Use the Force, be the Sith

Star Wars: The Old Republic” wants to put geeks and nerds in the “Star Wars” universe with its new massively multiplayer online (MMO) game officially released today. As organized as the "Star Wars" fan base is, it's no surprise that game-makers BioWare and Electronic Arts' servers are swamped.

While some of those who preordered were able to start playing around December 13, the development team at BioWare is very anxious for fans of the classic franchise to jump in and experience what it is like to live with (and perhaps battle against) Jedi and Sith. The writing team for the game spent 60 man years (that’s 525,600 hours) in crafting a world that they know is going to be closely analyzed by “Star Wars” enthusiasts.

Daniel Erickson, the lead writer on “SWTOR,” and his writing team pored over every bit of information they could get – from movies to books to comics to encyclopedias. He said they have to be on their game because there are three different types of fans out there, and they will all be looking for details specific to their memories of “Star Wars.”

“There’s folks like you and me who are first generation. Our thoughts when we think ‘Star Wars’ is immediately ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and the big scenes from that,” Erickson said. “Then we have a whole generation after that who the prequels are really what ‘Star Wars’ is for them. Then we have the third generation coming after that who show up at the conventions to play the game in their Commander Cody outfit from the ‘Clone Wars’ cartoon.”

Erickson said they tried to represent the "Star Wars" world as a normal, functioning world and not go into the minutia or crazy trivia. They wanted to provide enough information and detail that was relevant to the character class being played. But, at the same time, they respected the franchise and recognized that good storytelling is very important to the “Star Wars” legacy.

“If you are just going to nerd out on ‘Star Wars,’ the only people who are going to enjoy it are other people who are going to hard-core nerd out on ‘Star Wars,’” he said. “The thing that makes ‘Star Wars’ so brilliant, and why we all loved it in the first place, is because ‘Star Wars’ is extremely acceptable and is very universal. It’s sort of the great Western fairy tale. So, ‘Star Wars’ done well should be totally accessible for anybody who jumps in.”

There are eight classes featured in “SWTOR,” and each class has its own unique storyline. Erickson said the team expects a majority of people to gravitate to being a Sith or Jedi, each of which has two individual classes to choose from. But there are four other classes that are not Force based and give players options to experience parts of the “Star Wars” universe that they never have before.

“I know when I was a kid, I always wanted Luke’s powers, but I didn’t want to be Luke. I wanted to be Han. Han was awesome. Han got the girl. He had an ultra-cool life.”

The audience for the game is expected to fall into three categories: the “Star Wars” fan, the MMO fan and the BioWare fan who is used to playing the company’s role-playing games. Erickson said there is plenty for everyone.

The “Star Wars” fans will get to live their own “Star Wars” trilogy. Each story has three giant pieces to it that are larger than the normal role-playing game. Erickson describes it as “finally getting to live and star in your own ‘Star Wars’ trilogy of movies”

The MMO fan is likely to enjoy the context and high production values surrounding the activities they will do in the game. Sure, you’ll get to kill lots of people and creatures, but those kills will have meaning and understanding rather than just killing as “grinding.”

“Getting a consistent world and galaxy that holds together, that actually puts way more meaning on all of the great activities that you always enjoyed doing,” Erickson said. “You’re not just feeling powerful and just feeling like you’re accomplished in this world because you’ve got really cool outfits on. The whole world is reinforcing your fantasy.”

While there is guild building to allow for groups of players to take on large missions, the solo player can also have great success, but at a cost. Erickson said lone wolf players will miss out on some of the best content involving multiplayer missions, but they will still have an amazing RPG experience.

Erickson said their ultimate goal is to make all the fans feel comfortable and immersed in the game environment and experience. “Star Wars” has its own life with big, overarching themes, good versus evil, and the space opera/1950s serial action film feel, he said. And despite changing the characters and the time period and the main plots, he thinks people will “nerd out.”

“There’s a quintessentially 'Star Wars' feel that when you turn it on, you go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. This feels like 'Star Wars.'’ You can still settle in to your nerd phase and say this is the Star Wars I know and love.”