Welcome to the fifth entry in our Hall of Fame feature, where we’ll be revisiting arguably what is one of video game history’s greatest ever adaptions of Star Wars, and one of the best examples of a proper licensed game. It was a BioWare production, interestingly enough, back in the days where they made extremely awesome role-playing games and weren’t finding themselves at the centre of massive controversy. But let’s not talk about that. We’re here for a game that many will fondly remember for being one of the best reasons to love Star Wars back in the day. And that’s no exaggeration.
That’s right. We’re bringing the nostalgia, along with history’s greatest gaming legends.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a role-playing game that was released on Xbox on September 12, 2003 and on PC on December 5 in the same year. Developed by BioWare and published by LucasArts, it was designed to be a breath of fresh air for the Star Wars universe, one that wasn’t directly involved with the movies. But the game had a rather interesting journey leading up to its release. The title was first announced in July 2000, where BioWare revealed that they were working together with LucasArts in order to create a Star Wars RPG for the PC and next-generation consoles. At the time, joint BioWare CEO and co-founder Greg Zeschuk described their excitement about the game, saying “The opportunity to create a richly detailed new chapter in the Star Wars universe is incredibly exciting for us. We are honored to be working with the extremely talented folks at Lucas Arts, developing a role-playing game based upon one of the most high-profile licenses in the world.”
However it wasn’t until E3 in 2001 that the game was officially revealed as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and it was discovered that the game had been in development for around six months. LucasArts’ Mike Gallo commented on the game’s development, saying “Preproduction started in 2000, but the discussions started back in 1999. The first actual e-mails were in October or November of ’99. That’s when we first started talking to BioWare. But some really serious work finally started at the beginning of 2000.” One of the most interesting aspects about the project was from early details released on the game which revealed that it was to be set four thousand years before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which at the time boosted the revival of the Star Wars franchise as it had returned to the big screen to widespread audience success, and a sequel to the movie was already in the works. According to BioWare CEO Raymond Muzyka, LucasArts gave them a choice of possible settings for the game. “LucasArts came to us and said that we could do an Episode II game,” Muzyka said. “Or LucasArts said we could go 4,000 years back, which is a period that’s hardly been covered before.” In the end, BioWare chose the latter, to set the game before the movies so as to have a greater amount of creative freedom. BioWare wanted to create something fans of the movies could feel at home with, but ensure that it was different enough to effectively fit in before the movies.
It was soon confirmed that the game was in development for PC and Xbox, with the latter being chosen over other consoles due to BioWare’s familiarity with it, especially in the role-playing department. However, Hudson spoke of the challenges that came about during development, such as the decision on how much graphical detail needed to be put in. He commented, “Since our games generally have a lot of AI and scripting, numerous character models, and huge environments, we stress the hardware in a very different way than most games. This made it difficult to predict how well the game would run.” The game used the Odyssey Engine, which was based on the Aurora Engine (used in Neverwinter Nights) but redesigned for Knights of the Old Republic. The game was graphically impressive for its time, and highly detailed. Hudson spoke about the modifications to the graphics that needed to be made for the PC and Xbox. “You typically play console games on a TV across the room while PC games are played on a monitor only inches away.” As such, console games focus more on close-up action and overall render quality, while PC games are more for high resolutions and sharper textures.
BioWare developed the main game, its engine and the story, while LucasArt handled the audio. To illustrate how big the project was, it was confirmed that the game had three hundred different characters and fifteen thousand lines of dialogue. And at the time, it really showed, because when the game released players found that its story was extremely compelling, and packed with characters to interact and have lengthy, multi-layered conversations with. The game allowed players to decide, progressively with all minor and major choices, whether they wished to walk the path of the light, stay neutral or give in to the dark side. Depending which side you went, your character’s appearance and move set would be totally different. What may now seem relatively simple in today’s times, was a gem all those years ago, adding a lot more depth to the experience. As was previously mentioned, the game takes place 4000 years before the first movie, where Darth Malak, a Sith lord and former apprentice of the legendary Darth Revan, has launched a full-scale Sith attack against the Republic. The Jedi are scattered and vulnerable, and many have turned to the dark side or fell. Your character, of which you can be male or female, wakes up onboard a Republic ship that is under attack by Malak’s army, having no memory of his or her past. With some help, you manage to escape, but it’s only the beginning as you’ll need to recover your past and rise to power in order to return order to the galaxy.
