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Cheese Talks: Star Wars Games

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This is a collection of excerpts from my recent Cheese Talks project on the history of Star Wars games focusing on titles that are available on Linux in some form or another.

The whole thing features an interactive timeline of 186 Star Wars titles from 1982's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back through to 2017's Star Wars: Force Arena. Accompanying that is a 27,000 word article that explores what makes Star Wars interesting, reflects on Star Wars games that I've played, and tries to pull everything together into answering the age-old question of What Makes A Good Star Wars Game? For fun, I also pitch a hyopthetical Ideal Star Wars Game that embraces all the strengths identified across the article.

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The Star Wars games that are currently available for Linux (or have received Linux support thanks to source code releases) are:

  • Star Wars: X-Wing
  • Star Wars: Dark Forces
  • Star Wars: TIE Fighter
  • Star Wars: Rebel Assault
  • Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire
  • Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
  • Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

And here's what I had to say about them...

Star Wars: X-Wing (1993) (available on GOG)
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The first time I saw X-Wing was at a friend's house. They were the only other person I knew who had an Amiga, but they'd recently gotten a machine that ran DOS, and with it came access to games we'd never seen or heard of before.

After some questionable use of PKUNZIP and a stack of hand labeled floppy disks (I've since bought more legitimate copies of X-Wing many times), we were presented with a "security check". I can't recall whether we had a partial copy of the relevant information or whether that particular version only used one Aurebesh code that we weren't entirely confident of, but to this day, I have vivid memories of us typing "Dantooine" with crossed fingers and holding our breath.

The comms chatter, sound effects, dynamic cockpits (none of the previous Star Wars games I'd played had any kind of practical value to their cockpits) and ship models all support the kind of atmosphere presented in the films.

Coming from flight simulators like F/A-18 Interceptor and action dogfighting games like SkyChase and Wings, X-Wing felt like it ticked all the boxes for everything I ever wanted from a Star Wars flight sim. It had a level of interface complexity that was deep enough to make it feel involved, but shallow enough to not get in the way when a wing of TIE Advanced are on your tail.

I wasn't given much opportunity to play, but I was always happy to watch. There was something magical and above all else authentic about X-Wing that (to me at least) put it on-par with watching a dogfight sequence from one of the Star Wars films. For a few brief moments, I was Luke, I was Wedge, I was Biggs, and I tried my hardest to not be Porkins.

Years later, I would eventually own my own copies of X-Wing and discover the extent to which it attempted to flesh out the Star Wars universe and Rebel Alliance's narrative by exploring not only the events leading up to the destruction of the Death Star, but also through mission packs, the impact of the rebel presence on Yavin IV's discovery and the events leading up to the establishment of rebel base on Hoth. For the most part, these blank spots around the film's narratives were respectfully handled, and although X-Wing didn't push the kind of storytelling that its sequel TIE Fighter would, exploring the Star Wars universe in a way that's deeper than grazing or adapting what's covered in the films starts to open up the opportunity for giving the same sense of "discovery" that the films provide.

X-Wing's use of the iMUSE music system to create dynamic scores approximating the kind of cinematic work done by John Williams for the films did a fantastic job of keeping tension up and helping keep the Star Wars atmosphere ever present. Peter McConnel, Michael Z. Land and Clint Bajakian's work in expanding the musical vocabulary of the Star Wars universe's dogfight and combat music still impresses me to this day (although, it's hard to say how much of that is my current, more mature tastes, and how much is nostalgia - I do find to harder to enjoy re-renderings of the original MIDI music with modern synths/samples, so the latter is definitely at play to some extent).

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Tonal and aesthetic authenticity can carry a lot of weight
  • Star Wars music is amazing
  • Dynamic music can support atmosphere
  • Detail oriented interfaces support immersion
  • Exploring tangents to the film opens up opportunities for the same kind of "discovery" found in the films

Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995) (available on GOG)
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When I eventually got my first computer (that is, the first computer that was mine and mine alone), the first software purchase I made was the LucasArts Archives Volume II. It was Star Wars themed and released in the leadup to the 1997 Special Edition re-release of the original trilogy. The primary reason for my purchase was that it included Star Wars: Making Magic, a CD containing interviews and featurettes on the kind of work Lucasfilm and ILM were doing on the films.

I spent many hours pouring over that content, but it could realistically only go so far, and I eventually fell back to exploring the games it came with, and aside from TIE Fighter, the Dark Forces demo was probably the one that captivated me the most (at least until I got the full version with the LucasArts Archives Volume III the following year).

Rather than put the player in the events shown within a film or let the player fill a role explored by the film (eg: a rebel pilot in X-Wing), Dark Forces invited players to become Kyle Katarn, a former Stormtrooper turned mercenary working with the Rebel Alliance.

The game opens with Kyle infiltrating an Imperial facility on Danuta and retrieving the Death Star plans, and then proceeds to follow a narrative that is entirely separate from the films aside from a later mission that has Katarn rescuing defecting imperial officer Crix Madine, a character seen briefly in Return of the Jedi.

Weaving a story around events depicted in the film help anchor Dark Forces firmly around the Star Wars canon (a position that is likely to be compromised by Rogue One which at the time of writing has not yet been released), but also allow it to explore new ground while feeling tied to the Star Wars universe we know.

