Friday, 20 May 2011

154: K is for Kickass

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

Kyle Katarn. The most badass Star Wars character most folks have never heard of. Part mercenary, part Jedi, all killing machine.

I came to eat Nerf steak and kick ass And I'm all out of Nerf steak...

I was introduced to Kyle back in 1995. We had a pretty casual setup at work where we'd get the day over with, then chill in the evening with a few beers, chatting and gaming (Tip: If you're going to open a design-shop, do it next door to an off-licence, it's awesome).
For quite a while, the game of choice was Doom. That served as my introduction to the First-Person-Shooter, still a favourite to this day. Many hours were spent in front of a CRT monitor, Newcastle Brown at one side, gatling-gun in front of me, pounding raw bloody death into the hellspawn of Deimos and Phobos. But eventually, a game that comes on five floppy disks starts to wear a little thin. Our computer-guru Keith, came in with mod he'd downloaded. Star Wars Doom. Instead of demons? Stormtroopers. Again, this was enough to keep me very happy. The only SW gaming I'd done up until that point had been the vector-graphics of the SW and Empire arcade games, and the side-scrolling of the RotJ follow-up. Now I was able to run around, in full expansive 3D, slotting stormtroopers left, right and centre.

The Stormtroopers of Mars

Then something really special happened. Keith brought in a game on CD. The game was Star Wars: Dark Forces.
Now it's quite a step up from a 8mb game to a 300mb one. Especially as our work hard-drives were under 1gb in capacity (Seriously. You have more than that in your phone). This game didn't just have 5 levels, it had 14. In addition, these levels were massive (even by today's standards, they're still pretty sizeable). And, most importantly, these levels were in the GFFA. And there was an actual plot!

For the first time, you could walk around, exploring every corner and control panel of an Imperial base or Jabba the Hutt's space cruiser. You weren't confined to speeding in one direction down the Death Star trench, or scolling left to right over a fixed landscape. Once you'd wiped out (or just avoided) the fixed number of enemies on that level, you're free to wander around and get a feel for it. Memorise the best routes for repeat attempts, or find hidden weapons and recharges. Added to this is a very solid storyline, with crudely animated cut-scenes between levels featuring Darth Vader, Mon Mothma, Crix Madine and Boba Fett, as well as characters created for the game. The strongest character in the game? That'd be Kyle. The second strongest? The Darktroopers.

Oh. Erm... AAARGH!

In Doom, you play a nameless character. A marine whose backstory (in that particular game) isn't too important. Kyle Katarn, on the other hand, has a history, a family, a career and, most importantly, character development. The game released on PC, Mac and PS1, and was so successful that a sequel was produced (PC only, iirc). Ramping up what'd been accomplished in DF, the sequel found Kyle discovering more about his hidden heritage. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II used a completely new game-engine, and was so successful is spawned three novels (with audiobook dramatisations) and two Hasbro figures. It also featured live-action cut-scenes. This was real, actual, filmed Star Wars!

The legendary Jason Court as Kyle Katarn

So by 1997, Kyle Katarn wasn't just the deadliest bloke in the GFFA with a gun, now he had a lightsaber and The Force, too. That's like giving Chuck Norris a license to use bio-weapons. An expansion-pack game was released using the same engine: Mysteries of the Sith, which saw Kyle falling to the dark side, only to be rescued by Mara Jade. In 2002, Kyle's adventures continued with Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, using a heavily modified Quake3 engine. This, for me, remains the pinnacle of Kyle Katarn gaming. Not least because of the amount of fun I've had playing it online over the years. Jedi Academy was released in 2003, which I certainly found playable, but Kyle takes a back-seat (ie non-player-character) as the instructor of Jedi fledgling Jaden Korr.

Kyle considers beating Rosh to a pulp...

As Kyle is primarily a gaming character, it's easier for me to identify with him. Don't get me wrong, I still love Luke Skywalker, but I've only watched his adventures unfolding. There's a connection that you can only get once you've played as the character. All the high-scores, all the unlockable maps and outfits, the cutscenes and alternate endings; all of these are given to you because of your achievements in the game. When Kyle fails to get off a self-destructing ship in time, or watches his co-pilot being executed by Dark Jedi, or just doesn't make it past several hundred Stormtroopers in an Imperial base, his failure is your failure. You're not just willing him to succeed, you're helping him. You are him. And unlike a movie where the story unfolds over two hours, a game can take days in the company of the protagonist (well, it will if you're as bad a gamer as myself).

Kyle and the Darktrooper (phase III), circa 1997

Much like Fett and Maul, Kyle's popularity arises from his fans wanting more. Sadly, there's not that much Katarn content out there other than the games. He appeared as a supporting character in the New Jedi Order and Legacy of the Force series of books, as well as minor appearances in the games Empire at War and Lethal Alliance. But that was pretty much in the same way that Tarkin appeared in RotS. There because it fits the timeline, not in a starring role.

Kyle and the Darktrooper (phase I), circa 2009

We did get a KK story, Equals and Opposites, in SW Tales#21 which inspired two new figures from Hasbro, but all this did was made the Kyle-fans want more. As much as we love the various SW comic series we've got at the moment, all we really want is a Kyle Katarn series. There's plenty of room for more development there. Maybe he'll get his own strand in the Invasion series?

If you're reading, Dark Horse, you could make this happen.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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