The gameplay was a lot deeper than one would have expected for a Star Wars game. In the beginning you chose one of three classes during the character customisation process. Later on you get to choose Jedi subclasses. But it’s up to you to dress your character up by building your stats, tiered feats (much like perks) and abilities, and later on tiered Force powers, either light or dark. As you levelled up, you gained skill points to spend on stats, and got to choose new feats. The combat system worked in real time, but with a bunch of twists that made it both deep and tactical. However, despite its complexity, players could get to grips with it fairly easily, but being effective in building your character took a bit of learning. Typically, you used either swords or blaster rifles in combat, with lightsabers only usable by Jedi’s and coming in later in the story. You could fight one-handed, duel wield or use a double-edged blade, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you want a more modern example of how combat played out, relations can be drawn to Dragon Age: Origins. Players moved in real-time, strategically planning usage of attacks, skills and items, and were able to pause the game at any time during combat to get sorted out. It was an awesome system that was both challenging and rewarding, with the force powers being used in fantastic ways, and with there being a clear differentiation between light and dark. For example, dark side players could use force powers like lightning and drain life, while Jedi could heal and safeguard themselves and their allies against threats.
But one of the best and most valuable features of the game was the party system. For most of the game, you could take two companions with you when exploring the vast planets you were freely allowed to visit, leaving the rest behind in your ship. Players could manually control party members at any time, simply switching to them if their abilities are needed, or if a change is wanted. Party members actively engaged in conversation with each other or the player, and sometimes participated in conversations with NPCs, or reacted to a decision you made, whether they’re for or against it. However, the best thing about the party characters in the game was that you, as the player, were able to shape them. You were able to greatly change them over the course of the story, shifting them between dark and light depending on your influence and your actions, and some relationships could end in joy or misery depending on how far you go. The game had a bright and intriguing cast of characters who really got you invested into the experience, and this, coupled together with the choice between dark and light and your playstyle, gave the game a great sense of re-playability, especially with regards to story. And the story was incredible, especially that insane plot twist towards the end that I won’t divulge.
Knights of the Old Republic was just a phenomenal experience. It used the Star Wars universe in a fantastic and unique way, provided players with deep and challenging combat, and delivered a compelling narrative with powerful characters. The game rightfully picked up many awards after its release, including achieving Best PC Game, Best Story and overall Game of the Year awards, among many others, from many different sources such as IGN and PC Gamer. It also received universal critical acclaim, scoring 93 percent on Metacritic with a user score of 8.9, which is a staggering achievement. It’s still widely considered today to be one of the greatest Star Wars projects of all time, and one of the best role-playing games around. I would certainly agree with that, because if I didn’t play it about five times after its release I probably would go back and play it again today without hesitation.
Naturally its staggering success meant that a sequel was on the cards, and that’s exactly what we got, with a few catches. But please, if you haven’t played this game yet, there’s no excuse as it was released on Steam in 2009, and the Mac App store in 2011, so get it and play it as soon as you can. You really don’t need to be a Star Wars fanatic to love this – just a fan of great RPGs.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II:
The Sith Lords
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords was definitely a game that everyone who loved the first wanted to see, but it didn’t come without its own share of controversy. The first was its short and rushed development cycle. While the original game was three years in the making, and saw release towards the end of 2003, KOTOR II was released in February of 2005, which meant that it just about enjoyed a year of development. Clearly a year is worrying for the sequel to a game of KOTOR’s massive success. And on top of that, the warning bells were sounding when it was revealed that BioWare would not be developing the game, but rather Obsidian Entertainment. This was because the chaps at BioWare were off developing Jade Empire at the time, and had begun focusing on their own intellectual properties, so they suggested Obsidian due to being familiar with their past work.
