Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order director discusses characters, story, and inspiration from Zelda and Dark Souls
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, EA and Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming AAA venture into the Star Wars universe, got a proper introduction at Saturday’s EA Play event. Twevle minutes of gameplay were revealed to the general public, with about 13 additional minutes of action set on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk available to view by attendees lucky enough to secure a slot in one of the game’s theater presentations. Fallen Order, which follows a young Jedi-in-training named Cal Kestis (played by Gotham and Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan) attempting to survive in the wake of the infamous Jedi killing Order 66, is an open-world, story driven action adventure that takes its gameplay and design inspiration from a list of some of the greatest titles of the last several generations of gaming. Director Stig Asmussen of Respawn sat down with EW to discuss the game’s story, new characters, and mechanics.
Entertainment Weekly: Why did Respawn decide to set the game between the Jedi eradicating Order 66 and Rogue One?
Stig Asmussen: We thought it was a very compelling time to tell a story about a Jedi on the run. There’s really no better time for the type of hero and the character that we’re making and the stakes that we’re making. And it also was something that we felt was a little untapped. It’s a huge moment at the end of Episode III, and that was a place we were really excited about exploring and Lucasfilm was really excited about exploring.
What are the motivations for Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan), the young Jedi at the center of the game’s story?
His motivation is to stay alive. Early in the game, he basically outs himself. He’s put in a circumstance where he has to show that he’s a Jedi, or a Force user, and at that moment, he becomes an enemy of the state. Early on he hooks up with Cere and Greez. Cere’s got this hail Mary plan of restarting the Jedi order, and at this point, I don’t even know if Cal believes in the Jedi Order anymore. His life has turned upside down. But he does believe in survival, and he knows the best way to survive is to build up his skills, and since he never completed his training, she gives him this deal, “Look, if you help me with this mission, I’ll help you complete your training.”
How is Cere affiliated with the Jedi Order?
She’s a former Jedi.
What about Greez? What’s his story?
He’s a member of a new species we’ve created. I don’t want to give away too much of his backstory, but like anybody you’re going to find during these dark times, he’s got demons. But he’s kind of like this loudmouthed little guy, he talks real big, he tells tall tales and most of the time they’re not true.
Cal also has a cool new droid helping him out, BD-1. Is there a story behind the design of that character?
When we made what I would call like our one-page of what the game was, I wanted to have a droid in the game as kind of a companion to Cal that would help him not only by keeping him going mentally when he was out in the wild, but also provide really important features and mechanics. At the time, we were working on Titanfall 2, and we had BT, which is Buddy Titan, in Titanfall 2, so I just penciled him in as Buddy Droid, Buddy Droid-1, and it just stuck. So it was born out of Titanfall. There’s another funny part about the name too. Our codename for a long time was Bird Dog, which is BD, and that was weird because we figured out the codename before we really figured out what the personality for BD was going to be, and when we started to really nail that down, we said, “Well we want him to be sort of like Woodstock from Charlie Brown, the little yellow bid, but we also want him to be like a loyal dog.” And our codename was Bird Dog.
How has it been working with Cameron Monaghan to bring Cal to life?
He’s become Cal in a way we never had on paper. From the very beginning, we said that we were looking for this young, soft-spoken kind of Clint Eastwood character, and the first time I saw the audition with him, he just nailed it. Then when we got on set, he really embraced and expanded the character. It’s kind of weird that we’ve got another guy [like Mark Hamill] now who plays a Jedi, but he’s also played the Joker.
Some Dark Side foreshadowing there maybe?
What other styles of games or specific titles did you take inspiration from for Fallen Order’s gameplay?
Metroid. Metroidvania, I guess. That’s what our level design is inspired by, where the world unlocks based on the abilities that you get. You saw in the demo when he went inside the ship, he opened up the holomap and there were some other planets on there. You can travel to those other planets whenever you want, once they’re unlocked. For example, there’s a moment on Kashyyyk, where [Cal] found an upgrade for BD. That unlocked a path for him to go further into Kashyyyk, but it also unlocked paths on other planets that he’d already been to. That, at its core, is the essence of Metroidvania design, is that the world unlocks based on abilities.
What was the inspiration for the combat mechanics?
In regards to combat, very early on, it was a cross between Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, where you can Z-target your enemies, that’s on one end of the spectrum, and on the other end of the spectrum is Dark Souls and Bloodborne. What both of those games do really well is they make you think while you’re fighting. They make you really evaluate your enemy and what your enemy’s moves are and find the right time to strike. But also, especially with Zelda, it’s like, what tools do you have and how do you use those tools? What combination do you use those tools in? We felt like with Force powers and a range of lightsaber abilities and moves, that we could create enemies that always pose a challenge and are interesting to fight, even more so when you start bringing different types of enemies together. So those were the major influencers for this game. You can see it has a very Japanese [influence].
There were some timing-based parries and counters involved in the combat shown in the demo. Generally speaking, how forgiving are those parry windows? Is it as difficult to master as those Dark Souls-style games?
I’m pretty good at my game, and I’m really bad at Sekiro. I wish I could get further in Sekiro, but my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be [laughs].
From the demo, it looked like there may also be some influences from action/adventure titles like God of War and Uncharted. Would you count those as inspirations as well?
That section of gameplay [featured in the EA Play demo] is what we would call one of our “wow” scripted moments, so it’s very linear, but halfway through there, when your ship lands on that landing pad, that’s now become a hub for that planet. That’s where, if you want to, you can get in your ship and fly away and start doing stuff on other planets. Certainly, we look at games like Uncharted and God of War for influence as well, but I wouldn’t want anybody to walk away and mistake our game for a very linear game. We just have a few sections like that.
What will the scale of this game be like?
It’s a big game. I’m reading comments online with people saying “it’s going to be a five-hour game.” It’s not a five-hour game. It’s a big game. And what I want to double down on is that we’re not a linear game. There’s a definite start and ending, and there are moments along the way that will occur for everybody, that you basically can’t miss. But there are also story elements that we’re layering in there that are opt-in. For people who are really into story and narrative, we have those opt-in moments all over the game.