Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited to include all of the answers from both of our live show and our subsequent Q&A with the developers, with some answers edited for clarity.
Star Wars Outlaws is nearly here, and fans still have plenty of quetsions about Ubisoft Massive’s upcoming open world game. To answer those questions, we chatted with some of the team behind Star Wars: Outlaws, including narrative director Navid Khavari, creative director Julian Gerighty, and Lucasfilm senior creative executive Matt Martin.
During our interviews, we covered a ton of ground Star Wars Outlaws, which stars a scoundrel named Kay Vess in the time between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. From making a game that feels both like classic Star Wars and brand new, to how Kay Vess will influence and traverse the world around her, to why everything doesn’t need Jedi and the Force, this is one conversation from that galaxy far, far away you won’t want to miss.
Star Wars: Outlaws is set to be released in 2024 and will also feature branching dialogue, epic space battles, an adorable Axolotl-like companion named Nix, and even the opportunity to work and/or betray the one and only Jabba the Hutt.
Don’t worry though, it won’t be a “300 hour epic unfinishable RPG.”
You can learn much more about Star Wars: Outlaws below, and be sure to check out why we think it looks to be a mix of Watch Dogs and Grand Theft Auto and why we believe this just may be the open-world Star Wars game we’ve always wanted.
IGN: Okay, we’re obsessed with this game. Our audience is obsessed with this game. We can’t get enough of this game. I’m delighted that we’re getting more of this game because usually we find out about something and then it goes into hibernation for like six months or a year. You’re actually talking about some new stuff this weekend, specifically a new planet.
Matt Martin, Lucasfilm Senior Creative Executive: Yeah. It’s actually a new moon, Toshara, that we’ve crafted together with Lucasfilm games and it’s really exciting. It’s inspired by East African savannas. We took this approach where you would have a thriving bustling underworld and capital city, but also these wide open plains that you could just hop in your speeder and take off down.
Can you tell us a little bit about the speeder because I feel like it looks like a swoop. Is it a swoop?
Julian Gerighty, Creative Director: It isn’t a swoop. It’s a speeder and we created it because of moons like Toshara. There isn’t just this bustling city in Toshara’s gate…there’s all this wilderness outside. This is where the player and Kay, driven by their objectives, can be distracted by their curiosity and explore. Those distances are fairly vast, so to make them fun and accessible, we came up with a speeder. The inspiration wasn’t a swoop, wasn’t a chopper, wasn’t a hot rod.
It wasn’t anything that had previously been done in Star Wars, it was motocross in the sense of making the travel really fun, thrilling, full of tricks, speed chases, that type of thing. We had just an unbelievable time creating the actual physical object. It’s something that has been built for Comic-Con as well, so I’m looking forward to bringing that one home.
I know somebody was just driving it in front of our studio yesterday. It’s amazing work. Incredibly well done. Is this something we’ll be able to customize a bit, change the colors or the look a little bit? Can I put stickers on it like I would in my own life?
JG: Don’t know about stickers, but there will be some personalization.
Creating a New Star Wars Experience That Still Feels At Home in that Galaxy Far, Far Away
Awesome. Awesome. Now talking about the landscape, it is very savanna-like, but there are these big red outcroppings. There’s a lot of almost crystalline looking stuff. Can you tell us about that a little bit?
JG: I think this comes down to Massive and the other partner studios at Ubisoft working very closely with Lucasfilm games on building a planet or a moon that feels like it’s Star Wars, that feels familiar but fresh. We start off with a biome, in this case east African biomes as an inspiration, and then you put a twist on it to make it feel a little bit alien. If you think of the first shots of Tatooine…
JG: Beautiful, recognizable architecture, but two suns. For us, it’s having this huge mountain and carved into it into the amberine of the mountain. The crystalline substance is a city, and these outcroppings are orange, very reflective material and that’s what brings the really alien nature to it. Familiar but fresh.
I love it.
MM: When we’re working on anything in the Star Wars world, at Lucasfilm, we have what we call the 80/20 rule where it’s 80% familiar, 20% alien, 20% fantastical. I think Toshara is a great example of that where it does have that grounded Star Wars feel, where we could go to East Africa and shoot it if this was a live action thing. Then you have the amberine or the big mound city and that brings in that 20% fantasy.
That’s awesome. Now Matt, you’re integral to the story group at Star Wars, and I know that involves working with teams like these guys and they come to you with questions, and some of those questions are probably like, “Hey, we have this character we want to use. Is he busy that day? What’s he doing in Star Wars between Empire Strikes Back and Return to The Jedi?”
