2 out of 5
“Working on a Star Wars game was pretty fuckin’ cool!” – paraphrased summary of Alex Kane’s Boss Fight Books entry on Stars Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
A couple of notes: I have not played KotOR, but I’m familiar with its place in gaming history, and the beats of its story. Not playing the topical game hasn’t prevented me from enjoying, or learning from, various BFBs. Secondly, I’m admittedly not a fan of overused expletives in most mediums, and many of the interviewees here tended to swear, and swear often. I have no problem with the words themselves, and I certainly use them in speech and writing, but they’re best used, in my opinion, for punctuation and not as casual adjectives / adverbs. Their repetition tends to make me have a lower opinion of the intelligence of those employing them; even setting aside the, perhaps, dated context of the words as expletives, and just consider them akin to flavorings, I’d say the same thing for relying on phrases like “you know” and the like – it just feels lazy. Are those phrases / words in this manner actually unintelligent? No, not necessarily, and the BioWare / Lucas Arts team members covered in the book certainly kick my ass in business acumen or technical prowess, but my bias toward their language remains all the same, and I’d say besides that – and more going into my rating of the book – I didn’t hear / read much that encouraged me to reconsider my bias. This was also the most colorfully worded usage of interview blurbs in a BFB to date (I believe), which leads me to wonder if there’s some general method for editing replies to remove stuff like this that Kane didn’t employ.
…Which gets more into the review. It’s not fair to pick apart the one-line bio for the author regarding this being his first book – I haven’t written a book, or any articles, and I certainly haven’t done any form of research into a topic that requires organizing interviews and citing sources, and Kane’s narrative voice is solid enough. However, the book is fairly slim for such a complex and influential game, and the tone is notably different from the majority of Boss Fights, which have either leaned in to step-by-step histories / technical dives, or plied more deeply into a writer’s emotional connection / nostalgia for a game, and this volume doesn’t really do any of that. It is, unfortunately, fairly shallow. Partially, that’s effected because the “characters” don’t really feel established. That might be the nature of writing about the larger companies that were involved with KotOR, but even when we’ve had entries on big franchises (e.g. Mario, Mega Man), some key people are associated with the games, and we spend some time understanding their involvement or personality. Here, Kane steps quickly through a lot of the principles via quotes and their titles, and it gives us no real sense as to their importance beyond being told that they’re important. And then by throwing up so many names so fast, keeping them straight – who works for BioWare again? – becomes difficult. And then, more generally, the information is rather slim. There are definitely some interesting highlights about the way the game evolved from a Baldur’s Gate-style RPG concept, and the “newness” of everything – the cinematics, the voice casting – but they are, ultimately, highlights. Factoids. Compounded by a faceless quote from someone telling us that working on the game was fuckin’ hard, but Star Wars is so fuckin’ cool.
I am intrigued to go back and map some of the cooler ideas that drift through the text to playing the game, but it’s not a driving need, as has been inspired by the top tier Boss Fight entries. Kane’s entry is undeniably well-intentioned, but feels more lightweight than its subject may have deserved.