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Star Wars Galaxies (abbv. SWG) is a Star Wars themed MMORPG for Microsoft Windows developed by Sony Online Entertainment and published by LucasArts.[1]

History

On 16 March 2000, LucasArts Entertainment announced a partnership with Verant Interactive Inc. and Sony Online Entertainment to create the first massively multiplayer Star Wars online role-playing game.[1][2] The then unnamed game would be developed by Verant with online play supported by SOE. This was the same team responsible for creating and supporting the popular EverQuest multiplayer online game. LucasArts would be responsible for all distribution of the Star Wars online game. The announcement included an expected release date some time in 2001 and that the game would take place during the original trilogy era.

LucasArts officially announced the brand name of the game to be Star Wars Galaxies on 29 November 2000.[3] The announcement claimed the first round of testing for Star Wars Galaxies was expected to start in late 2001 which would push back the official release date to an unknown time. The game's official information site was launched on 30 November 2000 in conjunction with SOE and featured frequently asked questions about the game and message boards fielded by members of the development team.[4]

'We see this Web site as an important step toward building a strong community for the Star Wars Galaxies line of games. We firmly believe that consistent and open communication with fans will be one of the keys to the success of the Star Wars Galaxies experience.'
~ Simon Jeffery, president of LucasArts[3]

On 17 May 2001, even before the game went into public beta testing, the first expansion's development was announced.[5] The yet unnamed add-on, which was expected to be available six months after the initial product release, would be a space simulation and enable players to own and fly starships which would allow interplanetary travel and space combat. The release date of the initial product, the ground-based component, was updated to the second half of 2002. The staggered release schedule of the space component of the Star Wars Galaxies series was said to benefit players because they would have time to establish their characters and explore different elements of the core game before adding the space layer.[6] Traveling between planets would be accomplished through the use of public shuttles, which would ferry characters from world to world.

A new official site was also released on the same day that put more of an emphasis behind the community of the game. It included new screen shots, movies, an updated FAQ, concept art, development team member's profiles, features about the game, and a new forum.[7] The site reached 100,001 users by December 2001.[8] Throughout the next year after the release of the new site, new content would be revealed. This content included information on species and locations, new images and movies of different game elements, and 360 degree QuickTime VR panoramas of different locations.

Verant began accepting applications from users in May 2002 who were interested in participating in a closed beta test for SWG. The closed beta test would begin in July 2002.[9] SOE would share more information on the game as the beta moved forward. This would include more screen shots, information on match making services, the fact that players would be permitted only one character per server,[10] and skill trees and how the skill-based system would function.[11] LucasArts also announced on 20 May 2002 that both the Xbox[12] and PlayStation 2[13] would get a version of the game, but these would later be cancelled.

LucasArts officially confirmed a release date of 15 April 2002.[14][15] They also announced on 20 December 2002 that the ground-based component of Star Wars Galaxies would be called An Empire Divided and that the game's online community had grown to over 400,000 users since its inception in November 2000. At the time, this represented one of the largest ever fan communities amassed for any game prior to retail availability.[14]

An Empire Divided would later be delayed to an unknown time,[16] but on 17 June 2003, LucasArts confirmed Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided would be released on 26 June 2003.[17]

In 27 August 2008, after the success of SOE's "Legends of Norrath", LucasArts and SOE released "Champions of the Force" (see below), an online trading card game based on Star Wars Galaxies.

Star Wars Galaxies has gone through 2 major "upgrades": the Combat Upgrade (CU) and later the New Game Enhancement (NGE), its current form.

On 16 September 2009, SOE informed all current and past account holders of the forthcoming closure of twelve servers (galaxies) 'due to the recent popularity of the Free Character Transfer Service'; the servers intended on being withdrawn were listed as:- Corbantis; Europe-Infinity; Intrepid; Kauri; Kettemoor; Lowca; Naritus; Scylla; Tarquinas; Tempest; Valcyn; Wanderhome. Character creation on these servers was disabled on 15 September 2009 with the final closure of the servers on October 15, 2009. Players with characters on the affected servers were also offered free character transfer to one of the thirteen remaining servers.

