An interview with the lead writer of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic – Drew Karpyshyn

Those of you who are familiar with all things Star Wars will be aware of Drew Karpyshyn. The lead writer to Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, author of the Darth Bane trilogy and many other Star Wars novels, Drew is one of the biggest contributors to the Star Wars universe, outside of the films. 

Speaking to Iain Fenton, Drew takes us through exactly what it was like to work on what is, not only one of the most popular Star Wars games ever, but quite possibly the best RPG ever created – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. 

Iain Fenton: How big of a Star Wars fan are you?

Drew: Episode IV came out when I was six years old, so Star Wars has basically always been part of my life. Growing up I had an army of Star Wars action figures, and my Halloween costumes included Jawas and Tusken Raiders multiple years. I think it’s safe to say I’m a pretty big fan.

Iain Fenton: KOTOR is obviously hugely popular with Star Wars fans – how proud are you of the role that you played in creating the game? KOTOR has become a kind of cult classic now hasn’t it?

Drew: I loved working on KOTOR, and I’m very proud of what we created and the way fans have embraced it. I think for a lot of people, this was their first glimpse into the Old Republic era, so I sort of feel like we helped broaden the Star Wars universe and timeline for a lot of fans. 

Iain Fenton: Is there a certain part of KOTOR or a specific idea that you suggested that was thus implemented in the game that you are especially proud of? If so, what was it?

Drew:  I’m quite proud of how we implemented the big twist. We knew it would all come down to the execution – if we did it right, players would be amazed. If not, it would fall flat. So we focused a lot of time and energy on that moment. We seeded clues to set it up, then referred back to them at the critical moment to emphasize the reveal. In the end, I think it came together almost perfectly. 

Iain Fenton: How difficult was it to write the script for KOTOR? Did you already have a good idea when they asked you? How free were you to write your own narrative or did you have to follow certain guidelines?

Drew:  Like all BioWare games, KOTOR was written by a team of writers – I wasn’t doing this alone. But over the course of roughly a year, we cobbled together all the bits and pieces to create the entire story… it’s a long process. We did get approval from the Lucas Games side along the way, but the actual ideas, story and implementation were pretty much all BioWare.

Iain Fenton: What was it like right at the beginning when you first began to write the script for the game? How fun was it to essentially create your own Star Wars story/film?

Drew:  During the moment, I wouldn’t call it “fun”. It’s exciting and thrilling, but it’s a lot of hard work. There are long hours, lots of debate and lots of back and forth within the writing team and with other departments (art, game design, cinematics). On some level you know that down the road this could become something amazing, but day-to-day you have to focus more on the grit and grind of actually creating a game.
Iain Fenton: What can you remember about working on KOTOR? Are there a few memories that stand out? What things worked and what didn’t?

Drew:  Honestly, it was such a long time ago – and we were working such long hours – that it’s mostly a blur. One thing I do remember was not being sure the HK-47 character would work. (I didn’t write HK; that was David Gaider.) It was only after I heard the voice actor reading the lines that I knew it clicked.

Iain Fenton: Were there any changes you had to make that you were disappointed about?

Drew:  There are always compromises when making a game: budgets and deadlines and technological limitations are part of the process. But we try not to let these limit what we are doing; we just see them as challenges to overcome. With KOTOR, I can’t really think of any compromise we had to make that really bothered me.

Iain Fenton: I’ve spoken to a few other game developers and script writers and they usually recall funny/strange stories that happened during their time working on a particular game, can you recall any funny or interesting anecdotes from your time working on KOTOR?

Drew:  Well, we’re talking about a two-year period of my life almost 15 years ago. I’m sure there were plenty of laughs and funny moments, but nothing specific jumps out at me. I do recall that we were considering a sub-plot that involved clones, and we were told by some folks over on the Lucas side that we couldn’t use it. They refused to tell us why. About three months later they announced the name of the next film, Attack of the Clones, and I went “Aha!”.

Iain Fenton: Did you meet any of the voice actors for the game? What were the voice actors who played the alien characters like?

Drew:  I was involved in many of the voice sessions, so I did meet and work with most of the voice actors. They were all very professional and very normal; most of them you’d pass on the street without a second glance. It was only once they got into the booth that you realized they had a special talent.

Iain Fenton: Who was your favorite character in the game and why? Mine was definitely HK47

Drew:  I think HK-47 would be a runaway favorite with most fans out there. For me, I really enjoyed writing Mission; I liked her innocence and enthusiasm. And I always like writing villains – I always felt there was something tragic about Malak that resonated with me.

Iain Fenton: Can you foresee another Star Wars RPG in the future or even a continuation of the KOTOR series? If one was announced tomorrow would you be interested in writing the script for it again?

Drew: With as successful as the Star Wars franchise is across all media, I’m sure there will be more Star Wars games in the future. And BioWare’s online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, is still going – I’ve actually worked on several of their expansions in the past. What type of Star Wars games might come out in the future, and who gets to make them, isn’t my call, but if offered the chance I’d probably jump right back into the fold.

Iain Fenton: If you want to write a Star Wars book, what processes do you have to go through in terms of having the people at Lucas film accept what you want to write? Is it a difficult process?

Drew:  In simple terms, you don’t come to them, they come to you. I had to have several published novels and the lead writing credit on one of the most popular Star Wars video games ever made just to get my foot in the door. But once I was in, I found I had a huge amount of freedom to tell the stories I wanted to tell. Some of that probably had to do with the fact that – at the time – I was the only writer working on novels in the Old Republic timeline, so my stuff wasn’t going to conflict with other writers or any of the plans for the films.

Iain Fenton: If there was one book and one game you could write without restrictions what would they be? Would they be Star Wars? Obviously you have written a variety different books and worked on a variety of different games in your career.

Drew:  Like most authors, I think my dream project would involve working with universes of my own creation, like my Chaos Born fantasy trilogy. Those books may not have the massive audience of my Star Wars or Mass Effect novels, but there’s a certain pride in creating a unique setting that is completely your own. As much as I enjoy telling stories in the Star Wars or Mass Effect universe, I’m always going to be a guest there, not the owner. But, the nice thing about working in a franchise like Star Wars is that you know millions of fans will see your work, and there is something very satisfying about that, too. 

Due to the upcoming release of Star Wars Battlefront 2, there have been calls for the powers that be to introduce an esports scene to the world of Star Wars gaming.

To read more about news and betting on esports, click here.

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