Interview: All Things Revan With BioWare's Lead Writer
Shadow of Revan is Star Wars: The Old Republic's biggest venture since its launch, a huge expansion that provides closure to the epic saga of the Old Republic's most iconic character. “We're all really pleased with how it turned out,” said Lead Writer Charles Boyd when I had the chance to talk with him on Friday. “I've been really excited and humbled by all the feedback on the story.”
While acknowledging that you can never please everyone, Community Manager Eric Musco echoed those sentiments: “Really, everything we've seen about the story has been that it's incredible.”
His time to kill
Those were the easy questions I led off with; my next was a little more pointed. We were told that the genesis of the Revan story was in the works since the game's initial conception, so why wait until now, three years after SWTOR's launch, to finally cap off his story?
“They're such big characters, and there's a lot of pieces to move around to get into place where we felt it was appropriate,” said Boyd. “I think that was a big part of it, just the pacing of it. We really took the time to nail some of the MMO elements, like strongholds, starfighter, PvP, that sort of stuff. That also had an effect on when we were going to move on certain storylines versus others, and what kind of stuff makes sense to do around those updates versus a story-based update like this one.”
If you're a fan of the “extended Old Republic” universe, such as the novels, comics, or even KOTOR II: The Sith Lords, you'll be pleased to know that that's all valid potential source material for future content, but it would have to make sense. “We are a good distance past in the timeline,” Boyd said. “In terms of bringing characters directly in, we can only justify so many people. Ultimately, our main focus is our story, the one we've developed, that we've been telling since the game launched. But where it makes sense, where we think we can do it justice, we're definitely going to throw in little tidbits.” Revan, in other words, is special. D'awwww.
But sometimes all the story in the world can't slow down MMO players. One of the infamous quotes from SWTOR's early days was how the dev team was seemingly taken by surprise at how quickly players burned through content and demanded more. Musco said that one of the things the studio learned from that time period is to be more data-driven, with all sorts of metrics and numbers to guide their decision-making. “With many, many facets of what we do at BioWare, we look at data for a lot of things to help make sure everything is where we hope it will be or where we think it will be, and we can back that up.”
“We were a little surprised at how fast they played through it, but not in the way you might think,” Boyd added. “Our estimates for how many hours most people put in, say to get from level one to level 50, were right about on the money. What surprised us was how many hours people put in in a day!” The team now has a much better set of systems in place to guess at how long things will take, but nothing's perfect. “Any operations boss we make, even if we think it's impossible, they'll prove us wrong.
“We do have a target when we design a piece of content of about how long we'd like it to be. But the important thing for us is to tell the story that we're telling and do it in the right amount of time. We didn't develop that to fit a certain amount of time, we developed it to see what kind of time we're at and go, 'Is that good?'”
Wisdom of the Jedi
What else have they learned since the game's launch? Maybe a lesson in mortality. “Despite things you might have read on the Internet, there was only one companion you could kill,” Boyd said, though they removed that story element based on feedback during testing and the way the companion system worked. “It was probably the right choice at that time for the game, but I think for story and for people's overall satisfaction with their character and feeling they have control over their story, I wish we wouldn't have done that.”
As for whether they'll ever expand the story with a new character class and all that entails – an extensive class story, several sets of voice actors, and so on – the guys were about as cryptic as Yoda. It's not impossible, but it's something that would be a major undertaking. In short, they're going to do or do not, not try.
I said in my initial writeup of Shadow of Revan that players should expect “more of the same” with regards to the gameplay, but that also applies to the general business model and practices. They're responsive to feedback, but also confident in their approach and pace and don't need to make major changes any time soon.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of SWTOR's free-to-play system – and I've certainly got my issues with it – it's been going strong for two years and is as healthy as ever, as the recent infographic shows. It's never going to please everyone, but the team is truly excited about getting to work in the Star Wars universe, and that shows up in what they create.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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