At the D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas earlier this week, Respawn Entertainment director Stig Asmussen sat down for a brief fireside chat about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The talk provided a peek behind the curtain on the game’s development, including the revelation that the studio almost had to tiptoe around using the official Jedi moniker while working with the iconic science fiction franchise.
Shortly after joining the Titanfall developers in 2014, Asmussen put together a small team at Respawn with the intention of creating a third-person action adventure game. EA would eventually contact Respawn about the possibility of working on Star Wars. This fit perfectly with the model Asmussen’s team was already creating, and when they were officially offered the opportunity, they unanimously decided to shift gears.
That previous game, which never manifested apart from a small vertical slice, provided the foundations for what would eventually become Fallen Order. However, there were still several steps between receiving the call from EA and slinging Stormtroopers around with Cal Kestis.
“We knew that we should make a third-person action adventure game, but out of respect, it was fair to kind of reset and think about some other things,” Asmussen told host Anthony Carboni. “We actually talked about working on a podracing game or a starshooter, which isn’t something the team was really built for at the time. And we settled back into the type of game that we were making before, that had all the pillars of what Jedi: Fallen Order has become.”
Lucasfilm also wasn’t very keen on the idea of Respawn’s game focusing on Jedi. Asmussen referred to the concept as a sort of “holy grail” at Lucasfilm, especially when it comes to the time period after the Empire’s extensive Jedi purge. After some nudging from execs towards making a first-person shooter à la Titanfall, Lucasfilm acquiesced. Only Respawn wasn’t allowed to use the word Jedi. As such, early versions of Fallen Order only referred to them as “Force users” before Lucasfilm again ceded some ground and gave the developers license to use the proper noun.
Asmussen also touched on the touchy subject of game difficulty. Early on, the designers knew they wanted Fallen Order to be a challenging game that would mirror Cal’s journey through the trials provided to players. The protagonist is still a Padawan when we meet him at the beginning of the game, after all, drifting across the galaxy without a teacher to guide him. He shouldn’t be able to kick everyone’s ass immediately. The level of challenge worked fine while Respawn was showing the game to groups of experienced players, but the studio soon began to realize Fallen Order might be a little too tough for other players.
“We didn’t want to make anybody feel left out, so we relied on focus testing,” Asmussen explained. “One of the first things that we focused tested was what we called the ‘combat gauntlet,’ where waves after waves of enemies came in. Some people loved it. That was probably our second hardest difficulty in what we ended up shipping. But through several different focus tests with broader audiences, they definitely were feeling like the game was too punishing. So that’s when we decided to recalibrate our difficulty levels and add the story mode.”
Since launching last November, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has gone on to sell over 8 million copies worldwide. It did have some issues—uneven difficulty, imprecise combat, nasty bugs—but it’s still fundamentally a Star Wars experience. The work Asmussen and his team at Respawn put into becoming students of that beloved universe is realized in Fallen Order’s amazing worlds and thematic explorations, so it’s cool to learn a bit about how the Tauntaun sausage is made. Just please tell me that podracing idea is still floating around the studio somewhere.