This year at PAX, out in the glorious Emerald City of Seattle, we had the chance to see Star Wars: The Old Republic game in action on the show floor. What was on display was essentially the same content we explored at E3, only this time it was a real treat to see how the general public reacted to the game since this was the first time in the US the players could get their hands on the title (outside of beta). Eventually we caught up with the Lead Writer, Daniel Erickson and chatted about the game and the cinematic experience BioWare is aiming to achieve with their first MMORPG.
Dan opened by letting us know that what people were playing on the show floor was not a traditional “demo”. Instead, what BioWare brought to the show was just the game itself. And while character creation was not available, players began playing right at the beginning of the game in a live environment with each other. It was plain to see that the level of polish was high, grouping was fully integrated, and players could band together or go their separate ways.
We did probe Dan about character creation, but all he could tell us was that they were constantly tweaking it, and that they had just recently pushed through a new iteration internally. He was also able to tell us that TOR’s character creation would be less about tweaking different parts of the face and body and more about picking from a wide variety of different features. He believes players will be plenty happy with the amount of visual customization available, even if they can’t tweak their nose length one centimeter at a time.
Once it was clear that Dan couldn’t talk too much about character creation just yet, we moved on to his role on the team: containing the massive winding monster that is the game’s script. We asked him how big the script was actually getting, or perhaps tome would be a better word. Dan said they’d recently hired a new writer and his “initiation” was to catch up to where they are with the story by reading a 1,000 page summary text. Yeah… that’s a lot of Star Wars fiction.
We asked Dan what exactly being the lead writer on such massive project is all about. There are so many lines of dialog, so many quests, so many classes to write for… not to mention all the different choices players have when it comes to each quest and the resulting paths opened with each choice. It’s plain to see that managing such a project would be a nightmare of continuity. That’s what Daniel Erickson is tasked with. He’s the task master when it comes to keeping it all together, and more than that finding a way to make each section of the game somehow interconnected and not feeling like just a bunch of pointless exercises in killing womp rats.
When asked whether the choices players made effect the world as a whole, Dan explained that TOR isn’t really aiming for that kind of world simulation. BioWare wants to do what they know best, and that’s telling a story. TOR’s goal is to be a cinematic and story-driven MMO. He explained that there are basically two ways the team achieves this: One is through the class specific quests and the adventure that’s catered to your character through quests, companions, etc. The other is a more universal storyline that everyone experiences together. Different planets will have huge overarching stories to experience, and it’s here where much of the more group oriented content will take place. On top of all of the different stories there are there to be experienced (which are each accompanied by full voiceover that can be skipped if you’re in a hurry), Dan brought up a good point that just as it is in all BioWare games there is a real emphasis on replayability. Play through once with your Jedi Consular, and then it might interest you to play through again trying the opposite path with a different Consular character. That isn’t, however, to say that there won’t be some kind of endgame experience, but so far we haven’t been ale to get anyone to talk about it.
On the choices that players make, Dan had quite a bit to share. TOR is an MMO with a lot of NPC interaction. The conversational choices you make affect what happens for you and even your party. Dan gave us an example where two players who grouped together approached an NPC for a potential quest. One player took a particularly hostile route, while the other had to play good cop and calm the NPC down so that they might progress the quest. So you might want to be careful with who you group within TOR, lest they get you into some trouble with the locals.
We asked Dan about the possibility of light side players allying with dark side players, and he gave us an example straight from the original trilogy. When Han Solo first met up with Luke and Ben, he was clearly messing around on the dark side of things. But as the story progressed, his more righteous side came about and slowly but surely Han found himself far on the light side of the battle. This was Dan’s example, but he quickly added that players will be able to behave in much the same way. The Star Wars universe has plenty of examples of characters who move from light to dark and vice versa. Just because you may be born into one side, doesn’t mean you need to let it dictate all of your actions. Much like KOTOR before it, players will be able to walk the line between good and evil, and though they may be a Sith Warrior they can make choices that echo the light side.
Lastly we asked Dan about the recently revealed space combat and why the developers decided to make it more like Star Fox and less like EVE. The main reasoning, while some folks might not like to hear it, is that it doesn’t fit the type of game BioWare is striving to make. That is, the sort of tunnel-esque battles they’re injecting into TOR are about the story. They’re not about exploration and discovery. They’re about driving a narrative and giving you bursts of action… little concentrated bits of awesome. Sure you can still customize your ship, but don’t go into TOR expecting a world/universe/space simulator. Rather BioWare is bent on giving you the most cinematic and story-driven MMO out there. And it looks like they’re well on their way.