I need to tell you how I came to be standing on a strange oceanic planet, being asked by a complete stranger to murder people all around the galaxy. And why I had a smile on my face.
"Get over it," I told Mission, the 14-year-old Twi'lek who had joined my party. She was confiding in me about the horror of her home planet being utterly destroyed. The Sith had completely obliterated the population of Taris, countless millions had been slaughtered, and everything she had ever known or loved, beyond one Wookiee, was gone. Move on, whiny child.
Continuing my mission to play through BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic making only the most awful, spiteful and abhorrent choices available at every turn, letting a kid know her concerns over mass genocide were of no import whatsoever was now second nature. My character, Simon Evil, had an alignment deep in the red. A character screen, detailing your current levels and abilities, shows an image of your Jedi against a background that reflects their position within the Force. You begin with a white glow of neutrality, shifting toward either blue or red depending upon your actions and behaviour. Simon was already standing against a deep red after just one planet. He had already done some terrible, terrible things. Dismissing Mission's grief - whatever.
So far it had been remarkably difficult. My conscience, refusing to accept the, "But it's just a game, what you do doesn't matter" logic, had been screaming in horror at some of the imaginary actions and words I'd been using against these imaginary people. But so far I'd only been on one planet, and it was now time to unleash Simon on the rest.
After the destruction of Taris, Bastilla, the Jedi in the party, insisted that I travel to Dantooine, where a Council of Jedis wished to speak to me. Simon, it appears, is extremely strong in the Force, and during the continuing conflict with the Sith they're keen to train up whoever they can get.
Dantooine isn't just a Jedi training camp. It's home to many people to screw over in some pretty elaborate ways. But training comes first, and Simon was quick to pass the (rather silly) qualifying tasks. He becomes a Jedi "Guardian". With a display of stupidity comparable to handing out whiskey and guns in a prison, Simon Evil was given a lightsaber.
Actually, there's one detail that needs to be highlighted about the Jedi training. One of the tasks given to me was to investigate the source of a Dark corruption that was causing the nearby wildlife to viciously attack the locals. Most of the way through the Jedi training dialogue, you're very limited to giving goody-two-shoes responses. This particular trial was Simon's opportunity to express himself properly. Exploring the surrounding countryside I eventually found an enclave occupied by a frenzied, rogue Jedi, Juhani. The source of the corruption, she needed to be dealt with somehow. I can't remember how this worked the first time I played through the game, back when I was a shining force for the Light, but I think she might have tragically killed herself. No such chance this time. At the slightest sign of her showing remorse, I took my chance to declare I was going to kill her for no given reason.
There's a weird flaw in KOTOR that's highlighted when you play this way. The two members of your party you've chosen to bring with you will splurt and bluster their disgust at your behaviour, but when it comes to the battle itself, they join in with gusto. The simpering idiot Rebel soldier, Carth Onasi, will throw his moral weight around until the game enters combat mode, and then his regular battle barks appear. "You asked for this!" he shouts at the weak, miserable Jedi who's only desperate for help. I put this down to my corrupting influence. There are two far more awful things I did on Dantooine, however, far beyond murdering Juhani and then successfully lying to the Council about it. First was the woman with the droid.
Before I started this project, this was the moment I was thinking about. I remembered some of the options I'd never have dared to pick before, and as I was installing the game I was thinking about this moment. This woman, Elise, has lost her husband. After his death she has been distraught, grieving, and unable to move on. Unable in a really creepy way. Her husband built droids, and had created one in particular to look after the family. One who had now gone missing, only exacerbating her grief. She explained that he vanished from the home without any signs of a break-in, and she's convinced he's been kidnapped. First she loses her husband, and now her only companion.
Later, when exploring the surrounding area, I spotted a droid encircled by Kath Hounds, looking in trouble. Not out of kindness, but simply because the game enters combat mode when you get too close to the hounds, I defeated all the attackers. Beasts destroyed, the droid explains his situation. He had run away quite deliberately, as a result of his mistress taking that title a little too literally. Rather than grieving for her husband, she had transferred her feelings onto the droid, and was attempting to have a relationship that was clearly inappropriate with a robot. Deciding that this was the best thing he could do for her, the droid had tried to get himself killed to force Elise to move on. Noble, brave. I remember making the difficult decision to help the droid fulfil his wishes, and killing him, then going back to Elise to tell her he was dead. It was a terrible moment - she was distraught, destroyed, and I was sure I had done the wrong thing. Until later in the game when I met her again, and she seemed to have finally moved on in her life. I had made a real difference.
This was not for Simon Evil. Simon Evil did something very, very bad. I could have ordered the droid to return home, and left the woman to continue unravelling in his bemused company. That would have been pretty dreadful. But I found a much... better option. I decided I would kill the droid, but right before doing so, tell him that I'd be sure to go back to Elise and let her know he was still out there, and she should keep looking for him. The droid's last words were cries of astonished misery. Mission and Carth, after voicing their shock, dutifully helped me take him down. "You asked for this!" I went back to Elise to let her know there was still hope, he was out there, and she should go find him. Job done.
I think this might have been the point where I snapped. Once I got into the dispute between two local families, the Sandrals and the Matales, I noticed that the squirming and reeling in reaction to my decisions was beginning to fade. In fact, when I was forced to apologise to someone in order to get the mission going, I was becoming most perturbed.
Here's the deal with those families. The son of Nurik Sandral, Casus, had gone missing. Nurik's convinced he's been kidnapped by rival Ahlan Matale. Soon after, Ahlan's own son, Shen, went missing. The Jedi Council had been asked to intervene with the escalating dispute, and Simon was dispatched to... help.
