How BioWare Created Classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic, Part 1: The Republic

In a special guest post series, the hit game's lead designer details the creation of different character types.

Marking today’s release of Anarchy in Paradise, a new chapter update for Knights of the Fallen Empire — the latest digital expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic — has invited the game’s creators to take our readers behind the scenes of the groundbreaking MMORPG.

My name is Michael Backus, and I’m one of the lead designers at BioWare. I’ve been working on Star Wars: The Old Republic for over seven years now.

When I was asked to write something to Star Wars fans about Star Wars: The Old Republic, I jumped at the opportunity. From the outset, I wanted to give you some insight into our processes, and discuss what our influences were.

So I’m going to do just that. I’m going to talk about the different classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but more importantly, about each class’s story arc. And by this, I don’t mean spoilers about their plots, but really, what we were trying to capture in each one. What was the fantasy? What did we draw from? What experience were we trying to give all of you who play Star Wars: The Old Republic?

I’m going to break this up into two parts. First, I’ll delve into the Republic, specifically: the Jedi Knight, the Jedi Consular, the Republic Trooper, and finally, the Smuggler. In part two, we’ll delve into the Imperial side of things: the Sith Warrior, the Sith Inquisitor, the Bounty Hunter, and to cap us off, the Imperial Agent.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

The Jedi Knight

I start with the Jedi Knight because, honestly, it’s incredibly iconic — everyone who is a fan of Star Wars has an idea of what a Jedi Knight is and what they’re capable of. Which makes it interesting from both a design and writing perspective. Our goal is to do the class justice, but still do something fresh and new. But we knew if we went too far, fans wouldn’t feel we hit the mark.

While the theme of the hero’s journey can be found in many of our story arcs, even on the Imperial side, it’s really core to the Jedi Knight’s arc. It’s also the foundation for the original movies — Luke’s journey to become a Jedi and his discovery of his own strength, both in the Force, as well as a person; Anakin’s discovery of his abilities in the Force as well as his destiny to tragically fall from grace; even Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn’s adventures together are all representative of the path of the Jedi Knight.

Those examples were our greatest influences. But it wasn’t just about deflecting blaster bolts with our lightsabers, leaping an incredible distance into melee with a Sith Lord, or donning cool armor and wading into battle against the forces of the Empire. This story had to be…personal.

Because, you see, that’s really one of the things we love most about Luke’s journey in particular. Luke wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes, even when he was in the middle of his training. The scene I feel encapsulates this best happens during The Empire Strike Back. Luke has a premonition that his friends are in danger. Yoda tells him that he’s not ready to face Darth Vader and that he should remain on Dagobah and finish his training, even if it means sacrificing his friends. Luke goes anyway.

This scene is brilliant in so many ways. Yoda knows how important Luke is; he’s trying to protect him, prepare him. But for Luke, these are the people he cares for and the risk is worth it — he can’t turn his back on them.

I think that’s why that scene resonates so much, at least for me. It’s forcing the question on us to do what’s good, versus what is right. And depending on your point of view, both perspectives make sense.

Returning back to Star Wars: The Old Republic, that really is one of the hardest parts of writing for such a well-known class. The hardest part was coming up with a fresh take on what was expected.

One idea we came up with really became the inspiration for the entire storyline: What would happen if our knight errant were alone in facing the dark side? What if even your mentors and allies were tempted and you had to face off with them? All of a sudden, with little to no support from the Jedi Order, the impact of your situation became apparent.

In the Old Republic, the Jedi Knight’s path is the journey of a lone hero who must face the dark side while rising up and learning to use their power. It’s a journey about discovering your place in the galaxy; about becoming a leader even if you don’t think you’re capable of it; and more importantly, it is about becoming a beacon of hope in the darkness.

The Jedi Consular

The Jedi Consular was far tougher for us, less from a class standpoint, but more from a story standpoint. We knew where we wanted to take our cues from pretty early on. The Consular was meant to feel like Yoda, or a later, Tatooine version of Obi-Wan Kenobi. They were wise. They avoided conflict. They were diplomatic. But they were powerful in the Force. These characters are our mythological wizards — erudite and wise, seeking knowledge and the truth behind the mysteries of the world around them. They are advisors and guides to others.

As you can image, this created quite an issue when we sat down to design them. I mean, how do you make a class and story out of a character who basically avoids conflict? As a BioWare RPG, we knew that we would have strong dialog and characters supporting the Jedi Consular, but they still had to fit in with the rest of our classes. Ultimately, we had to give them conflict to overcome, both in plot as well as gameplay.

The Consular went through a number of iterations because of this. As we settled on themes we thought were compelling, it wasn’t until we left the beaten path that things started to feel right. We started with ideas I touched on above: diplomacy, resolution of conflict, trying to organize and help others in finding common ground. But it wasn’t until we asked ourselves, “What else were Consular’s responsible for?”, that things fell into focus.

