SWG stood out with its complexity. It was huge open-world sandbox where the entire economy was player-driven, and anything worth buying (apart from quest reward decorations and such) had to be made by crafters. If you wanted custom clothes, the best armor, houses and furniture, a new hair style, or a new spaceship engine or anything else, you had to buy it from another player. There were twelve planets and you could place a house almost anywhere on most of them. Organize enough houses together around a city hall and you'd get a player-constructed city which, as it grew based on population (outpost, town, city, metropolis, etc), could have its own shuttleport, cantina, gardens and so on. In the original game there something like 24 professions that you could mix and match to make your character pretty much however you wanted, though maxed out you could only master about two and a half at one time. About seven of those were crafting professions, and crafting wasn't a simple affair. Three professions were dedicated entertainers like dancers and musicians. It was this sort of customization and diversity that caught my attention, along with the setting.
I should also add that I have a soft spot for Star Wars. I remember lying on a blanket on the hood of the car, leaned back against the windshield with my cousins, watching the first Star Wars at the drive-in theater. I was probably around four at the time. I remember my dad taking me to see Darth Vader signing photographs at a bookstore when I was six. It was just a guy in a costume, but it was a really good costume. When I got to the front of the line I recall staring up with such total awe that I couldn't speak or even remember my name when he asked me for it. My dad had to lean in and give him my name. I remember lining up around the old Cinema City theater waiting to go in to see Return of the Jedi when I was eight. And, for all its shortcomings, I remember being so happy to go see Episode I with my dad back in '99. It was all a big part of my personal cultural heritage.
I wanted to give the game a shot. I first signed up for SWG a few months after it launched in 2003. This was after Everquest but before World of Warcraft. I had never played an MMO before, so it was a bit of a steep learning curve. I started out on the Ahazi server, on Tatooine, as a newbie Zabrak in pink hot pants with an ambition to become a master dancer. I would end up becoming a dancer and more. Caliope: Beast Master Extraordinaire! Also a master entertainer, a legendary hunter, an Imperial commando, and not too shabby of a pilot.
|Cue Star Wars theme. Disco version, if you please.|
Anyhow, I eventually got there and started leveling up in earnest. I also started experimenting with combat. I remember my first combat death... swarmed by death kreetles while trying to clear a kreetle lair for money. At this point in the game there was a hefty death penalty and your armor and weapons would decay rapidly. Around this time, animal mounts were implemented. Creature Handlers would tame and mature mountable animals and sell them. They made quite a profit, since people were sick of jogging everywhere. I was so happy to be able to afford my first carrion spat... sort of a vulture-ostrich... with a saddle. I'd also seen a lot of people coming into the cantina with their pets behind them, and I became interested in being a creature handler myself. After learning the basics of scouting and camp building, you could find baby versions of animals in the wild and train them to fight for you as they grew. I started out taming baby rills (a kind of lizard) and dwarf nunas (a kind of nuna). I was very proud when I tamed first rock beetle (a cow-sized beetle), which were popular pets at the time since they had heavy armor. I named him Crunchy.
|Practicing music on stage.|
|Boozy Bantha exterior.|
|Outside the city hall.|
I continued to improve my fighting and creature handling skills. Vehicles also came out, and I began to explore the planets and looking for interesting pets to tame, all the while making decent money by hunting meat and hides to sell to crafters. I was easily identified by my pink ensemble.
I got myself into trouble sometimes. Even while fleeing combat, your swoop bike could be shot out from under you. I died a lot.
|You learned to buy your speeders by the pack.|
|Watching the suns set with my gurreck, Puddinpaws.|
|Nothin' left for me to do but dance!|
|Off these bad times I'm going through just dance!|
|Got canned heat in my heels tonight, baby!|
One of my greatest Creature Handling achievements was the finding and taming of a baby bull rancor. They were larger and more aggressive than your regular rancor, and possibly the toughest pet to acquire at the time. Just finding one was hard, but ever-so-slowly crawling prone towards a bull rancor nest next to the Dathomir Sarlacc to lure a baby right out from under its parents without your mask scent breaking was maddening. I can't recall the number of attempts I made before I was successful. I remember when it happened, I got up and ran away from its suddenly enraged parents shouting, "I got 'im! I got 'im!" I named him Cromwell. Not sure why.
|It's hard to not feel a little bit bad-ass with a rancor backing you up.|
|Cue Imperial March. Oh, yeah, that's the stuff.|
|I fear nothing! Yaaaaaa! ...Okay, I changed my mind.|
I also made her a chef, because cooking is cool. And also extremely profitable if you do it well. She did it well. She was frikkin rich.
|Sometimes cooking is sit-down kinda work.|
Later on, when they allowed two characters per account, I also made Sugarplum, a Twilek entertainer who changed her skin color to match her outfits, and Chantarelles, an Ithorian droid engineer.
