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DBSI You Are Darth Predetermined

Considering that in Star Wars: The Old Republic everyone is a Luke, that little-to-no content is player-driven, and that voice-acting will limit certain aspects of the game, we can expect that some features of our characters are pre-determined. Chief among this is how other characters refer to us, our titles, and our prominent toys such as our starships. It is my guess that how these things are named will be out of our control. That we will not be able to pick our ship names, our Darth titles, or any other title of our character. Or that, if we can choose these things, other characters will call us by generic aliases instead of our chosen names.

I think the problem with customizing ship and character names should be pretty apparent for anyone who has given thought to how voice acting affects SWTOR. Non-player characters need to know what to call you, and that means the developers have to record player monikers ahead of time. This is why naming your character in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2 is essentially pointless. Because no matter what you choose for your first name, everybody is just going to call you “Commander,” “Shepard,” or “Commander Shepard” instead. There are three major points in SWTOR where this will come up. The first is generally when referring to your character. If the developers are lazy we’ll get to hear ourselves being referred to by our class names, but I doubt that will happen. (Or at least I hope that won’t happen.) Then, the more specific cases, any gifted “titles” for our characters—such as a “Darth” name—and our ship names will likely be out of our control.
The general character alias is important if only for Star Wars canon. Regardless of how you made them look, what you named them, or how you played them, in canon we know that Revan is Revan, the Jedi Exile is the Jedi Exile, and so on. We can refer to these player-customized characters by their official alias and know a few confirmed details (e.g., gender, alignment, general timeline of events) to flesh them out within canon. As each class in SWTOR will represent a unique character in canon—unlike in Star Wars Galaxies, where you character was just a random, faceless “spacer” in canon—our class heroes require some alias that refers specifically to them.

The “Darth” title is important because it’s something that’s earned and conferred upon you in a formal—pardon the term—”knighting” ceremony. In the Darth Bane books by Drew K, the Sith apprentices name themselves, but in Episode III we see Sidious decide upon and grant the name “Vader” to Anakin Skywalker. Which way can we expect it happen in SWTOR? Well the best clue is probably the rise to the rank of Sith Lord by Teneb Kel in the Blood of the Empire webcomic. In this comic, Kel (spoilers) basically blackmails his way into a promotion and confers upon himself the title of “Darth Thanaton” (end spoilers). This implies that players of the Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor classes get to choose their own Darth names, but will they do so only for nobody to ever use them? How would that have looked on the bridge of the Death Star?

Finally we have our ship names. Ships are important to the narrative. They embody and define your character (which is why it’s kind of a shame that the Jedi and Sith classes get only two ships among the four of them). The Millennium Falcon is practically a character itself. Between it’s temperamental moodiness, frequency of conversations with other characters (“Come on baby, hold together.”), and impact on the direction of the narrative, I’d say it had more “character” than half the people in the prequels. Artoo is even arguably a stand-in for Luke’s X-Wing—a part of his ship that pops out and follows him around on his adventures. And like a character, your ship is going to be referred to a lot. How often did NPCs refer to the Ebon Hawk? To the Normandy? Or to the ship A.I. on the Normandy II, EDI? It’d be a tough prop to avoid referring to by name—the name is a big part of what makes these props iconic and interesting.

What it comes down to is, these names are important. They’re important to our character and to the narrative flow. Some might argue that the fact that they’re important is all the more reason to let the players select them, but I disagree. They’re too important to leave in the players’ hands, because leaving it in the players’ hands means effectively leaving these names out of the game. If they cannot be voiced in a fully-voiced game, then they don’t matter and may as well not exist.
Two examples to look at in Star Wars games are Jaden Korr, hero of Jedi Academy, and Revan’s experience in the dueling arena on Taris in the early portions of Knights of the Old Republic. The former, Korr, was originally introduced as entirely player-customized except for his name. It was deemed important for other characters to be able to call him by name within the narrative. His other character details and the name of his ship, the Far Wanderer, were clarified later in his novel, Crosscurrent, but in the context of the game itself he only needed something other players could call him. And call him they did. Katarn, Luke, and the other NPCs referred to you by name and it made you feel like you had more of a place in the galaxy as Kyle Katarn’s apprentice. Without that, you would’ve felt detached and less important than the “big name” characters you were surrounded by. The name prevented you from being overshadowed. In the latter, Revan—although he’s not called that at this point—duels in the underground Taris blood-fighting circuit. When doing so, the game assigns you a predetermined moniker and even if you try to say you don’t like it you are stuck using this name for the duration of the Taris dueling quest chain. For that segment of the game, you are who the announcer addresses you as, the Mysterious Stranger.

If the big twist of KotOR hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see that character being referred to as “The Mysterious Stranger” in canon source books. Much better than simply calling him by a class name or as “Carth and Bastila’s friend.”

