BioWare has a legendary history in the video game world, and more specifically among RPG fans. They have created numerous great RPGs, starting with Baldur’s Gate and continuing with Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, and more. The list goes on and on. Their next game due for release is the much anticipated MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
BioWare has always been busy, but with the success of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, the company was launched onto an even higher platform of importance. By 2008, BioWare had started to become the RPG juggernaut fans know today. They not only announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, but their growth led to EA adding several additional development studios to the BioWare Group.
Then, in 2009, EA restructured BioWare into its own RPG/MMO label based on the studio’s continued success. When asked about what he thought about BioWare being EA’s “RPG studio,” in a great interview with VG24/7, Zeschuk had this to say:
“I think broader. I mean — it’s funny — RPGs are and always have been our bread and butter, our heart is there, but at the same time I think — well, we had the RPG panel breakfast at GDC yesterday — and what was interesting about that was that we had the conversation about ‘what is an RPG’ and it’s a blend. The genres are blending right now, you’re getting lots and lots of progression and RPG elements in shooters — online persistence and so on.
It’s funny because the RPG in the context of the current world is — well, it’s not specifically irrelevant, but it’s becoming less relevant in and of itself. It’s more a function of ‘hey, this game has a great story’. For us having that emotion but also having other great features like combat and persistence of character progression and stuff.
It’s kind of what we are, but more importantly we’re just about great games.”
Does this mean BioWare is branching out and developing non-RPG games? Probably not, but it is obvious that the genre itself is expanding. Role-playing tendencies are spilling over into shooters like Borderlands and influences from other genres are making their way into RPGs like Fallout 3. As video games evolve, the lines between genres will continue to blur and in turn give birth to new genres.
Continue to page 2 for more on how Star Wars: The Old Republic continues the KOTOR series and story!
Moving on to Star Wars: The Old Republic, Zeschuk commented on the connection between the Star Wars movies and their upcoming game.
“Yeah, I think it’s interesting. We’re doing something similar to what we did with the first Knights of the Old Republic game — you don’t use the movies or the movie material directly, but you’re certainly very inspired by it.
If you look at what we have in the game it’s almost like a list of all the cool stuff about Star Wars — you can use the force, there are space battles and so on — there may be no Obi Wan, but it’ll all feel familiar even though in places it’s very different.”
Given the increasing popularity of BioWare games and The Old Republic’s source material, they are expecting a big launch and have chosen to limit the number of copies available at launch in order to ensure a problem-free launch with the amount of servers vs. players online. Once The Old Republic is out, BioWare will have to continue to support the title and Zeschuk talked about how they will do this.
“. . . What’s interesting is we don’t know what or how much support we’re gonna have to give. We assume that there’ll be something, so without a doubt our expectations are that we’ll have to do some post release support and we’ll probably be working on the software for a long time — you never stop optimizing a game like this. We’ll always be trying to increase the capacity of our servers, make the client run faster — that’ll go on forever.
However, you touch on a very important point which is post-release content. It’s essential — going back to what we were saying about retention — one of the ways you retain people is to be very, very clear that you’re going to modify and add to the game over time. That’s something we’re actually doing — we’re already thinking about and planning for it.”
BioWare is preparing for The Old Republic to be a smash hit and the scope of the project is enormous. With World of Warcraft losing a slight bit of steam and Star Wars Galaxies coming to an end, TOR has the potential to step into a very large chunk of the paying-subscriber MMO market. Gamers will see for themselves later this year, but Zeschuk gives an idea of just how large the game is while discussing its roots with the Knights of the Old Republic games.
“I’ve recently been playing through some of the Old Republic and around the third planet you visit or so is Taris, which was in the original and was destroyed. It’s cool because you go back there and it’s a destroyed city and you look at it and the art and such is totally reminiscent of the original.
There’s other stuff on the planet as well — there’s quests that kind of link back up and there’s elements that discuss Revan in the game and his role in the universe. It’s kind of cool, like, KOTOR fans — they get grumpy but we tell them over and over again, and they’ll believe it when they play it — it really is like KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 literally in this one game. For the real avid fans, there are these really neat connections back to the original games that are in this.”
Seven KOTOR games! That sounds ridiculous, but BioWare has been hard at work on the game since before 2008. They have definitely put their blood, sweat, and tears into developing The Old Republic and analysts predict it will pay off. Fine-tuning the story beats, dialogue trees, and elements associated with single-player RPGs turned out to be quite a long process for a MMO, but BioWare remained commited.
“Oh, it took years — literally years. We were working on this for a long time. What’s interesting is that it really does work. It was challenging to make it smooth — we went through multiple iterations — there were points when we weren’t sure if we were going to do the voice thing — we were saying well, we’ll see how it goes — but at a point we committed to it and pushed it. Beyond doing it solo there’s also the multiplayer conversations where collectively you’ll be talking to someone. It took a long time.”
After these years of hard work, it would seem like BioWare would want The Old Republic to be as widely available as possible. MMOs are almost exclusively made for PCs, but designing them for consoles is not out of the question. Zeschuk goes into what he thinks about console MMOs and why they are sticking with the PC for now.
“Yeah, I think there are new technical challenges you just have to consider. There’s no reason you can’t do it — there’s nothing that prevents it, but there’s challenges. One challenge is the console business model — on the PC you don’t have to give anyone else a cut of anything. That’s significant.
Another thing that’s really nice on the PC is updates whenever we want. We want to put a patch up? Done in five minutes. On console there’s a lot more structure and such — certification. But, y’know, you can work around all those things. If we wanted to, it’s something I think we could challenge ourselves to do and accomplish.
For us, though, we’re focused right now on getting this live, targeting this holiday, and we’ll worry about other platforms later — just the PC platform on this is challenging enough for us right now.”
BioWare isn’t ready to create a console MMO experience quite yet, but it may be something they pursue in the future.
“Well, yeah — at BioWare we’ve always built games for PC and console, and we’ll explore it. I can understand why there haven’t been a lot of them, but they have existed. The funnest one is — way back — Everquest Online Adventures on PS2. Astonishing! I remember downloading and playing it and thinking that it was unbelievable.”
The latest Star Wars: The Old Republic trailers speak for themselves and so does the considerable hype surrounds the game, but leave it to Greg Zeschuk to reassure those waiting for the game to launch.
“Trust us. Trust us with your hopes and dreams!
No, I mean — I think — well, first off, thanks for being patient. I think it’s a mutually beneficial thing — they were patient but because we’ve had the time we can deliver a great game and a great service which they’ll really enjoy and that’ll make them happy, so… yeah. That’s it.”
Are you planning on playing The Old Republic upon its release? What are your thoughts on console MMOs?
Star Wars: The Old Republic does not currently have a release date, but is slated for a Q4 2011 launch and will come to PC — region free.