Rogue One isn’t the only Star Wars event in December.
On December 2, BioWare will release a new expansion for its massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Star Wars: The Old Republic. The expansion, called Knights of the Eternal Throne, adds nine chapters of story content which includes two new planets for players to explore. Set thousands of years before the events of the movies, TOR originally came out back in 2011. It didn’t live to its hype as a World of Warcraft-killer, but the MMO has found a way to succeed all these years thanks to a focus on story-driven content.
We had a chance to talk with TOR’s creative director, Charles Boyd. We discussed this emphasis on story-telling, what it’s like to work outside of the movie canon, and if they have an end planned for the game.
GamesBeat: You’re in an interesting place. You’re the only Star Wars creators making new content outside the normal canon, right?
Charles Boyd: Yeah, we’re 3000-plus years in the past and still using a lot of the old Extended Universe legends. That’s still dialed into our stuff a lot.
GamesBeat: Does that give you more freedom than some of the other creators working more closely with the movie timeline?
Boyd: That really comes from the Old Republic setting, more than anything. It’s the same reasoning that brought BioWare to create Knights of the Old Republic back in the day. Setting it far enough from the films to have the freedom to tell a story that really impacts the galaxy in huge, epic ways, while still feeling like Star Wars.
We can hit a lot of the beats that everyone loves about Star Wars — the characters that you identify with, the choices that are meaningful and play out in some huge galactic way. Lasers and star destroyers, all that great stuff that makes Star Wars. Family relationship drama. We can draw on all that and make something that feels like Star Wars while still being in a different part of the timeline and a different place for telling our own stories. It’s a lot of fun.
GamesBeat: You have your own legacy material in a way, with the first two Knights of the Old Republic games. Are you interested in calling back to those stories, or are you more interested in working on new material?
Boyd: We always want it to be accessible for someone who’s just come in. We have a whole lot of people who play our game, but who’ve never had a chance to play KOTOR one or two. We wouldn’t want it to be confusing or unwelcoming for them. But yeah, at the same time, we’re all big fans. We’ve been playing since the days of those games.
We’re always looking for chances to include story elements and references to things that we’ve always loved, that got us passionate about Star Wars in the first place, about Star Wars games. First of all, though, we want to tell a fun and accessible story, show people some new things. Everyone likes to see something new and different, something they weren’t expecting.
GamesBeat: You’re launching a new expansion in December, the same month as the new movie Rogue One. Every other Star Wars game has to have some kind of Rogue One tie-in, except you.
Boyd: We can’t, yeah. [laughs] There’s no direct tie-in. But you look for thematic stuff you can use. Unfortunately, as much as we try, we can’t get any secrets about the movie out of our partners at Lucasfilm. They won’t tell us anything. That’s kind of nice, though, because we get to show up and see the movie on day one and enjoy it the same as everyone else. We look for thematic ties, the general Star Wars feel that I was talking about, to make it feel like it all fits together, even if it doesn’t say Rogue One on it.
GamesBeat: The last expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, was very episodic, a lot of solo content, a lot of things you might not really expect from an MMO. What was the reaction to that like?
Boyd: Players really dug it. There’s definitely been demand to get back to some of the more replayable multiplayer content, stuff that hits the more social aspect, so we’re looking to get that balance a little bit better this year and focus on that moving forward. The discovery we kind of made based on the fan feedback was that they liked the story, liked playing through it, but they really enjoyed playing through all nine chapters at once. They liked the Netflix binge sort of experience, where you play at your own pace — do it all at once, or spread it out. It’s your choice. That feels like where people are at these days as far as enjoying their entertainment.
With Knights of the Eternal Throne we wanted to lead into that and focus on those nine chapters, the continuous all-at-once story, and follow that up with Galactic Command and a really cool in-game focus that brings things together in a multiplayer way. You can play it however you want. If you want to keep playing solo content, you can, and you’ll be rewarded, but we wanted to encourage people to group up and be social and pursue the larger, potentially more difficult challenges to build their characters’ power moving forward. That’s going to be a big focus for the team as we move past 5.0, past Knights of the Eternal Throne, and into the weeks and months that follow. Multiplayer and social stuff like that, bringing that back to the fans who’ve been looking for it.