Star Wars: The Old Republic had a fantastic E3, with BioWare making the game playable for attendees and revealing most of the game's features. We took the opportunity to chat with co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk about the game.
"The first thing I did when I got my space ship--this was quite a while ago--was go to Tatooine and I immediately had my ass handed to me by a whomp rat," said Dr. Muzyka when asked what his favorite thing was from the E3 reveal. "It was just sort of like 'I'm on freaking Tatooine and I just got killed by a whomp rat.' It was awesome. It brought all those memories back from when I was a young boy."
Dr. Zeschuk instead took a liking to the newly revealed vehicle mounts--ground vehicles that you'll be able to ride to boost your movement speed beyond simply running. "What I thought was cool is the vehicle mounts," he said. "It's just one of those things that feels right for the game."
But their thoughts were only a small sampling of what Star Wars fans took away from the week. "The fact that we have some really interesting companions in there. Like with the hands-on, you see that each class has a unique companion," Dr. Zeschuk said when asked what he saw others enjoying at E3. "I think people didn't realize that you can have multiple ones. So you have one with you, and the rest you can leave to do your [crew] skills."
"I think people were impressed with the skill trees, and the depth of the customization possibilities. There are eight classes, sixteen advanced classes and then each of those has three really deep skill trees that totally modify and augment your character," said Muzyka. "There's probably not a 'best build,' you know? In a lot of games it's like 'Hey, ok, this is the best build.' and we're trying to avoid that, to have lots of options," Zeschuk added.
"Certainly all the archtypes that players in MMOs enjoy are covered," Muzyka said regarding the various roles traditional MMOs offer. BioWare has put a bit of the Star Wars spin on things, though. The design team took inspiration from Han Solo, Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and other iconic Star Wars characters for the base of the classes. "Beyond that you want to let people personalize and customize," he added.
But it's not just the iconic characters attendees are enjoying in The Old Republic. It's the overall breadth of the game, according to the two luminaries. "They love the fact that we're showing now, not quite everything--we've got a few tricks up our sleeve--but most of the game," Muzyka said. "The high level stuff, the classes, the worlds. They're really excited to be able to play this stuff at E3 for the first time."
And then there's the story. BioWare is trying something no other game studio has attempted so far with a massively multiplayer game, and they're very excited about it. "We love the idea of meaningful choice with personal consequence. It helps to fulfil that inspiration that you're on a hero's journey," Muzyka said. "It's kind of magical, the idea that you can be, not one of those characters in the movie, but a character like one of those in the movie in your own personal saga."
But there are also a lot of fans questioning just how BioWare would manage to bring story to the MMO genre in a meaningful way. "People that have been skeptical that we could pull it off--that it would work--have played it and said 'Wow, this is way more compelling than I thought,'" Zeschuk said.
"In fact, it's one more thing like Ray touched on that a lot of people play these games for. The exploration, the progression, and those things. Story is one of the reasons I want to play," he added. "It's really neat. It does add that other dimension and it actually works."
Interestingly, Star Wars wasn't immediately on the radar as their choice when the studio decided it was time for an MMO. It was a bit blurry, but Zeschuk was able to recollect some of the process: "It's sort of funny. It was interesting in that it really started with us wanting to do an MMO. Some of the guys from Austin came to us and said 'Hey we want to do an MMO for you guys,'
"This was years ago, and we were wrapping up GDC. WoW had been out for a while and it had taken off, so yeah it was a great thing for us to look at."
Once it was decided that an MMO was on the plate, it was time to figure out the product they wanted to work on. "Then we went through that searching for the product phase, like what would it be? That lasted for a while and then we finally went, 'well hey... yeah let's revisit Star Wars,'" he said.
From there it was obvious. While LucasArts reached out to BioWare to request the development of Knights of the Old Republic, the studio had built up enough trust with Lucas by this point. "We knew they were interested in the concept. So we were like 'Hey, you know, we're kind of ready to start this,'" Muzyka said.
After the decision was made to work on The Old Republic, any other ideas for an MMO were quickly met with a 'no.' "That's where our passion was. We felt it was a great opportunity and Lucas felt it was a great fit," he said.
"I also think it was very natural to go back to the Knights of the Old Republic time frame because of the flexibility it gave us," Zeschuk added. "And from our perspective there's still that untapped feeling of being a hero or villain in the Star Wars universe."
It's been no easy task preparing The Old Republic for its grand stage. Dr. Muzyka recalls one such challenge: introducing a rich story effectively to massively multiplayer gaming. "We've got a few really elegant solutions to it, but it took a long time to figure out what those would be and how to make sure they were the right ones," he said.
Dr. Zeschuk on the other hand didn't see much difference between developing the title and some of their previous, like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. "At the end of the day I think there aren't many. With an MMO one of the challenges is it's not just the game, but you have to have a great service," he said. "The hardware backing it, the platform of the game that sits on top of that hardware, customer service elements and community elements that you have to actually elevate."
Fortunately for BioWare the company has picked up talent with experience in the MMO genre. Their Austin studio is ripe with industry veterans, including members of BioWare Mythic that have launched multiple MMOs. "With that group we're on the path to having a pretty exciting, successful product," he said.
But again it falls back to The Old Republic being a service rather than a simple game. Stability, security and scalability are just a few of the challenges the studio faces. You also have to have a vision that spans many years, according to Muzyka.
"It's an immense challenge, and we knew that going in, but it's reinforced that," he said. "It gives us a lot of respect for the great MMO teams that have launched MMOs successfully."
It's no easy task developing an MMO, and one of this magnitude makes it even more difficult. The months ahead will factor heavily into the success of the game, but as BioWare approaches the finish line, Dr. Muzyka and Dr. Zeschuk are both very excited to get the game out in front of fans.
Closing out the interview I had to ask about the amazing intro cinematic that was revealed this week. As it turns out, the cinematic was created thanks to a collaboration between LucasArts, BioWare and Blur. Blur is a very skilled visual effects studio, and the cinematic shows that perfectly.