Dark Forces' plot centres around the development of a new type of battle droid called the "Dark Trooper" by Imperial General Rom Mohc. Through a series of seemingly unrelated missions, the player is exposed to a notion of what Kyle's mercenary life might be like before he is tasked with discovering more about the Dark Trooper project and confronting General Mohc.

Where X-Wing explores the question of "What would life as a rebel pilot like Luke or Wedge be like?," Dark Forces explores "What would life as a rogue like Han be like if he were a bit less smuggling oriented?" Katarn is clearly the protagonist of Dark Forces, but his role within and impact on the Star Wars universe as a whole is far more understated than Luke's is in the films. While Rookie One and the player's pilot in X-Wing (the only two preceding Star Wars games with any proper attempt at telling stories beyond the films) play prominent roles in pivotal events, Kyle's actions are in the background, but no less critical.

Herein lies some of the most fertile ground for storytelling in spin-off properties. It's no surprise to me that the first live action non-mainline Star Wars feature since 1985 (Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, the second in a pair of Star Wars films aimed at younger audiences centring around the adventures of a family crash landed on Endor prior to Return of the Jedi) explores a similar premise to the opening of Dark Forces.

Gameplay-wise, Dark Forces feels inspired by Doom, but its engine, the Jedi Engine, featured additional mechanics and functionality that were comparatively unexplored in the first person shooter (FPS) genre at the time of its release.

Most notably, the Jedi Engine allowed the player to look (and aim) up and down, and allowed level designers to create overlapping rooms necessary for true verticality - something the Doom engine (id Tech) was never capable of. To me, these two features compliment each other. The latter lets Dark Forces feature intricate environments, and the former gives players a way to better explore and appreciate them.

Dark Forces also had more intricate lock/key/switch mechanics than other FPS games of the time, and has often been celebrated for its "puzzles".

With new capabilites come new pitfalls though, and some of Dark Forces' levels feel a little obtuse and difficult to navigate when seen through the lens of modern design sensibilities. That said, I definitely loved the hell out of it at the time, and still find Dark Forces to be enjoyable and well constructed.

I won't say that first person games are inherently more immersive, but I do think they enable some things that make supporting a sense of presence easier. Being able to peek around corners to see marching Stormtroopers or jump through some blast doors guns blazing, and to be able to have the agency to control whether, when and how those actions happen was unprecedented. Being able to look around an Imperial facility with something approximating human eyes is a big thing - for the first time, Dark Forces offered the opportunity to "exist" within the Star Wars universe with the freedom and agency to move through and explore its environments.

Dark Forces also paid more attention to atmosphere than most of its contemporaries. Seeing burned skeletons ("Owens and Berus" as I tactfully called them in my youth) in the city streets as a light contingent of Imperial troops patrolled the burned out husks of buildings on Talay was eerie. Being dragged through Anoat City's sewage processing plant while fighting off dianogas was tense. Hearing nearby Dark Troopers through walls in the robotics facility on Anteevy was terrifying.

Like X-Wing, Dark Forces make use of the iMUSE system to create dynamic music cues that responded to the situations players found themselves in, with Clint Bajakian providing additional composition around John Williams' Star Wars score.

Dark Forces was the first FPS game that I truly "got into", and it will always remain special to me for that.

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Peripheral plot points are prime settings for independent/intersecting stories
  • Detailed environments can be compelling
  • Small people contributing to events that are bigger than them can feel meaningful
  • New stories that are compelling without being universe changing can be told if stakes and cataclysms fit within the background of the source material
  • Agency and control over movement in a first person environment can be powerful!
  • Problem solving can be rewarding and empowering


Star Wars: TIE Fighter (1994) (available on GOG)
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X-Wing put players in the shoes and seat of a rebel pilot and explored a continuation of what the films depicted of that role. While this allowed for new stories to be told and for Star Wars lore to be deepened, there was still a lot of possibility space left untouched both from a narrative and a structural perspective.

I'd need to spend more time with both games to have a solid opinion, but in my memory, X-Wing was limited by depicting the underdog in the Galactic Civil War (the conflict covered in the original trilogy). The Rebel Alliance could never gain a decisive upper hand without upsetting Star Wars continuity. Any major victory outside of those depicted in the films needed to be more or less immediately quashed, whether that was at the end of a mission or as part of out-of-mission narrative.

TIE Fighter on the other hand had range to explore the concentrated force of the Imperial Navy at its might as well as outmatched engagements featuring encounters with not only the Rebel Alliance, but also unaffiliated forces and even traitorous elements from within the Empire itself. The game takes place between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, where the Rebels have suffered a significant setback on Hoth, and the Empire is seeking to push its advantage by pursuing new combat technologies.

Presenting the Empire as a positive force for peace and order in the Galaxy, TIE Fighter casts the Star Wars universe in a new light never before seen in a game. Fan-favourite Thrawn from the Heir to the Empire trilogy (a series of then-recognised Expanded Universe novels by Timothy Zahn) features heavily in TIE Fighter, giving the game's plot a less overtly dark side oriented/evil figurehead. While the twin shadows of the Emperor and Darth Vader hang over the game, and plenty of dark overtones are at work within it, Thrawn's presence helps keep things relatable.

iMUSE is employed once again to deliver a dynamic soundtrack, focusing primarily on the original trilogy's darker themes but recomposed to deliver a more heroic tone in a major key, nicely supporting the game's alternative perspective.

