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Interviews: GDC 2010 Jake Neri Interview

By Garrett Fuller on March 17, 2010

GDC 2010 Jake Neri Interview

How has development been going on Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Jake Neri:

It's been going great. The team is very inspired. They continue to ride the wave of last year where we had a tremendous amount of interest. We were very fortunate to be treated very well. We won many awards last year and those are things I don't think anyone on that team takes lightly. That is not something that the Bioware and LucasArts folks take lightly and it drives us. So I think development has been going well. We understand that there are a lot of big expectations for the game and we always have and we continue to push forward. Development is challenging, you guys know this. You cover tons of MMOs. They all have their ups and downs. We've got a pro team that really knows how to adjust and make the right moves and continue to drive forward on creating a really incredible experience.


You have now officially announced all of your classes. How has class balance been going in development? It is a very hard thing to keep in check.

Jake Neri:

It's certainly challenging as it is in any MMO. It is one of those things where you'll probably see, you know we're talking about the Trooper today and showing the Trooper, I am guessing that by the time the Trooper comes out something there is going to be different and change. It's an ongoing balance for us. One of the things we find challenging is that we are trying to improve upon animation and cinematic quality of combat and that in itself brings a macro challenge to everything. It's not just about the individual classes it is also about how all these things harmonize and look really beautiful to give it that Star Wars and cinematic experience. The good news for us is that we have talented guys who are totally passionate about this. We have a great process for how we iterate on the classes and we believe we will be doing that for a long time so we don't have any issues. It's not like we have a hard and fast deadline and we did not hit it and oh crap. It's more like we know we are going to be working on classes for a long time. We are intent on making them balanced, making them fun, and making them interesting. We do have challenges because it is Star Wars. It is different than other games. We have a strategy for what we want to accomplish. We have a number of good people on it so it is going well. So I guess the question in there is how is it going? It is going well, and it will be on going as well.

One of the biggest things with Star Wars is working with the lore. You guys have placed it in a time line that does not really conflict with other materials. What's it like to create a new chapter in Star Wars history?

Jake Neri:

There are definite benefits to having your own time line. It is one of those things where we at LucasFilm, if I can speak for the larger company, have always embraced people creating inside of the canon. Bioware has proved that they can do that successfully in the past as an organization. We felt that we could trust them to continue to do that. It does have its challenges but we get to work very closely with people who are continuity experts. Making sure that we are going in the right direction and we're not teetering on any strange ground. We're not breaking any canon that is pristeen and must be preserved. If you asked the writers, it is a dream. Who would not want to be super creative inside of something that George put together which became this massive thing. So I think for some I think it is a complete dream come true. Probably some of those guys would say, I never thought this would be possible and I dreamed about it forever. Then the practical side is that we have to work at it and make it happen, but it is good.

As producer what has been your biggest challenge on the project?

Jake Neri:

My biggest challenge personally? Well, we have a huge game, a huge team so it is one of those things you really have to approach from the standpoint of TEAM. That is not necessarily a challenge, that is more of an acknowledgement that I am one of many people that are there. I am very fortunate to have a seat at that table and talk amongst guys, you know like our president Darrel was there and Ray was there. You look around and it is all of our big hitters and all of their big hitters. To find your voice in that can be a challenge because there are a lot of folks who care a lot about the game. So to try and find a role and know that you are adding value that is something we consistently talk about. Making sure that when we're having discussions to make sure we bring value to the table. Also, we keep the consumer in mind, the good of the game in mind. Those may not be challenges but more like tenants that we base our actions around every day.

Challenge wise there is just a lot to do. How do you do all the work? How do you make sure you play the game as much as possible? It's funny. I got a chance to speak with my daughter's class recently. The teacher said, wow you must get to play games all day. Everybody imagines that is what video game people do. The more producer you are the more spread sheet jockey you are. You're the management guy, things like that. One of the challenges is making sure I stay in the game. It is moving so fast, there is so much exciting development going on that if you don't set up time to play the game every day, then you could miss it. One of the things that has been great this year is that my team here at LucasArts and the guys at Bioware are all really strong, really solid and we're doing a good job in distributing the work. Once you get a lot of people focused on this bigger picture which is "hey is the game good?" which is what we're all trying to do ultimately. You forge that trust with those guys and you don't have to feel bad about the fact that, like today for example, I will be with journalists all day, I won't play the game. I have other folks that will though, and they will pick up the slack. We have found a really sweet grove in terms of lots of people contributing, lots of mind power shared, lots of good conversations going on daily. We have to pick that up constantly because the game is so big and moving so fast. If you don't have good communication you are doomed.

What would you say to an MMO player in terms of how the game will impact them?

Jake Neri:

We always start with the element of story and intertwining that into every mechanic that you have an expectation for. There are certain things in the MMO space that are important to deliver on because if you don't you will alienate a player base. There are certain things that we won't try to revolutionize, we'll try to do to a AAA level, but we're not going to impress your readers with a new amazing auction mechanic. Laughs. Those things are already done well in MMOs. So we are making sure we focus our time on areas that are compelling to the player base and reader base. Things like, hardcore folks want to know how the combat is going to be? Is it going to be epic? Will it feel interesting? We are putting a lot of emphasis on making sure people have a compelling experience from beginning to end. Also, that they have reasons to continue playing at the end, because of the fact that the classes are balanced and interesting and that they are Star Wars. That is one of the things I cannot impress enough upon people. With our classes we are trying to deliver the Star Wars fantasy of those classes. We think that has been ultimately successful in the movies. People have fantasized and dreamed about and created their own fan fiction and fan lifestyles around those classic archetypes and we want to deliver that in the game. We think if we do, that is something that no other MMO can have. So right there we have a huge pillar to stand on.

We understand that for some hardcore MMO fans they may or may not like the story, but we do feel like that is something that will be compelling and interesting that we will continue to work on to give players reasons to go through it and benefit from it with your character and your story. I think those are things that we are looking to do. We are looking to create the Star Wars fantasy at a high level in the end game for players. That is something we really want to do. We want to have activities that keep you interested, keep you coming back, keep you busy that feel like experiences in a Star Wars movie. That is a huge goal. It is set in a different era, you know we're not in the movie time line, but it is reminiscent in what you know and that is a huge benefit for us. We're going to try and do that and do it really well.

In the scope of an MMO the end game is critical. What mechanics are you doing with your end game to really enhance the experience?

Jake Neri:

I think we cannot give a ton of information about our end game yet. I think the main thing is that we understand the importance of a great end game. We do understand that there is a need to have a really compelling end game. That is where we are at for now, in terms of what we can say.