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Celebration Anaheim 2015: Star Wars: Battlefront Media Preview

Posted by Eric on April 17, 2015 at 12:30 PM CST

Electronic Arts gave journalists a special preview of its upcoming game Star Wars: Battlefront at Celebration Anaheim on Thursday, April 16. The contents of the demo were embargoed until 10:30 a.m. PT, when EA is set to host a public Battlefront panel at Celebration.

Photos were not permitted inside the demo area, but stand by for TFN's report on the public panel, where EA is sure to display many of the images that journalists saw.

The private demo took place in EA's booth in the Celebration Exhibit Hall, in a circular room that was designed to resemble the Rebel briefing room from Return of the Jedi. The demo was a pre-alpha version of live gameplay on a PlayStation 4. Journalists were shown a multiplayer session on Endor, with the player controlling a rebel fighter. In addition to the standard primary and secondary weapons, the player could also wield a third item that appeared to be a shield generator.

In contrast to preview Battlefront games, EA's new title feels much more in line with other modern first- and third-person shooters. (And indeed, you can switch modes freely as 2005's Battlefront II.) The players had names above their heads, the rifle scope feature is more advanced, and there are explicit bonus points for certain actions, like a kill streak, significant damage, and (if wielding a sniper rifle) a headshot. There is also a "nemesis bonus," though it's unclear how that works. Later in the demo, the player destroyed an Imperial speeder bike, yielding a speeder destruction bonus.

The rebels were holding their own against a group of stormtroopers when an AT-ST showed up. One rocket from a heavy artillery trooper took out the AT-ST, which is impressive considering it took several rockets to down AT-STs in previous games. The sniper appeared to wield a much more interesting energy cannon-type weapon than Battlefront II's sniper rifle. There was an obligatory Wilhelm scream as one of the stormtroopers died.

When an AT-AT appeared, it presented more serious trouble for the rebels. The player character ran over to a satellite uplink station and interacted with it, calling in a strike from Y-wing bombers. When the bombers flew their sortie, the AT-AT's head exploded from multiple bomb blasts, and the walker fell over, defeated.

In Battlefront II, players could enter the Endor bunker, but they couldn't go very far. That appears to be different here. The new game spots a fully developed bunker through which the player can travel. In the demo, the Rebels sealed off the bunker to evade capture by Imperial forces. As MSE droids scurried through the halls, the Rebels crept along, hoping they were safe. Unfortunately for them, the demo ended with the appearance of Darth Vader, who Force choked a Rebel soldier before slashing into the player character as the game cut to black.

This game mode, journalists were later told, was known as "walker assault mode."

Journalists then heard from Douglas Reilly, Lucasfilm's Director of Franchise Management, who explained that the company granted developers from EA's DICE studio special access to the vaunted Lucasfilm Archives, where they were able to inspect and photograph all manner of props and costumes.

Niklas Feragus, the design director at DICE, explained the importance of this special access. Using a technique called photogrammetry, DICE was able to translate their photographs from Archives into 3D models of the starships, weapons, and uniforms that were in the Archives. This resulted in the game models having a higher level of accuracy than in any previous Star Wars game, down to the scratches on the original ship models. Journalists were shown a video that compared photos from the Archives with game models. The stunning detail was particularly noticeable on the in-game models of a stormtrooper, a Mon Calamari, Han Solo's DL-44 pistol, and X-wing.

DICE's artists also traveled to film sites in places like Finse, Norway, and Death Valley, California, photographing the locations that served as planets in the Star Wars saga. Using DICE's proprietary Frostbite engine and its physically based rendering (PBR) technology, they converted these photographs into a fully immersive in-game environment, essentially transforming 2D images from the former movie sets into gaming landscapes that carried the look and feel of the movies.

Battlefront will be the first game to feature the Dolby Atmos sound system. In a comparison video featuring stereo, surround-sound, and Dolby Atmos audio, the difference was definitely noticeable.

"Battlefront will deliver the most authentic visual and audio experience," Feragus said.

Feragus also said that his team was composed of diehard Star Wars fans. He showed parts of the E3 2014 trailer, in which DICE developers are seen discussing Star Wars and walking through the Archives. His team's goal, he said, was to build a Star Wars experience that players could customize to their liking. He showed a picture of his boss' daughter playing with an AT-ST and action figures, and said DICE wanted all fans to be able to drop into this game and imagine stories like she was doing.

Feragus continually stressed the importance of fans being able to create their own stories in the new Battlefront. There are single-player, online multiplayer and offline split-screen modes. Bonus points allow players to unlock powers and eventually play as heroes and villains. In multiplayer mode, players can share their unlocked powers with their fellow gamers, avoiding the need for everyone to be "on the same page" with respect to what they've unlocked.

EA announced that Star Wars: Battlefront will be released on November 17, 2015. Just one month later, The Force Awakens hits theaters, and EA will make sure fans are ready with free DLC that includes a level based on a major part of the movie: the Battle of Jakku.

Fans will remember that director J.J. Abrams confirmed in Thursday's TFA panel that the sand planet seen in the first teaser trailer was not Tatooine, but rather a new world called Jakku. The aftermath of the Battle of Jakku can be seen in the second teaser trailer, which shows a ruined Star Destroyer and crashed X-wing.

The TFA tie-in DLC will be available for free to all Battlefront players on December 8. Anyone who pre-orders the game will get the DLC on December 1.

EA concluded its media presentation with a sneak peek of its Celebration reveal trailer, which ended with the Millennium Falcon shooting at TIE fighters on a snowy planet.

Stay tuned to TFN for more coverage of Star Wars: Battlefront from Star Wars Celebration.

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