There are a few of us in the Game on Aus community that have been playing games together since we were kids. My favourite genre of games, and where some of our fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). We are going to take you down our memory lane as we explore our origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 6 I will be playing Star Wars Galaxies which I was massively hyped to play, being a huge Star Wars fan.
Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) was released in June 2003, developed by Sony Online Entertainment and published by LucasArts. Several veteran game developers were involved in both Ultima Online and EverQuest, so this could only mean amazing things for SWG. Along with this, Star Wars currently had been revitalised (as if our love never waned!) due to the release of Episode I Phantom Menace in 1999 and most recently Episode II Attack of the Clones in 2002. Game on AUS fireteam member John “Garbz” Garbin and I were always talking about how bloody cool it would be to play an epic RPG together in the Star Wars universe.
Over the previous couple of years, we had been playing other multiplayer Star Wars games such as X-Wing versus Tie Fighter, X-Wing Alliance, Jedi Knight II and Galactic Battlegrounds. Releasing later in 2003 was the eagerly awaited RPG Knights of the Old Republic which promised an epic single player experience. What I was eager for though, having been playing the likes of Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot, was to be able to play a Star Wars MMORPG with Garbz, and that’s exactly what Star Wars Galaxies was promising.
SWG’s story is set between Episode IV A New Hope and Episode V Empire Strikes Back. Whilst this meant we could play and interact with familiar characters, locations and stories directly from the legacy movies, we felt the story could only be developed so far before it would run into events of Empire Strikes Back, so in the back of my mind I felt the game had a limited life span. Still, it was Star Wars and I bloody loved it!
The base game originally launched with ten planets that we could experience: Tatooine, Naboo, Corellia, Talus, Rori, Dantooine, Lok, Yavin IV, Endor and Dathomir. I remember logging in the first time on Tatooine and Naboo and running around trying to find iconic locations from the movies. Sure enough, when you enter the Mos Eisley Cantina, the familiar music is playing, and I felt like I was in the movies. The stunning waterfalls and cityscapes of Naboo were also very cool.
Each planet was designed with a 15km x 15km fully seamless explorable area, and no mountain got in your way as you could just walk over them. Your run speed decreased to a slog at steep points, but you could literally go anywhere. As these explorable areas were so large, you became reliant on getting yourself a vehicle such as swoops, speeder bikes, and you could also get two-person landspeeders.
The eight species that were available to players at release included Human, Rodian, Mon Calamari, Bothan, Wookiee, Twi’lek, Trandoshan and Zabrak. Ithorian and Sullustan species were added with the Jump to Lightspeed expansion. Each race had different attribute and skill bonuses. Humans were the all-rounders while Mon Calamari (Admiral Akbar) had bonuses to mind and focus attributes as well as weapon and structure assembly. Wookies had extra health and strength attributes and Zabraks (Darth Maul) had defensive bonuses.
New characters had to choose from one of the six main starting professions of Artisan (Crafter), Brawler (Hand-to-Hand Combatant), Entertainer (Mind Healers and Appearance Changers), Marksman (Ranged Weapon Specialist), Medic (Healer of Combat Injuries) and Scout (Exploration and Wilderness Survival). Once you start to progress your character, you can work towards unlocking advanced professions and at release there were 24 you could choose from. There were such professions as Bounty Hunter, Commando, Smuggler, Doctor, Teras Kasi Artist, Armoursmith, Weaponsmith and Dancers, to name a few, and there was plenty of variety to suit every Star Wars fan. This doesn’t include Rebel and Imperial fighter pilots or Jedi which I’ll mention a bit later.
In previous MMORPG’s, there was a heavy emphasis on combat to advance character progression and the story, and this is the case for most professions in SWG. However, Medics and Entertainers stood out to me as unique professions where you could play the entire game without killing a single thing if you didn’t want to. There are three main statistics each character has that can be damaged in combat – Health, Action and Mind (HAM). Medics were the only class able to heal Health and Action wounds and Entertainers could heal Mind wounds.
There was such a huge reliance on these two classes because in combat, different skills can damage one or many of the three main stats. You had to be mindful of this because as you use skills yourself, you expend action points. Historically when you hit an enemy, their health points will deplete. This time you can use skills to deplete a certain stat, for example the action stat. There is some strategy here because you know the enemy is going to expend action points to use skills against you, so you might want to damage their action stat and it could incapacitate them if they don’t pay attention.
