Star Wars Jedi: Survivor director interview – Stig Asmussen on trilogies, Lucasfilm relationship, more
Weeks out from the launch of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, the highly anticipated follow-up to Respawn’s 2019 Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, series director Stig Asmussen graced us with his time amid the final stretch of development. From a glimpse at the bold story of the sequel to a deep dive into the blossoming relationship with Lucasfilm, we covered all manner of topics to learn everything we could about the upcoming release.
Although the April 28 release of Survivor is just around the corner, a great deal of mystery still shrouds the second act in the journey of Cal Kestis. Early footage and story trailers have revealed certain tidbits, and our recent hands-on session with a few hours of Koboh gameplay showcased a drastic evolution of the first game’s wonderful formula – but still, there’s plenty we don’t know about the imminent Star Wars launch.
Looking to put an end to various rumors and gain some clarity once and for all, Dexerto was fortunate enough to sit down with industry icon and renowned director Stig Asmussen to discuss all things relevant to Survivor.
Casting our minds back to the early stages of development on Fallen Order, all the way to a look ahead at a seemingly inevitable third entry, even diving into the business side of game development, here’s what we took away from the exclusive interview.
Picking up five years on from Fallen Order
The final moments of Fallen Order saw Cal and his ragtag group sticking together as they headed off on their next adventure in the galaxy far, far away. Flashing forward five whole years, however, the budding Jedi now finds himself alone, save for the ever-adorable BD-1 companion on his shoulder.
So what exactly happened in that half-decade gap? Why did Greez, Cere, and Merrin all part ways to split up the Mantis crew? Just how much stronger has the Empire grown in that span? These questions and more were all intentionally left unanswered, Stig teased in our conversation. While the five-year jump wasn’t “always” part of the greater plan, the dev team “liked the idea” of flashing forward after the first act and seeing Cal as a more seasoned Jedi.
“There’s this new opportunity to play as a more mature Cal, so the game’s going to feel different right off the bat,” he explained. “That was exciting to us as game developers, how can we realize this adult version of Cal? He’s a little bit more weary, how does that translate to the controls?
“That space is intriguing because there’s room for us to tell stories within the game. How did he get here? We wanted to solve those problems on our own and we also wanted to present those as an interesting way to weave a plot for the people who played the first game to put those pieces together but also to a certain extent, for people that didn’t play the first game, they might not feel as left out because we did this time jump.”
While those exclusively sticking to the games will have five years of mystery to unravel, hardcore fans will know the Battle Scars book released weeks prior to help bridge at least one part of the gap. Although it doesn’t necessarily illuminate the full picture, merely serving as a side story prior to the Mantis crew’s dissolution, it nonetheless helps to flesh out the years in-between games. And it’s a story Lucasfilm pushed for directly, Stig revealed.
“As far as I know, that was something Lucasfilm presented to us while we were working on Survivor,” he said. “They did consult us on it and there was definitely a feedback loop on both sides and we’re happy it landed where we have these two products releasing around the same time.”
Will Cal’s story conclude with a third and final act?
Long before Survivor was a reality, amid the launch of Fallen Order, Stig envisioned himself leading development on his own Star Wars trilogy. “Sequel discussions were happening even before Jedi: Fallen Order was released in 2019,” he recently told IGN. “I always wanted to see this as a trilogy.”
Though given the first game’s remarkable sales figures and critical praise, with the sequel now shaping up to be an even bigger success, could the team at EA really walk away from such a smash-hit franchise with a third and final act? From a business perspective, it surely makes all the sense in the world to continue Cal’s journey and in the process, continue the series’ monstrous success. For Stig, however, it’s not quite that simple.
“It’s tough to speculate on something in the future like that,” he said, before cracking a smile and joking about his way of mapping out broad stories. From the early days working on this iconic IP, he pictured a trilogy as that’s simply how he operates. “I think of things in trilogies and a lot of that is because of Star Wars. It’s kind of just my approach.
“When I worked on the God of War series, that’s where we ended Kratos’ journey,” he continued, before adding he was overjoyed to see Sony “rebooted” the beloved PlayStation franchise “in a new realm.”
So for now, Cal’s future hangs in the balance. Although a third entry has undoubtedly been considered for quite some time, unlike EA’s prior spacefaring series in Mass Effect, one publicly confirmed to be a trilogy from the jump, there’s no telling just yet if the next chapter will mark the end of the Cal Kestis story.
“We’re always looking for opportunities, but focused on what’s present.”
