A not very long time ago in a conference chamber not very far away we had the opportunity to chat with Jake Neri, Producer with LucasArts on Star Wars: The Old Republic, the hotly anticipated BioWare-developed PC MMO. Here are the results. For maximum impact, print the article onto cellophane and move it slowly past eye-level whilst staring at a map of the constellations.
VGD: You have an incredible amount of spoken dialogue in this game, and in three languages to boot! Can you talk me through how you’ve pulled that off?
Jake Neri: Well we’re still in the middle of developing that. It’s a tremendous effort, we have a huge team collaborating on that both at LucasArts and at BioWare studios in Austin and Edmonton are working on that project. It is a massive undertaking, but the pay-off for the player is really huge, and I think that was something that we decided early on – when we wanted to go to full-voice, we wanted to make sure we could do that in all the key languages, to reach as many as people as possible. We’re trying to create a world phenomenon with the game, we don’t think we can do that unless you can hear it in the language which you speak.
VGD: Do you think this game will convert many Star Wars fans to MMO fans?
Neri: I think so, yeah, I definitely think so. That’s one of our goals. We understand the Star Wars audience pretty deeply, we’re very fortunate to be very much in touch with those fans. At LucasArts it’s a big part of what we’re doing, trying to understand those fans, because they’re are passionate and they’re all out there. We also know from working on things like Galaxies we have no problem with attracting people to the genre just based on the fact that it is Star Wars. So we feel like a lot of the things we’re doing – the story, trying to make you feel like a hero early on, trying to make sure that the combat is cinematic and action-packed – we think those things will bring in new players and we’re hoping they are. At the same time, there are hardcore MMO players that are going to want to play this as well, so we’re making sure that the game fulfils their expectations as well.
VGD: MMOs don’t tend to blow people’s minds with their production values. Do you think gamers in this genre really care for that kind of thing, and are you trying to raise the bar?
Neri: It’s one of the huge technical hurdles in the MMO biz. We can’t always control the scene like you can in a single player game, we have certain limitations with physics, right, we can’t do as much physics at any one time. Because in one scene you might have 250 people on-screen, and you can’t control the environment as well as you can in single player. Now that being said, as far as inside the genre goes, we’re certainly trying to push the boundaries of what you can and can’t do. Combat is a perfect example – very cinematic, very heroic, all over the map, lots of flips and acrobatics, lots of choreography in our swordplay, the ability to block blaster bolts, use force powers…
VGD: Old Republic takes place 3000 years before the original film trilogy, but after the events of the Knights of the Old Republic games. What state is the universe in at present?
Neri: It’s an interesting time. The Sith are there, and they’re ready to do some serious damage… The Sith are different in our world than they are anywhere else. We’ve heard a lot of questions about will we answer what happens in KOTOR 1 and 2. We don’t have a ton of detail on that, we know fans want to understand that, so perhaps we’ll address that at some point.
VGD: BioWare must be pretty clued-up on the Star Wars franchise by now, having developed KOTOR. How would you characterise your relationship with them?
Neri: They’re very familiar, and I would say that we have a really excellent relationship with them. It’s very collaborative, very free, we trust them quite a bit. They know Star Wars very well. And they have contributed quite heavily to it, in all honesty, so they’re a key trusted partner for sure.
VGD: I’m sure there’s always been a sizeable percentage of Star Wars fans at BioWare.
Neri: Absolutely. They’ve done a great job. KOTOR 1 was an amazing game that they were responsible for, along with the folks at LucasArts. Again, they’re a good partner.
VGD: Thanks for talking to us, Jake.
The game’s slated for a Spring 2011 release.