Art and Making of… books are usually a bit of hornblowing hucksterism; some rah-rah bulk for the Collector’s Edition or a C.O.D. ray of marketing sunshine delivered courtesy of Amazon to ease the fretful weeks (or possibly year-plus, in Guild Wars 2’s case) prior to launch. In many ways, The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic is a credit to its species as I’ve so narrowly defined it, but it’s also something more.
Just to cover the bases: Sweeping, painterly, full-page concept art choking every page? Check. Quippy cocktail party banter from execs and leads from every table in the BioWare cantina? Check. Trivia you’re not likely to find from any other source, such as the game’s 30,000 lines of voiceover delivered in 30 alien languages (one of which was modeled on Finnish)? Check. Foreward written by a celebrated presence in the gaming world? An unfortunate check – Penny Arcade’s is a pitch-perfect asshat in his alternately drifting and self-aggrandizing monologue.
So, in short, The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic will look fine on your coffee table and amply rewards a leaf-through, but if you actually pick it up and read the book, you’re in for a treat. Punched up with commentary from the game’s de facto spokesperson, Writing Director Daniel Erickson, and edited by Frank Parisi - former Lucasfilm Ltd. editor, editor of “Inside Star Wars” magazine, and author - the copy smartly walks the narrow line between the artistic, technical, and the human aspects of developing SWTOR with aplomb.
Layout is key to Parisi and company’s success. Starting with classes and moving to planets and more obscure avenues of gameplay (companions, PvP, space combat, etc.), Parisi examines the look and feel of a concept, such as a class, while relaying some of the developer teeth-gnashing necessary to make it come alive. You’ll read how the Imperial Agent, for example, challenged the artists because no paradigm existed for the class in the movies, a problem unique among SWTOR’s classes. Or how designers sought to imbue the ice planet Hoth with some kind of scenery and (plausible) indigenous life.
But it’s the non-technical approach of this book that makes it stand out. While some level of Star Wars movie knowledge (not necessarily the EU) is mandatory, this is the kind of book you could comfortably offer a visiting relative who doesn’t get the “whole MMO thing” over the holidays (as you disappear to play more SWTOR, of course). Even better, it's a breezy read at 160 pages (page-spanning images keep the commentary at a pleasant minimum).
All in all, the authors bridge the accessibility gap nicely, satisfactorily explaining the nuances of MMO play while laying out the travails of designing an amazingly complex online game that endeavors to stay true to the Star Wars canon and, just as importantly, its fanbase. Whether or not the price is right ($US 40 on the cover, currently $US 26 on Amazon) depends on just how much your fancy is tickled by this sort of thing. But as books like this go, whether you're a hardcore fan or just looking for something to read while you're in the queue, The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic is a solid recommendation from your pals at Swotrhub.