If any of the three HAM stats is depleted, you will be incapacitated. This means you are knocked down and must wait 10 seconds before you can get up again. You can start fighting again as soon as you stand up, but if you don’t have the ability to heal yourself, you will likely be incapacitated once again. If you get knocked down 3 times, your character will die. You will need to respawn at the last cloning facility you visited. Once respawned, your HAM stats are wounded, signified by a little black section of each. This means your HAM pools are weakened until you visit medics and entertainers.
Medics and entertainers can heal your wounds anywhere; however, you will find medics sitting in hospitals or in cantinas which is where the entertainers are. When medics heal you, this is where they take wounds to their statistics. Entertainers can heal those wounds for the medics, and vice versa when the Entertainers dance to heal your mind stats, they take wounds that need healing. So, there was a large reliance on players helping other players, and this fascinated me at the time. I immediately made a new character with the medic profession and parked myself in the hospital waiting for wounded customers to come looking for healing. I would strike up a conversation with them and learn about them/the game. I’d heal their wounds and they would tip me some credits for my services.
After a while I started to get a name for myself and even though there were half a dozen other medics in the hospital I was in, after a while I built a rapport with a lot of players and they came to me exclusively for their healing and tipped appropriately. I would spend hours just sitting there chatting away and healing everyone’s wounds – I loved this social aspect of the game.
Star Wars Galaxies utilised a skills-based system, much like Ultima Online. The more I healed someone or shot my carbine weapon, I would earn healing and carbine experience points. Each profession had a skill tree that you had to advance four pillars to earn Mastery of that profession, and you would unlock abilities and the use of more advanced equipment as you progressed through each pillar. Often the advanced professions required a combination of two skill professions. I wanted to be a Combat Medic, so I required the Medic and Marksman professions. This did mean there was a steep skill grind as you got higher up in your profession trees.
You also weren’t tied to a profession once you started it or even mastered it. If one day you decided not to be a Combat Medic anymore, and instead wanted to be a Commando which required Marksman plus Brawler, you could unlearn all the Medic skills and then start earning experience in Brawler. Even though I unlearned the Medic skills, it still retains the experience you earned, so further down the track if you changed your mind again and wanted to go back to Medic, you wouldn’t have to grind through all that medic XP again. This was a very cool system which gave your character versatility and variety.
Other game systems present in Star Wars Galaxies that I loved was the level of detail applied to the crafting and player-driven economic systems. In addition to reliance on player medics and entertainers, player crafters played a massive role in the game. The best items in the game, from clothes to droids to weaponry, was only obtainable from player crafters. Again, we all had our preferred Weaponsmiths, Armoursmiths, Shipwrights and so on, and we had map waypoints saved for their player-designed houses that they would intricately decorate to show off their wares.
As I was driving along in my landspeeder just outside Mos Eisley, I spotted a player city and picked a random house to have a look. Every item in the above picture was hand-placed by the house owner and some of the houses decorated by players were insane! On my Mon Calamari character called Germinus Kent (named after Verbal Kent from The Usual Suspects – the name Verbal was taken) I purchased a round house and called it ‘The Fish Bowl’ – get it, because I was a Mon Calamari?? My guild mates had a laugh. Anyway, I didn’t bother decorating it much other than some storage containers to store all my loot, as it was a trek to goto all the way back to the town bazaar/bank, but you had the freedom to decorate your house the way you wanted.
Players formed ‘player cities’ offering services for all types of crafts, and even went so far as putting on fashion shows and fireworks displays to mark real-life moments like Christmas and the New Year. This did however cause the game world around major cities to feel very cluttered. To do some casual hunting, you had to travel a fair distance beyond these player cities. This was the same in Ultima Online, so I was used to seeing this, though other players weren’t as happy. In a game as large as an MMORPG, you can’t please every player.
By now you may be asking, where are all the Jedi?? To stay true to the timeframe of the movies, there are only a handful of Jedi left in the universe, so for continuity reasons the developers had to come up with a system to keep Jedi very rare. There was a heap of mystery around how to unlock a force-sensitive character slot, much to the frustration of players. The developers kept teasing us by saying certain in-game actions would work towards opening a force-sensitive character slot. The actions required were left for players to discover. For months, players were scratching their heads trying to work out what this meant in terms of gameplay. There was literally no information to be found on the internet, no google searches, no walkthrough, no hints at all! Many thought it would have something to do with defeating end-game content.
