10 Years Ago, in an MMO far, far away

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.

The feature list on the original website, way back in 2001
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.

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.

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 1km outside of every major
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.

Coronet 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.