Guest article by Josh Whittington
LEGO and Star Wars have always had a strong history. Star Wars was one of the first licensed themes LEGO ever produced, and combining the two resulted in the first of a very successful line of LEGO videogames.
So it’s only natural that when a new LEGO Star Wars game was announced that would cover all 9 of the main Star Wars films, people got hyped beyond belief. But all has been quiet on the LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga front, and people are starting to get worried. So what exactly is going on?
A long time ago in a console far, far away
The modern LEGO game franchise as we know it now started with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game in 2005. Putting a comedic spin on the Star Wars prequels and delivering creative gameplay that was enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike, it created a strong foundation that would go on to birth similar games based on all sorts of big names in pop culture.
The LEGO games have been well-received over the franchise’s lifetime, resulting in a strong relationship between developer TT Games and The LEGO Group. Whenever LEGO has secured a deal for a new film franchise like Pirates of the Caribbean or Jurassic World, TT Games is usually close behind developing a game to tie-in with the release of sets or films. In the case of Toys to Life game LEGO Dimensions, TT Games also worked with LEGO to secure all new licensing deals specifically for the purpose of the game like Mission: Impossible and Gremlins.
TT Games have gotten the development of these games down to a science; they reveal them, trickle out a few trailers, and then a few months later the game is out on shelves. They’re generally not the kind of games to get the sort of press blow-outs that you see for AAA games due to their different audience, but a part of that is also probably due to people knowing what to expect from them.
While new installments in the series have brought new mechanics and shake-ups to the formula, like open world hubs and new character abilities, you generally know what you’re in for. You’ll play through a comedic version of several hit films, using the unique abilities of each character to beat up baddies and solve puzzles. All the while collecting minikits to build miniature LEGO models and red bricks to unlock cheats and power-ups.
Things seemed to be going the same way this time – LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was revealed in June 2019 with a warm, nostalgic trailer that went over the entire Star Wars series, announcing a 2020 release date.
The game was shown off at E3 2019, with the 2020 release date being repeated. LEGO announced a line of Star Wars sets that would include codes to unlock content within The Skywalker Saga, clearly to tie-in with the game’s release later that year.
Remember the code from the 2020 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar?
Or the reveal of the Luke Skywalker with Blue Milk polybag?
What the heck!?
With a pre-release period like this, it’s very easy to feel worried. But the good news is that videogames are difficult to make and sometimes need to be delayed to give them the time they need. Well, I guess that’s more good news for us than for the people who make them.
Delays aren’t necessarily a bad sign of the game’s quality. Grand Theft Auto V, the best-selling game of the last decade in the US, suffered a number of delays over its several releases and re-releases.
In addition to its sales it also received a positive reception from both press and users. Of course, there are also games that receive several delays and still end up in a state that requires them to be removed from sale.
So what’s going on with The Skywalker Saga?
Had a Slight Weapons Malfunction
There’s one big thing that TT Games have had to deal with during this development cycle that they haven’t had to before – an international pandemic. COVID has impacted the way countless organisations operate all around the world, and game developers are no different. Indie developers and industry giants alike have both felt its effects, whether it’s down to health issues afflicting the team and their loved ones or lockdowns forcing companies to adapt to a work from home methodology.
In a survey conducted by the GDC, a notable number of game developers reported they felt less productive or creative during the pandemic, and over half of them stated that their companies have shifted their practises in ways that will persist after restrictions have eased.
Even in the last few weeks games like Darktide and Just Cause Mobile have been hit with delays attributed to COVID. The pandemic has hit all of us hard, and so it’s understandable that TT Games have encountered issues of their own during the development of The Skywalker Saga.
And if these challenges weren’t enough as it was, The Skywalker Saga looks to be one of the most ambitious LEGO games yet. Like most recent LEGO games, The Skywalker Saga features a number of open world hubs from each of the featured movies, alongside a handful of levels for each one and hundreds of characters.
With 9 whole movies being included, this makes for a much bigger workload than is usually involved in one of these games, and in addition to that the team is overhauling some of the core systems (like the combat) and getting things running on an all-new game engine.
In some of the bigger LEGO games like LEGO Dimensions you could really feel the aging LEGO engine begging for the sweet release of death, so the team has been wrapping their heads around a new one for The Skywalker Saga.
While some knowledge and workflows are easily shifted between game engines, it’s not just a matter of copying and pasting code over. Not only are you facing the usual struggles that come with programming a complicated system like a videogame but you’re also learning some things from scratch at the same time.
You could potentially need to hire new staff that are more proficient with the new engine as well, who will need to be integrated within your team’s workflows. All the while dealing with the dread of looming deadlines. Getting hit with a global pandemic while also managing a new engine and a content-heavy game is not a situation anyone wants to be in, and I really sympathise with TT Games.
While it’s definitely disappointing that we still have no idea how long we have to wait for LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, the important thing to remember is that real human beings are working on it behind the scenes.
They don’t want to set unrealistic expectations and they’re not taking your money and running – the game isn’t even on shelves yet.
Just like all of us they’ve been hit hard with all sorts of complications from the COVID pandemic, all the while working on one of their biggest games yet. I’m as excited for it as anyone else, but the world is in a weird place at the moment and so we have to accept that some things aren’t going to go the same as they used to.
Take a deep breath, sit back, and hopefully the game will be exactly what we were waiting for all this time.
About the author: Josh Whittington
Hi everyone, I’m Josh! I’m a game design and marketing graduate, and occasional games journalist. LEGO, Star Wars and videogames have been huge parts of my life ever since I was a little boy, so you can imagine how much I must have loved the LEGO Star Wars games. I used to run a Toys to Life-focused site called Mon Amiibo but these days I’m mostly freaking out about games over on Twitter as @Mario__Bones.