The first time you ever imagined yourself in an X-wing going at full throttle down the Death Star trench was almost 25 years ago. Since then, more than a few videogames have in one way or another attempted—and mostly failed—to fulfill that fantasy. And after all these years, you may have lost faith in the Force. You took down those posters and sold your action figures on eBay, assuming that those childhood wishes would never come true. Well, here’s a bulletin from the Rebel Alliance: They’re about to.
One of the launch titles for Nintendo’s new GameCube console is an exquisite re-creation of the main aerial battles in the original Star Wars trilogy, from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi. The game is at times almost indistinguishable from the movies on which it’s based—it even has one of those incredibly dorky titles: Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II. And if Rogue Leader is imperfect in spots, it’s still likely to offer an experience as close as you’ll ever get to the real thing. That’s because LucasArts, the videogame arm of George Lucas’ empire, revisits the classic film material only when there’s a convincing reason to do so. (Consider: Between 1982 and 1991 not one game release included the Death Star trench run.)
Getting Rogue Leader made at all was an accomplishment. Since the concept came together late in the production cycle of Nintendo’s new GameCube console, the creators had just nine months to complete it—the average Star Wars title takes 18 to 24 months to produce. Just how did the wing commanders who created the game pull it off? Maybe the Force is real…
PREPRODUCTION: AUG. 2000
Anything Star Wars-related is going to draw a crowd at Space World, Nintendo’s annual game and technology showcase in Tokyo. But Factor 5, a San Rafael, Calif.-based entertainment software company, had a particularly memorable display. To tease their work on the technology for the GameCube, they displayed a prototype of an X-wing fighter flying around the Death Star. It was so realistic that for weeks, attendees were debating whether it was a playable game or just computer-generated animation showing off the GameCube’s potential.
And at the time there was no official game in development. Factor 5 had worked on 1998’s enormously popular Rogue Squadron, which was initially going to be based on the battles from the first three Star Wars films. But at the time, says the company’s president, Julian Eggebrecht, ”Lucasfilm licensing thought that tying directly in to the films wouldn’t be such a good idea.” So the concept was scrapped in favor of what eventually became Rogue Squadron‘s more subplot-driven story line.
But the Space World prototype changed everything. ”We were looking at the GameCube’s features and realized that for the first time we could make a game that re-creates the movies,” says LucasArts producer Brett Tosti. ”It only made sense for us to keep it in a classic Star Wars universe.” He and Eggebrecht immediately started outlining Rogue Leader.