Community heroes: modders debug and restore cut content in Knights of the Old Republic II
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is full of secrets -- content that was cut from the final release, some due to time constraints. In 2009, as if it were a Renaissance painting obscured by soot, a team of modders began to carefully restore the unfinished content. Yesterday, that team released the final version of The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod (TSLRCM), which restores plot elements, decisions, and dialog (even filling in voice acting where it's missing), and fixes hundreds of bugs since the last version.
Version 1.8 of the mod can be downloaded from ModDB, and a full list of restored content is available on the modders' forum. Read on for my chat with the project's co-lead, Zbigniew "zbyl2" Staniewicz, about what the mod took to complete, and what's next for the team.
PC Gamer: What is your primary role on the TSLRCM project?
Zbigniew Staniewicz: Well, I'm the project co-leader, I'm the one who started it all along with Stoney few years back. I worked on restoring cut content on pretty much every planet in the game as well as fixing gameplay issues.
I understand there was another team, Team Gizka, which was working on a similar project but was dissolved. Can you tell me a bit about what happened there?
I'm not sure what exactly happened behind the scenes with Team Gizka, but they were taking long time with their project and eventually only one member of a Team - Dashus - was left. Stoney and myself decided to take matter in our own hands and start our own restoration project, which was more successful than Gizka's attempt. Shortly after Team Gizka's website died and never came back.
Were you able to salvage any of their work, or did you have to start from scratch?
We started from scratch. We wouldn't use any of their work without original author's permissions, and it wasn't possible to contact most of former Team Gizka members. We did eventually get their custom animations incorporated into TSLRCM (with proper permission), but that's it.
When did your project start?
Oh, when was it... sometime in 2009, I believe. We were working on another project -- M4-78EP, which is still in development -- but took a break from it to work on restoring some Dantooine content. We then started working on other planets as well eventually deciding to restore the whole game. First public release was in September of 2009 if memory serves.
It seems like a lot of work and not many people. You're in Poland, right? I assume your fellow team members are from other parts of the world?
Lot of work, yes, but hopefully it was worth it. Yes, I'm Polish and other team members are from other parts of the world -- Hassat is from Holland, I believe, and I'm pretty sure both Stoney and VP live somewhere in US. It didn't have much impact on a project, though; well, sometime waiting for a reply from a person in another time zone might be a little irritating, but it's not a big deal.
Were there any major snags in development? How many bugs did you fix?
As for snags... well, there were times when project was proceeding slower for number of reasons; exams, real life issues, getting tired of a game you're working on for years, but we eventually always got back up to speed. As for number of bugs fixed - no idea what the exact number is, but it's easly over 500, haha. Just check out our readme for changelog since last version - I'm not going to count how many issues it lists, but it's huge. And remember that it's just since last version!
Yeah, I imagine it was a pretty time consuming project. Did you dedicate a regular amount of time to it a week, or did progress happen in spurts over the years?
I'd say we were working on it on regular basis, but as I said sometimes it went faster than other times. Which is pretty obvious, I think it's that way with every project. Especially since the amount of work we could do was dependent on how much free time team members had - we mod only out of love for the game and don't get paid for it, so real life jobs and such take priority.
What do you do outside of modding?
I'm still a student, studying computer science -- might consider getting into game development in the future, depending on how things go.
That's great -- if you did get into development would you want to work at a major developer? Like Obsidian or BioWare?
Sure, it would be interesting - especially if they got to work on KotOR III, hahaha.
That would be great. So, are you totally burned out on KotOR II now?
I still have one more KotOR II project to finish, but after that - I'm probably not going to touch a game for a while. I basically memorized most of it (I could quote Kreia for living), and I'm not sure that's a good thing.
That's the project you mentioned earlier -- M4-78EP?
Indeed, M4-78EP, which is going to add M4-78, the Droids' Planet that was cut from the game, back. Reason it's not part of TSLRCM is fact that there aren't many dialogs left, so we have to create lot of content ourselves, which doesn't really fit under "restoration" category. Of course, it's going to be fully compatible with TSLRCM 1.8.
So you'll have to write your own dialog for M4-78EP? Do you guys record voice acting where it's missing?
Yes to both; most of M4-78 is written by now (most of it is working, in fact, but we're still doing side quests). We record new voice overs for our dialogs, too. Finding good voice actors isn't an easy job, but we're doing our best to ensure voice acting is as quality as in the rest of a game.
One thing I'd like to add here, so it doesn't seem like M4-78EP is going to be 100% new content - we use models that were left in game files, and some main plot points are based on what we were able to recover from game dialog files. Also, living Master Vash is restored (she was originally supposed to be on droid's planet, not Korriban), along with her dialog, which is fully recorded, though unavailable in game, even with TSLRCM.
Did the team do the voice acting? Did you have auditions?
We're doing auditions for the most part; there are some exceptions (Sith Holocron, who was with the project from the beginning, is voicing planet's main AI, and it was decided that way loooong ago, and sometime someone is suggested to me for a role). There are also voice acting forums all over the internet, so we're using them too - then I post a thread with a list of characters along with some audition lines. If someone sends audition I like, he gets a role (obviously).
Did you ever find anything that surprised you? Anything that was intentionally cut?
There were certainly some things that were cut intentionally, often probably because of plot changes during the development. Major examples would include Atris instead of Kreia on Malachor V, which doesn't make much sense with current storyline. Another would be GenoHaradan plot on Nar Shaddaa which was replaced with the Exchange. Smaller example could be Kreia's recorded lines in Tomb of Freedon Nadd on Dxun, while she has to be on Onderon at a time so it never plays. We didn't restore any of these, of course. We kept to things that fit with the game, and most of those were cut due to time constraints.
Was any content especially buried?
I wouldn't say anything was "buried" but some things were definietly easier accessible than others; say, in lots of cases cut dialog lines were present in actual dialog files but were removed from main conversation branch, so it was relatively easy to find. Other times, we had to look trough game voice files in order to find cut content, which was more work.
Fact that Team Gizka attempted restoration project before us helped, too, as we could use their cut content list for reference; therere were a lot of things missing from their list, but most major cut content were on it.
Darn, I was hoping to call it "game archeology." I guess "restoration" is the better word.
Haha, sorry to disappoint!
The mod's description states that the goal is to make KOTOR II as close as possible to Obsidian's original intentions. Do you feel that TSLRCM 1.8 represents the game Obsidian wanted to release?
Yes, I think TSLRCM makes it pretty close to Obsidian's vision. I'm sure people at Obsidian working on a game would be much happier if they got time to finish HK Factory and, especially, the endings -- and we restored that.
And since you're going back to the M4-78EP project, I take it 1.8 is the last step for the mod? Or is there anything left that you'd might like to work on?
We're not planning to work on TSLRCM beyond 1.8. I feel like we've really done as much as we could for the game. That being said, if some sort of major or game breaking issue somehow sneaked past us into the mod (unlikely), we will surely patch it.