The show floor at this year's E3 was littered with online role playing games. You couldn't walk more than a few feet without stumbling across an MMORPG booth. Of all these games, however, two stood head and shoulders above the rest. One was Final Fantasy XIV, and the other was Star Wars: The Old Republic. After checking out the game behind closed doors, we managed to steal a few words from LucasArts senior producer, Jake Neri.
Q: Due to the power of the Star Wars brand, a lot of people are going to be coming to the game without having ever played an MMO before. How does The Old Republic accommodate for those types of players?
Jake Neri: I think at the core of our design is a host of features that will resonate with the casual gamer who's never picked up an MMO, but also the hardest of the hardcore. We've carefully created a lot of our game to support that casual player, in the sense that a casual player's attention span is going to be a lot less than that of a core player. So, right away we're trying to push the idea of being a hero in the Star Wars galaxy early. We've got our players from level 1 to feel heroic, to take out multiple enemies, make tough decisions, use tactics and strategies. So things that more casual players might have a hard time with on the surface, but once they get in and get their hands on the game, I think what they'll find is it's exciting, it's interesting, they're having fun, they're doing something that they haven't done before, but they're successful at it, and therefore hopefully they're going to continue.
At the same time, our story - one of the primary benefits of having an interesting story is that people who are not familiar with MMOs have something that they can come in at right away, and they can succeed with it. And it also works well with our hardcore players. So I think the question is will we support the casual players? Will we support hardcore players? We're building our game to capture multiple players. I think we have our finger pointed in the right direction, so far. And we'll continue to make sure we have the most accessible game we possibly can.
Q: The game is incredibly narrative driven. If a player comes to the game not knowing much about the Star Wars universe, will they still have fun with the game?
JN: I think so yeah. I think each of the individual class stories are really very interesting and a lot of fun. You don't have to have a tonne of pre-history with Star Wars; this game is set thousands of years before the Darth Vader era that most people will think of as Star Wars. So you don't need any kind of pre existing information to come in and succeed.
Q: So it's quite self contained in that respect?
JN: In that respect, yeah. That's part of the benefit of being in the era that we are, we have this brand new territory to create within. It's a big part of what we're doing for sure.
Q: The recent EA conference revealed the Hope trailer, and we learned that the player would be able to pilot their own Star ship. Will each player have their very own star ship?
JN: Yeah, they do.
Q: And do you get that from the start or is it something you have to earn?
JN: You know, you think of the ships as something you have to earn. It's a tent pole moment; a key moment of achievement inside each class. That's really what we're going for. We want the ships to be aspirational. I don't know if you saw them today - but they're big. They're very cool looking; something we know people will want to have, and own, and take into their travels.
Q: And are the ships customisable in any way?
JN: The obvious question once you say you're having player ships is: "are they going to be customisable?" Right now all we're saying is that you will have a star ship. We'll have tonnes of information about what you can do with those ships as time goes on, and we always update our website, so stay tuned and you'll get the info on there.
Q: Will the game be making use of an auction house, and if so how will it differ from other MMOs on the market?
JN: There are certain features that everybody wants to know about a new MMO; will it have raiding, will it have PVP, will it have an auction house? All those expected features from a triple-A MMO will exist in our game. As for details, we haven't really started to tell right now, but we understand the importance of those features and what they mean to our players and how players are able to create their own gameplay through those features.
Q: Other MMOs have been making use of iPhone apps so that players can check their stats, quests and auctions on the move. Is this something that has been considered for the Old Republic?
JN: I personally think it's super cool, but we have nothing official we're talking about with that right now. But you know, it's something that we'll obviously take a look at. I understand what you're saying, there are a lot of folks out there who'd love it, and so we'll see where that goes.
Q: Final question then. Do you see developers overcoming the barrier for console MMOs at any point soon? Is the Old Republic a game that's ever been considered for console release?
JN: We've only ever announced that we're a PC game, we're focusing on getting that right first and foremost. It's a daunting task. Do I ever see people overcoming it? I'm sure at some point people will figure it out. I think that the complexity of what you need, the depth that you need to compel a player to stay in your game for months and months and years and years is a challenge that's attributed to the console. I see games like Modern Warfare or Force Unleashed 2, or something like that - those games take advantage of what those consoles do well. I can't predict the future, but I'm sure somebody will do it someday. We know the depth required to build this game on PC is staggering, so we'll see. We've announced nothing console based yet though.
Q: Well that's all I've got for now, I'm going to play some of the game!
JN: Absolutely. Thank you for your time.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is due for release on PC in 2011.