Star Wars Battlefront: A mythic jump into the future of the human race that is just jaw-dropping cool

It took my radio buddy Matt Clark from WAAM in Ann Arbor, Michigan a good part of 2016 to talk me into getting Star Wars: Battlefront for my PS4.  But after a lot of coaxing, by him, I finally did about six weeks ago.  The result after just that short duration of time—and granted I have very responsible social obligations so I can’t sit around playing games all day every day—but presently I’m well over 2 million points of online play and I just hit level 52 by Force Friday on September 30th which still gives me reasonable happiness and hope for the future of what has become one of the most important mythologies to our society in the history of the human race.  There is nothing like Star Wars really and now that I’ve played Battlefront a lot on PS4 and witnessed the new Deathstar expansion I have a few things to say that are extremely positive.  The game is simply jaw dropping in its scope, ambition, and graphic ambiance.  Even though I deal with a lot of very usual serious subject matters on this site, I often say that I vacation in the Star Wars universe as a stress management tool, and with Battlefront that has certainly been the case—so it’s OK to take a break to think about something fun.

As I’ve said before, I am a fan of the Star Wars miniatures game.  I wish I had more time to play it, but I think it is superior to Chess as a strategy game and is a real window into what can happen when the human imagination is unleashed through a powerful mythology like Star Wars.  For the last couple of weeks, billionaires on the cutting edge of tomorrow—like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk—have been discussing the opportunities for expanding the human race into our solar system, which I have been talking about for quite some time.  Where those two individuals are not aligned with a person like me politically, we do agree on human expansion into space, the development of new technologies, and expanding the reaches of our imaginations during the next century—and largely Star Wars has helped frame the thought in our generation to make possible the real science we are just beginning to see.  In fact, I was in a business meeting just yesterday—Force Friday—where the new Star Wars toys for the upcoming film Rogue One were released at Target—and the old timers in that meeting were astonished with the very real business results they had witnessed from my performance over the last two business quarters.  While I would never cheapen those efforts with a simple rationality by saying Star Wars was responsible—it did help shape my young mind into thinking big about things and conceiving of ideas that would later develop into quite beautiful ways of thinking—which Bezos and Musk are also utilizing.  When we were all kids, we played with the same toys and I can see the effect in a positive way that it’s had on our culture and the stuff that’s out now for kids is many times better—so I can only imagine what impact that will have on tomorrow’s children who will take what Musk and Bezos are saying today and make it happen tomorrow.  From that vantage point Star Wars can make you better, it can make you think better, act better, and provide mythic direction important to subconscious yearnings key to behaving as a functional adult.  By the high standards set by the orchestral Star Wars music in these movies and video games to the advent of various propulsion systems to make the ships fly, to the artificial intelligence represented in the various robots shown in the Star Wars mythology there is a lot of room to provoke thought in that science fiction, fantasy epic that I see dramatically expanding the consciousness of the human race.  Given that, I’ve told the story of how my wife and I took a few years and played Star Wars: The Old Republic online for nearly two full years—and had a lot of fun doing it.  So when I sat down and finally let myself play Battlefront by a joint partnership between the video game companies DICE and Electronic Arts I was more than a little astonished by the result.

The negatives for me in getting into it in the first place were that I didn’t want to play as an Imperial player—because I never play bad guys—in anything.  I don’t even let my mind go there and in the multiplayer mode of Battlefront they often queue you into both Imperial and Rebel players randomly.  During one game you play as a Rebel and in the next you’ll be an Imperial.  I had to find a way around that just to play Battlefront—and it’s a little bit of a pain in the ass—but the results have more than been worth it.  The other drawback for me was that there was not story mode in Battlefront.  It’s what they call a “sandbox” game where you just show up and play like you would on a playground—only this is quite literally set in the worlds of Star Wars.  I didn’t think that would be enough for me, but as it has turned out, I actually love the format.  Here’s why.

Back in the 90s—and I’ve told this story before a little bit—my favorite game was a space simulator called X-Wing based on the Star Wars missions from the original film.  It was a DOS based game and I played it religiously.  I simply loved it—still do actually.  I loved it so much that it has essentially become the measure of every game thereafter for me—because it did so many things well.  At that time my kids were babies and they learned about video games by watching me play that one, and I had a nephew I was very close with who was a little kid then and played it with me all night some nights, and we never forgot the experience.  It was certainly a very special game for a very special time and the contents of the experience would evoke great discussions between us that greatly enriched our lives even to this day many decades later.  So a great video game done right can have a wonderful impact on people—much greater than what a classic novel once had on our society—because the experience can be shared with other people.  There were a few more editions of that X-Wing game that came out in the late 90s as the Internet became more of a factor in computer use—which seems like an odd thing to say today—but back then the Internet was expensive and clunky, and wasn’t much good beyond communication through email and web browsing.  It couldn’t stream the amount of data that it takes now to play massive battles in high-definition between 60 players at a time like we can now see in Battlefront.  I remember being extremely impressed by the third X-Wing game, XWing vs Tie Fighter that allowed for online play against real life opponents which I was very interested in.  Because I wanted to test myself against other pilots around the world—I’ve always played combat simulations on computers—everything from Microsoft’s Flight Simulators which are very realistic to the old Dynamix World War II aerial combat sims, and X-Wing took the realistic stalls out of the mix common to old propeller driven planes but kept the classic dog fighting elements which was a marriage of two styles of fighter combat that was very enjoyable.  X-Wing fighters were like the old World War II warbirds—such as the P-40 and the P-51, but they had technology that was ahead of our time such as shielding and hyperspace travel which puts your mind onto ideas which force it to lean into the future just to bring all those elements together—which is the correct function of a proper mythology.  Over time a few games have come and gone that I was impressed with—most recently the Old Republic version of its starfighter gameplay where online matches were something I did religiously for about a year—but none of them really got to the meat of what I liked about the original X-Wing where you had to take on massive squads of Tie Fighters, take down Star Destroyers and really challenge yourself to fulfill the mission parameters.  Some of those missions were quite challenging—tactically.  Of course I’m a huge believer that once you work out things in your mind—even on a simulator—then you can achieve it in reality because honestly the mind doesn’t know the difference.  Reason can tell the difference, but the process of thought works whether what you’re doing is real or fantasy.  So I think video game play can be very healthy for producing positive thought.

