Once the bad guys have killed Prauf and blind luckDid I say “blind luck”? My mistake. I meant “The Force”. saved Cal from picking a fight he can’t possibly win, we end up in an Uncharted-style set-piece chase sequence. Cal has to make his way to the front of a speeding train while a fighter ship flies by and pounds the train with blaster fire. Inside the train he’s got stormtroopers shooting at himThis is the lightsaber vs. trooper combat tutorial. and on the outside he has to contend with the ever-changing geography of this train as it gradually disintegrates from the attack. Eventually we wind up with cars hanging the wrong way off the track, forcing Cal to continually improvise. There’s also another ship in the area, flying close and trying to help him, but he doesn’t know who they are or how they fit into this chaos.
The whole thing is really impressive. I imagine scenes like this are where a lot of those lavish EA dollars got spent.
At the end we get a little showdown with the Second Sister. This is one of those boss fights you can’t win. This scene is really here to solidify our villain and give us the lightsaber duel tutorial. Once Cal has managed to take several tiny, tiny little chips off of her gargantuan health bar, the mystery ship returns and rescues him.
And look at that. We managed to have a fight that didn’t force me to win in combat just so it could turn around and force me to lose in a cutscene. The fight was properly telegraphed as “Cal can’t really win this”, which made survival feel sort of like victory. At the end, Cal understandably retreated rather than having a cutscene where he’s defeated but inexplicably spared. Here’s another moment that so many games managed to mess up, and SWJFO makes it work while also accomplishing story stuff and working in important tutorial stuff and making a cool scene. Again, it’s weird that this hobby is 50 years old and so many games still struggle with this, but there it is.
Next up we get an interesting first for video games…
I have this thing about voice actors and voices. I love recognizing performers by their voices and I love keeping track of a few of the ubiquitous voices working in games / animated features. I’m used to being able to name an actor as soon as their character begins speaking, but I was able to recognize actress Debra Wilson before her character said a word.
As soon as Cere Junda appeared on screen I recognized the face of Grace Walker from Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. That’s a first for me. We’ve been importing real-world faces onto our in-game characters since the face of Dutch model Mark Vanderloo on Commander Shepard way back in Mass Effect. Well, the practice actually goes back to 2000 with David Bateson as Agent 47 in the Hitman series. No, actually it was probably Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye back in 1997. Actually, I guess we’ve been trying to put actors into games for a long time now. Still, this is the first time I’ve recognized two different 3D characters as belonging to the same (unknown, to me) actor.
That’s an interesting development. I imagine that eventually this sort of thing will be commonplace.
Welcome to the Team. You’re our First Hire
So we meet our cast of characters and everyone gets their first round of secrets out in the open. Cal confesses that he was just a kid when the purge happened. His master was killed in the attack, and this event “damaged” his connection to the force.
(This bit still trips me up. The dialog makes it explicit that Order 66 / the purge was 5 years ago. In flashbacks, we see that Cal didn’t look a day over 10 when Order 66 happened. That means that current-day Cal must be around 15. But there’s no way this guy is 15. He’s very clearly and obviously well into his 20s. You could argue that maybe young Cal is a little older than he looks and old Cal is a little younger than he looks, but no matter how much you stretch it, there’s just no way these two versions of the character are 5 years apart. Not even close.
Did the designer make the young version of Call look too young, or does the actor look too old to play a 15 year old? Or did they not work out the timeline until after the models were done and it was too late to change? I don’t know. I’ll do my best to not think about it.)
Cere Junda reveals she used to be a Jedi herself, but she’s since cut herself off from the force for reasons currently left unexplained. She wants Cal to join her mission to rebuild the Jedi order.
Greez Dritus is supposedly the captain of this shipThe “Stinger Mantis”. I’d normally say that a name like this is perhaps trying too hard, but this is the universe that gave us the MILLENNIUM FALCON so I guess nothing is too over-the-top., but it would be more accurate to say that he’s the owner and pilot. It’s clear the Cere is the one in charge. He’s a gruff exterior / soft interior kind of fellow.
So now we have the classic Master / Padawan pairing, except the Padawan can barely use the Force and the master can’t use it at all. This is a really strange creative choice on the part of the writer.
It makes sense to have Cal dealing with a “damaged” connection to the Force. That means we can have him level up and gain new abilities as the game goes on and he “reconnects” with the Force. But why make Cere deaf and mute to the Force? Maybe the writer was trying to avoid the obvious question of, “If Cere is such a great Jedi master, then why does she enlist this barely-capable Padawan to do all the heavy lifting?” Personally I’d just make Cere older so that it’s clear she can’t do all of the platforming and parkour this particular adventure is going to require.
