A brief history of Star Wars video games
Grab your controller and get ready to fight the Empire. We're looking at the history of Star Wars video games - even those made a long time ago in a galaxy far far away...
16 Dec 2016
Ever since the original Star Wars movie hit our big screens there have been toys and games based on the series. Most people of a certain age have probably owned at least one Star Wars figure at some point in their lives or played a video game based on the films. But Star Wars video games are not a recent phenomena. We take a look through time at some of the best…
(Image source: EA)
Star Wars in the Arcades
The first official Star Wars games can be traced all the way back to 1978, but it was in 1983 that the arcades saw the release of the iconic Star Wars machine from Atari. This was based around the Death Star assault and featured groundbreaking vector graphics and sampled speech taken from the movie. The game puts the player in Luke’s X Wing as he fights waves of TIE Fighters, flies across the surface of the Death Star and then undertakes the perilous trench run.
(Image source: Arcade Museum)
The game proved enormously popular, with the sit-in cabinet version being very immersive for the time. The game was successfully converted to a number of home gaming formats and eventually got a sequel based around The Empire Strikes Back.
Recently, a similar machine hit the arcades offering immersive modern technology to create a breathtaking action experience. 2014’s Star Wars Battle Pod recreates key battles from the original trilogy, along with a newly created mission where you play as Darth Vader chasing down a group of rebels.
The Battle Pod enhances your gameplay with hydraulic movement, a dome shaped screen that fills your entire field of view and wind generators to give the impression of speed. It’s possible to get a deluxe version of the Battle Pod created and customised especially for you. This features enhanced leather seats, carpeting, a special bound manual, a choice of Rebellion or Imperial design plus an engraved name plate. You’ll need to start saving now, though – these cost around £65,000, making it, reportedly, the world’s most expensive video game!
Star Wars hits the consoles
A very different Star Wars appeared in 1991 on consoles – NES, Master System, plus the hand held Game Boy and Game Gear. The initial Star Wars games took the form of side scrolling action platformers with a dash of added combat. The format proved successful and was refined for the fondly remembered Super Star Wars series on the SNES.
The console games later took a sidestep into the expanded universe with titles such as Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron giving you the ability to take part in a range of epic battles featuring events, locations and characters that may have been featured in tie-in novels or comics rather than the films themselves.
The popularity of Star Wars on the consoles lead to a huge number of games being produced, which lead to some slightly unusual gameplay choices. For example, Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi is a fighting game that lets you answer the question nobody ever asked, “Who would win in a fight between Chewbacca and Princess Leia?”, and let us not forget the utterly bizzare “Galactic Dance Off” in Star Wars Kinnect that shows famous characters from the series displaying their hottest moves to a soundtrack of pop songs with lyrics changed to be a bit more sci-fi.
Star Wars hits the PC
PC gamers got to experience a more complex simulation of what flying iconic space craft from the Star Wars series would be like in the X Wing series. Developed by LucasArts, X Wing put you in the hot seat of the titular craft, plus Y and A Wings, with a full range of controls that allowed you to target specific components on enemy craft, manage your ships power systems for optimal balance between shields and engines, and command other fighters to help you reach your objectives in a series of complex missions.
For their time, these were the cutting edge of Star Wars gameplay and the multi-layered missions and exciting story made the series (especially the second game in the series, TIE Fighter) a fondly remembered piece of gaming history.
LucasArts also produced a series of well-regarded action games on the PC. Dark Forces was a first person shooter that placed you in the role of a young Rebel fighting to uncover a deadly new Imperial superweapon. The use of iconic locations, sound effects, visual design and music from the films made these games stand out against the over proliferation of FPS games on the PC at the time and, if you can put up with some control quirks and retro graphics, they’re still worth playing today.
(Image source: Steam)
The Dark Forces series also innovated in being one of the first games of its type to kit you out with a Lightsaber, and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II also featured a branching story that allowed you to follow the light side of the force as your Jedi powers awaken, or to betray and kill your colleagues and join the Dark Side.
Role Playing in the Star Wars Universe
One thing many Star Wars games have been praised for is the quality of the storytelling. Even games that received a lukewarm reception for their gameplay (such as Force Unleashed) were praised for some of their story elements.
Knights of the Old Republic took players back to a time long, long ago in Star Wars history and immersed them in a duplicitous quest to track down Darth Revan, a powerful Dark Lord of the Sith. Developed by Bioware, the game is an epic quest throughout the galaxy that lets the player make key choices in dialogue and plot. Together with its darker sequel, these games paved the way for modern action RPGs like the Mass Effect Series.
When news broke that an MMORPG was in production, many Star Wars fans felt as if the best game in history was just around the corner. Sadly, Star Wars: Galaxies was something of a mixed bag. While it successfully gave players the atmosphere of the Star Wars universe, the gameplay itself could feel somewhat unbalanced. In a well-intentioned attempt at making a game that genuinely let you build the character you wanted to play, Galaxies didn’t strictly force you into character classes the way most other MMORPGs do. You would develop skills depending on your actions in the game and could shape your character in unique ways.
However, this didn’t always work as expected. If you were trying to build up an entertainer character, for example, you’d find yourself standing in bars hitting the dance button over and over again, hoping that someone could be bothered to click on you and tell the game you were doing a good job. It could be a long and boring road to dancing at Jabba’s palace!
More interesting was the fact that Jedi Knights were legendary and rare within the game. The path to unlocking force powers was hidden and hard to find, bestowed only on the worthy. It made the Jedi a thing of awe, and players would spend ages seeking them out in the hope they could convince the force users to help them out.
That is, until the game was relaunched. Suddenly, Jedi became a character class and you practically couldn’t move without bumping into a Lightsaber. Interest in the game began to wane and Star Wars: Galaxies eventually closed down.
Step forwards Star Wars: The Old Republic. This MMORPG proved much more successful, with individual storylines for every character class keeping you coming back for more even when you reach the endgame. Letting you play as both Rebels or Imperials, Star Wars: The Old Republic feels very much like a modern version of Knights of the Old Republic, and its none the worse for that.
(Image source: YouTube)
What’s next for Star Wars games?
The current generation of gamers have no shortage of Star Wars titles to choose from. From the family friendly fun of the Lego Star Wars series to the intense multi-player action of Star Wars: Battlefront, there’s something for everyone.
So what’s in the future? We’ve already seen several Star Wars VR demos, and it won’t be long before we see the first “full fat” Star Wars VR games hit the shelves. Imagine the feeling of using the HTC Vive controller as a Lightsaber while fully immersed in a realistic 3D world. We can’t wait…
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