Star Wars Outlaws Wants to Be Your Dream ‘Open Galaxy’ – IGN First

“I think, in general, making games is really tough. Making open-world games is really, really tough. And making Star Wars open-world games is the next level of difficulty.”

Julian Gerighty, creative director at Massive Entertainment, is up for a challenge. For the first time ever, we’re getting a fully open-world Star Wars video game. It’s been a long time coming, but after back-to-back successes with both The Division and The Division 2, Gerighty was in the mood to take a risk.

“I think this is maybe just my approach, but even if it’s scary, you’ve got to do it,” he says. “You’ve got to lean into it. What’s the downside to pitching a Star Wars game in San Francisco at LucasFilm Games in George Lucas’ old office? […] If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but you still have that experience.”

Fast forward several years after that meeting and Massive Entertainment is less than two months away from releasing Star Wars Outlaws, a fully realised version of the original pitch described in that office: an open world of dual ambitions – maintain the cinematic legacy of the films, and create immersive scoundrel gameplay that grants you the freedom of the galaxy.

“I think it’s taken this long to get an open-world Star Wars game because of how, excuse the pun, massive it is to build a game like this. There are only so many studios in the world who build games of this scale,” says Steve Blank, director of franchise content and strategy at Lucasfilm. “The door is then open for Massive to come to us and say, this is what we’re interested in doing, this is the type of game design and gameplay we want. This is what we’re thinking about in terms of an archetype.”

There are only so many studios in the world who build games of this scale.

“It’s the outlaw player fantasy and it’s open world, those were the two main pillars that we pitched,” explains Gerighty. “Why open world? Because the outlaw fantasy really needs that to live and breathe.”

“It’s a combination of our DNA as a studio, our background, when we think, ‘Okay, what do we have a lot of experience doing? What do we think we’re good at?’ And this fantasy, this scoundrel in Star Wars begs for freedom,” adds game director Mathias Karlson.

Massive was fully confident in its abilities to create engaging open worlds – The Division offered a bullet-filled action playground, while last year’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora displayed an ability to work well within a Disney license by building a near-unmatched visual paradise. But Star Wars was the new challenge that this team yearned for. Of course, locking down what kind of experience would live inside a Star Wars open world was the first thing that had to be decided.

“We took a step back of course and thought, ‘Okay, Star Wars open world. What an opportunity. What does that naturally want to be?’” Karlson says. “It wants to be the full scale, from the very small to the very big, meaning sitting inside a cantina, playing Sabacc, being able to walk through the street, jump on your speeder or drive across the planet surface, literally park your bike in your own ship, take off into space seamlessly, and explore that region.”

That vision of “full scale” helped secure a green light from Star Wars’ custodians. But getting LucasFilm’s blessing was just the key in the ignition. Translating the cinematic spectacle of the original Star Wars movie trilogy into an open-world game – set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, two of the most iconic films of all-time – was the actual challenge. One that Massive set out to address in every aspect of Outlaws, from the way it looks and sounds, to the type of action-adventure gameplay it supplies.

Making an Open World Cinematic

“For us, the sort of cinematic ambition that we had was in presentation,” explains Gerighty. For that, he went straight to the source. “What we did was take a lot of inspiration from the original trilogy, but with today’s technology, so very similar to what Rogue One did with its references to the production design of the original trilogy. [Its aim] was to replicate a lot of the filmic effects of those lenses in the 1970s. So you’ll see barrel distortion on the sides, vignetting, film grain, chromatic aberration, and of course all wrapped up in an ultra-widescreen presentation.”

You can expect that level of detail in Outlaws’ cutscenes. But Gerighty notes that making a game cinematic “doesn’t mean cinematics necessarily. What I care the most about is the interactive part.”

“I think it’s a key point for open-world games at large, scaling does not always need to be grand, but it needs to be conscious,” Karlson theorises. “The scale of Tatooine needs, should, and does in our game feels very different. It breathes, it’s open sand dunes and long sightlines. It’s easy to pick up any little anomaly on the horizon and there might be an opportunity for you, compared to the dense streets of Kijimi, which is a city in perpetual winter where people are trying to stay warm.”

Scaling does not always need to be grand, but it needs to be conscious.

Scale is something written into the very DNA of Star Wars, whether seen on the big or small screen. Greig Fraser, Rogue One’s director of photography, recently told IGN that “If you watch any Star Wars film, that’s what it’s all about. It’s knowing how big a human is going into this massive Millennium Falcon, how big the Millennium Falcon is going to this massive Death Star. It’s scale upon scale upon scale.” It’s a philosophy Gerighty and the team at Massive took into Outlaws when crafting the introduction to its open world.

