RPGamer has had the privilege of conducting an interview with Casey Hudson, BioWare's Producer and Project Director of LucasArts' Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Below is a transcript of that interview. Read and enjoy:
RPGamer: What events begin your character’s journey, and what is the overall goal of the game? (Or at least, what does your character THINK his goal is.)
Casey Hudson: The game starts off with a jaw-dropping cutscene in classic Star Wars style, and leads straight into the action. The Republic is under attack from an unimaginably large fleet of Sith warships controlled by Darth Malak, and is helpless against such an overwhelming force. You start out on a Republic capital ship, as its crippled hull falls into the atmosphere of Taris. You must escape the ship and look for Bastila, a young Jedi who represents the Republic’s only hope against the Sith.
RPGamer: What made you decide to place Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 4000 years in the past instead in the modern era of the Star Wars saga?
Casey Hudson: LucasArts offered us the opportunity to do either time period, but after some research, we found that the Old Republic period would be ideal for us. As the Star Wars timeline goes, space travel has existed for tens of thousands of years, so technology wouldn’t have to be much different in this time. So, we would be able to have starships, lightsabers, and all the things that people expect from a Star Wars experience. Most importantly though, we would have tremendous freedom to create a new story, new characters, and new species that we wouldn’t be able to do in the time of the movies. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the events that take place and the characters that are involved (including your character) are the most important in the galaxy at that time.
RPGamer: How will the player be able to choose which side he or she will be on, and how much will being on the good side or the dark side affect the gameplay and storyline?
Casey Hudson: Your actions throughout the game will create momentum towards either the dark or light side of the Force. Whether you are choosing an evil thing to say, or you’re satisfying a generous and heroic quest, those actions are associated with good or evil and will start to really accumulate. People that you meet in the game will start to react to things that you’ve done, and you can become famous (or infamous) for certain things. We take this to greater and greater extremes as you approach the end of the game, so that ultimately your actions will have a massive impact on the galaxy and the fate of the Republic.
RPGamer: How much freedom will players have to explore, versus going through a linear storyline?
Casey Hudson: We like to strive for a perfect balance of creating a well-crafted and compelling story with the feeling of being able to really control your destiny. So, even though the game has a distinct storyline, throughout the bulk of the game you’ll be able to advance that storyline by freely traveling to a number of different planets. That’s one of the great strengths of the game is that unless you’re trapped or in immediate danger, you normally have a huge area to explore however you like.
RPGamer: How many characters can you recruit at one time? Also, will the choices you make in the game affect the characters you can recruit?
Casey Hudson: You will come across 9 other characters that will join you on your journey through the game. They normally hang out on your starship – the Ebon Hawk. You can choose 2 of them to leave the ship with your character so that you can adventure as a group of 3.
You pick them up throughout the early part of the game, so your actions won’t prevent them from joining you. Later, as you become really good or evil, they may disagree with your values enough to leave your group.
RPGamer: Is there any chance you might run into, and possibly recruit, a Jedi from Yoda’s race?
Casey Hudson: There is a creature of Yoda’s race in the game, but he’s an integral part of the Republic’s war effort and can’t join your party. You will however have the chance to talk to and interact with him at several points in the game.
RPGamer: What kind of abilities can your character acquire?
Casey Hudson: You will have a wide array of skills, feats, and Force powers that you can use in the game. Skills will allow you to do things like repair droids or break into security systems. With feats, you’ll be able to do special moves in combat that make better use of particular weapon types. And there will be over 50 Force powers in the game, such as lightning, telekinetic kill, and choke.
As you progress through the game you will gain experience and levels, giving you the opportunity to learn acquire new skills, feats, and Force powers. In this way, you can really customize your character, and create a gameplay experience that is unique to your personal tastes. That also adds tremendous replayability, as most problems in the game can be solved in a wide variety of ways.
RPGamer: Can you customize the characters that you recruit, and if you can, in what way?
Casey Hudson: You’ll be able to customize your party members every bit as much as the one you create at the beginning of the game. They will gain experience and levels, and with that, you can start improving their strengths in different areas. They can also wear different armor or use different weapons than they started out with.
Even the droids are customizable, since you can add armor plating or special upgrades to their systems.
RPGamer: What will combat in KOTOR be like? Also, how will you control your two helpers?
Casey Hudson: The combat will be rules-based and real-time. What this means is that you will issue the main actions you want your character (and party members) to take, and they will perform those actions based on their stats. Since you have a huge number of Force powers, combat feats, weapons, and items to use in combat, in addition to the challenge of controlling a party of 3 characters, there is a ton of things to do during combat. The overall result is that the combat is quite strategic, but it plays out very fast, as though you were seeing an action sequence from a movie.
You will be able switch control to other party members at any time, so that you can control them in the same way as your main character. Since each character has different strengths, you will want to get each of them doing different things in combat, to maximize your strategy.
RPGamer: Will there be any major differences between the Xbox and PC versions of the game?
Casey Hudson: The major difference will be the interface. We are very focused on making each version of the game intuitive and fun on their respective platforms, and that will require some very significant interface differences.
RPGamer: How long will it take to complete the game if you go straight through it, and also how much extra time will be needed for all of the side quests?
Casey Hudson: We are currently expecting the game to take about 40 to 60 hours to complete, depending on how much you explore and how many side quests you pursue.
RPGamer: Are there any plans for an expansion pack or a sequel?
Casey Hudson: We’re all really excited about how this game is turning out, and working on it has been a great experience. We are all interested in the idea of expansion packs or sequels, but nothing has officially been announced.
RPGamer: What kinds of mini-games will there be in KOTOR?
Casey Hudson: We have added several mini-games, to give players the fast-paced and visceral part of the Star Wars experience that you normally wouldn’t be able to do within the context of an RPG engine. So, when your ship is attacked by Sith fighters, you’ll be able to hop in the gun turret and blast them yourself. Also, you’ll be able to engage in illegal races with modified swoop racers on a number of worlds.
We’ve also added a card game called Pazzak, so that you can gamble with characters throughout the game. It’s somewhat of a collectible card game, so you’ll be able to find new cards throughout the game that will help you play better against your next opponent. This minigame alone has proven to be lots of fun, so we think that it will be a nice diversion for people to be able to try some different types of gameplay within the overall experience.
RPGamer: The game does look absolutely stunning so far, but are there any specific graphical achievements that you are especially proud of?
Casey Hudson: Our vision for the game required a rich, cinematic experience, and to achieve that we’ve developed the BioWare Odyssey engine. It is based on our experience with developing our previous 3D RPG and action games, and really pushes the limits of both the Xbox and PC hardware. It has probably the most complex and flexible particle effect system of any game, and has so many special rendering features and optimizations it’s hard to name them all. The result is an engine that can render extremely beautiful and realistic environments, and incredible special effects.
It is also one of the most flexible engines in the world, as the game will explore environments ranging from huge outdoor areas to tight indoor environments, and the brightness of a desert at mid-day, to the darkness of ancient tombs.
RPGamer: Is there any chance of additional downloadable content for either the PC version or the Xbox version through Xbox Live?
Casey Hudson: It’s certainly an attractive option, but we haven’t announced anything yet.
RPGamer: Is there any chance of an editor for the PC version so fans can make ‘mods’ or possibly entire quests?
Casey Hudson: With this as well, we’re looking at a few possibilities, but no announcements have been made.
RPGamer would like to thank Casey Hudson for taking time out from what must be an incredibly busy schedule as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic approaches the Xbox release date this Spring. Also thanks to Ronda Scott at LucasArts for setting up the interview, and thanks to both LucasArts and BioWare for making so many great games over the years.