The Game Archaeologist: Shattered Galaxy

    
16

War. War never ends. Especially if it was designed and encouraged to wage forever.

One of the most popular computer gaming genres of the late 1990s and early 2000s was real-time strategy (RTS). Players found the combination of resource collecting, base building, and mass combat a heady mix, and titles like Dune 2, the Warcraft series, and the Command and Conquer series did extremely well both as single-player and limited multiplayer titles.

But with the advent of the MMORPG, game developers looked at the RTS and wondered if this genre would do well in a massively multiplayer environment. Well, there was only one way to find out, and that’s where Shattered Galaxy came in.

The world’s first published MMORTS

MMO players know well the name and reputation of Nexon, one of the largest developers and publishers in the industry. But many might not know that there was a time that this company was called something completely different. When it founded back in 1994, Nexon was Kru Interactive, and it was under this name that MMOs such as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, Dark Ages, and Shattered Galaxy was released.

Kru Interactive pushed out Shattered Galaxy in 2001 to great acclaim. The MMORTS had gathered a lot of interest in the StarCraft-mad country of Korea and won several awards the year it released. However, the company bungled the title’s rollout in North America, forcing an awkward switch from a free-to-play long-running beta to a pay-to-play scheme months after the launch. As such, Shattered Galaxy had difficulty gaining traction in the west.

On its website, Shattered Galaxy makes the claim that it was “the world’s first published massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game.” In all likelihood, it was. After all, this specific sub-genre didn’t have a lot of competition back in 2001.

With a shaky North American release and criticisms that the title looked archaic in an age where 3-D was gaining popularity in RTS games, Shattered Galaxy didn’t explode in popularity in the west the way that Kru (and its North American publisher, Tri Synergy) had hoped.

Still, it wasn’t canceled, and more than a few players found their way into its post-apocalyptic world.

Intense battles. Perpetual war.

Taking place on a battle-scarred planet far from Earth, Shattered Galaxy put players in the roles of humans who can control war robots with their minds. It was on this planet of Morgana Prime that wars raged among players for control over the various territories.

While PvP between four factions was certainly the central core of the game, Shattered Galaxy also offered PvE encounters against aliens hiding in various caves. However, every player could only control a single squad (of six to 12 units) at a time, giving the game a much smaller feel until groups of players teamed up and fought.

MOP reader David, who asked suggested this game as a topic, said, “Shattered Galaxy was an attempt to add persistence and team interaction to RTS-style gameplay, and largely succeeded. It was an excellent mix of both active unit micromanagement and team level tactical coordination.”

As players leveled up their influence, they were able to access and purchase stronger and better units and upgrade them to be more effective on the battlefield. There was plenty of ways to upgrade and grow your avatar’s command capabilities, which hooked players into paying $10 per month after month.

In its 2001 review, Gamespot noted that Shattered Galaxy was a little jarring to get used to after traditional RTS, especially with the limitations of mixed arms and the disparity between player levels. “From a technical standpoint, Shattered Galaxy is somewhat primitive,” the reviewer pointed out. “It runs in 800×600 resolution, uses blatantly 2-D graphics, and is squeezed into a cramped viewing area.”

“It’s a lot of fun, if you’re not too snooty about the so-so graphics,” wrote Ars Technica, which pointed out that the persistent nature of the war gave this game an edge in the field.

One of the most interesting features of the game was reincarnation. Every few months level 50 characters had the opportunity to reroll as a level 1 character and start over again. Those that chose to reincarnate were given extra stat points and two additional unit slots, growing their potential at the expense of time.

The wind-down war

As the years wore on, Shattered Galaxy’s star faded in the east. Known as Tactical Commanders among Asian countries, the MMORTS was quietly closed down in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan by 2008. Nexon did keep it running in the west, however, and transitioned it to a free-to-play model with an optional subscription.

The last significant content update for Shattered Galaxy came back in 2006, with a smaller bug fix arriving in 2011. Even so, the servers have endured to this day, and loyal fans have rallied to raise the flag over Shattered Galaxy once more.

Remakes and graphical upgrades emerged in the community as unlicensed projects, and petitions were sent to Nexon to give love and development focus to Shattered Galaxy once more. While the studio hasn’t responded as players might have hoped, it did upgrade free players to elite status and disabled alien takeovers of unoccupied territories.

“A key moment in SG’s history actually occurred after the company decided to end of life the product,” explained David. “At that point, they didn’t have enough subscribers to keep the battles filled. One of the players (raises hand) came up with a plan whereby the game would actually go free-to-play, but allow people who paid a subscription to level faster and play at a slightly higher power level.

“By doing this the population was immediately refilled to healthy levels, plus there was a constant supply of people who were the prime candidates to start subscribing. This approach was later refined even further, with the addition of once-every-three-month reincarnation events where players could trade their current level for a small amount of longer-term progress, but only if they were actively subscribed that month. This led to a model where a large chunk of the player base who would not have otherwise paid, ended up paying one month out of three, another big win for the company.”

