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How a Painful Encounter with a Stack of Books Inspired Ewok Hunt

A talk with the designer behind the new fan-favorite mode.

Since the launch of Ewok Hunt in April, featuring the deceptively small and furry warriors, the mode has become a hit with fans of Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II. We’ve enjoyed the stories you’ve told – whether it’s been about soaring through the air and landing spear-down on an unsuspecting intruder as an Ewok, or barely making it to evac as a stormtrooper.

To shine some light on the creation of the mode, we sat down with Manuel Llanes, Game Design Director at DICE in Stockholm, to have a chat about inspirations, challenges, and how to embrace your inner Ewok.

Hey Manuel! Tell us a little about how and why the team decided on the idea of Ewok Hunt?

“In 2000 or so, I was sharing an apartment with another developer,” Manuel starts. “I was playing a horror game and got so scared that I fell from my chair and landed on a stack of hard-cover RPG books. I got hit right on the ribs, and it made me cry and laugh at the same time.”

Manuel’s friend took a picture of him on the floor, beaten and in tears. “I still have that picture today!” Manuel laughs. “And I hope someone will have that kind of memory, without the pain part, playing Ewok Hunt.”

“In Return of the Jedi (that’s the one with Ewoks, for any who have forgotten), it’s made quite clear that Ewoks’ cute looks are misleading. They even had Han Solo over the firewood,” Manuel says.

One thing to remember is that Ewoks are fierce defenders of the forest moon and their prowess in battle shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just ask the Empire!

“Back at the studio, we were in a discussion about making a hunt mode,” Manuel continues. That’s when the experience of playing a horror game in the early 2000’s hit him, and he shared it with the team. “At one point, we all went ‘We could do a similar experience! With Ewoks!’ You know, there are always ideas around game modes spinning around. When we arrived at Ewok Hunt, we just felt like ‘yeah, of course, we should totally do that!’”

Sounds like you wanted to give players a bit of a scare?

“Mostly, we were interested in trying a rhythm that is different from the rest of the game. A rhythm with deeper valleys and taller peaks,” Manuel explains. One important task with Ewok Hunt was to not cast the Ewoks as the hunted, but rather to put the invading stormtroopers in that role.

“Playing as a stormtrooper, we wanted the player to be a little lost,” Manuel says. “For example, we considered having a radar to show the position of your teammates. But then, you would only look there, and lose that brief moment of ‘oh, where are my friends?’” Instead, the UI was stripped down, and players forced into first-person view as stormtroopers.

“Our goal with the mode,” Manuel says, “is for the players to feel joy, by taking away some control and adding the right amount of suspense.”

Any inside tips on how to endure the terrors of the night?

“As a stormtrooper, I tend to move in a calm and cool fashion to not leave footprints,” Manuel says. “But at the same time, when you swim with sharks, you should swim faster than the slowest swimming person,” he analogizes. “And I keep my lights off when I don’t need them.”

“As an Ewok; embrace it! Use the emotes, sound the horn, and sneak up on your enemies! If your friend is rushing them, be the one who sneaks around to attack from behind.”

One cool bit of Star Wars lore that you brought into the mode is Wisties. How did that happen?

“I wanted the Ewoks to have a ranged, non-lethal way to damage and disperse a group of enemies. I asked Lucasfilm if we could have something made by the shaman, like a pouch of herbs or powder,” Manuel explains.

Lucasfilm came back with the suggestion to include Wisties instead, a small species of fire spirits native to Endor. “It was a perfect fit,” Manuel says, “so a lot of credit to the team at Lucasfilm for solving that gameplay need.”

What was the biggest challenge creating Ewok Hunt?

“For one, it was a guerilla effort made by a small team,” Manuel says, “and regarding game balance, it’s really tricky when there’s asymmetry between the sides in abilities, controls, number of players, and gameplay.”

The fact that the number of players on each side is shifting during the match made it even more challenging. “Hopefully, it’s somewhat balanced, but it’s also important to remember that Ewok Hunt’s main purpose is not to be a sport,” says Manuel.

Looking at the data, stormtroopers have won around 60% of all rounds since the launch of the mode. There will be updates to address balancing, among other things, moving forward. One early quick fix was putting out the torches in the caves, which allowed stormtroopers to fortify too easily.

Other data points show us that the characteristic Ewok battle horn has echoed between the trees of Endor over 11 million times so far, and (as a result, perhaps?) that stormtroopers used the cry emote almost four million times.

By the way, Manuel, we heard that you and Ewoks go way back?

“My uncle actually took me to see Return of the Jedi in the theatres when I was five,” Manuel says. His first encounter with Endor’s fierce protectors was a fact. “And a couple of years later, he took me to the theatres again. This time, I got to choose what we were going to see. Among all films, I picked this one for kids based on a fluffy 1980’s bear toy!” Manuel says, implying that his uncle wanted to see something else, but finally gave in to young Manuel’s wishes. “He was so sad.”

“But now, I told him that we made this new mode for Star Wars Battlefront II, and said: ‘You see, you introduced me to Ewoks when I was five, and a couple of years later I went through a toy bear phase. But now we’re back to the dangerous ones in Ewok Hunt!’” Full circle!

–Daniel Steinholtz (Follow Daniel on Twitter @dsteinholtz)

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