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June 29, 2003
Growing Galaxies

It's a struggle to tear myself away from Star Wars Galaxies. I bought two copies Friday, but Jane's Vaio laptop won't do hardware transform and lighting so I'm in here alone. Well not quite - somehow people on the fence about massively multiplayer online games have been lured by the mythology and promise of this title; I played because my friends were playing - I played because I expect a wide range of novice and experienced players to mess with and mess around within that gaming system.

One of the reasons I signed up early is because I had a talking to from Timothy Burke my college history professor. Across a table with a light in his eyes, he alluded to a smart interface and a dense economy of craft. He felt obliged by the beta-tester's non-disclosure agreement to avoid specifics. But I bet on his enthusiasm and joined him the first day I could.

The game so far is a great pleasure. There are massive problems, mostly due to popularity. I can't log in sometimes. Then I'll log in and something major will be broken. Like right now my list of online friends has gone away, and I can't send messages to anyone not standing nearby. To be expected for launch month of the most mainstream of the massively multiplayer online games.

Star Wars Galaxies crackles with potential. Maybe it's that way for the first three days of any online game - thousands of people all exploring the possibility space at once. Can we do this? Yes! How? People showing each other things. Star Wars Galaxies has a brilliant system where you learn your skills from other players. So if you've practiced surveying for resources enough to qualify as an expert in surveying, you must seek out another player who has come before you. The computer-run characters might charge thousands of credits for the skill upgrade, but players will nearly-always teach you for free.

So there's all this casual sharing between new players - not just skills, but languages. There's a half-dozen-odd races, each with it's own dialect. Sadly, it doesn't figure in play much (excepting the fact that no one can speak Wookie except Wookies), but it's nice to be able to teach other things. Player to player. It's like file-sharing - being able to give away something that doesn't deplete. Another example: there's an "entertainer" career path. Any activity in the game builds a fatigue that can only be relieved by watching people dance and play music. So there's a rythym to the game - every few hours of play, everyone ends up in the cantina, relaxing and bantering and taking the edge off.

The game is so new that not everything has been unleashed yet. The market is a good way to judge. The game has a robust in-game auction system. It won't help you cash in your hours of play for dollars, but it does provide for the ready distribution of goods throughout the game system. When I started, the first day, there was no armor for sale there - it was too complicated to build. Now, by day two, people have learned how to build basic bone armor, and there's just a few suits available for tons of credits. In time, there will be tons of armor for sale - wtching the pieces of the market assemble.

But still, no one has yet reached the limits of play. The beta-testers know what to expect from the game, but everyone is wandering the world at about the same level. There are locations and bad guys and skills and clothes and outfits that emerge as the hours go by. Most items in the game are playermade, so people are gruadually, quickly over the course of these days, figuring out how to reproduce the galaxies as they were designed.

It is formula, and a heavily licensed formula at that. Not open to total player-policing. After the second Star Wars trilogy effort, I was ready to discard enthusiasm for the mythology. But Star Wars Galaxies is a rebirth of Star Wars as an attractive piece of pop culture, because they've created an entertaining place to inhabit and play.

Julian Dibbell and Tim othy Burke have inspired me to want to participate in the economy so I'm playing a craftsperson. I'm harvesting the land for metals and chemicals and gasses and then I'm combining them into items to sell on the market. Tim has pointed out that there's a massive amount of animal life on the planet, different species who interact with each other and you in complicated ways. Some come up to you and sniff you, without attacking. Others attack each other. There's a lot to look at and explore.

Just now, the sounds of tie-fighters overhead just started up. I wonder if that means the Empire has taken over this planet? The world is growing around me and I love living in it.

Read Professor Burke's excellent and thorough beta-testers review of SWG.

Posted by justin at June 29, 2003 11:04 AM | TrackBack

Justin, what server are you guys playing on, and what are your character names?

I'm X'an Shin on (I think) Goranth, or whatever the "G" server is. All of my friends are on that one, as well, so I doubt I'll be able to change to hang out with you and Jane.

Last night, a real life friend of one of my real life friends was having some trouble figuring out how to get ahead in the game as a Scout, so I was volunteered to help him (I'm a nice guy, and I like helping newbs out when I have the time).

It became readily apparant that he couldn't type at 90wpm like I could, so I asked him for his phone number, and I called him on his cel and walked him through the basics of how to use the Marksman skills (which he didn't think he needed), and the basics of being a Scout.

