Ask Massively: May the Farce be with you.

Kevin Stallard
K. Stallard|05.01.08

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Ask Massively:  May the Farce be with you.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Once more into the breach, dear friends. It's time, once again, for another edition of Ask Massively. Some of the more astute readers of this column might already have an educated guess as to what this week's Ask Massively is going to cover. In case you require a well-placed smite from the ol' "Clue-by-Four", read on and gain enlightenment.

Dear Darth Massive,
Why is it that any Role Playing Game set in the Star Wars universe seems to fail miserably? I would think that even a retarded monkey could make a Star Wars based MMORPG successful. Is the franchise jinxed? Is Lucas to blame? Sony has a pretty good track record with MMORPGs, yet every mention I hear of Star Wars Galaxies makes it sound like the worst game ever to hit the shelves. I don't even know what NGE is, but apparently it causes the same reaction in SWG players that garlic and crosses do in vampires.

Help me, Obi Wan Massively, you're my only hope.
-Laura T.

Well Laura, or can we call you Mrs. T? We're not sure how someone can lay claim to "Obi Wan" and "Darth" in the same email, but it seems like a fascinating reference to the duality of the human soul. The answer to your questions are a little more complex than you might think. After the jump, we'll be happy to take a closer look at why the Star Wars franchise appears to have such a difficult time translating to a multiplayer environment.

If you would like to seek knowledge, be smitten by 'Ye Olde Clue-by-Four", or just have an answer to a simple question that has been bugging you for some time, feel free to drop us a line at ask AT massively DOT com or stop by our tipline and let it fly. We now have enough fake "Genuine, Authentic, Honest-to-god" Rolex offers that we are considering becoming an authorized reseller. Please don't send us any more.
First off, I would like to correct Mrs. T on one of her assumptions. Not all RPGs set in the Star Wars universe stink like the innards of a gutted tauntaun. Jedi Knight and Knights of the Old Republic are two of the more successful RPG titles set in Lucas's universe, and it would be a shame to lump them in with the target of today's column. In fact, if you care to go "Old School", Star Wars MUD is still alive and kicking after nearly 15 years. The Star Wars universe has all of the elements you might want in order to create a successful MMORPG. A rich storyline, a demand for heroes, and characters that players can identify with or recognize easily.

So what went wrong?

To answer one of your other questions ("What is NGE?"), NGE stands for New Game Enhancements, and it was probably the most controversial event in the history of Star Wars Galaxies. Essentially, NGE fundamentally redesigned the game on the fly. It reduced the number of classes from 34 to 9, radically altered the tradeskill system, turned combat into more of a first person shooter style of game, and, most importantly, allowed brand new players to start off as Jedi Knights as opposed to the previous requirement of hours of gameplay and a long and arduous quest that was required to "unlock" the Jedi Knight class. Given that NGE was announced two weeks before going live, it didn't give the player base much time to react or make their concerns and opinions known. It was an unmitigated disaster for SWG,

NGE isn't entirely to blame, however. Another problem with the Star Wars universe is that it defies typical MMORPG class hierarchies. In SWG, the player can be a Jedi OR a Smuggler OR a Commando OR any one of 9 professions. It might be easy to say "Han Solo is a smuggler" or "Luke Skywalker is a Jedi", but what about someone like Mara Jade? She has Jedi skills, but is also a smuggler, trader, spy and has even acted as an entertainer. (Remember, according to one of the books, she posed as a dancer in Jabba's palace) Perhaps instead of professions, a skill based system would have served better. A player could be a "Force senstive smuggler" or a "Spy who specializes in posing as an entertainer". With a relatively rigid class structure, why would anyone not expect to have every player make a beeline for "Jedi" as soon as they could?

That leads us to problem number three. The nature of an RPG involves casting the player as the hero of the story. In Jedi Knight or Knights of the Old Republic, this isn't an issue because there is only one hero (the player). In an MMORPG, every player is a hero, and in the Star Wars universe, every hero is a Jedi. Non-Jedi are, at best, significant backup players for the main hero (notable exception: Han and Chewie... Go ahead and get that out of your system). So on one hand, you have a setting where Jedi are supposed to be rare and the "elite of the elite", and on the other you have a game where every player has the opportunity to become a Jedi. Common sense would tell you that the result would be a game world with way too many Jedi and not enough of the other classes. Since we're tossing out criticism, we might as well throw out a solution, right? Perhaps not having Jedi available as a player class, or limiting the "Force Skills" available to players might encourage players to take professions that would give the game world more variety.

Finally, we have to take a look at the relationship between Verant/Sony and LucasArts. Left to their own devices, We're reasonably confident that Verant and Sony could have turned out a decent Star Wars MMO while keeping LucasArts at arms length to provide background story, concept art, and other information. However, as is fairly common for Lucas(Arts/Film/whatever) in dealing with their intellectual property, LucasArts exercised a very heavy hand with respect to elements of game design that hurt the game more than it helped. Or, as one unnamed Sony PR representative put it when we asked him about Star Wars Galaxies "Star Wars Galaxies is Lucas's problem. We aren't going to talk about it." Verant and Sony may have been responsible for Hell Levels, 12 hour corpse runs, and Mobs Who Would Like to Buy a Vowel, but Lucas is responsible for Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker, Greedo Shooting First, and Jar Jar Binks. Who would you rather have designing your MMO?

On that note, it's time to call it a day here at Ask Massively. Once again, if you'd like to have your question answered, drop us a note at ask AT massively DOT com or leave us a note on the tipline. We're going to go pester the folks over at Funcom for Age of Conan beta keys.

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