You owe Force Unleashed to Haden Blackman. He may be all modest about the team effort that went into making this game over the last four years - but this is the guy that held the hands of the entire team and reminded them what Force Unleashed is all about: kicking the shit out of people with the Force (or "kicking butt," if you like the vanilla version they kept chanting in all those developer diaries).
"We can make this happen," Haden told them, and it looks like he was right.
The Force Unleashed making-of book details Haden and his team's long struggle to get this game made. There were tons of other concept ideas that got axed, a billion technical hurdles and all kinds of unforeseen nightmares to get past. I asked Haden which scrapped idea was his favourite and he immediately said he liked the idea where you would have been playing as a Wookiee.
The idea would have had you running about like a semi-feral beast, kicking arse and being a Wookiee (y'know, ripping peoples' arms off when you lose). George Lucas put the kibosh on the idea, saying that not only are Wookiees not quite like the team had envisioned them - but people probably wouldn't have wanted to play as a Wookiee. Because how attached can you really get to character that doesn't have speech?
Haden also liked an idea that allowed the player to commune with Qui Gon's spirit, thus filling in some of the gaps in the prequel's back story; but this idea was also tossed out and Haden had to come up with something else.
Read the making of book for the whole story - me, I had to move on if I wanted to get all my questions asked in the 10 minutes I had to interview Haden.
I asked what colour lightsaber Haden would want (to buy time while I frantically searched for where I'd written my list of questions). Haden - like me - would want to rock a purple lightsaber. And it's got nothing to do with Mace Windu; he just likes the colour. I'd a like a purple one, too - but that's just because Jaina Solo wields one in the Expanded Universe (EU) books. (Oh, and there's an unlockable black lightsaber in the game - look for it!)
Haden has actually read a lot of the EU books - though he stopped short of the New Jedi Order series. An author of Star Wars graphic novels himself, he has great respect for the stories outside those covered in the movies. I asked if we might see a game set in the Legacy of the Force series, or some other post-episode VI timeline and Haden nodded, "We'll see."
Building on the original source material is important, though - Haden couldn't stress that enough when it came to creating levels for the Force Unleashed. One of the easiest levels to design (at least in terms of art) was the TIE Fighter factory level on the count of already having tons of source material for what TIE Fighters look like. The hardest level to work with by far was the Raxus Prime junkyard. In the words of one of his team members, Haden described the level as both organic and inorganic - a lot of angular rusty metal and also a living ecosystem that sports moments of beauty. (For gameplay, the early levels were hardest, because the Secret Apprentice's powers were limited - and later on, it got easier because his powers were more badass which allowed for more of the "playground" feel.)
Haden wrapped up our interview with an admonishment that The Force Unleashed is supposed to be an accessible, mainstream game. He's concerned that hardcore gaming outlets are marking the game down because the combat "isn't complex enough." He really hopes that all his work has paid off in creating an experience the everyman will enjoy. But overall, the man is proud of his work, and he glowed with pleasure as he waltzed out of the room to take his place on the main stage.
His work on Force Unleashed is done.
So. Now what?