Since its cancellation at the hands of EA, the untitled Star Wars game that was in development at Visceral Games has been shrouded in secrecy. Now, former director of the now-defunct studio Amy Hennig has talked openly about the state of the game, internally known as Project Ragtag, and how the challenges presented to the team by EA caused such a disastrous fallout.
Hennig recently appeared on stage as part of the annual D.I.C.E. Summit, an offshoot of the 22nd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards show, to discuss her long history in game development. Appearing alongside industry veteran Tim Schafer, Hennig fielded questions on how she got started in the industry and how her time on massive franchises such as Uncharted shaped her outlook on game development.
Following on from this event, Hennig sat down with USgamer to discuss all things games industry before the interview inevitably turned to questions regarding the closure of Visceral and the collapse of the Star Wars project. Hennig served as creative director on the project, a natural choice given her history with single player action adventure titles, a genre which Ragtag was apparently aiming to emulate.
Hennig explained at length the rocky foundation on which the Ragtag team was built, with Visceral experiencing a studio reboot and layoffs while also having to work on DLC for Battlefield Hardline. She joined the team in April of 2014 but according to the interview, the process of actually working on Ragtag did not begin until much later due to these constant shifts at the studio. This did allow time for the story of Ragtag to simmer, however, as Hennig notes that the delay gave them plenty of chances to work with the story team at LucasFilm to perfect the narrative of the planned game.
The realities of working on a project this big inside of a more traditional corporate structure also weighed heavily on Hennig and Visceral as she was accustomed to Naughty Dog’s development ethos.
“Part of what’s challenging about making games, especially in a sort of a larger organization, is how much of it is an act of faith and that kind of just letting go and not worrying about risk doesn’t work on a spreadsheet,” Hennig said when asked about how EA handled the process as opposed to Naughty Dog, which by her accounts, stuck to a much looser schedule.
Development was also troubled by the adaption of the infamous Frostbite Engine, which was designed for EA’s first-person shooters. Hennig noted that using such an engine to create a third-person action title which involved platforming and taking cover was immensely challenging for the team, adding yet another layer of frustration to the development process. The nature of Frostbite as an engine which is shared around EA means that some of the foundational work done by Visceral for these different gameplay styles may be in use by other team still working with the engine. Hennig said this was bittersweet it disappoints her that she never got to fully demonstrate the fruits of her team’s labor.
Despite her much lauded history with the franchise, Hennig isn’t a fan of reducing Ragtag to just “Uncharted Star Wars,” though she acknowledges that the mental image that statement conjures was relatively accurate to Visceral’s intentions. Ragtag was apparently further along in development than we’ve been led to believe, as Hennig stated that she wished more people had got to see the game.
“It was good, you know?” she lamented. “But it just didn’t make sense in EA’s business plan, ultimately.”
While Hennig looks ahead to new projects, she did take a minute to share her thoughts on the recently canceled open-world Star Wars game which was reportedly born from Ragtag’s cancellation. Understandably, she is empathetic to the plights of the Vancouver team whose game EA also decided to abandon, stating that she had heard what they were working on was coming along well.
Beyond Ragtag, the full interview covers years of insight into how games are made and the corporate systems behind them.