The galaxy far, far away is changing.
With The Force Awakens on the horizon, the entire Star Wars universe is getting somewhat of a reboot; the old expanded universe (EU) is no longer canon, letting the new films start over fresh. Though the movie won’t hit theaters until December, the changes have already begun: last week saw the launch of the novel Star Wars: Aftermath, while today the free-to-play RPG Star Wars: Uprising is available on both iOS and Android, and they’re the first two pieces of the new official canon aimed at setting up the events for the new slate of films. Uprising is more than just a movie tie-in mobile game, though, as it takes place just after the events of Return of the Jedi, helping set the stage for J.J. Abrams’ film in December.
"When you’re playing a movie game, you already know what’s happened," says creative director Daniel Erickson. "We wanted to carve out a new space that was interesting, that led toward new things that were coming."
"We wanted to carve out a new space."
Uprising takes place not long after the death of Emperor Palpatine, in a faraway region of space called the Anoat Sector. Here, players will create their own character to help lead an uprising against what remains of the Empire. It’s a mix of the new and the familiar; missions will take you to iconic places like Hoth and Cloud City, but you’ll also get to explore brand new planets and star systems. The game itself is sort of like an online-focused, mobile version of Diablo. You’ll build your own character from scratch, and then upgrade them by taking on missions, gaining experience, and unlocking new gear. You can play missions cooperatively with friends, and the game will be continually updated with new content like story missions and character upgrades.
The game is being developed by Kabam RPG, a new studio with only one previous release, this year’s Diablo-like RPG Spirit Lords. According to Erickson, who previously served as the creative director on the BioWare MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, Spirit Lords helped lay the groundwork for Uprising. "It gave us the proof-of-concept and the engine to build Uprising," he says.
The big difference, aside from the Star Wars license, is that Uprising has a much bigger focus on story. There’s a lot of dialogue and voice acting, and the first chapter at launch features 40 different story missions for your character. While Spirit Lords had a story, it was pretty light, and it tapered off as you leveled up. The team at Kabam found that players drifted away as that happened. And with his experience working on The Old Republic, Erickson knew that wouldn’t be enough for Star Wars fans. "The number one thing they want is story, story, story," he explains.
Kabam collaborated closely with Lucasfilm on the narrative, to ensure that it fit both within the game and the larger revamped Star Wars universe as well. For instance, Erickson says that Uprising features a "really dramatic" event involving Princess Leia, and it’s a moment of importance for the entire Star Wars universe, "not just our part of it." Part of the reason the game is set when it is, is the window of time in the mythos gives the team the freedom to create these more dramatic, universe-impacting moments.
"The number one thing they want is story, story, story."
"You can do really interesting things between Episode III and Episode IV, but you’re limited in the scope of adding to the canon," Erickson explains. "You may make this amazing Jedi who can do amazing stuff, but you know Vader kills you later. You may be playing a really cool part of the story, but in the long term, you know where it’s going. Whereas coming into this space, which has not been fully explored, and where we have the largest gap between Episode VI and Episode VII, you’ve got time to do huge stories."
He describes the game and its story as a "multi-year project," and in order to make it as authentic as possible Kabam has assembled a team of Star Wars veterans to lead the game. In addition to Erickson, the Uprising team also includes Danny Keller, an artist from the Clone Wars TV show; Alexander Freed, who worked on The Old Republic’s story and has written several Star Wars novels and comics; as well as a number of former BioWare staff who worked on the defining Star Wars RPG Knights of the Old Republic.
Of course, with all of this opportunity comes added pressure. A free, licensed mobile game isn’t typically something to be excited about, but Star Wars: Uprising is trying to be more than that; instead of a game designed to promote a film, it’s a game meant to further flesh out a universe. And as a lifelong Star Wars fans, Erickson knows that’s a huge responsibility.
"When I was working in the EU it always felt like [Star Wars novelist] Timothy Zahn was sitting over my shoulder," he says, "and now it’s George Lucas."