In some ways, I feel like the 'second generation' of MMO RPer. Perhaps I'm of the third or even the first from other points of view, but I know many people who were active in the early EverQuest and MUD RP days. I consider them my elders.
Star Wars Galaxies was a game that I heard about from the ol' Star Wars Insider magazine which I used to pick up at the grocery store in Middle School. Having only briefly dabbled in EQ, I knew what a Massively Mutliplayer Online game was, and was desperate for more exposure and opportunities for RP through that vast, mysterious medium.
Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) was like a fairyland that I couldn't access. I had dreams and aspirations of living in that world but was just too young to pay for my own subscription.
I know I'm not the only one who has since heard of the glories of the old days when RP was built into the early MMOs. Many of us long to have experienced the immersion of now-mythological games which seemed to cater to the RP-oriented mind. There are indeed some intrepid and dedicated people who have brought SWG and other early games back through private serves. Even so, we can never truly recapture those legendary times.
Today, I bring you the first in a series of articles written by a roleplayer who experienced this golden age of MMOs personally. FancyOwl has dug deeply into his memory banks to bring you a colorful explanation of what it was like and what many of us missed out on.
Perhaps one day MMORPGs will return to this 'golden age' in which the goal was to computerize tabletop RP rather than create multliplayer versions of single-player games. I know of at least one attempt to do so, but it's a careful balance and will require time to perfect. Until then, enjoy these recollections and remember that RP is what you make of it!
Now this one I'm truly excited to talk about! This is an MMORPG that holds a very special place in my heart and played host to many of my fondest memories in roleplaying. We've all got that one special game in our hearts that for whatever reason just took us aboard its currents and swept us far away into its depths. For many that special MMO was WoW, TOR, or even ESO. But before them all there was one that truly captivated its audience and had us enthralled by its nostalgic melodies, sights and the promise to experience the greatest saga ever told - yours.
Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) was by far the game and community that took my heart and became the example of which I compare all other MMORPGs and I've yet to find one quite like it. I've been thinking long and hard about what made it truly so inspirational for me and many others and thankfully I didn't have to do that alone since I found one other SWG refugee among these forums that was happy to share their insights as well and for that I thank you, Selique you're input was invaluable in these venture.
Now then, SWG was an MMORPG that came out in 2003 and lasted all the way to December 15, 2011 and took place in the Star Wars universe during the time of the Galactic Civil War between the Alliance to Restore the Republic (Rebel Alliance) and the Galactic Empire roughly a year after the Battle of Yavin 4 (Episode 4). It was a sandbox MMO that over its time underwent several drastic modifications and the addition of some themepark elements which sent waves across its player base. Some good, some bad. Throughout it all, however, it still remained to be Star Wars and upheld its word to give us the greatest experience we could muster for ourselves in a galaxy far, far away. And its methodology in how to go about this was both beautiful and flawless in its simplicity - it gave us the keys and said, "Do whatever you want." Want to fly the space lanes and be a smuggler? Go for it! Want to be a moisture farmer and live a simple life on Tatooine in a home that you personally placed upon its surface? Go for it! Want to decorate a house with a vast collection of items/furniture and build a toilet out of random items? Want to scoot a tiny kneeling-down Darth Vader statuette inside it so that it says, "What is thy bidding, my master?", whenever someone approaches it? Why not? (still my favorite accomplishment lol).
I'm serious you could literally do whatever you want which is something that is lost on MMO's these days sadly. You didn't have to fight to level up. You didn't have to be a warrior since there were non-combatant professions that were essential and awesome to play as. Two of the most iconic non-combatant professions were trader which was the core basis of the player economy and the social pillar of every group - the entertainer. I'll get into the professions soon and divulge more about them, but there weren't really limitations to what you could do with your profession. You could wield a rifle or a carbine as a melee fighter, heavy armor, wield a lance or sword, wear anything and be anything.
Another thing that I loved about it was that you weren't THE chosen one of legend which is something that has become very common among MMO stories. Then again SWG didn't really have a story except the ones you made for yourself. There were missions, long stories and even themeparks, but there was no great overarching narrative that painted you as the great god-like entity destined to bring balance to the Force. That slot has been taken by this guy!!
