Hyperspace Beacon: Why SWTOR fans should be excited about Fogbank

    
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This week, I’m going to depart a little from the usual insights into the world around Star Wars: The Old Republic and talk about another studio that isn’t owned by LucasFilm and certainly isn’t owned by Electronic Arts. I’d like to talk about Fogbank Entertainment.

Some people believe that a studio makes a game what is it. Others believe that it’s the IP that the studio carries that makes the video game unique. I think that IP and the studio name carry weight. I certainly would not play SWTOR as much as I do if it carried an IP like Valérian and Laureline. But one of the primary reasons that I believe that SWTOR performed as well as it did (or didn’t, depending on your opinion) was the quality of the people behind it. For me, some of the most integral people to making a good game are the writers. And many of the SWTOR writers have moved on from BioWare and have effectively started their own studio: Fogbank.

If you recognize names like Daniel Erickson, Alexander Freed, Drew Karpyshyn, and Hall Hood, then you will definitely want to see what they are up to at Fogbank Entertainment. If you don’t know who they are, then give me a moment to explain why they are superstars of the gaming and MMO industry.

As we mentioned in our previous article, Fogbank Entertainment was a spin-off of Kabam that was recently picked up by FoxNext, a video game, virtual reality, and themepark division for 20th Century Fox. Fogbank itself is working on, according to VentureBeat, “an episodic narrative game, which will draw from story, character, and location elements based on acclaimed Fox intellectual property as well as original content.” I love speculating, so I’ll talk about what I think they are doing in a bit. The most important part is who be creating this content. And with that in mind, we will start with the studio head: Daniel Erickson.

Alexander Freed

Who’s on the team?

If you are an old-school SWTOR fan or someone who used to read a lot of Darth Hater, you will absolutely know Daniel Erickson. And you will absolutely know him as the lead writer for absolutely the whole game that broke records when it came to absolutely everything narrative in an MMORPG. He absolutely had an answer for absolutely every question, and he began the majority of those answers with “absolutely.”

That aside, you’re likely to know one of the other big hits that Erickson has worked on at BioWare: Dragon Age Origins. He also had a hand in another recent LucasFilm game, Star Wars Uprising, created by Kabam where he was the Project Director.

Erickson is already plenty respectable, but the people he’s brought into the studio likely have even more accolades than him. Two of the most prominent are Drew Karpyshyn and Alexander Freed. Both of these games writers are also best-selling Star Wars novelists. Karpyshyn’s Bane series (Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, Darth Bane: Rule of Two, and Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil) ignited the Star Wars fan base and the New York Times bestsellers list, and Freed’s novelization of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story also hit the New York Times bestsellers list.

In the world of gaming, Karpyshyn worked for BioWare on a multitude of narratively amazing games. He worked on some great games like Neverwinter Nights, but the game-changer in his career had to be Knights of the Old Republic, where he wrote much of the dialogue. His work on KOTOR led to what I think is his best work: Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

I’m very excited about Karpyshyn and Erickson being a part of the Fogbank team, but I’m most excited about the person being named the lead writer: Alexander Freed. His work has been the most inspiring to me. I first noticed him when he wrote the pre-launch webcomics for SWTOR: Blood of the Empire. I loved his ability to expertly weave plot with character development. He continued that trend with the Imperial Agent story in SWTOR MMORPG, which is generally held up by fans as the best story in the whole game.

There are also rumors that Smuggler and Jedi Knight SWTOR story writer Hall Hood has also joined the Fogbank studio, but that has not been confirmed at this time. But if he has joined, then that is yet another reason to pay attention to what this studio is doing.

Drew Karpyshyn

What are they doing?

I can only speculate because the studio has literally said nothing specific. However, let’s take a moment to piece together some possibilities based on who they work for and who is involved.

Being a part of the 20th Century Fox brand, the intellectual properties are vast, but I think I can narrow down a few based on the people writing it. First, I believe that we will have to look at science fiction the possibility, which will leave out IPs like Family Guy and the Simpsons, thank goodness. But given the writers involved, I would lean toward soft science fiction, so that means that it will likely not be Planet of the Apes or Alien and likely not the X-Files, either. With Marvel wanting its properties back from Fox, I doubt we will see the X-Men or Fantastic Four.

For a new game, Fox will want to look at an IP that will hopefully gain traction in the near future. With James Cameron making a new push into his franchises on the film side of entertainment, Avatar sits as the most likely candidate. Cameron is looking to expand the world of Pandora and a series of narrative-focused video games would serve as a great platform for exploring this unexplored universe that is a mix of fantasy and science fiction, perfectly fitting in the wheelhouse of all of the aforementioned writers.

Of course, I want to know your thoughts. Where do you think this studio is headed? Are you excited about these writers coming together again to make a new story? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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Alex Malone

This has me totally confused.

A bunch of guys who worked on the story of SWTOR are leaving and forming a new company. Now, granted TOR got a lot of praise for the story *presentation* and they got a lot of praise for the 8 class stories.

But, weren’t they pretty much universally trashed for everything else they wrote? I mean, when the most praised and impressive update in the games history was one that allowed you to skip 99% of the game’s stories…..it really doesn’t say much for your writing staff!

Certainly from my own experience, the story in SW:TOR was no better than any other game I’ve played. Very generic and boring from start to finish, just like 99% of computer games. The only exciting thing was the presentation, being fully voice acted and animated was a nice novelty for the first 20-30 levels, but then the novelty wore off. Towards the end, I actually found the presentation to be more off-putting that just text, because my characters voice acting and emotions bore no correlation whatsoever to my actual character.