Gameplay features

As with all MMORPGs, the feature set of Star Wars Galaxies is subject to change.

Timeline

The game events were originally set following the destruction of the Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope, but before the beginning of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Even though the battle of Hoth has been included this does not change the timeline.

Geography

The game launched with 10 planets: Tatooine, Naboo, Corellia, Talus, Rori, Dantooine, Lok, Yavin IV, the forest moon of Endor, and Dathomir. In the second expansion, Rage of the Wookiees, the Wookiee home planet Kashyyyk was added. In the third expansion, Trials of Obi-Wan, the planet Mustafar was added. Each of the original 10 planets are represented by approximately 225 square kilometers (15 km x 15 km maps) of game space.[18] In contrast, the expansion planets of Kashyyyk and Mustafar are smaller, constructed differently (e.g. instances) and in some cases imposed different rules than the original, such as terrain that is not traversable (i.e. mountains or hills that cannot be climbed over).[19][20]

In addition to the 12 planets, there are 12 space zones, each encompassing approximately 3400 cubic kilometers (15 km cubes) of fully-navigable space. Nine of them are associated with one or more of the playable planets: Tattoo (Tatooine), Naboo (Naboo and Rori), Corellia (Corellia and Talus), Dantooine, Karthakk (Lok), Yavin, Endor, Dathomir, and Kashyyyk. (Mustafar has no associated space zone.) Kessel and Deep Space have no planets and are used for high-level gameplay and player-versus-player combat. The Ord Mantell sector was released in January 2008 as a new space-only zone, though there is a space station there (called Nova Orion) where pilots can land and acquire quests. The planet Hoth was added in November 2008 as part of an instance. However, the planet can only be explored during the events of the Battle of Echo Base.

Graphics

The game has been generally praised by reviewers for its realistic character models, detailed architecture and lush environments.[21][22][23]

Points of interest and cameos

Examples of characters and points of interest that players can visit within the game include R2-D2, C-3PO, their escape pod on Tatooine, the Naboo Royal Palace, the abandoned Rebel bases on Dantooine and Yavin IV, the notorious pirate Nym in his stronghold on Lok, Ewoks and Rancors. Other main characters include Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Emperor Palpatine, Admiral Ackbar, Jan Dodonna, Boba Fett, Jabba, Borvo the Hutt, Bib Fortuna, Salacious Crumb, General Otto, Captain Panaka (appears as Colonel Panaka), Max Rebo, Wedge Antilles, Gavyn Sykes, Watto, HK-47, Boss Nass, Admiral Thrawn, the "reincarnation" of General Grievous as NK-Necrosis, and the Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

References are also made of characters from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, such as Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade from the Thrawn trilogy, and HK-47 from the Knights of the Old Republic series of games.

The game also references the other two Star Wars spin-off films, in that the player may encounter the Gorax species from Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, and the base of the Sanyassan Marauders, as seen in Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.

Species and professions

The 10 species available to players include: Human, Twi'lek, Zabrak, Wookiee, Trandoshan, Rodian, Mon Calamari, Bothan, Sullustan and Ithorian.

There are 9 professions: Jedi, Bounty Hunter, Smuggler, Commando, Spy, Officer, Medic, Entertainer, Trader. In addition to these professions, a character can also choose among three Pilot sub-professions and optionally enter the Politician Sub-profession (acquired and completed automatically when a player places a structure belonging to him). Characters can specialize in different areas of their main professions by selecting "expertise" options, including Beast Mastery. The Trader profession includes four specialties: Munitions (for crafting weapons and armor), Domestics (for crafting food and clothing), Structures (for crafting furniture and housing as well as ships and related components), and Engineering (for crafting droids).

