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Star Wars: The Old Republic Interview: Chatting With Charles Boyd On The Legacy Of The Sith Expansion

Scott Jeslis Updated: Posted:
Interviews 0

We had a chance to sit down with Star Wars: The Old Republic’s (SWToR) Creative Director, Charles Boyd to talk about creative writing and the MMO’s next expansion.

The next major expansion is entitled, “Legacy Of The Sith” which is on the horizon (and no we don’t have a release date yet). The team at BioWare Austin just released a brand-new trailer that looks back at all the iconic Star Wars stories and moments that have played out in the expansive experience over the last decade.

We were afforded a 20-minute one-on-one window so we asked as much as we could. Obviously, we could have spent another half hour or hour to get in all our burning questions.

MMORPG: Charles, why don't you give us a little bit of your history for the people that don't know who you are. I know you've been with a company a long time.

Charles Boyd, Bioware: So, I'm Charles Boyd. I'm the Creative Director for Star Wars: The Old Republic and have been for a few years now (2016). Before that, I was on the writing team for the storylines. I started way back in 2006. So, it's been about 15 years. And yeah, it's been an awesome ride. I'm a big Star Wars nerd. I always have been, this is my dream job. I feel lucky. I know the whole team does too, you know, to have this chance to keep telling awesome Star Wars stories and giving fun Star Wars adventures to play through.

MMORPG: I also read somewhere that you're a cosplayer. You take part in the 501st Legion, the Rebel Legion and the Mandalorian Mercs. So were you taking part of a lot of the Comic-Cons before the pandemic?

CB: Yeah, not so much during COVID started. I haven't done any big events, since that kicked in, but I did dress up for Halloween, at least had one of my Jedi outfits on last night. Last year, I did my Mandalorian you know, so I try to find opportunities where I can, I definitely miss it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Star Wars Celebration happens next spring, because that is always just an awesome display of everyone's costumes and fandom. It's a great, great chance. So, I’m hoping to get to do it.

MMORPG: So why don't you give us a little insight as to what a Creative Director does.

CB: Yeah, so it's almost all in the name. But my role is to kind of oversee the entire game from the creative standpoint. So, what is the experience of playing Star Wars: The Old Republic like, does it feel Star Wars-y? What's the gameplay like, in general? I don't drill down to the specific numbers. Honestly, that's not my specialty. We have very talented people who are much better at balancing abilities than I am. You know but more of the overall feel things like as I'm moving through the game, as I'm running around on a planet, as I'm interacting with different systems. This sort of all boiling up to the question “is this how Star Wars: The Old Republic is meant to be?”. That's kind of my where my role is.

MMORPG: You also co-authored the reference guide Star Wars: The Old Republic Encyclopedia?

CB: Yeah, yeah. I'm one of one of several who worked on it.

MMORPG: Is there any chance that it’ll ever get revised or updated?

CB: I would love to but nothing to announce on that front. Nothing that I'm aware of anyway. But I expect I'll hear about it if they do. We had a lot of late nights working on this. So, in a way I would be a little terrified. But I think it was it was such a cool project. I would love to do an expanded version now. You know, 10 years in, it would be very cool, but it would double in size. It would be insane.

MMORPG: It’s a hefty book. Being over a foot tall.

CB: I'm sad that it's not readily available now. I hear they go for quite a bit on eBay and stuff. So, I'd love it. Even if it was just the original one again.

MMORPG: So, tell us a little bit about the “creative story writing process”. What is the current process? I assume you have to go through LucasArts to get some kind of approval.

CB: We still work closely with Lucasfilm and have since before the game came out. We actually still work with some of the same people who have been there just as long as me, it's cool. You know, we've had just this really long, really great relationship where I feel like they're very collaborative. I have only worked on this game so I only know through hearsay, but I hear sometimes licensers can be very restrictive. They can be a little strict. It feels like they're just there to tell you, “No, you can't do this. No, you can't do that”.

When we're working with them, like recently, we were working on something for the story. Not for 7.0 (the Legacy Of The Sith expansion), but for where 7.0 was going. So, it kind of is relevant to 7.0 but I got to chat with the whole story team. You know, they really helped us kind of hone in on this big thing that we're building toward, and how best to do it. And you know, they were just so enthusiastic to help us make it fit as opposed to being like, “Oh, well, no, why would you ever do that?” It was more like, “Why do you want to do that? Where do you want the story to go?” And we were talking about our big ideas and stuff. And they were like, “That's awesome. All right, let's make it work”. So, they really buckled down and helped us make it work. And so, we'll see just the first hints of that in this next expansion. So basically, you know, there's big planning, stuff like that, where we talk to them at a high level, but also, they review every line of dialogue, every line of text that goes into the game, line by line. They give us any feedback they have, so we're pretty practiced, at this point at making Star Wars stuff. So, the feedback tends to be pretty light. Luckily, we've got a lot of practice now. So, it's mostly us in the SWToR team, developing the stories from the beginning, and then sending them over in overview form, and then they review it, and it gets into the dialogue.

