An ode to Star Wars Galaxies

Star Wars: The Old Republic is quickly approaching, promising fans young and old the chance to live out a life in the world of Star Wars. Many people seem to forget that Bioware's game is hardly the first foray into the universe of blasters,scoundrels and Wookiees. Before TOR there was Star Wars Galaxies. 
 
Wait! -- don't leave! I know, I know. It had mediocre scores. It had bugs ... a lot of bugs. But dammit, the game had moxie. 
 
Perhaps it is simply nostalgia's clammy paws taking hold, but I can't seem to shake the experiences I had in SWG. The game was hardly my first MMO, I dedicated way too much of my youth playing Ultima Online, and shortly after that a little bit of time in Anarchy Online. But something was special about SWG.  
 
When MMOs were beginning to make a more crafted experience, SWG was the hold-out. It was first and foremost a sandbox game. It was a sandbox almost to a detriment, sacrificing narrative and loot for "customibility" and user interaction. in SWG, the world was yours for the taking. 
 
I started the game day one. I just turned 16 a week prior. I haste-fully rushed home from my local Gamestop, with my prized Limited Edition (which I still have). Loaded up, selected the Starsider server, and stared at my character creation screen. So many choices, so much customization. What would I be? Who would I be? 
 
I choose a Rodian, a tiny green man named Atehik Iobah. I spent hours drafting his background. To an old DnD game-master and AOL chat room troll, the emphasis in MMORPG was always the "Arr Pee Gee."  
 
For a person who does put the "RPG" in MMORPG, Star Wars Galaxies was a haven. The world allowed you to be whatever you wanted to be. My best friend, always a Star Wars fanatic, wanted nothing more than to be a moisture farmer on Tatooine. He did such, finding a plot of land and with just a few credits and a space-mule, began a successful franchise. The games profession system was unlike most class systems in MMOs today. You were given 250 skill points, and it was up to you how you chose to train and use them. You could master one of their their 24 professions, or mix and match. Did you want to be a fashion designer/dancer/bounty hunter? SWG didn't ask any questions, it didn't just your odd but strangely satisfying choice of career paths, it just let you. All this provided a world that was a rich sandbox, where you were left to your own devices. 
 
I was instantly transported into a world of like minded geeks -- The SWG universe seemed so mold-able.  We settled down and made a city of 250 strong, called Vagabond's Rest. With it came a rich past, lively characters, organized crime and even a political system.  
 
The way Star Wars Galaxies gave players freedom seems like a dinosaur in the box of tricks for game developers now. It seems so important, at least to me, because despite its flaws, it is something that we will never see happen again. The MMO landscape has forever changed with games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The new standard for MMOs are all about crafted play experiences. You are one of the many, following the motions the developers laid out for you. There will never be a MMO again where you could find player cities to join or plots of land to till as a humble moisture farmer.  
  
You can't blame the developers, after all, the cash cow was WoW, not SWG. It simply costs too much to make a MMO, we are talking a price tag in the millions, and a half of decade of time. Why try something new and risk all that capital, when you can go with something known and safe? It is a predicament not just isolated to the Massively Multi-industrial complex, but the video game industry as a whole. As games become more costly, and as more players slip from PC gaming to console alternatives, the MMO landscape will become continue with an over-saturation of clones. Games will become more linear, more structured, more homogenized.  

There is hope on the horizon. Games like Terraria and Minecraft have shown developers that sandbox experiences, especially multiplayer ones, can in fact be profitable. Whatever the future holds, though, this cranky aging gamer will always hold a special place in his squishy meatbag soul for that imperfect gem, the last bastion of sandbox MMOs, Star Wars Galaxies.

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