Disney Infinity Star Wars Reinvents the Classic AT-AT Takedown
Taking down AT-ATs, the giant walking transports that the Empire deployed on the ice planet Hoth, is something players always look forward to in each new Star Wars videogame. In fact, the first Star Wars game, 1982’s Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600, was entirely about battling AT-ATs, although you couldn’t take them down by wrapping tow cables around their legs like Luke did.
Later games attempted, with varying degrees of success, to replicate that iconic moment. But they always lacked a little something, say the developers behind the the “Rise Against the Empire” Star Wars levels in the new Disney Infinity 3.0 game. Paul Ayliffe, art director at Studio Gobo, doesn’t want to name names, but says the payoff was always the same: once you flew enough loops around the AT-ATs, you’d watch pre-canned animation of the walker crashing to the ground. “It felt too much like playing a movie,” said Ayliffe, “rather than it actually being your takedown.”
The scripted approach wasn’t going to cut it for Disney Infinity, a “toys-to-life” game that uses interactive figurines of Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney characters and is supposed to evoke the feeling of a playroom full of toys. Studio Gobo created a procedural animation system for the AT-ATs, such that each tow-cable takedown felt unique, and didn’t tear you out of the game. “The tension you apply to how the AT-AT is walking will have a direct impact on how it falls over,” says Ayliffe.
“If you attach a tow cable very low on the legs,” says Studio Gobo’s technical director Jim Callin, “the feet will get pulled together, and then physics takes over: You get this top-heavy pendulum that goes crashing down into the ground. If you do it higher, the feet don’t get pulled together, and you get a very different takedown. They fall sideways.”
The AT-ATs in Infinity can be taken down in other ways, too. You can destroy one as a foot solider by climbing it and attacking weak points, a gameplay sequence Ayliffe says was inspired by the PlayStation 2 game Shadow of the Colossus. Walkers even have a remote control inside, so you can stand on top of one and control it—or carry the remote somewhere else and stomp on its buttons to move the AT-AT around from a distance.
You can fire on the AT-AT from afar, destroy one leg, and let the physics engine take over. “If you use laser cannons to take out the lower leg,” Callin says, “the AT-AT can stumble along for a bit on three legs, because it’s reasonably stable.” The weight of the upper part of the leg is enough to balance everything out. “But as soon as you take out… the upper leg, it’ll go over, because the same amount of weight isn’t there keeping it stable.”
Some players have developed even more creative ways of using the physics of the AT-AT against it.
“Someone landed the Snowspeeder and carefully positioned it in front of the AT-AT, so the AT-AT would step on it,” says Ayliffe. The giant walker stepped onto the little aircraft, lost its footing, and toppled over. Not even Luke Skywalker would have thought to try that.