Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic Q&A

We talk with LucasArts about its upcoming Star Wars RPG in development at BioWare.

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LucasArts' recently announced Xbox game, 2851721Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic looks like it will be just what the doctor ordered for the system's growing library. Not only is it an RPG being developed by BioWare, whose Baldur's Gate games kick some serious tail on the PC, but it also happens to take place in the Star Wars universe. Set roughly 4,000 years before the events in the original Star Wars, the game will have you adventuring in the Old Republic that has been alluded to in the films. Star Wars fans got a hint of what things were like before the rise of the Empire in Episode I, but Knights of the Old Republic offers a look at the really good old days. The Jedi knights still maintain order in the galaxy, but they face a sizeable challenge in the form of the Sith order. Unlike the days of Episode I, where the Sith have all but been wiped out, the order is very much alive and well, and it's always on the lookout for new members.

Lightsabers work wonders on pugilistic droids.

We paid LucasArts a visit recently to look at the game. Not due until fall of this year, the game was still very early. But we got a quick peek at some of the characters and areas you'll be encountering in the game. We were treated to a look around the interior of the Ebon Hawk, which will serve as both your base of operations and your transportation around the galaxy. The Hawk is clearly a distant relative of the Millennium Falcon, featuring an interior layout that's reminiscent of Han Solo's speedy Corellian hunk of junk. The ship was very detailed, and it featured little touches such as floor grating that revealed the areas beneath it. We were also treated to a quick stroll around the grasslands of Dantooine, which were an awesome sight. Featuring tall grass that swayed in the wind and a sun that offered some slick lighting, Dantooine looked quite inviting. We also got to tool around Kashyyyk, the home planet of the wookiees, and we looked around a city in the trees that featured some nicely implemented bump mapping.

Chilling on Kashyyyk with a wookie pal.

Finally, we had a chance to check out a number of the characters that will be in the game, ranging from traditional humanoids and droids to bizarre alien creatures and a variety of assassin droids. The character design is extremely detailed and true to the Star Wars universe. Familiar faces such as rodians, hammerheads, wookiees, and the cantina band blend quite well with the new cast members like the amphibious aliens. The few samples of local wildlife we saw ran the gamut from the cool-looking krayt dragon to the bizarre one-legged creature whose head was a challenge to locate because of his quirky design. However, all the creatures we saw looked sharp and animated well, and their appearance reflected their respective homeworlds.

You'll find some new faces in your adventures.

Once we'd had our brief tour of Knights of the Old Republic, we had a chance to sit down with the game's producer at LucasArts, Mike Gallo, and grill him on what to expect from the game.

GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?

Mike Gallo: Preproduction started in 2000, but the discussions started back in 1999. The first actual e-mails were in October or November of '99. That's when we first started talking to BioWare. But some really serious work finally started at the beginning of 2000.

GS: How big is the team that's working on the game?

MG: Well, I don't want to get too specific, but we have upward of 40 people on the team. It's being done by BioWare, but we are doing sound internally here at LucasArts. So sound and voice are being handled here. But everything else--the game, the engine, the story--is being done by BioWare.

Inside the Ebon Hawk.

GS: What can you tell me about the BioWare team's background?

MG: A lot of the guys on the team worked on the Baldur's Gate and MDK2 teams. There are a few new hires as well, but the bulk of the team's experience is spread between Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2, and MDK2.

GS: Why lead with the Xbox version?

MG: Well, that's been the question of the moment, right? There was a huge opportunity for us on the Xbox. The game has always been in development as a PC game and a next-gen console game, and we looked at all the consoles and decided that the Xbox was the right fit. The console itself was much more familiar to us--we could do the things we wanted to do on the Xbox without as much effort as we'd need to do it on the PS2 or GameCube. The Xbox was just a logical choice because of BioWare's PC background, so that was a big reason. And the Xbox has been successful and we look at it as a great opportunity. We've got an opportunity to put out an RPG on the system and probably be one of the first ones. And oh yeah, it's Star Wars. And it's the first one we've ever done that way.

The grasslands of Dantooine.

GS: So, will the game ever go to another platform?

MG: Right now, the PC and the Xbox are our focus. We really haven't looked at anything else.

GS: When are the games due out?

MG: The Xbox is fall of this year and the PC is spring of next year.

GS: So everything looks on track for the Xbox game shipping this year?

MG: Right now, yeah. One of the things we're going through right now is that we've got a couple of huge milestones coming up that are Xbox-specific. Then we have E3. I'm actually going up to the BioWare offices in Canada to take a look at the team's progress. We're really far along, actually, and there's a lot more of the game that's done that we really haven't been able to show anybody or talk about.

Just one of the many aliens you'll encounter in the game.