However, despite the issues surrounding the game, fans were hoping for the best and undoubtedly ready to go for round two after the success of the original game. KOTOR II was set five years after the events of the original, where the Jedi have almost been completely eradicated by the Sith. Once again the player had a choice between creating a male or female character, but either way the player was a former Jedi Knight exiled from the Order. When awakened on a ship by a mysterious woman called Kreia, who serves as your mentor in the game, the player is thrust back into the conflict in which he or she must restore a connection to the Force and take the fight back to the Sith. Players were again allowed to choose between the light or dark side of the Force, through their actions in the game, and travelled from planet to planet in search of help and to either aid or damage the Republic’s mission to restore peace and stability to the galaxy. Characterisation and story were once again massively important elements and fortunately the game was so great in these aspects that even though it didn’t undergo dramatic change compared to the original and suffered technically, it was still a fantastic experience that did more than enough to justify playing it. Fans weren’t going to miss out in any case.
It was a shame that such a black cloud hung over the game, because despite all odds it still turned out amazing. It wasn’t perfect, mind you, and it may not have reached the heights of its predecessor, but it was still an awesome and compelling experience nonetheless. Its main drawbacks weren’t from the core experience, which was great, but rather from its unfortunate bugs and unpolished areas, which strongly gave the impression that it was incomplete. The game was created using an updated version of the Odyssey engine that powered the first game, and BioWare gave technical assistance to Obsidian during KOTOR II’s development, but naturally the development period was too short to make it perfect or all that it could have been. The effects of the unfortunate development time were confirmed by the game’s producer, Chris Avellone, in an interview after its launch, in which he stated that he wished “there had been more time” to make the game, because the rush had resulted in a large amount of content being cut from the game, such as a droid factory, a whole planet and various other locations. Thankfully, the game received four patches to improve its quality and fix gameplay issues. And still, it was really well received by fans and critics, achieving a rating of 85 on Metacritic and getting praise for its story and characters. It didn’t quite outdo its predecessor, but it definitely was a worthy sequel.
However, did its success mean that there would be a third entry in the series? Fans definitely wouldn’t have minded that after the first two games, and the team behind the game were quite keen for another. And that’s what we ended up getting. Just in a way that no one would have expected at the time. And the path leading to it was one filled with tragedy for fans. I’m quite serious, so let’s take a look.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic III
Before you have a panic attack, yes I’m well aware that there was never a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III, but there was a rather tragic story behind it. Interestingly enough it did eventually turn into something though. But it all started in 2003 when LucasArts cancelled their console MMOG project, Proteus, during its early design phase. After its cancellation, the project’s team went on to develop KOTOR 3, bringing some elements of Proteus’ designs to the third installment of the highly successful series. However, in what came as terrible news to fans, KOTOR 3 ended up being cancelled because of cuts beginning in 2004 that were made to position LucasArts for future success. What made the news so much more difficult to take was that, according to game designer John Stafford, the development team had “wrote a story, designed most of the environments/worlds, and many of the quests, characters, and items” for KOTOR 3 before its cancellation. In the end all we got to see of it was concept art that was published in the 2008 book Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts.
Can you guess what KOTOR 3 eventually turned into? Well, if you guessed Star Wars: The Old Republic, the 2012 MMORPG, then you’d have been right. But how did that happen? Well, all the way back in July of 2008, during the year’s E3 press conference, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello confirmed that a Knights of the Old Republic MMORPG was in the works. But in October in that same year, LucasArts and BioWare invited the press to the official unveiling of their next game, saying “BioWare and LucasArts invite you to attend the official unveiling of the game that has been rumored about for years.” This naturally prompted widespread rumours that it was either to do with KOTOR III or the rumoured Old Republic MMO, but towards the end of the month, at the invitation-only press event, BioWare and LucasArts confirmed that their next project was the MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, which would be set 300 years after the first two games in the series, depicting new rising conflicts between the Jedi and Sith. As for the rest, that’s all in the present, so there’s nothing more to say.
But in the end all that really matters here is that the original two entries in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series were incredible role-playing games that deserve to still be remembered today. They were just amazing experiences, and any Star Wars fan who loved them would be unlikely to ever forget them. I know I won’t. Both games together undoubtedly deserve a spot on our Hall of Fame.
Keep an eye out for the next entry in our Hall of Fame then, meatbags. Sorry, inside joke.
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