In honor of the upcoming movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and the recent release of the PlayStation Virtual Reality headset, EA will release a VR-only add-on for the PlayStation 4 version of Star Wars Battlefront called Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission on December 6th (the same day the Rogue One: Scarif add-on is released for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC editions of Star Wars Battlefront).
Developed by Criterion Games, this single-player mission casts you as a rookie Rebel pilot who flies their X-Wing into battle against The Empire in a mission that’s set around the time of, and narratively connected to, the movie. It even features an appearance by a certain someone from the film. Best of all, this short but super sweet add-on will be free. Well, assuming you own the PlayStation 4 version of Star Wars Battlefront. And a PSVR system. And you ask nicely.
In anticipation of the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission‘s imminent release, EA invited some journalists (myself included) to their Los Angeles offices to play through the mission and then chat with Criterion Games’ Designer John Stanley and Art Director Kieran Crimmins.
Whose idea was it to do a Star Wars VR game in which you’re flying an X-Wing into a space battle with TIE Fighters?
Crimmins: It’s hard to point to a single moment when that happened. Criterion’s heritage is in spectacular vehicle experience: The Need For Speed games [including Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and Need For Speed: Rivals], the Burnout games [Burnout Paradise, Burnout: Crash]. But there are also a bunch of VR enthusiasts in our office. So we wanted to combine our love of vehicle action and VR, and doing a VR game with an X-Wing just made sense. Especially since, at the time, we were already working on the speeder bike mission for Star Wars Battlefront.
What about the story in the game, the reason you’re dogfighting with TIE Fighters and the other stuff that happens, where did that come from?
Crimmins: That came from us experimenting with VR in the office. We looked at those ideas and basically cherry picked all the things we wanted to do in our game. We then took that to EA and to LucasFilm and told them what we wanted to do, and they said, “Okay, cool, but can you change this bit and add this bit and do this bit.”
Okay, so you went to them and said, “We want to do a VR game where you’re an X-Wing pilot,” and they said, “Okay, but we want it set during the time of Rogue One, and we want this to happen in it”?
Crimmins: It was a lot freer than that.
Stanley: Yeah, as we said, we already knew them from when we did the Speeder Bike mission for the game.
Crimmins: Right. It was more like we batted around ideas with them, we had a bunch of different options, and eventually agreed on the idea that we all thought was the most exciting.
So then was the story or the dialog written by anyone who worked on the movie?
Stanley: No, it was written by Chris Remo, who co-wrote Firewatch, and Nick Breckon, who co-wrote The Walking Dead game, the Telltale one. Though we also worked with the Lucasfilm Story Group. Our heritage isn’t in narrative, but this really allowed us to spread our wings in that realm. It’s something we want to do more.
In the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, you can play as either a female pilot or a male, though both are human. Is there any difference between them?
Stanley: No. The voice actors or different, obviously, but the game itself is the same.
Missions in Star Wars Battlefront are set in the same areas as the multiplayer missions. Is there a reason why there isn’t a multiplayer version of the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission?
Stanley: We really wanted to focus on making this an exceptional VR game, something with a great story as well as the action. Bringing multiplayer into it would’ve…not dilute the experience, but it would’ve prevented us from doing the story aspect of it that we wanted to include.
Now, people who don’t own a PSVR helmet, or who own Star Wars Battlefront on Xbox One or PC, are going to hate you for not releasing a non-VR version of the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission. Why aren’t you?
Stanley: Because it was built as a VR experience from the ground up. There’s things in the game you couldn’t do if it wasn’t in VR. As you saw when you played the game, you can hold the left trigger to track an enemy target. But in this version of the game, you can track a TIE Fighter even if it’s on the side of your ship or above you. Which, obviously, is something that doesn’t work if you’re playing on a flat screen.
Does that mean if Microsoft dumped a bucket of money on your doorstep and asked you to make a non-VR version of this for Xbox One, it would require a lot of work?
Crimmins: We’d have to redo it from the ground up to make it work as good as it does. One of the things we tried really hard to do was make the controls work as well as they do in the regular game. We also had to rebuild all of the audio as well. So it wouldn’t make any sense to try and convert the VR version into a flat screen game, it would be easier just to redo the whole thing.
Stanley: The biggest thing we learned from doing this game is that if you want a really good experience in VR you can’t just take a flat screen game and port it to VR.
So if you were making a new Need For Speed, and EA said they wanted you to make a VR version of it as well…
Stanley: …we’d have to do a separate version of the game.
Crimmins: It’s just because the language is so different. It’s kind of like how, when mobile games started, and there were a bunch of games ported over, but they were really clunky. But then, when people made games specifically for mobile, and they utilized what was unique about those systems, they worked a lot better.
Stanley: Your theater analogy works rather well.
Crimmins: I’ve said that it’s kind of like the difference between seeing a traditional play and seeing a play at an experimental theater.
Oh, right, because in a regular play, you face the stage, while in experimental theater, they sometimes use the entire theater as the stage.
Stanley: Yeah. While you might have some action in the front of the ship that you want the player to see, they could just as easily be looking to the side or behind them, and you have to take that into account.
Crimmins: Yeah, that theater analogy was something I said a lot while we were making that game. We’re really hot on using the language of cinema, it’s something we use quite a lot. But we couldn’t use that when making this game since you don’t play it on a flat screen, so we had to find a different way, and experimental theater was the best source of knowledge we had for a VR experience. The language hasn’t really been created for VR, it’s so new, but experimental theater has been around for a long time.
Finally, having done this game, I’m sure you have a lot of ideas for other VR Missions, either for this game or for its sequel. But I assume you don’t have anything official to say at this time, right?
Stanley: No, we’ve just been focused on this mission. We also want to see how the fan react to it, and see what they have to say about it. Though we did learn a lot making it, and would love to see what comes next.