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The Vision for Ord Mantell
Flaming walkers, a destroyed bridge, refugees huddled on the outskirts of a large Republic base. These are some of the sights that let you know you’re on the war-ravaged world of Ord Mantell. But long before any of these elements were represented in-game, they were in the minds and design docs of the writers of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™.
Early in the design of Ord Mantell we wanted the story to be about a planet where the war between the Empire and the Republic kept raging in some form, even after the Treaty of Coruscant was signed. In our final design, however, a faction of separatists has risen to fight for independence against tired Republic and Mantellian government forces, in reaction to the corruption of the Mantellian government and the Republic’s perceived unwillingness to defend any world that isn’t Coruscant.
One of our earliest story designs for Ord Mantell even saw the Empire in control of the planet, fighting off Jedi-backed rebels—a very different Ord Mantell from the Republic-controlled world we ultimately decided to write.
As with any shift in design, there are a number of reasons why our conception of Ord Mantell changed. We had to consider the needs of the individual class stories and the needs of the game as a whole. Our designs for other worlds changed, making them a better fit for the “Imperials versus rebels” focus we had originally planned. Ord Mantell itself has a history of being a Republic world populated by rough underworld figures and settlers from Corellia, so in many ways Ord Mantell was better suited to being a Republic-held world under threat. The new version of Ord Mantell also provided a unique blend of Republic and underworld influence that was missing from worlds like Tython or Hutta, which skew strongly toward one or the other.
All of this decision-making happened before there was a single quest designed for the planet, or a single piece of art created.
Laying Out The Story
Once we’d settled on our vision for Ord Mantell, it was time to flesh out the world. We brainstormed people and places we’d like to see, stories we’d like to explore and choices we’d like to make on the planet. These brainstorm sessions happen with all our worlds, and they tend to be good indicators of whether the world’s backstory has enough meat to it. If the writers can’t get excited about writing it, then the Players certainly aren’t going to get excited about playing it.
Ord Mantell was rife with compelling ideas: a Republic military at the point of exhaustion, just ready to be done with the war; underhanded crime lords attempting to make a quick credit selling weapons and hoarding the all-too rare, all-too precious supplies; refugees driven from their homes and hoping desperately to catch one of the infrequent shuttles off the planet; local governments trying to stay in power and maintain some peace; corrupt officers, sleazy pirates, zealous separatists—the list goes on and on.
Of course, there were plenty of ideas that didn’t fly, usually because of tone. We did a lot of careful revising to ensure that we struck the right balance between light-hearted quirky characters and more serious, emotional pieces. Humor is an important part of Star Wars™; we want our game to have plenty of fun moments, but we had to avoid humor where it seemed out of place or just silly. Similarly, we had to make sure we weren’t becoming too dark with our chosen war theme. War in Star Wars generally bears more resemblance to the World War II of the Hollywood films of the 1940s than to the grittier, more disillusioned war films that came out of the Cold War. There are morally ambivalent characters in Star Wars, but the central conflict is between light and dark, and like Han Solo in A New Hope, people usually choose a side by the end. Star Wars is more Casablanca than Apocalypse Now.
Other ideas simply didn’t work because they were repetitions of ideas we’d already used. With so many writers pitching quest ideas, it’s inevitable that a few ideas would be repeats. On Ord Mantell, nearly every writer pitched at least one medicine or doctor-related quest. Many of them were very good ideas, but it’s important to show all aspects of the world we’re portraying.
Quests and Character Creation
Once we had the story ideas, it was important to turn them into fun and interesting quests that convey the backstory of Ord Mantell, give Players a chance to explore the world, and at the same time let them shape their epic story through the choices they make. In keeping with Star Wars, Ord Mantell is loaded with opportunities to be a perfect saint or a dastardly scoundrel, but just because Star Wars is about the struggle between dark and light doesn’t mean there’s no room for nuance, and Ord Mantell packs its share of challenging decisions.
In writing much of the world content for Ord Mantell, I found that as much as it is about war, Ord Mantell is about the “little guy.” Whether he’s the refugee, the low-ranking soldier faced with a tough moral dilemma, the hungry child, the war protester, the merchant who’s lost his business to the war or the doctor trying to decide between his duty to the people and his duty to the military, the little guy is at the heart of Ord Mantell. It’s a world where we get to explore a little bit of the impact of the war on ordinary people, who have little to no ideological investment in the philosophical struggle between Jedi and Sith, or the military struggle between Republic and Empire.
Bringing Ord Mantell to Life
Once the quests are designed and written, the writers’ job is done. Or not. What follows are countless playtests and rewrites, and the wondrous/terrifying experience of seeing the world come to life through the efforts of our world builders and artists. Frequently, they are able to take what we’ve come up with and make it even more amazing. Sometimes they give us the wide-eyed look of horror that means that the idea to send one of Ord Mantell’s moons hurtling into its surface1 probably isn’t going to work.
In the process of playing the game and critiquing the content, we find out what works and what doesn’t and determine whether the quest needs to be cut or simply rewritten. We also discover areas of the world that are underserved, significant landmarks that beg to have a story told about them and hidden places where a little bit of content serves as a reward for exploration.
Running through Ord Mantell today is a lot of fun, but we’re always getting more feedback and working to make the game better. Even having worked on the game for as long as we have, there are still moments that manage to awe us or take us by surprise, and I think that shows we’re on the right track.
1Not an actual quest suggestion