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Metroid + Zelda + Dark Souls = Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

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Stig Asmussen gets his balance on the shoulders of giants

Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts via Amazon.

Stig Asmussen, the man in charge of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, wears his influences on his sleeve, albeit a little uneasily.

When we spoke at EA Play 2019, he was away from the game that he’s still creating, talking about an unfinished product. There’s still a stuff to do before the game’s Nov. 15 release on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

That got him thinking about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s influences, and he got cautiously excited. His next game owes a lot to other games that he and the team at developer Respawn Entertainment love. He thinks that’s good, as long as they’re just influences. It’d be bad if they started copying other games.

“I think people can get into like a scary place where they’re making a game that is their favorite kind of game to make, but that wasn’t the case [for us],” he said. “I felt like we were ready for this, and we were doing it from the very beginning.”

His influences are diverse. He mentions FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series, and its one-off PS4 exclusive Bloodborne. Those games share a bit with Nintendo’s Metroid franchise, in his estimation. And speaking of Nintendo, he threw a little Zelda in the cooking pot, too.

“We became students of that,” he said, “not just the experience that we have played these games as we were growing up, but just sitting down and really trying to figure them out. And we’re not exactly like [them]. We evolved it into something that’s a little bit different, but I’ll leave that up for people to debate what’s different about it when the game comes out.”

So how do you blend blend dark fantasy, gothic horror, playful high fantasy, and science fiction to create a Star Wars game? You start with ideas about what the game should be, and make sure that Lucasfilm is OK with them.

One of the earliest ideas was a Metroidvania level design. The portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania refers to games that gate you out of areas until you get some kind of skill or item later on. The available world broadens as players become more capable.

It sounds like Metroid, and Asmussen thinks that FromSoftware does that, too.

“When you think about it,” he said, “you can even dissect a game like Bloodborne and Dark Souls with their one-way doors. It’s very similar where you’re kind of unlocking the world in a smart way.”

Fallen Order finds justification for its Metroidvania design in Star Wars’ long history of planet-hopping.

“It’s not a linear experience,” he said. “You’re going to different planets. You’re getting new abilities that allow you to upgrade things that [are on] other planets, though traversal.”

We saw a glimpse of this in a closed-door demo, where the player was on the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk. He did two things there: found an upgrade power that allows the instantly lovable buddy droid, BD-1, to unlock panels, and he looked at a hyperdrive map with a few holographic planets.

“At any time,” Asmussen said, “if the player wanted to, they don’t have to push forward at Kashyyyk. They can go back to the hub, and they could get in the ship, and they could fly back to one of the other planets where they saw that panel.”

Beyond level design, one of the development team’s biggest challenges has been figuring out combat. Asmussen, a veteran of the God of War franchise, is no stranger to third-person action games, but he says he didn’t want to make a “God of Star Wars” game. So to figure out what fighting should be like, he and his team turned to some of their favorite games for inspiration, which also fit with the game’s serpentine Metroidvania flow.

“We looked at Zelda very closely when we started making the game,” he said. “Believe it or not, for our combat, [we looked at] Zelda: Wind Waker, because they’ve got a Z target. We liked the idea — and you find this in Metroid as well, too — that when you get your upgrades and new tools, there’s new ways to unlock the enemies and defeat them faster.”

It also gave them a spectrum of difficulty to fit within, which is not yet finalized. Some people on the team want a difficult, FromSoftware-like experience. That’s certainly one aesthetic possibility for a certain kind of player, but Asmussen knows that it’s not for everybody. In fact, he thinks the game’s probably a little too difficult right now. And in a Star Wars game with broad appeal, notably difficult is probably not the correct default answer.

“We looked at Wind Waker very closely,” he said. “We looked at Bloodborne and Dark Souls very closely. And we said, ‘Well, this one’s too whimsical and probably too light and not grounded enough. This one’s way too punishing.’ So we have to find something that’s more in the middle. And that’s what we’re trying to get to.”