SWG: That classic Star Wars feel

One thing that I definitely love about Star Wars Galaxies is that this — despite coming during the prequel movie season — feels totally like old school, original trilogy Star Wars. With the new movies and SWTOR’s Old Republic setting, I’ve missed the classic setting. Going into a cantina on the starter space station and hearing the familiar music ripped right from Mos Eisley tugged at the heartstrings.

Another neat touch is that the next set of quests I get seem to revolve around my class, encouraging me to get to know my role as a medic. I just thought we tossed people into giant lava lamps and called it a day, but I can spray people with magic pixie dust if need be.

I found a room filled with Black Sun slicers and went nuts for 20 minutes or so, getting a feel for SWG’s combat. It’s… a bit old and a bit janky and way too clicky. Similar to DDO, this is pseudo action combat where you keep having to click to attack — and in the beginning, that’s all you can do. Target, clickclickclickclick, and hopefully win. At level 4, I got a Vital Strike skill that gave me a nice opening attack. Think I’m a good doctor? Think again. I do harm all over the place.

I don’t know if it’s just the Legends emulator or this is how SWG used to be, but the enemies float around at times and occasionally stutter and get wildly crazy. It’s definitely not the smooth type of MMO combat I’m used to, but more in line with, say, Anarchy Online.

After proving my worth as a medic — and getting some pristine white duds as proof — the next step is to try to get off the station. That means helping Han fix the Falcon, a problem which is exacerbated by the presence of Fan Service. Er, I mean, Boba Fett, who is just hanging out in the cantina like he’s a level 1 noob with no idea where to go. For the record, I’ve never been the biggest Boba Fett fan, although the Mandalorian is pretty awesome.

Of COURSE you’d devote one of your three only floors in a space station to a giant garden with flying things. That’s just common sense.

To its credit, the game does give you a choice to leave the station after fixing the Falcon if you’re antsy, but I chose to stay on for other missions. Don’t make me leave my safe little bubble just yet!

Actually, after running through a few of the ones offered on the station, I found myself growing restless. They really aren’t anything to write home — or you! — about, and the station/cave aesthetic struck me as pretty dull. I wanted to get a planet under my feet, so I ran over to Han and said, “Han, old buddy… PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HEREEEEEEE.” It’s amazing what blubbering begging from a giant fish-creature will get you.

SWG: A disturbance in the Force

For January’s floating MMORPG pick, I let my MOP Podcast co-host Bree choose for me. I don’t know what I was expecting, since every other sentence from her either references Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies, but here I am in Star Wars Galaxes Legends, a post-NGE emulator that picked up the game after SOE abandoned it (or was forced to abandon, to be fair).

My only previous hands-on experience with SWG was a couple of sessions in 2010 — a full decade ago! — for an article that I wrote about somesuch or the other. I wasn’t really sold on the GLORY and MAJESTY that was Star Wars Galaxies back then, and there was SWTOR on the horizon, so I didn’t get much past the tutorial.

This month? I’m going to see what I can see, but I do want to root around in a galaxy far, far away and see what I can make of myself.

Getting Legends set up took more doing than your average live MMO. I had to download a whole bunch of files from an abandonware site, finagle my computer to accepting them as “discs,” set up an account, patch up, fiddle with administrator rights, and then… then I was logging in. To Star Wars Galaxies. In 2020.

What hit me right from the start was not only John Williams’ incredible score but the fact that SWG has a waaaaay better racial selection than SWTOR. Most of the picks are the more exotic alien races, including the somewhat disturbing Bothans (above).

Me? I had to go with ol’ Fish Eyes here. I ended up with this purple-and-lime pattern that I actually dug. It’s not a trap, it’s a fashion statement! I even watched all of the very old class videos before selecting Medic. It seemed self-sufficient for my purposes.

Here’s Syp Squid in her first moments of life, learning how to walk with the aid of the almighty WASD. I love how she looks like she’s in a blind panic all of the time.

Since this was after the NGE revamp of the game, the tutorial was redone to deliver a lot more in terms of fanservice. You get C3P0, R2D2, Chewie, and a Han Solo voice impersonator. They took me on the Falcon because I get VIP treatment in every MMO these days. Flying with the stars, I am.