With that said, could you be a hero? Of course!! But you could just as easily be a villain, or just a person making their way through the galaxy. You were completely free to choose your story. I intended to make my char into an Imperial loyalist before the rp shifted him in other directions. More than that you could choose where to go as well. SWG offered a vast array of worlds (Tatooine, Lok, Corellia, Dantooine, Dathomir, Endor, Kashyyyk, Mustafar, Naboo, Rori, Talus, Yavin IV, and through a heroic encounter/dungeon - Hoth) to explore and I do mean explore. Yeah there were no restricted paths, or invisible walls that kept you on a beaten path. You could just pick a direction and start marching, driving, or later in the game - flying. Speaking of flying - SPAAAACE!!!! You could just launch in your starship and explore all the space. And the maps for the worlds were easily larger than any maps out today (though TESO's maps might be able to challenge them a little) and as you'd travel you would run into randomly generated NPC's out there for instance a herd of bantha/rhonto/dewbacks on Tatooine. Speaking of random there was also weather as well. Tatooine and Lok had sandstorms, Naboo, Dantooine and such had rain, northern Corellia had snowstorms and things could also get foggy especially in swamps. If that wasn't enough there was also ships and stuff that'd fly overhead in cities and near cities. With all these things it didn't take me very long to give into this siren's alluring song (especially after hearing a Tie Fighter screech across the skies as I exited a starport), but it gave us so much more than this.
As I said you could place a house of any kind you want on most planets (and it made sense that you couldn't place them on the ones you couldn't) and decorate however you see fit. There was even a simple collection you could do to give you more options in decorating ie different angles and you could tilt the x and y axis to your heart's content. Naturally everyone abused this ability maliciously let their imaginations run wild. I've seen works of art from very ornate and beautiful temples and chapels, clinics, mansions, simple houses, collector's houses, military bases, malls (actual malls), shops, clubs/cantinas, zoos, museums and even brothels (every community has them). You can still find many youtube videos that display a small fraction of these masterpieces to this day. And this also led to the creation of another unique feature that made the game feel just that much more real - player cities. If you got enough people and everything, you could create an actual city in the game and name it. After a certain level and you got a shuttleport it'd appear on the player's map and on shuttle/starport terminals that you could purchase a ticket for and go. I've seen guilds create some very beautiful player cities and lavishly decorated them with fountains, trees, flags, and more. Plus some people would just make little easter eggs for people to find out there. Heck I turned 3 of my houses into something akin to a scavenger hunt for people who were looking for a means to rp learning about the Force or rp being force sensitive and they were all WAAAAAAAAAAY out in the middle of nowhere. I found a few myself ie a tomb and an intentionally small city that was decorated into a den for smugglers/pirates. Selique lived in one such town called Black Sands which in her words was a quaint little rugged frontier town on Tatooine.
And the game itself also gave little subtle nods and supplied easter eggs for the players to find on its worlds as well as those it would advertise as Points of Interests (krayt dragon skeleton, the Naboo lake retreat, Temple to Exar Kun and so much more). I doubt even I found them all, but I truly appreciated that level of detail and care put into the game. Some of these were very subtle that I didn't even notice them even though I always drove by them like a few certain scorched parts of forest/earth on Yavin 4, it took a chance turn of my camera and a few minutes of comparing the destruction in these parts to finally notice that something had crashed on its surface and when I followed the gradually shrinking trees to the impact crater I found debris. It took a few minutes for it to finally dong on me that I had found debris from the original Death Star. And that was only one of such easter eggs. There was also a small outpost/camp with a obelisk in the center with lightsabers and remains placed upon an alter on Lok (if memory serves), small ritual circles and places of power of the Nightsisters/Singing Mountain Clan on Dathomir, random statues, force shrines, Jedi/Dark Jedi enclaves, empty and filled outposts/camps, a crystal cave or two, and battle sights, defunct CIS battle droids, crashed Ties and X/Y/A/B wings, destroyed and working probe droids, AT-AT's, AT-ST's and even rare creatures/people such as Jedi and Dark Jedi, a Peeko-Peeko Albatross or even, oh I dunno, KRAYT DRAGONS!!! I still squee when I think back to finding a small little landing platform camp of Tie variants and their pilots/stormtroopers.
