Sunday, December 8, 2013

Star Wars KOTOR II Playthrough Pt 0 - Preface

Not sure why I decided to do this, but what the hell, I've recently acquired KOTOR II in a Steam sale since I've had a huge lust for Star Wars lately. And, with that, I found I have a lot to say about the creation and substance of KOTOR I and KOTOR II, so I'm going to embark on a long, segmented chronicle of my journey playing through it.

This is Part 0 because it's not really a chronicle of the experience as much as a few short words to detail my experience and what I'm going in with.

For starters, it's one of the internet's most common knowledge that there were huge chunks of this game completely gutted for a last-minute rush to the Christmas deadline. For more, I turn to you with a Kotaku article:

Although KOTOR II was released in December 2004, it was never quite finished. Deadline restrictions forced Obsidian to remove a great deal of content—planets, scenes, and plot points were all left on the cutting room floor. Crafty modders would later find and restore this content, as Obsidian left it in the game's source code, but back in 2004, it was all just scrapped.
So why was it all cut? 
"What happened was—and as a lot of these things happen, no one means anything nefarious, no one means anything badly or anything like that—what happened was we were on the track to get done for Christmas, and the game was looking really good," Urquhart told me. "I think there was some surprise within LucasArts that we were doing as good a job as we were. I think there were some parts of LucasArts that were worried that ‘Oh, this new developer and they're gonna fuck it up like all new developers fuck everything up.'
"And so in early 2004 they took a look and they were like, ‘Wow!' Their QA was playing it, and they were like, ‘This has a lot of potential: let's move it out, let's give it time.' So they moved it out to the next year." 
Urquhart was perfectly fine with that decision, and he changed the project's schedule to reflect that new 2005 release date. But he forgot the cardinal rule of dealing with executives: make sure everything's in writing. 
"On our side we didn't make sure that we had the contract changed," Urquhart said. "And then post-E3 I think financially something happened—I don't know what it was. And we got the call and they said it has to be done for Christmas... Again, I don't think this is anything nefarious, it just happened. Some of the onus is on us: we didn't get the contract changed. So we had to make this decision: get in trouble or get it done."
Yeesh, talk about hindsight. It kills me thinking what this game could have had in it if Obsidian got to do whatever they wanted. And so, according with what the game was Supposed To Be, I'm going pretty barebones with minor exception of The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod, a few texture packs, a Widescreen mod, and a mod that makes the lightsabers light flicker look like the one from the old movies (I'm a purist).

EDIT: A complete list of mods that work with TSLRCM can be located here. The lightsaber mod I mentioned I believe I found here. (It's hard to remember).

Additionally, now is a good time to talk about the original KOTOR - to be honest, it's not great. The amount of critical acclaim it received might have been overwhelming at the time, but Attack of the Stupid Name had come out just one year before, and, well, beggars can't be choosers. This phenomenon would be repeated a few years later with Revenge of the Sith being not offensively terrible and therefore gaining 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, despite the terrible dialogue and being directed by George Lucas.

I can't speak for certain but maybe the writers at Bioware had been conditioned on some kind of volunteer Clockwork Orange procedure and thought that campy, corny dialogue was some sort of Star Wars staple. Sure, Han Solo yelling about "the way you feel about me" wasn't romantic gold, but at least it didn't involve Clark-Gable-written-by-idiots lines like, "Shut up and kiss me, you babbling fool!" Tycho of Penny Arcade (yes, I know, but listen first) once called it "a bad game with one really great plot twist," which I feel is an accurate assessment of what the game is today. The combat animations are choppy and break, the combat's kind of boring, the plot is kind of silly, the dialogue is corny, there's no real 'life' to the game beyond watching talking heads, but overall it was just a good game that didn't age especially well.

Age was one of the main things that made me not want to play this game - a game I thought looked okay on the original Xbox, even if I downscale my expectations and go into a decade in the past, is going to look like garbage today. And what kind of old-game bullshit is it going to pull? I still remember getting frustrated and quitting Bioware games only a few years old for a lack of appropriate autosave.

Speaking of which, my experience with this game is limited. I remember a few bits and details, but I never finished my original Xbox version when it first came out due to, well, fairly obvious reasons - not only was the game horrendously buggy and kept crashing and breaking on me, the game's frustrating missing content was agonizing. Watching quests literally just end for no reason and doors that are supposed to be open go "nope!" was the most frustrating thing, and between the two I just dropped off after a few hours.

I'm still familiar with a decent chunk of the plot, but it's all foggy and I'm kind of excited to play this game for the first time - or at least enough of a 'first time' that I will be surprised by sequences.

And, lastly, if you haven't yet, the first two volumes of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comic are completely fantastic, at least before they completely changed creative teams and the series underwent a dramatic shift for no reason. It, as well as this, are the main reasons I love the KOTOR universe. It's a universe where huge chunks of it have nothing happening, and there's infinite canvas to paint upon. 

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