Cinematically Yours

December 31, 2010

When I first caught wind of today’s the Star Wars: The Old Republic update, I immediately thought, “Oh, another dev blog.” Don’t get me wrong, because I do enjoy these dev blogs quite a bit…but I usually find these types of updates moderate in terms of content and more subdued, so I never expect to get too pumped up.

This dev blog by Paul Marino on Cinematic Design is a little different though, because admittedly I  have a personal interest. First of all, the main draw of this game is the story, and you can’t tell a good story without getting your audience emotionally involved. There’s also the matter of choice in SWTOR, and obviously the cinematic decisions for, say, a light-sided action versus a dark-sided one would be completely different. Hence, I’m very curious for any insight from the team behind the magic.

Second of all, somehow reading this article brought to mind several of the independent comic projects I’ve had to tackle in the past, and I remember all too well the many challenges in the “storyboarding” process. So many questions like how to set up a series of sequential images to tell a story, how to layout a frame, or what to do to get the most dramatic angle to capture the look and feel of a scene. It’s all about mood. Should the “camera” pan up? Down? Wide shot? Close up? What about body language?

Cinematic design for a game obviously encompasses so much more. Now you also have considerations like a dynamic environment, character movement, music, voice work, etc. etc. etc. There are a lot more tools at your disposal, but so much more that demands your attention and so many more teams to coordinate with. I am amazed Mr. Marino is able to say everything in about ten paragraphs in this dev blog; I’ll bet he probably could have written a entire book given the scope of his work, especially for a game like SWTOR. I mean, in his own words, almost every discipline in the studio works with the Cinematic Design department in some capacity. The guy has a really cool job; if he had written a book, I think I would have read it all gladly.

And finally, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dev blog also came with a couple short clips to illustrate the significance of Cinematic Design.

The only adverse thing I noticed was the limited facial expressions, especially in the first clip where for a few seconds there I totally got that Knights of the Old Republic feel from the Alderaanian’s sort of deadpan eyes. I wonder if there will be further tweaks to that, though in the end I don’t think it takes too much from the scene. I also noticed that player characters look really, really good (that Sith Pureblood in the first clip at 0:30, anyone?) The second clip was also surprisingly humorous. I didn’t even realize I laughed out loud while watching it until my husband called to me from the kitchen and asked what was so funny.

Don’t know what else to say except that both these scenes appear really well done. And it’s interesting how I got so pumped after this update, since I’m usually pretty good at keeping my excitement in check. The thing is, as eager as I am for this game to come out, I can also be very patient. I’ve sat through relatively more amazing updates like class trailers and major reveals earlier this year without batting an eye, but this dev blog comes along and for the first time in many months I’m really, really, really dying to play this game. Thanks, Bioware, great update to wrap up 2010.


  1. i’ve been sort of waiting for something like this. I’m very curious as to this part of game design and bioware puts a lot of work into it. I just can’t wait to see how that folds into an mmo.

    • I know, cinematics are kinda huge in this game, I was a tad surprised they just made a dev blog out of it. Remember how the music of The Old Republic was a video with clips and interviews with all the people involved and stuff? I think a feature like that on cinematic design would have been awesome too.

      • yeah i’m hoping they still will. an interview or them in action. anything would be good.

  2. Those videos were great, but obviously very raw still. I mean how else do you explain those magic marker eyebrows.
    The pureblood Sith looked really amazing.

    • LOL, mind you, I’m not expecting Mass Effect type graphics, but yeah, to me, the eyes on the NPCs looked sort of dead. The player characters looked great though, I was pretty impressed with the detail on that Pureblood.

  3. Ooh nice videos. Y’know, I wasn’t that sold on the whole cinematic thing in MMOs until I started playing Cataclysm and really enjoyed the few little cutscenes that it had in it. It really enhanced the story and made things feel epic and immersive. I reckon it could be a huge selling point for SW:TOR and a heck of a lot of fun to experience.

    • Oh, I agree, cinematics took WoW questing to a whole new level. I know people have said they take away from the “MMO-ness” of the game making it more like a single-player RPG, and certainly it was a risky move by Blizzard, but I really liked it and made me realize how important having a story is to me

  4. The cinematic experience of this game is what’s going to seperate it from any mmo, though i hate to compare mmo’s because honestly, i always feel you can take something from another one and integrate it, but we shouldn’t be playing the same game at the end of the day, there is no best, better, or greatest of all time in my book.

    With that being said, this was an awesome update, to go into the minds of the dev and figure what he was thinking and what went into the game while he was making it is a big deal.

    Another big deal i’m a little worried about, and have been since the early duo gameplay impressions with the BH and Sith was decision making. It seems to go back and forth, i don’t want anyone butchering my whole story up by deciding to murder the wrong doctor, or cheating the wrong sabacc table. Though i think it probably wont have THAT much of an effect, it still worries me.

    • I’m with you on the concerns too. Even though I think the devs have confirmed that it won’t affect your light side/dark side status even if your decision doesn’t turn out to be the one your group uses, I don’t think they’ve addressed the effects on your personal story.

      I know you’ll still get light side points if you decide to say, spare the captain even though your group ends up killing him, because the universe knows your good intentions (LOL) but one think I don’t know is whether those decisions will have effect on your character’s future. Like you, I don’t think it will have THAT much of an effect (as in, I doubt your group’s decision to kill someone will come back to haunt you 20 levels down the line) but I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be immediate consequences.

      There’s also that whole only-one-thing-or-another scenario. Maybe I don’t care whether or not I get light or dark side points, I just want to see a certain scene play out, especially since “evil” decisions tend to be hilarious in Bioware games 😛 I’ll just have to be prepared to miss it due to random roll favoring someone’s light side decision.

  5. That’s going to murder my soul, the aspect of LIVING with my decisions 😦 Lord knows i go back in Bioware games 100’s of times just to see what might’ve been.

    I’m also a fan of neutrality in the grand scheme of things. Afterall, a smart Smuggler knows when to do something dastardly in the name of Mercenary-ship and when to do something so low-down, and scoundrel-esque that it can’t even really be considered evil, different situations call for different actions!

  6. It’s smug douchebags like that dainty little elitist in video #2 that make me fall in love with the BioWare style of gameplay. Most games just make you listen to those types, they rarely let you retaliate in an utterly satisfying way—like with a fist to the face.

    • Good point. This game is for all of us who has ever wanted to punch a giant douchebag in a game 😀

  7. […] and blinking, as well as a wide variety of emotes. After all, I remember a few months ago nitpicking over the lack of facial expressions the characters’ “deadpan eyes” in one of the […]

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