Star Wars IP holder LucasArts and developer BioWare Austin unveiled Star Wars: The Old Republic, its long-rumored new PC MMO set in the Star Wars universe, at a press conference attended by Gamasutra yesterday.
The conference, held at LucasArts' Presidio headquarters, started with LucasArts president Darrell Rodriguez discussing the genesis of the title.
He explained: "Ever since Knights Of The Old Republic 2, we've wanted to return to [that] world", and noting: "BioWare has great familiarity with LucasArts, as well as with the Star Wars brand."
BioWare co-founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka took the stage during the press breifing. "We thought about a Howard The Duck MMO -- that was a little too out-there," Muzyka joked, explaining that BioWare has wanted to build an MMO "probably for over a decade."
"Internally, we've joked we're making KotOR 3 through 10 -- it really is that big," he added.
According to the game's official announcement, Star Wars: The Old Republic is set thousands of years before the rise of Darth Vader, with the galaxy divided by war between the Empire and the Sith. That's about 300 years after the events of KotOR, a time frame that, according to Zeschuk, "is completely unexplored in the lore."
Players can take the role of either a Jedi, a Sith or other classic Star Wars characters -- and, as perhaps can be expected from BioWare, Muzyka says story will be a major component, underlying and driving all of the player's actions.
"The dynamic we want in this game is for players to have their own stories, but to also have stories together," he says, adding that "companions are very important in Star Wars, and they're also very important in BioWare games."
Added Zeschuk, "The Star Wars movies have a similar mechanic. What would Han be without Chewbacca?... [Characters are] going to have their own stories, their own quests, and you can help them, but if you're an evil character you can also manipulate them."
The creative director on the title at BioWare Austin is James Ohlen, who was also key to notable BioWare titles such as Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur's Gate II.
Onstage at the San Francisco announcement press conference, he called the new game "the most compelling and challenging project I've worked on, ever", claiming that The Old Republic is "the first truly story-driven MMO, and that makes it really exciting."
Also showcasing the title onstage was BioWare Austin art director Jeff Dobson, who commented that the game was "by far the most ambitious project we've ever taken on".
He noted, on needing a unique graphical style for the game, which now has galleries of concept and in-game art available for viewing: "Next-gen games are coming out and they look great, but we wanted something that's our own." Therefore, he put in lots of time with the art team working on the level of technology for the title.
Dobson particularly noted: "If we can make a 3D asset that looks just like the concept art, that's how we measure our success... we set out to... make something that's like concept art come to life."
The art director also referenced an important point on PC - performance. He commented: "It's not enough to develop something that can only run on the top five percent of hardware out there." Thus, The Old Republic is optimized for "mid-range hardware" as well.
The official announcement clarifies that characters met in-game can either help or hinder the player, depending on their actions, and that players can also team up with friends for combat. Zeschuk also promised that "with the emotional attachment you'll feel, this game is going to speak to you."
When asked about the possibility of the game coming to consoles, BioWare said, "we're only talking about PC today" - leaving the possibilities of a console version, but not explicitly confirming anything.
However, the presentation did indicate there would be an open beta for the PC MMO, which is simply confirmed to be released "at some time in the future".