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Dana Massey Posted:
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The Impact of the Combat Upgrade and Rage of the Wookiees.

At E3 2005, we had a chance to drop in and talk to the folks behind Star Wars Galaxies about the progress of the game, the latest hot-button issues and the new expansion pack. With the recent addition of “Rage of the Wookiees” and the controversial “Combat Upgrade”, there was much to discuss. Generally, the team seemed energized - despite the sweltering heat of the South Hall and the fact that this was the third day of the show – and excited about what they had to show.

“Rage of the Wookiees” adds a new planet to the realm of Star Wars Galaxies. Unlike past planets, this one is more focused on missions and concentrated fun, rather than sprawling virtual worlds of other areas. Based heavily off areas from the third and final movie, the game features lush alien forests and an enormous underground complex of caves. They designed it primarily for levels twenty and above and were not kidding when they said the Mydraal Caverns were huge. There are over one-hundred rooms to explore. If you are lucky enough to find the bottom, you will then come face to face with General Grievous – the coughing evil robot from the third film.

For those who kill General Grievous in the Mydraal Caverns, the reward is a brand new space ship. This lets players explore the galaxy and take part in new things like space mining. The expansion added a new ship: the Y8. The mission then continues, as the player must find a space station, reputed to be an evil place where Wookiees are tortured. There, players must infiltrate the space station – in a moment that promises to provide the full out cinematic experience of combat everywhere – and plant bombs. The final step is then to simply get away before the whole thing explodes. This kind of cinematic mission has the team quite excited. While it obviously is not the plot of the third film, it does bring up a number of tie-ins and should ensure that the players do feel as if they are taking part in their own classic Star Wars adventure.

Then we came to the Combat Upgrade. This change brought down fury from some quarters of the community, while others embraced it as a change that was sorely overdue. The team believes that players were more afraid of the idea then reality. For example, when someone re-arranged the furniture in their house, at first they find it unfamiliar and slightly distressing. However, in the end, there is probably a reason they made the change and once they adjust, they realize it was for the better.

After the initial fury, the team spoke of how the tide turned. Players began posting positive things, emailing the developers and letting them know it was indeed a good thing. A vocal opposition remained, but generally, they felt they had achieved their goals. One thing they mentioned was that when they offered the increased experience week, it was probably their wisest decision. This kind of carrot on a stick lured people into trying the Combat Upgrade, rather than listening to the fury on the boards. Once attempted, they liked what they saw.

All that said, words are words and numbers are reality. Was there an impact on the bottom line – subscribers – in response to the Combat Upgrade? The Star Wars Galaxies team admitted that at first they thought they would see a large negative impact on subscriber levels, but as time passed things evened out and now they claim that subscription levels are virtually unchanged from where they were before the changes.

Any time a company changes something so intrinsic to an established property, there is bound to be controversy and combat might well be the most intrinsic of all systems to this MMORPG. Obviously, things could have gone smoother in the transition phase, but generally, the team believes they have turned a corner. Like a bone that must be broken to heal properly, they insist they have done the right thing for the long-term health of the game. Short term, they seem to have come out of it ok, now time will tell if this can help the game grow.

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Dana Massey