It shocked gamers when news of Haden Blackman’s departure from LucasArts rippled through the industry months ago. With the success of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in 2008, Blackman’s name and face became synonymous with the Jedi action franchise. The impressive-looking TFU2 sequel was well on its way and it seemed like the video game division of George Lucas’ empire was getting its mojo back. Then, Blackman’s departure and rumors of significant layoffs in the internal development studios came in rapid succession, putting into question whether LucasArts would ever make its own games again.
(More on Techland: Haden Blackman Resigns From LucasArts)
In the meantime, speculation bubbled as to where Blackman might wind up. Would it be THQ? Ubisoft? EA? Now, the answer’s come in the form of Fearless Entertainment, a new development house started by Blackman and friend Cedric Collomb. (Collomb formerly held the position of Director of Engineering at LucasArts.) Techland spoke with Blackman to get details on his break with LucasArts and what he and Collomb hope to accomplish with Fearless.
Evan Narcisse: I guess congratulations are in order. I had no idea this was coming. It’s so weird not talking about Star Warswith you.
Haden Blackman: I know.
If I can say it without stirring up any bad feelings, the new trailer for TFU2 looks amazing.
I’m guessing it’s work you’re still proud of.
Oh, absolutely. I’m super proud of The Force Unleashed franchise. I was fortunate because, when this whole notion of starting my own studio started to become a reality, it’s something that I considered for quite a long time. I didn’t really throw myself into it wholeheartedly. I kind of discovered a kindred spirit in my cofounder Cedric Collomb, who comes out of a tech background as lead engineer on The Force Unleashed, and the director of engineering at LucasArts after that.
He and I really had a lot of the same ideas in terms of the type of studio we wanted to form, the type of culture we wanted to create, and the types of games we wanted to make.
And that’s when I started have serious thoughts about forming my own company. But the timing worked out really nicely in that I was able to stay at LucasArts until Force Unleashed II was essentially ready for submission. For example, I was able to stay involved in the trailer. I was involved in all the story board meetings, and approving the script, and seeing all the animations coming through.
So, I’m super-proud of all the work that went on through that entire franchise. I’m just really proud of the team. I mean, the team did some pretty amazing stuff, I think, on both those games.
Yeah. Really, I left because I wanted to form Fearless Studios. That was the motivating factor for me. There was the obvious speculation that I left because of the regime change and things like that. I went through six regime changes in my 13 years at LucasArts. [laughs] That’s not the type of thing that would scare me away or make me want to leave on my own. For me, it was really about the opportunity to form my own studio and create this new sandbox to play in.
I guess my philosophy behind this whole thing is I had a really great time playing in George’s sandbox for 13 years. But you reach a point as a creative, I think, where you want to see if you can go and build your own sandbox. I’m ready to play in new universes. I’m ready to explore different types of stories and different types of genres. I mean, you and I have talked a lot about various game genres in the past.
When we’ve spoken in the past, I think I mentioned that I’m a big horror movie buff. I love big action titles. And certainly some of our concepts that we’re working on now fall into the same kind of big, story-driven action category like TFU. But, we’re also exploring some horror titles and some other stuff that I think is almost the polar opposite to Star Wars. And that, to me, is very creatively fulfilling, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do. So, I’ll always love Star Wars and I’ll always be very thankful for the opportunity to work on Star Wars for so long. But, again, as a creative, I just reached a point where I felt like I had other stories to tell, and other types of games that I wanted to make, and other genres that I wanted to explore, both from a gameplay and content standpoint. I just didn’t see the opportunity there at LucasArts, and just decided it was time to form my own studio.
(More on Techland: Blackman Unleashed: Talking with The Force Unleashed 2’s Executive Producer)
I have one more last Star Wars thing and we can just leave it all behind.
Yeah, no problem.
It must have been pretty–if the rumors are true–disappointing to hear that TFU3, which I know was never announced or confirmed or anything like that, may not even be happening. Do you still have a desire to see that thing happen, even if it’s not you manning the helm on it?
Yeah. Absolutely. I really believe in The Force Unleashed franchise. Let me just say, I know what you know. Since leave LucasArts, I’ve tried to disconnect as much as possible and really focus on getting Fearless up and running. So, I only know what I hear through the same rumor mill that everyone else relies on. I’m really hopeful that the franchise will continue. I really feel like that core fantasy really resonates with not just Star Wars fans but with gamers. And I think Force Unleashed II is an improvement on Force Unleashed I in a lot of ways. And I think if they continue the franchise, they’ll be able to continue to improve the gameplay.
(More on Techland: Disturbance in the Force: Big Changes Coming at LucasArts?)
The whole notion of me not being involved or whatever, I don’t really have a lot of sense of ownership over it just because, again, it’s Star Wars. At the end of the day, George and LucasArts own everything Star Wars. And you kind of understand that when you start working at LucasArts. I’ve long since let that go. But at the same time, if there was ever an opportunity to work on The Force Unleashed franchise down the line, that’s something that Fearless Studios would definitely consider as part of our portfolio. We definitely have ideas about how to continue to improve the gameplay. I definitely know where I would take the story. And I think that there’s still a lot of legs left in the franchise. Given a proper schedule, I think that we could do a bang-up job with Force Unleashed III. But ultimately, that’s LucasArts’ decision, and we definitely hope that they continue the franchise one way or another.