An Interview With A Star Wars Legend, About Starlight Inception

An Interview With A Star Wars Legend, About Starlight Inception

Following the success of the Double Fine Kickstarter campaign, many other developers have decided that perhaps the conventional publishing route just isn’t for them. After all, crowd funding is a way to give the fans what they want.

It’s a route that Garry Gaber, who is best known for creating some of the best Star Wars games in history, has decided to take for his latest project, Starlight: Inception. It’s a project for the PlayStation Vita and PC and it’s already doing pretty well on Kickstarter.

We recently had a chance to talk with Garry about his new project, but also some of his inspirations and the days at LucasArts. Tell us a bit about Starlight Inception.

Garry Gaber: Starlight Inception is a tactical space-based shooter in the vein of classic games like Wing Commander and the X-wing series, but with a fresh aesthetic.

There are two main game modes – one is mission based, and has a storyline following a pilot through the fourth World War, fought amongst the planets and moons of our star system. The missions are varied, including straight shoot-’em ups, rescue missions, salvage missions. All the missions contain elements of exploration, combat and in some cases, stealth and tagging the enemy for larger assaults. There is a fair amount of world building in this mode, as you interact with enemies and wingmen, sometimes discovering things or achieving things during the mission that affect the overall course of the story.

The second game mode is a sort of strategic defense of your mothership, where you deploy turrets and engage in ship to ship combat to defend against incoming marauders. This mode is more geared toward players who just want to get in a cockpit and begin engaging the enemy.

Both modes have achievements locked to them, as well as gaining the player command prestige for objectives met and side quests. Command prestige is the currency of the game, and allows players to ‘purchase’ better ships, better weapons, better equipment, better drone wingmen. Will there also be multiplayer?

Garry Gaber: Yes. In addition, there is a multiplayer component, where players can play head to head or on teams in various modes, including deathmatch, capture the flag, defend the mothership, etc.

The game can be played both in 3rd person, outside the ship, tethered camera mode, or 1st person through the cockpit mode. The UI is planned to have at least two modes – a HUD like treatment and a more realistic, rendered cockpit view.

The game will be tuned for joysticks, flight yokes, game controllers and keyboard and mouse combos on the PC, and will take advantage of the twin joysticks, and front and rear touchscreens on the Playstation Vita. Because the Vita is such a technologically advanced handheld, there shouldn’t be any dumbing down going on between the two platforms. Players are very concerned about which platform will lead, but in our minds, the gameplay is the same on both platforms, with the primary difference being the obvious control schemes and optimizing assets for the size of the screen.

Physics are very important to players of this kind of game, and we know we’ll be tweaking the feel of the ships until launch. Our early prototypes used a very arcade-y feel, more akin to Wing Commander or Freespace2, but we are still tuning aspects of this approach, looking at adding Newtonian elements. Several space sims have done the Newtonian thing really well, but sometimes this results in a ship that’s hard to control. And never mind the fact that things like missiles become sort of counterproductive in a real Newtonian model of space, pushing your ship backwards every time you fire one.

Our promise is that we’ll be working toward a model that is fun for the player, and that doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay.

As you can probably see, we really want to give the player lots of options when playing the game. You said that publishers wouldn’t support this type of game; why do you feel that is?

Garry Gaber: I base that on meetings with publishers where they were happy to look at what we were doing, and even excited in some cases, but in all cases were not willing to help with funding. To be fair, Sony is supporting this game, and very excited about it – we are an official Sony PlayStation Vita developer and are in the approval process. If you’re successful, do you think publishers may start to become more accepting of niche game types?

Garry Gaber: I think the publisher model has kind of evolved to financing large 1st party games like Mass Effect 3 or Modern Warfare 17, and letting indies like ourselves find our own way. Which is why we’ve turned to Kickstarter, a crowd funding source to (hopefully) provide some of our funding, and involve the fans and backers in the lifecycle of the game. The rest of the funding is coming from our own cash reserves. To answer your question directly, until a game proves that a niche is more than a niche, the answer is probably no – the profit margin likely isn’t there for a big publisher to take a chance. After your days at LucasArts, you ventured into film, and then educational games.  How do you feel this will aid the development of your new game?

Garry Gaber: I got used to working with micro budgets and getting the most out of them. The film thing helped a lot with learning a cinematic approach, as well as telling a succinct and involving story, topics I had touched on while at LucasArts as well. You’ve got a strong history with Star Wars games, are you happy with the quality of modern titles?

Garry Gaber: I played through Force Unleashed and really enjoyed the experience. The overall game experience felt like a big Star Wars adventure, and who doesn’t love using the force to throw crates, canisters and TIE Fighters at stormtroopers! You of course had very direct involvement with many of the most famous Star Wars games, including Jedi Knight, Force Commander and Battlegrounds – which was your favorite?

Garry Gaber: Battlegrounds, because I had the privilege of working with a great art, design and programming team on a slick, well produced game that I had dreamt of playing for years. It turned out to be a critical and commercial success as well.

I also have fond memories of Force Commander. It was just slightly ahead of its time, with the use of 3D in a genre dominated by 2D games, and we suffered a little for that. But the concepts of calling down ships from orbit, command points, a free roaming 3D camera, and an original Star Wars storyline with amazing voice actors – I think that really pushed the envelope at the time.

Jedi Knight was a blast as well – another great team, and the chance to realize Nar Shadda, the vertical city, which was a month of my life. It took something like three days to render with the technology of the time. Why do you feel LucasArts decided to can the Jedi Knight franchise after Jedi Academy?

Garry Gaber: I had left the company just after Jedi Academy came on the scene, and I really had no visibility into what went into decisions related to the franchise at that point. I do hope we see further adventures in that vein one day. What was the main driving force behind releasing on the Vita and not PSN or XBL?

Garry Gaber: I’m still open to an XBOX version of this game – our engine supports it, but we aren’t an Xbox developer currently, so Microsoft would need to help us out in that regard.

We’re a small developer, and so we want to go where we can get the most visibility and not be lost in a sea of noise with larger competitors. Vita provides that opportunity, because it’s such a hoss platform for a handheld, and there just isn’t a lot of competition in that commercial space yet. In addition, Vita is the best of both worlds – a touch device as capable as an Apple iProduct, as well as the twin analog joysticks that gamers desire. There really isn’t anything else like it in the marketplace. Do you think this will be the last traditional handheld generation?

Garry Gaber: I really hope not. I see the iPad as an amazing device, and play on mine quite often. But I find myself gravitating toward strategy, puzzle and casual games more often than not on that platform. Traditional handhelds seem to be more hardcore, and more geared toward their purpose of playing games. I miss things like traditional joysticks and peripherals while playing games on the iPad like space invaders. A touch-based joystick just isn’t the same as the real thing. In addition, I like having choices in where I play games – consoles, handhelds, touch devices all have their different roles to play and different styles of play – I like the variety and hope it remains. Can you tell us why you choose to go with Kickstarter?

Garry Gaber: We launched the Kickstarter campaign in early April with the aim of seeding our budget with extra funding to make the game available on more platforms and at a higher level of quality, and to add more team members – to offer something bigger and more involving. In addition, it was a good way to gauge player interest and help shape the product a bit more, test ideas, etc. So far, it has been a mostly positive experience, and we are very encouraged by the outpouring of fan sentiment and support. We just need to keep gaining momentum with the campaign to succeed in meeting our goals, but I have confidence that we’ll get there with the fans’ support.

To find out more about Starlight Inception, or to fund the project on Kickstarter, be sure to check out the Kickstarter page. They’re hoping to raise $150,000.


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