I’m not saying this is a wrong creative choice. And perhaps having them both exhibiting Force problems underscores the general idea that the Jedi are weak, scattered, leaderless, and without hope. It just feels a little unintentionally hilarious that Cere has nothing and Cal has next to nothing. This is like a blind guy teaching a nearsighted guy how to drive.
Cere’s Force abstinence will be explained / explored later on in the story, so let’s move on for now.
Our first stop is the planet Bogano, where we get the rest of our tutorials out of the way. Cere tells us that she wants us to explore the area and “meet someone”. It turns out that someone is…
We meet the droid BD-1Perhaps named after / inspired by the droid BD-8 in the long,tangled lore of the Expanded Universe?, who is the little guy you so often see riding on Cal’s shoulder in trailers and screenshots. Once again, the designer is making all the right decisions.
Game designers generally have a bit of a problem. We want the protagonist to have someone to talk to, but at the same time history has shown us that sidekick characters are an enormous pain in the ass. If you’ve got another person following you around, then they might get in your way. We have to deal with the headaches that arise if the player gets too far ahead of them”You must gather your party before venturing forth.”. If our foes can attack our sidekick, then the sidekick becomes a liability like the infamously burdensome Yorda in Ico. Or the game designer can go the other direction and have the enemies inexplicably ignore your friend, as was the case with Elizabeth in BioShock: Infinite.
You can solve this by making them a participant in the combat and platforming, making them equal to the player. Farah in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Alyx in Half-Life 2 are good examples of this approach. The downside of that is that it gets expensive to create an entire additional character with their own movement and combat animations, not to mention the difficulty of creating an AI good enough to withstand close scrutiny for extended periods of time. And then there’s the maddening challenge of balancing their combat contributions. Make them too strong, and it feels like the game is playing itself. Make them too weak and you’re back to the problem of dragging around a useless burden. No matter which way you go, a sidekick can be annoying, immersion-breaking, and expensive to produce.
On the other hand, supporting characters are immensely useful for storytelling. A lone character can only communicate with the audience by talking to themselves, but if you’re got two characters then you’ve got the freedom to do all kinds of things. One can deliver exposition to the other, they can talk about other characters, or they can advance their shared relationship.
Sure, we can do a little of this by having someone call you on the radio as in Tomb Raider and Batman Arkham games. That’s better than nothing, but radio is a little impersonal because we can’t see our radio buddy emote during emotional conversations. They can’t comment on the scenery, and it stretches credulity when they’re able to deliver detailed exposition on the world around you. For example: Your Radio Buddy tells you that the north wall is weak and you’re like “What? Do you have a detailed map of these never-before-seen ruins that notes the structural integrity of every wall? Why do you have that map and not me?” Also, remote companions are only possible in a game where some form of radio or telepathy exists.
The Perfect Companion
So in a stereotypical sense, the writer really wants us to have a sidekick and the game designer would really rather not.
BD-1 is the perfect solution to this problem. He’s a character that can emote, he’s always with us, and he gives our protagonist a sounding board. At the same time, he’s a tiny little guy that rides around on your shoulder so he doesn’t need to climb around the environment, participate in combat, or get in your way while you’re trying to explore. He’s not a human, so we don’t need to add a bunch of extra idle animations and random vocal barks to make him seem lifelike. He’s cute, he’s useful, and he saves on voice acting by communicating in Star Wars Droid sounds. He saves the designers money by allowing them to use a few bloops and beeps, but he also saves the player time because his little vocal barks can be very short compared to having the same thought communicated verbally.
This. This is the one thing they need to keep for the sequel. Change characters, change weapons, change the time period, or even change what side we’re on, but don’t change this droid buddy system. The movies gave us the “rule of two”, where we always have a master and an apprentice. For these video games, I think the “rule of two” should mean a player character and a small sidekickIt doesn’t need to be a droid, either. A tiny little space-chimp would work just as well.. That’s the magic setup that serves story and gameplay at the same time.
Well, we’re four entries into this series and we still haven’t left the tutorial. I promise this series will speed up once the plot gets rolling.
 Did I say “blind luck”? My mistake. I meant “The Force”.
 This is the lightsaber vs. trooper combat tutorial.
 The “Stinger Mantis”. I’d normally say that a name like this is perhaps trying too hard, but this is the universe that gave us the MILLENNIUM FALCON so I guess nothing is too over-the-top.
 Perhaps named after / inspired by the droid BD-8 in the long,tangled lore of the Expanded Universe?
 ”You must gather your party before venturing forth.”
 It doesn’t need to be a droid, either. A tiny little space-chimp would work just as well.
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