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Korithian

Of the many things to knock about SWTOR story and dialogue aren’t up there. Sure the engine didn’t allow the story to be progressed as anyone may have hoped, sure the graphics didn’t help etc. But if you go back and play through the level 1 to 50 experience and look at the depth you get to go kill 10 rat quests there aren’t many MMO’s that offer that. Sure its no Witcher 3 but its sure better than walls of text with no choice in the dialogue other than accept/decline at the bottom.

I’m also not sure the most praised and impressive update was one that allowed you to skip 99% of the game. I’m not sure there is anything that allows you to skip 99% of the game, let alone why anyone would want it. If you don’t want to play the game don’t but don’t play 1% of it and think that gives a good indication of the game. I’m not sure what that 1% would be either PvP?

Woetoo
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Woetoo

Whilst I agree with others, the departure of so many good writers from SWTOR is bad for SWTOR. That’s hardly the writers fault. For me, the levelling content 1-50 was the highlight of SWTOR. It was pretty much everything else that let the MMO down.

But the fact we see it as SWTOR’s loss, highlights that it’s Fogbank’s/our gain. Talented, committed people writing a new game (series) with largely a blank slate has such potential to be good for consumers. Whether they can deliver is a completely different story and one that’s pointless to speculate upon this early.

I am hopeful that Fogbank will deliver something that raises the bar. Though with business models driving so many games in recent years, perhaps even that optimism is misplaced.

My only concern is “episodic”. It’s a sign of the times. But for me, it’s a monitization solution. Like Early Access and KickStarter – just a way of getting money for an unfinished product. A product, which eventually the consumer will end up paying MORE than for a matching amount of content in a single game. As I say, as sign of the times. Maybe that’s what it takes to deliver these days.

All that said. I’m done getting excited about stuff that doesn’t exist.
When it exists, I’ll perhaps get excited. Until then, it’s just hype from an industry that does hype well and games badly.

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jay

Given that Disney now owns 20th cen. fox, its not a far stretch to see that they (20th cen fox) are hiriring star wars writers, for a new star wars game.

Will sw:tor lose it’s licence to a new mmo made under the disney umbrella? It’s very possible, and hiring this writing team would be the way to go about that.

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Randy Savage

So basically, SWTOR fans should be excited that all the talented people are no longer working on SWTOR? lol

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Peregrine Falcon

After playing SWTOR, and trying really hard to like it despite all of its numerous faults, I just can’t get excited about this. You see I remember the good SWTOR storylines AND the bad ones. I remember that the actual in-game story shows that The Galactic Republic are actually the bad guys and it’s the Imperials who are trying to keep the peace while simultaneously dealing with their psychotic Sith masters and the corrupt Republic who think it’s ok to murder civilians and commit horrendous civil rights violations while the Jedi watch in peaceful apathy.

So when you say “SWTOR fans should be excited about Fogbank”, what I hear is “The same guys who brought you the ridiculous story line of the republic trooper shooting a republic senator IN the senate building, and getting away with it, have teamed up to make another story-heavy game filled full of ridiculous story lines that will cause me to facepalm myself into a migraine.”

So please don’t be too offended when I say that I’m not at all excited about this.

ultorius
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ultorius

Hey man if agent Jack Bauer can kidnap the president of the united states from the white house with only the help of Gail the snail, then i bet a Havoc squad member can do it too :P

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Witches

Predator? AvP? Independence Day?

Also in the long run it could be SW since EA isn’t doing much with it.

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Korithian

Great News for Fogbank and I look forward to seeing what they produce.

However I’d suggest its awful news for SWTOR fans, it seems that they either don’t want or can’t attract the people that made the game great that had a real aptitude for story writing. I suspect under Keith and his plan to offer minimal content focusing on new houses to sell decorations and raids to sell subscriptions. Not to worry though that allows him to put in his bi annual communication on the forums that there is a variety of both solo and multiplayer content.

ultorius
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ultorius

Guys you know that this is a mobile game company right?Untill they say that they are actualy making an crpg or an mmorpg for pc my guess is that its another mobile trash like the thousands that are on steam these days.

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Targeter

Color me intrigued, since Freed’s Agent storyline was the absolute best part of SWTOR.

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connor_jones

Agent story is definitely one of the better ones, but also very overrated IMO. It had a strong beginning and middle, but I was oddly underwhelmed with Act 3 and the finale. I call it the ‘Lost’ (as in the JJ Abrams series) of the SWTOR class stories.

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IronSalamander8 .

Agent was my very first storyline and I liked it at first but wow did it fall apart rapidly once you hit act 2 and beyond. Virtually plagiarizing the Manchurian Candidate, then the whole :”You’re our only viable agent left so I want you to get captured by homicidal thugs”, and the totally shocking reveal that your main antagonist was actually female (not even an interesting reveal) was so idiotic that it became a chore to finish.

Got really tired of my clever, wily agent being forced to make imbecilic decisions so much that I mostly spacebarred the rest of my characters in SWTOR from that point, especially getting my later Operative through the story again as my first play through was my sniper. It killed my interest in a hurry even though I still played for years after that.

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connor_jones

A friend showed me the original Manchurian Candidate a few years ago, and I was floored! An amazing, sympathetic performance by Lawrence Harvey, Angela Landsbury was a fantastic villain, and even Frank Sinatra was good. It was so outrageous and thought-provoking, it reminded me of the great Stanley Kubrick at times.

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McGuffn

Well, does Fox (or even this part of it) have any ownership in Firefly or did they just air it?

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Alex Willis

Don’t tease. (That would be pretty awesome, though.)

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Yoshi Senpai

Firefly was my first thought.