While Han kept yelling at me to get into a gun turret to fight off some TIE fighters, I ignored him and enjoyed sitting in the captain’s seat for a few minutes. Random thought: Wouldn’t it be hard to free-fly the Falcon since the cockpit is off-center?

Another random thought: turret combat actually works. Space combat is something that SWG managed to pull off, and for the time, that was pretty impressive.

After the short tutorial, Syp Squid was plunked down onto a station and Han basically told me that he didn’t care if I helped the Empire or the Rebellion. Which seemed to be an odd statement, considering how we just gunned down Stormtroopers and TIE fighters. Maybe he likes stirring things up.

So check out this inventory screen, eh? Constantly rotating 3D objects and no paper doll. It’s… interesting if somewhat ugly.

Blasting off into Star Wars Galaxies sunset

If you weren’t aware, today is the absolutely last day that anyone can sign up for Star Wars Galaxies before SOE locks new registrations and allows the current batch of players to enjoy the game up until its December closure.  SOE also, in probably maybe possibly who-knows NOT a coincidence, released a much-anticipated atmospheric flight patch today, which will probably be the last big game update SWG will ever see.

And, no, I didn’t sign up for the service, but I was thinking about how weird it would be to go into a game knowing it would end at a set point.  All games end, of course, but we operate under the illusion of gaming immortality — that the game will always be there, our characters always be there, and we will always have the option to go back.  In this case, it’s not true; SWG is a “dead MMO walking,” as are all of the characters within.  It changes the rules.  It forces a new perspective.

People who are faced with a real-life death sentence — say a terminal illness — often report just how much it changes the way they live each day.  They appreciate things more, they get out of their routines, they take more risks, and they enjoy stuff we typically take for granted.

I’m certainly not saying that playing a condemned video game is equal to this, but there is a parallel to be seen.  Already we’re seeing players put a lot less into the accumulation of wealth and hoarding in the game, and more into giving stuff away and doing things for the sheer fun of it.  You can’t take anything with you, after all, other than the memories, relationships and screenshots, so those are what becomes the premium currency.  Everything else is the small stuff.

For someone to jump into the game for the first time today with that few month lifespan, it’s got to be totally bizarre.  Progression almost seems pointless unless you simply want to see areas you couldn’t otherwise.  It might be an idea to latch onto a veteran guild and let them sweep you through the ups and downs of the last month.  For some, this might be a good way to take the edge off the wait for The Old Republic — and yes, despite what some people assert, I’m quite certain that some TOR junkies are more than willing to get a different kind of fix from SWG just because it shares the IP.

Anyway, in a very real sense, today is the beginning of the end of SWG as the lights slowly go out, one by one.   The only thing left is to make the best of the time left.

SOE hits a single when it should’ve been going for a homer

Considering the rocky past year that SOE’s gone through — the layoffs, the death of The Agency, the hacked accounts, the sunsetting of Star Wars Galaxies — I was actually keenly interested in hearing what the company had in store for Fan Faire this  year.  Above E3 and Gamescom and the rest of the convention crowd, this was SOE on its home turf with a crowd of loyal fans who were waiting to hear that not all hope was lost.

SOE stepped up to the plate… and hit a solid single to first base.  Polite cheering ensued, but it was by no means the homer that I — and probably many fans — was hoping to see.  If anything, it seems to underline the point that SOE is still struggling hard (although not out of it by a long shot).

First, the good news.  EverQuest 2 players have much to rejoice about with a new class, an upcoming expansion later this year, and the ability to make player-created dungeons (color me interested!).  I think it’s grand that the EQ2 team continues to expand this into one of the most feature-rich games in the industry, and I’m still enjoying my slow-but-steady exploration of it.

SOE’s kiddy titles — Free Realms and Clone Wars Adventures — seem to be doing okay, and so the company paraded them around as a shield for recent failures.  And it was pretty cool to hear something, anything about Vanguard’s development, even if it’s only two planned updates in the upcoming year.

Then there was Planetside 2, which was apparently the big announcement of the convention.  Its existence and development wasn’t exactly a secret, so SOE lost what would’ve been a shocking reveal, but the release of details, screenshots and a trailer went a long way too.