After about four months or so, there was not a single player who had unlocked anything remotely force- sensitive. Players started getting salty and were accusing the developers of lying about the process, as if they hadn’t finished developing/testing Jedi yet and were stringing players along. This wasn’t the case and to appease the player base, the developers ended up introducing items called Holocrons. These were rare loot drops from high level NPCs that hinted at the mastery of multiple professions as a requirement for unlocking the force-sensitive character slot. So now players had a goal, though it was still a massive unknown. How many professions did you have to master? How would you know if the profession you just mastered was one of them?
Garbz and I were in a player guild called the Rebel Roughnecks. One of our guildmates Xeonkahab (Xeon for short) was dead-set on getting himself a Jedi character. He played way more than Garbz and I did (we were jealous of his play time!) and every few days he would have grinded through master of a new profession. We heard rumours that you had to master between 4-7 professions. Other players were telling us it could be up to 12-17 professions! Xeon mastered profession after profession, and each time he wouldn’t get any notification about force-sensitivity, so would start on the next one. After he mastered his 20th profession and still no Jedi, he started raging at the game hard, and I don’t blame him.
Watching Xeon literally burn himself out from playing the game, obtaining a Jedi character was just not on Garbz or my radar at all and we didn’t agree with how the developers had chosen to implement this system. Why should players be forced to grind through professions that they likely didn’t want to play, just for a chance at possibly completing one step towards obtaining the force-sensitive character slot? This system basically restricted roleplaying characters or casual gamers like Garbz and I from ever becoming a Jedi, so we didn’t even bother trying.
On November 7, 2003, finally there was a server-wide message that a character named Monika T’Sarn had unlocked the world’s first force-sensitive character. MMORPGDot tracked down the player and interviewed him which is quite interesting – you can read the article here. Back to Xeon, the poor bastard finally mastered his 24th and last possible profession, and he bloody did it! Hats off to him for grinding so hard through every single profession to finally earn a force-sensitive character for himself, though he was pretty angry at the game.
Everyone’s excitement around the Jedi was short lived. Given they were such a powerful class, there was a huge skill progression grind, expensive items required to craft lightsabers, and worst of all, they would suffer permadeath after just three in-game deaths. What this meant was, after just three deaths, the enter Jedi padawan skill tree of XP would be reset to 0, effectively forcing you to start the Jedi padawan character from scratch. As you can imagine, this permadeath system didn’t go down well with the community, especially after the extensive grinding process to unlock the slot in the first place. All your months of hard work could be thrown away by a client crash or from lagging out one too many times during simple monster fights.
The more a Jedi padawan uses their abilities and advances their skills, there was an increased chance they would be flagged as visible in the player bounty hunter mission system. Bounty hunters ordinarily could gain missions to hunt NPC targets, then use tracking droids to locate and then kill the mark. Jedi padawans with high enough visibility would show up as a bounty and up to five bounty hunters could accept the mission to hunt a single player Jedi. Once the mission was accepted, the Jedi could have logged off before the bounty hunters got there. If the bounty hunters were on their own, they were usually quickly defeated by the Jedi, however gangs of bounty hunters could take down a lone Jedi, thus adding to the Jedi’s death count towards permadeath. There was no risk with the bounty hunter dying as he can just respawn at the nearest cloning facility and get back into the fight. Where the Jedi could lose everything if they were killed. This caused more community outcry from the players with Jedi characters. Something had to change, and eventually it did.
In June 2004, the ‘Secrets of the Force’ Jedi revamp occurred, removing permadeath and replacing it with a single skill lossed on death, which was still a negative but much lesser evil. They also took the time to completely re-work how the Jedi were played, how they crafted their lightsabers and many other features, essentially making it a new experience for those that have already unlocked their Jedi. For those that hadn’t unlocked one, players were given credit towards unlocking the force-sensitive character slot based on how far through the path to unlocking their own. I personally still didn’t feel like making a Jedi as I was still loving my Combat Medic and playing with Garbz and our guild.
Star Wars Galaxies went on to produce three expansions. The first, Jump to Lightspeed (October 2004), was one of my most eager releases. This had the promise of being the next likeness to X-Wing versus Tie Fighter (XvT) which is one of my all-time favourite space flight simulators. It did look and feel like XvT, especially as I was able to dust off my trusty Microsoft Sidewinder Precision Pro II Joystick. However, players could construct their own ships with a base chassis, reactors, weapons, armour, shields and customise the look of the ship. Whilst I was enjoying the customisation available, this made it feel that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the hardcore players who would craft and unlock the best components in much less time than I could.
Rage of the Wookies (May 2005) was the second expansion released two weeks prior to the release of Episode III Revenge of the Sith. Much of the content released in this expansion was content from the movie, including the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk. Also added were new starfighters, resource mining in space and attachable cybernetic limbs.
