Star Wars: The Fan Games

How bad is the need for new Star Wars games? Ask these fans who have taken matters into their own hands.

From the moment that the Star Wars novelization came out in 1976, fans have been creating their own stories about different parts of George Lucas’ universe. Fan videos recreate and remix classic scenes. Fan fiction writers create new scenes, and cosplayers live them.

As Star Wars fandom continued, fans became content creators too. Star Wars reference book author and Lucasfilm brand communications manager Pablo Hidalgo wrote and illustrated Star Wars tabletops games before he was hired. Martha Wells, author of the Star Wars novel Razor’s Edge, wrote fan fiction before she signed on to pen a novel about Princess Leia. Fan creators dig deep into every corner of the Star Wars universe – even video games.

Games allow fans to play as their favorite characters and to make decisions that affect the galaxy far, far away. They’re the closest thing, kinetically speaking, that people have to being a Jedi – save actually picking up a prop lightsaber.

Gamers build their own sandboxes, and over the last few years groups of Star Wars fans have taken up the mantle of their favorite games to continue the work that LucasArts left behind. The last original console title was The Force Unleashed 2 in 2010. The promising 1313 was cancelled when Disney purchased LucasArts, but Battlefront 3 is newly scheduled for release in 2015 from DICE. The last few years have been barren of big Star Wars releases, leaving fans scrounging for entertainment like Jawas searching for droids in the Jundland Wastes.

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Fans want more.

Two groups are working on reviving projects long-abandoned by LucasArts:

Project Black Light is an effort by fans to write Knights of the Old Republic 3, the highly-anticipated KOTOR sequel that never was. While their game isn’t official, they hope to pitch KOTOR 3 to Electronic Arts, the exclusive publisher of Star Wars games. The team of over seven people are led by Dave Bissig, a college student at Temple University. The long gap between major Star Wars game releases contributed to his desire to create his own. 

“We watched the fall of LucasArts (which was years in the making) with great frustration. After the repeated failures (failure to sell the completed BattleFront 3 from Free-Radical or the failure to make KOTOR 3 and the almighty Star Wars 1313) in conjunction with random place-filling-off-shoots such as The Force Unleashed, and Clone Wars games, we decided to step up ourselves.”

Project Black Light’s approach relies upon a belief in the inherent power of fan works. “Our team loves Star Wars, its fans, and players – the cause of which we have been struggling for. Heart and intelligence will always produce a better game than money and quotas will.”

Bissig said that he became a Star Wars fan the “same way everyone else did: our parents saw the originals, and then took their children to see the new ones. I became a fan after watching Episode 1 in 1999.”

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He was inspired by Oblivion game designer Chris Avellone. “Personally [I was inspired by], Obsidian, due to KOTOR 2 being their first major hit, headed up by Chris Avellone (one of my personal life heroes), and the trials and tribulations they went through to make that game happen…. Chris has been a real hero for me not just because of his impeccable leadership, crafting skills, and technical know-how, but he’s also a kind man who’s never lost touch with his humanity.”

The team has been working on their game for about seven months, but says it may take a year or two more to produce a playable version because of both the work involved and their personal schedules. They hope that EA or Disney will bite. “Yes, the deck is stacked against us,” Dave said, “but that’s never stopped a miracle before!”

Another Star Wars fan game in development is BattleCry, which development team leader Cameron Spencer calls “a spiritual successor” to Battlefront 2. In the summer of 2012, he pitched the idea to a forum thread on crydev.net, and found a group of interested fans. The team numbers about 30 now. Spencer said that the large gap between Star Wars games was “the main reason why I decided to come up with the idea for the project.” The game will hit Alpha stage this year.

Their goal is to create a Battlefront-style Star Wars game with all the immersion they enjoyed in the professional games. But what about when Spencer’s team learned that Battlefront 3 was back in the pipeline at EA?

“When we heard Battlefront 3 was being made, the team was excited but nervous at the same time,” he said. “It’s great to hear that someone has finally got round to continuing the series but at the same time, nobody is quite sure how it will turn out and whether or not the devs can meet the ultra-high expectations. Some members of our team lacked a bit of motivation upon hearing the news as it put a bit of pressure on us but as long as we take our time, listen to the fans, and try and keep our gameplay original and fresh, we can offer fans something enjoyable.”

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He added that, like Project Black Light’s KOTOR 3, his team’s goal is not just to create a Battlefront clone. “If we were making a free clone of SWBF3 then I don’t think there would be much point in doing it. You need to bring something interesting and different to the table.”

Other indie projects contributed to his interest in the Battlefront 3 project. “The indie scene in general shows how anything is possible. With a good idea, passion and talent, small developers can create games that rival the big developers who have much bigger budgets and manpower. Indie devs usually listen a lot to their players’ demands and this is something we’re trying to do at the moment.”

Fan projects like this keep Star Wars games alive during dry spells, and are entertaining and creative regardless of whether the fans ever cross the line from spectator to canon creator.

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