Like the Jedi Order, every Star Wars fan has a collection of sacred texts. For many fans who play games, however, the role-playing game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ranks especially high and carries much weight.
Released for the original Xbox on July 15, 2003, Knights of the Old Republic (or simply KotOR, to many fans) was a landmark event in the history of Star Wars games. Several months before the first Jedi character appeared in the Star Wars Galaxies MMO, Knights of the Old Republic became the first-ever role-playing video game to let players create their own Jedi character, learn the ways of the Force, and construct their own customizable lightsaber. The game quickly drew legions of fans, garnered widespread critical acclaim, and received numerous game-of-the-year awards for its superb writing and cinematic storytelling, including special accolades for best original character: the misanthropic assassin droid HK-47.
To celebrate KotOR’s 15th anniversary, Capital Games is bringing more beloved characters from the Old Republic to the wildly popular mobile RPG Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. On July 12, Galaxy began launching in-game “marquee events” for fan-favorite characters like Bastila Shan, Jolee Bindo, T3-M4, Mission Vao, and the Wookiee Zaalbar, as well as the Sith fighter used by Darth Malak’s forces at the Battle of Rakata Prime. Players who dive into the new missions will also get to revisit familiar environments, including parts of the Taris Undercity and a Sith base inspired by the ones on Taris and Manaan .
StarWars.com spoke with Carrie Gouskos, senior producer at Capital Games, along with BioWare General Manager Casey Hudson and Art Director Derek Watts, to relive some of their favorite KotOR memories and find out what we can expect from Bastila and her companions in Galaxy of Heroes.
“On the team, we’re all fans of Knights of the Old Republic, and I think our players, in particular, are big fans. We’ve had a lot of positive reception around the release of Nihilus and the Sith Triumvirate. And so, for us, coming off the back of a movie, we’re always trying to introduce different parts of the Star Wars universe in equal measure,” Gouskos says. Besides the Sith Lords from Knights of the Old Republic II, the droid HK-47 has also been a huge hit with Galaxy players. “We started thinking about which characters from the Old Republic we really wanted to bring in, and the first natural choice for us was the companions, who you spend so much time with in the game.”
Since the focus of Galaxy of Heroes is on classic turn-based combat, Knights of the Old Republic is a perfect match for its holotable arenas. According to Gouskos, much of the credit for the new KotOR events goes to Senior Designer Sean Phelps, who spent a lot of time coming up with mechanics that would both serve longtime Galaxy players and welcome new ones with narrative flavor inspired by the original 2003 versions of the characters. “It’s about taking the mental image that people have, and as much as we can derive from the source material, and trying to then put the feeling of those characters into the game,” says Gouskos. “For example, Bastila obviously has the battle meditation that’s such a core component of who she is in KotOR, so we knew we had to use that.”
Players have been clamoring for stronger Jedi characters in Galaxy of Heroes for some time, so Bastila and Jolee presented Capital Games with a perfect opportunity to grant that wish. “We needed a dedicated healer among the Jedi, just from a functional perspective,” Gouskos says. “We needed a revive. So Jolee and Bastila both slot in with a way to sort of buff up the other Jedi.”
While Bastila’s a young Jedi known for her immense Force powers and leadership skills, Jolee Bindo is fondly remembered for his colorful personality. Jolee’s a grumpy, self-exiled Jedi who makes up for his lack of patience with a phenomenal sense of humor. “He’s got some little tongue-in-cheek ability names,” Gouskos explains. “Like, he has an ability called ‘That Looks Pretty Bad.’ We really just wanted to evoke what people remember about Jolee.” Similarly, the character of Mission Vao, whose best friend is a Wookiee named Zaalbar, has an ability called “Me and Big Z Forever,” inspired by one of the character’s quotes from the original game.
As it turns out, Gouskos first hit on the idea of adding Jolee to Galaxy of Heroes when Hudson told her an anecdote about the character’s origin, which stretches all the way back to his childhood.
“Naming characters is always one of the hardest things to do,” says Hudson, who served as project director on KotOR and the original Mass Effect trilogy. “But Jolee Bindo was apparently an imaginary friend that I had when I was like three years old, that I invented. And I have no idea where that name came from, but it’s just one of those that — you know, when you’re searching for stuff, you just kind of draw from your background. A lot of the other names also came from James Ohlen. He used to run [Dungeons & Dragons] campaigns, so some of the characters that showed up in Knights of the Old Republic were from D&D characters that he’d made up years before.”
“Mission was originally supposed to be a young male, maybe a teenager or in his early twenties, based on some of the concepts that we had,” Art Director Derek Watts recalls. “But we decided to make her female.”
