by Cody "Micajah" Bye and Media Group C
style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">
by Jeff Dobson, Art Director, BioWare Austin
The announcement for href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1422"
Wars: The Old Republic has now href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/47070" target="_blank">been
stewing for nearly a week. Since that time, fans that are
anticipating the upcoming game have been scrutinizing every screenshot
and piece of concept artwork available to them. Perhaps the most
attention has been spent on the graphics, where players have commented
on everything, but href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?t=37508"
target="_blank">most notably the size of the lightsabers.
Thankfully, the Ten Ton Hammer staff is on your side, and we asked
BioWare's Art Director, Jeff Dobson, about the oversized lightsabers
while we were at the BioWare media day in San Francisco among other
things. Interested in Dobson's answer? Check out our interview!
hoping to run SWTOR on a variety of machines.
You've talked about
creating a game that can run on a wide variety of machines. Do you have
a target specification that you're aiming for?
Somebody has a target in mind. That said, we're not quite ready to talk
about that today. It's going to be very reasonable. We have a lot of
very smart guys that have worked on MMOs before, so they're going to
make smart decisions. But it is one of our goals to run on a wide
variety of computers.
Will the game be able to
scale up if you have a really kick ass computer?
Ideally, I want to scale up frame rate. If you have the biggest,
baddest machine, you should be able to run at some pretty high frames
per second. To me, however, it's much more important that I can play my
MMO on my bad ass desktop machine and my old clunky machine and my
laptop. I think that's really important, because gamers should be able
to play on any of their computers.
People want to play wherever they're at, so if you're building a game
to run just on those high end machines, you're shorting people.
Personally, I don't think it's worth it to say that it *can* run on the
laptop, but it'll look like garbage. That's not what I want to create.
I want to create a game that has great visuals all the time. I'll
actually take a step back to make sure that we're creating something
that can run everywhere rather than just creating a game that looks
Star Wars is an immense
IP. From an art standpoint, are there going to be a lot of options for
players when we want to go and create a character? How are you going to
achieve this - are you going to use sliders or options?
Customization is really key in an MMO, and if we don't have those
character creation options we'd be shorting the players. Beyond that,
we're trying to tell stories the BioWare way, and that includes the
fact that if you see silly-looking people running around in your world
that breaks the immersion. That said, it's a bullet point feature in
any MMO and is very high on my personal list.
We're really trying to go for options that give us the most "bang for
the buck". People are always talking about sliders that adjust your
nose size or align your eyes in miniscule amounts, but - to us - it's
much more about the silhouette.
How are you
differentiating the look of the Jedi or Sith compared to someone that's
a "Han Solo" type of character?
We spend a lot of time trying to capture what each of the classes are
all about. Whether it be a Jedi or a Sith, we really design things so
players can tell who a player is. It is really important that players
look like what they expect to look like, simply because it breaks their
We ask questions like - would players be able to see weapons on their
characters? Well, we just take a look at the movies and see that yes,
players do have their weapons strapped in obvious view.
Are you going to be
taking locations from any of the first two games and putting them in
Obviously Korriban is in the game already. In the previous game, the
characters were just starting their digging on this world, and now all
the equipment has been cleared away and buildings have been found. Of
course the statues are still along the walls and all of the tombs are
still there, but now there's a spaceport and a giant pyramid at the end
of the valley.
So yes, there will be a lot of places from the other games in SWTOR.
That's one of my jobs as Art Director, taking things that exist and
putting our own spin on things; reinterpret the visual and put it back
BioWare is going for more a "theme park" approach with SWTOR.
Creating one MMO world is
a pretty daunting task, and Star Wars has dozens of worlds - if not
hundreds or thousands. How do you make a game that's not overwhelming
from a content standpoint, but still feels big from a player standpoint?
I think it's a fine line. We definitely have more of the "theme park"
approach; we need to still make things big but at the same time making
sure that players don't have to walk 15 minutes to get to where they
want to go. When we world design, everything is first measured in
footsteps you take. How long does it take to get from Point A to Point
B - that's what drives our levels. There are a lot of things you can do
to make the worlds look magnificent while still allowing players to
move quickly between locations.
Are you trying to make
the environments of the time period look "older" than what we see in
the original trilogy? That was one of the big complaints from Episode I
- III and we were wondering how you were going to approach that.
We definitely think that Star Wars is all about that "lived in" and
"gritty" feeling that you get with the original trilogy. It's a dirty
sci-fi; it's not a polished and clean sci-fi. It definitely draws
people into the world.
Is that the kind of
approach you're taking?
