'Star Wars: Knights of Old Republic' Unreal Engine 4 Fan Mod Shuts Down After Legal Threats

The 'Apeiron' mod was meant to be a total overhaul of the beloved 2003 game using modern graphics.

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Oct 11 2018, 7:26pm

Image: Poem Studios

For the last three years, a fan effort to remaster the beloved 2003 video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic with modern graphics and other tweaks has chugged along with nary a word from the franchise’s rights holder.

Now the project, called Apeiron, will shut down for good with only tantalizing snippets of gameplay to show for its efforts after Lucasfilm—which was acquired by Disney in 2012—sent a cease-and-desist letter to John Taylor Trotter, the head of the Atlanta-based and volunteer-run indie studio leading the Apeiron project, Poem Studios.

“Notwithstanding Poem Studios’ affection and enthusiasm for the Star Wars franchise and the original KOTOR game,” the letter stated, “we must object to any unlicensed use of Lucasfilm intellectual property.” Lucasfilm’s letter asked Trotter to “destroy all code and materials related to [the] project.”

The Apeiron Twitter account announced the project’s unceremonious end on Thursday in a tweet. “After a few days, I've exhausted my options to keep it afloat; we knew this day was a possibility,” the tweet, which contained the Lucasfilm letter, stated. “I'm sorry and may the force be with you.”

In an email, Trotter described getting the letter as feeling “like I was receiving news that I'd lost a loved one, but rather than a tear-fueled call in the middle of the night, it was a dry legal document sent via email in the late afternoon.”

“I am aware of how dramatic that makes me sound,” Trotter continued. “but you have to understand I poured myself into this project daily, on weekends, and holidays. I debated with myself for hours on mundane visuals in the game like 'How should tables look on Korriban?’ or ‘What's the economics of Tatooine?’" Trotter described losing the project as personally “devastating” because working on it was “one of the few constants” he has in his life currently.

Spokespeople for Lucasfilm weren’t immediately available to comment.

Apeiron was destined to be a “full conversion mod” of the original game, which means that it used original game assets while adding new ones and rendering it all in a powerful modern graphics engine—Unreal Engine 4. Rendering old games in the modern engine is something of an obsession for the modding community.

According to the Apeiron website, the mod was meant to be a free update aside from the cost of purchasing the original 2003 game, which would have been a requirement to play.

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While gameplay footage (as well as character models) showing off some refreshed locales was released over the summer, those videos make it clear that a full remaster of the sprawling role-playing game was going to take a lot more work and time. According to Trotter, the mod was a year or more out from release.

While Apeiron is done for good, Trotter said, Poem Studios isn’t. The team of nine volunteers is already starting work on a new project that was born from an internal hackathon and is code named “Novella,” he told me.

“It's been years of me working on this, and now that it's gone and I'm staring into the quite literal black void of a blank Unreal Engine level I am both petrified and exhilarated,” Trotter wrote.

“Everything that happens from this point on is solely our creation and reflects upon me and the team and in this industry all it takes is one mistake to be yet another mediocre indie studio pushed to the wayside,” he continued. “So both me and you are about to find out just how good I really am.”

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