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Star Wars: The Old Republic - 'It feels fantastic to finally be out'

BioWare on bringing story to MMO, the future and more...

BioWare's monster MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic officially launches to the public tomorrow, December 20.

But according to analysts more than a million early access customers are already blasting, saber-swiping and Force pushing their way through the Mass Effect developer's uniquely cinematic online game, which surely makes it a success before it's even properly released.

The unique aspect of the online game is BioWare's trademark storytelling, with 100,000 lines of spoken dialogue, tonnes of cut-scenes and the classic choice wheel we know and love from KoTOR of old.

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To discuss Old Republic's USP then, we sat down with senior writer Alex Freed to talk plot, Easter Eggs and what's in store for the future.

Hit the link for information about our upcoming Star Wars: Old Republic review.

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How does it feel to finally get the game out after all these years?

It feels fantastic and very, very strange. You work on a project for this long, you have your hands in it and you're seeing it every single day and... for a year and a half now we've been getting feedback from outsiders playing the game, so it's not as if nobody's seen this before but going from 'in development' to 'out there' is great. It's good to have a real reaction from people.

What's the initial feedback been like from early access players?

I can't say I've had the time to read a tonne of the detailed forum posts but certainly we got a lot of feedback over Thanksgiving weekend when we had over a million people playing [the beta].

The feedback has been very positive overall. People who start out cautious about our game saying 'I don't know if I want storytelling in an MMO' get in there, play it and see what we've done. They come out excited, and that's great to see.

Obviously it's always nice when people love us before they've played the game but it's much more rewarding to see someone who doesn't think they're going to like the game, like the game. You can't ask for a better reaction than that.

There are over 100,000 lines of dialogue in the game. That's got to be pretty daunting for a writer?

Yes. We're the biggest writing project the industry has ever undertaken. We've had at any given time about a dozen writers on the project over the course of half a decade. We've written a lot of dialogue, we've figured out a lot of stories and characters... it's an enormous beast to wrestle with but hopefully we've gotten it fairly well tamed.

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Is it intimidating writing for something as big and with such a massive fanbase as Star Wars? You could easily rub fans the wrong way...

It's not so much a matter of being intimidated by it as feeling a great responsibility for it, and not wanting to let people down. Everyone is coming to this game because they're fans of Star Wars - noone is a fan of this game because noone's played this game yet.

So when people are coming in with these expectations and very strong emotional associations with Star Wars, you don't want to let them down. You want to do a story that they're really going to love, that they're going to get excited by, that fits the Star Wars that they want to see while also feeling new and fresh enough.

Having this many people coming to the game because they love Star Wars... it's a big responsibility. It is something that you worry about now and then.

Old Republic has really innovated in the cinematic and story side. Do you think that's an area the MMO genre has lacked in?

Yeah, absolutely. Noone has tried to approach MMOs from the point of view of the storyline technology that single-player games have developed. But this isn't about making MMOs in to single-player games.

Different MMOs take different directions but as a whole they're using the sort of story telling techniques and technology that single-player games used in the early 90s. They're delivering their quests via text, they're not trying to create strong narrative arcs... this is not specific to MMOs, it's just specific to MMOs in a modern context.

We're trying to bring modern storytelling into the MMO space through full voice acting, real choices, impressive cinematics and all of that.

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It's impossible to talk about MMOs without mentioning World of Warcraft. Do you think your story innovations could be enough to attract some of the players WoW's lost this year?

I think we've got a lot of unique aspects to the game. Obviously one of the things we focussed on was story telling and I think that appeals to a broad range of people. We try not to look directly at, 'hey, we want to steal players from this game'.

It's a healthy market, it's a growing market and we want people to play our game whether they see what it's doing in a unique way and they want to play it in addition to or instead of the game that they used to play, or if it's people new to the market.

Ultimately so long as people are coming and enjoying what we have to offer, that's what matters to us.

How much freedom have you been given by LucasArts and LucasFilm in coming up with new worlds and characters for Old Republic?

Lucas has actually been great to work with. They very much respect us as storytellers, as game designers... they're not going to tell us 'we don't like that' for an arbitrary reason. They're keepers on Star Wars cannon and Star Wars theme, and if they come to us with a concern it's because they've got legitimate worries or points of view about how this is going to interact with the larger Star Wars universe, or how it's going to fit that Star Wars feel.

'Is this something you'd actually make a Star Wars movie about? Or does it feel like it fits another franchise better?' Their feedback has been great for that sort of thing.

They know their property and it's been a good collaborative relationship. We've had really all the freedom that we've needed to create the stories and tell things the way that we want to tell them.

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