The dark side of games gets one of pop culture’s biggest IPs. How will that play out?

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E3 season has well and truly begun today. The Sims 4 announced for 2014 (and playable offline), rumours of the next Xbox now no longer being always-on, Sony set to drop a few announcements of its own this week and thensome. But this has surely taken the biscuit.

EA has announced tonight (May 6) it has been given the licence to develop games based in the Star Wars IP from Disney in the wake of LucasArts’ closure last month. Before the closure, it was working on two new titles in the universe: third-person effort 1313, which looked in stunning form, and the slightly-less known first-person shooter First Assault. First Assault only went public following a Kotaku expose.

No financial terms were disclosed in the press release by EA, but the announcement stated that EA would be working on titles on “a core gaming audience”, whilst Disney maintained the rights to create games in the IP “within the mobile, social, tablet and online game categories,” showing Disney’s journey into casual games is all but complete in the aftermath of the closure of LucasArts, as well as Tron Evolution developer Propaganda and Split/Second developer Black Rock.

The announcement further added that Battlefield developer DICE and Dead Space studio Visceral Games would be producing new titles in the Star Wars universe, whilst BioWare will continue to “develop for the Star Wars franchise”. Read between the lines on that last bit. Yes, BioWare will still continue its work on MMO The Old Republic, but that sounds like new games in the works there. Oh, what could only come from that and elsewhere.

The Empire Strikes Back

When the announcement first broke earlier, I didn’t think of the possibilities. And then I did. AND THEN I really did think about it. Let me clarify: DICE is now essentially a Battlefield studio in all but name (as much as I’d love to see it happen, we’re not gonna get Mirror’s Edge 2 anytime soon), while Visceral has taken a bit of a kicking recently from Dead Space 3 and even more so with Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. With the exception of BioWare (and even in that regard, this is before The Old Republic, which in itself has been doing so-so), those two studios didn’t really fit the mold for a Star Wars game.

But then I really thought about it.

What if DICE made a Battlefield-like Star Wars FPS with Frosbite 3, kinda how LucasArts was attempting to do with First Assault? You could tell from the leaked assets it was heavily inspired by Call of Duty, so a similar game from the team behind Battlefield could be a good thing (I seen suggestions DICE could make Battlefront 3, but considering its third-person stance, it wouldn’t gel well for a first-person centric studio).

(update: EA’s confirmed all Star War games being made from there, not just DICE’s game, will be made with Frostbite 3)

What if Visceral made Battlefront 3? Seriously? I seen a alpha trailer today of the Battlefront 3 that Free Radical was making before it entered into administration, in fact. It was quite impressive. And whilst we won’t ever get a BF3 similar to that, if Visceral can find the form that had them rolling in great third-person games following Dead Space 1 and 2, this could be great.

And what if BioWare made the one RPG most people have been chomping at to play? It can say it and its proverbial later instalments make up The Old Republic, but everyone wants to see a proper KOTOR3. With the licence in EA’s possession, the door for this has opened up in a big, big way. That said, who would make a non-TOR BioWare Star Wars RPG? BioWare Edmonton has its hands full with the pre-production of Casey Hudson’s next big thing whilst the other half is in full production of Dragon Age III. So could a second team at BioWare Montreal, already making the next Mass Effect game, be the ones making it?

And what of PopCap and any crazy shenanigans it could have, like a Star Wars-themed Plants vs Zombies or something? Throw those out the window right now. As I said at the top:

Disney maintained the rights to create games in the IP “within the mobile, social, tablet and online game categories,” showing Disney’s journey into casual games is all but complete…

So EA won’t be involved on that side of the fence.

1313 and First Assault no longer wanted like Jar Jar

This now leaves us with what will happen to the current existing games – The Old Republic, gritty third-person shooter 1313 and first-person shooter First Assault.

For The Old Republic, nothing at all. Nothing will change in regards to the BioWare MMO other than it’ll continue to work on it as part of the deal. That’s that.

But for 1313, it’s a different story. Nearly one year ago, LucasArts unveiled the game at E3 and it looked completely promising. While they didn’t say it, we could have basically guessed it from the moon and back: it was our first-look at a next-gen game. And it looked incredible. Plus, it looked like it was going to tell a more mature story in the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, it is now in the realms of nowhere. Never to be seen again.

As for First Assault, that’s the lesser of the two between it and 1313. It was never officially announced and even then, it was basically Call of Duty in a Star Wars skin. Unlike 1313, I don’t think many people are going to be mourning that one.

But otherwise, there’s plenty to actually be excited by in regards to the Evil Empire’s new signing. A month ago, we were unsure of the future of the Star Wars IP in games. Whilst it was never going to go away entirely, its future was not crystal clear. With EA now in charge, it marks ‘A New Hope’.

May the force be with EA.

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