Less than two years ago, Uncharted creator Amy Hennig had her story-based single-player Star Wars game, code-named Ragtag, shut down by EA. The message at the time? Single-player games do not make money – or at least, not enough – to continue justifying their existance.
And then the Battlefront 2 loot box drama happened.
Cut to this weekend, when Titanfall developer Respawn announced its story-based single-player Star Wars game, Jedi: Fallen Order, released by… EA. The publisher’s promise now? There will be no multiplayer, no loot boxes, so please enjoy this single-player experience.
No microtransactions. No loot boxes. And no, we won’t be adding them. A single-player Star Wars story for those of you who are ready to become a Jedi. https://t.co/kTheWVBjJc
— EA Star Wars (@EAStarWars) April 13, 2019
What better time, then, to check in with Amy Hennig on her reaction to EA’s apparent U-turn on single-player – and to find out a little more about what her Ragtag project might have been.
Friend-of-Eurogamer Edwin Evans-Thirlwell spoke with Hennig at this weekend’s Reboot Develop conference in Dubrovnik – be sure to read his full interview on Eurogamer tomorrow morning.
Here, though, is Hennig’s immediate reaction to EA’s reveal:
“[It’s] odd!” Hennig told Eurogamer. “I have to be candid with you. I mean, it’s coming from the EA Star Wars Twitter handle, so it’s certainly part of the plan, but I don’t know whether it’s implicitly referencing previous comments they made after our project was killed?
“There is so much change in this industry all the time. Over the course of my time at EA, we were back and forth on what the overall publishing corporation wanted. Everybody’s trying to figure out what the right path is. I also think Respawn’s game has the benefit of being largely developed before they were acquired. It is a protected entity, and Vince [Zampella] makes very sure – because he’s part of the executive team at EA, he can protect the interests of Respawn.
“This is all speculation on my part, I don’t know why the change of heart happened, because that was very clearly not an acceptable plan when we were working on Ragtag! But you know, things change. [The decision to cancel Ragtag] was made in summer 2017. We found out in October 2017. So that’s almost two years ago, and a lot has changed in that time, and there’s been a pretty public and vocal backlash against the idea gamers don’t want single-player finite games without all these extra modes. Of course they do, of course we do. So maybe this is just a demonstration of a change of strategy for EA.
“And you’ve got to understand there’s been huge changes in management there since all of this happened as well. Both Patrick Soderlund and Jade Raymond have left in the meantime, and Laura Miele, who was the franchise general manager for Star Wars when I joined, is now in Patrick’s role. So I don’t have any insider knowledge, but there’s a lot of reasons they could have adopted a new attitude for this. And I’m glad for Respawn’s sake, because I’m excited about their game, and I’ve heard great things about it.”
Ragtag would have been a very different type of Star Wars single-player game – one which would have followed a motley crew of characters, rather than Jedi: Fallen Order’s tale of a solo protagonist and his droid buddy.
Hennig explained how it would have played, and how it was inspired by the original Star Wars movies:
“I had to take what I’d figured out [for Uncharted] in terms of deconstructing pulp adventure, and say alright, Star Wars is also in that category, but it has certain things that are distinct, or at least distinct from our core inspiration which was of course Indiana Jones. And one of those things, and I’ve talked about this before, is you stay with Indiana Jones the whole time, the other characters are side characters – they’re companions, they’re important to the story, but they’re not co-protagonists, it’s not really an ensemble in the classic sense. When we think about ensembles, we think about heist films, caper films, Where Eagle’s Dare, Dirty Dozen, Von Ryan’s Express. All of these films are about this ragtag – hence the codename! – group of individuals who have to come together.
“So I realised a couple of things: if we were going to make a Star Wars story, a lot of it would look and feel like Uncharted, because it’s in the same genre. But we needed to cut away to the villains, for one thing, which was something I never allowed us to do on Uncharted. If you look at those films, you don’t really cut away from what Indy knows. There’s a few exceptions but you’re more or less with him the whole time. Star Wars, not only do we cut between villains but we also cut between multiple protagonists. So you still go OK, Luke is the hero of the story, but when you look at Han and Leia they’re co-protagonists. And then you look at Rogue One, the animated show Rebels, those are ensemble stories. That’s the Star Wars DNA, right?
“So I thought OK, not only does that mean that we need really compelling AI for these characters, so that you can work like a well-oiled team, particularly if it’s a caper crew. But we were going to need playable characters in parallel sequences, because that’s how Star Wars works. You only accomplish your goals by working together or working in parallel or both. We would always point to the Death Star escape as the prime example of that.”
Ragtag would have been similar in scope to one of Disney’s ill-fated standalone Star Wars films, released in between the saga’s big Episodes. When Hennig signed on to make Ragtag, she was given insight into the franchise’s entire upcoming slate:
“The roadmap originally when I joined, when I was working with Lucasfilm – a lot of it back then was top secret, the saga films, the standalone films and where they were going to fall, the animated TV series building towards the live action TV series, and the games. And all of this stuff playing together, interlocking in this new canon. It was very cool to think this game we were working on was just as relevant as the films, particularly the standalone films because that’s the best analogy, that it was being treated just as seriously, and that we were working through the story and all the original material we were creating for that reason.
“Obviously it’s disappointing not to be able to share the game we were developing, because I think it was really cool and pretty compelling.”