|It's Life Day! Open your gifts! Heavily influenced by the Star Wars Holiday Special.|
|Life Day snow on Tat.|
Twin Suns also became one of the largest cities on the server. It was one of the first cities, and so became one of the oldest surviving original cities. You'd head out of the Mos Eisley, hop in your vehicle, drive past the Eisley cantina and head out the western exit. First you'd pass through the no-build zone populated with low-level yard trash mobs and then through the wall of player houses encircling Eisley. Winding through those, down a slight slope and over some ditches, you'd find yourself in a broad, flat plain with mesas rising up on both sides. A long central boulevard made of gardens lead straight up to city hall. The boulevard was lined with houses, businesses, and merchant tents, along with my cantina and my diner. Home!
|Hanging out with my rhoa kwi pack leader.|
Then came the Combat Upgrade. In 2005, Sony decided to make a big combat re-balancing pass, resulting in some pretty big changes to combat mechanics. It reduced a lot of the complexity and strategy of combat. A lot of people didn't like that, being happy with the way it was. A lot of people left the game. But the rest of us simply adapted and got used to it.
Also, at some point along there, our third mayor retired and I was elected the new mayor of Twin Suns. It was a big honor, but it was even more responsibility than being a guild leader. Keeping the city treasury full, worrying about maintaining the population so that the city borders didn't shrink, granting zoning rights to let people build houses in the city in some kind of orderly fashion, organizing the city militia. I did my best.
|City hall decorated for Halloween! That's my stuffed rancor doll in the big seat.|
|Patrolling the city outskirts - "Excuse me, sir, do you have a license for that bantha?"|
|I named him Fleabane. Tee hee.|
|That about sums it up.|
In addition to an interface update, no big deal, they re-worked the professions and combat mechanics completely. They were taking out the mix-and-match skill trees and replacing them strictly profession-only skill sets that were all over-balanced. And they were reducing the number of professions from 24 to 10. Creature Handler didn't make the cut. As soon as the update took place, I would lose my pets, along with my entire play style.
I was upset.
|My wee war gronda.|
|Cromwell at the Dune Sea|
|My rare kinad Baz Nitch. How he loved to jump!|
|Fleabane's last ride.|
|Click your heels with a dancing gaping sider!|
But I pressed on, hoping to adjust. I was used to being a rifleman, a long-distance damage dealer, but that was gone, too. So I went with the Commando class and learned to use area effect heavy weapons. I had an armorsmith make me some good Assault trooper armor to go with it. Wish I had some good pictures of that, I looked pretty cool. I also wish I had pictures of my carefully and meticulously decorated home and shops. Alas! They exist only my memory.
Anyhow, things eventually settled down, though the game population never really recovered. Some time later, they even brought creature handling back as Beast Mastery. Except it was a sub-class now and was never as strong as it used to be. It wasn't quite the same, with no more taming of babies in the wild and pets being made so generic they were almost identical, just with different skins. But at least I was able to have pets again. And I was able to get some previously unattainable pets with some rare dna given as achievement rewards, like this little baby xandank and a kubazza beetle.
There was still fun to be had, after all I stuck with it for five or six more years. Unfortunately I don't have many pictures left from that time. There were loads of events, a really fun trading card game, and I even got into pvp a little. There was Life Day for christmas, the Galactic Moon Festival for Halloween, and even Ewok Love Day for Valentines (Allay loo ta nuv, allay loo ta nuv!).
There were also tons of collections and badges that were introduced. My proudest achievement during that time, or at least the one that took the most effort, was the accumulation of all the beast hunting badges. There were something like over 40 of them, each of which requiring the finding and slaying of hundreds of specific critters, many of them very rare and some of them very hard to beat. Like the one requiring the hunting of 650 krayt dragons, including 75 ancients.
|Hanging out with Lubuu, my best pal in the game in the latter years.|
I dyed him pink and named him Precious, because he was. Wish I could show him fully grown. He was cool! And I'm pretty sure he was the first, and one of only a few ever made. I never saw any others.
I played the game for nearly eight years. By 2011 I was burned out a little, most of my old friends had moved on, the game population was shrinking, and it was getting kinda lonely. I didn't log in as often that last year. Sony announced they'd be shutting down all the servers by the end of that year. I didn't log in for the big game ending party. It was just too sad.
The game was pretty buggy at times, and fraught with bad decision making at the top. Still, it was a pretty unique experience, with its complexity and sandboxiness. I've yet to find an MMO that satisfies. I tried the Old Republic MMO that came out right after SWG shut down. It was pretty and had voice acting, but it was a themepark MMO... complete one planet and move on to the next. No socialization, no true crafting, just level up and finish the game, basically. I also played Guild Wars 2 for a while, and it was beautiful, but again, it didn't satisfy for long. It had no place to call home.
I know that there are some SWG emulators that have sprung up, using the old software, and I may try them out some day just to see. I dunno, some things just can't be recaptured. I've also been eyeballing an upcoming sandbox game called The Repopulation that has some promise. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I think I'll just wait here a spell and watch the twin suns set.
|Cue Yoda's Theme.|