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Exclusive Interview

Star Wars Outlaws' Setting Is A Dream Playground, According To Narrative Director

by Kyle Hilliard on Aug 15, 2023 at 03:00 PM

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Star Wars is no stranger to video game adaptation. In fact, depending on your age, video games may be the primary way you interact with the far away galaxy from a long time ago. Outlaws, however, represent something new for the franchise, even if it isn’t new to video games. We’ve shot from the first-person perspective in Battlefront, explored labyrinthine, Metroid-inspired levels in Respawn’s Jedi games, and even commanded armies in Empire at War, but Outlaws is the first time we will explore an open Star Wars world.

Following a panel on the game at Comic-Con, we spoke with Outlaws' narrative director, Navid Khavari, over e-mail about a number of topics related to the game, including potential overlap with Shadows of the Empire, what exactly protagonist Kay Vess is going after, the fate of her partner and pet, Nix, and Khavari's personal relationship with Star Wars.

Game Informer: What is the first step of writing a Star Wars story?

Ubisoft
Navid Khavari, narrative director

Navid Khavari: Game-wise, it began with the fantasy we wanted to deliver, that of a scoundrel. That opens up what you want to experience in the Star Wars galaxy, from having a blaster, riding a Speeder, piloting a ship, and stepping into cantinas filled with scum and villainy. Then after pitching that to Lucasfilm Games and landing on this era within the original trilogy between Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, we wanted to have the story grow from those fixed points as organically as possible. To respect and honor what came before but see where we can take the story somewhere new.

Where the story really started to crystallize was this idea of having a character and story that really isn’t a part of the galactic civil war with the Empire, Rebellion, Jedi and Sith battling each other. Having someone on the ground, a thief, who with her companion Nix is trying to scrape by a living, who finds herself with a bounty on her back and launched into a dangerous underworld. A character who is relatable and a scoundrel who really hasn’t figured out her life yet. That was really exciting for us, and after that, the goal was really to tell a story through the eyes of Kay Vess and making sure we were true to where her journey took us.

Are you working with Star Wars' other narrative teams? Are you having story conversations with The Mandalorian writers and Respawn’s writers about its Jedi series?

We have a relationship of very close collaboration with Lucasfilm Games, and we regularly connect with them on every topic related specifically to our game and story. We really lean on Lucasfilm to ensure we deliver an authentic Star Wars experience because authenticity is absolutely key. There is an absolute adoration for this galaxy, so we have to get it right, especially doing justice to the original trilogy.

Can you explain the decision behind placing the game between Empire and Return of the Jedi?

I'm not gonna lie, it’s a writer's dream to have that playground between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. For me, it’s such a perfect era where the stakes are so unbelievably high from both a character and a galactic perspective.  But placing our game during this time, I mean, that speaks to the power of that era, but also to the fact that there's so much to explore in the underworld from a scoundrel perspective in that time period.

And when we looked at the time between Empire and Jedi, we asked ourselves, 'What kind of story are we going to tell here? What can we add that hasn’t been said?' And for us, it was that combination of Kay’s rookie scoundrel perspective with her inherent wonder of the wider galaxy and underworld. That this is someone who has no kind of experience with the galactic civil war, at a time when it feels like so much of the galaxy’s future is being shaped by that war, felt really refreshing. This is a character who is just trying to get by stealing, outwitting, conning folks, and then you follow her as she enters into the underworld and begins taking on contracts with syndicates. Taking that character and placing them in that period felt like a really strong anchor for the rest of the narrative.

There is another Star Wars video game that famously takes place between Empire and Return of the Jedi: Shadows of the Empire. Did you look to that game (or novel) for inspiration? Can we count on a Dash Rendar cameo?

I loved Shadows of the Empire growing up, and I’m pretty sure I melted my N64 the amount of times I played it. What I can say is that Star Wars Outlaws is an original scoundrel story, and we really want to deliver something that fans and players alike haven’t seen or experienced before. You will have seen from what we’ve shown so far that Jabba the Hutt is in our game which we’re very excited about that as he’s such a key central underworld figure in this period… and there may be some other cameos we hope people look forward to discovering for themselves.

In what ways will the branching dialogue options affect the story? Can the narrative be taken in radically different directions?