“One of our intentions for the beginning of the game was to make it feel very small and then [get] bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger,” explains Gerighty. “So [at the] beginning of the game, you start off in one room and it’s claustrophobic and it’s meant to make you feel a little bit trapped. You open up and it’s city streets, but it’s contained. And then you get into some narrative stuff and you steal a ship and you explode into the galaxy and all of a sudden you crash land on this planet, which is a wide open world.”

The aim here is to create a “sense of everything growing for you and not just the scale of the galaxy, but the scale of the possibilities for you as a character.”

Outlaws’ campaign tells the tale of Kay Vess, a young scoundrel looking to build a team from across the stars in order to pull off one big space heist and remove the “death mark” placed on her by the Zerek Besh crime syndicate. It’s the basis of a story that evokes many other adventures from across both games and film.

“I love Mass Effect 2. It’s one of my favourite games,” states Navid Khavari, Outlaws’ narrative director. “There were so many influences. I think you look at everything from Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 8 to Star Wars itself. The previous films and that heist feeling was always kind of in the fabric.” He also namechecks Kurosawa, the Japanese director whose samurai stories were so influential on George Lucas’ original trilogy.

Knowing what sort of story you want to tell is one thing. Telling an engaging story in an open-world setting is another task altogether, and one that Khavari is well aware of, having written for Far Cry 4, 5, and 6, as well as The Division.

“It’s one of the things you always have to keep in mind,” he says. “How are we going to weave a narrative and an open world together, so that we’re telling the story, but also giving you the freedom to go wherever you’d like?”

We knew early on that if you got distracted by curiosity, the world had to react to that.

“We had a really clear approach on Outlaws,” he explains. ”There was Kay’s journey[…] There were key points that we knew we wanted her to hit, and then that makes her story part of the wider Star Wars narrative. But between those moments, we knew early on that if you got distracted by curiosity, the world had to react to that. It had to expect that the player’s going to go off the beaten path.”

The things that lie off the beaten path are built in accordance to something Massive refers to as “the three-second rule,” where within a few blinks of an eye you can instantly understand the nature of a location or character and the story behind them.

“Before you even put life in them, they need to visually tell a story about what kind of place it is, what’s happened in the past, what type of life and events have taken place in them so that they get that lived-in feeling,” Karlson explains. “That lived-in, relatable, substantial feel, I think is a hallmark of any good open world, but also very Star Wars when you think about it.”

Star Wars’ aesthetic has always been rooted in the idea of the “used future”, where everything from the largest spaceships to the tiniest droids have that instantly recognisable layer of grime. Those small details build up into authentic, cool, and bespoke spaces – something Massive has always managed to build into its own open worlds. The Division and its sequel are packed full of memorable levels ranging from New York landmarks to Washington DC museums, and that philosophy is being transferred to Outlaws’ many planets. Its main missions promise to take us to iconic locations such as Imperial bases and Jabba’s Palace.

“We can lean into the virtual tourism aspect of, ‘Hey, what is the distance between the moisture farms and Mos Eisley and the cantina?” says Gerighty. “There is a linear roller coaster story, a golden path, if you will. And around that, of course, there’s the open world.”

That sort of connective tissue of planet or moon to space was crucial to our whole approach.

“That’s the dream I know I had as a kid,” Khavari adds. “That is what I’ve always wanted from a Star Wars game. That when I’m on a journey, when I’m entering into a quest, it might start on foot, it might start with me navigating a High Republic cruiser that’s crashed, but I want to be able to jump into my speeder and blast off, […], take off into space, maybe land in a space station and meet some characters that factor into my quest or journey along the way. And so that sort of connective tissue of planet or moon to space was crucial to our whole approach, right? Because that’s kind of the fantasy that I think players are hoping for.”

That fantasy and freedom is evidently at the core of Outlaws, and while all five planets and moons (Toshara, Tatooine, Akiva, Kijimi, and Cantonica) won’t be instantly available to hyperdrive between, Gerighty claims it won’t be long into Kay’s journey until the galaxy opens up.

“There’s a very structured intro that leads you to crash land on Toshara, which is a moon that we created with LucasFilm Games,” he says. “And once you finish the sort of linear narrative on Toshara, the other planets open up and it becomes completely non-linear and you can choose to tackle those [worlds] in any order you want.”

A Galaxy of Exploration

Exploration of these worlds is highly encouraged, with maps that are not (at least initially) flooded with icons and points of interest because you’re seeing these places from a fresh perspective.

