Star Wars: The Old Republic
9th Jul 2010 | 13:29
Bioware doesn't make MMOs. But if it did, they'd probably be the best MMOs in the world.
What's that? Biowareis creating an MMO? And it's in the Star Wars universe?!
Put down that can of faux-Danish lager and crack open the posh stuff!
Oh wait, what? It's not out until next year? And only on PC?
What's all this about 50 novels'-worth of dialogue? In an MMO?
What's going on?
Best sit down with Bioware lead designer and story writer Daniel Erickson to find out more...
Stories of Star Wars games in general have been frequently disappointing - with a couple of notable exceptions. What does The Old Republic offer that's new?
If you played Knights Of the Old Republic, you'd know it's Bioware's bread and butter and the place we go back to. The big difference to us is not only does it have real story - it's got an amazing cast, it's all VO, it's all cinematic dialogue - it has eight stories.
Every one of the character classes has their own complete path through there. That allowed us to use stories that usually you dont even get, right? Even when we did Knights Of The Old Republic, we had to run sort of a generic story, because we didn't know whom you were to begin with - where you were coming from.
Now we know, hey, you chose to play a smuggler, so we can tell a story that is fly by the seat of your pants, funny, romantic, everything's always going wrong, you're always in over your head. Choose to play a bounty hunter and you get sort of a Western feel to the story; you're one man with a gun, you answer to nobody, you make your own decisions your trying to show you're a bad-ass in the world.
Obviously the Jedi and the Sith story is very, very different. The imperial agent became this amazingly surprising piece when we decided that we want to put in something that let us see what the 95 per cent of people who live in the Empire that aren't Sith are like.
So he is this interesting sort of Jack Bauer, 24-in-the-SS type, who can actually be a very good guy if he wants to be. He can protect his people and be a patriot.
We obviously thought a lot about the old nobility days, when the nobles had absolutely massive power and could kill you anytime. You take that and put it into a modern context and you have the Sith Empire. And so they're very, very different stories from different perspectives where you get to make real choices that matter and change your story entirely.
And there's no save button: You're going to make that choice and if you decide to kill your companion character, they're dead. Six years later, they're still dead. It's great to see people realise they've been affected by a decision they made 100 hours ago. It's like: "Do you remember me from Tython?" And it's like, "Oh my God, I do! Sorry about that, buddy."
The MMO is a new area for Bioware to tackle...
Yes, obviously we've made a lot of RPGs. And one thing that seems to be a continual surprise is we have these discussions where people say: 'Why did you think to do these crazy things in an MMO?' But of course, we didn't think to do anything in an MMO. We thought we'd do a massively multiplayer Bioware RPG.
In the early days when they first announced that there were MMOs, like the existence of them, I knew in my head what that meant - because I played Role Playing Games. It was just a giant Role Playing Game. And then you showed up, and it wasn't. It was the rule set to an RPG: There was combat, and there were areas, but that was all. Someone had left out the module.
There was no story, there was no point, you just kind of wandered around. We've always had that thought in the back of our head: That Old Republic should be all the things we thought an MMO would be in the first place - which is all the parts of an RPG.
Which means - and this is the most radical idea - it should just be fun. Like, just fun to play. You shouldn't be trying to ignore all of the content to get to the end as fast as possible.
In any other genre of game, if that was how someone described it to you, you would never, ever play it. If someone said: 'Oh yeah, the whole game of Civilization is terrible. But when you get to the end it's really good.' You'd just say no.
We've got this crazy concept that's led to a tonne of content. Just for voice over content, we're putting it at about the equivalent of 50 Star Wars novels. That's just for word count - forget all the stuff that's not VO. It plays like a Bioware RPG. Just a huge one.
It sounds like as a designer you're frustrated by the template of MMOs as it stands...
I think we all understood why it was there. What we undertook was an incredibly complicated resource problem. I don't think that they set out in the beginning to say: 'Hey, let's make this a grind. Let's not have any interesting content here.' A lot of the better ones have interesting content for the first few levels, you know - and some of them for the first 20 levels, whatever.
But it's still not the interesting content you'd expect in a single-player game. I really think it was just a case of: 'We don't have the ability do this.'
