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SDCC 2009: Behind the Scenes - Star Wars: The Old Republic
By Gerald Villoria | Jul 25, 2009
We sat in on the Behind the Scenes - Star Wars: The Old Republic panel and bring you these choice excerpts from the discussion.
BioWare is at Comic-Con, promoting its forthcoming Star Wars MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. We sat in on the Behind the Scenes - Star Wars: The Old Republic panel and bring you these choice excerpts from the discussion. Read on to learn about working on BioWare's first MMO, the development of The Old Republic's classes, as well as details on the story taking place at this point in time in the Star Wars universe. Be sure to check back soon for an exclusive interview with members of the teams at LucasArts and BioWare.
The Heroes of Our Tale:
The Behind the Scenes - Star Wars: The Old Republic panel featured Jake Neri (Producer, LucasArts) moderating a lively discussion that included Hall Hood (Senior Writer, BioWare), Alexander Freed (Managing Editor, BioWare), Dallas Dickinson (Senior Content Producer, BioWare), and Jeff Dobson (Art Director, BioWare).
On reactions to the game being announced:
"When we made the announcement, we got a tremendous response from folks. We had some expectations, some idea of what the interest was going to be in this project. And then, at E3, we showed some of what we were actually doing, and the response overwhelmed our expectations. I think we're all very humbled by what people are looking for and what people expect to see in a massively multiplayer, BioWare-created game, set in the Star Wars universe. It's both exciting and I would say humbling."
"I was reading some forum somewhere, and I'm not sure if we had officially announced it yet, and the post said, "If this is real, I will eat my tattoos."
On the challenges involved in keeping a cohesive vision:
"The one unifying goal of the art team is bringing the concept art to life. It's really easy when you have a 3D animator or an artist do something, and you can just put it next to the concept art and see if it matches up."
"We work very closely with the writing, because we want the art to tell a story as well. It's what we do at BioWare and what we do well."
"There's times where we'll draw something, that wasn't necessarily what they had in mind, but they'll take that, and say "That's cool, we'll rewrite it to fit that."
"Of course, the moral of the story, by the art talent, is that's something WE [the writers] have to do."
On Dallas Dickinson coming into the project after it had started:
"I came to it with an MMO background, I've been an MMOs person for the last 8-10 years, so I had preconceived notions about how this type of game plays. When I started at BioWare, my first task was to read through the entire design document, and call out things that I thought were risky, that I thought were crazy, and that I thought were impossible.
So I had a list. There was no way we should be doing full voice-over in a massively multiplayer game, there was no way we should be doing multiplayer dialogue, I didn't even know what that means! There was no way we should be adding unique stories for all of our classes? This was all crazy talk! So I had a whole list, and these were the dumb things you were doing, and I'm going to save the day by fixing everything!
Then I played what was already there, I played an early prototype version of the game, and I shut up, which is hard to get me to do, if you ask these guys. I do not cease to find out that I'm wrong, ever.
I played the game, with the full voice over, and honestly I can't imagine doing an RPG without them. It changes how we view a game, it changes your character, it changes everything about the story, the interaction. The fact that we have every class with a unique story is something that's not just new for MMOs, it's new for RPGs. In RPGs, you usually have just one story that has to fit the class you choose. Here we don't have that constraint. We have a smuggler story that's 100% different from our bounty hunter story."
"Since I called those things out and was told I was wrong, I just sit around and drink. A lot."
On building Knights of the Old Republic-length narratives that all work together:
"Look at the original Knights of the Old Republic. That entire game would be a Jedi story. And we've got Jedi stories. And we've got smuggler stories, and bounty hunter stories, and so forth. So we've got a whole bunch of game-length narratives, all running in parallel, all that have to work together and not contradict one another. It's all taking place in the same universe, it's all part of the great story of the Old Republic.
But each story has to be self-contained and be entertaining in its own right, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The way we do that is make sure that each class has its own role within the universe. If you want to know the story of the underworld during the Old Republic, then you're going to play a smuggler, or a bounty hunter. If you want to know the role of the military, and what it's like to be on the front lines, and to deal with the hierarchy within the Republic, and generally carry a big gun, then you've got the trooper."
"If you took all of our stories, and stitched them together like a movie, the closest comparison would be like Pulp Fiction. You'd play a little bit, and be like, "what was that all about?" and 40 hours later you'd be like, "Ohhhh, that's what that was all about!"
"It would be like the G-rated Pulp Fiction, of course."
