When “Star Wars Battlefront” launches on Nov. 17, it could bring diversity into everyone’s favorite space fantasy like never before.
The video game — easily among the most anticipated of the year — will allow players to create Rebel troopers and Imperial soldiers who are men, women, black, white, young and old. You’ll customize how your character looks and then join others in battles, sometimes recreating iconic scenes from the “Star Wars” trilogy. The notable difference from the films is that the battles won’t be whitewashed: When you fight on the ice planet Hoth, you’ll do so next to characters who actually look like they’re pulled from every part of the galaxy. (That includes decidedly less-real races like Twi’leks and Rodians.)
This a big deal: The original “Star Wars” trilogy, for all its excellence, wasn’t exactly a landmark achievement for diversity in film. True, Princess Leia is a butt-kicking, take-no-prisoners leader with killer hair, but the illusion is tarnished somewhat when she’s put into a golden bikini “slave” outfit in “Return of the Jedi” and slobbered over by an awful worm beast named Jabba the Hutt. The only main black character is Lando Calrissian, and he’s not even in every movie. And the ethnic stereotypes in the prequel trilogy are best forgotten entirely.
To learn a bit more about diversity in “Star Wars Battlefront” — and a few more tidbits — The Huffington Post spoke with Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir. She served as senior producer for the game, which was made by DICE, a subsidiary of software behemoth EA Games.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Why was it important for you and for your team to include diverse character options in “Battlefront”?
We’re now rebooting a beloved franchise, and we’re building something that we want to appeal to “Star Wars” fans young and old and of both genders, and it seems very natural to be very inclusive in the character design to that end.
Was there pressure from Disney or Lucasfilm to include diverse characters, or was this a directive that you took on yourself?
It was always a directive that we took on ourselves. That’s how we envisioned the game, and it was extremely nice when we spoke to them about it. They were like, “Yes, that’s absolutely in line with what we’re doing with ‘Star Wars’.” So it came completely naturally.
A lot of people feel that the tech and video game industries don’t empower women and those from racially diverse backgrounds in the way that they should. Can you talk a little bit about how you built your team on “Battlefront” from that perspective?
One of the things I strongly believe in [when building] teams is that you create a culture of trust and transparency within the team, and that you empower your team to make decisions. That’s how you create the spirit of initiative and ownership that’s really crucial for you to be able to have a high-performing team.
So, that trust in transparency and ownership has really been a foundation for this team, and that goes very hand in hand with the culture of DICE. I mean, we’re based in Stockholm, Sweden. Hierarchical or corporate culture here is typically quite flat, with people taking a lot of ownership and initiative. So, that kind of culture has been very much in alignment with my personal beliefs on how you run teams.
Would you say that there was a unique pressure on you and your team given that “Star Wars” is such a big deal?
So many people of my generation and younger that have grown up with “Star Wars” — I feel like I’ve never not known about “Star Wars.” I grew up knowing about “Star Wars” and it’s always been a part of my cultural environment, if you will.
For so many people, it means so much and it’s so big and so vast, so of course that creates a lot of pressure on us. But it’s also pressure that we put on ourselves as fans of “Star Wars” from a very early age. I mean, this project is for all of us the project of a lifetime, and there’s nothing like that to drive people to do their absolute best work. So yes, fans put a lot of pressure on us, but then again, so do we.
How did you ensure that you nailed that “Star Wars” vibe?
In other games, when you’re working with your own intellectual property and you’re creating a universe or you’re creating a world, there are so many unknowns and so many things that you need to figure out. But with “Star Wars,” as you said, it’s about nailing that “Star Wars” feeling. You know what you’re going after: Everyone has a pretty clear vision, whether it’s from the audio perspective or from the visual perspective. Then coupled with that, we have this unique access to Lucasfilm and the original John Williams music.
And [we used a] technique that we call photogrammetry, which is basically where you go and take models from the film or natural objects — like leaves or twigs or rocks or trees — and you capture these using a camera from a variety of different angles and then you stitch those images together with software. So, you create models that are actually based on these objects [from the original films], and this is the process that we use to get to this incredible visual fidelity.
In terms of painting the picture for the team, people instinctively know when they’ve gotten to a place where it feels right.
Everyone’s familiar with “Star Wars” — what’s going to surprise them about “Battlefront”?
I think that they’ll be surprised by the breadth of experience that they’re able to have. You’re able to jump into the Star Wars universe in a way that you’ve never been able to before. Do you want to have a lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader? Check: We’ve got the “Hero Battle” mode. Do you want to feel like you’re part of a really, really epic battle? Check, we’ve got that. Do you want to pilot the Millennium Falcon? Yes, you can do that. The list just goes on and on and on about different fantasies from “Star Wars” that we’re capturing in the game.
“Star Wars Battlefront” comes out Nov. 17 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $59.99.
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