"They may become your best buddy. You might build a romantic relationship with them. They might get pissed off with decisions you've made and leave, or betray you, or try to fight you. So they're another immersive element in the game, and again I think it's something unique we're bringing to the genre."
Just how unique, though? Aren't companions just an advanced form of the pets you can acquire in World of Warcraft and its ilk? "They've been compared to pets, but they're very different," argues Nichols. "They're much more immersed in the story and provide a different aspect of gameplay. I would think of them more as... Well, companions is the perfect word." For an example of the kind of relationship you can have, he says, think of Han Solo and Chewbacca: "They have personal stories, but they're also buddies."
You could argue that the most important reason to play MMOs is to share your adventures with real-life buddies. By introducing AI companions, isn't BioWare missing the whole point of MMO gaming - the social aspect? Not according to Zeschuk.
"The social experience is really important. We've got some interesting ways to have players interact within each others' stories, and that leads to results you probably haven't seen before," he says.
"Social gaming is something we don't want to forget. If you want a solo experience, you can do that. You can also really get involved with other people and do cool stuff together." Plus there are other advantages, he adds, such as when you're preparing for a group encounter - you can fill any role gaps with AI companions, and avoid having to wait around for human players.
So The Old Republic is designed to be an MMO for those who like to go solo as well as those who like to buddy up. It's also designed, Zeschuk adds, to suit players who might only play for half an hour at a time, along with those who enjoy marathon five-hour raid sessions. "The thing for us is to really cater to all those different types of players, and make sure there is something there for all of them," he says.
But what about those players who were hoping for a KOTOR 3 in the style of the previous games, rather than a KOTOR MMO? "We're passionate about this franchise, but in our minds we're doing KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9," Muzyka offers.
"This game is that big. It's huge in terms of the content, the story, the things you get to do. It's set in that same part of the Star Wars universe, with all the things that MMO fans have come to know and love - exploration, progression, customisation, combat. But with a story as well."
"As more gets revealed about what we're actually doing, we suspect those people will be very happy," Zeschuk chimes in.
That may take some time, however. According to Nichols, the next batch of information about SWTOR won't be released until "early next year". Until then there's nothing more to go on than what's been revealed at this press event - i.e. nothing much.
But perhaps that's unfair. Had the announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic been a real surprise instead of a long-predicted event, there might have been a bit more excitement when it finally came - perhaps enough to draw a veil over the lack of juicy details.
However, there are still so many questions to be answered about Star Wars: The Old Republic. Questions about how the interface will work, what the combat will be like, how much it'll cost to play... We're not talking about any of that today, of course. The even bigger questions, such as whether complex storylines and AI buddies will work in MMOs, won't be answered until the game is released - and that could be years from now.
Ray Muzyka is certain about one thing, though. "When this comes out, it's going to be the best game BioWare's ever done," he says. "We're excited about that." If you're a Star Wars fan, a BioWare buff, an MMO player or all of the above, you probably should be too. Excited - and curious to know more.