LOS ANGELES (AP) — The developers of "Star Wars: Battlefront" got off to a rocky start when building a level based on the upcoming blockbuster "The Force Awakens."
As the video game makers were constructing a virtual version of the sandy planet Jakku from the latest episode of the "Star Wars" saga, the team at Lucasfilm in San Francisco provided Stockholm-based studio DICE with a specific directive: If they wanted their rendition of Jakku to more closely resemble its big-screen counterpart, it needed fewer boulders.
"We did comment on the rock formations," said Ada Duan, vice president of digital business and franchise management at Lucasfilm. "We wanted it to be more true to how the planet was being developed and what we'll be seeing in the film. It was a really unique experience because they were essentially creating Jakku at the same time as the filmmakers."
The new iteration of the multiplayer blast-'em-up, out Tuesday, mostly takes place on worlds from the original film trilogy, such as the woodsy Endor and snowy Hoth. However, developer DICE and publisher Electronic Arts are unleashing a downloadable "Battle of Jakku" level two weeks ahead of the release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" on Dec. 18.
The free expansion takes place after "Return of the Jedi" and 29 years ahead of "Force Awakens" when the New Republic confronted Imperial holdouts on the previously unseen Outer Rim world. The level will showcase how Jakku became the intergalactic junkyard that Daisy Ridley's scavenger Rey can be seen rummaging through in "Force Awakens" trailers.
"We wanted to respect the look they created for Jakku, but at the same time, the Jakku that we're developing needed to facilitate gameplay," said Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE. "They're making a movie. We're making a game. Irrespective of how good the game looks, if the environment doesn't facilitate gameplay, it doesn't meet its purpose."
With the latest generation of consoles and computers capable of achieving a more photorealistic look, the designers at DICE were determined to bring beloved "Star Wars" locations like Tatooine to life for interactive shootouts between rebels and stormtroopers. They also tackled visualizing Sullust, a volcanic enclave mentioned but rarely seen in "Star Wars" stories.
"The process was guided by insight from Lucasfilm," said Ingvarsdottir, who noted that the game designers traveled to Iceland to capture inspiration for the lava-spewing habitat. "They wanted to make sure what we created was in line with how they imagined Sullust and make sure they liked our visual representation. Fortunately, it was a smooth and fun process for us."
The result is a setting for dogfights and droid raids that's just as dangerous as Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. While the majority of the game is inspired by the locales, weapons and vehicles depicted in movies and TV shows, Duan at Lucasfilm said it's entirely possible for future "Star Wars" filmmakers and creators to be inspired by how DICE envisioned Sullust.
"It will absolutely be incorporated into our overall reference material," said Duan. "Whether it's a future game, film or TV show, it becomes part of our 'Star Wars' universe. When we create something like this now, it's in the forefront of our minds that it could potentially be used down the road. We no longer think, 'Oh, this is just for "Battlefront.'''"
For gamers who desire to portray characters from "Force Awakens" on Dec. 18, they will only be able to do that in the virtual toy box, not on the battlefield. Rey, warrior Finn, pilot Poe Dameron and baddie Kylo Ren will join the existing cadre of "Star Wars" characters that has been added over the past three months to the latest edition of the toys-to-life series "Disney Infinity."
"It makes sense with 'Infinity' because many parents have first introduced their children to 'Star Wars' through games," said Duan. "We wanted to make sure to take advantage of that family-friendly approach with 'Infinity.' We'll continue to leverage the 'Force Awakens' story in future games, but strictly making a game based on the movie isn't part of our strategy."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.