With the launch of Star Wars the Old Republic just turning the bend at one-month old TOR is on the tongues of the gaming community, winning many accolades as well as coming under scrutiny regarding certain aspects, not the least of which focuses on the game’s graphics. And while there are certain bugs still to be quashed there is no doubt that Star Wars: The Old Republic offers stunning visuals and fluid animations that place it as one of the forerunners of MMO graphical experiences.
BioWare has been one of the most forthcoming companies with regard to the stewardship of its games, and seems to have taken to heart the importance of its relationship with the fanbase from the go. But while avid followers of The Old Republic have become very familiar with the vanguard of BioWare’s superb community and writing team we hear less often from the folks who make some of the other magic behind the scenes.
Today BioWare has been gracious enough to lend us the insight of Jeff Dobson, The Old Republic’s Art Director, to answer some questions regarding what he and the art team do to create the visual magic that immerses millions in the Star Wars experience.
Republic Trooper: What can you tell us about the art process behind what we see in Star Wars: The Old Republic? How does the team bring the world to life artistically?
Jeff Dobson: The stories we want to tell in the game all start with the writing team. Sometimes the artists will collaborate with them at the earliest stages to develop that vision, but that group does the heavy lifting on new ideas. We then go through the concept artists to start visually developing an area to tell the story with pictures and to drive the overall artistic feel and color of an area or character. For world art, World Designers use what concept art delivers to help get the area blocked in for gameplay. 3D artists then jump on board and make it pretty. Finally, we iterate as much as necessary to make sure the area is fun and beautiful. That is all an over-simplification of the actual number of steps, of course, but hopefully that gives you a general idea of the number of people and amount of collaboration that goes into what you see on the screen with The Old Republic.
RT: How many different “types” of artists are there and what are their roles?
JD: We have concept artists, character artists, environment artists, VFX artists, GUI artists, animators, and technical artists. The world design team is worth a mention here as well, because they participate a lot in the initial visual development of an area.
RT: What is the art team’s role in the TOR cinematic pieces and in-game cut scenes?
JD: A specialized design team of Cinematic Designers does all of the in-game cut scenes. Our animators work very closely with this group as do the writers. The animators deliver all the animation the cinematic designers need to tell the story as well as the occasional storyboard for the most important story-telling moments.
The pre-rendered cinematics were done with a lot of help from our good friends at Blur Studios. They specialize in movie quality rendered animation and we couldn’t be happier with the cinematics they delivered to us.
RT: What has been the greatest challenge that the art team was able to overcome for the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic?
JD: Scale. The Old Republic has too many assets to even really take stock of how much there is. It is a lot of work to simply track this many assets as they go through the creation pipeline.
RT: What major challenges do the art team face moving forward?
JD: We have already given you the coolest stuff we could think up for the past few years. We look forward to a future where we will have to continually out-do ourselves and think up even cooler stuff every few months to put in the fans’ hands.
RT: Is there a favorite piece of art, or planet etc. that the art team has?
JD: Depends on who you ask! Everyone has their favorite piece of art. Since you framed the question as “what is the favorite piece of the art team,” each of them usually will point out something they work on personally
RT: What are some things we can expect in-game from the art team moving forward?
JD: More, bigger, better! That is one of the great things about MMO development. We have been working on this game for a long while now. More than ever, the entire art team knows the style, knows the game and knows its tools. As we move forward, the art team is the best it has ever been and we are ready to produce the best work we have ever done for this project.
RT: What would you say is either your personal or your team’s greatest accomplishment so far with Star Wars: The Old Republic?
JD: The game itself is the accomplishment. As developers and artists, we were each driven to come to BioWare because of this company’s pedigree for producing top-notch games. For us to have this game out there for the fans to enjoy and to officially be part of the BioWare legacy of great games is a privilege and great source of pride.
RT: Is the art team broken up between the Republic and Imperial sides, or do most work freely across all projects?
JD: If you’re asking what we all work on, there’s no solid line across the team determining who gets to work on Empire or Republic environments. On the Live servers, however, there are definitely folks representing both factions. Given the replayability of all the different classes, however, I suspect that in time everyone is eventually going to end up with characters in both factions.
RT: How influential were previous BioWare titles—such as Mass Effect, Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights—on the art style of The Old Republic?
JD: There were many things we learned from them – especially when it comes to cinematic story-telling. They had solved so many problems years before we even started Star Wars: The Old Republic, so having that knowledge there and available to us was a key to our success. Beyond that, it really comes down to that legacy thing again. While each of those games is very visually different from ours (and each other), they were all visually beautiful games. They set a high bar for us to live up to.
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Tags: Bioware, Blur Studios, concept art, EA, Electronic Arts, Jade Empire, Jeff Dobson, LucasArts, Mass Effect, MMOs, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: The Old Republic, SWTOR, TOR