Sith Code | Interview with David Garner

Editors Note: This taken verbatim from an interview I found on a blog, which was later deleted. Rather than have it lost to time, I’ve put it here.

 

I will always be confused as to exactly when I worked on the original KotOR. I mean, I know it was released in 2003— so it was definitely before then— but the timeline is all muddled because we worked on Neverwinter Nights almost at the same time. To complicate matters, there was an entire version of KotOR which we wrote and then discarded… and I can never remember if we did NWN right before or right after, or when KotOR fit inbetween.
I kind of wish I’d kept a journal.
Insofar as what I do remember:
The original version we discarded… you wouldn’t have wanted that. There was a phase the company went through right after BG2 was released where wordcount was the devil. See, BG2 was incredibly wordy— 1.2 million words worth, as I recall— and that meant incredibly expensive. Even with BG2 not being fully-voiced, there was still the cost of translation… not to mention the correlation between wordcount and game length, and BG2 was considered to have been waaaay longer than it needed to be (I agree— we could have stopped at Spellhold, called it a day, and still had a massive game’s worth of content).
Since the plan was to make KotOR fully-voiced, a really big undertaking at the time (we didn’t even have our own voiceover capability back then, to boot), this reactionary mood came in the form of “let’s keep the wordcount really low, and yet keep the story quality just as high”. Everyone was convinced this was an awesome idea. It wasn’t for us writers to question why, ours was but to do and die… so we dived in, and did our best.
Characters basically had to introduce themselves and say what they wanted in a few sentences. Some had to do it in the same sentence. Investigate options were pretty much non-existant, and back-and-forth needed to be sparse. No room for banter, and the story needed to be kept pretty short overall…
Meaning it was pretty much crap. When the Powers That Be started playing it, they saw that it was crap and asked why. The answer, while awkward, was pretty self-evident.
So, yeah, take two. At some point, we might have worked on NWN. Or maybe that was after. NWN went through its own overhaul, so it all needed to be done pretty much at once. Thus it was kind of a blur. “Write like the wind, Dave!” And so I did. So did we all.
As for what I personally did— I was just a writer. There was no such thing as a “Lead Writer” position at the time, not initially. James Ohlen was the Lead Designer, and much like with BG2 that meant he was in charge of the story overall. He brainstormed with the writers some, but ultimately it was his brainchild— he put together the story, he sketched out the main characters and sometimes even the major plots, and the writers worked on fleshing those things out further. Sometimes we had to overhaul a section, but those we didn’t are almost entirely his work. When I got a plot that James had created an entire design doc for, I referred to my work as “dialogue monkey”.
Maybe that sounds negative? It wasn’t, really. You always had to take a plot and massage it once you were actually writing it, make it yours as you pieced together a story from the structure you were given. If you saw the first design for Korriban that James gave me and the final version after I’d written it, they wouldn’t seem to have much in common other than the broadest strokes. I really enjoyed that, and much preferred playing with a structure I was given as opposed to creating everything from scratch— I was still pretty junior at the time.
The characters we had much more say in creating— not their concept, but their actualization. I knew Carth was supposed to be a Han Solo-esque captain and former military officer, for instance, and I knew his part in the overall plot, but beyond that there was nothing. No personality, few details… we worked out as a group how things like the romance arcs and conversations were supposed to go, but otherwise we were free to play with it.
So that was the most enjoyable part for me— I wrote most of Carth, Bastila and Jolee Bindo. Since I finished Jolee a week early, I squeezed in HK-47 (which I was miserable about at the time, since it was supposed to be a dialogue-less combat droid that I didn’t find very inspiring, but whom James thought could use some personality). Since I was already punchy after all that work, I made the droid funny. And mean. Because I was also tired and bitchy as well as punchy.
I think the first Lead Writer position we had came about during KotOR— which Drew Karpyshyn assumed late in the project, perhaps because James needed someone to take work off his plate? I don’t recall, nor do I know what Drew’s exact tasks were (you’d need to ask him). I remember Drew took over Bastila once his work on Taris was done, though I don’t remember which parts of her he wrote (the romance, maybe? Though I definitely wrote the scene where you confronted her and possibly turned her back to the Light Side, and that had romance in it… so who knows? It’s been too long, now.)
Korriban was the only actual planet I wrote (though I contributed to sections of Kashyyk and Tatooine). Was tough, too, as it went through a couple of overhauls before we finally settled on how it needed to work. Doing the Sith wasn’t easy, either, as there wasn’t a lot of lore on them— not as a group. I remember asking what their philosophy was, or if they had a code like the Jedi, but ended up being told to write it myself.
So, yeah. That’s where the Code of the Sith came from (reverse the Jedi Code— done!). And the Sith philosophy (at least what I wrote of it for Korriban) was inspired by Mein Kampf at least in parts (which made the forumites who talked about how awesome it was, and how it made sense, one part hilarious and one part frightening).
Doing the whole double-cross/triple-cross thing within the Sith was great fun. I’d done something similar with the Drow city in BG2, and since the backstabbing, take-no-prisoners culture of the Sith reminded me of the Drow I thought that might work again. And I love betrayal as a theme. James really liked how it ended up, which was nice, though it was hella complicated to script.
There were lots of little things along the way— things we needed to jump on, as our M.O. back then was still pretty much “fly by the seat of your pants”. Things changed often, and quickly, right up until very late in the project… at which point we began cutting in a panic to make things work and get it all polished (the hardest cut, for me, being the Dark Side ending where f!Revan could agree to sacrifice herself by staying on the ship with a romanced Carth— the ultimate redemption/sacrifice, and my favorite ending overall). Personally I was quite happy with how KotOR turned out— James had a great feel for what a true Star Wars story should feel like, and I think that bore out with how people felt about the game once it was released.
Hard to believe it’s 10 years ago, now. Or maybe not so hard to believe, since my memory is so fuzzy about it all. So I don’t know how enlightening this was with regards to my contribution— but there you go.
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