Professions are grouped into four areas of development, crowd control, tanking, damage dealing, and healing. This system allows the combat to be more balanced between different professions. Players will be able to effect other players in different ways that will benefit their group or team. Which profession you choose also determines which types of armor your character will be able to wear.[24]

Ships

The Jump to Lightspeed expansion made individual ships attainable by players for the first time. This allowed players to acquire and pilot ships of various sizes. Ships ranged from fighter-sized ships up to ships like the Millennium Falcon. Some players choose to play most of the game in space, while others play in both space and planetary settings.

Combat mechanics

Ground combat is currently real-time and similar to a first-person shooter. The player must aim a targeting reticule at a target and left-click the mouse to fire. Auto-aim and auto-fire features are available, creating a more traditional combat experience, but players eschewing those options are rewarded with an increased chance to do maximum damage. As characters gain levels, they gain access to additional combat abilities called "specials" which are activated by using the right mouse button or by clicking the ability on a toolbar. These specials usually have a cool-down period. In addition to providing especially powerful damage attacks, specials are also used to heal, buff, debuff and crowd control. Players gain the ability to use more powerful weapons as they advance in level.

Players also earn "Expertise Points" as they level up which they can use in their professions expertise "tree". The player can allot 45 points into various abilities and attributes to make their characters more diverse, from weapons specialties to healing and armor proficiencies.

Player housing, guilds, and cities

Characters can erect, own and decorate a variety of buildings, including houses, cantinas, guild halls and city halls. These buildings, when grouped, can be organized into cities. Players hold elections via ballot box for Mayor. Elected mayors grant city members certain rights to place structures within the city and disallow the use of various civic structures by individual players as needed. Elections are held every three weeks. If another player wishes to run for mayor they can add their name at any time to the ballot box to run against the incumbent. As cities grow in population, they become eligible to add services and facilities such as vehicle repair garages, shuttleports, cloning facilities, hospitals, cantinas and garden displays. They can show up on the planet maps alongside canonical cities such as Theed and Mos Eisley.

The gameplay design encourages realistic social institutions such as a dynamic player economy and other real-life social phenomena like a complicated division of labor. According to Star Wars Galaxies and the Division of Labor, the division of labor in Star Wars Galaxies around April 2005 produced in-game results similar to those in real life. Galaxies' original game design socialized players to specialize their characters by mastering one or two professions, and to join guilds, in which players relate to one another primarily in terms of their professions (e.g.: "I am the weaponsmith, so I make weapons for the guild") — just as in real life, people are tied to one another by organic solidarity.

Other features
  • Single- and multi-passenger ground vehicles and starships: (landspeeders, speeder bikes, swoops, X-wings, TIE fighters and even several of the YT series of ships)
  • Player-run virtual economy where player characters are responsible for creating many in-game items including blasters, starships, clothing, armor, food, housing, furniture and even a wide variety of droids. Items are created from player-collected raw materials and looted items.
  • An extensive set of emotes, moods, and associated animations, which affect not only an avatar's physical appearance but also the text used to describe a character's speech, and even the shape of the speech bubble displayed on-screen.
  • Standard MMORPG features such as player guilds, chat functionality, and other community features.
  • The ability for players to place bounties on opponents that participate in PVP. Player character bounty hunters can then pick up another character's "bounty mission" on the terminals and track the character down. A bounty can be claimed at anytime, regardless of the target's PvP setting. Up to three bounty hunters can be tracking a character at any given time.
  • An extensive character creation system. Characters can hire Entertainers to change their appearance in-game, with even more options than those available at creation. Many visual aspects of a character are thereby changeable at any time after character creation except species and gender.
  • The game references and features elements from The Star Wars Holiday Special, such as Lumpy's stuffed bantha, and the customs of Life Day, when the player visits Kashyyyk. The red Life Day robes that the Wookiees wore are also available during special events in the game.

