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Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Star Wars - Shadows of the Empire N64 BoxStar Wars: Shadows of the Empire is an action game developed and published by LucasArts for the Nintendo 64.  Based on the popular Star Wars franchise the game’s story takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi movies.  Following Prince Xizor’s quest to replace Darth Vader as the leader of the Sith, players take control of mercenary Dash Rendar in an effort to help Luke Skywalker rescue Princess Leia from Prince Xizor.

Development began in 1994 with a vision of making a Star Wars game that acted as a side story to the movie trilogy.   During the development process the studio decided to dismiss using any of the main characters from the movies as playable characters.  Using lesser known characters allowed the development team to have more freedom with the game and story.  Early in the development cycle the studio chose to shift direction and base the game on the novel Shadows of the Empire apposed to building its own side story that branched off of the blockbuster movies.

Shadows of the Empire NovelDeveloped using the studio’s Jedi engine the game features 10 levels with a variety of gameplay styles such as third-party shooter, vehicle combat and racing.  LucasArts was the first third-party developer to support the Nintendo 64 and development at such an early stage proved to be challenging.   When development of the game began the Nintendo 64 hardware was not finalized.  Silicon Graphics (SGI) was contracted by Nintendo to develop the Reality Coprocessor GPU for the Nintendo 64 and they had to provide LucasArts with approximations on the performance and functionality of what the final hardware would be capable of.  The development team created a prototype using technology based on SGI’s estimations instead of an official Nintendo development kit.

Star Wars - Shadows of the Empire Logo
Developer(s) LucasArts
Publisher(s) Nintendo (N64)
LucasArts (PC)
License Star Wars
License Owner Walt Disney Studios
Series N/A
Predecessor None
Successor None
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Media Type Cartridge
Release NA: December 3, 1996
EU: March 1, 1997
JP: June 14, 1997
Genre(s) Action
Mode(s) Single-player
Game Engine Jedi
Development Time 2 Years
Sales 2.65 Million
Rating ESRB: T
Rereleased Platform(s) Ports
PC – September 17, 1997

Approximately 18 months was spent developing the game while the Nintendo 64 hardware was being finalized.   LucasArts were eventually provided with SGI Indy workstations with Nintendo 64 hardware cards.  Once the team had access to the console based hardware, they spent three days porting the game and continued to develop the game using SGI Indy workstations.  The challenge the studio faced as being an early adopter of the Nintendo 64 platform was not limited to the lack of access to the console’s GPU but also the systems controller.   The controller for the Nintendo 64 was still being developed and Nintendo wanted the design kept secret so that competitors would not have the opportunity to copy what they were doing.

Early in the game’s development the team was provided with a prototype controller that consisted of a modified Super Nintendo controller with a primitive analog stick and Z trigger.  Due to Nintendo’s strict nondisclosure agreement only the core development team were allowed access to the prototype.   The core team were not allowed to speak about the hardware or project with others resulting in the prototype controller being concealed within a box. The development team would have to place their hands in the box to use the controller in order to keep it secret from other LucasArts employees not working on the game.

Due to size constraints of the Nintendo 64’s cartridge media music development began using MIDI conversions of the original film scores by composer John Williams however the team believed that the MIDI adaptation of the scores did not capture the essence of the music.  The studio discussed the size constraints with Nintendo, and they agreed to increase the cartridge space from 8MB to 12MB in order to give the development team enough room to incorporate 15 minutes of digital samples of the original scores on the cartridge.  The game is unique among Nintendo 64 titles for using a digitized orchestral soundtrack instead of synthesized music.

From the very beginning of development, the intent was for the game to be a launch title for the Nintendo 64 but due to the mixed reaction they received during the 1996 Electronic Entertainment Expo LucasArts decided to postpone the release of the game until December.   LucasArts wanted to give the development team a few more months to polish the game before its release.  Shadows of the Empire released three months after the console’s launch and was part of the Nintendo 64’s holiday lineup when it released on December 3, 1996. The game received mixed to positive reviews from critics upon release and was a commercial success selling over 1 million copies within its first year.  The game was ported to PC in 1997 but remained a console exclusive for Nintendo.

Game Screenshots:

An overview of Shadows of the Empire with ProJared



ProJared is a YouTube channel that covers retro gaming with a heavy emphasis on RPG games such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger.

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Nintendo 64 (North American Release)

Nintendo 64 (European Release)

Nintendo 64 (Japanese Release)

PC (North American Release)

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