Bioware’s lead animator and lead writer on the new ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ MMORPG digital expansion discuss their biggest and most narrative-driven content addition to date.
It would be too easy, with DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront and Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the horizon, to overlook Bioware’s expansion for their Massively, Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) Star Wars: The Old Republic, which takes place thousands of years before the timeframe of the films. Released in 2011, The Old Republic has seen a multitude of changes and additions with Knights of the Fallen Empire being their biggest and more narrative driven content.
I got a chance to talk with lead animator Andrew Lauretta and lead writer Charles Boyd for some insight into the vast Star Wars universe that they’ve created with the addition of Knights of the Fallen Empire.
Spencer Fawcett: What kind of new locations are being added with Knights of the Fallen Empire? Will they be varied and offer player exploration?
Charles Boyd: Well there are three new planets that players will be able to visit. Zakuul is a capital city with slums contrasted with the decadence of the upper platforms of the city. Asylum is essentially a hideaway from the Eternal Empire where refugees and smugglers hide out. That one is really reminiscent of Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back. And then there’s Odessen that’s more of a wilderness with forests and mountains. Each one offers a lot of player exploration and narrative.
SF: Star Wars: Battlefront is adding an Episode VII map to tie-in with The Force Awakens. Does Knights of the Fallen Empire have any tie-ins as well? Any locations or characters that are mentioned in The Force Awakens making an appearance?
CB: Unfortunately, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Knights of the Fallen Empire take place so far back in the Star Wars timeline that having any tie-ins with the more chronologically up-to-date film would be very difficult.
SF: What kind of animation challenges did you experience developing Knights of the Fallen Empire.
Andrew Lauretta: There are a lot of challenges for a game of this scale. Ever since the release of the base game in 2011, we’ve retained a huge bank of animations over the course of time. For this expansion, they really wanted to invest more in the animations and working in more detail in the cinematics, such as the lighting.
A unique challenge for an MMO, especially one so narrative focused, is that you can choose your gender or race or species, so you really have to make sure that there isn’t a whole lot of clipping between characters if they interact physically.
The gameplay has also seen an update in the animations of the various player abilities. They’re more ‘showy’ due to the motion capture we used. The whole goal of the animation department for Knights of the Fallen Empire was to have it feel like you were actually in the films that we all love and make it accessible for newer players.
SF: BioWare representatives have spoken about how your game will be the tip of the spear with Battlefront and the film carrying the Star Wars steam and will come back to Knights of the Fallen Empire afterwards. If there are any problems with the expansion, will people have to wait until early 2016 to get any sort of updates?
CB: Not at all. We will be making fixes to the game right after launch if any show up. We want to reward our loyal player base, not only with a free Knights of the Fallen Empire for already being subscribed, but also with regular updates and bug fixes. We are releasing the first 9 episodes and then adding more in early 2016 so that there will always be a steady stream of content for Knights of the Fallen Empire.
SF: Was the move to make the expansion more story focused based on player community input or an internal decision by BioWare?
CB: The decision to make the game more story focused was definitely based on player feedback. With the release of our last expansion, Shadow of Revan, we saw incredible fan response. The number of players that purchased and played Shadow of Revan significantly exceeded our expectations. A big part of what we heard from the players was that they really loved the story, and the ability to play it as a solo experience.
It was clear that the player-driven story arc was a big part of what players loved best about Shadow of Revan. Based on the informal feedback from the community, we took a look at the gameplay data. We analyzed where players were spending the most time in the game - it was gratifying for us to see the overwhelming majority were playing through the storyline, all the way. That insight inspired the team to start thinking about Knights of the Fallen Empire and motivated us to push more deeply into our BioWare story-telling roots.
SF: Are you guys ready to talk about the multiplayer side of Knights of the Fallen Empire?
AL: With the launch of Knights of the Fallen Empire, we have added a major new story-driven Flashpoint that is unique to the game, called Star Fortress. This is our most ambitious Flashpoint to date, pitting the Outlander and his Alliance against the most powerful weapons of the Eternal Empire. It can be played as either a multiplayer or a single-player mission - and it is different every time you play. To fight through the six of these Fortresses, you will need to recruit locals on these worlds, take out the planetary shield generators protecting the Fortresses, then lead a strike force mission deep into the battle stations themselves, overloading their reactors and escaping the ensuing chaos.
But, the new expansion is not the only place where we gave our game some multiplayer love. We also have increased the level of over 50+ operation bosses to level 60+ to offer players looking for a daunting new challenge a fun gameplay experience.
Star Wars: Knights of the Fallen Empire has already gone into early access but the expansion doesn’t release until October 27th.
Spencer Fawcett is a screenwriter who also does production work for NBC/Universal. He has written for Parade Magazine and ASUs The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813