Neither family is particularly helpful, but inside Nurik's home I spoke to his daughter, Rahaisha. She begged for my help, telling me she had a secret she must share. Picking the cruellest option, I dismissed her and told her I had no time for her stupid, petty concerns. Bastilla was horrified at my attitude, the girl was upset, it was business as usual. But unlike so many encounters, it didn't let me continue with the task in spite of my rudeness. If I wanted to mess these families, I was going to have to bite my lip and apologise to this woman. Apologies mean Light Side points, something I was committed against, and had so far avoided. Dilemma. Thankfully the game is so splendidly written that even in apologising, I was able to be such a dick that by the end of the discussion the game declared I'd scored both Light and Dark points. A reasonable compromise.
Played Light, you can find that Shen is being held captive by Nurik, and the daughter wants you to rescue him, and help the two of them get away from the increasingly unhinged Nurik. I went along with things this far, convinced I would have to go back and reload once these actions turned me all nice or something. As the two fled from the house they were suddenly confronted by both families, along with their platoons of soldier droids. Here with your carefully chosen words you can reconcile the two families, help Nurik to accept his son's disappearance has nothing to do with Ahlan, and probably have bluebirds land on your shoulder while bunnies gambol at your feet. Or, it turns out, you can tell Nurik that Ahlan killed his son. Oopsie.
The scene that follows is glorious. Ahlan is enraged, and with a nudge can be prompted into revenge, shooting Ahlan's son dead. Spinning around to Nurik I cried, "Are you going to stand for that?!" He is not, and he fires at Rahaisha. And then all out war breaks out, the two families slaughtering each other, leaving me with just a couple of droids to polish off.
And I loved it. I laughed. It was just so rewarding. My actions, even involving the slightest compromise, had allowed this dreadful situation to escalate out of all control until everyone involved was dead. When the Jedi Council each asked me about what could have possibly happened, how a simple dispute I was investigating could have ended in such bloody horror, I revelled in lying to them about it, each falling for my ludicrous claims of innocence. "I guess it must have been Mandolorians!"
Oh my God. I'd turned to the Dark Side.
Something had flipped. I wasn't bothered by telling Mission I didn't care about her stupid brother. I was now initiating conversations with Bastilla, just to tell her how stupid I thought she was. I began actively seeking out horrible things to do, rather than my previous shrinking away from the mouse as I'd clicked on the cruellest option. Which meant there was only one sensible thing to do. Evil loves company. I had to go to Tattooine to find HK-47.
Tattooine is surprisingly absent of overtly awful things to do. When you first arrive, you're met by a young widowed mother, Sharina Fizark, desperate for money to feed her children. She has the skull plate of a rare beast, worth around 500 credits. I remember this moment from the first time I played the game very clearly - I remember looking at my paltry bank balance and thinking: Boy, I could do with 500 credits. Being nice doesn't pay well, and I'd been extremely lovely. I was flat broke, and was being asked to give this woman 500 credits from my barren coffers. I could see the conversation options tantalisingly displayed. I could steal this thing from her, sell it for myself. But good grief, who on Earth would steal the last possession from a starving mother? Simon Evil would.
The moment is underlined in its awfulness by the woman's reaction. She doesn't even try to fight you. So appalled by your actions, she simply hands it to you in disgust, her life discovering a deeper bottom than she'd ever imagined possible. I sold the plate, adding the 500 credits to my overflowing vaults of ill-gained loot, and I was fine with that.
The rest of the planet's adventures limited me to just generally being a douchebag. I went into the Hunter's Lodge, or the local bar, and behaved so unpleasantly to everyone I met that they got up and left. It's an extraordinary display, to dickishly empty buildings simply with a horrible attitude.
I remember laughing when I'd been to the droid shop. With just one droid available, an HK-47 unit (this classification unknown to all in the room), I knew I was in the presence of a truly great mentor. If you've never played Knights of the Old Republic, and really, if these diaries achieve anything I hope it's that you will, HK-47 is the number one best reason to get it.
When I was my formerly angelic self, and floating through the galaxy weaving flowers in the hair of every waif and stray I went out of my way to help, put through college, and mentor into old age, HK-47 was a glimmer of what I was missing. An assassin droid, with the vast majority of his memory banks locked down and inaccessible to him, with the most wonderful attitude problem. Immediately referring to humans as "meatbags", and delivering his beautifully spiteful lines in a mellifluous, archly ironic voice, he's the evil equivalent to comic relief. In a game full of fluffy clouds and rainbows, his murderous attitude and wanton contempt for all other beings was a guilty delight. Simon's, however, was not a game of fluff and rainbows. It was somewhere where HK-47 would fit right in, and I couldn't wait to have someone in my party who would be endorsing my behaviour.
Keeping Bastilla with us, purely to torture her (and all the while, every time she levelled up only giving her new Dark Force powers), we stole and killed everything on the planet. Good times. Along the way, just after screwing over a Twi'lek hunter for his share of the spoils of a dragon kill that was almost entirely his doing, we were confronted by a bounty hunter who we'd run into back on Taris. He was most displeased that Simon had escaped the planet, and was here to finish the job. It was a quick and easy fight. Soon after I was given a message to meet with a man called Hulas on the planet Manaan. I was to approach him alone.
I had never heard of the Genoharadan before. There's a reason for this. This secret guild of bounty hunters is almost unknown in the galaxy, their name barely spoken. I imagine the first time I played the game I either ignored Hulas altogether, or immediately told him I wasn't interested as soon as it became clear they were assassins. Assassins?! I'm in!
So it was I stood alone on a strange oceanic planet, without any of my party, agreeing with a stranger to assassinate people I'd never heard of, for what he told me would be the good of the Republic, but for what I knew would mean personal profit. And I couldn't wait.
The Bastard of the Old Republic will be back soon.