GS: What can you tell me about the game's structure? Is it a console RPG or a PC RPG?

MG: Well, you can say either one. BioWare's background is Baldur's Gate, PC-style RPGs, but the goal for us was to make the game as accessible as possible to people but also give people the depth they wanted. So you've got direct control of your character, and the combat system is still rules-based, so it'll still feel like a rules-based system but will look more dynamic. It should look much cooler than Baldur's Gate or EverQuest. We won't have combat screens, so everything will be done on your main play screen--you'll run around and be in combat if there's an enemy there, and you'll see people onscreen you can interact with. It won't be like Final Fantasy, where you'll load a separate combat screen. It'll all be done right there in the game.

GS: What can you tell me about the character classes? A few--bounty hunter, soldier, scoundrel, scout, and Jedi guardian--have already been revealed.

MG: Well, I really don't want to talk about much more than that.

You'll also find some humanoids in the game.

GS: Will there be more than that?

MG: In the beginning of the game, you won't have a lot of choices as to what you can pick. But you will be able to pick up others--for example, you might run into a Jedi guardian NPC you can have join your party or a droid or things like that. So we do have other classes like a warrior or a scoundrel or whatever. But we really haven't talked about how many in detail. It is a linear story, so we do have to control what your main character becomes, because otherwise, we'd have to have a lot of extra stories. So we have to control what your character is and what he or she become to some extent.

Droids can pack some serious firepower.

GS: Will you be able to customize your character in the game?

MG: We will have a level of customization in the game. It's not going to be as much as something like Galaxies will be, but you will have a level of customization. You'll be able to put on different armor on and things like that.

GS: Will the character classes have any unique characteristics?

MG: Yes. A scoundrel, for example, might have more skill or points that players could assign to different combat skills, whereas a Jedi guardian has a different set of combat skills than someone who's primarily using a blaster or rifle would have.

Assassin droids should be avoided or blown up.

GS: Can you tell me a bit more about the battle system?

MG: It's a rules-based system. The goal is to make it look like it's real time and just make it look cool. It's basically the way the rule system interprets what happened and how it plays it. Because that's what happens in Baldur's Gate and EverQuest. There's a rule system, and when you attack, it determines what happened with the attack, and then it usually has numbers floating up off a character's head or something like that. But in this case, we want to have it to be visually dynamic. The best example would be a fighting game that has specific throws that are matched to each character. So if a character picks up somebody and does a throw, like King in Tekken, his throw animation had to be matched with all the characters in the game so it would work properly and animate in a specific way when he pulls that move off on each character. That's kind of what we're trying to do. So a heavy lightsaber attack will have a list of animations the game can pull for that attack, and then, depending on what the rule system said--whether it hit, missed, or was deflected--it will pick a set of animations for the other character and match them so it will look cool. It will look like the movies rather than someone stepping forward to attack and then stepping back.

GS: How many weapons will be featured in the game?

MG: We have a full complement of melee and ranged weapons. So like blasters, rifles, swords, double swords.

GS: Will the Jedi have force powers?

MG: The force powers are basically the game's magic system.

GS: How will your party work?

MG: The other characters are AI controlled. When you're in combat, you'll be able to take more specific control of them and have them do things you want them to. You can also switch to any character and control him or her, but there are times when we have to limit that. Your main character is probably always going to be in your part--obviously, because the story is about him or her--so we do limit, in certain spots, who can join your party and who can't. The Ebon Hawk kind of acts as a home base where you can store all the characters you've talked to who can join your party. They'll travel with you and they'll be on the Ebon Hawk doing repairs or whatever and you can go back and switch someone out if you need someone that has a skill you need. For example, if you need more security skill, you can swap that person in and then be able to go pick a lock or something like that.

Having some party members to back you up here would be nice.

GS: How would you describe the party system?

MG: We've actually been comparing some of the scenarios to Deus Ex, where you have several ways to get through an area and you might need a character who has a specific skill to do that. If you want to go through with your guns blazing, you can, but then you'll want have a warrior or solider type. Or if you want to try and sneak in, you might want to have a droid with you that can access the security computer or a person with good computer skills. You know the characters we have in your party are important and will play a role if you use them that way.

GS: What can you tell me about the roster in terms of the number of characters you can choose from to include in your party?

MG: We haven't really talked about a number, but right now we have more than 10 you can select from to join your party throughout the game.

Concept art of one of the many locations you'll be exploring.

GS: What can you tell us about the game's graphics engine? For example, what's the target frame rate going to be?

MG: We're shooting for 60 frames per second on the Xbox. The minimum spec hasn't been determined on the PC, but it's probably going to be something around what the Xbox is. In terms of the graphics card, we're not going to require a GeForce3, but it will obviously require a 3D card. We haven't talked about specifics yet, though.

