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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Preview

publisher: LucasArts
developer: Bioware
genre: RPG

PIII 1000, 128MB RAM, 32MB video card, 4 GB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Nov 18, 03
» All About Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on ActionTrip

Bioware has been busy these past few years, delivering awesome RPG titles to fantasy-starved gamers throughout the globe. Now, in a move that pleases both gaming and Star Wars fans alike, Bioware is collaborating with LucasArts to bring us the next great Star Wars RPG epic. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has the potential to become one of this year's most prominent titles, both for the Xbox and PC. After checking out the game and chatting with the team behind this elaborate project, we learned some pretty exciting stuff from producers Mike Gallo and Casey Hudson.

The pinnacle of the game's media campaign was exhibited at the Electronic Entertainments Expo. Producer Mike Gallo states: "This year's E3 show was a tremendous success for Knights of the Old Republic. We were finally able to show everyone what's been going on for the last several months, and we were really happy with the response. Microsoft also did a great job of showcasing the game in their booth and around the show."

As many Star Wars admirers probably already know, the storyline of the game takes place long before Episode I: The Phantom Menace - to be exact four thousand years ahead of it. It is the age in which the Sith and Jedi are engaged in a huge open war that begins to rage just about the time the game itself starts. The player's character is caught in the middle of this great conflict. Stories and events that went on during this particular period in the Star Wars timeline have never been interpreted before. Some data regarding these times can found on the Star Wars encyclopedias "Behind The Magic" and "Episode I: Insider's Guide." Anyway, generating a convincing plotline was obviously a huge and demanding task for the development team. When we asked Mike who was assigned to the duty of forming a storyline and how they came up with the info, he replied: "BioWare came up with the story and we worked very early on with them to refine some of the major plot points. Throughout the process we've worked together with the folks at Lucasfilm Licensing to make sure that we were on the right track, but we have been given a lot of freedom to do the things necessary to make an epic and engaging story that's set so long before the films."

This new-fangled Star Wars era naturally denotes a variety of unique characters, races, and worlds. Apart from the humans, droids, Twi'leks, and Wookiees (which I'm sure are familiar to most of you) Bioware created an array of never-before-seen races. "There are several new races that have been created for the game, as well as a number of new creatures and monsters. These additional species help us to create a greater sense of discovery and exploration, as well as providing the opportunity to develop story arcs that affect entire civilizations," says Casey.

The player embarks upon many adventures and epic events that took place in this ancient period of Star Wars history. But what about the settings? We learned that your character will travel trough some familiar and unfamiliar Star Wars worlds. "A lot of the planets in the game have never been seen before, but may have been discussed in the movies or in the expanded universe. For example, the planet of Dantooine is mentioned in A New Hope, but you never get to see it. Knights of the Old Republic will give the player a chance to explore that planet, and see what it was like ages before the Galactic Civil War. All new planets like Taris - a planet similar to Coruscant in that it is heavily developed - will give the players a greater sense that this is a vast universe that they can explore."

But what truly separates a Star Wars game from an infinite sea of popular PC and console games? We all know that when we sit down to play a Star Wars title, we will always have that special spark, which was contrived by George Lucas long ago. Of course, I'm referring to the Force. Mike Gallo specified that "the Force plays a major role in the game, since the basic struggle in the game is between the dark and light side of the Force. There will be over 50 different Force powers that the player will have access to at various times throughout the adventure. Some of these are similar to what everyone is used to seeing in the movies, but there are plenty of all new powers that people will be seeing and using for the first time."

Wielding the Force was not always an easy task. Few are able to learn and harness its mystical powers. Many that have tried to master these skills were lured to the Dark Side of the Force and its evil ways. The "chasm" between the "dark" and "light" side plays an important part in Knights of the Old Republic. During the game your character is going to be faced with the all the temptations that come before a rookie force-wielder. This means that while improving your skills, you also have to determine which path your character will take in the ways of Force. "We want to give the player the opportunity to follow both the dark and light path, in a meaningful and satisfying way. This required us to create a story that has valid and compelling motivations for following either path, so that you'll feel justified in your actions as well as being torn between right and wrong. There will be Force powers and feats that are associated with dark or light, which will help your develop your character further down your chosen path. Ultimately, the character that you finish the game with will be powerful in the Force, with an arsenal of powers and skills at your disposal," claims Casey.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic allows players to complete several quests along their journeys. To clarify what sort of structure these quest will have we asked Casey and he stated: "We are applying things we've learned from the Baldur's Gate series and Neverwinter Nights to make the quests more fun and compelling than ever before. Many of them will be an opportunity for the player to take part in influencing the history of Star Wars, to help shape the galaxy that we see in the movies."

