The rise and fall of a Galaxy
Or how to completely destroy a popular MMORPG
I’ve been a Star Wars fan for a long time, I remember since 1983 when I still was a kid and went to the movie theater with a mate to see Return of the Jedi. I wouldn’t say I’m an overly fanatic fan but I always liked the sheer depth and complexity of the expanded Star Wars Universe. Every other Science Fiction looks like bland second class compared to Star Wars!
So when I first heard about the news of a Star Wars MMORPG in development some years ago I was hooked! In late summer 2003 Sony Online Entertainment let their Star Wars Galaxies go live and I’ve ordered it one or two months later. The game already offered a lot in its early time but it also has been a problem child since the very beginning because of many bugs and gameplay flaws. SOE released the game into public with many bugs not being fixed and this method went on for most of the time when they published a new update or expansion for the game. After a while you could be sure that with every major publish a bunch of new bugs came into the game. A MMORPG is a complex matter with many server/client relations where unprepared issues can occur but some of the bugs were so absurd that I started to wonder how the coding organization looked at SOE. Either they didn’t follow a well planned object oriented design or their organization structure was simply chaotic.
The Combat Upgrade
[ad#gog_vampire_box]The first big change for the game came with the CU, the Combat Upgrade which changed the combat system and many related parts of the game. And while it took out a big chunk of complexity from the game (for example by removing the need of medicine for medical professions to heal others, by changing the way armor is used and by removing interesting mods like armor/armor piercing and various damage types) many players got used to the new system after a short while and were fine with it since it also improved the system in some ways.
A major change was made in how to become a Jedi! Pre-CU a player had to loot many holocrons and master many professions to unlock the force sensitive slot. This led to the so called hologrinder era in which many players simply grinded one profession after another just to get the FS slot as soon as possible. This raised the inflation a lot and let the in-game economy suffer! Iï¿½ve been a Master Smuggler to that time and didnï¿½t do any hologrinding simply because I wanted to enjoy the game and I was completely not interested in becoming a Jedi.
Around publish 10 the way to become Jedi was even more streamlined! Players had to collect a defined list of badges to get access to a distant village on Dathomir where the force grinding began which would take at least 4 months to become a Jedi Initiate. It was in no way difficult now to become a Jedi, it just took a while and countless days of monotonous and stupid XP grinding (by killing thousands and thousands of Bols and Pikets on Dantooine)!
I never supported the idea to bring Jedi for players into a game like this which lives from its social aspects. In my opinion both ways pre- and post-CU were the completely wrong way to bring Jedi into the system and it was because of them why the game lost more and more of its fun and diversity since most players just wanted to become the roxxor Jedi now.
So how could Jedi work in such a game?
How would you bring in the Jedi profession into the game, something that is an obligation since this game has to do with Star Wars and Star Wars is a lot about Jedis? In my opinion the devs (and that includes Lucas Arts too) signed the downfall of SWG at the very moment they brought in the decision that every player should be able to reach the Jedi Profession!
What the game needed was some very strict rules regarding the Jedi Profession like a set limit of Jediï¿½s per server. Let there be 10 FS-Slots per server, not more! Make the Jedi really hard to reach! The way to become Jedi was in both ways very obvious to follow for everyone once it was known and guides on how to reach it appeared on the web! A system like this needs some real challenge, an ever changing way that turns out differently for every single player! I agree this is very difficult to achieve but Iï¿½m sure it could have been realized to some degree! For the 10 Jedi there needs to be perma death! Give these 10 Jedi strong powers, because a Jedi should be something really hard to reach only for the most dedicated players, but also make their existence risky ï¿½ just like in the movies! If one of the 10 Jedi dies, the FS slot is free for a new player who has to reach it by a completely different way!
But the way SOE/LA brought in the Jedi was simply a joke that took away the spirit from this exemplary profession! Many who unlocked the Jedi simply misused their power to cause grief among players and destroying the mystique that was behind the Jedi by acting antisocial. There were exceptions of players who tried to play the Jedi more role playing alike but they were in minority.
At the beginning of November this year SOE brought the big news that dropped like a bomb and shocked many players, their so called New Game Enhancements! I however prefer to call it New Game Enforcement since SOE kept the whole development of it in secret and by doing that they didnï¿½t allow a single bit of influence from the player community.
SOE/LA decided to give the game a complete overhaul by downsizing the professions, simplifying everything and changing the combat system into something that looks like a half baked first person shooter.
Planning, designing and coding a thing of such scale isnï¿½t done in a couple of days! It takes at the very least several months to work this out! The devs kept it secret all the long time so that nobody could take influence on it. They even released the new expansion Trials of Obi Wan exactly one day before they came up with the big news! A marketing move to get as many players to buy ToOW as possible since it was sure that most players would not buy the ToOW extension if they knew the evil changes that would come to the game in just two weeks!
In fact the new upgrade is not an upgrade but a downgrade! The devs suddenly found that professions like the Creature Handler, Bio Engineer or Scout arenï¿½t starwarsy enough for the game anymore and promptly removed them! Countless hours of creature searching, taming and training was in vain with one swift wipe! One of my characters was a Master Creature Handler and Iï¿½m not alone when I say that it was one of the most enjoyable professions in the game! Thousands of grief and hate postings on the official forums proved it! Especially with the new ability learning feature that came with one of the recent publishes the pet system of SWG hadnï¿½t any similar competition in any other currently existing MMORPG! It was the best! And there were other great changes that came into the game just shortly before the NGE wiped everything away. The Squad Leader Profession for example experienced a refreshingly useful revamp just to get completely removed only a few weeks later with the NGE.
With the NGE the devs (SOE and LA) not only downsized the professions but also started to phase out crafters at a grand scale! The once so thriving player driven economy which was one of the feature richest among any current MMORPG titles comes to an end! With the new system players are neither able to mix skills from different professions nor will it be allowed to drop skills later! Decay has been completely removed from the game! No items will decay anymore by use or dead and no Jedi will get XP subtraction anymore because Bounty Hunters are not able to hunt Jedi players anymore! No decay means that players sooner or later have all the stuff they need, weapon and armor wise and they never need to worry about buying new stuff anymore! Removing decay also means that players become careless about dying. Why should I fly the way back the 4 km if I can get slain by that nasty level80 creature over there and come out at the cloner?! There is no excitement in a battle anymore because there is no risk in dying!
Roleplaying got pretty much phased out of the game! There is no chat possible during many actions, including combat and since the target system doesnï¿½t lock anymore onto a target it will be a great annoyance to use emotes on other players!
Many players were happy with how the game was after publish 24 (shortly before the NGE) and many hoped (including me) that SOE would come up with something like a crafter revamp to give the neglected crafters something new! There was so much potential in bringing great new things into the game that would make a lot of sense and improve professions and gameplay! Instead they decided to just throw all this hope overboard, disappoint over 80% of the old player base and turn the game into a boring and unplayable pile of garbage!
My third character was a Master Tailor, Master Artisan and Master Merchant. I specialized him in crafting and selling Bio-engineered clothings and Vehicles and I had a nicely done palette of combat garment with defense mods and 99% durabilty vehicles on my vendors. It was fun and I always liked that individual clothings had benefits that all the same looking armors didn’t have! Well they have all been rendered worthless by the NGE because BE mods have been made useless and vehicles don’t have decay anymore. I see no reason now to continue my crafter character because for a NGE Master Tailor (and all other trader branches) nothing new was added to the game!
They published the NGE for beta testing on the Test Servers 15 days before going live. Every developer knows this is way too few time to detect and remove bugs so it was obvious that the NGE goes live in a completely buggy state! The players didnï¿½t expect anything else from a company like SOE! But this time it looks like they actually published the alpha version! Most if not all of the eight so called iconic professions are bugged, specials cannot be used, several profession-linked weapons are disabled or got raised to level 88. The new GUI is buggy, Iï¿½m not able to add new chat tabs to the chat window so I cannot chat in some of the chat groups Iï¿½ve chatted before. Some keys even doesnï¿½t work at all, for example the middle mouse button. Perhaps such things will be fixed in near future but until then all the players are just unpaid beta testers (alpha in this case) and it will not change anything about the fact that the game now looks like something that pretends to be a roleplay game with a screwed on FPS combat system that doesnï¿½t fit to it and where combat is a major pain in the ass!
SOE/LA kicked all veteran players into the butt and out of the door with this NGE and opened the gates for fancy new players which they hope to come in masses! But somehow I get the feeling that new players will not come in masses! The game simply looks too old for the young FPS crowd! SOE didnï¿½t made any updates about the graphics which have still the same old lowres textures and generally most building constructions in the game donï¿½t really spread any true Star Wars atmosphere since they are not impressive like in the movies. Theed looks like a small city from a fantasy RPG and not like a Theed from the movies. Coronet looks like a small ghost town, not like a metropolis thriving with business! Starports look like little one-ship launch pads and not like massive hangar bays! If there was something to fix about SWG to bring in more Star Wars feeling then its these visual let downs!
The most actual impudence that SOE came up with is to give new players who bought the new SWG Starter Kit an item with that they can call their X-Wing or Tie-Fighter at any place they currently are. Many players have dreamed of this feature long before. But of course SOE keeps it possible for old players to buy the new Starter Kit so they can get the ship call device too (minus the free trial period of course). Another sophisticated marketing trick from SOE to let the vets pay once again! The sad thing is that many of the players act like blind cows and donï¿½t realize that they get milked by SOE because they want this device at any price!
For me itï¿½s time to quit here and say goodbye to SWG, a once great online roleplaying game that had its flaws but also a lot of potential! Potential that the devs couldnï¿½t see because they are blind for profit! I canceled my three accounts and Iï¿½m going to refund my money back for ToOW!
I wish something could make this NGE unhappen and SWG would become like before but I doubt that SOE will ever revert the game back to its old state. I wish that after the fall of SWG (which will happen soon no doubt) the server code would become free to the community so players can build their own servers but itï¿½s fact that Lucas Arts never would give anything about Star Wars away for free! This was the first and last product Iï¿½ve bought from SOE, a company that knows well how to completely ignore the player community!