Star Wars MMO lead discusses the weaknesses at the heart of the genre: "If open-world is the enemy of storytelling, multiplayer is the arch-villain"

Star Wars The Old Republic
(Image credit: EA)

James Ohlen believes that multiplayer is the "arch villain" of storytelling, and he should know - he was, after all, game director for the massively multiplayer online title Star Wars: The Old Republic.

In an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun, Ohlen, who during his 22 years at BioWare also lent his talents to many of the studio's classics, including Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age Origins, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, spoke of the difficulty of trying to tell an epic and immersive story in a large-scale shared world. "If open-world is the enemy of storytelling, multiplayer is the arch-villain," Ohlen says.

In 2007, having helped set up BioWare's then-new studio in Austin, Texas, Ohlen was put in charge of creative development on The Old Republic, a hugely ambitious MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. The game featured eight classes, each with its own story campaign, complete with BioWare's signature dialogue options. Gameplay-wise, it was equally as expansive, featuring dungeons, raids and a plethora of planets to explore. 

But, looking back, Ohlen believes that the focus should have been on creating a more tight-knit experience rather than trying to make it everything all at once. He says, "If I was to go back in time to give my 2006 self some advice it would be, 'Don't try to make the game so long that you can fill up 200 hours. Instead, keep it shorter.'"

He continues, "Everyone wanted Knights of the Old Republic Online, and it felt more like World Of Warcraft with Star Wars spray-painted on it and some BioWare juice thrown in. Even though the Metacritic was pretty good, it wasn't new enough to really take off."

Elsewhere in the interview, Ohlen revealed that 20,000 hours of D&D practice prepared him for his role as designer and writer on Baldur's Gate.

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Anne-Marie Ostler
Freelance Writer

Originally from Ireland, I moved to the UK in 2014 to pursue a Games Journalism and PR degree at Staffordshire University. Following that, I've freelanced for GamesMaster, Games TM, Official PlayStation Magazine and, more recently, Play and GamesRadar+. My love of gaming sprang from successfully defeating that first Goomba in Super Mario Bros on the NES. These days, PlayStation is my jam. When not gaming or writing, I can usually be found scouring the internet for anything Tomb Raider related to add to my out of control memorabilia collection.