The thing that has been a challenge when we launch this is that people tried to convince us these limitations were canon - that they were to be respected. That you could not in fact put interesting bits in an MMO because that was now sacrilege. That was an interesting idea to get around because I don't think we really expected it at the beginning.
With that in mind, do you think you're going after MMO players or Bioware RPG fans?
Ideally, it's both - and it's sort of synergy of both. If you're someone that loves everything an MMO brings to the table, loves the community aspect, loves being able to see other people and say: 'I have better shoulder pads than you do,' everything you loved about MMOs is there for you.
But if the idea of story and context really turns you off, if what you want is the just complete Disneyland experience, where you run on the rides and repeat the stuff, this probably isn't your favourite MMO.
If you are a hardcore, traditional Bioware fan - a Mass Effect or especially Dragon Quest fan - this is the dream game. It is an RPG forever. It is an RPG that at the speed and pace that I play RPGs as a gamer, five ten hours a week, I could never finish this game.
One of the things people don't ever get around is the class stories, which go through the whole game. They don't stop.
There's other content as well, which is more built towards multiplayer with your friends. But there is no crossover between the factions.
If you play as a Bounty Hunter from the first level to the last level, and then rolled up as a smuggler, you would not see one repeated piece of content. It would be an entirely new Bioware game from start to finish - that is multiple times bigger than a Mass Effect. This game is bigger than every Bioware game we've done put together. By a long shot.
Star Wars obviously influenced Mass Effect in multiple ways. How has Mass Effect influenced the Old Republic?
So we were sitting there and originally the game was built far more like Dragon Age as far as Conversation System went. Our player characters were not going to be voiced because it's a massively insane expenditure and hugely complicated to do. You have to cast 16 of the best actors ever and them hold them for eternity.
Mass Effect came out when we were very early into development. I remember walking up to James Ohlen - the lead designer on both Baldur's Gate Games, Knights Of the Old Republic and both Dragon Age games.
We both saw Mass Effect and were like: 'Okay. There is no choice here.'
So we rounded up both sides - us and LucasArts - and despite it being a huge undertaking, we showed them one [version of Old Republic] with VO and one without, and we attached a pricetag to it. We thought they wouldn't go for it. We were like: 'This is a dumb thing to try to do for an MMO.'
It came beck unanimously from both sides - we had to do it. Mass Effect changed the world because you became the hero. You actually became the most interesting thing on screen - you got all the best lines, and to be super cool. We had to go back and rewrite everything. The story telling system is totally inked from Mass Effect.
PC gaming is often decreed as 'in decline'. What's your view?
It's dead. Let's be clear. It's dead. Fantasy is also dead, RPGs are dead... Of course not. There's a great, great piece that I think [Blizzard's] Brian Bardo actually did as a speech. He was talking about the same stuff we heard when we were working on Dragon Age. They got told while working on World Of Warcraft that you couldn't do another fantasy MMO because fantasy had been cannibalised by EverQuest.
All the people that were going to play a fantasy MMO were already playing one. There was [supposedly] no room to grow the market there.
Every two or three years we hear the announcement of fantasy being dead, PC gaming being dead and RPGs being dead. And yet, all of the biggest games that ever come out - that set the records - are nearly always PC games, and a lot of them are fantasy games.
The biggest game in the world is a fantasy, PC, RPG MMO. We all know the drawbacks of PC. We all scream at our boxes and try to make stuff work. But at the same time, the interface is made for games.
The mouse/keyboard interface allows so much less restriction [than console].
There was not a question when we started Old Republic - or any of our games, for that matter - [what the lead format would be]. There's a reason the lead SKU for Dragon age was PC as well. When we're developing an RPG, it's a natural place to be.
Do you have one eye on bringing Old Republic to console, as you did with Knights Of The Old Republic before it. Is it even possible?
I have no idea if it's possible. I'd have to ask our tech director. I can tell you that it's not anything that we've eve discussed.
There is nobody anywhere in Bioware laying the groundwork for that because we have a very large, complicated game to ship first.
Do you have an eye for future expansions, DLC and even sequels for Old Republic?
We definitely know that the great excitement of playing an MMO is the never-ending RPG, but nothing's on the radar because everyone's completely focused on the insane miracle of getting a game this huge done.