That focus was the Force. And by that I don’t mean their ability to use the Force. What I mean is all the mystery surrounding the Force: studying long-lost artifacts like holocrons; researching and possessing knowledge others don’t; uncovering mysteries and lost lore; discovering new races powerful in the Force but who lack guidance or knowledge of the dark side.

Once we realized how interesting this could be, their story arc started to form. From there, it was easy to solve the problem of Jedi Consulars and the issue we had with overt conflict. Instead of being like a Jedi Knight and being on the front lines of battle, the Jedi Consulars would use their abilities to discover threats and track down plots by the deadliest of enemies. They would use their knowledge of the Force to take on threats that were hidden or couldn’t be defeated by an army. We would focus on sending them into situations where the goal was not to strike down their enemies, but figure out what was happening. The causes of these conflicts, specifically the dark side and how persuasive evil can be, became a great catalyst for their adventure.

The Republic Trooper

The Republic Trooper was a lot of fun to come up with, both class-wise, as well as story-wise. First, Charles Boyd, now our lead writer on Star Wars: The Old Republic, took point on the story arc. Charles is a huge trooper fan. He has over a dozen Republic trooper action figures sprawled out over his AT-TE (All Terrain Tactical Enforcer) on his desk, he’s a card-carrying member of the 501st Legion as a stormtrooper, and he’s currently making another costume. So, needless to say, his passion runs deep.

Instantly, we knew the themes we wanted to embrace for the Republic Trooper’s story. And even designing the class came easy — I mean, it’s not hard to quickly imagine how these men and women of the Republic’s armed forces could take on a battalion of enemies, or even Force users. With access to amazing armor and weapons, coupled with their amazing skill, they easily wade into battle or take on the most dangerous of missions.

The challenge we had with the Republic Trooper was a lack of material to draw from. At the time we had begun designing and writing for the class, Star Wars: The Clone Wars wasn’t a thing. There was no Rex or Cody or any of that material to use as an influence. We actually had to take a step back even further and draw from the material that predated the cartoon. That influence was the original Clone Wars cartoon, created by Genndy Tartakovsky and George Lucas. Specifically, we loved the feel of the ARC Troopers and characters like ARC-77, also known as “Fordo.”

Republic Troopers are elite and powerful in their own right, able to stand against the biggest of threats. They are that lone-commando you see in an action movie you love so much. They’re the best of the best in terms of training, and they have the technology to back them up.

Even in our story arc for Star Wars: The Old Republic, your character is clearly an elite soldier, being given the honor of joining Havoc Squad, one of the most elite trooper squads to have existed. As a Republic Trooper, you take on galactic threats like the Empire and new super weapons, but also have to deal with the political ramifications of some military operations. It’s a thrilling and fulfilling experience.

The Smuggler

Oh, you scoundrel. You scruffy-looking nerf herder. I can say just those two lines and you already know who I’m talking about and everything they represent.

Smugglers are the shady characters who are willing to risk the Empire coming down on them hard so they can live free. They watch out for number one: themselves. But in Star Wars, our favorite smugglers are also the ones that have a heart of gold. When push comes to shove, they watch out for the little guy. They’re loyal, caring, and they know right from wrong — they just might not admit it to your face.

The chance to write a Smuggler character for Star Wars: The Old Republic was a real treat for our writing team. It was a chance to insert some great comedy into the galaxy, as well as some snark and sarcasm. From a writing perspective, it really allowed our writing team to capture a “normal” person’s reaction to the bigger picture and all the events happening throughout the galaxy.

As we talked about what made a great smuggler character with our studio’s creative director, James Ohlen, he boiled down Han Solo perfectly. Han is a tribute to the great movie characters of American tradition. Characters from the 1950s. He’s James Dean. He’s the bad boy. He has his car and the open road, and he can go wherever and do whatever he wants. He sticks it to the man, and we all root for him because he’s sexy and clever and he gets back up and fights to protect the honor of others.

That essence is what we wanted to capture with the Smuggler. A character who can say something witty in the face of huge odds. The character we all wish we could be as cool as.

Honestly, the hardest part of designing the Smuggler for Star Wars: The Old Republic was combat. I mean, Han Solo didn’t have the greatest luck against Darth Vader, if you recall. So we had to find ways to make a Smuggler feel effective, but keep them true to their spirit. We did so by infusing their abilities with a little bit of humor, but also giving them mechanics that help them keep out of harm’s way, like cover, and in some cases stealth. Because, let’s face it, the best way to fight a Dark Lord of the Sith is to hit him before he sees it coming.

So, there you have a look into the Republic side of things. I hope you enjoyed some insight into how we developed the classes and their story arcs for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and at the very least, you got a sense of how we broke down archetypes and created something new and exciting, while fulfilling what we think are some great Star Wars fantasies.

Michael Backus is a lead designer at BioWare and currently lives in Austin, Texas.