This timeline specifically, it makes me really excited because this is a timeline we haven’t really seen to be explored in Star Wars games or really Star Wars media since Shadows of the Empire, which is obviously not necessarily canon anymore, but there’s a lot of stuff in that sandbox that could carry over. Tell me a little bit about that communication process between them. How often do you have to say yes or no, what does that collaboration look like?
MM: It’s rarely just, no…We do try to really partner closely with everybody that we work with and find a way to get what it is that they’re going for. Working with Massive has been amazing because they’re coming to the table with already great ideas, some really deep cuts that I was shocked to see, the sort of things where it’s brought up in a room and I’m like I’m the only one that’s going to get this.
Navid Khavari, Narrative Director: Sometimes we test.
MM: I love it because it’s clear that the team cares that much. It is, it’s a really great, we work and we’re in meetings every week. Sometimes it’s talking about the nitty gritty, the details exactly like you’re getting at. I think it’s that level of authenticity and care that’s going to make this feel really special, especially as an open world game where you as a player can go explore whatever you want and see whatever you want, and we will have had to think of what’s there.
NK: That’s great about working with Lucasfilm games and folks like Matt, is that even just last week we were doing motion capture and we had a moment where we’re like, we need some Hutts fast for a character who will remain nameless.
God, I wonder who he is?
NK: But we huddled together with them and crafted something that worked. That’s what Star Wars is about, it’s all the little details and feeling as authentic and lived in as possible.
Now speaking of the 80/20 familiarity, the most recent game of this scale in the Star Wars galaxy is the Jedi games, which have a lot of runway because they’re set in the dark times. There’s a lot of buffer there where it hasn’t been explored much story wise. This is a little bit cozier because it’s jammed between two movies in the original trilogy. I guess, Matt, you could probably speak to this a bit, but the rest of you guys in general, how do you keep from running into too many old familiar friends? We see Jabba, we see Han in the trailer. That’s Han right?
MM: That decoration on the wall?
Yeah. You know. It could be some other guy! How do you keep this from being just too samey, but with the familiar stuff?
MM: Yeah, I mean, it is something that we always do have to pay attention to because you don’t want it to feel… it starts with this big galaxy, and you don’t want it to feel too small galaxy. What’s nice is that we’re telling a scoundrel story in this era. We haven’t quite seen that, at least on screen, in that era before. We get to see the underworld really brought to the forefront, which is it’s there in the films. It’s critical in the films, but it’s more of a background element. When we’re working on a game like this, we get to take somebody like Kay Vess who’s a brand new character created just for this game and experience her story with a familiar backdrop as far as the era goes.
NK: We actually found that to be a bit of an advantage. It might sound funny, but the fact that there’s been so much written about the Empire and the rebellion during that period, really we were just talking about this and it really came organically that this is when the syndicates and the underworld are thriving. There is so much story to tell there and to have a character like Kay, who’s not a Jedi or a Sith or anything like that, she is a thief who’s just trying to get by to step into the underworld and navigate her reputation with these syndicates. There’s so much to tell.
That’s my favorite part of Star Wars, is the seedy underbelly, the drug dealers and the criminals, and ugly puppets.
MM: We aim for you.
Awesome. I actually didn’t think I could be more excited for this game, Navid, and then you walked in the room today and I recognize you and I’m like, oh, I’ve talked to you, we’ve interviewed for every Far Cry game for the last five or six years. I adore Far Cry. I love that franchise.
NK: Thank you.
I was like, oh, so we’ve got a little more Far Cry in here than I thought. Tell me a little bit about what you’re bringing to the table specifically from your history in those games and how much of that is making it into here?
NK: Well, I think just what we really focus on, especially at Massive, and I’m sure Julian can speak to this as well, is we build an open world from the ground up, but from a place of character. I think such an important goal for us is that when you look at our open worlds at Ubisoft, you have to really get into all the layers that will create that world, so demographics, politics, the characters you’re going to run into. In Toshara’s case, it’s having Imperials and Syndicates trading and being and having some corruption, all those layers.
We worked so hard with the world team to research and the narrative teams to factor in so that when you approach this game, you really are stepping into Star Wars. The wonderful thing is that every conversation we have, whether it’s about a biome or whether it’s about a character or an activity or an artifact, it always comes from a place of character. This might be Kay seeing this for the first time. How would she react to it?
The First Star Wars Open-World Game Is Filled With Syndicates to Please or Betray, Epic Space Battles, and More
Now I’m curious about the interaction of the Syndicates and the Empire because they both have their own turf. They clearly have some interaction. We’ve seen that Kay has a reputation with the Syndicates. Obviously if she pisses off the Imperials, drop troopers come in. Will the Syndicate and the Empire wind up bumping into each other at all?
