Keeping an MMO alive for ten years is a difficult task, to say the least. Keeping it popular? That’s another gargantuan challenge in itself. Luckily, Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t seem to be finding it so tough. Launched in 2011, Bioware‘s MMO is happily zooming towards its tenth anniversary and is gearing up for its next expansion, Legacy Of The Sith.
To catch up on all the goings-on in an MMO far, far away, I sat down with Charles Boyd, who’s the creative director for Star Wars: The Old Republic.
For anyone who’s perhaps drifted away from The Old Republic – or has never tried it – Boyd is more than happy to set the scene for the MMO’s upcoming expansion.
“Darth Malgus, sort of our most recognisable villain from back in the day, has returned. He’s gone rogue, he’s up to his own nefarious ends. And so, players will be pursuing him – trying to learn more about what he’s up to. They will get some of the picture here, some big revelations, and some big things are gonna happen.”
An evil Sith returning? Galactic warfare? Devious plots? It all sounds delightfully Star Wars, though there’s a catch. The Old Republic is well and truly set a long time ago, with players caught up in events occurring roughly 3000 years before Mark Hamill‘s first jaunt into the cosmos.
Despite being so far removed for the main trilogy, I couldn’t help but wonder if having a set of predetermined events – however distant – helped or hindered the creative process.
For Boyd, he finds that operating within a dramatically distant prequel makes things easier.
“I think it’s easier, certainly. Because it is far enough away from most anything that’s happening, it means you’re not going to conflict, right? Like, if we say there’s a big battle happening over Coruscant, it’s not saying “but there’s another thing where they’re at peace, and people are having lunch with terrorists!” You know, there’s nothing to conflict with each other.”
“So it’s kind of our own little corner of the sandbox to play in – so that definitely, I think, makes it more straightforward in a way and lets us have some big dramatic stuff happening all over the place.”
While the in-game events may be far removed from the original ’70s film, the real world may have something to say. Since The Old Republic launched in 2011, there’s been a massive resurgence in the franchise. From the latest trilogy to the space-western Mandalorian, it’s certainly ballooned since The Old Republic‘s story begun – something which Boyd’s team, who are “all fans” themselves, are aware of.
The team is influenced “to some degree” by the goings-on of other Star Wars titles, as Boyd says they’re “always inspired and excited by new stuff”.
“We certainly are watching all the new shows and movies with just as much interest as anyone else, and looking for cool things, especially when it comes to like…when we introduce a new species, or a new kind of creature, or some new technology; or vehicle we’ve never seen before. We’re always looking for opportunities like that, individual pieces that we can bring into the stories that we’re telling.”
“But you know, we still work very closely with LucasFilm, who reviews all of our stories and collaborates with us on some of the higher level planning a lot as well. They don’t always fill us in on the secrets – of course, they can kind of say, “maybe don’t do that!”. For example, we did a mission where you are on a moving train – like a train robbery, almost. I think it came out a little before – but obviously was in development at the same time, or after – Solo had their train robbery, right? Very classic Western kind of trope, right?”
Though there was a chance that LucasFilm would have objected to having two moving train scenes (can you even have too many?), the studio was happy that it “was different enough” and ended up being “supportive of both” train-fighting scenes, like any good Star Wars parent should.
Although 3000 years is long enough to keep most lore separate – though moving train fights are seemingly eternal – The Old Republic has another adversary with keeping its lore straight: itself. Ten years of plotlines and developments understandably make for “a lot to keep in mind”, and it can be a tough balancing act to ensure the game doesn’t step on its own toes.
For Boyd, who admits he’s been working on the game for “a really long time”, he remembers most of the MMO’s events first-hand. Then again, he remembers every version of an event – including ones that were later revised, modified and tweaked before being released. Luckily, if he’s ever unsure, he’s got three big fallbacks – BioWare’s own documentation, LucasFilm’s “meticulous” lore tracking, and the community itself.
“Players have created YouTube videos and Wookiepedia articles, all of that stuff – everything that has ever been in the game. So if I’m ever a little unsure, I can actually just jump on there and search it up and see. How did that scene play out? How did that go? And find it very quickly – it’s great.”
Boyd’s extensive time with the game also comes with some luggage – despite trying “not to play favourites too much”, it’s hard not to grow attached to certain characters. Laughing, Boyd says that “it’s hard to pick your favourites when picking between your children”, but can’t help revealing that he does have a couple – one of which is the Republic’s General Garza.
“General Garza was a lot of fun. We kind of wanted to have a reverse of 24 – kind of a big show back then – where Jack Bauer is a rogue agent, he does whatever he thinks is best, no matter what – he’s gonna break the rules. So we wanted to flip it where essentially Jack Bauer is your boss and is telling you to break the rules, be ruthless, do the bad things. It was fun to kind of play off of that.”
Boyd also enjoyed the sinister Sith emperor Valkorion, who he says was “performed so well by Darren DePaul“.
With Legacy Of The Sith bringing some of Boyd’s favourite characters along for the ride, I was curious to hear what else fans could expect.
“Gameplay-wise, this is actually probably one of our biggest – if not the biggest additions – we’ve done to the game with the combat styles, where we’re kind of separating or offering more options than we did in the past for how your character plays, what their story is, or what their backstory is. I think it’s going to really let people come in with a broader idea of like, what is the fantasy that you want your character fulfil? What’s my favourite Star Wars character – do I want to be like them? Is this totally my own thing?”
“That’s been kind of the core of the game the start. BioWare in general, we always reference things like tabletop gaming – like Dungeons And Dragons, where it’s as much as possible. It’s a collaboration between us making the game, and the players playing the game.”
“Either way, you’ll be able to, you know, create a lot more, a lot more breadth of different types of characters and gameplay combinations. So I’m particularly excited about that, and I think the players will really enjoy it as well.”
Finally, Boyd teases some of the secrets that will arrive with Legacy Of The Sith.
“It definitely has to do with Malgus because that’s key. But also, there’s an ancient Sith that we’re just starting to learn a little big about. It was just mentioned in an update recently, but we’ll be moving it more centerstage. [The ancient Sith] was erased from all history – all historical records of the Empire. You know, that’s unusual – Sith love to leave monuments to selves, and even holocrons, they want everyone forever to know how great they were. So, for someone to have gone out of their way to remove that is unseal. You’re starting to dig into that a little more, and kind of pry into that mystery.”
Unravelling these mysteries is something that players will have to do themselves – Boyd’s keen to keep things close to his chest for now. Looking to the future, he’s visibly excited at the prospect of getting Legacy Of The Sith into the hands of players. It’s clear there’s a lot of passion for The Old Republic at BioWare, and it’s something that he attributes the long-running success of the MMO to.
“We build the things we’re excited to build, that we think players will be excited to buy.”
Star Wars: The Old Republic is available on Steam now, with Legacy Of The Sith set to launch later this year.