Koster on Star Wars Galaxies’ combat and social connectivity ‘glue’


MMO designer Raph Koster is back with yet another post-mortem on Star Wars Galaxies, this one the second part of his “living society” discussion. Get your HAM bars and stimpacks and carbines at the ready, folks, because this episode begins by explaining the game’s combat.

I adored it, but Star Wars Galaxies’ combat was the sort of combat that you played in spite of how bad it was. “Combat in SWG was a disaster,” Koster agrees.

He reveals that combat was always intended to be “at the heart of the game” and that SOE chose RPG combat over action combat “for the sake of a larger audience.” The studio was hoping for a tactical card game feel, but it didn’t work.

“With the loss of long-range server updates (the result of a lack of CPU power on the deployment servers), the distinctions between the professions turned to mush. HAM never had any bounce, and timing attack made no sense. You could incapacitate yourself with a special.”

Buffs, conveyed in the first stage of what Koster calls “social loops” were designed to turn downtime into water cooler moments that people actually enjoyed. “More controversially, we modeled PTSD in the game,” he recalls, only SWG called it “battle fatigue” and intended to to “create a natural arc to a combat session.” He doesn’t think it worked out, but I suspect some of our readers might disagree.

Entertainers, you’ll want to see the bits where Koster goes into detail about the legal issues that governed the music system and the way motion capture actors expanded the dancing system. At one point, he laments, SWG was meant to have Composer and Theater professions to actually craft scripts for actors and design the songs played by musicians. As he mentioned earlier this week, the Writer profession also ended up on the cutting-room floor because of copyright concerns.

“If you were a prolific blogger writing about the game, it seemed to me that you were a truly material and significant addition to the game community, a massive driver of loyalty, and incredibly important. You should be earning XP for that. You should be earning money for that.”

Moving on from Entertainers, Koster discusses the way players were able to teach each other skills, make and wear a ludicrous variety of clothing and armor, use the Image Design skills to change their appearance, and experience expressive faces and chat bubbles. “Roleplayers played this system like a piano,” he notes. “Bragging rights therefore manifested in your outfits, your mastery of chat nuances, in the quality of your comedy routines, and, of course, in your house full of trophies.”

Oh yes — housing. SOE wanted its citizens to live in customizable homes that, inspired by Ultima Online, broke away from the instancing trend and paved the way for player cities, which went into the game post-launch and never quite lived up to Koster’s wishes.

“Roleplayers played this system like a piano.” -Raph Koster
“Cities, as well as systems like harvesters, and of course, pets and droids, were intended as a way to tie you to the world. Ownership, says one of the Laws of Online World Design, is what keeps a player in the game. And characters are famously easy to move from game to game. Guilds, even, migrate with a decent flexibility. But build up a city, and you’ll likely stay.”

At least until SOE took them away. Koster admits that after the NGE, Creature Handlers held funerals for their pets: “They logged in one last night, took them all out, and gave them one last walk, made them do a few tricks, and then watched them get locked away in their datapads. They stayed there, unable to be brought out: a gut punch every time you popped open that screen.” I wasn’t even a Creature Handler, but it was painful just to look at my mounts in my datapad until SOE reimplemented them years later.

Still, the social connectivity Koster describes was “the glory of Star Wars Galaxies,” he argues. Even so, he says, “many have lambasted SWG for having many of these features when the core combat game didn’t work, and they are probably right.”

[Source: Koster’s blog]

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

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