Definitely. We definitely want our worlds to feel lived in. We want
that "Star Wars-y" feel. If we get a piece of art that doesn't look
like it belongs in Star Wars, we give it back to the artist with some
suggestions and make sure it's done right. For example, on Tatooine
there may be a mud hut that someone lives in, but that mud hut will
have a super high-tech panel on the wall.
That's what Star Wars is - practicality combined with the extreme high
Lightsabers look REALLY
big in the screenshots...
We're actually still tweaking that. That said, we do want the weapons
to feel just a little bit oversized. We're always trying to think about
that "show off" factor. We definitely don't want to make them too small
and miss out on that show-off factor.
For those that are concerned about the screenshots, I think the
lightsabers look bigger in those pictures than they actually are. But
without a doubt we want to have that "oversized" weapon feel in the
game for the guns and the lightsabers both. By making the weapons a
little bit oversized, it makes you feel cool to have that giant gun in
However, I do think the size needs a bit of tweaking from what you see
in the screenshots.
Both the lightsaber and the Force Choke will receive some tweaking before the game is ever released.
In one of the
screenshots, it looked like a Sith Lord was choking a Jedi and the girl
had a colorful animation ring around her neck. Is that something we're
going to see on all the abilities? Typically in the movies you can't
really see the Force being used....
I think we'll have to do some sort of animation effects, but I'm not
entirely satisfied with that particular screenshot. This is one of the
areas that we do want to innovate, because the Force shouldn't be
"magic" but it can't be like the movies either, because it didn't
really show anything... it was all about the action. We can't cut the
camera and stuff like that.
What we do do with this, will be innovative and it will probably be
different than what you see in the screenshot.
How are you going to
create a bunch of different iterations on different items? It seems
like you can't do that much with something like a lightsaber...
Sometimes the artists will just get together and have brainstorming
sessions and we'll draw one thing for awhile. Different takes on an
element like a lightsaber. If you look at the comics, they do a lot of
cool things where items like a lightsaber will have a certain amount of
novelty. There are definitely a lot of different things you can do.
Other than the movies, do
you use pieces from the comic books and/or novels for inspiration?
One of our bigger inspirations is actually the original 2D Clone Wars
mini series. We definitely drew a few things from there, including the
clone trooper armor over the Jedi robe. You look like a Jedi, but you
look intense at the same time, it was perfect.
Watching the Star Wars brand really evolve lately has given us a lot of
confidence to push the envelope and try things. The cartoon was really
over the top in some areas, and we want to do things like that and just
have these "big" sort of elements as well.
Let's be big. Let's be loud. We're on a small screen, so let's make it
bigger than life.
What's your pipeline like
when you're creating a world?
The writer's write it, and then it goes to our world designers to plot
things out. We then turn it over to our concept artists to "look it in"
and give us a vision of what to work with. If we really want to take a
look at an element, we'll get our writer, concept artist, and world
designer together and we'll work out what this place is going to be and
what the theme is going to be.
There's a lot of communication, and for the art team the storytelling
is really important to us as well. What's going on in this place? Our
writers love it when we come to them and ask "what are you trying to
say?" It's like the immense shadow coming off the pyramid in Korriban.
That's what we wanted to build around in that area - it's an oppressive
regime that is casting a shadow across everything in its path. The
shadow must fall across the valley.
It's elements like this where I put on the beret and say "this is art."
Companion characters will have customization options.
Will companion characters
have the same sort of options and variants that are available for
There will be customization options, but we can't say too much about
the companions at this point.
Are you working on the
Yes! We spend A LOT of time on the user interface. It's something
that's really really important to us. We definitely want it to have the
Star Wars look and feel. It's a challenge because we want players to
just be able to sit down and play the game. We want it to be
comfortable and intuitive and at the same time we want it to be as
streamlined as possible. We're really happy with where we are right now
with the UI. We think it's very very usable.
We test it out on people in the office who haven't played with the UI
and most of them can sit down and figure it out fairly easily. That's
really encouraging for us.
Will it be customizable?
Can't answer that yet.
What about real time cut
Can't answer that one either.
Finally, how are you
going to make players feel "epic" without having equipment with
enormous shoulder pads, floating bits, or giant swords?
Basically, we just have a whole wall of concept artwork that we have
posted in the general order that we'd like players to find and equip
these items. We'll continue to adjust the board as we put pieces in,
and we definitely don't want players to look like "junk" when they
start. We want players to look cool when they start, but we want 'em to
look awesome when we get to the end.
If we miss the mark on an item, we just shift everything and move the
scale around on what we think is appropriate.
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