LOS ANGELES -- It's something that players of modern single-player video games like "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim'' and "Batman: Arkham City'' might take for granted, but an effect that die-hard fans of sprawling online role-playing games such as "World of Warcraft'' and "Aion'' will surely appreciate: The characters in "Star Wars: The Old Republic'' can actually speak.
With more than 320 actors portraying more than 4,000 characters with 260,000 lines of dialogue, BioWare's "The Old Republic'' is poised to feature more voice acting than any other massively multiplayer online game in the galaxy when it launches Tuesday, and that's not even counting the thousands of beeps and boops sputtered by droids predating R2-D2.
BioWare, the Electronic Arts Inc. developer behind the "Mass Effect'' and "Dragon Age'' single-player franchises, has become synonymous with conversational gameplay that allows players to chat with other characters in the hope of unlocking missions, learning more about the plot, demonstrating morality and even forming virtual bonds -- romantic or otherwise.
The developer is taking that virtual chatter online with "Old Republic,'' which is set thousands of years before Luke Skywalker battled Darth Vader in a galaxy far, far away. Unlike most other persistent multiplayer games, "Old Republic'' is relying more on voices than written words to push its narrative forward with an unprecedented amount of spoken dialogue.
The highly anticipated "Old Republic'' has already drawn comparisons to "World of Warcraft,'' the behemoth online fantasy game from Blizzard Entertainment that boasts more than 10 million subscribers but little voice work. (''Star Wars Galaxies,'' a "Star Wars'' online game from Sony Online Entertainment, ended last week after eight years in operation.)
At the start of "Old Republic,'' players pledge allegiance to either the Republic or Empire and pick from eight character types: a bounty hunter like Boba Fett, a smuggler like Han Solo, a Jedi consular like Yoda, a Sith inquisitor like Darth Maul, a Jedi knight like Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Sith warrior like Darth Vader, an Imperial agent like Grand Moff Tarkin or a trooper.
The possibility of 16 different, highly customizable protagonists -- eight men, eight women -- hyper-speeding through a virtual universe populated with thousands of talkative characters, as well as millions of other players online, presented "The Old Republic'' developers at BioWare in Austin, Texas, and LucasArts in San Francisco with several new challenges.
"When you're doing a game like 'The Old Republic,' the acting is like cubism,'' said LucasArts voice director Will Beckman. "You have to see these characters from every angle and be able to pull it apart and put it back together. It's definitely a challenge for our voice actors. It's a unique type of acting that takes a tremendous amount of imagination.''
Unlike an animated film, the nonlinear nature of "The Old Republic'' requires the voice actors to record several different versions of dialogue, depending on whether players are moving along the light or dark sides of the Force, and because the game is ongoing, the developers are creating updates that will feature new content, including voiceovers.