on Project Europa — the internal codename for the development effort
that would eventually metamorphose into Star Wars Starfighter —
began in earnest in April 1998. A small crew of programmers, headed up by
director Daron Stinnet, began preproduction work on a Star Wars: Episode
I PC title that had grand ambitions. As one of Lucas Arts' great unsung
talents, Daron had previously led the Dark Forces and Outlaws
teams to much critical and commercial success. Now, following in the footsteps
of Larry Holland's X-Wing games, Europa was to bolster Lucas Arts'
presence in the space-combat genre and support the new film franchise. While
embracing much of the X-Wing series's simulation-oriented aesthetic,
the team also wanted to deliver the visceral, sweaty-fingered arcade experience
that we were starting to see in early builds of Rogue Squadron.
early months of 1999, a well-known designer who was in the market for
a new lead programmer and lead level designer for his company's overdue
project secretly approached two members of our team about the possibility
of jumping ship. Although obviously conflicted, the allure of working
with a famous industry heavyweight proved too tempting, and within a few
short weeks, we had lost our main graphics programmer and level designer.
Shaken but undeterred, we were determined to make the best of a bad situation,
but three months later, the project suffered another blow when we lost
our second graphics programmer.
Europa's darkest hour. The technology development was progressing slowly,
and our inexperienced programming staff was still climbing the C++ learning
curve. As lead programmer, this predicament was largely of my own making.
I had joined Lucas Arts from outside the game industry, where I was accustomed
to a corporate R&D environment that valued solid engineering and extensible
software architecture over quick solutions that were perhaps less elegant
or flexible. Now, with little to show but a creaky Glide-based graphics
engine and no graphics programmer, we were at a loss as to what to do
As if things
weren't bad enough, we were also floundering on the game design side of
the fence. Although we had a lot of excellent concept art, few of us had
a clear idea about exactly what type of game we were making. We were painfully
starting to discover that while it is easy to characterize a title as
being a cross between Rogue Squadron and X-Wing, it's another
thing completely to describe what that actually means.
point two events occurred that I'm convinced saved the project. Our multiplayer
programmer, Andrew Kirmse, who had already proven himself as a remarkably
capable technologist, teamed up with two of our other programmers to create
a graphics-engine "tiger team," a small subteam dedicated to
attacking a single task with unwavering focus. In just a few months the
three of them delivered a brand-new OpenGL-based engine that was far better
than anything we had built previously.
after the new graphics engine came online we also found the solution to
our game design woes. Tim Longo, who had recently helped complete Indiana
Jones and the Infernal Machine, joined the team as our lead level
designer. The change was immediate and profound; five other level designers
joined the project at about the same time, and now we had the foundation
for a thriving, collaborative design process. Daron worked with Tim and
the other level designers on an almost daily basis, systematically identifying
areas of the game design that were incomplete and working together to
come up with concrete solutions.
By the end
of 1999, the project had performed a 180-degree turnaround, but there
was one more significant twist in the road awaiting us. Sony had turned
the game industry on its ear with the formal announcement of the Playstation
2 that year, and every major development house was furiously rewriting
business plans to accommodate support for the new platform; Lucas Arts
was no exception. The biggest problem for the company was that we wanted
to have a title close to the system's launch, and Europa was the only
project far enough along to be a serious candidate. The thought of throwing
the PS2 into the mix made many people very uncomfortable, but when we
were able to port all of our nongraphics code in a single 48-hour period,
senior management became convinced.
of the project was an exciting and manic blur of activity. Early in 2000,
we hit the "snowball point," that period when all of a sudden
the tech falls into place, the art production paths are running on all
cylinders, and the team is seeing exciting new gameplay on an almost daily
basis. From then on, Star Wars Starfighter was indeed like a runaway
snowball, picking up momentum and new features almost as fast as we could
think of them.