With that context explained I finally purchased Battlefront after Matt Clark sent me a series of texts over the course of about six months coaxing me into playing online with him.  I was busy at the time and playing the Uncharted series, so I didn’t have time for one more thing.  But when I had an open window to do it, I did and I was amazed at what I had been missing.  My favorite mode in the Battlefront sandbox is Fighter Squadron which is essentially a modern update to the old X-Wing game and once I realized that, I was off to the races.  Quickly I was able to hold my own against even the most experienced players averaging 20 to 40 kills per match—which is pretty high.  The graphics are incredible, the frame rates astonishing—the scope of the battles simply unfathomable even to my most fantastic imaginings of two decades ago.  If that was all there was—I would have been happy.  But that’s only the tip of the ice berg.  There are in fact too many things to talk about in how cool Battlefront is, but really the most telling essence of the game is probably the Walker Assault mode which to me is a really fancy version of the old Atari 2600 game Empire Strikes Back where Imperial Walkers threaten to get to your power generator and you have to fly around and shoot each one of them 48 times to kill them before they reach their objective.  As a thirteen year old kid, I was good at that game—which was a take on the classic Defender video game I played a lot in the old arcades.  But on Battlefront the game mechanics are photo realistic, especially on the Endor modes where the Imperial Walker trounces down a creek bed through a dense forest and you have to bring it down before it gets to your troop transport.  The leaves on the trees are extremely detailed.  There are clouds of mist in the forest as well as insects—the amount of programming to pull off all those elements is insane and I often find myself just staring at the screen wondering if it’s all real or not.  It is crazy ambitious and cool beyond lunacy.  Simply jaw dropping to a guy like me who has watched all these video games evolve over the years into what I am seeing now with Battlefront is inspiring.

It was only a few years ago that I was so excited about the video game Battlepod which came out as a Dave & Busters exclusive from Lucasfilm.  That year my family celebrated my birthday there so we could all play it together.  I thought the graphics on that were spectacular.  But now, after playing Battlefront a lot, I recently went to the Main Event in West Chester where my oldest grandson is now discovering Star Wars for his first time.  He had been watching me play Battlefront for countless hours so he saw the Battlepod game so we played it.  He loved it, but to me it looked clunky and old because my eyes had adjusted to the realities of Battlefront and a few years ago I didn’t think that would be possible.

As I’ve said, I’ve been busy so I kept my experiences with Battlefront to myself for the most part.  There are after all a lot of things going on in the world, and I’m playing my part in a lot of them.  But then Battlefront released its Deathstar update a week ago with the promise to release a Rogue One expansion by the end of the year and suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with the sheer coolness of the Battlefront game.  Finally in real-time you can do battle with live players all over the world around Star Destroyer capital ships, and bring them down fulfilling tactical objectives and really do things that the original movies could only dream of as far as graphics and coverage and I have found my enthusiasm bulging ready to explode with excitement.  Star Wars: Battlefront is a really cool game in every respect.  It is simply astonishing.  In a lot of ways it has healed my hatred of Star Wars that I felt after watching The Force Awakens because through the games I see a bigger picture coming into frame—one that is carrying a new kind of mythology directly to the minds of so many millions of people and connecting them in ways that were only fantasy a short time ago in a galaxy that now seems far away—only it wasn’t.

I have to thank Matt Clark for his persistence.  If not for him I probably wouldn’t have even picked up the title and I would be missing out.  But because of him, I have a front seat onto something truly special that a lot of people who grew up recently don’t have a proper context into just how amazing it really is.  For the first time in a long time I have hope in what this very important mythological tool will unlock regarding the future of the human race and our eventual expansion into space—and beyond.  It all starts with a thought and Star Wars: Battlefront makes thinking beyond our terrestrial limits commonplace in a world brought to us by movies, but made real through virtual reality.  And more than anything I shudder at the day where I think of Battlefront with the same disappointment that I know look at Battlepod because the new edition is so much better.  Because for me it is hard to imagine how a game could be any better than what Battlefront really is—yet I am excited to see how they will be.

Rich Hoffman

 CLIFFHANGER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

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