TIE Fighter improves over almost every aspect of X-Wing (with the possible exception of the concourse - the Independence will always be more interesting and exciting to me!). Graphical improvements, improved targeting controls allowing components of enemy ships and structures to be targeted independently, and increases to the complexity of mission structures pushed the look and feel of TIE Fighter's gameplay ahead.

Between missions, in addition to the animated briefing map seen in X-Wing, players were able to discuss mission specifics with the Flight Officer via a point-and-click adventure style dialogue system. This allows for a little more characterisation and plot context beyond the minimalist briefing text. An additional character appears in the briefing room for certain missions, a representative from the Secret Order of the Empire who, through similar dialogue mechanics, reveals secondary objectives that the player can perform as a service to the Emperor.

TIE Fighter's approach to storytelling outside of cutscenes is fairly minimal, but the between mission dialogue and in-mission events contribute a lot to the sense of participating in a living, breathing universe. The development of new Imperial fighters across the course of the game's campaigns builds anticipation and rewards progress in a way that has tangible impact on gameplay.

At a time when I was looking to distance myself from some of the realities of my existence, TIE Fighter gave me something deep and rich to come home to. Although it wasn't the first game I immersed myself in (Another World might have that honour), it did allow me to reflect on the relationships between immersion and escapism, and to consider the risks and benefits of those as coping mechanisms.

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • New perspectives on underexplored characters/factions are ripe grounds for storytelling

  • In-gameplay storytelling is literally and figuratively so great

  • Pulling in storytelling mechanics from other genres can add depth that wouldn't otherwise be available

  • Taking the familiar and reconstituting it to make something new is what Star Wars is at its core!

  • Tonal and aesthetic authenticity can carry a lot of weight

  • Star Wars music is amazing

  • Dynamic music can support atmosphere

  • Detail oriented interfaces support immersion

  • Feeling part of a bigger universe can help give context within source materials

Star Wars: Rebel Assault (1993) (available on GOG)
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Image courtesy of MobyGames
Rebel Assault's history is an interesting tale of a throwaway project exceeding expectations. The story goes that designer Vince Lee was instructed without much in the way of direction or resources to make something that utilised CD-ROM hardware and was Star Wars themed. With a background as an Amiga user and developer, Lee borrowed inspiration from Cinemaware's approach to storytelling and cutscenes as well as the Amiga terrain generator Vista (which he had worked on). The result was the INSANE game engine and the FMV rail shooter Rebel Assault, which pushed the boundaries of what was possible with streaming audio/video.

Rather than reworking the original trilogy, which didn't have the kind of ratios and combinations of plot and action sequences that would fit best with Rebel Assault's format, the game tells a similar story following another rebel pilot known as Rookie One. Rookie One's journey begins with a training sequence on Tatooine, and a few chapters later throws canon out the window by having Rookie One participate in the Battle of Hoth before going on to personally destroy the Death Star from the original film.

In addition to sequences rendered from newly created 3D models and a few shots of original footage, Rebel Assault also features digitised footage and music from the original trilogy. Although it was still fairly low resolution and had some visual discrepancies between painted, rendered and live action footage, the game still manages to retain some stylistic coherency that is consistent with the films.

Having the score from the original trilogy present in the game in its original form (compression aside) was a first for Star Wars games. Although reusing them for new characters, settings and emotional beats undermines the Leitmotif oriented structure of Williams' work, it doesn't feel wrong in Rebel Assault and ends up emphasising different aspects of the tracks. Rebel Assault and its sequel allowed me to rediscover and appreciate the original trilogy's soundtracks in new ways.

Interestingly, Rebel Assault featured the option to play Rookie One as a male character or a female character, making it the first Star Wars game with any level of character customisation and also the first to offer a primary female protagonist (even if the default was male).

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Female characters can be compelling protagonists too

  • Symphonic recordings of Star Wars music are awesome

  • Trying to tell a new story can be bumpy

  • Polished experiences with new tech can be tricky

Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (1995) (available on GOG)
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Image courtesy of MobyGames
After the unexpected success of Rebel Assault, its sequel, Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire was given scope to push for higher production values. Improved compression (and presumably CD-ROM speeds) allowed for higher resolution video. In response to player feedback, controls and joystick support had also been tightened.

Unlike its predecessor, Rebel Assault II tells a story that is more or less independent from the original trilogy, following Rookie One's adventures as he investigates a distress call that puts him on the path of a new weapon that the empire is developing. Also unlike Rebel Assault, this game's story avoids overtly contradicting film canon.

This time around, the developers focused primarily on using live action performances, borrowing costumes and props from the film and recording what was the first Star Wars footage produced by a Lucasfilm company since Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.

Presumably to keep costs down or maybe to avoid possible controversy that might have surrounded a same-sex romantic relationship between Rookie One and Ru Murleen, only one set of Rookie One footage was shot, removing the gender selection option from the previous game and establishing Rookie One as being male.

