Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Q&A
Project director Casey Hudson and BioWare joint CEO Greg Zeschuk share their thoughts on the upcoming PC version of Knights of the Old Republic and on the differences between console and PC role-playing games.
By now, everyone has heard of Star Wars. George Lucas' incredibly popular sci-fi universe, which began as a trilogy of motion pictures, has since given rise to a gigantic financial empire founded on memorable characters, an imaginative mythos, and a whole bunch of T-shirts. But the Star Wars universe has also become home to some fantastic computer and video games, including BioWare's recent Xbox role-playing game Knights of the Old Republic. The open-ended game lets you create a character who can explore the Star Wars universe with a party of colorful characters and who eventually acquires Jedi powers that belong to either the light or dark side of the Force, the mystical energy upon which every Jedi draws.
The Xbox game was received extremely well because of its great variety, depth, interesting characters, and intriguing character development system. Developer BioWare and publisher LucasArts are now getting ready to bring the game to the PC. The PC version of Knights of the Old Republic will include new features, like high resolution textures and exclusive items not found in the Xbox version (you can find the exclusive first images of these items in our screenshot gallery to the right), as well as numerous miscellaneous enhancements, like tweaks to the interface. For more details on the PC version of the game, as well as the developer's thoughts on RPGs in general, we sat down with project director Casey Hudson and co-executive producer Greg Zeschuk of BioWare.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Could you give us a progress report on the PC version of Knights of the Old Republic? What parts of the game is the team working on now?
Casey Hudson: We're very close to being finished with development on the PC version of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Since we've developed the Xbox and PC versions in parallel, we were in a good position to finish the PC version once the Xbox version was done. It's given us some extra time to make improvements to the game and to focus on implementing a solid PC interface.
GS: How would you describe the experience of working with the Star Wars license? Was it difficult to incorporate Dungeons & Dragons-style rules into the universe?
Greg Zeschuk: Working with the Star Wars license was a great experience. We really enjoyed the feedback on our vision of the universe four thousand years prior to the [events that take place in the] movies. Our goal was to make sure that the content we created for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was reminiscent of the movies but unique enough to set it apart as a definite precursor. Overall, we were really happy with the results. We felt like we had enough freedom to truly create something wonderful.
GS: Now that Knights of the Old Republic has finally shipped for the Xbox, what aspect of the game would you say you're most proud of?
CH: One of the biggest achievements was the combat system, which was also a huge risk for us. We wanted to create something that combined the strategic aspects of our Baldur's Gate series and Neverwinter Nights but which presented it through fast, cinematic 3D action. That required us to make something that hadn't really been done before, so we were relieved to see how much fun people had with it. It was great to finally get the last of our interface changes completed and suddenly realize that the combat system we had built was extremely compelling.
GS: Obviously, a lot went into the development of Knights of the Old Republic--writing a lengthy story, developing a branching gameplay structure, and working with a licensed property, to name just a few. What was the most challenging aspect of developing the game?
GZ: I think the most challenging aspect of building the game was honing the interface for a very detailed combat system while keeping it simple enough to maintain the fun factor. We are sticklers for quality interfaces at BioWare. The challenge we always face is to deliver a very in-depth gameplay experience while keeping the interface nonobtrusive. An additional challenge was to make sure the interface was carefully designed for the PC platform. In coplatform development we always focus on naturalizing the experience for each platform. The result is that each version is really great, and there are no compromises. For the PC version, we have been focusing on interface design right up to the completion phase, and we think we've outdone ourselves in delivering a really well-balanced experience.
GS: It was unfortunate, but Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox experienced significant delays before it was released. What contributed to these delays? Were there technical issues, design problems, or was there simply not enough time to create content?
GZ: At BioWare we focus on quality. Our goal is to always deliver a top-notch gameplay experience, and sometimes it can be very difficult to excel in all areas. We keep working on tackling each individual issue until we feel we've accomplished something special. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a great example of this approach. We've been really blown away by the response the Xbox version has received, and we believe we're positioned to deliver an amazing PC game.
May the Port Be With You
GS: BioWare has proven that it can not only make excellent RPGs but that it can also learn from each successive game and improve the next one. What's the most important lesson you learned from the development of Knights of the Old Republic?
CH: Since we always take on new design challenges with each new project, we also learn a lot about what we can do to improve the next one. Some of the things we learned were technical, such as new ideas on the perfect balance between graphics features and performance. Other things that were learned revolved around game design on a large and complex RPG. One thing that we were really able to explore in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was the implementation of true choice between good and evil gameplay and making players feel like their actions have consequences. Our experience in developing that aspect of this game will help us take it much further with the next one.
GS: Since Knights of the Old Republic was BioWare's first Xbox game, we can imagine that the team encountered some new hurdles in development. What were some of the Xbox-specific technical challenges you faced, and how are they being addressed for the PC version?
CH: Though this was our first Xbox title, we've also worked on the Dreamcast and PS2 in the development of MDK2. Having experience in developing for other consoles gave us the proper mindset for implementing this game on the Xbox, and, by comparison, the Xbox was relatively easy to develop for.
However, one of the technical challenges was predicting how much graphical detail we should build into the content. Since our games generally have a lot of AI and scripting, numerous character models, and huge environments, we stress the hardware in a very different way than most games. That can make it extremely difficult to predict what kind of performance we'll get from our final game engine--especially a year or two away from the release date! As we start building levels and characters and begin planning how areas will be populated and scripted, we need to be able to accurately estimate how much our engine will be capable of when it's completed and optimized. In the end, the BioWare Odyssey engine developed for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was able to push the Xbox to its limits while achieving our game design goals.GS: And now, the obvious question. What will set the PC version of Knights of the Old Republic apart from the Xbox version? Are any exclusive features being added? How is the control scheme being optimized for a mouse-and-keyboard setup? Any plans for downloadable additions or releasing a toolset for fans to make their own content?
GZ: The PC version of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic does feature some new content. I can't go into all the details yet, but there are some really cool things that Star Wars fans and all players will really enjoy. Like all BioWare games in the past, the controls are fully configurable on the PC. We've been focusing on interface for quite a while, and the configurability will allow players to enjoy the game, regardless of their usual play patterns. As far as future additions to the game, we're first focusing on getting the PC version of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic done before we consider any extensions.
GS: Now that BioWare is a developer of both PC and console RPGs, what are your thoughts on the differences between the two? Will PC and console RPGs converge in the foreseeable future, or will they remain largely separate?
CH: While console technology now allows for very PC-like capabilities, I think there are a few fundamental differences that won't change for the foreseeable future. Regardless of how similar console and PC platforms become, technologically, the way people play them will continue to dictate design decisions that will differentiate their games.
For example, the fact that you typically play console games on a TV across the room while PC games are played on a monitor only inches away creates different requirements for graphical detail. Console games, therefore, put effort into close-up cinematic action and overall render quality (like bumpy, shiny materials), while PC games emphasize what can be done with high resolutions and super-sharp textures. A game controller versus mouse-and-keyboard also dictates certain design decisions that create somewhat different styles of play.
That said, the fact that the technology is becoming very similar across the platforms makes it possible to achieve the central concept of an RPG on both console and PC. As long as it's designed to make special use of each platform's strengths, a good RPG should be able to span several platforms with equal success, and, of course, that's what we're aiming to achieve with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Knights of the Old Republic or RPGs in general?
GZ: The only comment I have is to thank our fans for all of their support. BioWare has been very fortunate to be blessed with a group of very dedicated and loyal customers. We think Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is some of our best work yet. Enjoy!
GS: Thanks to both of you for your time.