Lucasfilm is so much more than just a partner to Respawn
Back when development started on Fallen Order, Respawn was largely an unproven squad. With Stig at the helm, and a rapidly growing squad around a handful of core management figures, it was up to those in charge to convince Lucasfilm of their vision day in and day out. Even the right to use Lightsabers in the game had to be fought for as, after all, the team at Lucasfilm isn’t so willing to give just anybody the keys to the kingdom.
Nowadays, following the landmark success of the first game, “the process is definitely a lot easier,” Stig joked in our conversation. As it stands today, rather than looking at Lucasfilm as a separate entity that needs to be convinced of every decision, Respawn simply views both teams as one naturally cohesive unit.
“I don’t look at Lucasfilm as ‘them,’” he continued. “We’re working on this together. We’ve been doing it for six or seven years now, it’s been a long time. We’re not just partners, we’re part of the same team as far as I’m concerned.
“Just like with people that are directly on my team, when you’re building connections and building relationships, you have to build trust. We had to earn that trust. To a certain extent, Lucasfilm has to earn trust with us too. That’s the best way to have a partnership. We get each other, we communicate a lot more efficiently and collaborate on a much broader level than we could have in the past.”
Without delving into spoiler territory, this evolution in the relationship became apparent quite early in our hands-on preview of Survivor. Given the second chapter ventures into bold new territory, advancing not only this particular series, but the Star Wars franchise as a whole, it certainly isn’t something just any developer could be in a position to pull off. But through years of working on that trust, Respawn has ingrained itself into the Lucsafilm ecosystem to a point where both parties are more willing to take bigger risks than ever before.
Staying calm in the galactic storm
On the eve of Fallen Order’s release back in 2019, Stig admitted he was extremely anxious, to the point where even just regular sleeping patterns went out the window. From it being his first title at a new home under EA’s banners, to the weight of directing a project in the beloved Star Wars universe, the pressure was certainly mounting. Now back for round two, however, knowing how it all panned out for the first attempt, Stig exuded a sense of calm in our conversation, evidently confident in what he and the team have accomplished after years of hard work refining the experience.
“I’m a lot more relaxed than I was, there’s no doubt about that. One thing I’ve learned is I just don’t sleep very well in general,” he joked before getting back on track and highlighting just how important it was that Fallen Order amassed the praise that it did.
“[Fallen Order] was validation for us,” Stig asserted. “People like what we’re doing. When you have that, you still have an edge, but there’s a certain degree of confidence that you’re making the right decisions. That’s part of the reason why I hope people that played the first game jump into this and they’re like, ‘This feels familiar but they’re pushing it forward, they’re doing the things we wanted.’ We listen to the fans, we’re doing the things they want. We didn’t change the game, we’re building it up.”
Quickfire comments on particular Survivor features & bonus goodies
To round out the conversation, I fired off a series of rapid questions to get some last-minute details on a few particular points of interest. First up, Stig was able to confirm a neat detail in that all Kyber crystals are available to players right away in Survivor. Unlike Fallen Order, in which you had to earn the right to recolor your Lightsaber, that ability is available from the very beginning in the sequel.
When asked on the subject of New Game Plus, a feature that was only added to the previous title six months after launch, Stig refused to give a clear answer. Right now, there’s no telling if such a mode will be available on day one this time around.
“The only thing I’ll say… we understand that players want more,” Stig said with a smile. “They want a bigger game. In regard to how that unfolds… play the game, you’ll find out.”
In terms of a rough playtime for Survivor, the game’s director also kept specific details under wraps on this topic. “I don’t want to get into the hours, because honestly, it’s different for everybody,” he explained. “If you’re somebody that wants to 100% the game, we have tools [like Beacons] and fast travel to make it easier. But in regards to hours, it’s always a tough question to answer because people are going to approach it in different ways. Some people are going to get through it faster than others.”
Based on our brief experience, if each planet is anywhere close in scale and density to Koboh, fans are in store for a considerably larger experience than Fallen Order.
Last but not least, ending on a fun one, Stig admitted he was “mindblown” when talks first started on bringing BD-1 to life with an official Lego set. Having grown up playing with Lego, often trying to build the things he saw on TV, now having his very own set is among the most “amazing” accomplishments of his career.
“I don’t have a bucket list or anything, things just happen that are amazing and that was one of them,” he said.
As for whether we can expect more official Lego sets stemming from the Jedi series anytime soon, that’s something only “Lucasfilm people” can answer down the line, though if Stig has his way, he’d love to see even “more” sets in the near future.