Actors were filmed primarily on bluescreen sets with ship cockpits and environments being composited from pre-rendered 3D scenes. The acting is a little hit-and-miss, but aside from that (or maybe in-part because of that), Rebel Assault II carries a huge amount of Star Wars authenticity.

Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault II have copped a lot of flak over the years for having shallow gameplay, but to me, it feels like it has pretty broad range for a pair of rail shooters and most complaints seem to stem from expectations for something else rather than significant issues with the games themselves.

Both games do have difficulty spikes that may or may not be appreciated by players. I recall the Mining Tunnels chapter giving me a lot of trouble, but it felt really good to progress past once I got the hang of it.

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Canonical establishment of previously optional character traits can help conserve resources (but in this case, at the cost of something rare within Star Wars and its games)

  • Using source materials' production techniques (live actors, costumes, etc.) can add authenticity

  • Self-contained canon-friendly stories are exciting and can be accessible in more powerful ways to hardcore fans

Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002) (playable natively via OpenJK)
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To this day, I still can't look at Jedi Outcast without grumbling about it not carrying the Dark Forces name. That said, it clearly follows and expands upon the foundations set in Jedi Knight rather than the original game.

Jedi Outcast picks up after the events of the Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II expansion Mysteries of the Sith, with Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors doing mercenary work for the New Republic. Kyle has renounced the Force after his struggle with the "dark side" as depicted in Mysteries of the Sith.

Players are introduced to the game's FPS mechanics without access to lightsabers or the Force as they investigate an Imperial facility on Kejim that is reported to be abandoned. Kyle and Jan discover evidence of experiments on captured civilians involving crystals similar to those used in Jedi lightsabers. As the story progresses, Jan is kidnapped by Desaan, a former pupil of Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy turned to the "dark side", who is working with the Imperial Remnant.

Desaan orders Jan killed, driving Kyle to return to the Valley of the Jedi in an attempt to restore his Force abilities and seek revenge. Desaan follows him and gains access to the valley's power and uses it to create an army of artificial Force users called Reborn.

Continuing the Dark Forces tradition of moving beyond traditional FPS gameplay, Jedi Outcast requires players to solve puzzles, rewards exploration, and even offers some opportunities for optional (and often not clearly signaled) stealth gameplay.

If Jedi Knight was the Dark Forces series' Super Mario Bros 2, then Jedi Outcast is Super Mario Bros 3; an incarnation that builds on its predecessors with polish and refinement in a way that creates a solid identity for the series.

Raven Software helmed Jedi Outcast's development, bringing their extensive FPS experience to bear on the project. Jedi Outcast uses id Software's id Tech 3 engine, but manages to escape some of the Quake 3-esque feel that is present in Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force (Raven's previous game made with the same engine) and many other id Tech 3 games.

Lightsaber combat has been refined and expanded to include combos, the ability to throw a lightsaber as a ranged attack and three distinct lightsaber "stances" that expose different attack styles/speeds. The timing and range of lightsaber attacks feels more readable than in Jedi Knight, although whether an attack was blocked and the amount of damage done if it wasn't could often feel arbitrary (that said, many players have mastered it!).

The emergence of more modern FPS level design sensibilities can be seen in Jedi Outcast, with conscious layout, enemy placement and visual cues working to keep players on the right track. Although it can be hit and miss in some places, Jedi Outcast has more directed and readable levels that flow far better than Jedi Knight's.

In April 2013, Raven Software released source code on Sourceforge.net for both Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy to commemorate Disney's closure of LucasArts as a development studio. Shortly afterward, the Sourceforge repositories were removed, likely due to licencing issues of proprietary middleware that was included with the initial code drop. Although the original Sourceforge repositories no longer exist at all, it appears that they were restored at some point sans offending code.

While writing this article, I wanted to play through the early part of Jedi Outcast so that I could get a feel for how well my memory matched the game's pacing, and ended up accidentally playing through the entire game. So that I could take notes more easily, I made some modifications to OpenJK to add in a mousegrab toggle and disable muting on loss of focus.

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Easy-to-learn-hard-to-master mechanics are the best

  • Readability and feedback are important for making controls accessible

  • Combining and building on series' previous strengths is awesome

  • Problem solving can be rewarding and empowering

Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (2003) (playable natively via OpenJK)
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Image courtesy of MobyGames
Jedi Academy introduces Jaden Korr as a new playable character in the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series, giving players the opportunity to incrementally learn the Force and lightsaber mechanics without resorting to giving Kyle Katarn Force amnesia again. Having players take on the role of a new, unknown character also opens the door for Jedi Academy's customisation options, which allow for race, gender, clothing and lighsaber customisation.

This focus on customisation feels like it defines the expressive core that Raven were aiming for with Jedi Academy. Jedi Outcast's flowing narrative approach is replaced with a mission based structure that lets players approach most of the game non-linearly. At the beginning of each mission, players have the opportunity to select a limited starting loadout, which can be expanded by picking up weapons during the mission.