JG: That’s a great point and it’s something that we’re super, super proud of because every single one of the locations that we decided upon were decided upon presence of the Empire, one, and presence of the Syndicates, two, so that both the wanted system and the reputation system for the player really clicked. The reputation system is you as Kay building positive or negative reputations with the different criminal Syndicates. The better reputation you have, the better jobs you’ll get, the better prices you’ll get in their stores. You’ll get more access to their faction territories. But if that relationship goes sour, they’re going to send people after you. It’s all about playing the Syndicates off one another, making choices, dilemmas in terms of how you hand in a quest, that type of thing. At the end of the game, every player will have a different profile in terms of their adventure through the reputation and the high stakes of the scoundrel lifestyle with the Syndicates.
It’s been interesting monitoring the reactions to Star Wars Outlaws and one of the kind of questions I think a lot of people have had is, will this actually be too big? Because certain Ubisoft games in the past have occasionally felt very big to people, maybe overwhelming. And I’m wondering what are your thoughts on that and what to you is maybe too big?
JG: Too big is a game that people don’t manage to play, enjoy, and finish. And our objective is to really get people into a very dense, rich adventure, open world adventure that they can rhythm the way that they want. So it is absolutely not a 200 or 300 hour epic unfinishable RPG. This is a very focused action-adventure RPG that will take people on a ride and is very manageable.
NK: And I think for us as well is we wanted to make sure you really get to experience Kay Vess’ journey. And we’ve talked about this a lot on the team is that yes, we’re building open worlds, we’re building bustling cities and cantinas and wide open plains, but we always try to approach it from a place of character, from a place of story and realizing that this might be Kay Vess’ first entry into a planet like Toshara that we’ve crafted for this. So that’s always in top of mind, is fusing that narrative element with the game, right?
I was going to say, how many locations … how many planets can fans expect?
JG: We’re not going into the number of locations here.
Okay. Just out of curiosity, so I know that you are doing all hand-crafted locations, which is pretty cool, but I’m wondering if you’re going to do kind of side planets totally optional areas to explore.
JG: So it’s mostly with focusing on the open world experience. So the open world experience means that you need a core amount of playable surface with grass and distractions and characters and cantinas. And so there won’t necessarily be one off exotic missions outside of the core areas that we’re creating.
Can you tell me a little bit about the philosophy behind the ship combat? Off the top of my head, it looks fairly simple, but I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the way that you were approaching it.
JG: So the ship combat, we work very closely with Ubisoft teams that have done very arcade flights and combat simulation games in the past. And our main focus was how can we make this as accessible as possible, because movement in a whole full on 360-degree environment is quite challenging. So it’s about bringing the pace down, but making every combat feel very intimate and explosive for the center. So we wanted not only combat but exploration as well in space. Combat, very accessible. There’s a chase cam control where you click it down and you’re going to chase the enemy automatically and it’s just about shooting precision. So a lot of the movement is much easier for you to be able to approach this. And you have small scale battles as well as very large scale.
And how much can you customize the ship? We talked a little bit about the speeder, but the ship itself … the ships are the character, like the Millennium Falcon.
JG: I would argue that the speeder is a character as well. So for me, the amount of personalization is around the same for both the Trailblazer and the speeder.
And yeah, I saw you running … the characters running seamlessly into the ship. So will you be able to just hang out in the ship, walk around in it?
JG: That’s the intention.
NK: Something we’ve talked a lot about with Lucasfilm Games as well is a scoundrel’s home is their ship. This is where they’re going to eat, sleep, and have fun. So we have the dog fighting aspect and it’s a huge important part of the game. But also the fact that you can talk to characters in the ship, get to know … there’s mysteries within the ship in terms of its history and everything like that. We’re excited for players to experience it.
The design of the ship is interesting. And I think you can allude to this a little bit. What was some of the feedback that Lucasfilm was giving on the design of ship? I know that you all were kind of intentionally going for a simpler look to be more in line with maybe the used universe of the original trilogy. What was Lucasfilm’s vantage point on that?
MM: Yeah, it’s definitely about looking at the design that was done for the original trilogy, as you say, and just sort of that late 70s, early 80s design aesthetic in general. So looking at things like electronic consumer products that were in vogue at the time is always a good starting point. And then just taking that sort of kit bash nature that was used in the original films to make those props and finding a way to apply it to a digital prop basically in a game like this.
And you’ve referenced the trilogy quite a bit, but what about other works like Solo: A Star Wars Story or Rebels that have strong scoundrel aspects to them.
JG: There’s a lot of different influences. So I mean, it was the best homework assignment in the world to go home and watch a bunch of Star Wars animation and TV and read the books. And that’s not the only sort of influences either. There’s a lot in the sort of matinee action tone that we’re trying to nail that were real influences on us. And again, it’s the 70s, the 80s, big family movies, a lot of hearts, great characters, big adventure at its heart. So it wasn’t just Star Wars, there was other inspirations to it.
