It is the dawn of a new age of Star Wars fans, and I think it is about time we had a little heart to heart about the current condition of Star Wars gaming.
Ok, I’m not really going to write this whole thing in letter format. That’s tacky. But really, a Jedi Knight reboot, or at least spiritual successor, is long overdue. As a huge fan of the entire Jedi Knight series, starting with Dark Forces 2, I will admit I am a little biased, but this new generation of Star Wars films will inevitably spawn a new generation of Star Wars fans. This presents a huge opportunity for a great game and great profit and I fear we are in danger of missing it.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was and still is one of the best multiplayer games I have ever played. What really made it shine, aside from the fact that it was an awesome Star Wars game way ahead of its time, was the amount of control you had over your lightsaber, and the mechanics behind combat and movement. Most melee combat, even in modern games, give you one or two buttons to press, and those are your attacks. In JKA, your attacks are based on the direction you are moving, making for 7 different directional swings, and a host of combinations of swings. Your lightsaber does damage for the entire swing, as long as it makes contact, making aim crucial, and allowing for a very high skill cap.
While writing this article, I decided to hop on a server I used to frequent, and found that many people still feel the same way I do about the game. I asked a few veteran players for their thoughts on JKA
PCGR: What keeps you coming back to JKA after 12 years?
Wolfeye: Jedi Academy was a whole new experience when I started playing it. It was a whole new way to play, and one that stood the test of time at that. Despite its basic graphics and steep learning curve, it still draws you in and keeps you playing. It is a never-ending learning experience – even 13 years after its release, people are still discovering new things about it. The combat is unique, and truly skilled based. The acrobatics and strafe-based movement systems will be set in your muscle memory for life. Even the glitches in the game are fun and have evolved into skills of their own. But I think, of everything the game offers, what keeps me playing the most is knowing it is my duty to pass on the teachings to the next generation of players so that they can experience this game to the fullest.
Red Leader: Friends, the complexity and challenge of the combat, and what it has taught me about life and learning in general.
PCGR: What can modern game designers learn from JKA?
Wolfeye: I think there is a lot they can learn. You see companies only focusing on two things anymore: graphics and profit. JKA brought a whole new system to how melee combat is experienced, and even was an influence for later (albeit less impressive, in my opinion) sword-based combat games.
Red Leader: JKA built off the great ambition of JK2. JK2 itself had tons of unused assets and halfway finished ideas, but ended up being a fantastic game anyway. I think that is precisely what made it so great. The developers of Raven software clearly put a lot of time and effort into creating the most authentic Star Wars experience they could, and I’m betting it’s because they were die hard Star Wars lovers. I think it’s as simple as this: a game designer needs to know and love what they are creating, be ambitious, and if they are working with a licensed IP like Star Wars, they need to stay true to the source material but not be afraid to create something new to flesh out the game world while they are at it. It’s about giving the fans of a series MORE of what they love, not something different just for the sake of being different. If you try to re-imagine it, or try to stuff in an agenda that has nothing to do with the game, you stand to alienate fans and fail to reach new audiences.
PCGR: What things would be most important to you to see in a reboot of the series, or spiritual successor?
Wolfeye: I’d like to see it stay true to the free feeling JKA provided, and definitely would like to see it stay true to the deep complexity of the mechanics in JKA that require years to really master. Most games just can not match the level of free-form combat JKA offers. Most combat in modern games (for example, the Arkham and Assassins Creed series) does everything for you at the push of one or two buttons. It also tends to be incredibly simplistic, removing any real feeling of accomplishment through improvement in the game – or if there is improvement, it’s through mundane stats or perks and not actual skill. It’s that fresh feeling, as though you’re actually there and every movement you make has meaning (because well… It does) that really attracts people, especially me, to the game.
Red Leader: It’s funny, I wasn’t thinking about this in my previous answer, but the point is the same here. Do not acknowledge JJ Abram’s re-imagining of Star Wars. Go with the lore created by the Extended Universe novels if you need inspiration. If a reboot of the series is to be made, I would love for it to be as ambitious as the games of the olden days. I want a big awesome Star Wars single player story to sink my teeth into, and multiplayer with just as much love shown to it.
You may be thinking “The Kyle Katarn story isn’t canon any more!”, and you are right, technically. Does that mean a game can’t be based on it? Absolutely not! The extended universe is still Star Wars, and is still perfectly viable to base games off of. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say we want to stay canon. Fine. Pick a different story arch. The point remains, we have not seen, in the past 12 years, a game that plays the same as a Jedi Knight game. Like myself and many others have said, what really made the game great were the combat and movement mechanics. For that reason, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, a game that released in 2003, still has a devoted and active player base.
As a game developer and producer you may be thinking “Where is the money in this?” and my response is this. Twelve years later, money (albeit less now than before) is still being made on the Jedi Knight series. Sell us the game and charge us extra for cosmetics, we don’t really care. If a game was made that mechanically worked like JKA, but had modern visuals, it would not only bring back old fans of the Jedi Knight series, but usher in a new wave of fans eager for that feeling of control over their lightsaber and the force that made us veteran players fall in love with the series in the first place.
It is time for a new Jedi Knight.
Ben is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PCGR. He writes much of the content, manages the site, and does other editorial things that would bore you to tears.