In the end, he was super appreciative, and I had a ton of fun showing him the ropes that I had learned in my Beta days. It turns out he just started on a planet that was a bit too difficult for a newb scout, and didn't understand he needed the marksman skill (or brawler) to be an effective solo playing scout. Talus (Corellia's moon) evidently doesn't have as many easy creatures (or any) on it as Corellia itself does.

I was on the phone with him for over an hour, and wound up sacrificing my time to harvest bones and hides that I was going to give to my crafter (real-life) friend in exchange for some more bone armor.

It was a great experience for both of us, and I really wish that SWG would support some form of client-to-client in game voice chat, where you could just activate it between specific people.

Posted by: Bowler on June 30, 2003 12:03 PM

I'm on Chilastra as Akkuma (a wookiee) if anybody wants to hang out. having a great time even though I am a melee fighter in a world full of blasters....

Posted by: Zaius on June 30, 2003 12:25 PM

Glad you are enjoying it. :)

Posted by: Raph on June 30, 2003 04:09 PM

Woo-hoo!! Raph!

I'm playing 2 characters. Mon Cal Crafter on Corbantis - Corellia named Loligo Paelei, and a Twi'lek Scout named Aree Omaaji on Bria - Rori. Aree starred in a few comics I did while beta testing. Here's an example:

Episode 4

Posted by: Thad on June 30, 2003 10:33 PM

I'm Atino Xepteed on Chilastra--look me up, too. A few folks are talking about forming a sort of anti-PA PA, a kind of PA for rugged individuals who just want to hang out and do their thing, rather than an uber-PA trying to powergame to domination. We're thinking of going off to a remote planet and setting up shops.

Once things settled down--let's call Day 2 the real launch--I have to say I was impressed by the stability and bug fixes in between the last day of Beta 3 and the first day of "real launch". Yes, there was some sort of faction exploit, ok, and some other small things that needed fixing, but basically, a really nice job of getting things ready.

My main beef at the moment is one I've always had, but I know full well how difficult it is to attend to: some crafting tiers lack activities that tie them to a real source of demand among players, promoting a feeling of "grind". You can see the difference when you're making stuff that people actually want and need--making bone armor is fun; making 100 heavy axes is not. I would say that one of the structural fixes in the next three months is to identify the actual gameplay that every single crafting box tends to promote, and when there's a box that is associated with grind, re-think the items that reside in it.

Number 1 example of this (which I wrote about in Beta like four or five times) is Novice Weaponsmith. You can make components for higher level weapons which no one wants because you suck too badly at weapons assembly--you yourself won't want them if you make and stockpile a crapload of them in anticipation of making weapons later. You can make a D18 pistol which is inferior to the CDEF pistol you can make because of your lousy assembly skills--but you don't get weaponscrafting experience for making the CDEF. And you can make a sword, for which there is an eager but limited market that gluts up with extraordinary speed. Meaning it's time to make and destroy a ton of items in order to get someplace where you're working for other players in a meaningful way. That's the kind of gameplay that needs fixing for the sake of players and for the sake of the economy.

The other thing that's interesting to see is how players carry over expectations from other games. Basically, a new player who hasn't played in Beta arrives and says the following three things in succession:

Why doesn't anything drop loot?
I need armor.
I need a sword.

Undoing the Pavlovian expectations inculcated by other MMOGs is a real trick. I almost feel like someone could design a "real" second-generation MMOG that pushed the concept to some new places and most MMOG players would be repelled by it simply because it clashes with inbred expectations.

Anyway, I'm having fun *as well as* finding it interesting.

Posted by: Timothy Burke on July 1, 2003 07:30 AM

Raph, I got some feedback about your game for you. Got our art team to play it. They like the graphics. Music is excellent too. What's your email?

And sorry about the launch. I'm sure things will improve quickly. Good luck!

Posted by: Jia on July 2, 2003 12:22 AM

Well, to be honest, I get flooded with enough emails that I don't generally post my email address on the web. :(

Maybe Justin can forward a mail from you along? He has both of our emails, effectively. :)

Posted by: Raph on July 2, 2003 04:55 PM

Okay, I'm back on SWG after a week away - a lot has changed!

Chilastra server, Tatooine now. Name is Stroota. Say howdy!

Posted by: justin on July 9, 2003 09:17 PM

does it mean the servers are not connected between each others? so every server is it's own universe and you cannot meet ppl from other servers? that's somewhat of a disappointment!
however i'll get my copy of swg soon. hope to see somebody in-game! ;)

Posted by: dr_colossus of dataleak on August 27, 2003 07:43 AM

Think simple. Learn different.

Posted by: Francis on July 6, 2004 07:37 AM

Think simple. Learn different.

Posted by: Francis on July 6, 2004 07:39 AM
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