Face To Face With The Masters
Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.
Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Interview with Simon Jeffery - President of LucasArts
Following the cancellation of the long-awaited PC game, Obi-Wan, TheForce.net's Joshua Griffin got a chance to speak with the president of LucasArts, Simon Jeffrey. They talked about the reasons for the cancellation of the game, the future of LucasArts, and briefly touched upon plans for Episode II titles.
TheForce.net: You've been with the company for about a year - what drew you to
LucasArts, and what prior experience did you have?
Simon Jeffrey: Actually, I have been with LucasArts for nearly for three years. Prior to joining LucasArts I worked in a number of Marketing, Business and Development roles for Virgin Interactive and Electronic Arts. I've been in the gaming industry for around 14 years, and for the majority of that time it had been a personal ambition to work at LucasArts. I am a huge Star Wars fan (I've seen A New Hope 93 times), an avid gamer, and list 3 LucasArts games in my all time top 5.
TFN: What systems do you play most personally, and what was the first video game
system you ever owned?
SJ: Currently I play games on my PC, Dreamcast and PS2. Personally, PC gaming is my preference. The first system I owned was one of those dedicated Pong TV games, but the thing that really gave me the gaming bug was buying a Sinclair ZX81 with wobbly 16K RAM pack - spending hours typing BASIC programs in so I could play games that involved an invasion of number 8's being warded off by an upside down letter T. I guess you had to be there to know what I'm talking about. No graphics!
TFN: What are your goals for LucasArts, and how active of a role do you play
in the decision making processes of making great games?
SJ: The goals we have set for LucasArts are many and varied, but the overriding goal, the goal that everyone in the Company marches toward, is a return to superlative quality in every game that we release. It's still a bumpy road, and unfortunately we are upsetting a few people along the way. However, we truly believe that in a couple of years, all LucasArts and Star Wars gaming fans will look back and say, 'Ah, it was really worth it'. I'm very involved in the game-related decision making processes at the Company. I work very closely with Randy Breen, our new VP of Development, and with the directors and the producers on all major decisions - including the painful ones. Despite what many fans are saying at the moment, I am a gamer, I'm passionate about games, and I spend a good amount of time playing all LucasArts games in development - which isn't easy!
TFN: We know some of the reasons for cancelling the PC version of Obi-Wan,
could you elaborate on the decision-making process for our visitors? Many are
concerned about the cancellation of such an exciting project and would be
very interested in hearing a more detailed explanation that a press
release can afford.
SJ: Unfortunately I can't go into too much detail at this point, as there
are still some issues which need finalizing with Obi Wan. I can say that Obi
Wan was not the game that many fans seemed to believe it was. The decision to make it a console game was largely taken because it was already half way there in terms of what the game had evolved into. The initial design was huge, and some features worked really well, others didn't. For instance, the glyph system combined with mouse-look was proving too problematic for a workable camera - and playability really suffered as a result. We want to make a fun game, and sadly, the glyph system wasn't fun. I am full of admiration and respect for the team that has put so much into this game - they have created some truly remarkable stuff that we are still planning to feature in the final game - but sadly it won't be a PC game.
I also think it's really important for people to know that the Obi Wan
team is fully behind the decision to move to console. The decision was not made one by a bunch of management suits peering at their spreadsheets. It was made after weeks of collaborative work between the team, the design directors, and management. I'd go so far as to say that the whole company was involved - we had one of our infamous pizza orgies for the game back in September when around 75 people from the company at large spent time
playing the game and providing feedback.
We have a new director on the team, and they are motivated and energized
to build a really cool game.
TFN: What does the next generation hardware allow you to do that current PC technology doesn't?
SJ: I think there has been some confusion about this point, and in
hindsight, wish that we had made the wording a little clearer in our statement. We do
not believe that PC technology has been outdated by the next gen consoles. We do however believe that the array of non-standard specifications associated with PC gaming were proving problematic for the game. The game was running beautifully on a 1ghz PC with a Geforce II and 128M RAM. However, it was really struggling with lower spec machines - and that became an issue for us.
TFN: A console title and PC games are wildly different. How did Obi-Wan
evolve from one into the other? Is this the demise of the industry standard
setting Dark Forces series?
SJ: As I have mentioned, Obi Wan was already half way to being a console
game, running on a PC. We have a pretty good idea of what the fans were
expecting - as believe it or not, we do read the boards! The game that Obi
was turning into was not the game that fans were expecting. We were in a
no-win situation from that perspective - and going forward, it is vitally
important to us that the games we release are rewarding and fun to
everyone who plays them - regardless of platform. I can't go into any specifics at
this time, but it's pretty safe to say that no - this is not the end of
the Dark Forces series on PC. We have no intention of turning our backs on the Dark Forces and Jedi Knight style games, as many of us count ourselves as fans of those games also.
TFN: Is there any chance that Obi-Wan will appear on the PC in the future,
and are you aware of the Obi-Wan petition to express fan interest in the
SJ: It is unlikely that we would do a PC version of Obi, for the reasons I
have mentioned. We're well aware of the petition, and are truly sorry that
so many people have been frustrated. We're also horrified and shocked at
some of the threats we've received. Some of them genuinely do the fan base
more harm than good. With fans that post threats of death and violence,
who needs enemies?
TFN: There are rapant rumors of an X-Box connection to Obi-Wan. What system
is Obi-Wan now going to appear on?
SJ: No decisions have been made at this point - although you won't have to
wait long to find out. Hopefully!
TFN: When should we expect Obi-Wan to arrive, even if you can only refer to a
particular quarter to give us a time frame?