For us, it all comes back to authenticity and delivering a story that fits in the Star Wars galaxy and wider generational story that Lucasfilm has worked on crafting for decades. So it was important to us to keep the main beats of Kay’s journey intact, I like to say they are like lighthouses of her story. Then in terms of the dialogue options, they will impact your experience throughout the game in specific ways, particularly with Kay’s reputation. For example, if you build a great reputation with one syndicate such as the Pykes, that might open up some of their territory or score you some lucrative jobs with them among other things, and conversely, say if you betray the Pykes for our new syndicate, the Ashiga Clan, your reputation with the Pykes will drop, they may even send hunters after you, and the story will account for it.

How many endings are there?

For us and Lucasfilm Games it’s all about authenticity, and we need to ensure that Kay’s story fits within the wider galaxy of Star Wars, so the ending itself we felt had certain key beats that it had to hit. The variation does come through the reputation system, so every player will have a different profile of their reputation with the various syndicates throughout the game, and you’ll see that play out throughout the story.

Are there specific rules for making a Star Wars character name? How did you come up with Kay Vess?

Some of the most fun we’ve had is coming up with names. We have a few tricks in terms of how we do it, but I will say once we’ve established them, we always work with Lucasfilm Games to make sure they feel authentic to the wider Star Wars galaxy.

Can you tell me about Kay Vess' personality and motivations?

Kay and her companion, Nix, fight every day to survive, relying on their skills and resourcefulness as thieves to get through. Kay’s dream is to land a score that will allow her to live life free and find her place in the galaxy. This is especially true after a heist goes wrong, and she unexpectedly becomes one of the galaxy’s most wanted. By necessity, she’ll step into the underworld and take on jobs with criminal syndicates with the aim to pull off one of the greatest heists the galaxy has seen.

In terms of her personality, it was really important to us that Kay is a rookie scoundrel. She’s willing to risk it all, has a quick wit, and is a bit of a hot head, but she also hasn’t quite figured it out yet. There’s a self-deprecating vulnerability that felt modern for us to explore, and we wanted to make sure she is relatable as a character navigating stakes that are incredibly high for anyone, whether in the Star Wars galaxy or not.

What is Kay’s opinion on the Empire and Jedis? Does she believe in The Force?

That’s an aspect that was really exciting to us. She hasn’t yet really formed an opinion about the battle between the Empire and Rebellion. Growing up, Kay was just focused on landing a score that will set her and Nix up for life and free her from being on the galaxy’s most wanted list. In terms of the Empire, just like most people in the galaxy during this time period, she views them as an oppressive force that’s spread throughout the galaxy. But they’re really just an obstacle in her way as she journeys through the underworld with the goal of pulling off the heist of a lifetime.

Can you also tell me about Nix's personality and motivations?

Nix is Kay’s heart and support system – Kay is really his motivation, she’s his best friend, only family, and he’s her fierce protector. Nix wants them to be able to journey the galaxy with no one in their way, together always. Nix has a very distinct personality, he’s, of course, very cute, but he can also turn feral and vicious when he needs to in tough spots. Nix also often reflects Kay’s mood, so if she’s tense, he’ll be guarded; if she’s fighting, he’ll be vicious. I will say it’s also a lot of fun to write “curious squeak” or “relaxed chirp” and see what Dee Bradley Baker, who provides Nix’s vocalizations, comes back with. But most importantly, ensuring that no matter where Kay goes, that bond between them is unbreakable.

Less of a question, more of a request: please don't kill Nix.

All I can say is Nix is Kay’s closest family, so she’ll always do everything in her power to protect him.

Will a character say, "I have a bad feeling about this," at some point?

I have a bad feeling about answering that. I’m so sorry. I had to.

Can we count on meeting familiar characters like Jabba the Hutt or Boba Fett or the main characters from the original trilogy?

We were very excited to confirm at San Diego Comic-Con that Jabba the Hutt is in Star Wars Outlaws and being voiced by the legendary Dee Bradley Baker, whose voice you might recognize from the Clone Wars, Bad Batch, and so much more. Jabba is such an iconic syndicate leader, particularly during the original trilogy time period, so he is an essential part of telling a scoundrel story in this era. It was super fun for us narratively to have Kay meet Jabba for the first time as a character without the context we all have from the original trilogy. As for other characters you might meet, we want to leave some things for players to discover on their journey, but we hope they have as much fun discovering them as we had placing them in the game.

In the first gameplay footage, the game was presented in widescreen with black bars at the top and the bottom of the screen. Will that be in the final game? And was it implemented in an effort to make the game feel more cinematic?

