Bioware's multi-million dollar Star Wars MMO is alive and kicking. Throngs of players are battling through its vast zones, looting and levelling and making "I used to play Skyrim but then I took a TOR in the knee" jokes. It's hard to imagine that it all began with three men sitting in a room in Edmonton, Canada, drawing up design documents. We caught up with game director James Ohlen to discover to discover what The Old Republic could have been, and how Bioware decided on Star Wars.
"We had backup plans," said Ohlen. "In all the design team was like three of us at that point, in total. So we were looking at doing a Lord of the Rings MMO, a Silmarillion MMO, a kind of a Gunslinger-esque Dark Tower MMO, a Game of Thrones MMO."
"Each setting has different strengths, " Ohlen added, describing the 10 page documents that the team drew up at an early design stage. "If we were going to do a Game of Thrones MMO, what kind of rules and what kind of gameplay elements would really bring that world to life? Each one had that, but we always focused on the story at the fore." In those early stages, a compelling narrative was more important than the setting. "When we were first were deciding on what kind of game we were going to build, I really wanted to do a story-based massively multiplayer game because hey, it hadn't been done before," Ohlen said. "I thought: hey, good way to innovate - that's what Bioware stands for and that's what we're good at."
Star Wars provided the perfect fit. The rich canon of the Star Wars extended universe provided plenty of scope for heroic narratives, and the natural dual faction set-up would give players something to fight for. There were other advantages, too. "We had an in-built fanbase with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," Ohlen said. "In fact, when you ask our fans "what kind of MMO would you like us to build?" they almost always say "how about Knights of the Old Republic massively multiplayer game?"
That would involve a long period of negotiations with Lucasarts, during which time Bioware went further afield, looking to George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels and Stephen King's Dark Tower series for inspiration. Eventually, Lucasarts came back with a deal, and Star Wars was the choice the developers made. But it's interesting to think that somewhere in Bioware's vaults there's a design document for a Game of Thrones MMO gathering dust. If things had gone differently, we could be battling dragons instead of Rancors in Bioware's first MMO.
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