“Kay hasn’t seen the galaxy, she doesn’t know everything,” Karlson explains. “The first time you come to Toshara you’ll have a map where you can see mountains over there and stuff, but discovery is what gives you more information.”

“You’re going to have to take some risks,” says Gerighty. “You’re going to have to go to a cantina […] and you can eavesdrop and pick up on some conversations that will lead you to another location that reveals a location within the open world that you have to get on your speeder to go and find. And there will be a fog of war that you’ll be able to clear up and that’s really where your curiosity will open things up even more.”

Each of Outlaws’ worlds vary in size. Toshara, Massive’s newly created moon, is around the same size as the jungle planet of Akiva, but a little smaller than the vast desert of Tatooine.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has different zones on the map. Toshara is two or three of those put together.

“It was less about how big, but more about how long in terms of traversal with the speeder it would be,” Gerighty reveals. “[Toshara takes] four or five minutes nonstop, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but once you’re committed it’s a fairly large amount and you are always going to be distracted. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which was one of the games that we were looking at while creating this, you have different zones on the map […][Toshara is] two or three of those put together.”

And that doesn’t even take into account the vast areas of space that surround each planet and serve as entirely different areas of orbital exploration and opportunity. We’ll cover that, as well as the starship side of the game, in greater depth later on in this month’s IGN First.

Experts, Reputation, and the Wanted System

In terms of mission design, we’ve seen action ranging from stealth infiltrations, frantic dogfights, high-speed chases, and intense blaster battles, with some quests even evolving to include all of these elements at different stages. Star Wars Outlaws is thus perhaps better thought of as a single-player narrative action adventure in the wrappings of an open world – something more akin to Marvel’s Spider-Man than dense RPGs like The Witcher or Ubisoft’s recent Assassin’s Creed games. Its mixture of popcorn action and blockbuster narrative ambition is a departure from Massive’s gear-based experience on The Division. It is a new chapter in the continued evolution of a studio that started life as a real-time strategy developer.

“I think if you look at the evolution of the open world, there’s a life, a dynamism, a systemic quality to The Division 2 that we didn’t have in The Division 1,” states Gerighty. “I’m not talking about the presentation, the soft values at all. I’m talking about pure gameplay experience, single-player or cooperative. That was very, very important to us to have as a living, breathing element that engages players while they’re playing Outlaws.”

It’s an evolution of what Massive has been doing in their games for years now – keeping worlds feeling bustling and alive, even when set against post-apocalyptic backdrops or in the midst of galactic wars.

“We in both Division games, but especially in the second one, developed what we call ‘living world systems’,” explains Karlson. “So same thing here. We have systems that make sure that the world is always alive with movement, traffic, speeders, zipping around the Empire, patrolling syndicates have footholds out there, and these can cross paths. Also sometimes more substantial events happen and it’s really up to you if you want to engage or not.”

Perhaps Outlaws’ most interesting method of breathing life into its open world is its approach to character progression. There’s no levelling up or incremental stat boosts to drop experience points into. Instead, Kay’s abilities and equipment are linked to experts – people you’ll meet across the galaxy who’ll grant you upgrades in exchange for work.

“They are full-on characters,” Karlson explains. “So they’re spread out in the world and you don’t know exactly who they are, what exactly they have to offer you and how to reach them from the very beginning. So there’s this journey of discovery here as well. And once you reach them, there’s a character there to interact with and an adventure to go on because they won’t instantly just, oh, here you go. And then they essentially open up a little regional progression for you where the nature of those things is also very tangible.”

An upgrade definitely ties into Kay pulling off the heist, but it’s also very much its own journey, which is in the Star Wars tradition as well.

For example, after finding a Jawa by sourcing their location from overheard intel at a cantina, you can complete a mission for them in order to gain a new skill. In this case, it’s to venture into a dead Sarlacc to find a pristine tooth from its second mouth, which you can then exchange for a laser turret for the Trailblazer, Kay’s starship.

It’s a smart way of blending gameplay progression with a narrative befitting of the Star Wars criminal underbelly. “You can go on a journey with a character such as an expert who is going to teach Kay a new skill and give her a new upgrade to her blaster,” says Khavari. “Now, that skill, that upgrade definitely ties into Kay pulling off the heist, but it’s also very much its own journey, which is in the Star Wars tradition as well.”

Another system aiming to marry gameplay with narrative is how Outlaws’ tracks Kay’s reputation with each of the criminal syndicates. Her bond with each of the Hutts, Pykes, Crimson Dawn, and Ashiga Clan will strengthen or weaken depending on your choices in dialogue and mission objectives.

