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Interview: Loronline on documenting the history of ‘The Old Republic’, balancing MMOs with real life, and 7.0

"There are a large number of endgame raiders who are truly some of the kindest people in the community"

For a game which sometimes feels as though it has slipped into the second tier of the MMO landscape, Star Wars: The Old Republic still counts an impressively strong pedigree of content creators among its community. Loronline is one such creator, and after a year of taking a break from his regularly scheduled video content, he has now returned with a multi-part documentary charting the game’s creation and first four years of live service.

SWTOR Unmasked‘ is an epic project which unfolds over almost three hours, covering the game’s class stories, its first two expansions, and the times that the game hit the news. As a SWTOR player since launch, Loronline’s passion is evident throughout the documentary, but he doesn’t shy away from tackling the more controversial aspects of the game.

As someone who didn’t come to SWTOR until much later into the game’s lifespan, I enjoyed hearing Loronline’s first-hand account of playing the game during those early days and was interested in hearing about the creative process behind the documentary. After striking up a conversation on Twitter, Loronline (aka Lawrence) was kind enough to answer a few questions, delving into his changing MMO habits, why he attempted such an ambitious project and his thoughts on SWTOR‘s future.

When did you first start playing SWTOR? What drew you to the game initially and what kept you playing after so many years?

My journey in Star Wars: The Old Republic started a few weeks following the initial release. I was invited to the game by some old friends from college with the aim of starting an online guild. During this period I was a somewhat casual player, with a few toons at level cap (50). After a long break from the game, I returned for the Shadow of Revan expansion. My friends continued to play the game during my break, and upon my return, invited me to join an operation team.

Star Wars: The Old Republic’s endgame content, referred to as raiding, is what truly piqued my interest in the game and has furthermore kept me engaged within the MMORPG industry. I have been raiding on and off for the last half decade, both in Star Wars: The Old Republic and in other similar MMORPGs.

Have you played any other MMOs before or since playing SWTOR?

Alongside SWTOR I would actively play both Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online again with the aim of joining online raid teams to complete each title’s respective endgame content. Wildstar was my main MMO for many years, and unfortunately closed down in late 2018.

Provided by Loronline

Something the industry fails to prepare anyone for is the unfortunate truth that products have a life cycle, even MMORPGs are subject to change and eventual ends. Wildstar’s ending was an incredibly emotional experience for myself, and has helped me better appreciate the amount of work and dedication that goes into sustaining AAA MMORPGs today.

Elder Scrolls Online, was again, a totally different experience all together. The community was incredibly positive and motivating in its own way; with its own sense of identity. ESO helped me grow as a member of the MMO community, and helped me realise how similar yet unique all these different MMORPGs were.

In the past I have also played World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies and Runescape. But this was more to test the waters; I had achieved level caps for various expansions in said MMOs, but I had never managed to find my bearings in the same way that I had for SWTOR, ESO or Wildstar.

How have you seen your gaming habits change over the years? How do you balance playing MMOs with playing other games and enjoying other hobbies?

Finding the time to invest in so many different MMORPGs is difficult, especially when trying to juggle hobbies, work and other elements of my day to day life. Playing through an MMO is in itself very time consuming; whether it be levelling, engaging in group content or simply experiencing the story first hand; it is very easy to amass hours of game time.

Honestly, I try to keep my MMO experience casual. I will on occasion book time into my schedule for raid teams and group content that is dependent on my attendance.

But beyond that single exception I will generally try to play these MMOs at my own leisure (during my free time).

What made you want to focus your YouTube channel on creating SWTOR content?

Early on in my content creation career I found myself becoming very attached to the MMORPG genre, I was particularly enjoying SWTOR, Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online. I initially had plans to become an ESO content creator, and further make ESO the main focus of my YouTube channel—following from my initial playthrough of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Before I finalised on this decision however, The cinematic ‘Sacrifice‘ was released for the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion. The trailer itself breathed new life into SWTOR, and motivated my school friends to continue playing for the expansion, the same few who initially introduced me to SWTOR years before. Following this, I joined my friends for the expansion, and decided to focus my efforts on SWTOR video content.

In the following months, I would meet other content creators such as Vulkk and SWTORCentral’s Sam. Two exceptional creators who would go on to support me in joining the newly established influencer program—thereby making me an official SWTOR content creator.

When did the idea come to you to create a documentary on the history of SWTOR and how did the idea evolve over the time that it was in production?

At first, ‘SWTOR Unmasked’ was a pipe dream, a video I had always wanted to do but never had the time for. I initially tested the waters of this concept with some smaller documentary videos such as: ‘The Event That Changed SWTOR‘ and ‘The True End Game of SWTOR‘ these both being docu-shorts that served as proof of concepts for the ‘Unmasked’ series.

Prior to this however, the documentary’s foundations originated from my desire to learn more about other MMOs, World of Warcraft being one such MMO. I remember scouring the internet for weeks trying to piece together the history of WOW, so that I could understand the controversies and events players were referencing in the game. I could never quite find a video that summarised each of WOW‘s major historical beats; which got me thinking about players new to SWTOR. These being players who perhaps missed SWTOR‘s own history and would benefit from a video that simply contextualised the major events. This led to my writing of the ‘Unmasked’ series.

While doing research for the documentary did you find out anything about the game that you weren’t previously aware of? Similarly, did it make you re-evaluate your feelings about any particular aspect of the game?

When researching a decade worth of content, it naturally becomes very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. A lot of the information obtained for ‘SWTOR Unmasked’ required the use of digital archiving sites and forums to re-track down lost articles and databases; especially for raid progression and community operated pages.