And that’s where we leave Shattered Galaxy today: Enduring and surviving with a cult audience who can’t find this particular mix of gameplay styles anywhere else.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

16
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Crowe

I alpha/beta tested this game. But it’s been so long I don’t really remember the details other than I provided feedback and opted not to purchase/play at launch.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Nic

Really enjoyed this game back then.
Even dated a nice girl I met from this game. Good times.

Reader
Droniac

Ah, this was a fun game back in the days. Piling into zones with dozens of players and pushing for control points. Decking out space marines & tanks so they’re near indestructible point-cappers that can take a dozen nukes face-first without flinching.

Despite what Nexon claims, Shattered Galaxy was not the first published MMORTS. Mankind was essentially an early 3D MMO version of Sins of a Solar Empire / Stellaris released in 1998. And in 2000, a year before Shattered Galaxy was released, 10SIX was released as a similarly PvP-focused MMO hybrid (RTS / FPS / RPG) with very similar zone & faction-based PvP world setup to SG. 10SIX was essentially a MMO version of BattleZone.

Mankind is no longer available, but 10SIX is as Project Visitor.

Reader
Wakkander

I spent so many hours playing this game, it was unique that a) the game required payment to go to the other planets, and b) the balance was so much better on the lowbie planet I regretted ever leaving.

It was a fun game, wish a follow up was made, it was a fun, unique, title.

Reader
flatline4400

Pretty cool. Not sure about it being the first without the “published” qualifier anyways. I remember beta testing Cavedog’s Boneyards for Total Annihilation back in 1999, which was pretty much the same idea. A persistent backdrop and galaxy wide map for playing battles against other players. I don’t know if that ever actually launched, though.

Reader
D. Paris

I really wanted Boneyards (for TA:Kingdoms) to be the fantasy equivalent of SG, but it was just never good enough. I tried to sell some publishers on the idea of making use of Ballerium as a starting point for a while (unfinished Israeli MMORTS) but that never got off the ground. In my mind, there just hasn’t been a real spiritual successor to SG and I would love to see one.

Reader
Surfrats

We miss you in Discord Ach. Come back to us.

Reader
Bryan Correll

the servers have endured to this day

I had no idea it was actually still running. I may have to download it for a shot of nostalgia.

Reader
Surfrats

Dont waste your time. You wont find any battles.

plannick
Reader
plannick

i don’t think that’s correct at all. nexon was always nexon, based in south korea. they had a subsidiary in usa, which later became kru interactive (after buying themselves out or something?)

it also wasn’t the world’s first mmorts. some of the players back when were talking about something called mankind. remember.. wiki is not always correct. whether you would call it mmorts or not depends on how you define rts. is controlling 6-12 units rts? or rtt? i suppose if it had lots of factional ai players (not talking about caves) that outnumber actual players to create battles all over the place, you can even think of it as an ancestor of moba. why didn’t i think of that back when?

shattered galaxy is the western (english) variant of the original korean title, tactical commanders. there were some real differences between the titles. there was also an english version of tc based in singapore (no idea if it ever got out of beta).

it went from a long (obviously free) open beta to box cost + monthly fee i think (box came with a few months maybe? can’t remember). i joined in open beta, have to admit due to my somewhat short attention span, and was “burnt out” before the beta even finished, never really played the retail game even though i think i had a year or 6 month’s sub (collector cards and all)

i think one of the problems it had was not being able to branch off enough from the original title.

any idea what happened to most of the devs? i remember seeing the name kevin saunders (kone) in inXile, don’t suppose the reader david is wei55?

Reader
Bryan Correll

it went from a long (obviously free) open beta

Yep, back in the olden days before gaming companies discovered the holy grail of “early access.”

plannick
Reader
plannick

here’s another thought. anyone know if the granddad types from back when are still alive and kicking? eg. kongol, sirdarby. i noticed gwg is still running that fansite

Reader
Surfrats

I do know that SirDarby has since passed. There are a few hundred folks in the SG Facebook group if you are looking to find some old mates.

plannick
Reader
plannick

thanks for that. sad to hear about darbs.
as for fb. i don’t do social media, though i did read about the sg page.

Reader
D. Paris

I believe you are correct about Kru/Nexon. I think Nexon the main company had a smaller US subsidiary (Nexon USA was it?), which became Kru Interactive. The information available online (wiki/kru website) is muddled. I also think it was the US version of the Korean Tactical Commanders, but here the wiki seems to state the US version was first and TC was later. I think what I’m mostly getting at is yeah, I can see how the author might have struggled to get a clear answer.

plannick
Reader
plannick

here’s a bit of speculation to the origin of name kru interactive (bit of a WAG), seeing as i wasn’t actually around when they changed name.

once upon a time there was a tester called kruass (or something like that). he was also an employee called ops (irc/ingame bbs). no idea when he was hired, but the handle ops appeared publicly well after open beta