Jaden begins the game as a new student on his or her (Jedi Academy offers full voice acting for male and female variants) way to Luke's academy in the Massassi Temple on Yavin IV. While fending off the attention of an over-eager student named Rosh Penin, the transport carrying them falls under attack, stranding them in the moon's forest. Rosh and Jaden work together to overcome Stormtroopers on their way to the academy. Jaden is knocked unconscious upon discovering a dark Force user draining Force energies from the temple.

Rosh and Jaden are assigned as Kyle Katarn's pupils and during his training, Rosh exhibits reckless, thoughtless and competitive hallmarks of someone at risk of turning to the "Dark side" of the Force. Once initial training is complete, Jaden embarks on various missions to learn more about and hamper the operations of a mysterious Sith cult.

Following in Jedi Knight's footsteps, Jedi Academy allows players to allocate points toward Force abilities to control their own progression. Also like Jedi Knight, Jedi Academy features divergent "light path" and "dark path" endings, though Academy uses conscious player choice at a deciding moment rather than cumulative player actions to determine which path, and pushes a philosophical notion that the abilities themselves aren't good or evil, it's how they are wielded.

Jedi Academy's levels feel like they offer a good diversity of gameplay, mixing conventional and non-conventional design. Academy embraces and expands upon the brief vehicle sections in Jedi Outcast and revisits a bunch of iconic Star Wars locations.

For better or worse Jedi Academy's levels lack a lot of the challenge and thoughtful puzzle content that I feel has defined the series. Whether that's a factor of having force powers and a lightsaber accessible from the outset, of level design that favours groupings of weak enemies ripe for lightsaber slaughter, or of not being certain of what force levels players will be at, Jedi Academy feels for the most part like it's comparatively easy to breeze through. This is fun at first, but combined with the game not having much continuity between non-linear missions often makes it hard to feel invested in what's going on, which is a shame because all of the agency afforded through customisation options and mission selection feel like they should allow players to feel more connected with Jaden and his or her actions.

All up, Jedi Academy is an enjoyable game, but it doesn't resonate as well as its predecessors.

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Avatar customisation is great

  • Agency with choosing how to approach stuff is great

  • Fragmented narratives can be hard to pull off in a resonant fashion

  • Puzzles and thoughtful challenges feel like an important part of the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II (2004) (available on Steam)
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Image courtesy of MobyGames
I have to humbly admit that I've not actually played KotOR II. It's still on my to-play list (doubly so now that thanks to Aspyr, we have an officially published Linux version), so in lieu of some words and thoughts about this one, here's what I had to day about the original Knights of the Old Republic game (pictured above).

I first started playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) as I was recovering from a repetitive strain injury that cost me the use of my hands for an extended period. I felt like I needed something that I could approach casually that wouldn't be too reflex oriented and would still be accessible if I needed to take breaks. KotOR ended up being a good fit.

Building on the world constructed in the Tales of the Jedi comic book series set four thousand years before the Original Trilogy allowed KotOR to explore Star Wars style and tropes without being bound by or subject to baggage from any other contemporary (so far as in-fiction timelines are concerned) Star Wars media, and makes for something that feels both new and familiar.

Star Wars feels like such a natural fit for RPG style character progression, but surprisingly, KotOR was the first licenced computer roleplaying game to use the Star Wars IP. The prehistory of the Star Wars galaxy provides an intricate and sprawling backdrop for KotOR's main storyline, which revolves around Sith Master Darth Malak. A former pupil of the Dark Lord Revan, Malak betrayed his master, and rose up to conquer the galaxy with a Sith armada.

The plot that unfolds feels both personal and epic, with the galaxy at stake and the player's amnesiac character's identity revealed along the way. Similar to (though more nuanced than) Jedi Knight, players' individual actions in KotOR influence the light or dark alignment of their character.

KotOR carries an air of mystery and adventure that resonates across its duration. Exploration, interesting characters and a masterfully executed story arc are the aspects that I enjoyed the most.

What's interesting about this as a Star Wars game?

  • Character oriented stories that allow room for player customisation are super cool when executed well

  • Star Wars prehistory opens up one avenue to the elusive "new yet familiar" aspect of the original films

  • Exploration is great

Over the past couple of years, it's been wonderful to share some of my favourite Star Wars games with my fellow Linux users - both those who're coming back to games from their childhoods, and those who're discovering them for the first time. I'd love to hear any memories or stories that readers would like to share about their experiences with Star Wars games.

What are your favourite Star Wars games and which ones would you like to see available on Linux?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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About the author -
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Game developer, Linux helper person, and independent writer/interviewer.

Currently working on Winter's Wake, a first person text adventure thing and its engine Icicle. Also making a little bee themed base builder called Hive Time

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19 comments
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Cheeseness 25 March 2017 at 8:24 am UTC
thelimeydragon
Cheeseness
thelimeydragonI have a copy of what could be claimed to be the first "Star Wars" game. Although it is not officially licensed. Was made in 1978 for the RCA Studio II clones (bit more to it than that but that's a whole other topic). It's very to extremely rare.. but you're not missing out on much.

Ah yeah, I'm aware of that one! I've been having trouble getting solid confirmation of whether or not it's licenced though.


