Star Wars Battlefront II will soon be unleashed on the gaming world. In the lead-up to that release, I had a chance to sit down with Criterion Games’ executive producer Matt Webster and game designer John Stanley at Gamescom (so, before the recent multiplayer beta) to talk about what players can expect from Starfighter Assault. For those unaware, the campaign is being handled by Motive Studios, the bulk of the multiplayer is being built by DICE, and Criterion Games is in charge of vehicular handling as well as Starfighter Assault mode. Starfighter Assault is the 2.0 take on DICE’s Fighter Squadron which, if you played it in 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront, you might recall being one of the weaker modes, and particularly shallow.
If you want to read more about Star Wars Battlefront II, you should absolutely pick up the current issue of the magazine, which includes quotes from Webster and Stanley, but for the rest of the interview, read on.
PCPP: What kind of feedback were you able to use from the first game in terms of I guess there was probably a lack of depth when it came to the controls especially I noticed DICE had the Dodge buttons on cooldowns and things like that. Now it feels like it’s a bit more under your control. I guess when you were starting out like what was your checklist of things that you wanted to change. Was it more of a tweak or was it an overhaul?
Matt: Yeah, it’s a massive overhaul.
John: I mean, there’s something that Criterion always starts out with, which is vehicle feel and it’s no different from as starfighter. How is an X-wing going to feel? How is a Y-wing going to feel? How’s an A-wing going to feel? And, you know, once you’ve got that feel down, and once you’re feeling like you’re an authentic... our kind of MO for this is make you feel like an ace pilot. Once we’ve got that working and once we’ve got the feel of you being in the ships, we start building the world around it, and building the objectives. So, get the core right first, and then we can lay on all the other bits.
PCPP: Criterion has got a history with making car games, right? It’s a lot easier to jump into a car and get the idea of how that should feel. How do you translate A-wing, X-wing, TIE fighter to what it feels like for me versus what it feels like for you, because we’ve only ever watched them in movies. We’ve never been in an X-wing, for instance.
Matt: The principle remains the same. We’ll start with: what is the fantasy? So, in a car, in my head, I can drift it around a corner at 100 miles an hour, but the average driver doesn’t think they’re an average driver. So, we have to give... we have to deliver on the fantasy. And it’s no different than a starfighter, really, you know we want... Well, first of all, we’re introducing sort of 3D combat. I mean, Fighter Squadron still had a ground plane. This is 3D combat, which has always been something people felt that’s very difficult to do. But we’ll start on the second-to-second, the game feel of the starfighter, and that vision of we want people to feel badass and heroic in an X-wing. An X-wing is like a multi-role fighter. So, it’s kind of, you know, it’s okay at both objective and dogfighting. So, John will talk a little about the fighter roles we have.
John: The fighter class, so the X-wings and the TIE fighters are your kind of all-rounders. But then we started to move out and look at the interceptor class: the A-wing, the TIE interceptor. Those guys are a bit of a glass cannon, but you want to get them in, because they’re perfect for dogfighting. So, you’re going to want to get in, get out. Little less health, but they’re more agile. And then you’ve got the bomber class, which are the tanks. They’re going to come in they’re going to have more health, but they’re also going to be able to deliver massive, massive payloads. They might be a bit slower, but you’re getting a massive reward in being able to... the Y-wing, for example, has dual proton torpedoes, that’s going to start taking down those objectives a lot quicker. Characteristically, it’s about thinking, ‘What should a Y-wing feel like?’ It’s going to feel more tanky. It’s going to be delivering these high-powered attacks.
PCPP: So, is it supposed to be this kind of idea within the class system that like a Y-wing shouldn't be going out of its way to pick fights with an interceptor?
Matt: I think a skilled player is going to is absolutely going to be able to do that for sure. We wanted everything to be able to dogfight, but with varying degrees of strengths and weaknesses. So, as John says, your interceptors are agile but fragile. An experienced player is going to love how they respond. An early player might actually prefer the Y-wing because it’s a little heavier, so it’s a little slower to respond. We’ve got to recognise that we’ve got a broad audience with a varying degree of skill. The fact that you picked it up and felt pretty good is a great start point. And you’ve got really clear differences between the two that people will respond and, I think, find it favourable.
PCPP: Is the intention to have a first-person view for all ships including the hero ships? I noticed that I couldn’t see Darth Maul’s in first-person and I was, like, I haven’t seen it in the movie but I really want to see what it would look like. Is that the intention?
John: Yeah, 100 percent. So, it’s just here at the demo at Gamescom that have limited hero ships with first-person views, but for the final game, 100 percent, all games will have their cockpit views in. And what that really helps with is living out that Star Wars fantasy again of being that ace pilot. What is it like to sit in the pilot seat of a Y-wing, of Darth Maul’s Scimitar, or Slave I? Together, with great work from our audio team, putting all of these pieces together, hopefully, we’re making you feel like you are that pilot.