Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire
Those familiar with the original Rebel Assault will already know that it involved a story which, above all else, was a bit clever. Although it tracked the plot of the first Star Wars film (or is it the fourth? Ah... we're a bit clever here, you see) it didn't involve any of the well known "goody" characters. You simply played the role of a distinctly wet-behind-the-ears rookie who eventually works his way up to being a respected pilot. After much shooting, blasting and exclaiming "wow!" at the jolly nice graphics you eventually got to have a bash at giving the Death Star a kicking. Rebel 2 is a bit different. This time, the team has come up with a totally original story which simply fits in with the Star Wars time-line (something which is very strictly monitored with regard to all Slur Wars related stuff, from the infinite number of novels that are appearing to table-top role-playing and computer games). As before, you play Rookie One, which is a bit odd when you think about it. because the amount of stuff he's done is fairly impressive - it also seems unfair if you consider that Luke Skywalker was made a Commander after doing only one mission. Okay, admittedly lie did blow up the Death Star... but then so did Rookie One. Whoah! Spooky. Anyway, you're still a pathetic Rookie, and I'm sure there are no grudges whatsoever against certain young Jedi farm boys.
The new story opens in the vicinity of the Dreighton Nebula, where Rookie One is part of a scouting patrol that is investigating a number of strange disappearances. It seems that the Dreighton Nebula is considered to be something of a "Bermuda Triangle" type affair and the Alliance is having a spot of bother, because it keeps losing ships. To get a pretty dramatic illustration of what is going on in the Nebula, check out the Rebel Assault II teaser demo on this month's cover cd.
Legends of the Nebula go back to the early days when early hyperspace travellers lost their bearings and disappeared in the currents, eddies and storms of the Nebula. During the Clone Wars, two opposing combat fleets were completely swallowed up by the thing and no one knows where they went, or how they ended up wherever they are. These days the area is the subject of much amusement to many experienced pilots, but it has to be said that a high proportion of the galaxy's travellers do cack themselves a bit whenever they have to pass through it.
As Rebel 2 unfolds. Rookie One finds himself responding to a distress call coming from a ship in the Nebula, and once he gets there he discovers that the Imperials have quite clearly been hanging around for some time. This is somewhat odd, because Dreighton is widely considered as having about as much strategic value as a Pot Noodle. However, upon further investigation our hero soon discovers that the Empire has been up to no good and it is suspected that the champions of all things horrid and nasty are now working on some kind of weird new weapon.
A new challenge
If Rebel Assault had any downfalls, it was that the gameplay was somewhat simplistic. The spooled pre-rendered graphics effectively meant that much of the game was nothing more than an incredibly flash version of somethin like Operation Wolf. All you really had to do was move your cursor around the screen and shoot at spaceships and bad guys, which always appeared in the same places.
Bearing this in mind, the LucasArts techie bods have spent a great deal of time trying to make the gameplay engine give the impression of freedom. Obviously all the images have been pre-rendered again, but there are now random elements involved (much like Argonaut's Creature Shock} to make the action more challenging. This is done by providing a number of possible outcomes from each situation which are chosen at random before being spooled in seamlessly from the cd. The theory is actually very simple indeed and it really does make the game seem far less "on rails" (to use that awful expression) and ultimately more realistic. There will be 15 completely different levels in total when the game is completed, and these will be presented in three different game "styles": hand-to-hand combat where you battle against Storm troopers within an Imperial base; flight manoeuvring much like the training missions in Rebel Assault; and cockpit combat, which is an enhanced version of the combat from the original game.
To make things just that little bit more exciting for Slur Wars buffs, the development team has made an effort to provide a lot more variety in the ships players get ro fly. Aside from the usual X-Wing, Y-Wing and B-Wing fighters you now also get to have a bash on the awesome Speeder Bike (just like the ones the Imperial Scout Troopers rode in Return of the Jedi) and the Millennium Falcon.
