It's not unusual for a newly-revealed video game to disappear for eight months. It's not weird to be amazed by a game and then neither see nor hear anything about it for a while.
The silence around Star Wars 1313, LucasArts' seemingly next-gen game that wowed onlookers at last June's E3 show, is nevertheless unusual. The game's disappearance, our sources say, has hidden the latest in some tumultuous turns in the game's development -- turns that, frustratingly, cloud the future of what could be an amazing game.
Three unrelated sources familiar with game development at LucasArts have all told us that development on the game has been frozen or put on hold since the Disney company's November acquisition of Star Wars creator George Lucas' media empire. That freeze has caused a game that was slated for a late 2013 release on next-gen platforms to potentially miss this year's E3 and to slide into next year.
LucasArts won't talk about the status of 1313, other than to assure us, when we asked, that it's not cancelled. "LucasArts has been working diligently to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that the new Star Wars movies present," a company spokesperson told us, when we inquired about the status of the game. "Star Wars 1313 continues production."
We don't need Bothan spies to tell us that 1313 was shaping up to at the very least look amazing. But we've heard from our sources that there was and is a lot more to be excited about this game than its next-gen lighting tech. Our sources are not authorised to speak on the record about new games like 1313, but they have proven reliable about a range of gaming industry topics in the past.
The game was conceived in 2009, we've been told privately, as a tie-in to a planned live-action Star Wars TV show. The show was set to take place between the prequel Star Wars trilogy and the classic one, as was the game. The game was called Underworld, according to one of our sources, and was, like the show, going to be for an adult audience. The 1313 title, after all, refers to the seedy underworld on the planet Coruscant, where crime, violence, drugs and other seedier elements exist. That underworld would be the setting for the show and the game.
In what will surely drive fans of great Star Wars games a bit mad, Underworld/1313 was, we're told, originally going to be an open-world role-playing game similar to the beloved BioWare title Knights of the Old Republic but with episodic character updates delivered regularly over DLC. Story arcs would go to some dark places, touching on terrorism, the dealings of crime families and prostitution.
We're told that the game was scaled back in 2010 after budgetary concerns put the TV show was put on hold. The game was re-written with a new story that was disconnected from the TV-show material. And this is where what our sources say gets even more interesting. LucasArts supposedly was set to reinvent itself in 2011 under then-studio-president Paul Meegan, attempting to make Star Wars-style games in popular genres. There would be a Star Wars riff on FarmVille and a Call of Duty-style first-person shooter codenamed Trigger. 1313 was switched from codename Underworld to codename Hive and given platforming elements, similar to Sony's hit series Uncharted. A LucasArts rep declined to comment about any of this.
Development on the game began to proceed quite well going into either 2011 or 2012 when George Lucas himself apparently saw the game. One source mentions that Lucas "loved" the game and encouraged the developers to weave stories and characters from the TV scripts. The game's storylines would answer such questions as "Who is Boba Fett?", "Why was Han working for Jabba?" and "Who were the Bothan spies?" Lucas' requests were not to be ignored, that source says, leaving the developers of the re-named 1313 with a game that had backing from the man in charge but without a concrete story or characters. A new story was still in the works when the game was shown at E3 2012.
The game dazzled at E3 and then, as any observers have noticed, went dark.
One likely venue for 1313's re-emergence was last week's PlayStation 4 event. There, finally, LucasArts could stop being coy and admit the game was next-gen. But 1313 was not shown at Sony's PS4 event, though LucasArts was listed as a developer for the Holiday 2013 console.
For weeks we've heard from multiple sources that the Disney purchase of LucasFilm (which includes LucasArts) has reoriented the company's gaming division. The focus is on the new trilogy, not on material that is unrelated to the planned JJ Abrams-directed Star Wars: Episode VII. 1313's developers may still be fervently plugging away, for all we know. As LucasArts says, the game "continues production." But it sounds from our sources like it's not currently moving forward in any official capacity.
Gamers routinely root for whichever game might be the next great Star Wars adventure. Sometimes, they're left with the disappointment of a bad game or a cancelled game. Sure, they can't all be Rogue Squadrons and X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighters and KOTORs. But after the debacle of last spring's clunky Kinect Star Wars and the oddly skimpy The Force Unleashed II before it -- or even the scuttled Battlefront III -- 1313 restored hope of something terrific to play in the Star Wars universe.
Brimming with potential, 1313 is not a game Star Wars fans would want to see left behind. It seems that, if you want this game to be made, now would be a good time to let Disney know.
As we find out more, we'll let you know.