“Your reputation moving in the positive direction unlocks a lot of things for you,” says Karlson. “Everything from actual access to territory that they control where you might have [only] been able to sneak in otherwise, to landing pads in the open world, to discounts with traders affiliated with the syndicate and unique really exotic rewards. But if you really get on their bad side, that’s another thing that you’ll feel dynamically in the game because they actually send hit squads out for you in the open world to try and take you out.”

The reputation system doesn’t just sit inside of missions, though. Smaller opportunities regularly present themselves to boost your relationships among the syndicates. These might be smaller skirmishes where choosing to get involved can benefit you and the organisation you side with. A strong bond with one may even help you out with the bigger threat looming over the galaxy…

“If you’ve for whatever reason ended up wanted and you’re being chased by the Empire, and you cross paths with a syndicate that you have a really good reputation with at the moment, they might join in and help you out,” Karlson reveals.

Outlaws directly follows the events of The Empire Strikes Back, and sees the Imperial forces at the peak of their powers. In gameplay terms, the Stormtroopers are basically like GTA’s police, and adopt a similar wanted system. Find yourself in a restricted area or accidentally fire a stray laser blast at a Stormtrooper and you’ll quickly find yourself in hot water. It’s by no means a revolutionary system when it comes to open-world design, but one that is made all the more exciting thanks to a lick of Imperial black and white paint.

“It has a good range of escalation and de-escalation,” Karlson states. “It’s really up to you if you want to try and hide or maybe bribe an Imperial officer that’s a bit corrupt in a city somewhere, or try to hyper jump to a different space region. But you will feel it.

“And let’s just say there are Death Troopers for a reason,” he teasingly adds.

Balancing Quality with Quantity

Beyond the main missions, expert side missions, and the reputation system at the core of it all, many other snackable activities exist in Outlaws’ open world. These range from quick contracts such as smuggling and stealing, gambling in Sabacc (Star Wars poker), to playing asteroid field arcade shooter games and betting on Canto Bight’s Fathier Racing. All of these activities bolster your ever-growing supply of credits which can be used to purchase new customisation and gear options for Kay, her pet-like alien companion Nix, and the Trailblazer.

And yet, there’s more. Emergent events frequently take place throughout the open world, whether on land or in space. “Every two, three minutes there’ll be something that’s happening, whether it’s an ambush or the empire arresting some civilians or getting into combat with some criminal syndicates. And it’s up to you whether you want to engage or not,” Gerighty reveals.

We don’t want things to be just big for big sake.

With so much to do in Star Wars Outlaws, how does Massive go about avoiding open-world “bloat”? With a near-endless galaxy of opportunity, there’s the worry that things may spiral, feature creep sets in, and everything just gets “too big”. The studio had a clear plan from the start, though, leading with variety over size – quality over quantity, if you will. “So we don’t want things to be just big for big sake. We need it to be contained, always fun, always proposing different activities,” Gerighty confirms.

“It’s about calibrating size to substance,” adds Karlson. “When you see something that breaks pattern, that stands out for whatever reason, and you go there and look, there’s something there to do, and that repeats frequently enough. [We also make sure] the quests, the bespoke content of the game, makes use of it so that it doesn’t feel like a separate experience, but it’s all one.”

Of course, no matter how much there will be to do in Outlaws, one thing that can be expected is a healthy helping of nods to the larger Star Wars galaxy. Lando is set to make an appearance, and we’ve already seen a glimpse of Han Solo in carbonite, but it sounds like they might just be the tip of the iceberg.

“What I would say is there are Easter eggs,” Khavari reveals. “There’s characters that you’ll meet along the way across the main quests and whether it’s the experts or the wider stories you’re going to stumble across. August 30th is a really great date. I recommend bookmarking it in your calendar.”

August 30 is right around the corner, a short wait for many players for whom an open-world game set in a galaxy far, far away has been a long-held dream. I could feel a similar passion for Star Wars coming out of each person I spoke to at Massive, and for them, I can’t help but get the sense that the dream is a shared one. Making open world games is tough. And bringing open world to Star Wars may well bring an extra level of difficulty, but for Gerighty and the team it’s been a challenge worth taking on.

“I’m getting to that point where I think I can count the number of games I can do until I’m put out to pasture on one hand,” Gerighty says. “And it becomes more and more important to me to choose what I do because it’s really important for me to do quality work with people that I love working with. And Star Wars is definitely on the bucket list.”

Simon Cardy once got kicked out of a school assembly for calling somebody Salacious Crumb. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.


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