I recently downloaded Star Wars Galaxies Emu, the most complete Star Wars Galaxies emulator so far, and pottered about in it for a couple of hours. I have tried the it a couple of years ago, and it’s pretty clear that the emulator is still being very actively developed for. You can get hold of it pretty easily, and as long as you have the disks, it appears to be fairly above board, but note that some big features still aren’t in the game as of yet, most notably the Jump to Lightspeed content.
Important disclosure here that I never really played SWG, unless you count a trial period during the final six months of the games lifespan. What I saw at that time was a game which clearly had a lot of interesting core ideas, but getting to them was obtuse, ugly and not that fun. I’m actually ok with that in games if I feel the reward is worth it, but I didn’t get far enough in SWG to even appreciate what my options were. Having said that, I’ve always felt it was a gaping hole on my MMO résumé, so getting the opportunity just to have another look at it, especially now it’s gone, is something I really appreciate.
It’s always a slightly surreal experience playing not just an MMO that shut down years ago in order to accommodate SWTOR (ouch), but a version of the game that is pre CU and NGE, two patches which alienated large parts of the playerbase and from which it could be argued it never truly recovered from. This is sort of akin to wandering the halls of a museum, but with the freedom to prod and push at things. The game looks old obviously, but it also plays old, which again I’m sure you’d expect. There are some problems with it in its current state, most notably I think that the economy doesn’t function too well with a small playerbase which can have up to ten alts. This creates a situation where something like crafting doesn’t work as originally intended, because interdependency between various professions is almost non-existent when someone can just switch to an alt and provide everything they need for themselves. This leads to a feeling that crafting and the economy is a closed market if you’ll excuse the pun.
There are two features which I love about this version of SWG, and I think they are good examples of the kind of features we are missing in MMOs today. Firstly, the entertainer class. The entertainer hangs around cantinas, and plays music or dances. Players who pay them a tip receive a pretty substantial buff, which seems like it was once a pretty integral part of tackling difficulty PvE combat situations. Can you imagine having to do that now? To actively seek out another player in a specific spot and pay them for a service. I think many would log off at the mere suggestion. This is pretty similar to my other favourite which is the medic class, who players must seek out after being defeated in combat to remove negative death effects. Remember those? Again, you must seek out a player at the hospital most likely, and pay them to treat you.
What I enjoy about these systems is, apart from the social aspect they encourage, I think they are great examples of good sandbox design. With these features, places like cantinas become vibrant social hubs, but also vitally, such class progression offers serious non-combat options for people to progress their characters and feel as though they are providing an important service to the community too. I think we’ve lost that, and it’s a damn shame too.
I wonder why we’ve seen a move away from the non-combat class. I guess it comes down to the old game/world discussion. We have a lot of games right now but not a lot of worlds. What is sort of fascinating about early SWG is that in many ways it was far more about living a life in a virtual world than it was about being a galaxy saving superhero. Have we just got to the point where everyone has to be a spell slinging mage or a sword wielding warrior in order for MMOs to be fun? What changed and why?
I’m once again inclined to think that lowest common denominator design is somewhat at play. MMOs are capable of delivering living worlds better than any other genre of game, but for the last decade we’ve progressed so far down the game path that I can’t even see the world path anymore. Another part of the EQ and WoW legacy I guess. Personally I’m intrigued by The Repopulation, but that’s been in development for a long time, and I don’t quite fancy dropping $100 to try out the alpha weekends. I’m long past the point of putting all my hopes and dreams into an upcoming title, but The Repopulation is billing itself as a potential spiritual successor to SWG, and for that reason I’m certainly keeping one eye on it.