Star Wars Galaxies Is Dead, But These People Are Keeping It Alive

The ambitious MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies shut down servers in 2011 but the fan run servers of SWGEmu keeps an old version of the game alive. There's countless players still enjoying a game that official died years ago. What brings people back to the galaxy far, far away after all this time?

The emulated servers are well maintained by fans who have recreated the game using unique code, carefully avoiding any of Sony Online Entertainment's propriety inventions. The team behind it had test servers running before the original game even shut down. It was a passion project by fans seeking to recapture the old game before major changes by SOE radically changed its direction and tone by removing a host of systems and features in hopes to save the dying game by appealing to a wider audience.

Passion is the right word to describe the fans of Star Wars Galaxies. To understand the game, you need to understand those fans and hear their stories. Everyone has a history. For instance, in the initial days of the game, I managed to get my hands on a powerful carbine and some decent armour very early and became a desert guide. Charging half upfront and half on safe arrival, I guided players from Mos Eisley to Jabba's Palace. I timed the trip in SWGEmu, following familiar desert paths. It took over thirty five minutes. I would make multiple trips per day.

Star Wars Galaxies allowed people to create interesting identities explicitly because of its convoluted tangle of systems. There were over thirty jobs and a detailed faction systems that helped players define who they were. Arriving in Mos Eisley as a medic this time around, I encountered a bounty hunter named Zaxen Highwind.

Zaxen was the first player I encountered in SWGEmu.

"I love playing cat and mouse with Jedi. I love hunting them down," Zax eagerly explained. The early Jedi system included potential permadeath to Jedi characters. I asked why he returned to game via SWGEmu. "It's familiar. Things start to come back to you. I can be a bounty hunter again."

Zax was returning to his previous galactic life as a bounty hunter once more but other players had different experiences. My first patient in the medical center was Darguli. He towered above my medic, making me feel incredibly small. But he had a big heart that quickly won me over.

"I used to report on Imperial troop and bounty hunter movements to Jedi in hiding," he told me, although he didn't want to be called a full time spy. "It would be very rewarding. A Jedi once repaid me with an entire ship!"

A key feature of Star Wars Galaxies was that the majority of the game world was formed by players. The economy was all player run, with artisans and crafters putting gear on the market. Once implemented, player cities began to sprout up on planets. Player stories intersected in unpredictably ways. Perhaps Darguli had once saved a Jedi from Zax. This was the magic that most players were trying to recapture.

The cantina was lively and full of players.

I found the city's cantina full of dancers and musicians. Some were AFK and running well written scripts to automatically ply their trade and buff adventurers. Others were interactive and talkative. Plenty of people sat in the cantina, eager to talk about old connections and excited to seek out new ones. Many were trying to reclaim the past.

I met a fighter ace named Spiriana who was trying to find the familiar comfort of squadrons and fellow pilots that had help them to relax so much back when the real game was running and they were actively serving in the Marines. They eagerly told me stories of hectic battles in space. Strand was a violent man who seemed to be attacking gang of helpless Jawas in frustration. He wanted to rebuild his old guild but couldn't find his friends after losing his first character on the server for reasons he wouldn't specify.

Some players were more successful in finding connections. A kind doctor named Chaika guided new players around town, greeting them kindly. They always ended up back in the cantina to relax and talk with their new friends. A tiny Bothan named Rayven was playing on his wife's character; they played the game together most of the time and were eager to recapture the thrill of old adventures once the character was leveled up.

Me, with some of the citizens of Savereen.

SWGEmu also has well established communities. These player run cities take many different forms. Some are cosmopolitan in nature, offering the best wares from high tier crafters. A majority function as guild run bases of operation. Smaller ones cater to more particular niches. Savereen is a reclusive town on Rori. Rori is a moon of Naboo, the planet where much of The Phantom Menance took place. It's out of the way and you have to take multiple starship journeys to get there. It is a paradise for roleplayers who were eager to tell me how Star War Galaxies offered ways in which they could express themselves. Many were eager to tell me about their characters' misadventures.

"I was kidnapped once," the charming Amillo Halcyon told me. "I got frozen with a cryo gun and still hate cold water to this day."

Wi'lonn Zacy is a kind faced Twi'lek who told me about the time they gave medical attention to a Rebel operative. This brought the attention of a stormtrooper. They used the surrender emote and the other player laughed, letting them go. "In my experience, players of SWG are like that," Zacy noted. "They're good people."

The player who caught my attention the most was Harby Blum. He was a shorter man with receding hair who wanted nothing more than to be a chef for the town. His friends had taken to calling him the "Cupcake King".

"I love that non-combat roles matter here," he explained. "Harby is a chef that will open a deli."

"You can do whatever you like in SWG when it comes to your career," Amillo added.

The party eventually left to grab a virtual dinner at a local dining establishment, chatting in character and enjoying each other's company. They had old memories of the official game but were forging new ones here and now with their vibrant characters.

My home wasn't there but it was still beautiful.

