Time to follow up with some more detailed thoughts on several of the Star Wars panels from Comic-Con. I’ll save the books and comics for the next blog, but some of the reactions I had to these panels very much carry forward to my comments on those. So here goes!
The Old Republic
As I mentioned in my Thursday roundup, I’m not a gamer. In part because of that, probably – I’ve never played the original KOTOR videogame, for example – I’m not particularly invested in the stories set in this era of Star Wars history, either. To be honest, I only went to this panel to be sure I’d have a seat for the TCW panel that followed it. So you might think I found this panel uninteresting and basically tuned it out.
Well, far from it. I was very impressed. (Admittedly, it’s not going to make me start playing MMOs, but that’s not their fault.) Three aspects in particular of Bioware’s presentation really stood out.
First, I noticed their dedication to making the MMO not just a great Star Wars experience for the players, but also a great Star Wars story. Because in the age of Wookieepedia and inches-thick guidebooks, sometimes it seems that we’re losing sight of the fact that’s what Star Wars is, and has always been – story. Even not being a gamer, it resonates with me when the developers say that each class has its own opening scroll to the game, that there are several hundred hours of gameplay per class in addition to the group story content, and that there are no duplicate missions if you replay the game a second time as a different class. Or when they explained that, if the group ends up making a decision that conflicts with the choice you wanted for your character in terms of light-side or dark-side leaning options, your character gets credited for his or her personal intention. Spot on.
Second, I appreciated their passion for Star Wars and its importance to the fans. While some have criticized the visual similarity of some TOR elements to the movies, to the developers that’s clearly a core part of their mission – to give the players a game experience that looks like Star Wars. It’s about more than just the superficial trappings like lightsabers, but the iconic feel of the whole Star Wars environment, down to planets, vehicles, species, and gear. Visually, TOR will be like stepping into a Star Wars movie, and who could ask for more than that?
Third, I was impressed by their commitment to making TOR the best possible game it can be. Yes, there have been delays, but it’s clear they understand that better delays than a flawed product. At one point, one of the developers specifically said that quality is important to Bioware’s name. But it’s not just buzzwords. They were proud to declare that TOR will be the first MMO with full voiceover – with over 900 (!) different voice actors having participated in the game, just for the English-language version. Or the detail that goes into keeping combat sequences visually similar to the movies, and the inclusion of companion characters to mirror the roles of sidekicks like Chewie and Artoo in the films. Based on what I saw from the developers, I have every confidence they’ll live up to the high bar they’ve set for themselves.
I did make it over to the Fulfillment Room to pick up the pre-order code. It’s on its way to a friend.
So I’m not much of a collector, either. But as with the TOR developers, the Hasbro guys really impressed me with their presentation. They’re in a tough spot in some ways, trying to serve two different markets at the same time: the kids who buy toys to play with and the adult collectors who buy them to display. Throughout their presentation, you could tell how dedicated they are to doing what they can to best serve both of those markets while also making a profit for the company at the same time. Take the toys for the 3D Phantom Menace release, for example. For the kids, it’ll be easy to get Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Darth Maul, Anakin, Jar Jar, Padmé, and the rest of the core characters. For collectors, they’ll get a complete set of the Podracers and a never-before-released version of Queen Amidala. Neither group suffers, everybody wins. You can’t do it any better than that.
Also very cool was the announcement about jointhejedi.com, an upcoming promotion for kids tied in to TCW. Details are still scarce, but with how excited the Hasbro guys were to reveal it, I have to think it’ll be really neat.
The Clone Wars: Season Four Panel & Rendering the GFFA Panel
In my Thursday and Friday recap blogs, I shared my favorite hints about Season Four that we were given in the two panels on The Clone Wars. So rather than say more about Season Four, I wanted to comment on some broader themes that I picked up on from the panels.
Once again, watching the panels it’s just so apparent how much these guys love working on TCW. Whether it’s barely containing themselves from talking about the episodes they’re so excited for everyone to see, or their well-deserved pride in the technical achievements they’ve accomplished as the show has progressed, their enthusiasm for their job is infectious. Most of us would be very lucky indeed if we had that same kind of genuine passion for our jobs that Dave, Cary, Joel, and Keith clearly have for theirs.
And they’re always working to make the show better. More than that, it’s to make TCW the best it can possibly be, at least within the constraints of time and budget they have to work with. They don’t just do an underwater episode like the Battle of Mon Calamari – they make sure every detail is right, like the fact that a swimming biped will lead with its head, as opposed to leading with its hips when walking on land. They’re always building new models to use onscreen, whether it’s new species or new vehicles or new planetary environments. Even in an animated show with a distinctive angular style, the face software for the clones now includes 90 different facial shapes to allow a multitude of looks and expressions. Every single detail in the show is selected deliberately – nothing is arbitrary or haphazard.
That carries over to the content of the stories, too. During the Q&A at the Season Four panel, a mother asked a really great question: how the decisions are made about where to draw the line in the violence and themes of the show. Dave’s first reaction was exactly what you’d hope: taking full responsibility for the decisions made on the show, and emphasizing that the writers and producers take those decisions very seriously. The goal isn’t to scare the young children watching the show, but on the other hand, as Dave put it, to show them that evil is evil and it should be avoided. Ultimately, the movies are the touchstone, but sometimes that means characters we like die, such as clonetroopers like Echo. The seriousness with which Dave gave his answer, and the clear genuine concern he expressed, really impressed me.
Right along with their passion and dedication is a perfectionism that rings very true to a sometimes overly self-critical perfectionist like me. The water sequences on Mon Calamari look amazing, but they’re still pointing out the aspects they wish they could have done better. When Katee Sackhoff’s Mandalorian lieutenant character lands in front of Lux and Ahsoka, she puts her hand on her hip – but to Dave, that’s too casual, not enough of an iconic pose. This episode has probably been in the can for a year or longer, but it’s still bugging him. Even watching the short clip on the screen at Comic-Con, you could see him fighting back the scowl. So I won’t be surprised at all if her arm gets repositioned before the episode actually airs.
Listening to the panelists, you can’t doubt how much passion and commitment the production team puts into their work. At one point, Dave mentioned that TCW is almost literally in production twenty-four hours a day, either in California or at the animation studio in Singapore. Character and asset production sheets for the Mon Cal episode to be aired as part of Season Four had 2009 approval dates on them! It’s little wonder, then, that the show has made such incredible strides in such a short period of time. At a time when so many people seem to be looking for the easy out, or a get-rich-quick scheme, or the fast path to fame, TCW and its team prove that the true path to success is nothing less than working your butt off to always do the very best you can.
Finally, considering how some of the other franchise big shots respond to fans – either by antagonizing them or brushing off responsibility for things some fans don’t like – it’s refreshing to see a team that’s willing to engage the fans and take full responsibility for their work. When asked about Ahsoka’s two-blade lightsaber technique, for example, Dave offered an explanation that Anakin is one of the best swordsmen in the galaxy and would know every style he might face, so even if he doesn’t fight in that style himself he could still teach it to Ahsoka because it might be better suited for her smaller stature. To finish, Dave concluded that this explanation sufficed because he said so. Sometimes it’s necessary to address fan minutiae scrutiny head-on, and this was a perfect instance of that. As Dave pointed out many times, nothing in this series goes on the screen without being thought about, and that seems to make it easy for them to stand by their product and defend their storytelling decision. I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
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