Interview: BioWare’s Daniel Erickson on Building The Old Republic

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The next year’s going to be a very good one for gamers who are Star Wars fanatics. LucasArts–the game development division of the Star Wars empire–has a handful of major releases brewing, including the long-awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. The Old Republic‘s being developed in conjunction with Bioware, who know a thing or two about crafting incredible narrative universe. Daniel Erickson, the writing director of the BioWare Austin studio answered a few question about exploring the ancient history of the Star Wars universe.

What does Star Wars mean to you? Aside from a job? How has it inspired you as a piece of fiction?

Star Wars, specifically The Empire Strikes Back, had a profound effect on me as a child. The strong characters, the essentially dark storyline filled with bright moments of wonder, the twist, the sedate ending–these things changed the way I thought about stories and would influence all of my writing as I got older.

Do you think there’s an essential difference in how kids and adults experience the Star Wars mythos? How do you think that plays out?

I don’t think there really is. Star Wars is essentially the same movie to me as an adult as it was when I first saw it, though I can see the gears moving behind it more easily. Great works you love as a kid tend to be far more mature in their storytelling approach than the candy-coated pop pieces that are so often pitched to the younger set. From the old original fairy tales that captivated children for hundreds of years to Pixar’s movies today, it’s by expressing strong emotions and characters in broadly understandable ways–not by talking down or just doing pratfalls–that you capture both young imaginations and older ones.

When were you able to share Star Wars with your children or significant others? What was their reaction?

I’ve gotten the dubious honor of introducing Star Wars to several people over the years, both friends and significant others, who had never seen it before. What always strikes me is how, never having seen the movie, there was still a base Star Wars impression in each person’s consciousness. Star Wars is such an essential part of American culture that even someone who’s never seen even five minutes of the films knows Darth Vader, Princess Leia and the name Skywalker.

It seems that the test in The Old Republic MMO is that you have to make the pre-history of Star Wars feel familiar yet new, too. What are the challenges there?

Writing for Star Wars is always a delicate piece of surgery. We must carefully carve out the archetypes, rhythms and overlaying themes of the movies and then place them in a completely new body of work. Players want to feel what it’s like to live as Han Solo did but they don’t want to be constrained to his experience or attitudes. The miracle of the MMORPG is that we can allow them to do just that by making their own decision and crafting a very personal story.

(More on Techland: Star Wars: The Old Republic Gets Sith Purebloods and Other New Playable Races)

Clone Wars is the most visible piece of Star Wars entertainment now? What do you hope the experience will be in your game for the players who come here from watching the show?

One of the things I’ve stressed since the beginning of the project is that this was to be everybody’s Star Wars. Old fogeys like myself who remember the first trilogy, second generation people who really came in with Episode 1 and the new generation who connect most strongly to Clone Wars. So we’ve made it a mission to celebrate all of the Star Wars canon and make sure that we pull the best aliens, themes and fantasies from all of the major productions.

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