How Jedi ruined Star Wars Galaxies


Hope you’re not tired of hearing about Star Wars Galaxies because Raph “Holocron” Koster’s got SWG on the brain this week, and he’s answering reader questions at length. Earlier this week, he addressed the game’s PvP system, and in last night’s edition, he explains how the Jedi came to be jammed into SWG — and how they pretty much ruined everything.

Koster identifies the core problems with Jedi characters: “Everyone wants to be a Jedi. Jedi are rare during the original trilogy. Jedi are super powerful.” Maybe “everyone” is a stretch; that character in the pic above is my husband’s Jedi, not mine, since I never bothered to roll one. But there’s no question they inspire envy in everyone around them, and in the Rebellion Era setting, they should have been ultra-rare to boot. The early SWG team, Koster recalls, debated making Jedi NPCs-only, reducing their power, or picking a different time period to begin with. Each solution was rejected, and so Koster dreamed up the idea of a Diablo-inspired hardcore permadeath mode for Jedi, which was also rejected initially because ha-ha permadeath, right?

Instead, the developers borrowed from Bartle to create the random-profession-learning character path we all knew and loved/hated. But like so much other content, it didn’t launch with the game because the game was shoved out the door unfinished in less than three years. “I watched so many features fall apart during this period,” Koster writes, including among them the incomplete Jabba’s palace, vehicles, player cities, player-scripted contract missions, dynamic POIs, procedural terrain, and professions like Writer and Miner. Some of those were patched in later. Some never were.

“After Holocrons, the game was dead; it was just that nobody knew it yet.” -Raph Koster
“[T]hese paragraphs felt like opening a vein. SWG fans, you have no idea what the game was supposed to be like, and how weird it feels to hear adoration for features which to me ended up being shadows of their intent,” he laments. “Don’t get me wrong, the team did heroic, amazing work. All of these issues end up being my fault for overscoping or mismanaging, the producers’ fault for not reining me in, or the money people’s fault for not providing enough time and budget. The miracle is that we pulled it off at all.”

Of course, the game did launch, and people happily made homes and lives for themselves within it. “And most importantly, nobody was a Jedi,” Koster remarks. “Nobody cared. They were playing the professions they liked. They were doing what they wanted to do.” LucasArts, however, demanded Jedi from “the second biggest MMO outside of Asia” by Christmas of 2003. The Jedi system was a go; SOE dropped Holocrons as hints into the game, and video gamers did what they always do: They brute-forced Jedi by just learning all the skills.

“Satisfaction fell off a cliff,” Koster says.

“Everyone started playing everything they didn’t like. Oh, some players discovered new experiences they never would have otherwise. Many emerged from this with a new understanding of the fundamental interconnectedness of a society. But most just macroed their way or grinded their way through it all as fast as possible, dazzled by the booby prize of Jedi. [… O]ne month after Holocron drops began, we started losing subs, instead of gaining them. SWG had been growing month on month until then. After Holocrons, the game was dead; it was just that nobody knew it yet. […] Pretty much every single subsequent change can be traced back to that day. All the panicky patches, the changes, the CU and the NGE, were all about trying to get the sub curve back on a growth trajectory. Some of them were good changes. Most of them were bad, in my opinion. But they can all be traced to me saying ‘yeah, fine, skills is good enough’ in a hurried minute-long conversation on a work day that was probably fourteen hours long.”

Koster argues that the “playerbase felt betrayed” by the system. Before it, “people dreamed of Jedi, and were content, and had fun.” But he didn’t. By the time the Jedi Village rolled around and everyone was a Jedi, Koster had been moved to other projects. “I never even logged into the game after NGE, to be honest,” he admits. “Holocron was my last handle, on any forum. And I never played a Jedi at all.”

[Source: Raph Koster’s blog]

Check out our past posts on Koster’s SWG restrospectives:

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