It seems like handheld shooter fans should have had their fill of Star Wars games. Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron is the third entry for the series on PSP. As an online extension to issue 200 we had developer Rebellion’s Andrew Bell and Pat Alvarado talk about the new features in the game, how the team played with the control scheme for the PSP, and Elite’s more involved storyline.

Can you explain some of the new features in Elite Squadron?

Um, this one is going to be big. There are really three key new features for Elite Squadron. The first is the all-new connected Battlefront. On the PSP, what this means is that players are no longer separated when they play ground or space missions. The layers of battle are now connected into one epic battle. It’s an awesome experience where players can now fight on the ground, commandeer a starship, transition into space, then continue the fight in space or actually board and battle one of the giant capital ships. Also, what you do on one layer of combat can affect the outcome of battle on the other. It’s all connected. For DS players, you’re going to experience the same connected battles, but the execution plays out in the single-player story campaign and will progress from one layer of battle to the next as you complete missions. You’ll also be able to battle up to four players via local Wi-Fi and choose the layer of battle you want to fight. It’s definitely an awesome experience as well.

Secondly, we’ve introduced an original story campaign that is shared between both the PSP and DS versions. It’s definitely the most engaging of all the Battlefront titles. Players will take on the role of an Elite Clone Trooper who struggles with his own path to the light or dark side of the Force. It’s epic in scope as well and actually spans the entire Star Wars Saga and beyond.

Finally, both platforms have loads of additional features that really maximize their pick-up-and-play action. For instance, on the PSP, we’ve gone back and really blown out all of the features players have come to know and expect from Battlefront. There’s increased character and weapons customization, hundreds of new unlockable achievements including weapons, armor, insignias, alien specie, etc., new Force power and vehicle functionality, new heavy weapons like the Ion Cannon and Orbital Strike, plus new heroes and villains, and new planets like Vjun, home to Darth Vader’s secret castle. The Galactic Conquest game has also been enhanced, which is something players of Renegade Squadron will really appreciate.

The DS offers exciting features as well, like unique class-based gameplay where you’ll be able to choose between four unique character classes during battle to use their unique abilities and powers to overcome obstacles and complete objectives. The DS also offers four-player adhoc multiplayer, a kick ass heroes and villains mode, plus eleven worlds to battle across, each with ground, space and capital ship layers of battle. In short, both games are packed.

It’s always got to be hard to squeeze shooter controls onto the PSP. Did you guys talk about playing around with Elite Squadron’s controls during development?

Absolutely. Taking the lessons learned from Renegade Squadron, we wanted to tune the controls and allow players to choose between the classic Battlefront II layout and the Battlefront: Renegade Squadron style of controls, and modify the sensitivity of their movements. One change in particular that worked well is the scaled auto-aiming to the difficulty settings. For those new to the franchise you’ll get a little more help, but for the more hardcore players they can let their skills do the talking.

Space battles were in the last game; they were just a separate game mode. Was it always the plan to mix the two in a single mode? Or was that something you guys thought of for this game?

It was always something we’d wanted to do and it’s definitely something the fans had asked for. We honestly didn’t know if the concept would work on the PSP, but the team at Rebellion knocked it out of the park. The battles used to be big, but now they’re enormous. Imagine yourself in a 16-player multiplayer battle where you’ve got team members on the ground, in space and on board capital ships. It’s an epic experience and executed in a way that players still feel connected to one another, and part of the same battle working as a team. It’s awesome.

Seems like it might have been hard to balance the game for these multiple levels of combat. Did you find this difficult?

By no means was this easy. The key to multi-layered battlefronts is freedom to play the game however you want. From dogfights in space or in the air, capital ship boarding parties, or the classic ground skirmishes you will have the opportunity to secure victory for your faction. The wildcards are the Orbital Strike Cannon and the Ion Cannon. These massive weapons can turn the tide of battle for either team at any time and change the focus from the ground to the capital ships and vice versa.

This battlefront has a more involved storyline than the previous games. Who helped come up with the plot?

This original story came through collaboration of LucasArts, LucasFilm and our development partners abroad. The idea of exploring two brothers torn apart by the light and dark sides of the force was clearly an intriguing idea from the start and was exciting to watch the gameplay form around that concept.

How do you guys go about deciding which new maps to include in the game?

When choosing where to stage these epic battles, we ask ourselves two questions: What are the classic battles that everyone familiar with Star Wars will expect and want to play? And how can we explore the Star Wars universe in new and cool ways that help tell our story? What you will find in Elite Squadron are the classic battles from the original trilogy (Yavin IV, Endor, the Death Star, and Hoth) as well as all new planets such as Dantooine, Cato Nemodia, and Vjun.

The Galactic Conquest mode is a cool little addition to the game, but it seems a little strange to mix a strategy game into a shooter. How did that mode get tied into this series?

At its core, Elite Squadron is a “strategic” shooter. From knowing which command post to attack, deciding whether to go for the ion cannon or the orbital strike, or choosing when to attack and when to defend, this game is all about strategy. Galactic Conquest is just a broader take on the strategies used to successfully rule the galaxy or save it from the brink of destruction. In Elite Squadron, we have taken Galactic Conquest to the next level by adding two-player hot seat multiplayer, six different scenarios, an improved strategy system and a cool new look.