If you were to ask what he does in the games industry, Damion Schubert might not give the same answer twice. He’s been a video game industry veteran for many years, dating back to the times of Meridian 59 back in 1995. In front of a podium and a few hundred eager listeners at GDC Online this year, however, Shubert wasn’t there to talk about his past, but his current and largest project of his career, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
In one of the main conference rooms of the Austin Convention Center, Schubert spent an hour discussing the many obstacles and frustrations he experienced over the years working on The Old Republic, a Massive-Mulitplayer Online game based in the Star Wars Universe developed right here in Austin by acclaimed video game developer Bioware. Though Schubert is a systems designer, most of his work centered on collaborating with a team of writers tasked with crafting compelling narratives within the frames of an MMO game—a genre rarely known for pedigree storytelling.
“We wanted each story to really feel like it was about someone of that class,” he said. “We wanted the knight to have a Luke Skywalker story, we wanted the warrior to have a Darth Vader story, and we wanted the smuggler to have a Hand Solo story.”
While most role-playing games have one or two main stories spanning the length of a game, this meant The Old Republic needed eight distinct class stories spanning everything from a Jedi trainee to aspiring Bounty Hunters. Not only did the Bioware team need to prove their creative mettle eight times over in a single game, but they were forced to alter their usual narrative process to fit a world where thousands of players share in it all at once, as opposed to writing self-contained single-player stories. “We had to drive our stories to be more personal, and less about the world around them,” Shubert explains.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Schubert and his team came in weaving those narratives together to parallel how the players progressed from one planet to another. Schubert detailed how many quests and missions written for The Old Republic needed to take players to the same planets and locations as other classes, as MMO players will most likely group together to complete missions. This meant tweaking the class stories so that different players could still easily find one another on the same planet. For the writers, this forced a lot of rewrites and dozens of new drafts.
Star Wars: The Old Republic debuted in November of 2011 to generally positive reviews, but came under controversy in the spring of 2012 as the game suffered a significant loss of subscribers. The Bioware team has also suffered key departures, notably Lead Writer Daniel Erikson. Last month, The Old Republicreceived its fourth content update, and has switched from a subscription-based business plan to a free-to-play model that incorporates premium options players can charge for.
See you in the next level,