I am 99.99% certain it's not licensed. All paperwork I've seen that's included with copies has 0 mention of LucasArts or any trademarks.
LucasArts didn't exist at the time (it'd be founded as Lucasfilm Games four years later). Feels like it would've had Lucasfilm branding on it somewhere if it were licenced though!

thelimeydragonAcademy Apollo 80 version:
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Nice!
Cheeseness 25 March 2017 at 8:37 am UTC
Hamish
CheesenessJedi Outcast uses id Software's id Tech 3 engine, but manages to escape some of the Quake 3-esque feel that is present in Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force (Raven's previous game made with the same engine) and many other id Tech 3 games.
You make that sound like it is a good thing.

I recall disliking a lot about Jedi Outcast when I first played it following the source code release in 2013, and actually enjoying Jedi Academy more than it, but I am having trouble remembering what my specific complaints were other than taking exception to a lot of the game's story elements. I guess I would need to play it again to see what exactly got my blood boiling the first time around.

That said, in my mind Elite Force still holds up as the best franchise game I have ever played period, and I also grew up playing Dark Forces II, so a lot of my coldness to Jedi Outcast could just have been due to it wilting under the pressure of being compared to those two games.

As for the original Dark Forces though, talk to me again if or when the XL Engine comes out. Not being able to save within levels is simply unreasonable, and was so even at the time of the game's release.

Those are fair feelings, I suppose. Dark Forces is hard to come back to if you're used to games that let you save mid-level. It was my first FPS game and I didn't come at it with any expectations or baggage, so it's easier for me to overlook that sort of thing. That said, I'm super looking forward to Dark XL's Linux release!

Elite Force was a pretty good, but distractingly Quake3-ish for me. I think there's just something about controls built for an arena shooter that make it harder to appreciate a flowing first person narrative - at the very least though, it wouldn't have been the right choice for Jedi Outcast, which was a sequel to an existing franchise with its own sensibilities and identity.

It wasn't really until I came back to re-play it while researching for my article that I came to appreciate how much effort was put into giving it a good sense of flow and riffing on some of Dark Forces' and Jedi Knight's respective styles.

So far as story goes, Jedi Outcast feels a lot more solid to me than Jedi Academy (which I thought was kinda weak and plodding). I'm not really a fan of the whole artificial-force-user thing as I mentioned in my article, and there's a lot about all four of the Jedi-oriented installments of the series that fall into the trap of the kind of stuff which eventually lead to the kind of nonsense that is The Force Unleashed. From the Reflections section of the article:

QuoteThe use of the Force and representations of Force powers can be a double edged sword. This feels most dramatically highlighted in The Force Unleashed, but even going as far back as the first game to feature an original Force wielding character, the way that Jedi Knight introduced a slew of powerful force wielding characters whose origins have been retconned into Prequel Trilogy era history was unsettling to me.

For better or worse, no Star Wars games that I have played have ever treated the Force with the minimalism seen in the original trilogy, nor the level of exertion required to use it (raising Luke's X-wing from the swamp in Dagobah is shown to be taxing even for Yoda). The upshot of this is that players are typically given access to an array of increasingly impressive abilities that can be used frequently and without consequence.

The obvious solution to giving players god-like abilities is to create god-like adversaries for them, and the result is a sort of game design arms race that, to me, feels like it often leads developers away from embracing the worldbuiding and detail that makes the Star Wars universe interesting.

Force capable adversaries typically take one of three forms, all of which have been explored by the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games: A previously unheard of Force user emerges (Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II); A new Force user abandons their training (Jedi Outcast: Jedi Knight II, Jedi Academy); Someone develops Force-using or Force-resistant technology (Dark Forces). The amount of times these tropes have been used across Star Wars games and literature gives the impression that the Star Wars universe is populated by former Sith Lords politely waiting their turn to throw off their disguises, that nobody who trains Jedi ever learns from their mistakes, and that the science behind the Force should be well understood enough that it should be accessible to and counterable by anybody.

Beyond making it difficult to harmonise with canon, this isn't problematic in itself, and I have a hard time denying that grabbing a Stormtrooper and using it to bop other Stormtroopers off ledges can be a bunch of fun. It does, however, create a problem in making players powerful beyond any non-Force related challenges and removing any sense of interesting choice when deciding how to handle those challenges.

Would be super interested to hear your thoughts on Jedi Outcast after a re-play!
Cheeseness 25 March 2017 at 9:01 am UTC
KetilEp 1-3 has continuity issues with the original triology.
My favourite one above all the others is that for some reason Ben's desert hobo clothes become official Jedi garb


KetilThe story of KOTOR is great, but I haven't finished playing it yet, I am afraid to do a mistake that makes the end game fights hard, and because I have not finished KOTOR I haven't started on KOTOR 2 yet either.
My advice would be to stick with it and push through. Do the best you can and eat the consequences of your actions - just like Luke did in Empire


KetilI would love a telltale like star wars game, or a point of click game in lucas arts 2D style. Obviously without the silliness of Monkey Island, and either stay out of the heat of the combat, or allowing allowing death and game over if the situation requires it.