However, that's not the only thing your character gets to do throughout the game. Clearly the developers wish to enrich the gameplay with as much variety as possible, which is way they've incorporated a choice of so-called mini-games that will make the game more exciting. These mini-games include "operating the Ebon Hawk's gun turret and illegal races on several worlds. Although intended as an exciting and fun diversion to punctuate points in the story, they also are influenced by your character's skills, and can help you in your quests." Now we think this is a pretty neat idea and it will surely intensify the gameplay. Just imagine - you're strolling around the vast plains of Dantooine carving up monsters or encountering Sith warriors, and after you've increased your skills and abilities you get to try them out blasting foes behind a gun turret. Cool!

OK, I'm trying not to drool too intensely. While getting further into the whole scoop, we asked the Casey and Mike to explain more about the way combat is presented in Knights of the Old Republic. They said: "All of the combat in the game is done in real time in the engine. You'll be able to have as much or as little control as you want, meaning that you can simply tell a character to attack, or you can get more into the strategic flow of combat and issue orders to defend, or use a special attack, or even a Force power. When the combat gets more intense, you can pause the combat to issue the orders to individual party members, and then un-pause to play out the round." As you can see the combat system remains practical, so as to appeal to gamers who prefer real-time fighting as well as those who enjoy turn-based combat.

Over the years Star Wars games remained popular for many reasons. One of the most obvious reasons was the variety of races, worlds, vehicles, and finally weaponry. As we were informed by the development team this game will have "hundreds of weapons and items for the player to use. A lot of the weapons are new, but we will of course have both single and double bladed lightsabers. In addition there will be a full compliment of ranged weapons - blasters, rifles etc as well as more "exotic" melee weapons such as vibro blades." A nice choice don't you think? Broadening the RPG style of gameplay, the developers have also promised to include some nifty options such as letting you construct your very own lightsaber and then allowing you to use it in combat.

Anyhow, interaction will also be an integral part of gameplay. Yep, players get to handle almost anything on the screen. OK, not everything, but at one point you are allowed to fly the aforementioned vessel Ebon Hawk (somewhat similar to Han's Millennium Falcon). Will you be able to fly from planet to planet? Hmm, probably not. Still, you'll have to hold your horses a bit on that one. What's certain is that you are given the opportunity to enter the ship, dwell in it, and even control it. We also assume that since this is an RPG-oriented game, it's unlikely that you'll get to operate different types of SW vehicles every time you wish to. At any rate, it's nice that you can do it at least once.

Visually the game seems to offer some tangible qualities. Evidently a great effort was put into making the character models - giving them a huge number of polys and colorful and highly detailed textures. Environments are being created with care and great attention to detail. A most impressive in-game capture reveals how many elements can be observed in the background: from grass swaying in the wind on Dantooine, to the cool reflections and shadow and lights effects in various indoor settings. Since the heart of the Xbox is a powerful GeForce 3, it's safe to assume that the in-game visuals will be optimized for the features of this particular card. So that's something spicy PC owners can look forward to. Also, a recent post on the official Bioware forum revealed that some of the levels featured about 30,000 polygons at the beginning of the game's development. Now that count has increased to an impressive 120,000 polys!

The creative team at Bioware also assured that the game's going to have realistic 3D sound effects. Characters will move their lips when chatting, every weapon has a unique sound, and the soundtrack will undoubtedly create that epic Star Wars atmosphere we're all so crazy about (enter John Williams and his masterful themes).

Regarding the multiplayer, the only thing we managed to milk out of producers Mike and Casey was that they do not plan to include any kind of multiplayer for the Xbox version. "It is strictly a single player adventure," they said. It was obvious that the field was left open for Star Wars Galaxies. However, they haven't specified anything about the PC version yet, so I guess we can suppose that a multiplayer mode will arise when the game is ported from the Xbox to the PC.

Being a huge Star Wars fan, I could go on contemplating for ages. But the info we have for now will suffice. Also Mike mentioned that "the game is actually quite big. BioWare is known for their epic stories and this is no exception. It's a bit too early to tell exactly how long it will take right now, but it's looking like it'll 40+ hours for a first time play-through."

That's all for now kids. We are all aware of Bioware's outstanding reputation for making RPG's and now that they have spiced-up their work with the eternally popular Star Wars Universe you can be sure that Knights of the Old Republic will have something for your stomach.

May the Force be with you.



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