On making the smuggler class as exciting as the Jedi and Sith:
"Let's make something clear: smugglers are not normal people. They're the best shots in the galaxy, they have lightning fast reflexes, and you never see them coming until it's too late. Han Solo snuck up on Darth Vader in a star freighter, and Vader was all like, "What?"
Han shot Vader three times on Bespin! OK, sure, it didn't do anything, but still! Three times! I like to believe that Vader didn't kill Han because he understood that Han was awesome.
Han was so awesome that he needed to be preserved in carbonite! That's my version of the Empire Strikes Back."
"Smuggler stories are unique because smugglers don't consult the Jedi council. They don't get their orders from Republic High Command. They don't sit in on Senate meetings. They're creatures of the underground. They're dealing with crime lords, and bounty hunters, and slavers, and the worst scum and villainy in the galaxy.
And yes, they're going to fight the empire, and the Sith, and Jedi, if they want to go that way. The common thread to all their villains is that they are very powerful people, larger than life characters that take themselves too seriously. And then a smuggler comes in, and takes them down several notches, and makes fun of them, gets the girl (or guy), and the credits, and then leaves. The End."
"There's another version of that story that you're going to have to go and write."
On creating the smuggler and the bounty hunter:
"It's simple. Bounty Hunter is Boba Fett, and smuggler is Han Solo. That's the core inspiration, that's where it starts."
"They're similar classes, they're both gunmen, but they approach the use of those guns very differently. The smuggler is going to be quicker, lighter, he's the cowboy, he's the gunslinger, and he's going to be gone before you shoot back."
"There are other bounty hunters in the galaxy, other smugglers in the movies and fiction that we try to tap. Lando was a smuggler too, so we try to do some stuff that really speaks to the idea of a Lando fantasy."
"Which is a great one! To own your own planet? That's pretty darned cool."
"And wear a cape."
"If you want to go more Lando, then there's going to be a path for you, and you can end up with the super pimped-out cape."
On the Sith Empire in the Old Republic:
"Our Sith Empire traces its origins to the very start of the Sith. It's not the same Sith Empire as Dark Revan's from KotOR, it's not the same Empire as Palpatine's in the movies, but it connects both of them. It bridges the two in a certain sense. They have their own traditions, their own way of doing things.
As you play the game, you're going to see the entire empire and how it works. You're going to see the underclass: the slaves, the conquered species, the planets that have surrendered to them for one reason or another. You're going to see the middle class of the Imperial aristocracy: the military, the families who are doing about as well as anyone who's not a proper Sith can do.
And then above them there are the Sith: the guys with the lightsabers who can force choke you to death if you look at them wrong. And you can't argue, because this is the Sith Empire, not the regular empire, not the slave empire, but this is the empire that is entirely oriented towards the Sith and looking at them as the powerful, rightful rulers of the galaxy.
There are some tensions there, and there are some people who utterly, passionately believe that this is the right way for the galaxy to be run. That the force-sensitive people have power because they were the right people."
On neutrality and the light side/dark side system:
"Regardless of what your class choice is, you get to make decisions that either drive you further light or further dark. You can be playing the nicest Sith on the block, and it'll actually change your gameplay experience in a number of ways. It'll change the way that your companions interact with you, it'll change the way that NPCs interact with you, it'll actually give you powers that are only available to the "light side" version of that class. Same is true of the dark side, and the same is true of someone that wants to walk the line."
On role-playing and downtime socializing:
"This is an MMO. We're going to make sure that we are competitive with AAA MMOs and will have those secondary activities that are not just your current class story, that are not just your combat and progression. There will be crafting, there will be trading, there will be all sorts of those things. We call them secondary systems, but they're built for the downtime. We want to make sure that we support guilds. We want to make sure that we support all of those things that actually make this a social experience, that don't make this just about your single-player play experience.
Many of us who play MMOs know that a lot of the time you do play by yourself, you do play solo, so we're making sure to support that, we're making sure that you can play through this content, you can play it by yourself. But if you want to get into more advanced portions of the game, then yeah, we will absolutely be having those systems."
"How easy is it going to be? It's going to be so easy."
"One of the things I'm really proud of, is the hook is really short. With BioWare games, I usually sort of slog through the first two or three hours until I'm immersed in the story. I found that all the storylines that we've done so far have a really short hook. Twenty, thirty minutes and you're in. You know everything that's going on with your story and you're ready to sit there and play one of those seven- or eight-hour sessions all night long and be late to work in the morning."