Tuesday, September 09, 2003

For the last several days I've been playing the demo for Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Given that the demo contains only two levels and no multiplayer component, this probably strikes some of you as rather strange. If so, believe me: it undoubtedly strikes my family as stranger. I can't help it. I require my lightsaber. If at all possible, I require two lightsabers. I may even require a saber staff. But it's more likely I require two lightsabers, and right now this is the only way I can get them.

Part of the appeal here is, undeniably, that Jedi Academy has been clearly designed to give players (and specifically, Star Wars fans) what they want in a game like this. The saber combat model is better than ever: more special moves (more than triple!), more styles. We've got customizable characters and sabers - all eye candy, of course, with no actual bearing on gameplay. But a game is more than the gameplay (one of my pet peeves in games is when designers forget that). Gameplay is an important aspect of a game, of course, but there are others. If all we cared about was gameplay, graphics would have peaked with chess. But we want more than graphics, too. We want a game to spin a world - or, if the world already exists, we want the game to know about it.

This is not true for all games, of course, but it is true of the design philosophy behind the overwhelming majority of modern computer games, and it is this which has allowed Jedi Academy's demo to enthrall me so: the little things that say, "this is a Star Wars game" (and a good Star Wars game. I do not love all Star Wars products, but there are few things I enjoy more than a good Star Wars products). A few examples: the saber staff is in the game, and therefore we have zabraks as a playable race (Darth Maul's species). The moves are not all from the movies, either; some come from the books (e.g., the introduction of thrusting moves, which come from Mara Jade in the Heir to the Empire trilogy). And then there's the fact that the game is giving us things we want to see: the Stouker concussion rifle returns, we have dual sabers and saber staves, we have really really cool moves, old favorites like Chewbacca and the Falcon, the list goes on and on. I can't wait until I get the full version.

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