Q&A with ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ developers

(Image courtesy of BioWare)

“Star Wars” is arguably the most iconic science fiction franchise to-date; however, only a handful of fantastic video games have been created from this universe. Two of the most well-known and respected Star Wars games are “Knights of the Old Republic” and its sequel. For the past three years the developers of “Knights,” BioWare and Lucas Arts, have been working on a ground-breaking online game, “Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

The State Press spoke with three Star Wars developers: BioWare Austin Writing Director Daniel Erickson, Studio Creative Director James Ohlen, and Principal Lead Player Versus Player Designer Gabe Amatangelo.  Due to time and travel constraints of the development team, the following interview took place via e-mail.

The State Press: With the uprising in successful free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)s, have BioWare and Electronic Arts considered this mode as an alternative to the $15-a-month fee found in many widely popular MMORPGs such as “World of Warcraft” and “Rift”?

Daniel Erickson: We’re not talking about our pricing models right now, but we’ve considered a number of different options.

SP: Several retailers have a tentative release estimate of Jan. 3, 2012. Is this date valid?

DE: That’s never been a release date for us. We are still aiming at 2011.

SP: Why did BioWare decide to take on a MMORPG and model it in the Star Wars universe?

DE: The success of the original “Knights of the Old Republic,” BioWare’s first partnership with Lucas was a big reason, as was the team’s love of the Star Wars setting.

SP: “The Old Republic’s” storyline is incredibly reliant upon fully voiced non-player controlled characters (NPCs) for development. Why did BioWare decide to alter the typical fashion a MMORPG plot is told?

DE: As with all design decisions, our choice to do full voice overs was based on past learning about how to create the best cinematic storytelling. We look more at our own successes than at MMOs when making decisions on how to communicate plot, character and emotion.

SP: Do you worry that players may feel the toll of time about listening to characters speak about every quest, instead of being able to skip reading material and figure it out on their own?

DE: A bad movie or book is too long in the first five minutes; same with bad voice overs or videogame writing. When it’s done right and engages players we find there is very little wanting to skip in our testing groups.

SP: How will the fully voiced NPCs evolve the player’s individual story?

DE: Choices throughout the player’s class quests lead to new adventures, relationships and opportunities so even two people playing the exact same class at the same time will likely have very different experiences.

SP: Are an individual’s decisions going to be able to affect anything in the game permanently, or will the recently completed task replay identically for the next player?

DE: Decisions will affect a player’s personal experience quite a bit. But will they be able to destroy all the enemies in the Trooper story so the next Trooper who plays will have nothing to do and live in a peaceful world? Absolutely not.

SP: Will decisions be repeatable?

DE: There is some small amount of repeatable content but the primary stories are not repeatable and there is no save button so it’s important that Players really think about the decisions they are going to make.

SP: How will discussions the player has with his or her personal companions be used to flesh out the story?

DE: Companion characters are used to flesh out the galaxy’s backstory as each has its own perspective on events. Players can befriend, romance, and even in some cases kill their companion characters, making for a wide variety of relationships.

SP: Are there going to be npcs whom a player can talk to that are not voiced?

DE: There are NPCs that don’t speak Basic (aliens, droids, etc) but none that are not voiced.

SP: Are there any reputable voice actors working on this project?

DE: Many! I don’t think we’re releasing a cast list now but LEC went above and beyond for casting, bringing together top talent with some of the most exciting new voices I’ve ever heard.

SP: When will players begin piloting their starships?

James Ohlen: Very early on. Space travel is a key part of “Star Wars,” so we don’t want to make players wait too long.

SP: How will the control scheme of space combat work?

JO: Space combat is controlled using the mouse to steer and the mouse buttons to fire blasters and use special combat weapons.

SP: Will weapons on the player’s starship be upgradeable?

JO: Yes.

SP: Will there be any raids or dungeons in space?

JO: Some Flashpoints, our closest equivalent, will exist on space ships and space stations. Players will be controlling their character’s avatar during this content, not their starship.

SP: What type of dangers will players find when piloting their starship?

JO: Battlecruisers, fighters, frigates, space stations, asteroids and space debris to name a few.

SP: What will constitute a starship’s health?

JO: The ship’s hull. As your starship gets more damaged, this is actually reflected in visible damage and smoke trails.

SP: What type of attacks will the player have at his or her disposal?

JO: Blasters and proton torpedoes will be available with the basic ship model.

SP: How many warzones will players encounter?

Gabe Amatangelo: We’ve revealed two so far: Alderaan Civil War and The Voidstar.

SP: What will the terrain be like for these war areas?

GA: Alderaan Civil War takes place on a Planetary Defense Base.  Each team zones in on a drop ship overlooking the base.  They take speeder bikes from the ship to the base where they fight over three air defense turrets. The Voidstar is a prototype ship stranded in space.  One team plays as a boarding party attempting to make their way to the bridge of the ship finding a way from room to room.  The other team defends the ship, attempting to prevent the invaders from progressing.

SP: What different types of open-world warzones will players be able to encounter?

GA: We haven’t revealed anything regarding open world PvP yet, other than the fact that we will have it.

SP: Will any items or combat moves be restricted when in a warzone?

GA: No.

SP: Will player versus player combat only be available inside a warzone?

GA: No.  More news on that to come soon.

SP: During instanced player versus player, will the gameplay feature capture and hold play-types, or focus more on elimination?

GA: The objective types will vary from warzone to warzone.  So far we have revealed domination, Alderaan Civil War, and assault, The Voidstar, game types.

SP: What type of rewards will be available for competing in warzones?

GA: Players will earn PvP currency which can purchase PvP weapons, armor, consumables, etc.

SP: Will the warzones tie into the storyline?

GA: Thematically, they tie in to the story but due to their repeatable nature they will not have an impact on a player’s individual story progression.

Reach the reporter at tdmcknig@asu.edu