Last weekend I went to reactivate my old Star Wars Galaxies account, only to discover that I’d missed the boat by a couple of days. Blasted work! It gave me more of a pang than I expected, because at the end of the year the game will be closing down for good.
The thing most people who never played SWG know about the game is that it caused a shit-storm of truly epic proportions a few years ago, when the game was more or less stealth-overhauled – folded, spindled and mutilated in ways most of its players neither expected nor wanted. Shrieks of outrage were heard all over the MMO world, blame was slung, abuse was hurled; and while the MMO world moved on, as it always does, the bitter taste of the Combat Upgrade and the New Gaming (or was it Gamer?) Experience never quite faded away. I could still name at least a half dozen players who have refused to have anything to do with SOE since, and who can’t say “Smedley” without making it sound like “Smeg-head”.
I wasn’t an abuse-hurler when the CU and NGE hit, but I was disappointed and like many other players I felt very betrayed, regardless of whose fault (Lucas Arts or SOE) it ultimately was. I guess I was lucky though, because I was already in the process of moving on to a new game when those radical changes were made so it didn’t feel quite so much as though I’d been kicked in the teeth. But I’m not here to rake all that back up – if only because, a few years back, I actually went back to SWG post-NGE to see what had become of it. Bio-engineering had just been given a massive overhaul, and since that was always one of my favorite professions, I decided to check it out.
And I had fun. A lot of fun. Hell, I had a blast for almost a year, even though the servers were much emptier then and almost everyone I knew in the game was long gone. Along with two other friends we built a brand-new city on Lok (it helps to have *cough* three accounts each), started businesses, sang and danced in cantinas, and generally made the most of what SWG had to offer, even though it wasn’t quite what it used to be.
There were still bugs. SWG was riddled with them from day 1, and some of them were still there more than four years after launch. Ah, the early days, when chat worked for maybe an hour a day and stuff mysteriously disappeared from your inventory – as if being dirt-napped by Maulers while you slowly slogged (on foot, if not through the snow) from one harvester to another wasn’t enough. Oh yes: in the early days, Maulers were scary and Night-sisters were terrifying, assuming you were brave enough to actually set foot on Dathomir.
The marvelous diversity of professions was gone, replaced by a supposedly more Star-Warsy but also incredibly blander group of archetypes, skill boxes and skill lines replaced by plain levels and easy skill acquisition. Yes, a lot of the incredible grind that SWG used to be was gone, but the irony is that SWG was one of the few games in which the insane grind was actually entertaining, at least for the most part. It was an old-school grind, like AC, EQ or UO, and for some reason those were more fun than the brightly-colored theme-park grinds we have nowadays, even if I can’t quite put my finger on why.
But I’m not writing this to remember the bad stuff, because the genius of SWG was that it was good despite the bugs, despite the god-awful interface, and despite all of Lucas Arts’ meddling. I just don’t think the suits ever agreed on what it should be, and a daring sandbox vision was turned into a tasteless blancmange of “looks like Star Wars, feels like a slow Wednesday afternoon.” And sitting here trying to figure out how to structure this column, I realized that I have so many good memories of that game that I could write a wall of text. I won’t, but I could, and I am going to put down some of the things I remember best from my long stints playing a game that’s about to die.
I remember waiting breathlessly for the servers to come up after the patch that introduced player cities – and the servers just… would not… come back up. I remember frantically trying to log on, and then running around like a loon trying to be among the first to help craft and set down the City Hall, because we wanted a city on Naboo and there was a strict cap on how many could be built there. It was frustrating, nail-biting and exhilarating – and we did it.
I remember building and decorating houses with furniture I and my friends had made; wearing clothes I had created; and laying out a city after spending weeks on the guild forums deciding exactly what it should look like and what amenities it should have. I remember trying to tame baby critters and being eaten by the irate mother, a hundred times over. I remember nonchalantly lounging around in NPC cities with my three awesome pets out for show, back before they took that ability out.
I remember staying up damn near all night with total strangers I’d just met at the Cantina in Bestine, Coronet or Theed, playing music and dancing silly dances and just chatting away. I remember crunching numbers on newly-spawned resources and touring as many planets as I had time for trying to track down the magic resource that would kill all previous resources when it came to making weapons, armor or harvesters. I remember spending way more time than I should in game when I was supposed to be working.
I remember the people I played with. Not just my known friends, but the community in general. Sure there was trash talk and the usual lout who just can’t shut up on a global channel, but for the most part people were pretty cool. I had customers, suppliers, friends and acquaintances, and when I got involved in PvP during my second stint I made quite a few honorable enemies too. Good times.
But most of all I remember the sheer variety of things to do in the game; even after the NGE and even if some will want to burn me at the stake for having anything good to say about post-NGE SWG. It was a sandbox, so to a large extent you had to make your own fun, but for sandbox players the tools were there (bugs notwithstanding) and they were plentiful. There were social things to do built into the game, rather than devised by the players, and that really helps. Even waiting for a shuttle, grouse-worthy as it was if you were in a hurry, has become the stuff of fond memories.
Most ironic of all, I suppose, is that to me SWG was more fun before Jedi started turning up; if anything changed the game, that did, because suddenly it became all about doing prescribed stuff rather than just being whoever and whatever you wanted. The sandbox acquired a theme, and it wasn’t a good one, though that’s so much more obvious in hindsight; a case of being careful what you wish for (and many players really wanted playable Jedi) because it might not be such a good idea after all.
Even so, bugs, Jedi, hologrinds and all SWG was a fabulous game in its own way and it will be sorely missed. Here’s a last shout-out and a toast at the Cantina to my friends from Shadowfire, and to all the things that will slip away for good at the end of the year. Maybe I should take a look at one of the private SWG servers; it won’t be the same, but it might be close.