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Customization Is Key: 'Star Wars: Battlefront' Makes Space For Gamers Of All Stripes

Nov 30, 2015
Originally published on November 30, 2015 12:58 pm

Still several weeks out, the hype is already hitting enormous heights for the new Star Wars installment. The Force Awakens has sold more than $50 million in tickets — and the movie doesn't even open until Dec. 18.

But fans of the film franchise do have an outlet for their excitement available right now, and it offers an opportunity the movie doesn't: The video game Star Wars: Battlefront allows players to customize their characters with a tremendous diversity of characteristics — white, black, young, old, male, female, human or, well, distinctly unhuman.

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, a senior producer at DICE, the Stockholm-based team that developed the game, says all that customization wasn't just a secondary feature. It was a priority.

"For us, now that we are rebooting the franchise and looking forward, it was important to take notice of the fact that gamers are of both genders, young and old, of every race," Ingvarsdottir tells NPR's Michel Martin.

"We wanted to make sure that from the get-go we were designing the franchise to be inclusive for everyone."


Interview Highlights

On how customization came to be such an emphasis

I think that you could have an easy assumption that [customization] is because of me, but it isn't really — although I strongly support it. My design director of the game, for him it was always a given that you'd be able to play people of both genders. And, you know, we didn't specify races in the beginning, but that was the next step.

The way that we do it is we use a technique that's called photogrammetry. So, the characters in the game and that you can select from — these are actual actors. When we did that casting for it, we decided to make sure that they were as diverse and as different as possible.

On the most fun part of the process

I think for me being able to go to the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch. There's a treasure trove of Star Wars props and costumes and models that have been used in the original trilogy of movies.

One of the things that I had never thought about was how the vision for the universe is creating the unfamiliar out of the eminently familiar. And I think the technology of a lightsaber as an example. What they did was they took pieces of camera equipment from the '60s and put them together to create these hilts for lightsabers. I think it's really the key to making the universe of Star Wars so believable and so enchanting.

On whether their achievements in this game will help improve the social dynamics of the gaming industry

I've been in the industry now for nine years, and I can see more prominent women through different gaming companies reaching higher levels. I can see games starting to feel more diverse, in both their subject matters as well as character creation. It feels like it is changing in a more positive way. Not very quickly, but I feel pretty hopeful.

I don't think, you know — although it would be nice to feel like my game is a big contributor to that — but I think it's more emblematic of a bigger change.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN: If you are a "Star Wars" fan - and let's face it, even if you aren't - you know the anticipation of the new "Star Wars" movie is already - pick your metaphor - across the galaxy, to infinity. You get it. Fans of the video game "Star Wars: Battlefront" can play in that galaxy now. And it offers something you might not see in other games - the opportunity to customize characters with tremendous diversity of characteristics.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) For the rebellion.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Don't...

MARTIN: We wanted to meet the senior producer behind the team that developed the game. Her name is Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir. She works for DICE in Stockholm, Sweden, and we reached her there. Thank you so much, and congratulations, I believe, are in order.

SIGURLINA INGVARSDOTTIR: Thank you very much. I'm very pleased to be with you.

MARTIN: One of the things about this game, which is the third major release in the game franchise, is that it allows players to customize characters in a way that might not be available in other games. I mean, people can be black or white or young or old, male or female. I wanted to ask how that decision was taken. Was that something that was part of the planning from the beginning, and if so, why?

INGVARSDOTTIR: For us, now that we're rebooting the franchise and looking forward, it was important to take notice of the fact that gamers are of both genders, young and old, of every race. And we wanted to make sure that from the get-go we were designing the franchise to be inclusive for everyone.

MARTIN: I just was wondering, though, how those discussions took place. Is that just an assumption of your shop - that if you take on a project, that's how it's going to be? Or do you think, frankly - is it because of your leadership as a female lead designer?

INGVARSDOTTIR: I think that you could have an easy assumption that that's because of me, but it isn't really, although I strongly support it. My design director of the game - for him, it was always a given that you'd be able to play people of both genders. And, you know, we didn't specify races in the beginning, but that was the next step. And the way that we do it is that we use a technique that's called photogrammetry. So the characters in the game that you can select from - these are actual actors. When we did the casting for it, we decided to make sure that they were as diverse and as different as possible.

MARTIN: What was the funnest part about it?

INGVARSDOTTIR: I think, for me, being able to go to the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch. There's a treasure trove of "Star Wars" props and costumes and models that have been used in the original trilogy of movies. One of the things that I've never thought about was how the vision for the universe is creating the unfamiliar out of the eminently familiar. And I think the technology of a lightsaber, as an example - what they did was they took pieces of camera equipment from the '60s and put them together to create these hilts for lightsabers. I think it's really the key to making the universe of "Star Wars" so believable and so enchanting.

MARTIN: But that sort of goes back to the question that we started with, which is - it's just interesting to a lot of people that these industries that are so forward-looking in some ways seem regressive in terms of their social relations. And I'm just wondering if you feel that what you've achieved in this game will change that dynamic.

INGVARSDOTTIR: You know, I've been in the industry now for nine years. And I can see more prominent women throughout different gaming companies reaching higher levels. I can see games starting to feel more diverse in both their subject matters, as well as character creation. It feels like it is changing in a more positive way - not very quickly, but I feel pretty hopeful. And I don't think, you know - although would be nice to feel like, my game is a big contributor to that - but I think it's more emblematic of a bigger change.

MARTIN: Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir is the senior producer of the team at DICE, which developed the new "Star Wars: Battlefront" game. The game is published by EA, and we reached her in Stockholm, Sweden. Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, thank you so much for speaking with us, and congratulations on everything.

INGVARSDOTTIR: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.