You might think that, as a video game developer, being pigeonholed into making games based on the same license time and again would be a wearying experience. That is, of course, unless the license you're working with is Star Wars. Over the last few years, Marin, California-based Factor 5 has enjoyed a close and enviable relationship with LucasArts that's afforded it the opportunity to create several action games based on the hallowed film series, under the banner of Rogue Squadron. With the recent release of the third game in the series, Rebel Strike, we've had a bit of Rogue Squadron on the brain. So we'd like to share a little bit of the history behind Factor 5 and the Rogue Squadron series with you. We sat down for a few minutes with series director Julian Eggebrecht, producer Brett Tosti, sound director Rudolf Stember, and senior artist Bastian Hoppe to share their memories of working on one of the most prominent Star Wars series of games on the market.
Factor 5 began to coalesce during the late 1980s as its founding members graduated from high school in Germany and discovered that game-making was their natural calling. Before the budding developers could land a deal, the friends had to prove their development mettle, and so they began their careers by crafting a home-brewed clone of the arcade shooter R-Type. That grassroots effort netted them both a lawsuit from R-Type's creator and an offer to assume official conversion duties for the game. Thus, Factor 5 was on its way.
After a flirtation with the European console market involving the classic shooter series Turrican, Factor 5 became involved with LucasArts through rather fortuitous circumstances (Eggebrecht owed one of the company's employees money). The group started out making Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures on the Super NES and later created Ballblazer Champions for the PlayStation. It wasn't until LucasArts desired a follow-up to its moderately successful Shadows of the Empire that Factor 5 first began work on the Star Wars series. The team had been crafting a prototype game engine that allowed for large-scale terrain maps, so, as Eggebrecht recalls, LucasArts said, "You've always wanted to work on that landscape thing, so why don't you do something with it?" At the time, however, LucasFilm wasn't keen on having games drawn directly from the Star Wars films, so Factor 5's initial pitch for a game that offered missions similar to fans' favorite Star Wars action sequences was shot down.
Then the group stumbled on a comic book named Rogue Squadron that was based on the elite group of pilots led by Luke Skywalker in the classic trilogy. Factor 5 set about creating a flight action game with an emphasis on original missions that would be set in the Star Wars universe and would focus on the elite team of pilots from the comic books. By all accounts, the development of the first Rogue Squadron was a little touch-and-go. Though the game would eventually ship for the 1998 holiday season, Rogue Squadron's E3 showing that year was a little frightening. As Tosti told us, the demo on display at the show was little more than a tech demo that could render a basic height map. It also showed an AT-AT model that was unable to move, and it had TIE Fighters with no AI that simply flew and fired over a predetermined path. Tosti said that by following a very specific flight path of his own, he could give the illusion that he was actually battling with the TIEs. Despite the ramshackle nature of the E3 demo, the response from gamers was largely positive. Newly invigorated, Factor 5 continued work on Rogue Squadron.