Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars: Galaxies’

The Origin of it All

It was the fall of `92.  We had just arrived in the country and needed to buy a PC for my grad school work.  We opted for a mighty 386 computer (and sprang for the 40Mhz rather than the 33) and after considerable soul-searching had a ridiculously excessive 1Mb video card installed (how good was this machine?  When I discovered Doom a couple of years later, much of the game played as a blinking, growling, slideshow accompanied by the occasional delayed weapon blast).  I don’t even remember how we found the particular machine, probably through the newspaper (we were young and stupid).  At any rate, it began having some issues pretty quickly.  So I took it back to the rent-a-box place where we’d bought it, somewhere in the anonymous light industrial depths of the city of Orange.  The sales person wasn’t at all happy to see me but quickly established, as I’d suspected, that the motherboard was defective and offered to replace it for me while I waited.  Then he sat me down in front of another PC with an attached joystick and started up a game called Wing Commander.

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Along with the predictable cavalcade of Viagra ads and missives from prominent Nigerian businessman asking me to help them take care of an unexpected financial windfall, my e-mail today included the following piece of news from Sony Online Entertainment:

Dear Star Wars Galaxies™ Community Member,
We write to you today to inform you that on December 15, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and LucasArts will end all services (MMO and Trading Card Game) for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). The shutdown of SWG is a very difficult decision, but SOE and LucasArts have mutually agreed that the end of 2011 is the appropriate time to end the game.
We are extremely grateful to all of the SWG fans. We have had the rare opportunity to host one of the most dedicated and passionate online gaming communities and we truly appreciate the support we’ve received from each and every one of you over the course of the past eight years.
In recognition of your incredible loyalty, we are extending special Fan Appreciation offers to the current SWG community. We also plan to go out with a bang with a galaxy-ending in-game event in December and hope to see you all there. The details relating to these offers and events as well as the timeline and specifics regarding the discontinuation of the service, are provided below.
Again, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to our player community for making SWG one of the best online communities in gaming history.
Sincerely,Sony Online Entertainment & LucasArts

Now in some ways I’m not surprised.  I haven’t played Star Wars Galaxies (which first launched in June of 2003) since 2006.  I’ve written in some detail about how much I loved the early version of the game, a love only surpassed by my dislike of the so-called “New Game Enhancements and my disappointment at watching the game turn into a shadow of its former glory.

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Home Sweet Home

Since the IA blog space received its first major decorator overhaul recently it seems only appropriate to inaugurate the new look with a post on the role of player housing in MMORPGs.

I just bought my first house in Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).  Since I’m still playing with only a premium account (i.e. I haven’t paid for any additional inventory space yet) this was a pretty significant moment because it now gives me a space to offload some of my accumulated crap.  However, it started me thinking about how MMORPGs in general handle space.

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Reflections Occasioned by a Five-Year Anniversary

My very first experience with MMORPGs probably ruined me for life when it comes to appreciating other online games.  I played around a bit with MOOs and MUDs but wasn’t really into the idea of online gaming during the Ultima Online and Everquest period.  I did play what was then called World War II Online (now called Battleground Europe, and still going despite being the most punishingly unrewarding (which, according to the masochistic logic of most gamers, doesn’t mean it wasn’t/isn’t fun!) game I have ever played.  EVE is a game of checkers by comparison).  My first experience of a large scale MMORPG was therefore Star Wars Galaxies.

It was 5 years ago, in November of 2005, that Sony Online Entertainment scrapped the first version of SWG and implemented the New Game Enhancements (NGE).  I stuck it out for a few more months, and then joined the horde of rats scurrying down the anchor chain.

When I started playing SWG I was utterly and completely hooked, sold on the idea of virtual worlds from the moment the tutorial (an embarrassingly primitive affair which featured the now infamous “dancing Imperial Officer”) dumped me outside the spaceport in Coronet on Corellia.  I hadn’t even got my bearings when there was a peal of thunder and it began to rain.  That is exactly how long it took me to part with my immortal soul.

Naively, I assumed that SWG was like every other MMORPG out there in its basic mechanics.  It wasn’t.  Now is neither the time nor the place to rehearse the reasons for the game’s self-mutilation that left it little more than a WoW wannabe. . .  Oh hell, who am I kidding, any time is the perfect time to discuss such idiocy.  In retrospect, after playing several other MMOs of various kinds, I’ve come to realize that the reason SWG made such an impression on me is not simply because it popped my MMORPG cherry, but because it was trying to be a kind of game that is still strikingly rare in the MMORPG marketplace: an adult game.

What follows is part reflection, part elegy, part rant, all in memoriam for one of the most promising MMORPGs never to last the distance.  But my purpose is a serious one.  SWG‘s failure raises numerous issues, but the central one is an issue that still plagues the MMORPG industry: the unwillingness of developers to stop pandering to those players who want childish games.

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In a recent developer blog, Colin Johanson, Lead Content Designer for Guild Wars 2 asserts that their new dynamic content system will fundamentally change the MMORPG genre:

MMOs have become extremely popular, but the genre has done little to evolve over the past decade. Generally MMO players explore an unchanging, persistent game world, leveling up by performing quests which do not change the world in any way once completed. It’s time for the genre to take the next step, and explore the idea of a truly dynamic, living, breathing persistent world where the player’s actions really make a difference, and everything that occurs in the game world has cause and effect.

I’ve really been enjoying the Guild Wars 2 developer blogs.  I like the use of the cartoon strips to poke fun at some of the hoary practices of traditional MMOs (in the blog providing an overview of the combat system, for example, players are all set to pitch into a bar fight but then are reduced to standing around trying to calculate their relative damage and attack stats; I wept bitter tears of recognition).  The GW2 developers’ analysis of the problems with current MMOs is considered and, for the most part, accurate.  The design they are proposing in response sounds great; everything about it (with the unfortunate exception of it being set in a fantasy realm, but I could possibly suck it up and deal with that) sounds like exactly the kind of game that I would love to play.

However, I don’t have a lot of faith that this kind of game will prove sufficiently popular to last very long.

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