James Ohlen, renowned game developer takes us on a hyperspace tour, explaining the storytelling-antagonizing elements of open-world multiplayer games.

Galactic Designer Unspools the Kinks of Storytelling in MMOs

In this era where we're largely fleeing from co-workers or classmates turned into flesh-eating zombies (just kidding, they're nice folks), it takes a unique skill-set to weave the kind of narrative that can keep gamers entertained for hours. James Ohlen, our commander-in-chief of imagination guild, has plenty to say about the subject. Who is James Ohlen, you ask? Why, the game director for the massively multiplayer online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, of course!

In a meet-and-greet in the virtual cantina with the data crunchers at Rock Paper Shotgun, Ohlen, who has seasoned his illustrious career peppered with Bioware's classics like Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age Origins, took us on a narrative tour of the Massively Multiplayer Online Universe - specifically, numbing hurdles encountered in telling an engaging story in such a grand spectacle. With a twinkle in his digital eye, he declared, "If open-world is the enemy of storytelling, then multiplayer stands unopposed as the arch-villain."

Ohlen's venture into the Star Wars ether was far from a walk-in-the-park. As creative head-honcho of The Old Republic, Ohlen was entrusted with envisioning an MMORPG platform, featuring the gargantuan galaxy far, far away. With eight playable classes, each laden with their individual story arcs, it was as if the Mos Eisley Cantina of troupes had been imported in-game. That's not counting the superfandom-pleasing BioWare signature dialogue options, and a constellation of worlds that would have Uncle Owen humming in delight.

Yet, peering through the rear-view mirror of his Star Destroyer, Mr. Ohlen reflects and draws lessons from the vast lightsaber-lit arena. As he mulls departing for a quick jaunt back in time, his advice to his fresh-faced 2006 self would be, "Look, buddy, no need to spawn an epic to rival the Old Testament. Keep it shorter."

As he puts it, "What everyone wanted was an online, galaxy-touring rendition of Knights of the Old Republic, not World of Warcraft in a Han Solo costume with a dash of BioWare essence." Despite decent reviews, Ohlen posits the game fell short of that coveted new and exciting sheen every MMO craves for.

In another revelation as thrilling as Vader's paternity claim, Ohlen attributes 20,000 hours of D&D wizardry as his training wheels for his role as a designer on classics like Baldur's Gate. So, it seems whether you're assembling your party in Neverwinter or jostling for supremacy in Summoner's Rift, the MMO universe continues to be a tumultuous beast to tame. Just remember folks, "A game is never late, nor is it early, it arrives precisely when it means to." Wait, wrong franchise.

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Darryl Polo

Hey there! I'm Darryl Polo, and I've been deep in the web design and blogging game for over 20 years. It's been a wild journey, evolving with the digital age, crafting websites, and sharing stories online. But hey, when I'm not behind the screen, you'll likely spot me rocking my all-time favorite kicks, the Air Jordan 4s. And after a day of design? Nothing beats unwinding with some Call of Duty action or diving into platformer games. It's all about balance, right? Pixels by day, platforms by night!

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