INTERVIEW: Making A Star Wars Memory with Respawn’s Jeff Magers and Blair Brown

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Star Wars Jedi Survivor — But Why Tho (2)

The long-awaited sequel to Respawn Entertainment and EA’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order expands the world of the first game through expanded combat, customization, and traversal mechanics. We got the chance to sit down with Respawn’s Jeff Magers and Blair Brown who serve as Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’s Design Director and Senior Producer respectively. In this Jedi Survivor interview, we get into the game’s expanded world and features, how it feels to create a Star Wars memory, and how Respawn has designed Jedi Survivor with every player in mind.

BUT WHY THO: So my first question is about the world. It is so immersive and there’s so much detail put into flora and fauna as much as the enemies that you’re fighting. I wanted to ask, what went into creating a layered environment that doesn’t always need to be in combat?

JEFF MAGERS: Yeah, we’ve got a variety of pillars in our game. One is, obviously, exploration, especially in [Jedi Survivor], where we were trying to expand the exploration [from the last game] and make just a very rich world to explore. We wanted to pique players’ interests in any direction they go. And yeah, part of that is to have fauna and flora that you can find interesting. You can also stumble across different caves with different types of gameplay, mixing in traversal, combat, and puzzles as well.

BLAIR BROWN: We have a lot of passionate people on the project. Some artists are really into flowers and fauna and tree, and we let them go like this is an alien world go make some really cool planets. That makes sense for the biome that we’ve decided we want to do for this planet. You’re playing Koboh [in the demo], which is deserty but not with some cactuses, and things like that—and so we work on tying those into gameplay a bit. Some plants you’ll be able to cut down and give you seeds, and then plant them somewhere that you probably haven’t reached yet.

JEFF MAGERS: You’ve just got the greatest Star Wars universe, you’ve got a lot of cool fauna, and things like that. So it’s just kind of part of the tradition of the franchise as well.

BUT WHY THO: There are a lot of beautiful things about the worlds that you have created. How they integrate with gameplay, but also how they fit into the larger Star Wars universe by one, presenting stuff that we haven’t seen before. And two, still feeling like part of the mythos. What goes into creating something new, while also making sure you’re honoring the legacy?

JEFF MAGERS: It’s working very closely, first off. They have a Lucasfilm Games group that we meet with every day, it’s a different meeting with different teams each day. And it’s a collaboration. We’ll push, push, push, on topics saying let’s get crazier or let’s get weirder. But [Lucasfilm Games] is the balance of, we still need to keep it within the IP, so it all makes sense in the larger world. Because it is an authentic story, you know? We’re making real planets. Even when we make a new planet, we’re making real ones that exist in their universe now. So it’s just working really closely with them to make sure the tone, the look the feel, or feel like Star Wars, we’re also big Star Wars fans ourselves so that helps.

BLAIR BROWN: We look at the rest of the universe and also want to put in the stuff that we think’s cool too.

JEFF MAGERS: It’s like, well, we saw this droid and that is a thing we get in the game, we talk with them and figure it out. It’s a fun collaboration.

BUT WHY THO: What went into expanding the level of customization that allows a little bit of personalization in such a cohesive world? 

JEFF MAGERS: In this game, [customization] was actually a new pillar. So we had to [add more to] customization this game because we felt that we could do more after the last game.  And it’s kind of for two reasons. One is to let the player make BD and Cal and their lightsaber their own, to have a greater connection with the avatar. And the other thing is to support exploration. To put the player back into exploration because it gives us richer rewards in the world. So there are more ways to customize your character and there are more things to find in the world and explore.

BUT WHY THO: You all already mentioned making sure that the environment fuels what you’re doing as a player.  Are there any elements of traversal that you think are particularly special in this game?

BLAIR BROWN: I’m just gonna say I love the new one that we put in very early, which is the ascension cable. It’s it just made Cal so much faster and dynamic. It felt really, really cool.

JEFF MAGERS: [The ascension cable] is my favorite too. I’d say we went back over everything in Fallen Order and tried to add more responsiveness to make everything feel easy. We made things better from the last game by adding new things like the ascension cable, which gives us a cool flow to traversal. As well as a little bit of forgiveness, it’s almost an accessibility for some of the traversal moves because it’s got this forgiving range where you can, you could grapple into other traversal elements for further distance. So in some cases, that can make a complicated sequence of wall runs and other traversals a little bit easier by mixing in a grapple in between.

BLAIR BROWN: And looking at the previous game, [we were] finding the pain points and wanting to improve on them, like making Cal climb faster at the start of this game, adding the ascension cable, and not having to press inputs to connect to a wall. It just made him feel faster, more fun, and more agile.

Watch our Star Wars Jedi: Survivor hands-on preview on YouTube. 

BUT WHY THO: When you’re crafting a world and you’re thinking about moving through it, how do you connect the visuals with the story? How do you bridge the gap between a narrative that you’re watching and a narrative that you’re playing?

JEFF MAGERS: It’s all collaboration. We’ve got so many talented devs on the team, and we’re all working together. So you’ve got level designers working with environment artists working with narrative designers and writers. And everyone taking a look at the same level together and finding spots where we can mix in the reversal economy and the narrative moments, force echoes, and scans. You see it in the dialogue between BD and Cal—the environmental storytelling as well. I don’t think there’s a magic answer there. It’s just really collaboration and iteration. It’s just working together and caring and being passionate together.

