Jake Neri and Hall Hood on The Old Republic

We talk with Producer, Jake Neri and Senior Writer Hall Hood at Comic Con about The Old Republics story, features you can expect and even what George Lucas thinks of the project.

It's no secret that I'm a huge Star Wars: The Old Republic fanboi. In fact, it's the first MMORPG in many years that's been at the top of my personal "Most Anticipated Game" list. This made the chance to sit down with Producer, Jake Neri and Senior Writer Hall Hood at Comic Con particularly exciting. Join us for an interview with some personality where we talk about The Old Republics story, features you can expect and even what George Lucas thinks of the project.

ZAM: Can you give us a re-cap of what the Comic Con panel was about, and what information was given out?

Jake Neri: The panel was called "Behind the Scenes, Star Wars: The Old Republic." We're in a phase of talking about where we're at in the game—[we want to] get the fans in touch with some of the guys actually making the game; let the fans feel [them out] and ask questions. We covered the process of writing—these guys are doing a tremendous amount of work. We talked about art creation, some of the production goals and overall, what the game is and what we've achieved.

ZAM: Let's talk about some of those achievements. This is the world's first fully-voiced MMO, for example. At E3, we were told you started this project five years ago.

Jake Neri: I don't know when we actually started, but I know it's ongoing. It's something that starts with Paul and his team—they write a tremendous amount. What's the stat you just gave?

Hall Hood: (Laughs) I keep a running word count of dialogue that I've created for the game, and then I compare it against how many words of dialogue are in The Empire Strikes Back. As of this weekend, I've written enough dialogue [to fill] 23 Empire Strikes Backs! And I'm just one writer of many…

And all of that dialogue is professionally voice-acted?

Hall Hood:
It's beautifully professionally voice-acted. LucasArts is bringing in incredible talent and a real commitment to quality. The actors take our dialogue and make entire characters out of it. You listen to what people are saying and you get a sense that they have an entire history before [we] showed up.

All SAG voice actors? Any news about A-list talent coming in?

Jake Neri: You know, I don't think we've talked at all about what we're doing with talent yet…I don't know one way or the other.

ZAM: Any plans for a Mark Hamill cameo?

Jake Neri:
Actually we were talking about Mark Hamill today. When I was a young man, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker was seriously like the "thing" that I had to be… (Laughs) If I could see him here—I heard he's here…

ZAM: He is. There's a line right over there for him…

Jake Neri:
Is it a giant line?

ZAM: Yeah, I think he's in his Cock Knocker costume.

(All laugh)

Jake Neri:
But yeah; the voice-overs, the writing—it's a huge team. A lot of guys working on it, a lot of actors acting it…it's exciting.

ZAM: You've already announced three different classes in the game. Can you give us any hints about what we'll see next?

Jake Neri:
Let's see…have we talked about how many classes we have in the game?

Hall Hood: We've confirmed that there are eight classes in the game.

Jake Neri: As far as when the next one [will be announced], I'm not sure. I wish the marketing guys were here; they like to lord over that information. My best recommendation is to sign up for the website, because we blast that [news] out directly to fans, generally before others.

ZAM: What are some of the most unique features of the game that you think will make it stand out?

Jake Neri: We've talked a lot about story; we think that's going to be tremendous for the game. When you've seen the game [showcased] in the past or even in the latest developer's log, there's a different kind of pace to the combat. We're really focused on high, action-packed, "reminiscent-of-the-movie"-style combat. It's been a goal of BioWare from day one. We've talked a lot about what we were going to do with combat and we always [knew we wanted] it to be cinematic. We can never quite describe that [as accurately as we'd like], but I think now that people are actually seeing it, it's coming to life—I think that's a huge differentiating factor. It's not slow; you're a level four or five guy with really, really exciting abilities—the Bounty Hunter flamethrower? I don't even think the character we've shown is level eight yet, and you've got that ability—you're melting faces, you're feeling like a total bad-ass. That's something we're going to try to run with as much as we can.

ZAM: We've heard a lot about character customization and how detailed it's supposed to be. Can you confirm anything about that aspect of the game?

Jake Neri: We haven't gone in-depth yet about what customization is, but I think we'd be stupid not to understand that there's a huge passion with people who want to customize their characters in certain ways. I don't think we have the depth that we can talk to you in detail about, but yes—you can imagine that you'll be able to customize your character in a number of different ways…for sure. And by the way, the people who are spending time breaking down the game; that's really, really flattering. It's very humbling for all of us—I think that sort of passion that people are putting into [analyzing] this game only fuels us more. I'm sure that Paul will bang out another 23 Empire Strikes Backs tonight, simply because there's that enthusiasm for this game. (Laughs) The expectations—the response we've gotten [so far]—it's mind-blowing, and it comes into work with everybody, every day.

ZAM: Can you tell us how the cinematics tie into the game? We've seen some pretty epic, breath-taking cinematics so far—will they play an integral part in the game?

Jake Neri: We can do a lot with our cinematic system. Much like we've shown in our gameplay thus far, it will be pretty highly-scripted and pretty cool. If an encounter calls for some really interesting scripting, then we will have designers spending time making that happen.

ZAM: Hall, you mentioned you've written 23 Empire Strikes Backs' worth of dialogue so far—how far along are you? How much more depth are you going to add to the game before it comes out?

Hall Hood: As much as necessary to make it absolutely awesome. That's not really something I'm supposed to comment on, though...

Jake Neri: The thing is, for where the game is going—it's an MMO. Our anticipation is that the game lives on. If we've done our jobs successfully, people will resonate to the game, they'll play it and the game will live on. Paul's job will be safe forever, because if [he's written] 23 Empire Strikes Backs before the game [has come out]—we're trying to do our jobs so that we stay around for some time. So who knows? He might be into 440 Empire Strikes Backs if you check back in four or five years. (Laughs) My question to you, Hall, is how many of those [pages of dialogue] have you re-written and thrown away?

Hall Hood: Oh, no…what I quoted you—that's what we've kept. (Laughs)

Jake Neri: So yeah, I wonder what the junk pile looks like…

Hall Hood:
I don't even want to think about that. (Laughs) But certainly, it's a lot of writing. It's an amazingly creative and talented team. Everybody on the writing staff is a total rock star, and they're bringing amazing amounts of passion, excitement and imagination to furthering the Star Wars mythology and creating things that people will hopefully be talking about for years to come.

ZAM: A lot of die-hard Star Wars fans want to know what George Lucas thinks of all this. In many ways, this is a more ambitious project than the Star Wars Trilogy remake and Episode I, II and III combined. This is huge, huge deal. What does he think about it all?
Jake Neri:
Well, I think George is pretty excited. He's obviously been enthusiastic and supportive of what we're doing. I am sure he knows it's a daunting task—and we are all doing our best to deliver for him. Everyone wants to make George proud.
ZAM: Last question. I don't think the Star Wars universe would be as cool if you couldn't fly in a Tiefighter or wreak havoc on the ground in a Walker. Can players expect to control vehicles or even obtain their own in Star Wars: The Old Republic?
Jake Neri: We have not really said too much about vehicles but we have heard this a lot from fans on our forums and so I think we understand the expectation. At this point though, we don't have anything to say about vehicles.
ZAM: Thank you both so much for geeking out with me. We're looking forward to the live demo at GamesCon!
Jake Neri: Absolutely. Thanks for coming out and supporting us at Comic Con. We appreciate it.

Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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