“Drew Karpyshyn, the writer, came up with that name, and I think the name was Mission before we even decided that she was gonna be female,” says Hudson. “Then the concept went up the chain, and it had the name ‘Mission’ on it, and it was one of those things where I saw the name, I went to stand up to go over to his office to tell him that I hate the name — but there are those times where people who you work with are gonna do better work than you’ll think of doing. And sometimes you just need to let those things simmer and see if they actually are great ideas. So I waited, and very quickly I realized that, yeah, it’s a unique and special name for that character.”
Something else that made Knights of the Old Republic so novel at the time of release was its setting: four thousand years before Revenge of the Sith. In an age when Jedi and Sith were numerous, and could be found throughout the galaxy, often one war would end only for another to begin. The game’s central plot twist, inspired in part by The Empire Strikes Back, hinged on the player character finding out that they’re one of the most fearsome Sith Lords to have emerged from the Mandalorian Wars: a fallen Jedi named Revan, who was corrupted by the dark side and thought to have been slain in battle. During a pivotal cutscene, the Sith Lord removes his or her ancient Mandalorian mask to reveal the face of the player’s own custom-created character. It’s still one of the most cherished moments in video-game history.
To this day, the character of Revan remains an irreplaceable part of Star Wars fandom. Everyone who’s ever played Knights of the Old Republic has their own version of the character — their own memories of the fallen Jedi’s legendary exploits. Revan’s story, perhaps more than any other, belongs to them.
In other corners of the Star Wars galaxy, from the live-action movies to animated shows like The Clone Wars and Rebels, KotOR’s influence is alive as ever, from planets like Malachor, Manaan, and Taris to the Hammerhead corvette that saved the day in Rogue One. “That was awesome. I was able to point out to my kids, ‘That’s something we designed for our game years ago,’ ” Watts says.
“One thing we did wisely on KotOR was that we set out very quickly what we were gonna use and what we were gonna follow from Star Wars, and we stuck with it. We definitely referenced Episodes IV, V, and VI as much as possible, and really understood what made that IP great; we didn’t try to go off and take it too far in a different direction. The great thing about the Old Republic is that you have a lot of freedom — you have the opportunity to have a lot more Jedi, and you can design your own ships, your own planets and vehicles and looks. But they also need to fit in with that original style,” he adds. “Things don’t really change very much in that universe at all over thousands of years.”
Capital Games is aware of how much its fans appreciate the Old Republic era, and Gouskos hints that even more exciting KotOR content could make its way to Galaxy of Heroes before too long. “You definitely want players to log in and have those warm, fuzzy feelings, and that’s even happening around the office,” she says. “Everyone’s been talking about what parts of the Old Republic are their favorites, or choices that they made, and where they were and what they remember about the Revan reveal. The thing that’s sort of unique about Galaxy of Heroes is, because you can mix and match characters from different parts of lore, there’s that thing like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if these characters fought these characters.’ And you can put them together and see how it would pan out, and I think that’s always exciting.”
Hudson seems to have a keen understanding of what makes the original Knights of the Old Republic such a singular source of nostalgia for fans.
“I think the big thing is agency,” he says. “That’s what we always try to do with a BioWare game. And the opportunity that we have, with the way that we make our games, is in making it feel as much as possible like you can just inhabit this universe. You can go wherever you want, you can do different things, explore, you can make friends. You’re making decisions — and choices with consequences is part of it, but on a broader level, it should just feel like you can do what you want. So that’s one thing that I think people really enjoyed about a game like Knights of the Old Republic. It’s a Star Wars game, but it’s not a game that requires you to go down any particular path, or requires you to do specific things in a certain sequence. It kind of gives you the Star Wars universe.”
Once you’ve completed the main quests on planet Taris and commandeered the Ebon Hawk, Knights of the Old Republic opens up, letting you explore worlds both familiar and new — Dantooine, Kashyyyk, Korriban (since renamed “Moraband”), Manaan, Tatooine, and an ancient world in the galaxy’s Unknown Regions called Rakata Prime.
“Of course, I have a different perspective than people who experience it for the first time as a player, but for me, where that magic really starts coming through is, you know, finishing a mission, heading back to the hangar and seeing the Ebon Hawk there, and just wondering where you want to go in the galaxy next. And one of my favorite memories is actually a moment with Mission, where I’m heading back to the hangar after a quest, and just as the hangar door opens, Mission stops me and says, ‘Hey, wait. If we’re gonna get on the ship, I have a thing that I want to do.’ And she mentions something that she wants to do. And I’m thinking, ‘I can go anywhere in the Star Wars universe — where do I want to go?’ To me, that’s the magic of that game, and something that I would love to see in the Star Wars universe again.”
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is free to play on Android and iPhone devices.
Knights of the Old Republic is available on iOS, Mac, PC, and Xbox One.
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Syfy Wire, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.