BLAIR BROWN: We create small groups that will own that level. It includes an artist and writer, lots of designers, lots of writers, and it’s their job to be like, “Okay, the big story beat of this level is this. Now make that feel good.” They ultimately tell the story leading to that moment.

BUT WHY THO: You all mentioned a stain on the Golden Path today [in the demo]. What goes into creating an expansive world where exploration is key with side quests and rumors while also making sure people still come back to the main story? How do we bridge those two pieces?

JEFF MAGERS: Well, we always have one main objective, for the most part, throughout the game, and you can always come back to it. Or you can check the map and see what you’re supposed to be doing with the story. But we want to give the players the excuse to take a look in that cave over there or see what’s behind that path. Some players will just bust through the main path. And that’s great. They want to focus on the story because they really are invested in those moments. Some players will do every single thing they can if it’s available to them before going in. And that’s awesome, too. So we want to support all these different playstyles.

BLAIR BROWN: We try to also not create a task list for people. And so you go to this one person and get 20 requests. And now you’re doing that. But also there are just little hints, you should maybe check [that interesting side quest] out. There’s nothing that is like, “go over there,” “save this person and bring them back” or “go get five bubbles” or anything like that, which I think lets you explore at your own pace. You don’t feel overwhelmed by “this I something you’ve got to do” which is what I feel sometimes.

JEFF MAGERS: I think an interesting thing about our Rumor System when we’re introducing this game is that they pointed to content that exists in the world. So [rumors] point to something interesting that is there whether you find them or not. So you can find [rumors] anywhere. I can talk to an NPC in the world and get more information about the environment and also get a little direction to think “wow, there is something cool over there.” But if you’re the type of player that just wants to kind of explore the expanses, look at the map and see where you haven’t explored without being fully supported, you’re gonna find a lot of cool stuff that way too.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor — Date But Why Tho (3)

Read our hands-on preview of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor here. 

BUT WHY THO: You mentioned players being allowed to play how they want to. One of the things I noticed was a comprehensive difficulty system that you can change at any time. I’m used to the standard of maybe three different choices to pick from, but you all really have a whole gamut for people to adjust to and enjoy. What went into the thought behind having such a comprehensive system of difficulty?

BLAIR BROWN: With the first game when we started doing player testing and bringing people in who were Star Wars fans but maybe not gamers. That’s when we realized “Oh, we made a really hard game.” We need to understand that 50 percent of the people that are going to play this probably aren’t that big gamers or hardcore gamers. And we want them to be able to enjoy the story and have fun sort of lightsaber and feel like a Jedi. So we made story mode and then three difficulties in the first game. We just iterated it some more this time. We really wanted to add, the new one, Padawan. It’s in between Story and Knight, to give people more options. I think that’s important so that everybody can play and everybody can get through the story. And we don’t want to miss Cal’s journey, even if you’re not a hardcore gamer. So I think it’s just important to us as a studio that more people can play it and enjoy it.

JEFF MAGERS: Yeah, we felt that there was a pretty decent gulf between Story and Knight last time. So having that one that is still skill-based but a little bit easier, we thought we’d catch more players. There’s also the new navigation assist, which is like difficulty for navigation. You open your map and if you have it on it will highlight the gate in the map that leads to the main objective so players that had difficulty looking at the map last time have some helpers this time to help push them to the main path.

BUT WHY THO: Were there any pieces that really stuck out to you that you think will land with hardcore Star Wars fans and hardcore gamers alike? 

JEFF MAGERS: Honestly, I think that so much in the game is for people that love Star Wars and also don’t care about Star Wars. I think I think it’s a fun game without the Star Wars wrapper, and the Star Wars wrapper also gives it a lot more. It’s not just a wrapper, it’s well-integrated too. But I can’t think of one example. We made the game for the players’ hearts and we want every bit of it to be fun for anyone picking it up. And you don’t need Star Wars knowledge coming in. But of course, you’ll get a deeper understanding of the lore and stuff like that.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor — Date But Why Tho (1)

BUT WHY THO: When players roll credits, what do you want them to feel and think?

BLAIR BROWN: I want them to cry tears of joy. I want them to feel satisfied. I want them to leave the game and then play New Game Plus. Just being like, that was an amazing, authentic Star Wars story. And wanting more than just feeling like “Oh, I customized my saber exactly how I wanted it,” or, “I found all these cool creatures and enemies.” Just leaving with a sense that it was a really fun game. We always say that we want to be fun, but that’s [really] what I want because it’s what I get out of it when I’m done.

BUT WHY THO: Obviously, you two are really big Star Wars fans, how does it feel to be somebody’s first Star Wars memory? 

BLAIR BROWN:  Super surreal. It’s very strange to be on this side of it as someone who burnt out the Return of the Jedi tape back in the day. Yeah, my parents are very proud to finally understand a little bit of what I do now because it feels amazing to be part of the IP. It’s very humbling.

Click on the player below to listen to our full Jedi Survivor interview with Respawn Entertainment’s Jeff Magers and Blair Brown. Star Wars Jedi Survivor releases on April 28, 2023 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Microsoft Windows (via Origin and Steam).

This Star Wars Jedi: Survivor interview was edited for clarity and length.
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