For ‘Unmasked’ itself I had to track down former community members and influencers to better differentiate the fact from fiction. To my surprise the community is still largely contactable. I found myself in contact with former raiders, theorycrafters and forum posters on their respective platforms. The community’s support of the ‘Unmasked’ project was crucial in helping me find some of the older documents from SWTOR‘s past. These documents enabled me to discuss topics in more depth.

Provided by Loronline

As a raider, I was naturally aware of the community operated progression boards and former world first clears. I watched a few world first runs live back in the day, such as: Zorz’s own Temple of Sacrifice and Ravagers clear. The guild itself was renowned within the raid community and had a lot more attention than most end game guilds at the time.

After talking to a few former world first holders through direct messages, I found myself completely blown away by the kindness of the community. There is unfortunately a stigma around the raid community concerning toxicity and elitism. Whereas a large majority of the mainstream player base seems to believe that most raiders are bad people.

In reality, there are a large number of endgame raiders who are truly some of the kindest people in the community—but these raiders have unfortunately received a bad reputation due to the actions of a select few. Researching for ‘Unmasked’ has better helped me appreciate the niche raid communities within the MMO and have given me the opportunity to meet some truly fantastic people.

We’re seeing more people attempt such large-scale MMO history projects just lately, whether it’s in video or written form. Why do you feel that it’s important, and what tips/advice would you offer somebody who wants to contribute something to documenting the history of the virtual worlds that they play?

The virtual world is becoming more important day by day. The MMO industry simply utilises this fact and gives people a virtual universe to interact with. Like the real world, people provide these virtual worlds with meaning and engagement. MMOs are foundations for communities, and therefor come with their own history. I feel people are creating these large-scale history projects to share their stories with the greater MMO industry, and in extension encourage others to become a part of their universe.

My aim with ‘Unmasked’ was to make Star Wars: The Old Republic more digestible for the masses, and to in turn, encourage people to play the game. All this in the hopes that they too will find meaning and engagement within the MMO industry.

A huge setback for me was finding the time to create ‘Unmasked’. I feel this hurdle will always be present in content creation as one’s own time is finite, and one person can only do so much. My advice therefore is simply to start. Write one word on the document, film one scene, record one line of dialogue—get the ball rolling. Over time, you will be able to contribute more and more to your project until you find yourself finished and then the adventure can start all over again.

The latest expansion, Legacy of the Sith, has had a bumpy launch and the general consensus was that it underwhelmed in pretty much every respect. Where do you see SWTOR in one, five, ten-years’ time?

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Legacy of the Sith is arguably SWTOR‘s most controversial expansion to date. As it stands, I would agree that the expansion has underwhelmed in a lot of respects, and oddly over-delivered in others. As a raider, it has been a real treat to re-experiment with every class and essentially re-learn core progression from the ground up.

For example: I love the changes to the Immortal Juggernaut specialisation: the rework on the tactical item “Grit Teeth” and the newly updated combat proficiencies have completely revalued the Immortal combat style and made gameplay feel familiar yet fresh. Likewise I feel other combat styles such as Medicine Operative have been stripped down to nothing more than a few buttons, and could do with some further patching. There’s always two sides to every coin, and this update is no exception.

Moreover I felt that general expectations for this expansion were very high. Due to some miscommunication leading up to the expansion’s release. The cinematic ‘Disorder‘ was exceptional, and showed Electronic Arts’ eagerness to collaborate with Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Two titanic companies both held in high esteem, now collaborating on an official Star Wars project—this level of marketing hype was bound to set the bar fairly high.

I further felt that the official Bioware live streams gave the expansion very high praise, and made Legacy of the Sith sound larger than a few of the expansions prior. This may still be the case as update 7.0 is said to feature a staggered release schedule. But I feel further clarification from the developers would go a long way, whether this be in the form of a roadmap or possibly a simple message from the producer—anything to reassure the fanbase that content is still planned to release soon!

Do you see the documentary as an end cap on your time as a SWTOR content creator? If so, where do you see your channel headed after the documentary is released?

‘Star Wars: The Old Republic Unmasked’ is my attempt at introducing people to SWTOR and the greater MMO industry. The documentary tries to hit two birds with one stone! I’m aiming to both summarise SWTOR‘s history for new players, and thereby help introduce them to SWTOR, whilst also comparing SWTOR to other MMOs to encourage SWTOR players to further delve deeper into the MMO industry.

In the future I would like to expand my horizons by creating content for other MMOs as well as SWTOR. I would honestly like to create more documentary content for SWTOR and further go on to compare and contrast SWTOR against other various titles within the broader MMO industry.

Finally, if you had to pick one memory from your time playing the game which really sticks out, what would it be?

My favourite memory from SWTOR would have to be my first clear of Terror from Beyond on nightmare difficulty in 2018. The clear itself was with a small raiding guild called Fix the Frames. I reached out to one of the guild admins and asked if I could try out some of the higher tier raid content, as Wildstar had just shut down and I wanted to get back into endgame raiding.

Provided by Loronline

Fortunately the guild was incredibly patient with me, and took me through my first Nightmare Operation in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I would go on to stay in Fix the Frames for the majority of my raiding career until it disbanded in late 2019. During this period I made so many friends and memories within the game and am looking forward to making more with the latest 7.0 expansion!

Thank you very much for having me on mmofolklorist.com, and to everyone reading I hope you enjoy the rest of update 7.0, Legacy of the Sith!

Huge thanks to Lawrence for taking the time to chat with me, and a hearty congratulations on finishing the documentary. As it happens, however, ‘Unmasked’ is only part one of his history of The Old Republic. At the end of the third video in the series, he announced plans to produce a sequel, titled ‘Endured’. If you enjoyed the series and want to make sure ‘Endured’ gets made, be sure to share the video with your friends, and drop Loronline a comment on his videos or social media channels.

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