I expect to grow after the article goes live). Details can be found by hovering over the question mark icon above each screenshot in the timeline.
This article is a piece of discourse that (ideally) contributes to the discussion and ideas surrounding Star Wars and the games based on it. Although I don't like to use the term "review", the content here should count as such so far as interpretations of copyright law goes. I understand however that these things can get convoluted across international boundaries, and I recognise that works such as screenshots can contain a performance component. I've worked hard to seek permission to use/permissively licenced content and to provide attribution where appropriate, but should anybody have concerns about anything included here, please contact me and I will remove the offending content.
 The PAX Australia panel that inspired me to embark on this project featured panelists Dan Crowd, Nic Healy, David Hollingworth, Luke Lancaster, and a very late Alanah Pearce. A video archive of the panel can be found here.
 As mentioned in the Loose Ends section of this article, I fully expect there to be titles that have slipped past me. If you know of any, definitely get in touch, or see footnote 3 for details on how to contribute directly.
 For whatever it's worth, I've since purchased X-Wing at least three times in digital and physical form - I'm a strong believer that if a game is worth playing, it's worth supporting.
If you've got any thoughts on this article, or if you'd just like to share your own memories of playing Star Wars games, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published on the 9th of March 2017.