MMORPG: So how far ahead do you guys write the story content for?

CB: It varies a lot, sometimes an opportunity will come up and we might change things around, you know, story wise, so it can in fact shorten it, and then it gets extended again. I'd say a minimum of six months, just because production wise we do have a lot of voiceovers to record and cinematics to make and stuff. So, it's rare that something would go faster than that. It can happen, but it's rare that it would be sooner than that. And it can go as much as two years plus. And then sometimes inadvertently, it'll end up being five years or ten years. You never know, right? There was a character in the expansion “Shadow Of Revan” his name was Jakarro, the Wookie with the droid C2-D4 strapped to him, that was based on a much dumber idea that I pitched in, like 2007. So, I tend not to talk about stuff that we haven't put in only because it'll usually find its way back. Hopefully in a better form. Far, far down the road. So yeah, it's fun.

MMORPG: The next expansion is Legacy Of The Sith. It’s free to all subscribers. So, for returning players, will they be lost if they haven't played the previous content?

CB: So, you have the option where you can continue your character where they left off. Which, depending on where that is, that might be quite a bit or not, it's kind of up to you. We do have sort of jumping in points at a couple of our past expansions. So, if you were still in the base game, you could jump, to say “Forged Alliances” in the “Shadow Of Revan” content. And if you're the right level, you can definitely jump in at “Knights Of The Fallen Empire”. And the game will just kind of auto complete everything up to that point, story wise. Or you can jump in at our last expansion “Onslaught” and that'll kind of get you caught up to the current storyline. That being where the story of “Legacy Of The Sith” began which was with the “Onslaught” expansion, meaning the “Jedi Under Siege” update set on Ossus. So if you want to just go straight to the newest stuff, that's definitely an option.

MMORPG: So, what can you tell us about the story of “Legacy Of The Sith”, other than the obvious title? We know Malgus is involved, is there anything else you can kind of drop on us?

CB: Obviously like you said, Malgus is involved. We wanted to take this opportunity. It's our 10th anniversary wanted to celebrate our most iconic probably villain over the years, at least certainly the most well-known. And, yeah, so he's up to his own thing. He's gone rogue. He's got a nefarious plan that no one knows quite what he's up to. So, we'll find out a little more about what he's up to when the expansion launches and then a lot more as the updates continue after that.In 7.0 (“Legacy Of The Sith” expansion), this story will be taking us to the planet Manaan, which everyone knows from “Knights Of The Old Republic” back in the day, and we've been there in the Old Republic as well. You know, kind of in the background, while Malgus has been doing his thing the Republic and Sith Empire have returned to war. So, you know, Kolto the healing fluid that is unique to Manaan is a vital resource when you're having a galaxy wide war like this. So, we'll be returning to Manaan at war, which will be a very different take on it.

We’ll also visit a planet called Elom which off the top of my head, I can't think of it ever having appeared visually at least in any other thing. It's been mentioned and the aliens who are from Elom have appeared in things but never the planet itself. So that's always fun when we get to, you know, develop the look, and feel of a new place. So that'll be tying back into the Malgus story. We'll be visiting some ancient ruins of a Sith Lord erased from history. It'll be minimal. Like I said, we’ll be going from there with updates to follow.

MMORPG: There's a lot of other great things to talk about in this expansion. One of the biggest ones is “combat styles”. Could you talk a little bit about what combat styles are? And then how you got there to this point with going with this change in direction?

CB: So, at its core combat styles are just a way of separating the gameplay a little bit more from your storyline and character choice. In the past in the game if you came in and said, “Cool, I want to play as a trooper”, then that meant you were a Vanguard, and you use a rifle and you fight in a certain way, or you're a Commando, and you use a big giant cannon, and you fight in a certain way. And those were the only options. It's like, if you're a Trooper, that's what you are.

So, combat styles are kind of separating those things out and opening up the options a whole lot. So now, any combat style, or what we would have called an advanced class, in the past, is available, e.g., someone who uses the Force is now available to everyone who uses the Force. And similarly, if you don't use the Force, and you're a Trooper, again, following that example, now you can access all the combat styles that were on the other non-force classes.

So, like Sniper from the Agent or Gunslinger from the smuggler, things like that. So, the example I tend to use is Captain Rex from Clone Wars. He's a Trooper through and through but uses two pistols. And before, if you came to SWToR, thinking, Captain Rex is my favorite character, how do I play like that? You wouldn't have been able to do it. And now with combat styles, you can. So, it's something that we've been experimenting with, and approaching from a few different directions over the years. I've personally, and a lot of the team has, wanted to kind of open up the options a bit, figure out, okay, how can we make it so that characters can use more of a variety of weapons, but also keep their story identity and also keep the sort of “if I see that weapon, I know roughly what that person is going to do”. Right? Especially for PvP, you want to have some sense of their capabilities. So, we felt like this is a great sort of elegant solution to keeping that around, opening up the options, but keeping those factors in mind.

