Star Wars 1313 preview – Descending into a new wretched hive

If nothing else, the technology driving Star Wars 1313 is exceptionally impressive. LucasArts’ upcoming mature-themed Star Wars game displayed some genuinely awe-inspiring glimpses into the look of the game. We only saw a brief two-minute tech demo of how it could look, but we’re hoping that it’ll have more impact than The Force Unleashed.

Level 1313 is one of the worst areas in the sublevels of Coruscant. It’s yet another wretched hive of scum and villainy. It’s an area of the Star Wars universe in which criminals, smugglers, and bounty hunters thrive, and no Jedi sets foot there. The idea, some of the producers explained, is to drive home the mystique of bounty hunters. “They’re characters with cool gadgets, and people have been drawn to them for years,” we were told.

Prior to seeing the game in action, we also watched two behind the scenes videos, one which laid out just how far LucasArts is taking the visual splendor behind 1313. The game is a joint venture between key artists from Skywalker Sound, Industrial Light & Magic, and Lucasfilm Animation working alongside the developers. What does that mean for you, the gamer? It means that the artists who’ve worked on Oscar-nominated CGI effects will be collaborating alongside game designers. Case in point: one of the devs revealed that the cinematics director is working alongside an ILM animator who was a cameraman on Return of the Jedi 30 years ago. Ideally, this crossover of experience and brain trust will help drive home the authenticity in 1313’s presentation.

The second video showed off the technology behind 1313’s facial animation. One of the team members started on this project right off of animating The Hulk for the Avengers movie, so the idea of motion capturing with a more Hollywood-driven approach could help add another layer of realism to the facial expressions of human characters in the game.

Part of that drive comes from unique technology. For performance capture, 1313’s actors will wear a headset with two minicameras attached (think of a helmet with two mandible jaws) on the front. With dots drawn on the actor’s face, the animation team has even more to work with. They can see how his eyes dart around, the skin around his eyes to know where his eyes move to. There are microexpressions that only take up a frame or two of animation, but really capture the soul of the actor’s performance.

From there, we got a brief look at a PC-driven demo of the action. LucasArts’ plans for 1313 is to deliver “agile cover-based combat and death-defying platforming.” We saw it action in a moment in which two human bounty hunters, one younger and one older (neither of which have been confirmed to actually be characters in the final game) have a dangerous capture –what appears to be a Trandoshan, or one of Boskk’s race — contained inside a giant chest. They’re descending from the surface level of Coruscant down into Level 1313 (which looks like the chamber where Luke Skywalker loses a hand in The Empire Strikes Back) and chatting about the perils of the district when their craft is suddenly attacked by a pack of cyborgs and droids and the hull is violently breached.

The action jumps into cover-based combat and blaster shots. It appears that based on the combination of blaster and concussive shots designed to stun enemies, there will be some small amount of micromanaging of guns in the middle of combat. As the ship burns and freefalls through Coruscant’s districts, the older bounty hunter punches a droid, jams it into an escape pod and tosses a grenade in. “What are you doing?” asks the younger hunter. “Leveling the odds in our favor,” he answers. He launches the pod out into the invaders’ ship, causing an explosion in that craft’s rudder. As both ships burn, both bounty hunters leap out of their soon-to-explode ship onto the wings of the other ship.

With the velocity of the freefall and the state of the other ship, there’s a real sense of danger as they struggle to leap from point to point on the ship. With the game’s detailed animation, both characters look as if they can fall off the descending craft at any second. It’s really intense stuff. And that’s where our demo ended.

We don’t have many other details regarding Star Wars 1313, but it seems that the most inarguable point one could extract from its E3 unveiling is a real sense of visual fidelity that should translate into a fantastic-looking game. Keep an eye on this one. You won’t be able to take your eyes off it.

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