Looking in on 'Star Wars: The Force Unleashed'

LucasArts gives the first real public glimpse at its forthcoming game and the ground-breaking technologies that help it look more realistic than almost any game before it.

LucasArts' new game, 'Star Wars: The Force Unleashed,' centers around the redemption story line surrounding Darth Vader's apprentice. LucasArts

SAN FRANCISCO--During the Game Development Conference, which is happening this week here, it's rare that I, or any other journalist cover it, would leave the area immediately surrounding the confab.

But when LucasArts invites you to its famous facilities in San Francisco's Presidio to show off what is being regarded as a ground-breaking game, you get the heck out of dodge.

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That's why I rushed across town Thursday afternoon--to see what I believe was the first public demo of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the studio's forthcoming game, and a title that seeks to fill in the chronological gap between the end of the unsatisfactory film, Episode III and the original Star Wars, now known as Episode IV.

In this new game, the main character is an apprentice of Darth Vader, and the story line, according to Haden Blackman, the game's project lead, centers on that apprentice's path to redemption.

According to a recent article in Vanity Fair, the full story line of the game does a good job of letting players feel as if they're getting to actually be in what could almost be a seventh Star Wars movie. The article insinuated that the storytelling was that good and that the graphics only helped cement the illusion.

'Star Wars: The Force Unleashed' features two new, ground-breaking technologies, Euphoria, a bio-feedback AI system that makes it possible to have things happen differently every time rather than looking the same each time; and Digital Molecular Matter, a new physics system that makes it possible for things to break realistically rather than in the sort of cartoon-like way they always have in games. LucasArts

Based on what I saw Thursday, I'd say the graphics were good, but not movie-quality good. Still, I got a chance to see what should be two pretty ground-breaking technologies that the game showcases.

First, is what is known as Euphoria. It is a new form of artificial intelligence software, developed by a company called Natural Motion, which is designed to make it possible for things happen just a little differently each time in the game, even if they begin the same way.

In other words, in most games, if you do the same thing twice, the result will be exactly the same both times because there's no brain in the game allowing for a little chaos to creep in. Euphoria is meant to be that chaos. So things would turn out just a little bit different each time.

The other new technology is called digital molecular matter, from a company called Pixelux, and it is designed to bring more realistic consequences to things like a door breaking, or something smashing into a big piece of metal. That is to say, again, in most games, if you break a door down, it will shatter into a disturbingly unrealistic set of shattered pieces. If you break a door in real life, it would splinter and shatter and bend and there would be shards. DMM, as it's known, is meant to depict that realism.

I would say that the results of DMM, as I saw them, were good. I didn't think I was seeing real physics, or the kinds of special effects I might see in a real Star Wars movie, but it did look pretty good.

All in all, I think the game looked fun, and very complex. I'm not a big fan of the previous Star Wars games, though, so perhaps I'm missing a little context.

And only time will tell whether it really is like being in an actual movie.

 

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