Hello. Are you a Disney executive, passing a few minutes downtime between acquisitions and layoffs? Maybe you work at EA, and are trying to work out how to salvage your brand’s Star Wars efforts after the disaster that is Battlefront II. Here’s a free idea: make another space shooter.
If you’re new to this concept—maybe you worked your way up through the ranks green-lighting Chicken Little and Bolt, or were too busy crushing Westwood Studios to invest the time in playing—there have been three semi-serious, first-person space shooters set in the Star Wars universe already. The first two, 1993's X-Wing and 1995's TIE Fighter are among the best PC games of all time, while the third (1999's X-Wing Alliance) wasn’t bad either. So there’s pedigree!
Note: I refuse to acknowledge the awful X-Wing vs Tie Fighter.
Those games were a long time ago. And there haven’t been any since, because the death of the joystick and the explosion of home console gaming killed off any hopes for the continuation of massmarket flight games. So I can see how you could confuse the lack of new games with a lack of interest in new ones.
And yet, the core appeal of the series—that people love to fly Star Wars ships, blowing up Star Wars stuff while listening to Star Wars music—remains. It lingered through the excellent Rogue Squadron series (which traded first-person simulation for third-person arcade action), and more recently in Battlefront II the space shooting sequences—made by Burnout creators Criterion—were easily the highlight of the game, as brief and simple as they were.
Outside traditional avenues and control schemes there are opportunities to be had in the VR space, too. Criterion’s VR mission for the first Battlefront was a tantalising glimpse into my teenage dreams, and if a few years of VR games struggling to grasp the strengths of the platform has taught us anything, it’s that the one thing everyone can agree on is that the games that work best are the ones where you’re stuck sitting down in a cockpit.
Oh, and let’s not also forget there was a new Star Wars movie released last week that has people jazzed, not just for matters of the Force, but for some A+ space action as well. The Last Jedi’s opening battle showcases classic ships duking it out, old ships with new tricks, and as I sat through the film for the first time, the first thing I thought when I saw the Resistance’s giant bombers was “oh shit I want to play a video game where I fly one of these”.
And yet I can’t, because this entire genre of Star Wars experience lies comatose, leaving modders alone in the dark of space to do the heavy lifting.
Can one of you two just, I don’t know, do something about this? Space simulation is surely one of the easiest things to make a Star Wars game out of, with the strongest heritage of any other series based on the property and timeless reference points sitting right there to take notes from.
I get that there’s probably reluctance to go big on a project like this. But you don’t need to spend $300 million on a big holiday title and destroy the lives of 800 over-worked developers. TIE Fighter was made using six polygons and a hatful of pixels (relative to modern development, anyway) and it’s still to this day one of the best video games out there. Any new Star Wars space shooter can be closer to that on the Blockbuster Spectrum than Battlefront II.
If any of this sounds selfish, or a weird thing to specifically call out when everyone has dreams for video games they want made, I guess it just feels like a perfect storm at the moment, where there’s a movie inspiring people, a legacy reminding them of great games of the past and brief teases from the present as to how something like this could look/play. And it just hasn’t come together yet.