NK: On that we also tried to look at what were George Lucas’ original inspirations. So, whether it’s spaghetti westerns or films, we really wanted to capture that feeling of high emotional stakes that you got in the original trilogy with a sort of balance with humor and levity as well.
MM: Yeah. One specific thing to your question about kind of contemporary Star Wars that is included in the game that we discussed today in the panel is the planet of Kijimi, which is a location in the Rise of Skywalker. It was created for the Rise of Skywalker, but really only had a glimpse briefly. But being able to create it for an open world game allowed us to really explore every aspect of what that world could be, which was cool. Now we’re seeing what Kijimi was like around 30 years before the time that we see it in Rise of Skywalker.
NK: With a brand new syndicate as well.
MM: With a brand new syndicate.
NK: Based on Kijimi are a group called the Ashiga Clan, which is the sort of hive mine syndicate based around the Melitto species that lives to serve for the Hive. And so it’s a very different kind of syndicate than we normally see in Star Wars.
JG: And the Melitto are also a contemporary thing because they’re based on a character design … a character called Sarco Plank that was in the Force Awakens.
Take me inside the team’s discussions very briefly. I’m curious, what are some of the running discussions that y’all have been having, running debates? I’m actually really interested.
JG: I mean, we can take it back to the Ashiga Clan. The creation of that syndicate is born out of the need for players to have really varied encounters, both combat and stealth. So their vision is fairly poor, but their hearing is great. So in terms of stealth, it creates a brand new challenge for players and very contrasted with the other factions that were done in future gaming …
NK: I think as well, in terms of running discussions, we’re always talking about … and this comes up a lot when we’re talking with Lucasfilm Games as well, is we want to pay homage to those iconic locations, iconic characters, but we’re always trying to push for what’s new and what’s fresh and it’s a different kind of take. So I think … I’m hoping, and I feel that that players will find a balance of that, that we’re to …
Bring balance to the Force.
NK: Yeah. You said it, not me.
The Scoundrel Is Strong in This One
How tempted are you … speaking of the Force, how tempted are you to slip in Jedi, Sith, lightsabers, and the Force? Because I mean, they’re such a huge part of Star Wars and it always feels like they make it in eventually.
NK: It’s funny because I get that question a lot. And it’s so organic when you realize … the process of coming up with this kind of story really was very organic for us because so much of the Empire and Rebellion story has been told on film, on screen. There’s been great books and comics and novelizations of sort of what’s going on referencing the underworld, but this is the first game that’s really going to get to explore that underworld aspect. And there is so much story to tell between the syndicates, between Kay Vess, between someone like ND-5, who fought in the Clone Wars and has transitioned into the underworld. So it came quite natural, honestly.
Did you take any inspiration from the LucasArts game that was canceled… Star Wars 1313?
NK: No, this was really from the ground up.
JG: No, 100%. We don’t have access to any other space. And to be honest, the pleasure as creators is also to try and find our own way and our own niche and think of things with the experience and the scale that Massive and the Palm Studios can bring to it.
Talking about the Jedi for a moment, I think about Kyle Katarn was kind of a scoundrel in Dark Forces, and then he eventually got his lightsaber and learned the Force. So is Kay going to eventually get a lightsaber?
JG: Right? This is a scoundrel.
She’s a scoundrel.
JG: She really doesn’t need it. I don’t know if she would even want it.
NK: Probably could get some good credits for that.
JG: What we were pitching internally was that this isn’t a story about the Empire or the Rebels. This isn’t a story about the Jedi. This is the story of a scoundrel. And I think it was super important for us to embrace that in terms of the gameplay, in terms of the character, in terms of character motivations. So hey, I’m fairly definite that that’s a no on that one.
As a Star Wars fan, it’s really refreshing for me to hear because I loved Jedi, but course I love so much of the other aspects of the universe. I really want a Rogue Squadron game.
JG: We’re on it next. [laughs]
One more question for you. Do you have a message for fans who have been negative about Outlaws having a woman as a protagonist?
NK: Well, I think we are just unbelievably excited to tell a crafted narrative around a character like Kay Vess that is so authentically a scoundrel as could possibly be. She really is the anchor of the game and the performance as well that Humberly González is bringing to Kay is bringing so much heart, so much humor that I really think players are just going to love experiencing her journey.
Brian Altano is an executive producer and host at IGN. The Legend of Zelda is his favorite video game franchise, Link’s Awakening is his favorite game of all time, and he’s never finished Skyward Sword despite several valiant attempts.
Max Scoville is a senior writer, producer, and host at IGN.
Kat Bailey is IGN’s News Director as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.
Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.