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THOUGHTS ON #3: BECOMING A STAR WARS (GALAXIES) FAN
Looking back at twenty years of fun derived from one of the greatest of games.
I’ve always (not always, but since what you’re about to read happened) been interested in Star Wars. I think I saw the A New Hope for the first time during a ‘golden time’ session at primary school. Whack in a VHS to shut us up and shut me up it did. Soon as I got home, I asked my mum to keep an eye out for second hand tapes of the films at the charity shops and boot sales she frequented on the weekends. Eventually I had seen the whole trilogy and just a few years later, the next set of films came out. I was nine at the time Episode 1 was released and I thought it pretty cool… I recall a friend getting me a Jar Jar Binks key ring for my birthday that year as we went to see it for my 10th. I suppose none of us knew how cursed that character would become. The aforementioned Jar Jar spent the remainder of his life hanging from the key to my room along with a Terrance from South Park (who incidentally was exactly the same scale as the Jar Jar, meaning they could have coexisted within the same universe) and a small leather sandal that I had acquired from a trip to Thassos around the same time. I saw the next two films as they came out, and I was pretty satisfied. I eventually upgraded my VHS collection to a fancy DVD box set of all the films and got to work watching them over and over between playing the myriad of video games that were released over the years, and that as they say, was that.
If it had just been that I’d have probably just left it there – a film enjoyer, possibly a TV show enjoyer later, and the owner of a handful of toys, a collection of videogames, and the odd bit of Lego. That wasn’t the case however, as game crossed my path that would eventually consume several years of my life. I’ve mentioned Star Wars Galaxies before – and will do again, I’m sure. I was introduced to it by a preview article in a magazine one weekend while out with my mum. I recall sitting on the bus outside the station in Lewes, skimming the pages excitedly as we waited to depart for our return journey to Brighton. The promotional images of the game were so evocative of the films, and they ignited my imagination. The description of the virtual world, the possibilities, the choices, the adventures… I was immediately intrigued.
From that moment I desired to play it. Unfortunately, MMOs of that time hadn’t gotten to the free to play stage, and SWG required a credit card. Piss it. I didn’t have one, or the means to earn the £9.99 a month it cost to subscribe. Dream dead. I did manage to get myself a trial however, and as I downloaded the installer, a terrible thought occurred. My PC… what if it wasn’t good enough to play? And my internet connection too? This was the 2000s – internet was shite. As the game installed, screenshots popped up in the window, and both my fears and excitement grew. Would it work? Please God (if there happened to be one about), grant blessings upon my cheap PC and expensive broadband connection – which was at the time painfully narrow. The installer finished, I made my trial account, and I launched the game.
By some miracle it worked! I waited with bated breath as the iconic text crawl edged its way up the screen, and as it faded the briefest of cutscenes began. After this, I was faced with my first big decision. What server to pick? I had no idea what this would mean, but there were three Europe servers on the list, and FarStar sounded the coolest to me. I clicked that and then I was faced with another decision. Which race? Rather boringly I went for human, but with subsequent characters I pushed the genetic boat out. After picking my bloke, I stretched the face and body about a bit and after finishing up, I was faced with the choice of starting profession. Artisan, Brawler, Entertainer, Marksman, Medic, or Scout. Each of these were explained nicely and after reading through the choices, I opted for Scout. Moments later I found myself on a space station. Now my memories of this are foggy – it was changed a lot in later iterations and more recent memories have taken over, and I skipped the new player tutorial several times with alts over the years too. Regardless, the pretext was something about being on a ship suspected of ferrying criminals. The Empire boards your ship… or blows it up? You get a token sum of credits, a melon, and a few oddments in compensation. You are then left to explore the station. A hapless victim of wrong place wrong time. Best crack on anyway. After a brief overview of the controls, a bit of shooting, and a look at the most basic mechanics, I was given my third big choice. What planet would I visit first?
