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Star Wars: Empire at War

LucasArts' Chris Williams tells us why upcoming PC RTS Star Wars: Empire at War is set to be a Force to be reckoned with

Despite the powerhouse franchise at their core, previous Star Wars-styled RTS efforts have been largely abysmal affairs. As such, when news of Star Wars: Empire at War reached our ears, we could barely muster the enthusiasm to roll our eyes disapprovingly. Of course, reading the fine print, it turned out that developer Petroglpyh was taken the reins of George Lucas' untameable beast and that's when things suddenly starting looking a whole lot more interesting.

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Consisting of many of the original team responsible for the seminal Command & Conquer series, Petroglpyh certainly has the credentials to create what Empire at War producer Chris Williams hopes will be "the ultimate Star Wars strategy experience."

As Williams explains, "This time around, the game was designed from the ground up to put the war for the entire Star Wars galaxy at your fingertips." Unlike previous Star Wars RTS entries Force Commander and Galactic Battleground, which kept the action firmly planet-bound, Petroglpyh's ambitions for Empire at War are far greater. "When we say the entire Star Wars galaxy, we mean just that", says Williams, "The game is extremely comprehensive including dozens of planets, battlefields, units, and vehicles on land and in space."

Thankfully, it's looking like Petroglpyh's ambitious plans have paid off too - our initial play sessions reveal that the team's stayed true to its word, delivering iconic Star Wars battles in a deep, involving and refreshingly unique strategy experience.

With Star Wars: Empire at War currently scheduled for release a PC release on February 17, we took the opportunity to probe Chris Williams about what it's like working under the shadow of one of the world's most beloved franchises and how the team at Petroglpyh set about doing justice to George Lucas' opus.

How difficult is it to make a Star Wars game - given fans' massive expectations?

Chris Williams: When a game draws upon a story as well known and loved as the Star Wars trilogy, the developers are faced with a tricky balancing act. On one hand, you need to create an awesome gameplay experience that offers players the freedom to make meaningful choices but you also need to deliver an authentic Star Wars experience that remains true to fans' expectations. You run the risk of making a great game that doesn't feel very much like Star Wars, or a mediocre game that's extremely faithful to the source material.

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Fortunately, the Star Wars universe lends itself beautifully to the game that Petroglyph has created. The setting offers new gameplay choices by putting unique features like the Death Star under your control. In Star Wars, there is a great asymmetrical balance between the Empire and Rebels, and this translates very nicely into a strategy game. The story, the heroes and the battles make players feel like they are not only a part of Star Wars history, but also the guiding force in shaping its destiny.

How does Empire at War fit into the overall Star Wars storyline - have you been able to extend the experience with new additions to the universe?

Chris Williams: The game begins between Episodes III and IV and continues up through the construction of the first Death Star. Depending on whether you play as the Empire or the Rebels you will experience two different sides of the burgeoning galactic conflict.

How do you think Empire at War compares to the previous Star Wars RTS titles? What's been your guiding philosophy this time around?

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