SJ: The year 2001
TFN: The Star Wars RPG is an exciting prospect. How is the development going
and when will we hear more on the title?
SJ: Things are going extremely well. This game is one that I personally am
particularly excited about. BioWare rocks - their games are awesome. They
make better RPGs than anyone out there right now, and they are huge Star
Wars fans. The era in which the game is set is particularly cool for an
RPG - the Age of the Jedi and Sith, thousands of years before the movies. It's an era that's largely unexplored, and we are working on some utterly intriguing elements of Star Wars mythology. It'll be a while before specifics are announced but I'm confident that people will be extremely happy with the ways in which we're adding depth and expansion to the Star Wars Universe - whilst maintaining a sense of familiarity.
TFN: Our insiders tell us that an unnannounced title is in the works and will
be announced soon. Care to tell us now so we get to break it first?
SJ: We have several unannounced titles in progress! We will be making a pretty cool announcement in the next couple of weeks.
TFN: Have recent staff changes affected game development, and what do you see
the future of the gaming world?
SJ: I'm not really sure what staff changes you're referring to. I'm kind of
mystified when I read these postings about 'all the talent has left
LucasArts'. When did this happen exactly? We still have some of the best
creative talent in the industry, we have several Project Leaders who have
been with the company for ten years, and the people who are joining the
company now are better than ever. This, combined with the quality of the
external groups we're now working with, is pretty exciting stuff.
TFN: Everyone here is excited about Episode II, and we're anxiously awaiting
first word on Episode II titles coming in 2002. Has development started
and is there an early indication of what we can expect? Will they hit the streets at the same time as the movie?
SJ: Development has started on a couple of titles. I can't give anything
away right now other than to say that we learned a lot last year with Episode
I. There will be less Episode II games, and the games themselves will be
based around events or characters from the movie and expanding outward, rather
then retelling the movie (or a part of the movie) in interactive form. We've taken a really hard look at what we think people will take away from the movie, and what they will want to explore further for themselves in a game environment.
TFN: What is LucasArts greatest strength currently, and what are you doing to
improve on weaknesses you've seen early in your time at LEC?
SJ: Our greatest strength is the people that work at LucasArts. People who
are passionate about what they do, and who are completely committed to
bringing the highest possible quality standards back to every game that we
produce. I learn stuff from them every day. Every company has strengths
weaknesses, and 9 times out of 10 - the weaknesses are the same. If we're
making AAA quality games that enjoy strong sales, and are able to attract
and retain talented people and have them enjoy their work - all weaknesses
are immaterial in my mind.
TFN: Star Wars: Starfighter, coming first quarter to the PlayStation 2 looks
absolutely stunning. People are already talking very favorably about the
title, and it's still a few months from release. Is the Playstation 2
to develop for, and what are you most proud of in the latest version?
SJ: Starfighter IS absolutely stunning. It's practically finished, and
polish is being added so that when it ships early next year, a lot of people will be very happy. The PS2 is not an easy machine to develop for, and my
answer to your question about what am I most proud of - is the team. They have
done a simply outstanding job of maximizing the potential of the PS2. It's
games that look this good that will draw more people into playing videogames.
When something looks this real, looks this much like movie sfx, it's easier for people to relate to games.
TFN: Do you have Nintendo Gamecube development kits yet and are you planning
on developing for the system? Are there titles in the works already?
SJ: We showed a technical demo for Rogue Squadron II on Nintendo Gamecube
at the Tokyo Spaceworld show in August. At this point in time, that's all I
TFN: In the future, will we see LucasArts take a more active approach in the
console environment, and straying away from the PC? What do you think of the
future of both worlds - can they peacefully co-exist and will you support them?
SJ: We will be more active in the console field as we get better and better
at building console games. However, we strongly believe in the future of PC gaming, and will continue to invest in, and build games for this market.
Online games in particular will be a large part of our future and we see
the PC as being the online play medium for the foreseebale future. The PC
arena is organic - it's constantly evolving. Whilst the current 'next gen' of
consoles is red hot in terms of technology right now, in two to three
years the PC will once again be where high performance lies - and console gamers will all be reading about the 'next, next gen' systems just around the corner. While many game companies are abdicating the PC market, LucasArts will continue to develop a number and variety of PC games.
TFN: LucasArts is working with outside studios in a major way now, including
the massive multiplayer Star Wars online game with Verant and the
role-playing game developed by BioWare. Why the trend to have outside help and will this continue in the future? What kind of input and direction is given to the development teams?
SJ: It's really part of our growth strategy. I read somewhere recently that we were being accused of utilizing outside developers to increase the quality of our games, as if that was some terrible kind of sin. Guilty as charged! The reason we are partnering with people like Verant, BioWare and more to be announced soon (!) is that we want to build and release the very best quality games possible. We want our current fans, our fans of old,
and hopefully some new fans to enjoy every game that we put out. We want the best development talent in the world to build our games - whether those people work at LucasArts, or for a premier developer. We want to fully immerse players in the Star Wars Universe, and expand their perception of what that Universe is. The only way to do that is through the three Q's - quality, quality and quality. We are only partnering with external developers who are as passionate about Star Wars as we are. Every
'external' game has a suite of LucasArts personnel working full time on the project also. We don't view these games as external, we view them as Joint Ventures. We're heavily involved in the design stage in particular.
TFN: If you were talking to a young person thinking of getting into games,
what advice would you give them to succeed in the industry?
SJ: Don't take it too personally when 'fans' want to burn your building down and skewer
your head on a stake.