I didn’t quite know this at the time, but this choice was bigger than I had originally thought. The social hub of the game was centred around Mos Eisley and Coronet (at least on the servers I played). None of that was conveyed on the travel terminal and neither was the effort and cost of travelling between them once in the game proper. Problems for another time I suppose, and I picked my future home based on what I knew about Star Wars from the movies. Naboo, Tatooine, Corellia, Rori, Talus… then what city? I knew that Tatooine was bad news, at least in the films, and that as a newb, I’d probably be better off heading for civilization. This led me to pick Corellia and the city of Coronet. As the loading screen appeared, I then thought about what would likely be the next big question – Rebel, Imperial, or Neutral? I was already having a great time, and it hadn’t even started yet!
After loading in, I found that the city was dark and the few players who I could see around me were imposing and rather well equipped. I, conversely, was ill-equipped. I had no skills (save for novice scout), and I lacked the gaming skills to get skills. It was going to be a learning curve for sure, but one I was more than happy to endure, and as I went off to explore the city (at a rather low framerate) my young heart was full of excitement, both for the adventures I was about to embark upon, but also for the unbelievably immersive experience (for the time) I was having, and before long, I found myself at the local cantina, socialising, learning the ropes, and being continually amazed by the scope of the game. Looking back at that moment, I had no idea of the full breath and depth of Galaxies, and it’s no wonder that it managed to keep me entertained for so many years. My first few hours in the game were a little overwhelming, but I recall a rather helpful creature handler giving me some scouting tips to set me on my path, and before long I was setting up a camp in the wilderness outside of Coronet, freshly exhausted from brawling with Gubburs or something. Those quiet moments of rest between missions were almost meditative when adventuring alone, and were a light in the dark when adventuring with your companions as someone invariably got out a Slitherhorn and began belting out Starwars (which was one of the songs an entertainer could play). These memories, along with many others will remain with me, and while the magic will never be recaptured in exactly as it was, we can enjoy the nostalgia of it over and over again.
The official game died many years ago now, with the SOE servers being shuttered in 2011. There were many reasons for this, but the dominance of WoW, the launching of the Old Republic, and the slow but steady decline of the player base were likely the most pressing issues that caused the game’s decline. There were likely issues on licencing too, but whatever the case was, it was a sad day indeed. Seeing ‘Connection to SWG lost!’ come up for the last time was odd and marked an end of an era for me in my gaming. SWGEmu was around then, but other than that, there was little hope for the game. Luckily, with the release of the source code, projects such as SWG Source, and SWG Legends resurrected the corpse. Numerous fan run emulators carry the torch now, and continue to develop and enhance the game, keeping alive the wonderful creation it was, showcasing both its flaws and beauty. This year marks the 20th anniversary since the game was first launched, and it’s a rather bittersweet thought. So much time spent in the game, but what a great time it was. I have adventured much on the emulated servers too, and I still frequent them on occasion, both to appreciate the work of the original developers (basing some of my degree work on the game), and that of those who have taken up the mantle. Returning to SOE’s interpretation of a galaxy far far away since the initial shut down always brings me joy, and just a little melancholy, and as a sign of my derangement, twenty years later I’m hanging on to the physical remains of what was one of the greatest of games (unfortunately this isn’t all of it). So here’s to Galaxies, twenty years later. An empire resurrected.
I’ve got more thoughts on Star Wars Galaxies that will infiltrate some future posts I’m sure, but that’s it for the time being. Did you play Galaxies? If so, what server did you choose? Not that long after it’s release World of Warcraft came along and it overshadowed so many other games, both those already out and those that would release later. I enjoyed sampling these virtual worlds, Vanguard, Age of Conan, the Matrix Online, Guild Wars… Lots of games in the MMO space, but none as good as SWG. If you haven’t had the chance to try it, I recommend dipping into the EMU world, if only to have a look around. It’s old, clunky, and likely almost impenetrable to some, but if you are interested you can find a comprehensive list of active servers over on the MMO Folklorist’s website, as well as a very detailed introduction for new players. And while you’re downloading the launcher to your chosen server, check out my interview over on the Folklorist and my previous posts, including my fist ‘A Journey into the Virtual World’, which focuses on the aforementioned project I made on my memories of Star Wars Galaxies.
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