As yet it is unclear how the combat sections for the Falcon will be presented - do you fly from the cockpit or are you manning a gun turret? However, we arc assured that the Speeder Bike "manoeuvring bit" will be nothing short of absolutely gut-wrenching.
Filming A New Star Wars Movie
Like Rebel Assault, Rebel II is an action arcade game set in a familiar universe. However, unlike the first game the story now features live action video throughout. "This is the first time George Lucas has ever let anyone else film a live action Star War? fa ntasy," says Rebel Assault II project leader Vince Lee. "So it's really an honour to be making the game - and it really better be good!"
As before, the game centres on a couple of major characters, Rookie One and Ru Murlee. However, while in the first game they appeared as decidedly badly drawn characters, in Rebel II everyone is played by a real actor. At the time of going to press no one famous had been confirmed for a role in the game but, if anything, this is something of a blessing. The Star Wars universe doesn't need the pulling power of a known star - it's the storyline and background that makes people want to get involved. As you can see from the pictures we have here, much of the action has been filmed in a similar way to a real film. All the cut-scenes and "live action" sections were produced by filming an actor in front of a blue screen and feature original costumes and props from the three Star Wars movies. These video sections are then put together with Silicon Graphics rendered backgrounds and PC generated special effects before being cleaned up and ported into the game code. The resulting effect is absolutely astounding and it has to be said that the production quality is way ahead of any other live action game we've seen on the PC.
As well as the backgrounds for the live action footage, the in-game graphics have also been generated using Silicon Graphics workstations and, from what we've seen so far, the quality is unbelievable. Whereas many SGI rendered products look obviously rendered, the ships in Rebel II look like they might have been filmed, high quality models. The sheer volume of graphics work for the game means that a great number of artists have been employed on the project. As a result, much of the work has been done outside of the LucasArts offices, with the bulk of the space ship rendering produced by a group of artists at Mechadeus in San Francisco (the refatively small software house which recently produced The Daedalus Encounter, starring Tia Carrere, for Virgin Interactive Entertainment).
On a more technical note, it's worth mentioning at this point that the video footage throughout Rebel II is actually fullscreen VGA and of an absolutely excellent quality. The compression technique that LucasArts is working on is straight-up ninja standard and capable of giving some great results. Obviously it's not up to MPEG quality video, but it is more than adequate for a game.
The new movies...
As you probably know, LucasFilm is currently preparing for the next trilogy of Star Wars movies. These are set to appear from 1997, the twentieth anniversary of Star Wars. The real Star Wars buffs out there will no doubt know a fair bit about this anyway, but as we've learned quite a bit from researching this feature, we thought we'd bang it in anyway. Right then... The first three movies (Star Wars'. A New Hope was part four) will appear first and these go all the way back to the Clone Wars and will track a number of things. First, the rise of the Emperor and the Empire and the resulting demise of the Old Republic, the history of Obi-Wan Kenobi, how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader and some indication of what the Sith actually are. Finally we will learn how the Emperor and Darth Vader managed to instigate the almost complete eradication of the Jedi.
The means and circumstances by which Anakin becomes Darth Vader is of particular interest and we have been led to believe that a considerable amount of the second movie will concern this. It seems that there is a huge punch up between Ben and Anakin inside a volcano (or something like that) and the battle ends with Ben pushing Anakin into the lava below. Thinking his old friend is dead, Ben buggers off and feels very upset, but Anakin is rescued by the Sith and then is rebuilt as the Dark Lord.
As far as technology is concerned, we know for a fact that there are no spaceship models in the new movies. All the spacecraft have been constructed on computer by ILM's ace artists. If the modelling done for Rebel II is anything to go by, the new films should be absolutely incredible. Before the eagerly awaited new movie is released, we'll also be treated to a re-mastered version of Star Wars in 1997. This film will incorporate an extra seven minutes of brand new footage (gasp) with SGI rendered images mixed in with the digitally re-mastered original footage. George Lucas is obviously rather chuffed, for he is on record as saying that he can now make many of the scenes in the film exactly how he originally perceived them.