But it's not just about X-Wings and TIE-Fighters. Although the new films have been vilified by many, they do contain some genuinely awe-inspiring skirmishes. Jim is clearly excited by some of the opportunities that George Lucas' latest vision affords them. "One of the coolest vehicles we've got is the Republic gunship from Episode Two. We can fit six guys in there and everyone has something to do. The pilot has to fly it, there are two rocket launchers on the wings and everyone else piles in those dinky little ball turrets. It's incredible fun." The number of people within each vehicle is a balancing issue - and it's causing a few headaches for the Tso and his team. "If we look at the actual Star Wars resources it says that an AT-AT can carry up to 40 troops. Now, if we have a server with 32 players and no AI units, we'll have the entire team in one unit. So, for us, it's about what feels right for the Star Wars universe." And clearly, you don't want to put all your stormtroopers in one basket.
Don't expect every possible tank, hovercraft, or Ewok hang-glider to be included within Battlefront for completeness' sake. Jim understands that there is a fine line to be walked. "Every vehicle has to make sense. For instance, the only difference between a TIE-Fighter and a TIE-Interceptor in the Star Wars universe is that the TIE-Interceptor is a faster, upgraded version. Unless there's a really meaningful difference, we're really not going to put it in. We'd certainly put the TIE-Bomber in, because that offers an entirely different function to the TIE fighter or TIE-Interceptor. It really depends on the battle experience. On the wide, open maps we'll probably include the most variety of vehicles." The number of toys also depends on the size of the map; on a relatively small map with lots of cover, you don't really need aerial units. While LucasArts haven't compiled an exact size of the areas involved, consider it to be measured in square kilometres, rather than square feet.
If Battlefront is going to set itself apart from Battlefield, it needs to inject new ideas into the genre. Thankfully, LucasArts and developers Pandemic have these in spades. First, there's the campaign mode. Online gaming is a detached beast: unless you're involved in competitive gaming, there's little continuity between one map and the next. Battlefront is attempting to offer a connection between conflicts. "Because Battlefront is always a team based game, be it Rebels versus Imperials or Republic versus Separatists, we're dividing the galaxy up between those two teams. Maybe there are seven or eight different planets; the two teams will, at the beginning of the game, choose which planets they own. They then take turns trying to conquer the opponents' planets. The reason you want to do that is, each planet has its own power-up. We're supporting both time periods, the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, and we're planning for ten different planets. Four of those planets are tied to their time period - Kamino and Geonosis you play in the Clone Wars. To begin with, Kamino belongs to the Republic; as long as it stays in Republic hands they will always get a 10% bonus to their reinforcement respawn. Kamino only has one map - but most planets that we call the 'neutral' planet, will have two maps. If the Republic loses Kamino, it doesn't change hands, it's lost from the game entirely. For the Imperial side, the opposite of Kamino would be Geonosis. As long as the Seperatists, or the Battledroids own Geonosis, they'll get a bonus to their reinforcements. If the Republic defeats the Seperatists on Geonosis, Geonosis is out of the game."
It's such a beautiful idea. Over the course of an evening's play, you'll be involved in your own interplanetary saga: conflict raging across a virtual galaxy. But don't expect to simply capture a planet at one sitting. "Planets, like Naboo, Yavin or Endor will have two maps each that can be fought over, back and forth, until one side dominates both." How long it takes for a single side to dominate a galaxy is up to you. The game doesn't end until every planet is under the control of one side.
This raises an interesting question. In a team game, who gets to choose where the next attack takes place? The answer is simple enough: "Players can nominate a commander for the duration of the war, or alternatively, the next step will be decided by the player with the highest score from the previous map."
The reward for dominating a map doesn't just extend to simple numerical improvements. "The Imperials probably have the coolest bonus, if they can hold on to a planet for long enough... they get to build a Death Star. Whoever controls the Death Star can wipe out a planet from the map at will. That kind of enormous power can bring a very quick end to a game." It's also useful for cowing uppity princesses. For those who just want to dip in and out of the game, without worrying about a grand strategic arc, there will be the option for server admins to just string a clutch of maps together, and let them cycle through.
But to do that would be to miss out on some electrifying moments. You and your team-mates aren't alone in the attack. Controlling certain planets allows AI controlled cohorts to accompany you. "Tatooine is where all these incredible heroes come from. If you're playing as an Imperial, you'll be able to summon the powerful Darth Vader to help you out." Just imagine it. You're under heavy rebel assault. No matter how many stormtroopers you throw at the Rebel defences, you just can't gain a foothold. Then, the Imperial shuttle lands, and a solitary, caped figure steps from the ramp. Jim can't help but get animated at this point. "When Darth Vader enters the map, you can hear him before you see him. You totally get into it: 'Oh my god, it's Darth Vader!' because he can just deflect laser bolts away. When the guys tested the game, they ran into this one incident where Vader was hunting down a scout, and the scout was backing up against a tree. At this moment, the scout played his 'idle' animation, looking left or right, like he's trapped, before Vader sliced him in two with the lightsaber. There are all these little moments that we don't script at all, but they just blow you away. If you're playing as the Imperials, you want to be behind Vader, because he'll deflect all the laser fire away from you. If you're playing as a Rebel, it might be time to grab the nearest X-Wing and flee." Alongside Vader will be a whole host of AI aggressors, including Luke Skywalker, Mace Windu and Count Dooku. Jim Henson's hand has yet to be confirmed.