The rumors are true; Lucasfilm and BioWare announced yesterday that the two companies are working on an MMORPG called Star Wars: The Old Republic that will not only offer players a chance to step into the Star Wars universe, but will also change the way that MMOs are made forever. But that's about all that they were telling. At least they did release some concept art and screenshots, which you can see below.

The phrase heard most often at the press launch for The Old Republic was "We can't tell you that yet." Questions about the gameplay, scale, price, delivery system and release date of the game were all answered with those frustrating words, but at least BioWare's Gordon Walton acknowledged how frustrating he knew it was:

A lot of the things we're not talking about is not because we're teases or because we don't know yet, it's because it's not settled... At this point of time, [anything we tell you about the release date] would be a lie. It's all about the quality, and until we get close, we don't know yet. We don't want to overhype [the game]. No games are overhyped like MMOs are overhyped, and a Star Wars MMO may be hyped the most of all.

So what do we know about the game? Well, it'll be a cross-platform MMO. taking place 3,600 years before the movies — and 300 years after the Knights of the Old Republic games — where players will decide upfront on what "faction" their character is. (The only two were were told of were Jedi or Sith, but others were promised. "Not everyone's fantasy is to be a Jedi," said lead writer Daniel Erickson). You'll also decide on your character's class and race, as well as whether you're good or evil. From there, the players will get to explore new worlds, complete tasks and — unusually for an MMO — experience a story. As BioWare's Co-CEO Ray Muzyka explained, the addition of a story to the MMO format is a groundbreaking — and, in his eyes, necessary — move, adding "emotionally compelling storytelling" to create something unique. (Lead writer Erickson agreed, saying that story was a central concept of "every RPG until we went to MMO-space, and then something fell off the truck").

While staying unsurprisingly cagey about the amount of work that's already gone into the game, BioWare's lead designer on the project, James Ohlen, admitted that the game is the equivalent to not just one sequel to Knights of The Old Republic 1 and 2, but several; "[The Old Republic] is the equivalent of every other BioWare game ever released, combined," he explained. The game will offer players the chance to travel between worlds and interact with AI-driven companion characters as well as other players. ("What would Han be without Chewbacca?" said Muzyka when asked about the role of companions in the game. "What would Luke be without R2?" But don't worry; you can kill them if they annoy you). You can also choose between following the light or dark sides and, maybe most importantly, have awesome lightsaber battles. Ohlen said that BioWare and Lucasarts' aim with the game was to "allow players to carve out their own epic stories - and that's important, because Star Wars is all about epic stories." Muzyka perhaps put it more succinctly:

We're going to allow you to experience the great moments of Star Wars... What are the cool things that you've seen in the movies? If you can do it in the movies, we're trying to do that in the game.