In Conversation With Alex Kane

Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic is the latest addition to the series of video game books by publisher Boss Fight Books. Written by Alex Kane, it contains revealing interviews from some of the people behind arguably the best Star Wars game ever made.

If you haven’t already read our Ancient Gamer Review on this great title then you can find it here —> Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic by Alex Kane.

Our latest guest to answer our questions for our ‘In Conversation With’ feature is journalist, and now author, Alex Kane.

What made you want to write a book about Knights of the Old Republic?

Alex: Star Wars has always been my favorite storytelling universe, going back to when I was a seven-year-old kid seeing Empire with my dad on the big screen. That was ’97, and Empire, Jedi, and the prequels all really shaped both my imagination and essentially who I’ve become as a person. Knights of the Old Republic was exactly the game I needed in 2003, and that experience has never left me. The idea of telling the story behind it, and how it came to be, was a dream come true.

The book is filled with interviews from those who were involved first-hand with KotOR’s production. How much of a challenge was it to gather their interviews? Where they difficult to arrange? Was there anybody you reached out to but were unable to get involved for one reason or another?

Alex: Getting the interviews was in some ways the trickiest part. Editing the manuscript into a book somebody might enjoy reading was where all the hard work was, but there’d be no book at all without the good fortune I had in tracking down some of those great interviews. I definitely owe a big debt to everybody who passed along an email, or made an introduction, or suggested names of who I might approach. When I contacted Simon Jeffery, he was initially very hesitant to speak about the project — but Mike Gallo, sort of the book’s main character, convinced him I was all right and that I was worth talking to. Jeremy Soule [soundtrack composer] was the interview I really wanted but just couldn’t get; he’s under NDA on both the Elder Scrolls and Star Wars: The Old Republic, so he’s sometimes very press-shy.

What are your memories of your first playthrough of the game? Do you have any memorable moments that stand out?

Alex: Arriving on Dantooine, meeting the Jedi Council, and learning that there was something special about my character — I usually name my Revan “Dax Starlighter” or “Kem Juraal” — was just an incredibly novel experience for me. You’re not just a nobody with a vibroblade; you’re strong in the Force; you get to become a Jedi and have your own custom lightsaber. That was huge, and I’ll never forget that whole Dantooine sequence. I’m also really fond of Manaan, and that planet’s always been a dominant image in my imagination. If I ever write a short story or novel or comic for Star Wars, I hope I get to use Manaan, because nothing could make me happier.

Did you take the light or dark side path on your first playthrough? I went out of my way to be as evil as possible because I wanted to see what would happen if I followed the dark side.

Alex: I’m a light-sider almost every single time; I just don’t enjoy the dark path in KotOR as much. I get too immersed in my character, and then I feel terrible when I threaten or hurt somebody who doesn’t have it coming. But I do love dark-side Bastila, and seeing that particular ending where they’re standing together with a Sith armada at their backs, ready to take on the galaxy together.

KotOR is still regarded as one of the best RPGs you can play, despite being nearly 15yrs old and many other games being released since then. Why does it still stand out after all this time?

Alex: It’s a good game first, and a Star Wars tie-in second. That’s pretty rare with licensed games, and especially back then, when “movie games” were usually assumed to have pretty low standards for quality. The turn-based D&D combat flows smoothly, and you can pause and consider your strategy at any point, so it doesn’t often feel overwhelming. It routinely shows up on lists of the all-time great RPGs and video games in general, and that wouldn’t happen if BioWare had just done an Attack of the Clones adaptation on a quick turnaround. They really did Star Wars justice.

With all the ‘remasters’ and ‘definitive editions’ of older games being re-released on newer gaming platforms, do you think KotOR will ever receive this treatment? Do you think it would benefit from a modern make-over or is it best left alone and enjoyed in its original glory?

Alex: I think it’s a game that would benefit enormously from a visual remaster — something like Halo 2: Anniversary or Skyrim: Special Edition, where the original intent is well preserved. Maybe they’d get Jeremy Soule to record a new version of his soundtrack, even, so that we could finally get an official release on vinyl and Spotify and so forth. I’d love to see it, and I know most people would enjoy it. The practical benefit is that Lucasfilm could repackage and resell the game, and then an entirely new audience, who maybe doesn’t want to play a game that looks like it came out in 2003, could discover it for the first time and see what all the fuss is about.

In recent months we’ve been made all too aware of ‘the crunch’ and the negative news that seems to surround modern day BioWare, as well as the game industry as a whole. The first-hand accounts from the book paint a happier story. People may have worked long hours and we’re stressed but they say that it was the best time and enjoyed their time making the game. What are your opinions on the current state of the gaming industry and is it something that will ever change?

Alex: Yeah, I recently put together a 22,000-word oral history of Morrowind, as well, and the fact is that people are able to look back on things they accomplished during hellish crunch conditions and more or less remember those times fondly. They remember the triumphs and the good moments, and they sort of shrug off the inhumane labor conditions that forged those successes. Which is why we have a lot of studios being run today by folks who don’t understand what the big deal is — to them, it’s just how games are made. And I hope and pray that when my generation takes the reins at some of these developers, they simply refuse to give in to crunch-related demands. The prospect of a good game being delivered by a certain date isn’t more important than someone’s life.

It’s exciting times for the future of the Star Wars universe with new movies, TV shows and EA’s Jedi: Fallen Order arriving before the end of the year. As a Star Wars fan, what are you most looking forward to?

Alex: Episode IX, probably, although I’m equally excited to see how The Mandalorian goes, and I’m probably gonna be playing about a hundred hours of Jedi: Fallen Order when that drops.

What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects lined up on the horizon?

Alex: I just had a 22,000-word feature go up at Polygon; I released my first book; I covered Celebration for; I’ve got some other stuff in the works. But I’m kind of at a crossroads right now, where I can start to think about what it is I’d really like to do next, and then take some steps to get there. Whether that’s a new job someplace, another book deal, or an exciting freelance gig — we’ll have to wait and see. I’m excited for whatever’s next.

Our book review for Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic can be read here.