• Shannon Moran

The greatest teacher, failure is - has EA learned the lesson?

Seeing Thursday’s EA Play gameplay footage and announcement trailer for the new Star Wars: Squadrons had me reflecting on my journey as a Star Wars Gamer. If you are not familiar on what the new Star Wars: Squadrons is about check out Andy’s initial article here. You can also check out my trailer reaction as well.

As I was watching my mate Scotty Jayro doing a live commentary of the EA Play game footage, I was immediately drawn to that scene in the last Jedi with Yoda stating “The greatest teacher, failure is”. I feel, for me EA is getting to that point that Luke had and we (hopefully) are entering into a new age of Star Wars Gaming.

In the late 90s and early to mid 2000s Lucas Arts ruled the gaming scene. There was a massive selection of games. From Knights of the Old Republic to The Force Unleashed (some of my favourites) to Rogue Squadron and Rebel Assault and the first Battlefront series. There was something for everyone, and each time the technology would be pushed further and further. We were starting to see gaming and actually the VFX industry start to blend.

The Force Unleashed was the first game that LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) collaborated on and this opened the door for the companies to co-develop tools to make film-quality effects. I will never forget seeing a demo of launching R2-D2s showing how the physics of the boxes breaking differently every time. The demo then showed stormtroopers being thrown and sometimes grabbing a ledge. This was the first time I saw realistic non-player character artificial intelligence but the game engine limitations would cause a “rag doll” effect. We still see this today when playing Heroes and Villains in Battlefront 2 (or at least I do). Basically that is a fancy way of saying characters and environments will have various different reactions and outcomes to the environment and everyone’s game play will be different. This is now a staple in all AAA games such and Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us 2.

I remember waiting in line at the midnight release of The Force Unleashed at my local GameStop in Aurora, Colorado and it was my first experience standing in line and bonding for anything Star Wars. I was too young to wait for hours for The Phantom Menace and the idea of the Sequel Trilogy didn’t seem possible.

But in the midst of the new revolution in gaming LucasArts was acquired by The Walt Disney Company through the acquisition of its parent company Lucasfilm in 2012. Disney halted all internal development at LucasArts and laid off most of its staff. In May 2013 Electronic Arts (EA) obtained exclusive rights to develop Star Wars games for gaming consoles, and its subsidiaries DICE, Visceral Games, and BioWare started work on Star Wars games after LucasArts was shut down.

Star Wars: 1313 was revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2012. It was built in the Unreal engine and was slated to feature full-body performance capture. The game appeared to emphasize fast paced combat, centered around human skills and physical weapons instead of Force powers. The game was also planned to feature a combination of cover-based combat, platform gameplay, and "playable cinematic gameplay.” It was originally planed as a direct tie-in to Star Wars: Underworld TV show that also never made it into production.

Unfortunately, the infamous Star Wars 1313 never came to fruition and started this cynical view of what was going to happen to the future of the Star Wars gaming community

But there was a spark that would light the fire in this gamer, as 2014 E3 showed our first look at Battlefront (2015) and I was excited. By this time I was a full console gamer with my better half and a UK Christmas was lots of chocolate and Gaming with the in-laws. For me it did exactly what some of the criticism of the game was - it appealed to the casual gamer. Critics noted it was repetitive, yet some praised the look and feel and details, while others admitted it was an intro for people wanting to dip their toes into First Person Shooters (FPS) and that was me.

But I did agree with the lack of content and was introduced to my first DLCs, and, of course, I got all of them. But the gaming community wanted a full game with free updates and releases. There was a moment we thought EA heard us, on November 17, 2017 Battlefront II was released.

I was so excited as we were going to play in the worlds of the sequel trilogy now and get to play as Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Phasma with our first “season” being derived from The Last Jedi. We had a single player campaign mode and although it was short the story was great and I loved the character of Iden Versio. Star Fighter Assault was a mode where players could enjoy flying, and, while not my strongest game, I didn’t avoid the mode all together.

Then where was the biggest controversy to date: micro-transactions and loot boxes. This approach started a conversation about what is “Pay to Win” and people were rightfully angry that it seemed you could get a tactical advantage if you paid real world money to buy loot boxes.

This pushed the game behind and doomed to never to rid itself of that red letter on its chest no matter how much of a renaissance this game went through. They addressed it with an updated progression setting and even the user interface got an update where no longer did we have the hologram animations but saw all the beautiful models of our heroes and troopers in the front lobby. Finally there was a massive push of clone wars content and OMG I did not realise there were so many trooper classes. Now the only money you spent in the “crate” tab was using your in-game currency and “crunching for credits” was born. I also enjoyed unlocking the Hoth cosmetics through various challenges and limited events.

But for me I was still waiting for the “Uncharted of Star Wars” and boy did I get it! On November 15, 2019 Jedi Fallen Order was released to pretty high reviews. That was just a good month in general for Star Wars. Mandalorian was a hit, Resistance Reborn was a hit and then Jedi Fallen Order wrapped up the month. The previous year announcement for this game was literally a guy sitting down and talking to the host about how they were creating a new star wars game. It is my assumption this was because it was in the midst of all the BF2 Loot Box controversy and it was best to lay low and silently announce the game. It really paid off as I am right now in the process of my first play though and the game and the environments are amazing. The amount of times on my game streams I literally gasp, “Oh wow!” on the level of detail in this game is drinking game worthy. But what I am seeing so far is the level of customizations. Because let’s face It people like to change and have their characters look like them. There are even parts of all the Savi’s lightsabers (from Galaxy’s Edge) in the game. If you unlock them that you can re-create your light sabre from the theme park - which I am totally doing.

All this leads into last week’s reveal and announcement of Star Wars: Squadrons. (SWS) This game didn’t follow the casual announcements of Jedi Fallen Order. It came as the leaked name of “Project Maverick” picked up by podcast Bespin Bulletin. Hope was sparked in the Battlefront II players that loved the star fighter assault mode but while getting multiple updates and seasons, the flight mode wasn’t getting new planets and modes like the ground based modes.

On the surface after the trailer and the game play reel it feels like EA is continuing to listen to us and take on the failures and successes of its predecessor games. In the new SWS you can play as a customised character in the single player campaign. You earn upgrades and cosmetics for your ships through gameplay and challenges, and they outright said there will be no micro-transactions and loot boxes. The other surprising thing is this game is price pointed at 40 Dollars. I’m not sure if that price point is tipping that it is a shorter game.

So has EA learned their lesson? The positive person in me is saying yes, but like all things and industries it is a growing process and finding that balance between keeping the company profits up and the wants and the needs of the fans is so fine. But I’m happy with what I see. Especially now that #FunkoPopIsCanon and there is the first time of cross-platform in Star Wars. I am hesitant as I see the HUGE advantage PC players have over console players in Fortnite. I think that will be EA’s next hurdle to get right, but I’m excited I can call up the rest of the network fellas or anyone else in the community and we can jump in a game together.

On an end note, I’ve already seen some developers and worker bee’s say they are disheartened by the comments in the videos. Keep your heads up ladies and gents! I know the feeling as the Game and VFX industry (my dayjob) share this mutual burden of putting your heart and soul into a project for 2+ years and people crap on it after seeing 30 seconds. I’m excited and you’ve gotten this gamer really excited and it looks great!

Can’t wait to see you all there - Pilots Wanted!

You can catch Shannon on Wednesday's with shows and documentaries on her show "Postcards from the Galaxy's Edge" and also on Twitch streaming M-F at 1pm GMT