Art Director Steve Uphill, Producer Robert Wyle and Designer John Stanley From Criterion Games, discuss their creative collaboration, with Lucasfilm to develop Fondor Dock for Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II.
Criterion has a rich history in vehicle design, how does this translate to Star Wars Battlefront II?
John Stanley: Criterion always focuses on game feel and player perception when designing vehicles. Throughout the games development, our product truth has been “Become an Ace Pilot in Epic Space Battles”, which we feel we’ve achieved.
How did you arrive at the decision to develop Fondor Dock?
Steve Uphill: We always wanted to develop some type of dock and Lucasfilm proposed that we focus on a level around Fondor, which is an Imperial Industrial system.
We were really excited about this, as Fondor is a planet that hadn’t been shown in film before. So we had an opportunity to get creative and visualize how this location could appear.
What type of research did you carry out to inform its visual language?
SU: We looked at Imperial structures, existing Star Wars space stations, and the Shield Gate above Scarif in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
After pitching variations on dock design, Lucasfilm directed us to look toward aircraft carriers for inspiration, which really pushed us in a positive direction.
What gameplay considerations did you have for the map?
Robert Wyle: From a map point of view, we figured out that we wanted three phases.
Phase one, the initial fight around the Turrets with some Imperial cruisers.
Phase two, the tunnel moment, which was key to having a Death Star styled trench run - a classic Star Wars moment.
Phase three, taking down a Star Destroyer.
How instrumental was concept art in visualizing Fondor Dock?
SU: We didn’t do a huge amount of traditional concept art, instead, we did 3D based concept art. The reason for this was twofold. First, Lucasfilm gave us access to Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) assets from the films which allowed us to kit-bash assets together much quicker and achieve the Star Wars aesthetic in a fraction of the time. Second, concepting it in 3D also allowed us to get the dock in game a lot quicker, checking its playability and visual language.
The examples below show an initial geometry concept and a more detailed kit-bash version.
If you go through the normal process of concept art, someone has to paint it, someone has to build it and someone has to test it.
Working with 3D concept art really sped up our process as we could quickly share ideas with Lucasfilm and our Art and Design Teams.
Can you talk through the production of Fondor Dock?
SU: One of the key assets that Lucasfilm and ILM shared with us was a 3D model of the Scarif Shield Gate.
This model allowed us to embrace their design principles, and incorporate them into our new aesthetic. This also gave our Art Team a better sense of what they needed to build and helped our Design Team with scale.
It also meant we could take whole swathes of geometry, repurpose them and add them onto our low-poly object, which was a huge leap forward for early development.
An early block-out of the Dock, where Criterion Games directly took some of the assets from the model of the Scarif Shield Gate that ILM supplied
This was a big win for both our Art and Design Teams as we could fly around and see it from all angles and provide feedback from a gameplay point of view.
What types of challenges did you face during its development?
SU: There were challenges finding the right balance between art, design, Star Wars authenticity and readability to players.
Fondor Dock is a big structure and the section players get to fly around is probably three or four times the size of a Star Destroyer.
For us, it was a case of designing something that looks great from a distance with a real imposing Imperial feel but also looks great close-up.
JS: Motive Studios also use this level for the campaign, so we had to make sure their single player scene worked with our Starfighter Assault multiplayer scene in the same location.
RW: The Dock’s tunnel was an interesting design challenge. Imperial Structures have a very distinct look. They’re very uniform; they don’t use much decoration; and they are very grey.
We wanted to develop a tight space with obstacles, but players would need to understand it’s visual language – for example: is this an obstacle I should go towards or avoid?
SU: This meant we couldn’t draw a player’s attention through overtly traditional game traits, like big flashing lights or color, as that wouldn’t feel authentic to an Imperial space station.
Are there any features of the Fondor Dock that Criterion is particularly proud of?
RW: There isn’t one feature we’re not proud of!
JS: For us, the Fondor Dock is a crowning moment. There were other challenges that came out well, such as the Resurgent class Star Destroyer, which was a momentous task that turned out to be a fantastic looking level. With Fondor, though, what’s really cool is that you see the grandeur and overview of the whole Dock, but when you get into the tunnel it’s a completely different feel.
SU: Everything in the level has reason and thought behind it. Cinder Turrets, for example, fold up and are placed in the Fondor Dock and Star Destroyer hanger.
JS: When you go into the Dock, the condensed geometry coupled with the way it’s lit does a great job helping with the sense of speed. Then, coming out the end of the tunnel through a tight space really makes it feel like you have shot out! And finally, the payoff of the amazing vista of the planet Fondor.
An example of the tunnel’s condensed geometry
How has working with DICE and Motive Studios helped with the game’s vehicle development?
JS: DICE is only a few hours away by plane and there’s only a one hour time difference, so it was easy to communicate and share learnings on heroes and class design.
We also kept in close contact with Motive Studios to ensure all vehicles in the single player campaign were designed to suit the gameplay experience they were building.
Open communication and collaboration meant we could get the abilities and balancing right for both single player and multiplayer.
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