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Reinventing Star Wars: Taking The AT-AT Off The Rails For The Classic Trilogy

by Kyle Hilliard on May 08, 2015 at 09:00 AM

Disney Infinity has become home to a collection of diverse developers all working and creating inside the Disney universe. There are many franchises and characters available to everyone to play with and create for, but none were so desired as the original Star Wars trilogy. When it was announced that Disney had acquired the Star Wars franchise, everyone involved in Disney Infinity was excited about the chance to create a game for their favorite Star Wars characters and timeline.

Gobo, whose history with Disney Infinity includes work on the Pirates of the Caribbean and Guardians of the Galaxy Playsets, is crafting the Star Wars universe that older gamers hold in high regard and is planning on pulling in as many elements of the original trilogy as possible.

Both Death Stars will need to be blown up during trench runs, Star Destroyers will be battled in space, and you will ride a Bantha from the bars of Mos Eisley to the dance floor of Jabba’s palace. You will also explore the ice world of Hoth and battle the four-legged AT-ATs in what ended up being our favorite showcase of available activities in Disney Infinity’s take on Star Wars.

Battling AT-ATs on Hoth
We’ve battled two and four-legged vehicles on the snowy world of Hoth on many occasions, but for the first time, AT-ATs can turn. It may sound like an insignificant bullet point, but there’s a large system in place that allows the robotic creatures to move realistically, and not just in a straight line. Technical director Jim Callen explained the surprisingly in-depth process to us saying, “Broadly speaking, you actually physically model a character, making joints which have weight and a constraint around them on how far they can move. Then you work out how much force you would need to apply down a particular leg to make the body stand up.” This means AT-ATs and AT-STs can correct themselves and turn when walking over any terrain. If an AT-ST or AT-AT gets rocked and almost falls over, for example, it can adjust its balance and recover.

The team has weekly play tests where they bring in young players to try out the latest build of the game and offer feedback. “There have been a couple of times – particularly when testing the physical stuff – where it’s been hilarious just hearing these 10 year olds.” Callen shouts impersonating the typical conversation that 10 year olds have when trying to take down a giant robot capable of awkwardly stumbling, “‘Shoot it in the bum!’ These kids’ eyes are streaming with laughter, and they have these big, big belly laughs with all the fun they’re having taking these big things down.”

Technical prowess is fantastic, but battling the AT-AT goes deeper than just marveling at its physics. While showing us how to defeat an AT-AT, game and art director Mike Thompson demonstrated a few different ways to take down the lumbering vehicles. You can tie them up with a tow rope in a Snowspeeder, take them out piece by piece by climbing their legs in a battle inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, or, take control of them yourself. Thompson landed a Snowspeeder on top of the AT-AT and broke apart its back to reveal a giant controller with buttons to stand on to direct its movement and fire its weapons. After pointing the AT-AT in a few different directions, Thompson surprised us by removing the controller from the AT-AT’s back and carrying it far enough away where he had full view of the walking tank. He dropped the controls on the ground and started controlling the AT-AT remotely by standing on the buttons, just as he had before.

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Riding Banthas on Tattooine
Hoth, of course, is not the only world to fully embrace the toy take on Star Wars. Tatooine is rife with activities both familiar, and humorous. We watched Thompson playing as Luke Skywalker explore the desert town doing basically whatever he pleased.

Luke saw a Jawa’s Sandcrawler slowly creeping its way along the outskirts of the town. In an effort to incapacitate it, because he’s a Jedi and can do whatever he wants (presumably) he jumped on a Bantha and rode toward it. Once he met the Sandcrawler, he promptly removed its batteries and rode his Bantha away to jump on the roofs of Mos Eisley while still atop his steed.

After riding the Bantha on the roofs, Luke (still on top of his Bantha) rode into the iconic Cantina and started knocking over tables and anything not bolted down. Thompson says these levels are designed to be open to allow players to do whatever they want in the context of a Star Wars world. You can approach the world seriously, tackling the missions and keeping the peace, but if you want to explore Luke’s Dark side (or anyone’s dark chaotic side, for that matter), you are more than welcome to do so.

Changing Hands
Initially, Ninja Theory (best known for Heavenly Sword and the recent DmC: Devil May Cry) was set to create the Playset based on the first three films, with Gobo set to work on the prequel trilogy. Before working on Infinity, most of Gobo was part of Black Rock Studios, which created racing games like Pure and Split/Second.
After examining the content of each of the trilogies, and some shifting, it was decided since Ninja Theory specialized in combat, it should be working on the trilogy that featured Jedis fighting at their prime. And since Gobo had a background in racing and vehicles, it should tackle the trilogy that had a stronger focus on space fights and vehicles.

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Piloting X-Wings through Death Star trenches
Space flight has been an important aspect of the Star Wars Playsets from early on. Putting players in the seat of iconic vehicles like the X-Wing and the Millennium Falcon were an important factor in placing Gobo in charge of development of the original trilogy’s playsets. An obvious influence for space flight comes from a fairly obvious source that Gobo freely references. “Star Fox is one of the early inspirations for sure, in terms of looking at space combat, how it should handle with reticle aiming and that kind of thing,” art director Paul Ayliffe told us.

Not all of the space battles will be on rails à la Star Fox, but the ones you would expect to be are, specifically the two Death Star battles. The other non-rail battles and flying around open space, feel like all-range-mode from Star Fox 64 – which is a compliment. Dedicated inputs make you do loop de loops and 180 degree turns and the bumpers on the controller let you lean tightly into turns.

For many, despite already having many memories of interactive experiences centered around the original trilogy, the opportunity to take Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader out into an open Star Wars play-world is the most exciting aspect of Disney Infinity 3.0. I count myself among that group, and what Avalanche and Gobo had on display for this interactive look into Star Wars’ history makes me excited to jump on the back of a Bantha and finally terrorize the Cantina as I have always dreamed.

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