E3 2001 Hands-onStar Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

We've got new information and details on BioWare's Star Wars RPG.

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When LucasArts showed off Verant's Star Wars Galaxies yesterday, we were sure that nothing else would be able to trump it. After today's demonstration of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, however, we're not so sure anymore. Knights of the Od Republic is a 3D role-playing game currently in development at BioWare, a company that some people consider to be the foremost authority on PC RPGs. In developing the game, BioWare is using a brand-new 3D engine that takes full advantage of all the latest graphics features of Nvidia's GeForce 3 technology. However, behind all the glamorous bells and whistles, the game sticks to the same formula that BioWare has perfected with its Dungeons & Dragons-based role-playing games, which should make Knights of the Old Republic appealing and accessible to Star Wars fans and D&D players alike.

We were given a 20-minute demonstration of the game, and we walked away impressed and hopeful for what Knights of the Old Republic promises to deliver. Much like BioWare's Baldur's Gate games, Knights of the Old Republic places you in a group of adventurers and lets you create your character from one of three different races and six classes, some of which include scoundrel, scout, soldier, bounty hunter, and Jedi guardian. BioWare didn't reveal the three races available in the game, although the main character in the presentation was clearly human. Additionally, the rest of your party can be composed of anything from wookies to battle droids. The actual gameplay is also similar to that of the Baldur's Gate series in that the combat takes place in real time, but you're still given the option of pausing the action to issue orders to the rest of your party. BioWare did admit that it plans on making this game more action-oriented than the Baldur's Gate games, so there will be less need to constantly pause the game in the middle of the action. Additionally, Knights of the Old Republic will feature something that's been a popular aspect of console RPGs: minigames. BioWare is developing minigames that you'll be able to play within the game's engine, which, for example, is reminiscent of the various minigames in Final Fantasy VII. For instance, instead of revealing certain action sequences in a traditional cutscene, the game will let you control your own destiny by hopping into a ball turret and fending off Imperial fighters.

Although BioWare didn't reveal the plot behind the game, it did note that it takes place some 4,000 years before the Star Wars movies. The company was quick to point out that this era is still very advanced, as space travel has existed in the Star Wars universe for nearly 25,000 years. And while most of the locales, like Tatooine, will look familiar to you, the game will be littered with subtle queues to remind you that you're really in ancient times as far as the Star Wars canon is concerned. In all, you'll visit eight worlds throughout your quests, some of which will be completely new areas. One such locale is the sprawling city of Teris, which can best be described as a decaying version of Coruscant. During this particular sequence, Imperial battle droids and what looked like stormtrooper precursors were invading the city, while a group of Jedi knights were fending them off with lightsabers. These battles were quite impressive and looked more like something out of a third-person action game than a typical BioWare RPG. The combat sequences between the Jedi knights and the Sith lords resembled the final fight sequence in Episode I, complete with back flips, twirling sabers, and high kicks.

As in other role-playing games, items and nonplayer characters (NPCs) will play an important role in Knights of the Old Republic--and the game has hundreds of both. The list of items includes everything from blasters to lightsabers, as well as objects and weapons that are specific to the game's time period. All the dialogue in the game is recorded, and BioWare is using a proprietary lip-synching technology to match the speech to the characters' lips. In addition to being able to move lips, the characters will have a number of facial animations and body movements to emote feelings that range from pain to happiness. All the characters' animations are blended from one movement to the next--there's no snapping whatsoever. Additionally, each model is drawn with a high number of polygon counts, and each has individual fingers, eyebrows that arch, and eyes that move. Even the clothes and hair blow realistically in the wind. In all, the engine is very impressive, and while it's not quite as robust as the one used in Star Wars Galaxies, it still looks better than most games available today.

Little else was revealed of the game beyond that. BioWare did state that Knights of the Old Republic will have force powers, and your character will have to constantly choose between actions that will push him toward the light side or the dark side. Depending on your character's dynamic alignment, NPCs will react to you differently; plus, you'll be privy to different items and able to unlock different force powers. The game seems to play from a much closer perspective to your party than BioWare's other RPGs, but you'll be given full control over the camera, although the default angle is ideal, since it gives you a constant view of the horizon at all times. BioWare also mentioned that you'll do most of your traveling on a spaceship similar to the Millennium Falcon, called the Ebon Hawk, which will act as your mobile command base.

Full production on Knights of the Old Republic started about six months ago, and BioWare doesn't anticipate having the game ready before the end of 2002. We'll have more details on this exciting game in the coming months.

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