But to play devil’s advocate, it’s not as if PlanetSide is SOE’s most popular student.  It’s kind of been the “forgotten” SOE game for a while now — in fact, when SOE came back online after its extended outage and the company posted about what its lineup of games was going to offer returning players, PlanetSide was conspicuously absent.

So will PlanetSide 2 be a huge draw?  If it is, it won’t be for the namesake.  It does look nice, the three-faction war is a good idea, and who knows.  I just know that if I had to choose between a new IP or to sequelize one of SOE’s existing properties, I wouldn’t be picking PlanetSide above anything else.

More disappointing was the near-total lack of information about EverQuest Next.  If there was ANYTHING that SOE should’ve been drumming up at Fan Faire, it was the successor to its most popular franchise.  Instead, we got a screenshot of a face and… it’s going to look nice.  Maybe there really isn’t much to show right now, but considering that SOE’s future lineup is two titles and this is one of them, they need to get cracking.

The problem here is that SOE’s fan base needs something to rally around right now, and the company isn’t giving them much to work with.

I would’ve liked to have heard more about how the company’s free-to-play conversions (EQ2 and Pirates of the Burning Sea) are going.  You’d think that if they were financial successes, the company would be touting that like nobody’s business.  Maybe I missed it.  I dunno.

So it wasn’t a terrible convention, and parts of it — like the SWG meetup — was actually kind of charming.  I guess I was just hoping SOE was going to swing for the stars instead of merely hoping to get on base.

Blogsplosion2011: Gaming grudges

Proving that more than one blogger can have “sy” in their name, Warsyde handles all sorts of MMO topics over at The Babbling Gamer.  I gave him a loaded bomb with this assignment written on it: “Pick three long-standing MMO grudges that the community just… won’t… let… go, and discuss why we can’t move on from the past.”

The MMORPG genre has been around long enough now that it’s starting to develop a distinct history.  That history includes, shall we say, “disagreements” between players and developers, players and other players, developers and publishers, publishers and retailers, and just about everything else you could possibly think of. Many of those disagreements have been lost to the sands of time, the rage has blown over and life has continued on as before.  Some of those disagreements though, have turned into grudges that many members of the community just can’t seem to let go of, and quite possibly never will.

Sony and the NGE

Early in the last decade Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) released a little MMORPG called Star Wars Galaxies.  It was hyped as the savior of the genre and was going to revolutionize the way we played MMOs. Plus, you know, STAR WARS!  It . . . didn’t quite live up to the hype, and after a while the player base had dwindled to the point that SOE felt the need to invigorate the game by shaking things up.  They did so by instituting the New Game Experience (NGE).  The NGE essentially took many aspects of Everquest and pasted them into SWG.  The game went from a classless, skill-based sandbox to a class based themepark/sandbox mashup. Not only did everyone’s characters change dramatically, some characters were impossible to recreate under the new system (goodbye Creature Handler) leaving many players with a character nothing at all like what they had before. A good portion of the MMO gaming community has never, ever, forgiven Sony for what they did.  For many people, “NGE” is a swear word.

Star Wars Galaxies for many people was a complex mix of shattered dreams and refreshing gameplay.  Many players weren’t happy with the way SWG turned out, and didn’t like the simplistic adventuring content available at launch.  Nevertheless, the crafting system was top notch, it was still Star Wars, and the skill based advancement system was interesting and different from other things on the market.  Even though many people stopped playing SWG, they held a soft spot for it.  Then Sony tore the heart out of the game and replaced it with something new.  This upset both current and previous subscribers, as the game they held a soft spot for no longer existed.  Even if the nostalgia bug bit and you wanted to go play SWG, the game you remembered was gone forever.  Current players were hit even harder, as characters they’d spent dozens or hundreds of hours developing were ripped apart and rebuilt in strange ways.

Still, plenty of people still play the game today, so why has it been so hard for many gamers to just forget about the NGE and move on?  Probably because the NGE represents a fundamental betrayal of the unspoken pact between players and game providers — that we, as players, will give money to the provider to play in a persistent game world with persistent characters we evolve over time, and the game company will preserve that persistent world and your characters with clear continuity.  The NGE shattered character and game world continuity, and broke the trust between player and provider.

