I can hear people. Whoa…

People have heard a lot about Star Wars the Old Republic since its announcement. We have heard about story driven a MMORPG, which is actually nothing new. Most MMOs have story. World Of Warcraft has a story, IF you can find it. And IF you can stand to read each block of text for each quest. I know I couldn’t. Bioware is well known for making gripping stories so we can expect a cool one. What else? Combat. Every MMO out there that succeeds has cool combat. From the sheer nastiness of the combat medic in the original Star Wars Galaxies, to the utter coolness of a sniper shot felling Lord Recluse at the end of a Statesman’s Task Force in City of Heroes, to dropping a Bane mech with a single careful torqueshell rifle shot in Tabula Rasa (may it rest in peace), to running in shouting ‘Leeeeroy Jenkins!’ at the top of your lungs in World of Warcraft. Just kidding. Anyway, from those types of MMOs to the grind, grind, grind, run away, grind, grind, grind, RUN AWAY of most MMOs, combat is a major factor. Even Star Wars combat really is not anything new. Some of the looks and moves are cool, but again, most of them have been done somewhere. Most of what is in MMOs has been done to death in other MMOs. What IS new for Star Wars: The Old Republic is the amount of voice over.

Everyone who has played a recent Bioware game knows about voiced NPCs. Dragon Age Origins, and Mass Effects 1 and 2 both had HUGE amounts of voice acting, both by the main player characters and the supporting NPCs. Add to that the lines from some of the bad guys and other NPCs and you have major coolness. One of my biggest gripes with older MMOs is I wanted to hear things from people in the game. Not just the big shots, the major quest givers, but from others. Many MMOs recently have added sound bites to major quests. The biggest gripes I had with Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft was that there was always silence when the characters were talking. They would say ‘Hi’ at times, but no more. The quest was all given in text form. And it got annoying. We had the journal for text. I want to hear the voice of the person I am talking to. I know, I know, I got spoiled by Mass Effect, but can you blame me?

Sound effects in games have come a long way from things like ‘Pong’ and ‘Asteroids’.  You know, ‘ping’, ‘bang’, ‘zot’ that kind of thing. Arcade games had cool sound effects and even voices sometimes. But the processing power of the Commodore 32 or similar home entertainment consoles simply couldn’t handle the load. Sound, sure. Realistic sound and voice? Not so much. The main reason they introduced cutscenes to games was to immerse the character in the game. Because, let’s face it, the actual gameplay was not immersive for a lot of games. Come on, how immersive is the grind in WoW? I tried, I really tried to immerse myself. But it didn’t work. The only MMO I ever really managed to immerse myself in was Star Wars Galaxies, and we all know how that turned out.

The whole point of a video game, any video game, is a suspension of disbelief. We play video games to get away from reality for a while. Some of us may play them too much but all of us play them for the same basic reasons. We want to be able to lose ourselves, if just for a time, in the game. We want to have fun, we want to be excited, we want to go ‘Oh MAN that was cool!’. Sound effects are just one of the many ways that game designers draw in their players. Graphics, music, plot, action, all of these are important. But if the sound is ‘meh’, the game will likely be remembered as ‘meh’, if it is remembered at all. From the few video clips we have seen of in-game footage, I personally do not think Bioware is going to have that particular problem. Of course, many of the sounds are well known. Lightsabers of course are truly distinctive. And then they said the magic words. ‘Fully voiced’

As far as I have been able to determine, it has never been done before. Heck, as far as I can find, it has never even been TRIED before. The work involved is just too huge for most game developers to even attempt. To make every single NPC, every single quest giver, or quest participant, speak is just…whoa… Just the coding for the voices had to take years. And such voices…

We judge people, on a daily basis, by how they sound when they speak. Yes, we look at them, but their tone of voice is one of the major factors in how we judge. Are they angry? Sad? Happy? How do they feel and why? Tone of voice tells us a lot. It makes the characters come to life, which is one reason things like opera and theater are never likely to go away. Movies are fun, but the raw emotion that can be portrayed live has no substitute. Now a video game is not live, the conversations will never change, well, not quickly or easily. But to be able to hear how a person is feeling… That is just ‘wow’!

Is this being telling the truth? Is he/she/it about to blast me? It adds a layer of suspense, and immersion to the game. Just the clips that we have seen show a great deal more emotion that is shown in most games. Not that we expect anything less from the makers of Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

Personally, I think it is about time. I want to immerse myself in the story. I want to feel the tension, the fear, the grittiness that is Star Wars, especially during the time of the Great War. I want to hear the fear in someone’s voice as they beg for their life before I blast them. But again, I am not a very nice person when I play games. I want the game to stand out. I want it to be epic. And if it is anything at all like the clips that have been shown, I don’t think that will be a problem.

From the Imperial Agent and Bounty Hunter quest footage clip:

Czerka rep: “Do you know who I am?”

Imperial Agent: “I couldn’t care if you were the queen of Naboo.”


Over to you. Are you looking forward to the voices as much as I am?