Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Some Assembly Required: One last jump to lightspeed

Jef Reahard

Eulogizing Star Wars Galaxies is difficult. In fact, I've written some 2,200 articles since signing on with Massively a couple of years ago, and none of them has come close to being as painful as this particular wall o' text.

The fact that I even used the word eulogy in reference to a video game says it all, really. Join me after the cut for as brief a remembrance as I can manage.

Star Wars Galaxies - Sarlacc event
Massively covered the end-of-the-world events, of course, and I won't spend much ink on that here, not because they weren't fun in their own lagtastic way but because they were sort of a sideshow to the real SWG and not indicative of how or why people cared about this game so much, for so long.

Star Wars Galaxies - XWing and Firespray attacking Star Destroyer
A Star Wars MMO!

I first became aware of SWG via an online press release posted on the fledgling MSN network way back in the summer of 2000. I printed it out, slowly, on account of my NetZero dial-up connection, and tacked it to the bulletin board above my computer because frankly I'd never been as excited as I was when I learned that some of the guys behind Ultima Online were making a Star Wars-themed virtual world.

Many trips to Blade's Battlestation -- and later, the official SWG forums -- followed, until I finally landed a beta invite in 2002 and set about exploring what ultimately became my ideal MMORPG.

It wasn't love at first sight. They tweaked my Smuggler into less of a mechanic and more of an ungainly unarmed fighter late in the beta, and launch day was an unmitigated technical disaster of epic proportions.

Star Wars Galaxies - YT2400 cargo hold
What we've lost

The game ultimately had everything I wanted in an MMO save for the ability to respect what passes for Star Wars canon, and it's always irked me how more recent titles have managed to convince us that less is more. SWG absolutely destroyed the rest of the MMO space when it came to feature sets and functionality, and with apologies to the pre-CU purists who gave up on the game early in its life, this superiority became even more apparent after the NGE. Yeah, the game as it existed in late 2005 was a case study in how to mismanage an MMO, but SWG nonetheless hit its stride a couple of years later and morphed into the most richly realized sandbox, well, ever.

It still had plenty of bugs, and yes, many of the game's unique skill-based professions were sacrificed on the altar of new and casual-friendly "iconic" classes (RIP Creature Handlers). The game retained its free-wheeling spirit, though, and the economy eventually righted itself in spite of the anti-crafter blunders of 2005 and 2006.

The post-NGE game gave rise to the most exciting player-generated content tools ever seen in the genre, and when combined with a real supply-chain economy and an absurdly deep tradeskill implementation, things like the Storyteller and Chronicle systems served as the icing on top of SWG's delicious sandbox cake.

The most heartbreaking thing about SWG's demise isn't SWG's demise so much as it's that the style of gameplay is basically gone for good. My friends and I used to talk about how SWG was the tip of the ass-kicking iceberg, and while we were playing and enjoying the game, we'd fantasize about what MMOs and virtual worlds would look like five, 10, or even 20 years down the line.

Star Wars Galaxies - Blue Harvest over Tatooine
The space game

Unfortunately, playing one of the newer generation MMOs after playing SWG is akin to trading in your car for a horse-drawn carriage. It's such an obvious and inarguable step backwards in terms of depth, and it's bothersome to see how many people don't know -- or worse, don't care -- about what's been lost.

SWG mattered because it had what so many MMOs completely lack: a real sense of space. Not space in the pew-pew-let's-fly-around-and-shoot-lasers sense (although it had that too) but in a whoa-this-is-an-actual-location-and-my-friends-are-here sense. People look at me funny when I say that, but I assure you that I'm only half crazy. SWG was a place as much as it was a game, and that design mentality is now rarer than a freshly minted suit of RIS armor.

Star Wars Galaxies - Nova Courier attacking Star Destroyer
A singular community

That sense of space encouraged community and interaction in a way that is beyond the scope of the new fast food MMO and its drive-thru gameplay. How else could we explain the various end-of-the-world shenanigans, which ran the gamut between the ridiculous and the sublime?

Some of us put the game to rest by battling 50-foot ewoks and menacing Star Destroyers. Others paid their respects at player-created museums or wrapped up eight-year character arcs with a final jump to lightspeed.

The game was ultimately a creative canvas for some really remarkable players, and I'm proud to say that some of the people I hold dearest in this world were initially encountered not in this world but rather in the world of SWG.

Star Wars Galaxies - YT2400 leaving atmosphere
The long goodbye

It would be dishonest to say that I was always happy with SWG. The game was far from perfect, and both the development team and the playerbase occasionally acted like a gaggle of monkeys flinging feces in arbitrary directions. That said, it would also be dishonest to say that I didn't love it regardless. Counting beta, I've been involved with SWG for nearly a decade. That's not cumulative time, of course, but it's a window that represents nearly a third of my life, and I'd do it again for a similar title without hesitation.

You'd think that that amount of time would come with a ton of regrets. The only one that springs to mind, though, is the fact that younger gamers will enter an MMO landscape devoid of games like SWG, and they'll have no idea about its most compelling and essential features (or that those features were possible in the early 2000s).

Anyway, yeah.

Star Wars Galaxies was infuriating, exhilarating, and most of all, profoundly affecting, and I'm sorry I don't have more time (and space) to do it justice. It seems so vital to save as much of it as possible, even if that sentiment isn't at all feasible from an editorial standpoint. The preservation instinct is unique in my online experience, and as such I'll always have trouble thinking of SWG as "just a game."

If it is -- or rather, was -- just a game, there's never been one like it. I hope that's not always the case.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr