10 Years Ago, in an MMO far, far away

June 29, 2013

Ten years ago nearly to the day, Star Wars: Galaxies launched to the world. As a remembrance of the adventures I had there, I'm writing now about the game as it was in those days and the community that surrounded it. As you read this, you may wish to listen to the playlist on YouTube that starts with the above video. It's a wonderful collection of the music from the game, familiar audio glitches included.

A screenshot of the features page from the first Star Wars: Galaxies website
The features page for the first SWG website

One of the things I remember reading first about Star Wars: Galaxies was an interview with lead world artist John Roy about procedural planet generation, and how he would discover features of the landscape that were new even to the designers. That got me really excited about exploring these worlds that I'd only read about or seen on the big screen. I'm not sure how often this technique is employed in modern MMORPGs. My impression is that the vast majority of current worlds are slowly crafted by hand by artists, which is why we have so many beautiful vistas but so few boring areas to contrast them with. If all we ever see is beauty, we start to tire of it and look for something better.

I miss the rolling hills of Corellia where my first SWG toon “grew up.” Another thing that I truly miss about Star Wars: Galaxies is the wait times at the starports. You could only travel to another planet if you bought a ticket for a starship and waited at a starport for one. They arrived in ten minute intervals, which means frequently large groups of players would congregate at the main starports while waiting to travel to another planet. It made for some great conversations, and new friends.

A screenshot of a starport in Star Wars: Galaxies
A starport in Star Wars: Galaxies

Something else I miss about Star Wars: Galaxies was the grind. As a crafter who played before the concept of “practice mode” was introduced, I would sit there and grind out components to level up my skill for hours. When I ran out of materials or empty space in my inventory, I'd make a backpack, shove the extra items in there, and head out to my personal harvesters for more materials. This was before anyone was able to build medium or heavy harvesters, so there were still vast fields of personal harvesters dotting the landscape.

An image of a personal mineral extractor from SWG
A personal mineral extractor

The grind, at least for SWG crafting, meant long periods of sitting there doing the exact same motions over and over again. This sounds really boring, but frequently after about five minutes of doing this, I would hit a kind of altered state of mind - a vaguely pleasant feeling of just “being.” The only other time I've ever felt that is when practicing Zen meditation, and I sorely miss it.

Before vehicles were introduced, everyone had to walk everywhere. Shuttles and starports were jammed full of players on their way someplace. Player cities didn't exist yet, but there were always massive collections of player houses exactly 1 km outside of every major NPC city. It made those cities feel a lot like real cities - you would always be passing by other players on your way either into the city core for transport, into the suburbs for shopping or socializing, or out into the wilderness for adventuring and hunting. Every city had its own distinctive feel, too, on my home server of Chilastra.

A screenshot of Corellia
Corellia had some beautiful vistas

Coronet on Corellia was where I first landed, and it's where I spent the first few months of the game. It felt very rugged, like a city on the fringe. Theed, on Naboo, was where the entertainers and image designers hung out. It was definitely a “pretty” city. Mos Eisley was… well, a desert city. Because of all the difficult, unbuildable terrain surrounding Mos Eisley, it wasn't nearly as dense as the others. I think the players more nostalgic for A New Hope landed there. The other cities, like Restuss on Rori and the Imperial Outpost on Talus, had much smaller and more focused populations. Later, when they allowed players to build on some of the more advanced planets like Dantooine and Lok, more interesting communities started springing up.

In the end, Star Wars: Galaxies really was the best MMORPG experience I've ever had. The early months, even with all the bugs, network issues, and missing content (capes!?), are permanently etched in my memory as a wonderful time. Rest in peace, SWG.