GS: Will there be separate graphics engines for the Xbox and PC versions of the game?

MG:Well, obviously the engine's been ported, but it is the same. The game is being developed in parallel, so whenever we have a build that runs on the Xbox, we'll have a PC build that can demonstrate the same things. The engine itself is based on Neverwinter Nights engine, but it's actually been almost completely rewritten for Star Wars.

GS: How are you taking advantage of the Xbox hardware?

MG: I can rattle off a laundry list of stuff to you. [laughs] We've got tons of custom shaders that we've written, vertex lighting, point lights, bump mapping, multiple texture passes, and so on. A lot of the stuff is kind of clichéd at this point. People kind of expect those things out of the machine, so we have the ability to use all of them and we will.

Concept art for some local wildlife.

GS: How will you be using the hard drive?

MG: That hasn't been determined yet, but using the hard drive to store game information is something that most Xbox games do in some way right now. We probably will be doing it, but that's the kind of thing that gets determined as we get deeper into the game and into development. We've already earmarked it. We don't know how much we're going to need to use until we figure out how our load times are and things like that. We have technical goals for those things. My request to the team was that I didn't want to see load times, period. There are ways to do it if you set yourself up that way from the beginning. We're shooting for sub-10-second load times at any one point.

GS: Have you thought about including online elements in the game?

An ugly, but familiar, face.

MG: All I can say is that we've talked about it, but the likelihood of seeing online content in the Xbox version is probably low. I can tell you that right now and say it's probably low because the main goal is to get the game done. Any online content would be certainly extra, if we had the programming time to do it. And when I'm talking about online content, I'm not talking about an online multiplayer game, plain and simple.

GS: Will the game follow the typical RPG conventions in terms of its structure? Will you be able to level up, gain experience, and so on?

MG: Yes. We'll be able to talk a little bit more about the actual rule system soon. There are a few details that we have to iron out.

GS: Can you tell me a bit about how your character will evolve into a good or bad character?

More concept art of native life.

MG: Through the course of the game, the choices that you make--in dialogue and the game itself, such as attacking innocent people--will affect how people perceive you and what your standing is. We haven't really decided yet if we're going to expose that to the player--that is, if her or she is going to know "oh I'm being really bad" or whatever. Those things will open or close some subquests that we have. You may get certain quests if you've always been really good or really evil. And then other things will close off to you because you may not be able to talk to a guy because he's too afraid of you, but if you'd been able to talk to him he'd have given you a subquest.

GS: Is your character's path of good or evil set in stone? Or could you pull a Darth Vader and redeem yourself at the end?

MG: I'm not going to talk about that.

GS: How big of a game is it?

MG: If I compare it with Baldur's Gate or Baldur's Gate 2, Baldur's Gate was 100 hours of gameplay or more. Baldur's Gate 2 was 200 hours, and the critical-path play through Baldur's Gate 2 was 75 hours. That's the fastest they've ever had anybody go through it, and that's a tester doing it. They estimated it to be around 200 hours for someone to get through it, and if they did all the subquests and everything else, it was 300 hours. We're talking smaller than that, dramatically, but even if it's 60 percent smaller, then it's still 100 hours. So our goal for gameplay time is 60 hours. We have so many areas that we're building--worlds, spaceships, things like that to explore--so we have a ton of gameplay.

This is probably a relative of C3PO.

GS: Will the game have side quests?

MG: It has the full complement of side quests, minimissions, and minigames. Some of the minigames you should be able to play for as long as you like if you're having fun playing them.

GS: What can you tell me about the music score?

MG: Well, actually, we've just signed our guy. We can't talk about who it is yet, but the goal is to have a completely original score. There are some themes from the Star Wars films we can use, but there's so much that's specific to characters and locations in the movies from John Williams' score. It will be a Star Wars score, but it will all be original, and probably the things that will remain will be the force themes and things like that. But there's so much that's character driven that we can't really use that stuff.

Could this be a space pigeon?

GS: How do you work with BioWare?

MG: We've been involved from the very beginning. From the very first story concepts, we went back and forth and went up to Canada a couple of times. We worked on some of the story and design elements. We're pretty involved in all that as well. And obviously Skywalker Ranch is as well.

GS: What will we see at E3?

MG: It will be playable. We'll have a few areas you can play in that will demonstrate the combat and some of the skills. We'll also have some of the cutscenes. It'll be a pretty decent chunk of gameplay. We don't have enough time to fully polish a whole lot of areas and things like that, so we're going to focus on one area that will provide enough gameplay for E3 purposes. We'll also probably have the turret minigame there as well.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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