'Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order' Director Explains 'Zelda' Influences, Game's Difficulty

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - H 2019
EA Games
Stig Asmussen discusses the game's greatest influences, how it started as a completely separate project outside the 'Star Wars' universe and what players can expect from its combat system.

On Saturday morning, EA and Respawn Entertainment debuted the first gameplay footage from their upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order single-player game.

The footage showed new Star Wars protagonist Cal Kestis (Gotham's Cameron Monaghan), a young Padawan warrior living in the dangerous time after Emperor Palpatine executed Order 66 to kill all Jedis in the galaxy. 

The new game is the latest Star Wars titled to be released by EA since the company inked an exclusive publishing deal with Disney in May 2013. For Respawn, its the studio's first foray into the Star Wars universe. 

Jedi: Fallen Order director Stig Asmussen caught up with The Hollywood Reporter during the EA Play event in Los Angeles shortly after debuting the new footage to fans worldwide. He discussed the game's inspiration (The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and the Dark Souls franchise were big influences), his goal for creating a deep combat system, the game's Metroidvania (a subgenre of action-adventure games where areas of a map are unlocked after players attain new items and abilities) aspects and what makes Cal stand out as a new hero in the Star Wars universe.

Why did you decide to make a single-player Star Wars game after years of the series being made into multiplayer experiences?

The decision was made before we were working on Star Wars. When I joined Respawn, Vince [Zampella, Respawn Entertainment CEO] and I were talking about how he always wanted to make a third-person action adventure game, and that was what my background was. We did talk about Star Wars early on and we approached EA, whom we had a great relationship with based on the Titanfall series. There was definitely interest on both sides about doing a Star Wars game, but the timing wasn’t working out, so plan B was to make something else. We started making our own third-person IP, single-player action-adventure. That’s the team I assembled, that’s what we do. So, when we started the conversation with Lucasfilm, we said, "This is what we’re going to make." They said, "Show us more," and we just continued that process, and over time all sides bought in.

At what point did your initial project become a Star Wars game?

We were working on something else that was super-cool with a small team, about 12 people. We basically put this demo together, it took about 16 months, and when EA saw it the timing was a little better for a Star Wars game. They were super-enthused about the game that we were making, and said they want to do this at some point, but do you guys want to do Star Wars now? I think they saw our [initial] game and saw it as something that could be translated into a Star Wars game.

What year was that? Did it coincide with new Star Wars films hitting theaters?

It didn’t have anything to do with films, but I’d say it was late 2015.

When you get the green light to work with Star Wars IP, one of the biggest franchises in the world, how do you make it your own and unique?

It started with two pages. They described the state of the galaxy, the time period, the conflict, who the heroes were and who the antagonist would be. We also talked about what the pillars of the game would be. Keep it real simple and give the team something to push forward and go to the Lucasfilm office to have conversations about what the game would be. During those conversations, we changed what the time period would be, changed the characters a little bit, but a lot of it remains the same and we just expanded on it.

What was that original time period you pitched?

I can’t say because it wasn’t really a thing.

The time period you landed on is both familiar to fans of the franchise but also allows for a lot of creative freedom.

That’s what makes it great.

How do you find a balance between showing familiar characters and places and introducing your own new creations?

Some of it is driven by our desire of what we want to do. A lot is also driven by what the story is dictating. We wanted to travel to [Wookiee homeworld] Kashyyyk, we thought it was a neat place, but we didn’t want to go to Tatooine or Hoth because we’ve already seen them in so many other forms. When we were trying to establish planets, we wanted something that was somewhat familiar, but there’s a story to be told there that’s interesting and can be expanded on. We have a Metroidvania design philosophy, so we have to come up with a way to connect several different planets together that feels plausible.

Is this a Metroidvania game?

Yes. What you saw [in the demo] was a scripted section of the game. There are maybe a handful of those in the game. This is not a linear game. When you get to that part of the demo where the spaceship lands and he went to the map and there’s all these different planets, you can fly to all of those. The only thing that’s restricting you from probing deeper into these areas is your abilities.

You’ve mentioned the deep combat and gameplay you’re working on in Jedi: Fallen Order, what does that mean exactly?

The first game we were working on, that’s where thoughtful combat was born. The inspiration for that was The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, where you have a Z-target you can turn on and off, you have different enemies with weaknesses based on what you have in your arsenal, and you can take enemies out quicker. Metroid, also, where you get weapons that will take enemies out in easier ways. But mostly Wind Waker combined with Dark Souls. Obviously, you don’t want something as punishing as Dark Souls because this is a Star Wars game and it has to be more accessible, but we didn’t want something too light or whimsical. We wanted grit and weight, to be more grounded than Zelda.

You said you don’t want it to be punishing. How difficult will this game be?

I’ll be honest with you, we’re still figuring that out right now. We’re doing a lot of focus testing and that’s giving us great feedback.

What do you find that people want in terms of that difficulty?

Based on the feedback that we have, it’s hard to say. People like our content. There’s no doubt about that, but we need to do more groups with more players for me to answer that question.

How do you get the feel of a lightsaber right in a game?

The first thing is that it can’t feel like a sword or a baseball bat. The right kind of enemy should go down with one hit. It took us a bit of time to figure that out. If you hit a stormtrooper with a lightsaber, he should die. What we ended up doing is double-downing on blocking. Blocking is a major part of our combat system, and breaking the structure of an enemy is what allows you to get in closer for a kill. Every character has a block meter, once you bring that down you go for the kill.

What makes Cal Kestis a unique Star Wars protagonist?

He’s kind of half-baked. He’s a little bit skeptical and troubled. He was on his way to becoming one of the highest-regarded people in the galaxy as a Jedi Knight and now they’re looked at as traitors. So, he’s a little lost and we have to build him back up, I don’t think we’ve seen that a lot.

We saw Saw Gerrera in the demo. Are we going to see more familiar faces in the full game?

I’m not going to answer that question.