Mods That Failed – Dark Forces Mod for Jedi Academy…

Mods That Failed – Dark Forces Mod for Jedi Academy after the break…

Mods That Failed – Dark Forces Mod for Jedi Academy…

For every game modification (“mod”) that is released as intended, there is a phone book (“Hey, Dad, what’s a phone book?”) of mods that never make it past a few shiny screenshots and blog posts.

We live in a time where, quite frankly, computing hardware can accomplish anything – Photo-realistic characters and settings… Sound effects… Music… Game play trickery of every shade and type… It is hard to imagine that, even twenty years ago, computer and video game developers wracked their brains to overcome crippling software and hardware limitations that made truly immersive game play impossible.

Until “Quake 1” arrived with it’s polygon capabilities, first-person gaming had to rely upon programming tricks in order to fool the player into thinking that the game world was three dimensional when it was, in fact, most decidedly not. You couldn’t, for instance, walk under the bridge that you had just walked over – It wasn’t possible. Various tricks were employed to give the illusion of 3D game space – Multiple game fields that would switch out, camera tricks, game level tricks… Some of the tricks worked better then others but none of them could replace what was really needed – True room-over-room architecture that only a polygon-based game could provide (and eventually did).

Amongst the variety of first-person games to premiere between the release of “Doom” and “Quake,” the Star Wars-based “Dark Forces” first-person shooter was created. “Dark Forces” was a first-person shooter created by Lucasarts, the computer and video game division of Lucasfilm which controls the Star Wars intellectual property. “Dark Forces” was the first entry of Lucasarts into the first-person shooter genre. It was, realistically, a Star Wars fan’s first opportunity to shoot a stormtrooper (the white-armored bad guys in the Star Wars movies) face-to-face. How could one resist?

“Dark Forces” was limited in what it could do and there’s no fault in that. There were no lightsabers (think of it as a futuristic sword, replacing the metal blade with a laser one), the signature weapon of the Star Wars franchise because the first-person engines were too primitive to reproduce them. Boba Fett, the rogue bounty hunter, was the only recurring character from the Star Wars movie to appear (species of characters were present but not individual characters).

“Dark Forces” eventually had three sequels – “Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2” (along with it’s expansion, “Mysteries of the Sith”), “Jedi Outcast: Jedi Knight 2” (technically “Dark Forces 3”) and “Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy” (sort of like a “Dark Forces 4 / Jedi Knight 3”). To be fair, Star Wars continues to be well-represented in the video and computer game fields but no longer with the specific “Dark Forces / Jedi Knight” brand – The “Knights of the Old Republic” series is well-regarded within the console community for merging a compelling Star Wars storyline with a console-centric RPG. “Star Wars Galaxies” and future Star Wars titles are part of the Massive Multiplayer Only Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) variety. “Star Wars Battlefront” series became renown for accurately recreating the excitement of classic Star Wars battles with their first-person multiplayer games (“Star Wars Battlefront 3,” however, has been plagued by multiple delays and a game developer switch). Even the teenage- and console-centric “The Force Unleashed” series has returned Star Wars to the more classical first-person shooter format even if it suffers from a lot of the snark that the modern-day Internet unleashes onto every creative product.

Yet, for many seasoned and now older Star Wars gamers, the “Dark Forces” line of computer games remains a modern classic, a line that extended from before the Special Editions (and, by extension, before the new trilogy) of the original trilogy of movies to during the releases of the new trilogy. For a time, “Dark Forces” was as canon as you could expect out of Lucasarts in terms of the continuation of the Star Wars story. Every new type of droid was analyzed and cataloged, every new character had an exhaustively extensive background imposed upon them, every new planet soon had their own nauseatingly complete history.

So, for such a cherished game, it was not terribly surprising that when sufficient new technology emerged, inspired Star Wars gamers would want to recreate the first beloved “Dark Forces” game into a more modern engine. This phenomenon is not new – “Morroblivion” was a project that took the world of “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” (specifically, theĀ island of Vvardenfell and not the entire Morrowind Province) and placed it into the game engine of “Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion,” much to the chagrin of Bethesda, the company that makes both games. Countless earlier “Ultima” computer role-playing games have been translated into much more capable gaming engines that give modern computers the ability to play them without very sophisticated computer tricks. “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D” have been replicated into later engines produced by iD software, the company that created those games.

Unfortunately, though, this effort to modernize the first “Dark Forces” game – Called “Dark Forces: A MOD For Jedi Academy,” has failed. It is not more. To be completely fair, the team behind this effort did not completely fail – They did release two demos of their work which demonstrated partial completion of the task but not the task of playing the entire game from start to finish. Yet the project was plagued by the same problems that plague a lot of these types of projects – People dropping out and not being replaced, the absolute scale of the project and Real Life(c) intruding upon those project members who decided to stick it out against all odds.

It is always sad to see a mod with such a long development history fail. To give an idea of how long the mod was in production, their team member had “.PLAN” files and if you do not know what a “.PLAN” file is then, odds are, you were born after the Internet emerged onto the public consciousness and not before. PLAN files are sort of a predecessor to blogs and Twitter.

The one bright spot in this sea of disappointment is that no project every truly dies – Mods are not like people where we don’t have the ability yet to jumpstart a brain back to consciousness or repair a heart back to sufficient health after it has stopped working for a long while. The unfinished assets, be they levels, enemies, props… They live on in the exact same form as when they were created. Yet there is also the stark reality that even the game “Jedi Academy” is now somewhat long in the tooth, built upon the same engine that powered “Quake 3” and to give you an idea of how long ago that was… Well, entire presidential administrations have come and gone within that span of time.

“Dark Forces” was a compelling game for it’s time and it’s unfortunate that the one attempt to modernize the game for current players has since failed. Hopefully, someone else will attempt to complete what others have started but that outcome does not look likely. Too bad – It is the gamers and, ultimately, Lucasarts, who will miss out on all the benefits.


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