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E3 2012: Star Wars 1313 mixes Hollywood futuretech and mature themes

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LucasArts was quiet at E3 2012, with not even a small plot of land staked out for a booth on the show floor. The developer instead nestled itself into a meeting room far, far away, offering a privileged few — those who stepped up and made advance appointments — a glimpse of the future of Star Wars in video games. It’s a future that includes Star Wars 1313, the recently revealed effort that the Lucas games team is currently working on. It’s their first since the big staff shake-up that followed the release of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 in 2010.

That’s not the only first that this game marks. 1313 is also LucasArts’ first crack at delivering an M-rated take on the series. How fitting then that the game will explore the filthy underbelly of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, dropping players into the combat boots of an as-yet-unidentified bounty hunter — perhaps this ties to the long-in-development Star Wars live action TV series, the one said to be focused on the series’ underworld? — as he embarks on an adventure through the city-planet Coruscant’s level 1313.

For those who aren’t up on their Star Wars lore: the galactic capital Coruscant is basically a gigantic city spanning many thousands of levels. The lower you go, the more dangerous it gets. Some of the books and comics have ventured into those depths on occasion, but 1313 sets its adventure entirely against that seedy, grimy backdrop.

Unfortunately, many of the details surrounding that adventure are going to remain a mystery for the time being. LucasArts’ E3 2012 demo offered only the most cursory of glimpses at what is to come, painting the picture of a game being developed in collaboration with the experienced filmmakers at Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic.

Pushing the boundaries of what is possible with performance capture is a big focus on this project, and these creative tech-heads who are versed in the ways of Hollywood is a big help on that front. One of the fancier bits of futuretech being put to use during development is a new approach to facial performance capture that uses a head-mounted rig with small cameras pointed at the left and right sides of the face. The two lenses pick up fine movements around the eyes and mouth, creating a much more realistic approximation of a live action performance. It feels a little bit Uncanny Valley in extreme close-up, but the overall effect is very convincing.

The meat of the E3 demonstration focused purely on showing off some gameplay. Star Wars 1313 is technically still in pre-production, to the point that even the protagonist bounty hunter and his gruff partner aren’t in any way final. LucasArts isn’t ready to share the identities of the game’s characters, or even the platform(s) that the game will appear on. Based on the quality of the visuals, however, it’s fair to at least speculate that this is targeted at the next generation of gaming hardware.

1313 will one day be a third-person action game with a focus on letting players shoot blasters and use a variety of slick bounty hunter tools to capture marks and take on a variety of human, humanoid, and completely alien enemies. As visually impressive as it is, the actual play is immediately familiar as a cover-based shooter, complete with a small weapons HUD in the bottom left corner of the screen showing the armed weapon/gadgets and remaining ammo.

The play portion of the demo began with our two protagonists arriving on Coruscant with their latest mark. The opening cutscene shows them watching over a coffin-shaped box containing their captive as it is lowered into the central area of their ship. The box suddenly slips and clatters down to the deck, popping partially open and nearly allowing the alien within — we get a brief look, and it appears to be a Trandoshan — to escape.

The two hunters secure their mark inside the box and proceed back to the ship’s cockpit, piloting the ship down into a deep pit toward the bowels of Coruscant, where their reward awaits. We watch as another ship tails their descent, with a subsequent interior shot revealing the pursuer to be hauling a cargo of armed and armored troops as well as some make of battle droid.

The pursuing ship closes the distance to the bounty hunters and the droid leaps out through an open hatch, landing on the other ship with a thud loud enough to alert its two-man crew. As our bounty hunters proceed into the rear hold to check out the commotion an explosion rocks the entire ship and the pursuing forces boil in. The armed soldiers lay down covering fire as the droid drags off the box containing the mark.

The ensuing firefight highlights a number of familiar features. There’s a cover system, with our protagonist bounty hunter popping up and down as he squeezes off shots at the enemy force. We also get a glimpse of one of the gadgets that you’ll be using, a device of some sort that creates a “Force push”-like effect, sending an enemy sailing out of the ship in a burst of concussive force.

The battle eventually turns in the favor of our “heroes,” with a cutscene playing in which the protagonist’s companion drops a thermal detonator into an escape pod with a downed enemy and then jettisons it directly at the pursuing ship, like a makeshift missile. The explosion creates an opening for our duo to leap across the open sky to the enemy ship, in pursuit of their mark.

The unnamed protagonist doesn’t quite plant the landing, instead sliding on his belly down the side of the broken ship. He grabs onto a chunk of metal just before he plunges into the Coruscant abyss, and then slowly shimmies his way along the damaged vessel using any makeshift handholds he can find. It’s a very Uncharted sort of moment. He eventually works his way up to the top of the ship and leaps across an opening just as the part of the ship that he was standing on breaks away.

Whether or not he manages to successfully plant the landing on his second attempt is unclear, as the demo ends with our “hero” in mid-air. We’ve seen enough though. LucasArts has a really slick production on its hands, a fact that is clear even from the limited glimpse offered at E3. Who knows how long it will be before Star Wars 1313 surfaces again, but you can bet that we’ll be sniffing around for answers in the weeks and months to come.

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