Our visit to this year’s GamesCom gaming convention has been crowned by a very special meeting that we didn’t even hope for. We had the pleasure and honor to sit down with Mr. James Ohlen, Creative Director and Lead Designer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and ask him a few questions. The short chat we had about the game was focused around space combat, player ships and advanced classes.
The spaceships are going to be used for a type of housing. They are a kind of a community feature. They are used for traveling and for space combat. There are many features incorporated into the player ships.
James Ohlen: That’s correct. We felt that in the movies, that is what you see them used as. It’s kind of a home base for some of the main characters, (especially the Millenium Falcon in the whole original trilogy), than it’s used, obviously, to travel from planet to planet (that is its main use), but also, you have space combats that are famous from the movies, like the one from the Return of the Jedi, or the asteroid one in the Empire Strikes Back.
I wanted to ask this the moment I saw the Space Combat trailer, are you really using the John Williams “Tie Fighter Attack” music as the major theme of space combat scenes?
James Ohlen: We actually have a huge selection of music that we are allowed to use. We can use the entire John Williams library of music. We can also use the library from the original Knights of the Old Republic. We can use pretty much any music from the Star Wars library, plus we have a whole bunch of new music tracks that were made for our game.
I guess there’s going to be a lot of tracks used than?
James Ohlen: Each different set piece will have a different music track.
Can you tell us how many set pieces there will be?
James Ohlen: Not right now. There’s quite a few. There’s enough to keep you busy for a while.
Can we expect space combat to provide a lot of game content, for example, 10 hours?
James Ohlen: It really depends on how much you are into it. If you only play each scenario once, it’s going to take a small percentage of your game time, but if you are a type of player that wants to play it over and over again and try it in different difficulty it’s going to be a lot longer. You can spend hours, even tens of hours in the space game.
Space ships are used as means of travel between the planets and you said that you can invite friends over to your spaceship. Does that also imply that your friends can travel along with you; tag along and use your space ship as means of transportation?
James Ohlen: It is something that we’d love to have in the game, but until we work out all the technical difficulties I can’t say we’ll have such feature.
Guild ships, is that something that we can expect or is it even being considered?
James Ohlen: It is definitely something that we talked about in design. For the actual launch of the game, no, but it’s one of the top features whenever we discuss post launch stuff people want to see. Plus, it is really popular within the design group. A lot of senior designers, including him (points at Daniel Erickson, Lead Writer for BioWare, and chuckles), love the idea of guild ships so …
There was a lot of speculation after the space ships trailer was released … are we going to have a workbench inside the ships so we can do some crafting, or upgrade our equipment? We also saw there is personal space that we can decorate I suppose?
James Ohlen: I can say that yes, crafting and workbenches are going to be inside the ships. How you personalize your ship is something we haven’t revealed yet, but you will be able to personalize your ship in different ways. Maybe it’s just a statistical modification, or maybe there’s some visual modification as well, we can’t talk about the details at this time.
Free movement in space combat? Something similar to X-Wing and Wing Commander games of old?
James Ohlen: Currently we are not planning to do that. We’re giving the player a very guided single player experience. You hear the term “tunnel shooter” being used, but it is more than that, because you have quite a range of movement and you can diverge paths and there are so many different points of interest in the level. We felt it was a better way to go, because we could recreate an exciting Star Wars experience much better in that manner. If you played Rogue Squadron, those games really captured the feelings from the movies, better than any other space fighter simulation really. In the future, post launch, it’s hard to say what will be the space game. MMOs are always evolving and there’s a lot of room for us to add on more features to the space game after launch.
Advanced classes. What would you like to tell us about them?
James Ohlen: We have sixteen of them . We wanted to let people customize their classes from a gameplay point of view. The eight core classes take care of the stories we wanted to tell. We didn’t want to tell sixteen stories, that would be way to expensive (the eight stories we have are already the most expensive story project in history). By allowing the player to diverge, from a gameplay mechanic standpoint, it allows the people to personalize their character a little more. The Sith Inquisitor,for example, can go down the Sorcerer route and be more like Palpatine or he can go be more like Darth Maul with the staff lightsaber. The Sith Warrior can be more like a tank and have armor and a single lightsaber, basically be Darth Vader, or he can have double lightsabers and have medium armor and be more of a DPS character. When you make that divergence, not only does your character look different (we tried to make a visual difference by the type of weapon you use and what type of armor you wear), but also, your role in a group mechanic changes and your gameplay experience is personalized to your liking.
We got a brief glimpse of all the available advanced classes in a presentation prior to this interview (Editor’s Note: this interview took place before all the advanced classes and their details were common knowledge) and from what we could gather there is a lot of healing capable specialization spread across the advanced classes. Why have you chosen to do it this way.
James Ohlen: Because we don’t have a dedicated healing class, we wanted to make sure that a player would most likely get a healer in his group. We wanted to do this by giving the players choices when choosing a healing class, so we have the two Force using classes that can go into healing spec (Consular and Inquisitor) and the two non Force using classes (Imperial Agent and the Smuggler). Because you can choose not to spec into healing we wanted to make sure there are enough specs that have healing in them so that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a healer. Basically, four of the sixteen specs have healing, which means on average, in a party of four, one of the players can help with healing.
That was all the time we had for this interview. It was a wonderful experience and we hope to bring you many more of these in the future. We would also like to take this chance and thank Bioware and Lucas Arts staff that made this possible for us and of course thank Mr. Ohlen for putting up with us .
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