Star Wars: TFU II – Haden Blackman Q&A
In-between taking a look at The Force Unleashed II and staring at the reams of memorabilia around the LucasArts campus, we sat down for a chat with Haden Blackman, executive producer and writer for the game.
Was there much temptation to use a different lead character?
There was. We kicked around a few ideas initially: looking at creating a new Force wielder; we talked about some named characters that we could use in this Force Unleashed context. But ultimately we decided that Starkiller was a character we were all very fond of and attached to and we all thought there was more story we could tell with him. Once we figured out how we were going to bring him back it all made sense and fell into place.
How dark can you really go with the story?
Pretty dark. We felt like The Force Unleashed I was pretty dark – the first half of it you’re hunting down the last of the Jedi – but what we tried to do with TFU I was show a character that was still empathetic on some level. That’s why we showed Vader taking him as a child – you can understand, in a way, what he had become and there’s still some bright light in him. He’s able to be friends with Proxy and has a relationship with Juno that is far different from his relationship with Vader. In this story it’s a more personal story, in some ways. He’s dealing with a sense of identity and not knowing whether he’s going insane or not, and the possible collapse of the Rebel Alliance, and his being torn between what he wants and what Kota wants. I think it’s just as dark as TFU I in some ways, but it’s a lot more personal, too.
How long after the first game is it set?
We’re being a little bit vague on it, but it’s about – just because we’re dealing with this whole accelerated cloning process – six months.
Do you often want to include ‘name’ characters from the film series?
I think when we first sat down and brainstormed there’s always that temptation, but for me it’s about what fits into the story and what makes sense from a story standpoint. We’ll sit down, we’ll brainstorm early on and say “what planets do people want to go to, what characters might they want to interact with” – we got to do a lot of that with the downloadable content stuff we did for TFU I, so you’re able to go to Tatooine and Hoth, and fight Boba Fett and Obi-Wan and Luke and all these cool recognisable characters. I feel like we got some of that out in DLC, but there’s always that strong temptation to do it. We’ll brainstorm and then say ‘does it fit logically in the story?’ There’s definitely some stuff we haven’t revealed yet about the story and I think that it will be a nice surprise for fans.
When you’re writing the game’s story are you doing it for an ‘uneducated’ audience or for existing fans of the Star Wars series?
In The Force Unleashed I we really made a conscious effort to make sure the story wasn’t so ‘inside’ that you had to know every detail about the Expanded Universe to get it. Really my desire was that if you hadn’t seen anything you could still enjoy the game story, but certainly if you understand the films and Vader you’re going to get more out of it. But we’re all fans, so we’ve put in elements that hopefully people really appreciate. With The Force Unleashed II again we’re trying to create a story that if you’ve played The Force Unleashed I you’re going to know a bit more going into it, but hopefully the story still stands on its own and you can enjoy it even if you haven’t played [the first game], whether or not you’re familiar with all the continuity.
How much freedom do you have with the writing?
On Force Unleashed I it was actually surprisingly wide open for us because that’s a time period no one had really done anything in yet, and we were kind of the first who were approved to go off and tell a new story in that time frame. We had to get approval from George [Lucas] to basically portray the Force in the way we wanted to portray it and to give Darth Vader a secret apprentice. He had some comments on the way we wanted to use Princess Leia in the first one and he wanted to make sure that we were aware that Bail Organa was one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance, but that was it – those were the only real constraints that we had. Then we went to Lucasfilm licensing whenever we thought there was a conflict or an issue or anything that we wanted to make sure. With The Force Unleashed II, because we’d already established this notion of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, really it was just sitting down with licensing and saying ‘this is what we want to do’ and getting a few pieces of feedback from them. But they haven’t constrained us from a story perspective at all.
What do you think of the claims from some developers and publishers that there is no future for single-player gaming?
I disagree. I think there will always be a place for strong, story-driven, character-driven single-player game – look at Uncharted 2, or TFU. Clearly the success of those games shows there is a market for that. Do I think multiplayer and online play is becoming increasingly important? Absolutely, and we’ll probably be at a balance at some point. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t have strong story in multiplayer games, too. Personally I’m excited about that and the future: what we can do with storytelling in the future in multiplayer games, co-op games and MMOs. Even Left 4 Dead, which has a very loose story structure – almost no story, it’s just more of a setting – it’s kind of cool because you end up telling stories to each other about your experience that you went through, which I think is awesome. I think story is always going to be important in games. Whether the industry is dominated by linear, story-driven, character-driven narratives? I think that’s not going to be the case. I don’t think that’s the case today, we have much more of a balance. In the end there’s always going to be a place for [story-driven games] because people enjoy it. God Of War III, Uncharted 2 – every year we still see huge blockbusters that are that type of game.
How has the position of a dedicated writer for videogames changed over the years?
It’s changed dramatically. First of all, there is a position for dedicated writers now, which I don’t think there was. The funny thing is I was hired into the industry as a writer/researcher and this was 13 years ago, but that was for a very specific type of project – the interactive Star Wars Encyclopaedia. [In the past] you’d hire somebody to maybe help out with some scriptwriting for a couple of weeks or something like that. But I think having somebody on the project from the beginning to the end in charge of the story is going to become increasingly important for all types of games. You look at some of the big MMOs or the big RPGs and they have whole teams of writers – whether they call them designers or writers: their job is to create narratives. Increasingly we’re seeing games that hire writers from the very beginning – look at Uncharted 2: one of their two creative directors was in charge of the story and realising that story. I’m heartened by that and I think it’s a really good thing for the industry, to move in that direction and to have people that can understand telling an interactive story and be open to and nimble enough to change the story to fit the design of the game as it changes. We went over a number of revisions on Force Unleashed just because we were like ‘this [element] is cooler so we want to play that out’ or ‘here’s a gameplay mechanic we didn’t know about when we wrote the story and we want to make that part of the game now’. We altered the story almost on a weekly basis up until we hit alpha in order to take advantage of that, and that’s really hard to do when you’re just using a contract writer who is only on the project for a window.