Trials of Obi-Wan (November 2005) was the third and final expansion for the game and added the planet Mustafar, also from Episode III Revenge of the Sith. The droid HK-47 was also added as a quest NPC and he features in Knights of the Old Republic.
At the end of April 2005, just prior to the release of the second expansion, SWG underwent a complete Combat Upgrade which overhauled how combat professions were played. Here is a breakdown of the major changes that occurred:
- HAM (Health, Action, Mind) overhaul. You can no longer incapacitate yourself by using action points. Players now have one health pool, skill attacks come out of your action pool and healing uses the mind pool.
- Armor now has three types: Battle, Recon, and Assault. Recon has a slight bonus to energy protection and reduced kinetic protection. Assault has slight bonus to kinetic protection and reduced energy protection. You also had to be certified in your chosen armour type before wearing it.
- Experience points changes. Each group member gets their full potential experience from a mob if they deal damage before the mob dies. This effectively means when fighting in a group, you would gain the effective XP as if you were soloing the mob, as opposed to amount of xp being divided by the number of people in the group.
- Combat levels. Each player now has a combat level from 1 to 80. You increase in combat level by gaining skills in the various combat professions.
- Combat skills queue removed. Previously you could queue up multiple skills and watch them play out, adjusting if required. This combat queue has now been removed and now you will get a cooldown timer above the new coloured icons for skills used in your toolbar (like modern MMORPGs).
- Combat states added – Dizzy, Blind, Stun and Mezzes (similar effects to Dark Age of Camelot)
This Combat Upgrade vastly changed how we played our combat professions, and most of the players welcomed the changes, me included. There were always the vocal minority (power gamers mainly) that blew up on the forums because their favourite composite armour had now changed, or their class was now played slightly different, but those voices subsided after a while.
As many MMORPG players, and gamers in general would know, World of Warcraft (WoW) released in November 2004 and absolutely took over the MMORPG world. I myself was invited to beta test WoW a few weeks prior to release and I admit, I was blown away by this game. I along with all my mates pretty much dropped everything we were playing and jumped in at the launch of WoW. I’ll go into more detail when I get to the WoW article in this series.
One week after the release of the Trials of the Obi-Wan expansion, the developers changed the entire character development process in what was called the New Game Enhancements (NGE). Major changes included the reduction and simplification of professions, simplification of gameplay mechanics, and Jedi becoming a starting profession. For Garbz and I, and thousands of other players worldwide, this was enough for us to jump ship to WoW and we didn’t really look back until sometime later.
The NGE basically turned SWG into a completely different game to what we had just spent the last 2 years playing, and I think that is the fundamental reason why many people were angry and left the game in droves. Garbz and I did always get the pangs of nostalgia and eventually tried the NGE. Straight away you notice how much the game has changed as they even reworded the opening crawl text and it had a brand-new intro movie. Also, when you make a new character, you get to choose from nine new starting professions, and right in the number 1 slot was Jedi. So now, in a game that respected the lore of Jedi, when we logged in there were Jedi everywhere and it just made a farce of the whole thing really.
I made a medic (I couldn’t help myself, I loved my medic!) and Garbz made a smuggler. We were greeted with a brand-new tutorial where C-3PO welcomes us and guides us through the initial gameplay. After a little while we meet up with R2D2, Chewie and Han Solo who then guides us further into the tutorial. When we ding a new level there is a level up sound an animation and you gain new skills which are automatically added to your skill bar. We also saw characters such as Boba Fett.
The NGE did start to grow on me, and even when I went back to write this article, I was able to find and play two server emulators – SWGEmu for the pre-combat upgrade version, and SWG Legends for the NGE version, I really enjoyed playing a new Jedi character and working through the tutorial. Back then we did enjoy it for a little while, but the behemoth that was World of Warcraft took over for us, as it did for most of the MMORPG world.
On June 24, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts announced they were going to shut down Star Wars Galaxies on December 15, 2011. On one hand, I was sad to see SWG go as I had some great memories for the game, but at the same time Bioware was releasing their new MMORPG Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) in December 2011. In hindsight, I don’t think it would have been wise to have two Star Wars MMORPG’s on the market as it would have split the players and fans, so that likely played into their thinking. Regardless, Garbz and I were so bloody pumped to get stuck into SWTOR!! Keep an eye out for that article coming soon.
If you have great memories of playing Star Wars Galaxies, I’d love to hear about them! Join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days. In part 7, I will be reviewing 2004’s EverQuest II.