MMORPG: You've had some of those changes for some of the classes on the Public Test Server (PTS) since August. Have you guys changed anything dramatically based on player feedback from the PTS?

CB: I guess it depends on what dramatically means for some people. To me, not really. There were definitely a few cases where we put out the most extreme version that we would ever do of a combat style. Because we want to really get it down to the heart of it. Like, what is it about being a Jedi Sentinel, that makes it a Jedi Sentinel for you the player? And so, starting at that very basic form, and then seeing players saying, “Okay, well, no, but I definitely need this ability still, I really miss it”. That to me was like core to the experience. Okay, then we'll put it back in or look at a way to kind of re-integrate it back into the experience, maybe not in the exact same way, sometimes it was literally the exact same way. Sometimes not. And so there definitely have been changes that we made based on player's feedback, because we know that's the great thing about PTS, right? Is that you can experiment, you can try things out and see what’s going to click, what feels great, and sometimes what doesn't click at all. And players are always happy to let us know either way. So, it's a good experience.

MMORPG: So, the other big item we need to talk about before we run out of time is “Legendaries” or “legendary items” which was just announced recently. Can you give us an overview of what's going on with that?

CB: Yeah, so basically, it's taking some of the old set bonuses that used to be applied to multiple pieces of gear and kind of combining them and drilling them down so that they're actually just on one piece. Then you can get those same, or similar at least, effects with a single piece of gear rather than having to collect a bunch and or sacrifice some of those in combination with others.

MMORPG: So how do I go about upgrading those Legendaries?

CB: So, we're changing a bit of how the overall gearing process works. So, in general, the most basic version is, you obtain gear from whatever type of content you're generally playing. So, if you're a solo player doing your solo story, you're probably playing conquests. You might do some flash points; you start getting into more multiplayer, more PvE. You're doing flash points of increasing difficulty than operations. That's where you get the most advanced, and then PvP as well. So, as you do those activities, you'll start to get gear upgrades, or you'll get maybe a side grade, that you can then break that down. Or maybe have currency that you can use to upgrade to things that you really want to target.

We've really tried hard to remove as much of the dreaded RNG (Random Number Generator) which is everyone's least favorite thing. We've tried to eliminate that as much as possible. We feel like that's the right direction to go. So, it's really playing the content, getting drops or trading in drops that you don't want for currency and using those to upgrade things within the track that you're in. That said, you can use any gear in any content. So, if you've put a lot of work into your Flashpoint gear, and then you jump into PvP if won’t be like you're naked. We still want to try to make that something that people can jump into.

MMORPG: And then the last thing is Galactic Seasons, we're going to go into Galactic Season 2. How was the first Galactic Season perceived by players? Was it good?

CB: Yeah, I think it went really well. You know, it was something that we definitely made a lot of changes for with season two, like in terms of some of the objectives we wanted. We definitely tweaked some of those to make them a little more friendly, or to kind of reflect what players wanted to be doing day on day. And to be a little more generous. Because they do, kind of rotate. And so sometimes it's something that maybe one player doesn't want to do. But if another player does, part of that is intentional. We want to encourage players to try different activities. And we're putting as many carrots in there as we can.

MMORPG: Like improve more grouping probably, I saw a lot of grouping type activities in there to help that.

CB: Yeah, but at the same time taking the feedback saying, okay, which parts were not so fun, or maybe felt like a little too much. But ultimately, we just want it to be there as a cool thing you can do if you want to play a lot. Make it feel like you're getting something out of your time, a little more, more awards than you would have gotten in the past.

MMORPG: In closing, I'll let you have the mic. If there's something you want to tell your fans or players. It's up to you. Whatever.

CB: Yeah, just thank you all so much! I feel really lucky. Everyone on the team feels really lucky that we get to keep making fun Star Wars adventures ten years in. It's a lot of fun for us, and we really love all the players for coming and joining us.

MMORPG: Yeah, it's remarkable that, 10 years later, I can make a Bounty Hunter (in game) that is almost close to what we're seeing on TV (The Mandalorian) in the year 2021.

CB: That there is even a TV show called “The Mandalorian” is already a huge shift from 10 years ago now. Yeah. With combat styles. You can make your bounty hunters a sniper!


Scott Jeslis

Scott is a comic book, music, and gaming nerd since the late 70s. Gaming all began on the Colecovision and Atari 2600. He buys and reads new comics every Wednesday from his LCBS and helps run an online Heavy Metal radio station. He also loves all things Star Wars.