Out of curiosity, I travelled to the planet Corellia and hiked out to where my house was in the real game. It rested at the intersection of two rivers. Of course, it wasn't there. That house was deleted long ago when my own server was taken offline. But the land was familiar. There was something nostalgic in the trees and the flowing water. I looked around at the vast world and wondered if I could maybe rebuild my old home once again. I wondered if I, like the players I met, could find something long since lost. I think I might try it for myself, hopefully leaving a new mark on a different version of a galaxy far, far away.


Comments

    Thanks so much for this piece. I can recall playing and enjoying SWG and its various expansions, going totally gaga over the seemingly limitless choice that players had. Nowadays a game like this wouldn't survive commercially, yet it was actually a proper online role playing game - how they should be if you ask me. Despite the connotations, it was also a good game for newbies. In fact, SWG was a gateway to my mum, who is also a gamer, getting into MMOs. She spent the first week in the cantina dancing before mustering up the courage to roll a character and be more adventurous. Needless to say she ended up harvesting, building a home, and creature handling for years to come. I always loved the social aspect of this game world. Everything was player created (until the terrible changes they introduced to dumb it down) and while inflation ultimately killed the in-game economy, making it hard for newbies to get in, it was an awesome experience. Jump to Lightspeed was pretty good, too. Here's hoping we see something similar again in the future - Old Republic was a major disappointment for me.

    The shift to Always Online, publisher-hosted servers, and the fickle nature of MMOs are all contributing to a real tragedy when it comes to preserving games for posterity. Cultural artifacts, no longer accessible... there should definitely be some kind of enforcement that enables the public to pick up the pieces of any online-only project that gets shut down. Not necessarily mandating that devs HELP with that, or make the code pub-run-friendly, but at least protects communities from the possibility of being sued when they attempt to restore access to discontinued titles.

      But when it comes to social games that's just life. You can't preserve Star Wars Galaxies through software. Burning Crusade is still technically playable but what made it what it was is long gone. I can open a portal there straight from Stormwind but I can't return to it any more than I can return to my childhood. I've got a pile of source code on a hard drive in my closet but even if I tracked everyone down and convinced them to play it wouldn't be the same.
      The spirit can live on, the community can find a new home, but ultimately these games are played in real time. Do you want Star Wars Galaxies at launch, or a week before it shut down? Do you want it on the 22nd of Nov or the 23rd?

      To me the tragedy is that World of Warcraft eclipsed the entire genre, stopping games like Star Wars Galaxies from having any lasting impact. I look back at some of these games and there are ways of thinking that just flat out died. It went from a genre that was basically brainstorming 'what can we do with a thousand players jammed on a server together' to minor tweaks on end-game. Nobody knew what to do so they were all drawing from different sources. JRPGs, chat rooms, pen and paper, role playing, it was brilliant. There was no playing it safe.
      The games weren't perfect but back then MMO was more like a feature or a platform than a genre. I think if World of Warcraft hadn't been so great those games would have had a chance to spawn a proper legacy.

        But when it comes to social games that's just life. You can't preserve Star Wars Galaxies through software.

        But even without the social aspect, I still want to explore that rich world of Tabula Rasa, or get in some fast and dirty vehicular brawling in Auto-Assault. Still want to fill out my lorebook and ascend a champion to power in Warhammer: Age of Reckoning.

        We're talking about hundreds, thousands of hours of art, music, storytelling, all locked off and disappearing forever on the whim of publishers who decided it wasn't profitable enough to let us access that anymore.

    Or not. Because forcing companies to give away their IP for free is an awful suggestion. Just because they don't run a server anymore doesn't mean their code isn't worth money.

      their code isn't worth money.

      Actually, most of the time it's not. Usually it's two things that are sought after in an aquisition:

      A) The rights to the IP
      B) The talents of the people who worked there

      Most old code is garbage. As a coder, if you look at code you wrote two years ago and don't cringe it's because you haven't learned and improved since then. When you buy a technology company you're more buying the talents that built the product, along with the rights to the product itself

    Now if someone can do this for a pre 4.0 version of SWTOR (before KOTET dumbed the game down to special bus level), that would be wonderful.

      Are you kidding me? SWTOR before the big solo-friendly update was the fucking worst. Tedious, grindy bullshit dragged out and utterly annihilated what is now something a lot closer to a KOTOR 3 story flow. Not to mention all the quality of life changes, companion-gearing, being locked into certain companion choices for optimal trinity... The changes to make it so you don't need to do the storyless group quests, grind the everloving shit out of crafting/gear and repeating dungeons was the best thing they could've done for the game.

      SWTOR, if anything, needs to be made even less MMO and more co-op KOTOR 3.

    This game in its original form was such a wonderful thing for me as a teen. It led to some friendships that endured years! We had our own settlement outside of Theed. When development went sour, I decided to leave the game and stop wasting time on it. I wanted it to be something more than just "delete account" however.
    My Zabrak bounty hunter flew to Mos Eisley and after spending some time watching the new players and making sure I picked an obvious newbie instead of an experienced player's alt or something else that was off, I approached them. I then spoke to them for a little and gave one very confused person all of my credits, prized pistol and land speeder. Never looked back.

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