Release and expansions

An Empire Divided

File:SWG June 2004.jpg

The base game, titled Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided, was released on 26 June 2003 in the USA and on 7 November 2003 in Europe. A localized version for the Japanese market was published by Electronic Arts Japan on 23 December 2004. Japanese acceptance of the game was low, and in November 2005 the servers were shut down and existing accounts migrated to US servers.

At the time of its initial release, the game was very different than it is now. Vehicles and creature mounts were not yet implemented. While player housing was available at the time of launch, the ability to incorporate groups of houses into cities didn't come until November 2003. Each character and creature possessed three "pools" (called Health, Action, and Mind; or "HAM") that represented his or her physical and mental reserves. Most attacks specifically targeted one of these three pools and any action the character took also depleted one or more of the pools. When any one of those pools was fully depleted, the character would fall unconscious. Combat, then, required the player to carefully manage his or her actions to avoid depleting a pool.

Character progression was vastly different at release as well. Characters started out in one of six basic professions (Medic, Brawler, Marksman, Scout, Entertainer, or Artisan) and could pick up any of the other five at any time after character creation. Each profession consisted of a tree-like structure of skills, with a single Novice level, four independent branches of four levels each, and a Master level which required completion of all four branches. Characters purchased these skills with experience points gained through a related activity. For example, an Entertainer could purchase skills to get better at playing music, but only with Musician experience points. Dancing experience points were entirely separate and could only be used to purchase dancing skills.

In addition to the basic professions, characters could specialize into advanced professions such as Bounty Hunter, Creature Handler, Ranger, Doctor, and Musician. There were a total of 24 advanced professions, although there was no way for characters to obtain all of them at once. Each advanced profession had certain skill requirements from the base professions that had to be met, some more restrictive than others.

Jedi were not available as a starting profession, or even as an advanced profession. The developers stated only that certain in-game actions would open up a Force-sensitive character slot. The actions required were left for players to discover. It eventually turned out that characters had to achieve Master level in random professions. At first the player had to complete four master level classes which were randomly chosen and unknown to the player. The developers then introduced Holocrons which would inform the player of the first, then after completion second master class required. At various times the number of master levels needed ranged from four to seven and the number revealed by holocrons varied from two to four. The first Force-sensitive character slot was supposedly unlocked on 7 November 2003, however claim has been made that Zippy, of the Sunrunner server unlocked his FSCS on November 2, 2003.[25]

Jump to Lightspeed

This first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed, was released on 27 October 2004. Two new races were added: Sullustan and Ithorian. The expansion added space combat. Characters choose one of three factions in the new Pilot sub-profession: Rebel, Imperial, or Freelance. The playable sectors include the space surrounding the 10 planets of the game as well as Ord Mantell, Kessel, and "Deep Space." Combat is real-time and twitch-oriented like a first-person shooter and can be played with a joystick at the player's option. A new Artisan profession, Shipwright (now subsumed into the Trader profession as part of the Structures specialty), was also introduced. This profession created ships, shields, armor, weapons, etc. for players. They also had the ability to take looted components from space and reverse engineer them into better components.

Rage of the Wookiees

The second expansion, Episode III Rage of the Wookiees, was announced on 9 March 2005 and released on 5 May 2005. It added the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk and its corresponding space sector. Kashyyyk is different from the previous 10 planets: rather than being 16 square kilometers of openly navigable area, it is divided into a small central area with several instanced "dungeon" areas. A new space zone was also added. Other content added in this expansion included the ability to add cybernetic limbs to a player character and quests for two new creature mounts and three new starships. A substantial portion of the content for this expansion was adapted from the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith which was released to theaters in the U.S. on May 19, two weeks after the expansion release.

