Uncharted director Amy Henig was hired by EA to work on a new Star Wars game at Dead Space studio Visceral. It was an exciting proposition, but it wasn’t meant to be. Visceral was closed and Hennig moved on. Now, Hennig is speaking about the matter.
Asked to reflect on her time at EA and working on Star Wars, Hennig told VentureBeat that the game faced a number of challenges. Starting off, Visceral as a developer was “very expensive” to run in part because it was in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Area. “It’s very hard to support compared to studios that cost a third of the price in places where there are tax credits. That’s a hard sell. That was a constant drumbeat, feeling like you had to justify the existence of a Visceral,” she said.
Visceral’s Star Wars title was to be a third-person “cinematic traversal action game,” Hennig said, and this led to the next problem. Making that type of game using an engine built for FPS games–EA’s Frostbite engine–was “a hurdle,” she said.
“But we knew going in that that was the goal. We were going to put this functionality into Frostbite. A lot of the team was hired to do Battlefield, and so that was a bit of a cultural shift, to make this different kind of game,” she said. “Normally you cache for the project you’re making rather than trying to–it’s hard to convert the people you have if that’s not their type of game.”
The game was “very far” into development, Hennig said. Another challenge that came up was the game’s shift in direction. Responding to market trends and player feedback, EA decided to “pivot” the design to make it a title that players could “come back to and enjoy for a long time to come,” which suggested it was becoming more multiplayer-focused.
Hennig, who has extensive expertise with single-player games like Uncharted, acknowledged that the game was trying to include “other modes and extensibility” to make the title more than a purely linear game, but it never worked out.
“I think that where EA is at right now, they’re looking more at games as a service, the live service model. More open world stuff, trying to crack that nut, versus this more finite crafted experience,” she explained. We were trying to make sure that we built in other modes and extensibility and all that stuff. But the fundamental spine of the thing was more like Uncharted than one of these open world, live service games. That’s a big gap to cross.
“I don’t know how you get from here to there. And then to try to push something that may not quite fit into the portfolio as it is today, and try to do it at this really expensive studio–it was a bit of an uphill battle. All of that stuff is publicly known.”
Hennig admitted that she understands EA’s decision to go a different way.
“It was something we were struggling with the whole time. Does this make sense? Is this something EA really wants to do? I certainly regret the fact that there’s a lot of good game there that I would love to see the light of day. A lot of people would. One never knows what might happen,” she said.
The Visceral Star Wars game was reportedly rebooted, with EA Vancouver put to work on the title. EA Vancouver supposedly used some of the assets from Visceral’s game, but transitioned the title to become an open-world experience. This game was canceled in January.
Also in the VentureBeat story, Hennig talked about how a game like the first Uncharted might not be made today, when multiplayer and online connectivity are so prevalent. “I don’t think a game like the first Uncharted, even though it was the foundational footprint for that series, would be a viable pitch today. The idea of a finite eight-ish-hour experience that has no second modes, no online– the only replayability was the fact that you could unlock cheats and stuff like that. No multiplayer, nothing. That doesn’t fly anymore. Now you have to have a lot of hours of gameplay. Eight would never cut it. Usually some sort of online mode. And of course you see where things are pushing, toward live services and battle royale and games as a service.”
Incorporating these online elements “play less nicely with story,” Hennig said. “They’re less conducive to traditional storytelling. That has a shape and an arc and a destination, an end. A game that is a live service, that continues, does not.”
The entire VentureBeat interview is thoroughly fascinating and absolutely worth your time to read top to bottom. Go read it here.
While Visceral/EA Vancouver’s Star Wars game may no longer be happening, EA is reportedly working on a smaller-scale Star Wars title that can be released sooner. Additionally, Apex Legends developer Respawn is working on a third-person Star Wars action game called Jedi: Fallen Order; it’ll be revealed in April.