SDCC 09: Star Wars: The Old Republic

They're baa-ack... It's a whole new war between the Sith and the Jedi. And you, and you, and you, and all the rest of you are fighting it. Online. Now.

Friday was Star Wars Day at Comic-Con International: San Diego and the dedicated panel room was packed with energetic, lightsaber wielding fans looking for information about the new MMO coming from LucasArts and Bioware: Star Wars: The Old Republic.

LucasArts producer and the panel’s moderator, Jake Neri started off by saying that when the time came to make a new Star Wars MMO, it was clear that Bioware, the people behind Mass Effect, Jade Empire and the original Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR)  was their only choice, a pronouncement that was met with applause from the capacity crowd. Neri then introduced the panel, Bioware Senior Content Producer Dallas Dickinson, art director Jeff Dobson, Senior writer Hall Hood and Alexander Freed, Bioware’s Managing Editor.

Neri then ran the E3 “cinematic trailer” showing an ever-escalating battle between a small army of Jedi and Sith, including their respective allies, laying waste to their temple battleground and each other. Check it out below:

When the applause and cries of “again” died down, Dickinson then tried to explain what The Old Republic was going to mean as an MMO from Bioware.  Taking place 3000 years before A New Hope and 300 years after the events of KOTOR, The Old Republic will about the one element that Bioware feels is lacking in current MMOs: the story.  Beyond the usual MMO elements of combat, progression and exploration, The Old Republic will focus on telling a compelling story that goes blends and improves on the other three elements.

Neri then asked Freed about the advantages of creating a Star Wars game outside the movies' time frame.  He enjoyed being able to use the mythology without being constrained by the movies' plot points.  He went on to say that the Star Wars movies left open a lot of small plot points like the Jedi Order and the Clone War, that was only hinted at on the big screen, and developers can explore and expand on them as well as make new ones.  Freed stressed that working on Star Wars is about respecting it.

Neri then asked how players are going to be inspired by the art. Dobson replied that the vibrant, colorful worlds were all built on a planet-specific color pallet.  Dickinson added that it is meant to feel alive, as close to the concept art as possible, but still be compatible with low-spec PCs without looking cartoony.

On the subject of greatest challenge, Dickinson noted the 100,000 lines of spoken dialog and the coordination that requires.  Hood chimed in with “all I wanted was one planet to blow up!”  Which brought laughs from both the panel and audience.  Dickinson reinforced his point about bringing the concept art to life, and working with the writers to make characters look like the kind of people who would say the lines the writers had them deliver.

About the promise of a unique storyline for all the classes, Freed explained how each class has a personal story to tell, but will intersect with the arching story, similar to how a big comic crossover has character specific issues.  Hood then explained that playing as a smuggler or bounty hunter, that is without the force, will be compensated by making the smugglers sneaky and fast, and the Bounty Hunters heavily armed and armored.  Characters will also be customizable to the gamer’s playstyle and ‘idea’ for how the character should look.

Dickinson finished by stressing that this is a game where you would want to start over again and again with new classes, rather then just grind with one character when their plot is resolved.

The floor was then opened to questions:

-On not wanting to play as a fully good or evil character.  Dickinson replied that you can make evil choices as a good guy and visa versa, and that playing as a ‘gray’ Jedi is possible, you can even be the nicest Sith ever

-Only Human Playable Characters?  For now that’s all we are announcing, "but it is Star Wars after all."

-Non-combat social play?  Dickinson: There will be secondary activities like crafting and trading, you can play solo but the

advanced game you can group up

-Can you keep playing with a maxed character? Yes, but beyond Player vs. Player (PvP) we can’t say what’s next at this point, other then there isn’t going to be a “Game Over” wall

-Will it be accessible to new gamers?  Dobson: It’s deigned to be, and the voiceovers and intro missions will help new gamers along.

-On continuity with its own canon, Freed replied that every element is being tracked to avoid errors; Dickinson reiterated that the individual stories are very personal, but still related to the arching plot

Hood finished the panel by explaining that all the writers work in one office; keeping track of the story’s progressions is extremely important to them.

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