It was almost a joke – three days before Christmas day, and one of the most eagerly anticipated MMO’s ever was released. Yeah, Bioware, like we don’t have enough to do in the run-up to Christmas. Now we have to juggle present-purchasing AND saving a galaxy far, far away.
Festive-shenanigans aside, it was a surprisingly smooth launch (for an MMO), with only a few minute-long log-in queues to hamper the Force-flavored joy and even those had cleared up after a day or so. I settled down to play, in the hope of finding some respite for that Star Wars Galaxies-shaped hole in my gaming soul. What I actually found, was something I didn’t expect.
I joined Star Wars Galaxies at launch and stayed with it throughout its lifetime and re-inventions. A fair amount of rage has been written and yelled aloud about how much better the game was pre-CU, but, and to be perfectly honest – I was having a blast anyway. Aaragorhn was the name of my first character (yup, I’d just seen the first LotR movie) a wookiee. I had aspirations of becoming a Creature Handler and started on my journey with gusto on Tatooine. Along the way I encountered a friendly Trandoshan named Ssidosc (yeah an Imperial Wookiee and a Trandoshan teaming up – oh how the RP fanatics cried…), who became a long time friend and sort of companion on my travels.
Star Wars Galaxies was my first MMO, I hasten to add. The concepts of forums and wiki-pages was something I simply hadn’t discovered at that point. So we whiled away many a happy evening exploring, fighting and doing what passed for quests in SWG – mostly murdering the local wildlife, queuing for buffs and talking to trainers. The weeks passed and I was becoming lost in this (to me at least) new genre of game – already 30yo I had spent much of my previous life playing solo PC and video games, playing with other real people would prove to be a novelty that would never get old. Eventually we needed somewhere to call home, we’d gathered a few friends on our travels, found a suitable location on a remote planet, plopped down a City Hall and I become the Mayor of player city – Kobala City on Rori. Over the coming months we would grow from lowly outpost to a thriving metropolis with our own City Hall, Cantina, Guild Halls, Shuttleport etc.
I decided I liked these MMO games.
Photoshop was an expensive mystery to me back in 2003/2004, one of our guidlies made this, my forum signature and the poster below for me – thank you, long forgotten friend!
We had a lot of fun during those months building up our city, forming a guild, filling it with active crafters, entertainers and fighters. Sometimes we’d head off to the furthest reaches of the galaxy to complete some task or other, at other times we’d stage an event in our city or defend it from attacking rebels. By and large we were all having fun and enjoying the freedom of choice the game provided. Of course, this wouldn’t last… A monster would soon appear that would destroy everything we held dear.
November 23rd, 2004. World of Warcraft was released to the unsuspecting (but still foaming at the mouth) masses.
And overnight, Kobala City died. The whole galaxy, it seemed, was flocking through the tunnels of the interweb to this new, gaudy and shiny world. A world of tribal, shamanistic Orcs; of righteous and racist Men; and of squeaky and hilariously mis-proportioned gnomes. I felt the notions of migration like all the others, but I was strong. I was half-way to becoming a Jedi, after all, and to be perfectly honest I was, and always have been a bit of a Star Wars nerd. Swords and sorcery fantasy don’t quite hit the spot for me, I much prefer a sci-fi environment. So, I stayed away. For a week.
In my defense, Kobala City became a ghost-town – most of our regulars had upped and left. There were a few still kicking around, but even these were logging on less frequently. Worst of all, Ssidosc had decided to go. It wasn’t a tearful goodbye, but you don’t spend six months fighting, talking and questing with someone and not develop some kind of emotional bond. Besides, he was the first real friend I had ever made in an online game!
Little did I know, I wouldn’t catch up with Ssidosc (briefly) again until the launch of SWTOR – and we’d both be married with young gamers of our own by then!
So I left for pastures new in World of Warcraft, and started a brutish looking Tauren on his road to glory. Within a week or two, I had worked my way to the Arathi Highlands, and spent a worrying amount of time there asking passers-by “Are you Ssidosc?”. I eventually gave up my search and carried on my own journey, for what it was. Two months of questing – alone – later, I finally gave up on WoW. I found it an unwholesome experience, with no social benefits outwith random idiots yelling incomprehensible nonsense like “LFG 4 ZUL!!!”; no homes, no communities, no point. I actually remember thinking to myself, “This isn’t an MMO, it’s a time-waster…”. I was a smart lad. Shame I was apparently wrong.
Of course, time has proven that World of Warcraft, and its attributes, are what it takes to be a successful MMO today. Fighting with number keys and a constant focus on loot and numbers is what MMO-gamers want, it seems. I’m not being bitter, I simply have never understood the attraction. But a tiny, quiet part of my gaming-psyche still looks at these MMO-lite games and wonders – what happened to those nights spent sitting in an MMO simply talking? I remember countless evenings in SWG, logging in and spending hours just chatting with my fellow guildies in our cantina. Getting to know each other. Having a laugh. Even talking about other games we played and what we did for a living in Real Life. This kind of interaction, it simply doesn’t seem to have a place in MMOs any more.
I would return to SWG after my brief stay in WoW but the CU, then the NGE (topics for another blog entry!) would hit and each time I would lose 90% of the friends I’d made. In chasing WoW numbers all SOE (The Devs) did was turn the people that loved SWG away from their game. With no viable alternative, I stayed until the bitter end. I made a few more friends and started a few more cities but nothing ever recaptured the joy I felt playing SWG during its intial, heady 12-18 months.
Star Wars: Galaxies is gone now. It shut its doors in 2011, the day before SWTOR launched. And, after reading about the its last few moments on PCGamer.com (reposted it here), I honestly still feel a little broken-hearted.
So yeah, getting back to the opening couple of paragraphs I was playing Star Wars: The Old Republic just like everyone else and to be honest, I’ve probably played it more than most – but its a game cut from that bastardized and over-used cloth we saw way back with World of Warcraft. It’s a good game, I can disengage my brain and play it on my own for a couple of hours. Its full of Bioware cleverness and lightsabers, but…
I want my Kobala City back. And Ssidosc… We had some great times…