Warhammer Online Hype

“Bears, bears, bears.”  It’s a phrase that will go down in MMO marketing infamy, and one that anyone who follows MMORPG games has surely heard.  “Bears, bears, bears” was used in a marketing video for Mythic Entertainment’s Warhammer Online while describing a system in which players wouldn’t have to wade through dozens of bear corpses to reach a quest giver, only to have the quest giver task them to go out and kill 10 bears.  Instead, the quest giver would go “Oh, I have a quest for you to kill 10 bears.  I see you’ve already killed 10 bears, judging by the gore, bits of bear fur on your sword, and 10 foot tall stack of bear pelts you’re lugging around.  Thanks, here you go!  Quest complete!”

Gamers rejoiced, because we’ve all killed dozens of a monster only to have some quest NPC fifty feet further on task us to go kill some for him.  Never mind that we just killed dozens right in front of him.  The issue, of course, is that Warhammer Online didn’t deliver on this promise.  Instead of quest NPCs recognizing your kills for “kill x” quests, there were special “task” NPCs that would reward you for killing certain numbers of a specific monster.  That’s not so bad, though not what they promised, right? Except, infuriatingly, there were numerous cases of quest NPCs standing right next to the task NPC, offering “kill x” quests for the same monster type, and they wouldn’t recognize you had killed them already even though the NPC right next to them would.  They not only failed to deliver, they rubbed players’ noses in the failure.

This was just one of many ways in which Mythic failed to deliver on their promises for WO, but the fame of the “bears, bears, bears” bit has made this the one MMORPG players will never forget, or forgive.  It was just so over-the-top, and so blatantly unfulfilled.  Gamers were bludgeoned with the hype for months on end, with all sorts of wet-dream features being promised left and right.  What we got was a perfectly solid game that failed to meet the pie-in-the-sky promises of Mythic’s marketing team.  Mythic’s reputation has gone from that of a sterling independent MMORPG developer to that of an over-bloated hype-monster that can’t be trusted.  Warhammer Online wasn’t actually a bad game, but the community is unlikely to let this grudge pass, and it won’t be surprising if Mythic never releases another AAA MMORPG.

Anarchy Online Launch

One of the grandaddies of MMORPG gamer grudges (yes, UO Trammel is older, but I didn’t play UO so I’m not going to write about it), the launch of Funcom’s Anarchy Online in 2001 was so spectacularly bad that people still talk about it 10 years later.  Players attempting to play in the first few days of the game were treated to lag and latency so bad that something as simple as walking across a courtyard could take 30 minutes.  I’m not exaggerating, I actually timed it when I was trying to walk my character from one spot to another.  Rubber-banding, freezing, everything you could possibly imagine about a bad connection was present, all at the same time, constantly.  It was actually easier to force-quit or unplug your computer than log out thanks to the lag.

Funcom has been tainted by the AO launch ever since.  Not that people think they can’t make good games, but rather there’s a vague mistrust of their technical competence.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, read, or participated in an exchange like the following:  “Hey, check out this new game by Funcom!”  “Oh, err, ah, aren’t those the guys that did Anarchy Online?  That game was horrible at launch!  I’ll give them 6 months to straighten things out before I even look at this.”  Of course, a game that doesn’t sell well in the first six months is generally doomed to a mediocre showing overall.  Funcom didn’t exactly allay everyone’s fears with the Age of Conan launch either.

This grudge isn’t going to go away because the launch was just so bad and so memorable.  People shelled out $50 to buy the game and were rewarded with something completely unplayable.  The Anarchy Online launch is a textbook example of what-not-to-do, and no launch since has been able to surpass its misery.  World of Warcraft itself had a pretty bad launch, but almost nobody remembers because comparatively speaking, it just wasn’t in the same league.  The Anarchy Online launch was so bad it’s become legendary.

Conclusion

The theme behind all these grudges seems to be betrayal.  MMO gamers tend to be a pretty forgiving bunch in the long run (or maybe just forgetful), but the lesson seems to be that if you betray the gaming community spectacularly enough you’re never going to live it down.  Sony still has conversations about the NGE, generally along the lines of “we’ll never do anything like that again, ever, we promise!”  Funcom is still trying to convince people they’re capable of putting out stable software.  Mythic is, well, I’m not sure what Mythic is doing, but I’m sure they’re not letting their marketing department do it, whatever it is.

There are lots of other grudges out there, what’s your favorite?