Star Wars Outlaws will absolutely allow players to enjoy the game in a variety of different ways, whether that is ultrawide as shown at announce or regular 16:9.

What other visual tricks are being employed to make the game feel more like a movie?

We do aim to be very cinematic and pay homage to the filmic history of Star Wars, so you can see in our gameplay there is some barrel distortion, lens flare, film grain, and more that really evoke the classic era of Star Wars and create a cinematic experience. We look forward to showing more in the future, but a lot of work has gone into producing this classic original trilogy look and feel for the game.

Can you tell me about Toshara? What makes it unique in the Star Wars universe?

Toshara is a new addition to the Star Wars galaxy, with a biome inspired by the savannahs of Eastern Africa. Expanding on our team’s prior world-building experience and collaborating with the experience from the Lucasfilm Games team, we crafted a world that we aimed to feel both like it belongs next to other iconic Star Wars locations while also bringing something fresh and unique to the franchise. Toshara offers familiar and grounded elements mixed with the alien ingredients that are iconic to Star Wars. As you saw in the gameplay trailer, you’ll get a taste of its vast environment containing sandstone mounds, rock, and amberine.

However, Toshara is a world of contrasts, and far from being just a moon of peaceful and picturesque scenery. The landscape historically offered perfect hideouts and shelters to pirates and bandits. Known as the gem of the underworld, its dense capital city Mirogana and settlement of Jaunta’s Hope are a hotbed of corruption, ruled by a corrupt local Imperial governor and several criminal syndicates, including the Pykes. Everything is measured in its value of credits, reputation or influence, providing an abundance of opportunities and dangers for ambitious scoundrels like Kay. There is something truly fantastic about taking on a job from a syndicate, dealing with corrupt Imperials in the capital, and then hopping on your speeder and blasting across the wide-open savannah. There is really no other feeling like it.

Can you tell me about the Ashiga Clan? What is their business, and how does Kay overlap with them?

The Ashiga Clan are a new syndicate we’ve crafted born from the collaboration between Massive and Lucasfilm Games. The Ashiga Clan are based on the ice-cold planet of Kijimi, which you might recognize from the Rise of Skywalker. As a syndicate they have a strict code of honor and are based around a hierarchical Melitto hive with their entire worldview being about the survival of the collective. Everything and everyone is judged on their usefulness to the whole. The Ashiga Clan have worked their way into every aspect of Kijimi’s underworld, from smuggling to extortion or sabotage and even weapons manufacturing. Wherever a shadow falls on Kijimi, you will find a member of the Ashiga Clan.

How does the collaboration process work with Lucasfilm Games? Do you send ideas, and then they approve or deny? Are they actively helping to write dialogue and scenarios?

We definitely have a close relationship of collaboration with Lucasfilm Games, and we sync them regularly to ensure that we’re delivering a truly authentic Star Wars experience that fans and players will both enjoy. The details matter so much in this galaxy, so we always want to make sure we’re capturing the spirit of Star Wars in everything we do.

What is your personal history with Star Wars?

My own history is pretty intertwined with Star Wars. Coming from an immigrant family and knowing what my parents went through just to make a living in a new country - Star Wars really was just one of those escapes for all of us that we could enjoy together. My dad was actually obsessed with Western movies, and he took my older brother to go see all the Star Wars films, but since I was born in 83, I just missed that first theatrical wave. My brother had a lot of the classic Kenner toys, and so as a kid, even though I hadn't seen the films yet, I was making up stories on our Persian carpet with the toys. Didn’t have the slightest idea of the context until I finally saw the films. Then fast forward to having the opportunity to write new stories in the Star Wars galaxy, it is absolutely surreal. I’ve got a very deep, familial, and personal attachment to Star Wars. I always think of it as a bonding experience between my brother, myself, and my parents around Star Wars

What is your favorite generation of Star Wars films? Prequel, original, or the most recent trilogy?

Oh, that’s a tough question. As a child of the eighties, I think I’m required to say the original trilogy. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for me has it all – high stakes, an emotional journey, and characters coming into their own against a backdrop of a civil war. There’s also just something exhilarating about not focusing on the setup and diving straight into where each of the characters are at in the middle of their journey. I have to admit I always wanted to be Yoda’s friend. I may have been a bit of an old soul as a kid.

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Star Wars Outlaws

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