BioWare on MMO storytelling in Star Wars: The Old Republic


Following yesterday's long-awaited reveal of Star Wars: The Old Republic, we took part in a round-table discussion with the game's lead writer at BioWare Austin, Daniel Erickson. Given that story is poised to play such a integral role in this latest MMO treatment of the iconic sci-fi universe, he and his team have been doing big things to make a big game; one that BioWare says contains more dialog and content than all of its past titles combined.

"When we started talking about it, what we heard was 'Well, you can't do a story in an MMO,'" said Erickson. "We thought, 'Well why?' The answer we pretty much got was, 'Because people haven't.' That didn't make a lot of sense."

One of the things the writing team is most proud of, according to Erickson, is the depth of story – or, rather, stories.

"You will not see one repeated quest, line of dialogue, or piece of content."

"If you roll a Jedi character and you play them from the first level to the last level, and then you roll a Sith and you play them from the first level to the last level, you will not see one repeated quest, line of dialogue, or piece of content. It is a 100% different story experience," he revealed.

The game's class-specific storylines mean, according to Erickson, that if you've always wanted to play a Sith Lord, "you are playing – for all intents and purposes – the Sith RPG."

"All of your characters in your class story, all of your quests, the context ... you start the game on Korriban training to be a Sith and that is your world, and that is your context," Erickson said, adding, "and you're going to take that context into the world and then interact with the rest of the galaxy."
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On the subject of expanded universe characters making cameos, Erickson revealed that, "These people come in and touch our game [The Old Republic] a lot, in the same way that characters from KOTOR and KOTOR II touch our game a lot."

Player choice has factored heavily in past BioWare RPGs, and will to an even greater extent in The Old Republic. "Imagine you're 60 hours in, you're playing light side, and you come up to this huge choice," Erickson posed. "You know exactly what you want to do, and you look for the save button ... and you realize there is no save button."

"The giant war that's coming between the Sith and the Republic – that's everybody's story."

"You think, 'I'm going to make this choice, and it's going to be my choice forever. I'm never going to know what would have happened if I'd have gone down the other route.' It makes these choices stronger than they've ever been in any BioWare game."

Addressing a question on how all of these various class-specific stories will be able to co-mingle, Erickson said that, "The example given during the unveiling of 'running around on the Millennium Falcon' was actually a really good one."

"Han's got a story that's going on, Luke's got a story that's going on, Leia's got a story that's going on (mainly her planet blew up, so I guess most of her quest content is gone at this point). Then you're all getting together and participating in a big story. That's why we talk about the context of it. The giant war that's coming between the Sith and the Republic – that's everybody's story," he said.
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"The level of writing and quest building that was acceptable in KOTOR would absolutely not be acceptable now."

BioWare and LucasArts have only revealed two classes thus far: Jedi and Sith. But there will be more. "There are absolutely going to be classes that are based around the other archetypal fantasies that you might have in there," said Erickson, who went on to say, "As you might expect, some of those are going to go into some very different places in the Star Wars universe and concentrate very strongly in there." Smugglers? Bounty hunters? Nerf herders?

The one thing Erickson seemingly wanted to stress more than anything else, though, is the fact that BioWare wants everything players do in The Old Republic to be Star Wars big. Erickson summed it up by telling the assembled media, "You will never in the game go into a cantina and poke a random person to see if you can solve their problems and they'll give you money. You will never have some stranger on the street ask you to save their cat. You do large, heroic things."

"I always tell people that we have to keep pushing forward. The level of writing and quest building that was acceptable in KOTOR would absolutely not be acceptable now. Mass Effect came out and absolutely set a new bar for this. We're coming out and saying we can push that even further," he said. "I always tell my writers to imagine if the very first response you could ever choose to any quest they might pitch is, 'Excuse me, I'm saving the world. Is this important?'"

This article was originally published on Joystiq.