Trials of Obi-Wan

The third expansion, Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-Wan, was announced on 19 August 2005 and released on 1 November 2005. This expansion added the ground planet of Mustafar to the game. No new space sector was added with this expansion. Like the previous expansion, much of the content is related to Revenge of the Sith, which was released to DVD on the same day as the expansion was released. Additional content, including the presence of the droid HK-47, is based on the Knights of the Old Republic games. Within a couple weeks of this release the entire character development process was changed. This led to a number of players demanding their money back for this expansion. After a week or two of protests Sony offered refunds to anyone who asked for it. Many player towns became ghost towns due to the reaction of long term players who decided to depart en masse.

Trading Card Game

On 27 August 2008, LucasArts and SOE released Champions of the Force as a game update which enabled people to play a new card game feature. In the game, people can collect, battle, and trade with each other as well as buy new cards with money and get new in-game items from the cards to use such as podracers and house paintings. Over one hundred cards were created for players to find and play against others with new artwork featured on each card. On 16 December 2008, SOE launched a new deck in the card game, entitled Squadrons Over Corellia and subsequent expansions have been released since.

SWG compilations

On top of the expansions, SOE released several compilations of their games:

Star Wars Galaxies - The Total Experience
This pack included the original Star Wars Galaxies (An Empire Divided), Jump to Lightspeed and the Rage of the Wookiees expansion packs. Customers who bought this pack also received a BARC speeder as a gift.
Star Wars Galaxies - Starter Kit
The kit was the first version of the New Game Enhancement (NGE). It contained An Empire Divided and Jump to Lightspeed. Customers who bought this pack also received a X-Wing or TIE fighter instant transport vehicle as a gift.[26]
Star Wars Galaxies - The Complete Online Adventures
This included the original game with the first three expansion packs, a DVD of never-before released bonus features, a slide show of more than 800 pieces of Star Wars Galaxies concept art and screenshots, all set to more than an hour of orchestral in-game music, excerpts from the popular “From Pencil to Pixel” book that chronicles the art of Star Wars Galaxies and interviews with the producers, and all the cinematic trailers for the game. It also included an exclusive in-game item for use while playing – a personal AT-RT vehicle as seen in Revenge of the Sith.[27] This version was the first to be released in Australia, instead of An Empire Divided.
Star Wars Galaxies - The Complete Online Adventures Premium Digital Download
This includes An Empire Divided, Jump to Lightspeed, Rage of the Wookiees, Trials of Obi-Wan, and players who purchase it also receive a bonus instant travel vehicle, the Queen Amidala Transport Ship and an AT-RT walker. No disc media is provided as it is an Internet download.The Internet download later came with:

1. A Queen Amidala Transport Ship (one per character)
2. A General Grievous Wheel Bike as seen in "Revenge of the Sith", a Double seated Bike for you and a friend (one per character)
3. A Lava Flea mount as seen in "Revenge of the Sith" (one per account)
4. A Underground Mustafar Bunker player house (one per account)
5. An AT-RT walker mount (one per account)
6. A Varactyl mount as seen in "Revenge of the Sith" (one per account).

Reception and criticism

Reviews for the initial launch of the game in 2003 were mostly positive. The game was praised for its lush graphics, liberal use of the movie soundtracks, massive world size, character customization, creative creature ecology, complex skill system, player economy interdependencies and its sandbox approach. Reviewers criticized the overwhelming complexity of the game, PVP/PVE combat imbalances of the professions, bugginess and lack of quest content.[28] The reviews for the first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed, praised the new space combat but criticized the ground game for its lack of sufficient improvement.[29] The reviews for the second expansion, Rage of the Wookiees lauded the new quest content for current subscribers but lamented the combat gameplay updates and the continued bugginess of the game.[30]

Players who wished to play a Jedi character had to first unlock their Jedi slot by fulfilling an unknown list of criteria. The first player to unlock a 'Jedi slot' did so on November 7, 2003,[31] four months after the release of the game. Media outlets and players criticized SOE for the substantial time commitment to unlock a Jedi, penalties for in-game death of a Jedi character which was permanent after three deaths, and monotonous game play required to acquire the Jedi character.[32] Developers responded by changing the penalty for death to skill loss in January 2004[33] and creating a quest system to unlock the character.[34][35] In November 2005, as part of the "New Game Enhancements" Jedi was changed to a starting profession and all players were allowed to play as one.

