We recently learned that EA had made the decision to shut down Visceral Studios and shift the focus of their Star Wars game that was in development.
What we are now discovering about this “Ragtag” Star Wars game, thanks to a recent post from Kotaku, is that it was set to be one of the most unique and narrative focused experiences set in the Star Wars universe.
The team at Visceral Games was attempting to tell a new kind of story that would explore the world outside of Jedi and Sith, the dark side and the light side, lightsabers and the Force. This game, codenamed Ragtag, set out to tell the story of Dodger, a “cracked mirror version of Han Solo,” and a group of scoundrels who would join together on heist missions. Others in the group included Robie, the daughter of a mob boss named Oona, and Buck, the team’s mentor. While we aren’t quite sure who is who, the picture below shows the cast of scoundrels.
The game was set to take place between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back, and would use that period to tell the story of how Alderaan’s destruction had lasting effects throughout the galaxy.
Ragtag was being written by games industry legend Amy Hennig, who wanted very much for this game to feel separate from her previous work, the Uncharted series, while still being a linear, story driven, action game. To successfully accomplish this, the team was creating a game where players would get to take control of each member of the team. Each member had unique AI so that players would easily take to the distinct personalities of each character, even when not controlling them.
Players would also be able to opt out of killing enemies by instead using strategic plans to manipulate environments. For example:
“Picture the Death Star, and they all have jobs,” said a person who worked on the game. “One Stormtrooper was on a command unit, moving boxes around. Some guys would be droids. It was supposed to be set up so it was all real, and it felt like they had jobs to do. We wanted to tap into emotions, so you could mess with Stormtroopers’ emotions. Go into a room, turn the lights off. He goes back in and turns them back on. Then you turn them off again. At a certain point he starts getting spooked, acting irrationally, and bringing friends in.”
Unfortunately, EA felt that the project was too ambitious, as Visceral was having a hard time putting together a full demo for the publisher to experience. While a lot of work had already been completed, the team was still behind on getting environments and shooting mechanics developed. EA responded to this by adding their Vancouver team to the project in 2016 to expedite development. With more hands working on the game a demo was created for EA that featured an AT-ST chase, a look around Jabba the Hutt’s palace, and a shootout on Tatooine.
EA was still not pleased with where the game was headed. The company grew concerned that the game seemed too much like Uncharted 4, the game that Amy Hennig left behind to work on Ragtag, and also felt that the game lacked some of the more iconic Star Wars characters and elements such as the Force, lightsabers, and Jedi. According to one former Visceral Games employee:
“EA would get obsessed with market research and start asking people what’s important to them about Star Wars. You’d get, ‘Oh, the Force, lightsabers, the usual Jedi continuum.’ They’re hyper focused on that stuff, and it’d be a topic of conversation in every pitch meeting.”
But EA executives weren’t the only reason why the game was struggling to come together. Reports indicate that Amy Hennig was being stretched thin and teams were beginning to become mismanaged. The project was extremely ambitious and expensive, and at some point it became improbable from EA’s perspective to continue with the game as planned.
The day the project was canceled, the team at Visceral did not even know about the game’s shift in development or the studio’s closure. One former employee recounts, “I woke up that day thinking it was a perfectly normal Tuesday. I went into work, and we had a mandatory all-hands meeting at 11:30am. That was when they told us. It came out of nowhere. I had no idea that anything like that was going to happen.”
For now, the game has shifted over to EA’s Vancouver studio, with assistance from some of EA’s other studios. The game is likely to be completely overhauled and reimagined to the point where the original concept is unrecognizable.
Ragtag seemed like it was shaping up to be quite a unique single-player Star Wars game. The kind that fans have been waiting for since the canceled Star Wars 1313. It is unfortunate that this game won’t ever see the light of day, and even more disheartening that the team at Visceral has now been disbanded. Hopefully whatever game comes from the ashes of Ragtag turns out to be a great one.