There were even, what I like to call, flavor missions/quests. Just little things that you could go do that would offer no real value except for a little story (possibly even humorous), some xp and maybe a neat little item to decorate your house with. One such quest was very well hidden behind a waterfall in the ruins of a Jedi Temple on Dantooine. Inside this cave system were some quenkers (armor-plated rats), some crystal-like structures/clusters and an NPC that would shoo you away unless you proved to her that you were a virtuous soul (ie a rebel and/or a Lightside Jedi) and she'd lead you on missions to help the tribal natives of Dantooine, the Dantari, steal the memory of an Imperial Probe droid and eventually battle a Dark Jedi Master and even teach you a little bit about the force and how it affects everything. For your troubles you get a pat on the head, a fuzzy feeling in your stomach and a jedi holocron. But not all objects were as glorious. Another quest series on Tatooine gave you a old pod racing helmet that if you examined it said this: A worn helmet with a pair of dirty goggles attached to it. The tag inside it says "Anakin Skywalker". It was given to you by the NPC Kitster Bonai. There were also just flavorful NPC's that offered no missions at all, but neat little details or even collections like a fella talking about his friend that learned how to imitate the mating call of a krayt dragon to scare off Tusken Raiders.
All of this leads me into the next point - the Roleplaying!!! Everything about this game could be used to greatly enhance your roleplaying experience and it even got non-roleplayers into the hobby whether they knew it or not. Case in point Bounty Hunters could accept bounty missions placed on players by players and hunt them down to collect. Also the devs loved to rp with us and even mess with us. One such fellow was known as Pex. This guy was a roleplayer's best friend and loved to mess with us and give the non-roleplayers something to do/watch out for as well. He'd take on the skins of actual star wars characters and play as them, he'd send in the troops to fight rebels or harass suspected rebels, put on battle shows between rebels and imperials, creatures vs creatures and he personally loved to take on the skin of Darth Vader and hunt down Jedi that were foolish enough to let themselves get discovered. You really didn't want to advertise that you were a Jedi with this guy around (plus in older systems you'd get flagged as red to everyone if you did). One group of Jedi did in the starport of Theed, Naboo by wearing robes and talking about the Force and having lightsabers out and sure enough - Vader came a knocking. They died...horribly (but it was pretty darn cool and became a very cool screenshot). But there were also times when the community would band together to face Darth Vader (or aid him if you were an Imperial). The devs also would take on the skin of the Emperor or even Princess Leia and interact with guilds aligned with rebels and Empire and even neutral players too. Even when Pex left the team his character was placed as a vendor in every theater in hte major cities and he sold storyteller items (props, NPC tokens, boss, elite modifiers, jukeboxes, special effects both instant and persistent, etc), so we could craft our own events in game as they did.
But because SWG never once made us into THE hero many people felt free to basically be their own persons. Some became rebels/imperial soldiers, others became merchants, dancers, musicians, spies, hunters, pilots and any other number of professions. Plus there were also languages you could learn and even decipher if you had that kind of time . In fact in hte older systems of SWG you could learn the various languages and such from other players by listening to them speak in that language or sign language as with twi'leks and their darn lekku. A lot of people were part of great, galaxy and year-spanning plots and Selique and I both share the same memory of never really NOT having anything to do rp wise. There was always something going on. It didn't have to be grand and anything large in scale, but I never felt devoid of rp. Some things were as simple as a card game with friends around a table or having a conversation with drinks in a cantina somewhere, or aboard a player's ship, the interior of which he decorated himself. I remember just simply shooting the buzz with some of my character's mates or even pupils, while fishing. And it also helped that SWG, in its way, did have timeline advancement. It was a slow and very subtle thing, but they did creep from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi and they did add missions and in some cases revamp others ie the Nightsister and Singing Mountain Clan themeparks. And each time more inspiration was found for us to continue writing stories and grow our characters more. Some learned and grew from their experiences, others died. Regardless I don't ever remember how rp was lacking. There were smugglers, traders, nobles, Imperials, Rebels, Wookiees, security forces, Trandoshan clans, slave traders/crime syndicates, Mandalorians, force users (granted not all of them were great and some were cringe worthy, but that happens in every community), manufacturers, entire city guilds. And we all weaved together to form our community.