My friend and game development colleague Brent Porter and I throw around the term “Honest Geometry” when we talk about 3D video game levels we like. Gall Spaceport, from 1996 Nintendo 64 game Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, is the flagbearer of this term. “Honest Geometry” means the interior of a structure perfectly matches the exterior. When done well—or when done simply as exuberantly as it’s done in Gall Spaceport—it’s a shockingly magical feeling.
We’ve recorded a 53-minute video going over the level. When we were done recording, Porter asked me, “Do you think the younger generation is even going to get why this is cool?”
“I hope so,” I replied.
People who managed to play all (or half) of Shadows of the Empire tend to be incapable of escaping the knowledge of these two things about Gall Spaceport:
1. It’s The Level Where You Get The Jetpack.
2. It’s The Level Where You Fight Boba Fett At The End.
However, as Porter and I each love to explain to anyone who brings the game up in natural conversation, Gall Spaceport offers much more than that. It represents a naive past vision of the future of 3D level design. It consists of two huge unbroken persistent chunks in which the player, to use Porter’s term, “spaghettis around” into and out of various interior segments. And at one point in the level we encounter a magical structure: an observation tower whose elevator takes you to a tiny room at the top whose windows look perfectly out on the surrounding area, exactly as you’d expect it to look.
As we take pleasure in pointing out in this video, Shadows of the Empire released in December of 1996. It was a Nintendo 64 exclusive, back before “timed exclusive” was even a term. It released on PC in 1997, and that’s the version Porter played for the capture used in this video, though it’s worth pointing out that this was a Nintendo 64 game first. It came out a year before GoldenEye 007. It came out four months before Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. It came out a year before the excellent and experimental Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II for PC. It was in development at the same time as Quake. 3D level design was a relatively new idea. 3D games on console were such a brand-new idea—Super Mario 64 had been out less than six months—that perhaps nobody had yet ever uttered the sentence “Mouse and keyboard is better.”
Shadows of the Empire did things with 3D that other games would not try in quite the same way for a long time to come. As we point out numerous times in this video, it’s only with recent games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that we’re starting to see Shadows of the Empire’s weird ambition leak back into video game level design.
I’ll admit: this game is really old, and its controls are hokey. Maybe the best way to appreciate this level is by watching Porter employ his excellent skill in playing it.
You can also watch this video on our YouTube channel, by the way. All of our videos are there!