SWG after the Combat Upgrade
SWG after the New Game Enhancements

Gameplay mechanics for combat and armor/weapon systems received a major update on 27 April 2005 when SOE released the "Combat Upgrade" (abbreviated as CU). The new Combat Upgrade replaced a system that allowed players with combat professions to stack defensive abilities from various skill sets, while also fixing an exploit that allowed players to have their character attack freshly spawning non-player characters (NPC) and creatures while away from their computers in order to gain combat skill experience.

Media outlets criticized the changes[36][37] while subscription cancellations rose.[38]

Another major update called the "New Game Enhancements" (abbreviated as NGE) was implemented on 15 November 2005, kept secret from the players until 24 hours upon release, and created huge demonstrations in game from the majority of players, and became available in retail on 22 November 2005 as the Star Wars Galaxies: Starter Kit.[39] Major changes included the reduction and simplification of professions, simplification of gameplay mechanics, and Jedi becoming a starting profession. Media outlets such as CBS News, New York Times, New York Post and Wired Magazine criticized the reduced depth and complexity of the game.,[40][41][42][43][44] but John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, defended the decision claiming it necessary to revamp the game in order to reverse the deterioration they were seeing in the subscriber base.[45] SOE offered refunds on the Trials of Obi-Wan expansion due to it being released two days before the NGE was implemented.[46] The development team affirmed this was their desired direction for the game and that they would modify parameters to address player's concerns.[47] Features such as expertise trees were later added to the game to add complexity and differentiation to characters. After the announcement that SOE had acquired the game Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Smedley addressed that game's players about the perceived threat of major changes to the game:

'We've learned a thing or two with our experiences with the NGE and don't plan on repeating mistakes from the past and not listening to the players.'
~ John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment[48]

Subscriber numbers were originally expected to exceed 1,000,000.[49] In August 2005, SOE reported that they had sold 1,000,000 boxed copies of the game.[50] In early 2006, unconfirmed reports showed that only 10,363 subscribers were playing on a particular Friday night, but Smedley denied that subscriptions had fallen this low.[51]

Updates such as the Combat Upgrade and New Game Enhancements prompted a few small groups of players to develop server emulators which would allow for play in a previous version of the game. Different groups are currently attempting to reverse engineer versions of the game that would predate the Combat Upgrade. Although none of the emulator projects are completed, some are running public and private test servers with communities forming in advance of an emulator release.

Current State

Despite the additions the game has seen over the years the population has dropped significantly and twelve servers were closed in October 2009. These closures were preceded by a nine month campaign by Sony Online Entertainment to rehouse players of these servers to more populated servers. As these servers' players migrated to other servers the other servers enjoyed greater activity, notably the Starsider server which to this day has become the only server to regularly hit server activity above a "medium" rating.

After the twelve servers closed and many of their players moved to more active servers there was a spike in activity on half of the major remaining servers. This activity was short lived however, as during 2010 there has been a steady decline in server population leading to petitions across the Star Wars Galaxies Gameplay Forum for further mergers. Besides this server mergers and recent updates (notably the GCW update) have created lag for players which has caused further unrest in the galaxy.

Novelization

Star Wars Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine is a novel based in part on places and events in the game. It was authored by Voronica Whitney-Robinson and Haden Blackman, the LucasArts producer of the game.[52]

References

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  2. Star Wars Online Announced: Three heavy hitters announce what could be one of the biggest games of all times.. IGN (2000-03-16). Retrieved on 2007-03-24.
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  31. RPGDot - the fastest news from other worlds
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  49. DailyTech - World Of WarCraft Expansion Hits 3.5 Million Users
  50. Star Wars Galaxies sales top a million units // News // GamesIndustry.biz
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External links

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