Other games deal with this issue in a few different ways. Some examples would be the “Lone Wanderer” that stars in Fallout 3, the “Warden” that stars in Dragon Age: Origins, the faceless “Master Chief” in the Halo games (later given the name “John”), the player character “Rookie” in Halo ODST, and the odd inversion of this tactic in the Half-Life series where we have a character who doesn’t talk or seem to have any personality at all, but we know his name is Gordon Freeman. The Lone Wanderer/Warden example is the same solution as the “Jedi Exile” in Knights of the Old Republic II. Your character has a name but what that name is doesn’t matter because they’re known by an official alias in canon. The Master Chief/Rookie solution is effectively the “Commander Shepard” solution of naming a character without determining their “personal” name. Even the name “John” is incredibly generic. And Gordon Freemen is a great example of how even a character intended to be “empty” of personality—allowing players to project their personality onto him—can benefit from being explicitly named. Take the name “Gordon Freemen” out of the Half-Life games and you’d be really left with no story at all. Barney the black mesa security guard would be the only named character from the first game. And hey, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
So what are BioWare’s potential solutions for resolving the custom/pre-determined name issue? The way I see it, their options are 1) to let the player pick whatever they want and dance around using the name, 2) to provide predetermined names that the player can’t choose, 3) to let players make up their own but provide a generic alias that characters will use instead, or 4) to provide a selection of possibilities that the player can choose from. The first two solutions are the extreme options, the second two are compromises of sorts.

I like to call the first solution the “hey you” solution. Basically it doesn’t matter what you call yourself because other people in the galaxy will only call you “he” or “she,” like they’re mad at you for some reason that nobody can quite recall. Oh sure, there would be variations like “Captain” or “Trooper” or “friend” and so on. Any random generic old thing people can call you.

The predetermined name solution is the cleanest as far as maintaining narrative cohesion, but people will cry huge crocodile tears over it because character customization is broadly considered to be sacrosanct by gamers. I can’t think of anything to add here so here’s an article about a British woman being attacked by a “herd of crazed hippos.”

The generic alias compromise is probably going to be used at least temporarily during certain quests, as with the Mysterious Stranger example. Similar to the “hey you” solution, any time you’re given a particular role within the narrative, people can call you that. Maybe it’s your rank in the military. Maybe it’s a nickname you’re generally known by. Maybe it’s someone you’re pretending to be to infiltrate the enemy. Maybe it’s something your crew dubs you as a term of endearment or respect. Anytime these things come up in the narrative they can serve as your temporary moniker. However the true spirit of this solution has one alias that you’re called by throughout the entire narrative. This could be a number of things, such as a predetermined Darth title for the Sith classes, a codename for the Imperial Agent, the name on your wanted poster as the Smuggler, and so on. For ships, it could be as simple as the ship designation given on the starships page, the name of your ship before you obtained it and renamed it, or any other official designation that it’s known by. With this solution, it doesn’t matter that you named your character Karl Winslow, captain of the noble starship Family Splatters because you’re going to actually be Smuggle the Stampede, captain of the USS Smuggleprise as far as the rest of the galaxy is concerned. The benefit of this compromise is that you get nice voice acting that can actually refer to you by some name, the downside is that you’re left wondering why nobody can use your actual name.

The select-an-option solution is probably the best compromise in that players wouldn’t necessarily be stuck with a name for their character, title, or starship that they hate, but is still pretty limiting. There are only so many options they can provide the player with and still support across every conversation in the game across a huge list of voice actors. If they wanted to really go all out with this approach, they could have every voice actor record a series of adjectives and nouns that the player can then mix together to form their own nicknames or ship names, but that’s a lot of work for what is effectively still a pre-determined name.

Actually, the selection solution concept can work as a bonus fifth possible solution: selectable player titles. For example, in many MMO games, such as in Warhammer Online and Lord of the Rings Online, players can unlock “titles” that act as prefixes for their character’s name. In an MMO with VO, it’s possible that these could be voiced aloud and used by NPCs as our names. In this solution, you might select the title “Captain” or “Lord” or “Master” or “Jedi” or “Darth” or whatever is appropriate for your narrative and NPCs would call you this as if it were your name. Again, I feel like the options would have to be somewhat limited so not every mention of your character has to be recorded multiple times, but it’s possible that this could be done. In this compromise, it wouldn’t matter what your chosen “Darth name” is because people will only ever call you “Darth,” as was done once with Vader, before it was decided/revealed that Darth was a title and not Vader’s first name:

Kenobi: “You’re only a master of evil, Darth.”

The benefit of this solution is that you can switch between titles at a whim and can unlock new titles as your game progresses. Unlike the generic alias compromises—where characters either refer to you as a name they choose or as one generic alias throughout your story—players would have some input on this and be able to change it on the fly.

My preference would be to just pick a pre-determined name for us. Select an official alias for every class that makes sense and that we can be referred to by throughout our story consistently from start to finish. Pick a cool name for our ships and let us make up our own “transponder aliases” or something. It’s not like there’s ship-based multi-player so what does it matter? For the Sith classes, have the Sith Emperor decree that we shall be know as “Darth Whatever” at some point, not open for discussion. People don’t complain about “Revan” so I’m sure you can come up with two more decent Darth names. I don’t want to be constantly referred to as a generic “Captain,” as my class name, or as “hey you.” I don’t want to have to hear the phrase “Unregistered Correllian XS Stock Light Freighter” every time somebody wants to refer to my ship. As an added bonus, this will avoid stupid Darth names, and stupid names are going to be enough of a problem already.
But what do you think? Obviously these names are important, but does that mean we should have control or that the narrative should determine for us? Comment below or discuss here!

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