That's something I touched on in the final The Ideal Star Wars Game section of my article.
QuoteThough there have been Star Wars games with strong narratives, I'm hard pressed to think of any that are as narratively focused as LucasArts' adventure games were. When I was younger, it always surprised me that LucasArts had never made a The Secret of Monkey Island or Indiana Jones And The Fate of Atlantis-esque adventure game set in the Star Wars universe. Today, I think I understand that when the opportunity to actually make Star Wars games arose, the people driving the adventure game genre at LucasArts - people like Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer - were more interested in inventing their own worlds than finding ways to tell stories inside of George Lucas'.

QuoteConsequences are something rarely touched on in Star Wars games, and when they are, it always comes down to morally positive or negative actions determining whether a character finds themselves on the light or dark side of the Force. To me, there are far more interesting experiences and stories to be found when examining less black and white outcomes from the best decisions that people can make at the time. When Luke takes fear and aggression into his test on Dagobah, he is met with a confronting vision of himself as Darth Vader, and when he rushes to rescue his friends on Bespin, the outcomes are damaging for him and the future of the galaxy. At the end of the second act in Star Wars, Obi-Wan chooses to sacrifice himself in pursuit of positive outcomes. So far, I know of no Star Wars game that allows players to choose make their own sacrifices for meaningful outcomes (holding a point in Battlefront so that your teammates can fulfill an objective might come close, but sacrifices in emergent stories are a different kettle of fish, I think).

When touching on some hypothetical games that I think would mesh well with and embrace a lot of what makes Star Wars cool, I included a both a traditional point and click adventure that would've been darker than most of LucasArts' adventures were (IIRC all the Indiana Jones adventure games let you die!) and something in the style of Telltale's more recent works.
Quote* A character oriented adventure game set prior to Star Wars about a Jedi in hiding trying to integrate with the local populace on a core world. Build relationships, participate in a community harassed by pirates and slavers. Avoid using the Force or risk endangering the lives of those around you and your own discovery by the Empire.
Quote* A traditional point and click adventure that explored the origins and intersecting relationships of the six bounty hunters recruited by Darth Vader in the Empire Strikes back. Explore Star Wars locations and characters as never before, using wits, stealth and brawn to take down your marks and collect your bounties.


You might also be interested to learn about Han Solo Adventures project, an attempt to make a LucasArts style point and click adventure focus on Han Solo by Jack Huston And The Necronauts developer Stacy Davidson. Paradigm. developer Jacob Janerka also did a little mock-up of a Han Solo point and click adventure a few years back.

I don't think that Jacob has any intentions of pursuing his thing, but Stacy still works on Han Solo Adventures on-and off alongside Jack Huston and sometimes streams it. You can see in-engine footage in Star Wars Uncut at 49:56.


Last edited by Cheeseness on 25 March 2017 at 9:04 am UTC
Perkeleen_Vittupää 25 March 2017 at 10:53 am UTC
One of those rare long articles i read word to word, man. These games have a special place in my heart. Those golden days of Lucasarts! X-Wing is one of the hardest (and best) games ever made.

Dark Forces was above Doom in every way and holds the most precious memories in FPS for me too.

Hopefully Topware or some other instance one day makes Linux ports of Rogue Squadron, Star Wars Episode I: Racer, Starfighter, X-Wing Alliance...
ReveArek 25 March 2017 at 2:56 pm UTC
XL-Engine for Dark Forces is avilable on github https://github.com/luciusDXL/XL-Engine
I was eable to build it on ubuntu 16.04 but get Segmentation fault when try to run game.

Theres another engine for Jedi Knight Dark Forces II at https://github.com/jdmclark/gorc/branches
It's not playeable jet, but allows walk through levels.

There shall be some petition to Aspyr for KOTOR1. Most wanted game for my on Linux.
The_Aquabat 25 March 2017 at 5:18 pm UTC
I remember playing the empire strikes back at my gameboy. It was lame you where some kind of joshi supermario bad copy never actually played that much, awful game. It deserves to be in the podium of the worst star wars games ever.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsMQb52GzVE


Last edited by The_Aquabat on 25 March 2017 at 5:45 pm UTC
Hamish 25 March 2017 at 5:58 pm UTC
CheesenessThose are fair feelings, I suppose. Dark Forces is hard to come back to if you're used to games that let you save mid-level. It was my first FPS game and I didn't come at it with any expectations or baggage, so it's easier for me to overlook that sort of thing. That said, I'm super looking forward to Dark XL's Linux release!
And in my case Dark Forces is one of the few FPS games of that era I have not played, having grown up on Doom and Duke Nukem 3D and then later falling in love with Blood, and I am not even that huge a Star Wars fan to begin with, so it is harder for me to approach it with the same mindset. As I said though I did play Dark Forces II a lot when I was younger as we got it for Christmas one year, so that one does curry special favour with me.

CheesenessElite Force was a pretty good, but distractingly Quake3-ish for me. I think there's just something about controls built for an arena shooter that make it harder to appreciate a flowing first person narrative - at the very least though, it wouldn't have been the right choice for Jedi Outcast, which was a sequel to an existing franchise with its own sensibilities and identity.
Granted I also love Quake III to death which might make me biased here, but I do recall often getting frustrated while playing Jedi Outcast, and would have liked something as solid as Quake III's controls. Smooth navigation and solid gunplay have always been very important to me, and for whatever reason they did not really click with me in Jedi Outcast. But again, any analysis on my part is hampered by my not fully remembering what it was about the game that bothered me.

