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Q&A: BioWare Plays It Cool With  Star Wars: The Old Republic

Q&A: BioWare Plays It Cool With Star Wars: The Old Republic Exclusive

June 19, 2009 | By Chris Remo

June 19, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

It seems that nearly every time BioWare trots out its ambitious upcoming Star Wars MMO The Old Republic, it's accompanied by a new metric that highlights its immense scale -- at the initial reveal, it was said to be the equivalent of numerous full-length single-player BioWare games, and at this year's E3 it was announced that it would be the first fully-voiced MMO.

But BioWare founding partners (and licensed medical practitioners) Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka are taking the challenge in stride, at least publicly, pointing out that the company has experience both with LucasArts and the Star Wars license as well as with large-scale RPGs and immense voice recording projects.

Gamasutra sat down with Zeschuk and Muzyka to discuss that cross-publisher relationship, the scale and scope of The Old Republic, and why it's not worth worrying too much about the competition.

Plus, as Zeschuk puts it, "If you're betting on Jedi versus orcs, that's a good bet."

This isn't your first collaboration with LucasArts. What is that relationship like, especially now that BioWare is itself part of another publisher?

Greg Zeschuk: Well, LucasArts is actually the North American publisher for the game. But any time we work on the Star Wars property, you work pretty with them. They're the experts on it.

We've got a great relationship. We built it up with the past game. In general, BioWare of course does the development work, but we actually work together quite a lot. There's a lot of feedback back and forth -- sharing a lot of the plans, discussions, and so on.

You recently announced the game will be fully-voiced; that's a new thing for MMOs. I also imagine it's a challenge in two senses: one, the logistics of actually doing all that, and two, it simply being a huge issue with needing that much space.

GZ: It is. [laughs]

Ray Muzyka: It is a really big game. It's a really big undertaking, but it's something we've been planning together with LucasArts right from the beginning.

They're great partners, you know; we're lucky to be working with them. The voiceover is certainly an ambitious undertaking, but we think it's going to make for an amazing experience in terms of the narrative and the way the story unfolds.

The characters are just going to feel that much more realistic and lifelike. There's a lot of emotional intensity, and it will amp up the narrative, which we think is really important to great interactive fiction. And we're not losing anything in the translation. The progression, the exploration, the customization, and the combat are all still there and really, really strong, but we're adding another pillar of narrative. LucasArts, Bioware, and EA are all really excited about that.

GZ: Each character class has its own story. That deep story, as we're saying, is as good as any BioWare story today. It's a really rich experience. You can solo it, you can do multiplayer; it's very flexible and well-acted. It's huge. As the guys mentioned, there are hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue and thousands of characters. We've done big voiceover projects in the past, and this is our biggest by a lot. It's huge.

How do you approach a voiceover project that big? Even for a studio that's done a lot of that already, this is an unusual scale.

RM: Well, it's been integrated into our production pipeline right from the beginning. Again, it's definitely not an afterthought or something we're tacking on. It's a core part of how we're developing the story and the narrative, and the tools are all enabling this as well.

We have people who are pretty familiar with building large games in terms of the amount of voiceover -- getting that localized and making sure it all fits together really well. We joked that this is like Knights of the Old Republic 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and beyond, and it really is, in terms of the amount of content, the amount of story, and the number of worlds to explore and things you get to do.

If you look at it from that perspective, we've done this kind of thing before. This is certainly an order of magnitude more complicated, but 15-plus years of experience is certainly helping us get there. And LucasArts, again, is a great partner. They have great audio capabilities and a lot of experience in crafting worlds in Star Wars.

How do you rise above the sheer volume in the MMO space, which is constantly growing? Do projects like EA's own Warhammer, which possibly hasn't done what it intended to, or Star Wars: Galaxies, which is obviously the previous attempt at a Star Wars MMO, worry you at all?

GZ: We don't really worry so much about that. We worry about making a great game, creating a unique experience -- fulfilling the goal of giving people the ability to experience their own Star Wars saga online. If you're betting on Jedi [in terms of MMO subject matter] versus orcs, that's a good bet.

There's always competition. I think with all of our games over the years, there have been great games launched against them. We focus on building something great, supporting the fans, giving something they want, and building long-term value. That's pretty straightforward.

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