Star Wars: The Old Republic Comic-Con Interview - Exploring the Expanded Universe

Updated Mon, Jul 27, 2009 by Cody Bye

There are few events in the world that are as perfect for Star Wars fans as the San Diego Comic-Con, and that fact was readily apparent by the vast number of Jedi, stormtroopers, and Sith walking the show floor on a daily basis. The folks at Lucasarts and BioWare did not miss this fact during their summer convention planning, and Star Wars: The Old Republic had a strong presence at the show. With the latest cinematic trailer running full bore above their heads, Ten Ton Hammer's Cody Bye had a pleasant chat with developers Jake Neri, Hall Hood, Dallas Dickinson, Alexander Freed, and Jeff Dobson about multiple aspects of SW:TOR, including fan expectations, combat content, and exploring the expanded universe.


Ten Ton Hammer: Obviously the response you're getting here at Comic-Con has been tremendous. Do you think that the expectations or SW:TOR continue to grow with every conference and convention that you attend?

Dallas Dickinson: *laughs* It makes me feel strange, but wonderful.

Jake Neri: I think we're all flattered, inspired and humbled by the fans. I think there's pressure there, but it's positive pressure. We have high expectations for ourselves as well, and I think we're meeting and exceeding our personal goals.

Dallas: The fans are definitely behind us. That inspires us to keep working hard at making this game amazing.

Alexander Freed: No on wants to disappoint an enthusiastic fanbase and it's very gratifying to get that sort of reaction.

Ten Ton Hammer: I was talking with a gamer that hadn't actually heard of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and when I mentioned that the game was going to be fully voiced and would focus heavily on story, he thought it would never work simply because gamers - especially in MMOs - constantly skip past story to get to the action. How do you fight that sort of cynicism?

Dallas: There's something different with the story you get in BioWare RPGs. There's voice over on all the NPCs and all the characters. It creates an immersion that simply isn't there in other games. That's one of the things we learned with Mass Effect - and I think was one of the reasons why the game was so popular when it was released.

To some degree, I welcome the cynicism because people are going to play the game and completely change their minds when it comes to story.

Ten Ton Hammer: You often talk about how story really bolsters the gameplay experience; do you think its ever limiting in anyway? Do you think the game could be more popular if you took a more WoW type of story route?

Jake: I think there's a misconception out there that believes that all you do is sit around and watch story the entire game long. I think if you carved out the percentage of passive story versus activities that you engage in while you play, there would be a vast majority going towards the activity side of the ratio.

We [Lucasarts] understand that the guys at BioWare have been making RPGss for a long time. One of the things that I think everyone is trying to sell in MMOs is the idea of story. We believe in story, and we believe in the fans that like story. But if you don't like story, you're going to be able to play the game at your own pace the way you'd like to play.

The game is a story-driven game, but people should give it a shot. The cynics should come in and try it, and the people that love story will definitely have a ball with our game.

Dallas: It's our job to make sure that you don't want to skip the story. That's what we're trying to achieve, y'know?

Alexander: I also want to take a shot at the content versus story suggestion. You look at a game - to pick a random example - like Bioshock. How much of that game is story and how much of it is context? If you remove all of the audio logs and all of the overhead stuff, you don't get a smaller game if you remove that. You would just have a game with much less context to work with.

People look at Bioshock and they react to it emotionally. The context is there so that everything you see and do in the game is meaningful on a different level than just "Can I shoot this bad guy?"

Ten Ton Hammer: It's interesting that you mention the percentage of story in the game... is that an indication to the fans of just how much content you're putting into the game?

Dallas: If you think about BioWare games in the past, they relied heavily on the actual action. That's why you play these games.

If you want to have *just* a story, go and watch a movie. If you want a story that you are a part of and emotionally involved in - where you get to drive the action forward and engage in activities that alter the outcome of the story -  that's the thing it should feel like. That's what we're driving towards.

We're simultaneously building a fantastic amount of content based on a story, but we're also building an MMO that is an RPG with really exciting content...

Jake: The four pillars.

Dallas: Exactly.

Jake: If we under deliver on any - combat, exploration, progression, and story - we're not creating the game we want to create.

Alexander: They all need to link together. When you're looking at the percentage numbers of story vs. content, that would be actual dialogue versus combat encounters. Ideally, ninety-five percent of the game has story and there's obviously a reason why you're doing something in the game.

We know that it's an MMO and you're chatting with your friends - and that won't necessarily be a part of the story - but you're asking them if you want to get together and go do this particular quest or activity together. Technically not story content, but all of your in-game activities should be tied into the story in some form or another.

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