CheesenessSo far as story goes, Jedi Outcast feels a lot more solid to me than Jedi Academy (which I thought was kinda weak and plodding). I'm not really a fan of the whole artificial-force-user thing as I mentioned in my article, and there's a lot about all four of the Jedi-oriented installments of the series that fall into the trap of the kind of stuff which eventually lead to the kind of nonsense that is The Force Unleashed.
Academy's plot was nothing special, but I did like the branching mission structure it had. I do agree with you about the Reborn though, and I recall they were a lot of the reason why I did not like the plot. In Dark Forces II the powers of the Valley of the Jedi were left vague enough that you could read what you liked into them, while in Jedi Outcast it is shown creating a bunch of force wielding doofuses that can be killed by falling off a ledge. Defeating Jerec seemed important, while I just could never take Desaan seriously. I also found myself cringing at the Luke and Lando fan service in the game at the time. Of course Katarn would be good friends with both of them...

CheesenessWould be super interested to hear your thoughts on Jedi Outcast after a re-play!
Well, I am sure I will come back to it one day, if only to keep myself from talking through my hat about it like I have been doing here. ;)


Last edited by Hamish on 25 March 2017 at 5:58 pm UTC
Shmerl 26 March 2017 at 2:00 am UTC
KetilThe story of KOTOR is great, but I haven't finished playing it yet, I am afraid to do a mistake that makes the end game fights hard, and because I have not finished KOTOR I haven't started on KOTOR 2 yet either. I would love a telltale like star wars game, or a point of click game in lucas arts 2D style. Obviously without the silliness of Monkey Island, and either stay out of the heat of the combat, or allowing allowing death and game over if the situation requires it.

KoTOR isn't that hard, but you need to put some thought in your character build to progress more efficiently. I usually prefer to pick a scoundrel class and ignore blasters. Just invest in melee until you become a Jedi. But you should be able to progress with any build.

I like how KoTOR allows various branching, and they really did a good job covering them. Some you never see, unless you made something really weird. For example, who would lose to Deadeye Duncan?

Spoiler, click me

It has a lot of other comical moments


Last edited by Shmerl on 26 March 2017 at 2:12 am UTC
Cheeseness 26 March 2017 at 1:16 pm UTC
Perkeleen_VittupääOne of those rare long articles i read word to word, man. These games have a special place in my heart.
Thanks for reading. Glad to hear you got something out of it!

Perkeleen_VittupääHopefully Topware or some other instance one day makes Linux ports of Rogue Squadron, Star Wars Episode I: Racer, Starfighter, X-Wing Alliance...
If you weren't aware, there was an attempt a while back at doing a licenced remake of X-Wing vs TIE by Australian game dev studio Transmission Games. Unfortunately things didn't work out, though.

Hamish
CheesenessElite Force was a pretty good, but distractingly Quake3-ish for me. I think there's just something about controls built for an arena shooter that make it harder to appreciate a flowing first person narrative - at the very least though, it wouldn't have been the right choice for Jedi Outcast, which was a sequel to an existing franchise with its own sensibilities and identity.
Granted I also love Quake III to death which might make me biased here, but I do recall often getting frustrated while playing Jedi Outcast, and would have liked something as solid as Quake III's controls. Smooth navigation and solid gunplay have always been very important to me, and for whatever reason they did not really click with me in Jedi Outcast. But again, any analysis on my part is hampered by my not fully remembering what it was about the game that bothered me.
Don't get my wrong. I love Q3A (and Elite Force). I just don't feel that the kind of movement and weapon mechanics are a good fit for the kind of games that the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games are, and tend to be a little too twitchy for my tastes in narrative based FPS games.

Hamish
CheesenessSo far as story goes, Jedi Outcast feels a lot more solid to me than Jedi Academy (which I thought was kinda weak and plodding). I'm not really a fan of the whole artificial-force-user thing as I mentioned in my article, and there's a lot about all four of the Jedi-oriented installments of the series that fall into the trap of the kind of stuff which eventually lead to the kind of nonsense that is The Force Unleashed.
Academy's plot was nothing special, but I did like the branching mission structure it had. I do agree with you about the Reborn though, and I recall they were a lot of the reason why I did not like the plot. In Dark Forces II the powers of the Valley of the Jedi were left vague enough that you could read what you liked into them, while in Jedi Outcast it is shown creating a bunch of force wielding doofuses that can be killed by falling off a ledge. Defeating Jerec seemed important, while I just could never take Desaan seriously. I also found myself cringing at the Luke and Lando fan service in the game at the time. Of course Katarn would be good friends with both of them...
Ha ha, yeah. It does get a bit overboard in parts, but I think it's reasonable to portray Katarn and Luke as having crossed paths if they're both active force users associated with the Rebel Alliance. Still, the stronger actor performances in Jedi Outcast make its plot a lot easier to absorb/get into than Jedi Knight's (love it, but it's acting feels like it drags the rest of the game down a bit).
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