Game talkGamemakingA Jedi Saga

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Apr 162015
 

Continuing here with the questions that were sent in by Jason Yates! Yesterday it was the TEF system… today it’s Jedi! Some of this stuff has been told before, but it’s actually kind of hard to find it all in one continuous tale. I have to preface this with a huge huge disclaimer, though: it’s been fifteen years since this particular story started, and a dozen since it ended. My memory may well be faulty on many details.

#2 What were the thoughts on Jedi and why were such drastic changes made in patch 9 to the entire system?

-Jason Yates

Yoda_TPM_RotS

Well, my opinion is Jedi are evil. Heh.

You see, Jedi are an immense attractant to players, readers, viewers. As a kid, I too waved around plastic lightsabers (we kept bending them as we struck one another, I am pretty sure my mom got really sick of buying new ones). Who can resist the fantasy of having this awesome sword, effectively magical powers — mind control, telekinesis, telepathy, and more — and of course, the classic Hero’s Journey? I mean, it’s basically an ideal play scenario.

Except that of course, you quickly realize that by comparison, everyone else sucks. I vividly remember granting Han Solo access to the Force when we played with the original action figures, because, well, he was too cool a character not to have them, you know? (We indicated Force powers by bending the legs all the way backwards, sort of a hip-shattering L shape, and then they could fly!) And let’s be honest, how long would Han Solo have lasted against Darth Vader? About two seconds. In fact, Kyle Katarn, the most popular Star Wars videogame character, basically is Han Solo with Force powers.

This is all fine and dandy in games where you play a Jedi and mow down Stormtroopers by the hundreds. It worked great in the Jedi Knight games. But Jedi are notably absent from the gameplay of other types of Star Wars games, and for a good reason. They are a discontinuity. They are too powerful. They are an alpha class. Not a problem is a single-player environment, but what do you do with them in a multiplayer setting where some people are badass Han Solo types who will always lose?

Nightsister

A Nightsister Witch of Dathomir

This same issue had come up in the Expanded Universe books and stories. You basically have the problem that

  • people identify with Jedi
  • they’re rare
  • they’re incredibly powerful

This meant that creators laboring in the universe had a few choices:

Of course, the demands of games focused on Jedi also meant that the powers of Jedi kept having to go up, too! I mean, people actually complained when you didn’t start as a powerful Jedi in Jedi Knight II, and eventually, we got to the ludicrous heights of Starkiller in the Force Unleashed games: “sufficiently powerful enough to rip a million-ton Star Destroyer out of orbit and slap Darth Vader around like he owed him money.”

 

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Early days

We weren’t the original Star Wars Galaxies team. There’s a complicated history there that there’s no point going into, but suffice it to say that there was a game design prior to the one that our team did. It was class based, used a “cone of fire” real-time action combat system, and I am pretty sure Jedi was one of the classes. There are a whole bunch of reasons why it went away in favor of our design, and I’m not going to go into them (I don’t even really think it was that team’s fault).

When our team got going on Star Wars, we didn’t have an office yet. We worked out of J. Allen Brack’s house (he went on to be incredibly important to the history of World of Warcraft); in fact, three of the team lived there. I distinctly remember having conversations with Chris Mayer in the living room of that house — probably between bouts of Soul Calibur, we were all hooked — and trying to figure out what the heck to do with Jedi. At this point, we didn’t yet have the game’s vision document, we didn’t yet have a game design, or anything. So the statement “live in the Star Wars Universe” was not yet our guiding star. But we knew already that having an alpha class in an MMO was going to be a real problem. The problem was clear:

  • Everyone wants to be a Jedi.
  • Jedi are rare during the original trilogy.
  • Jedi are super powerful.

Of these three pillars, something would have to give.

My first thought was, “make them NPC only.” After all, at the mandated time period in the films, there weren’t any around. If you read into the Expanded Universe, there’s all sorts of them in hiding, for the reasons given above. But evn all of those weren’t viable solutions for us. We were mandated to fall between the destruction of the Death Star and the Battle of Hoth. That’s a pretty narrow little sliver: the official timeline has it around 2 1/2 to three years. The number of of Force sensitives is small enough that Darth Vader is running around with a Death Squadron trying to find just the one who did the trench run. Allowing tens of thousands of players to be Jedi would surely be a bit jarring.

swgpromoshotIt also would have destroyed any semblance of grouping, much less the larger scale interdependence that we were already thinking about for the game. Given a choice between Jedi and, well, any other combat role, you’d pick Jedi. We’d probably have non-combatant types around… but maybe less of them, if everyone wanted to be a Jedi instead.

I think the general reaction even among the team, though, was horror. “A Star Wars game and you can’t be a Jedi??”

The second thought was, “make them not powerful.” This was in fact the approach that original design had taken, and pretty much what happened after the NGE as well. As one class out of several, Jedi simply don’t have the powers they do in the films. Oh, they look like they do, but in practice their force lightning is just a blaster bolt and they are balanced to match the other classes. No Starkiller here.

The problem here, of course, is that the fantasy is shattered. Not only would there be Jedi all over the place, but they wouldn’t be special on any axis. And in this time period, Jedi were special. Oh, we’d had seen them be rather non-special, in The Phantom Menace; the film came out the year before this early development phase, and in it we saw Jedi as more like government diplomats, on the level of a trade attache or something. (We also learned that it was because they had won a genetic lottery, but that’s beside the point).

But the idea of Jedi as rare and powerful was pretty ingrained. So the idea of making them common and not that special didn’t sit well at all.

There was a third option that came up, and I pitched it to LucasArts in a casual conversation with Haden Blackman, who was our producer there (today he’s known for some pretty kick-ass comics writing). It survived about thirty seconds.

swgwallpaper_fett_1280“Just change the time period,” I said. This would have allowed us to have way more Jedi, because in the Expanded Universe we have a Jedi Academy during this time period. It would have cost us Darth Vader and Palpatine, Jabba the Hutt and… well, not that much else. Even Boba Fett climbed out of the Sarlaac. The Empire was still quite strong, according to the Timothy Zahn books; we had all sorts of new enemies popping up, and there was even a good reason why new Jedi might be weaker than those in the past, given that there were literally no trained Jedi Masters who could teach them.

There were probably a pile of logistical reasons why this couldn’t happen. I shudder to think of the approval process that might have been required, especially to go back and amend an existing deal. The fact that the game development process was being rebooted was a touchy subject in itself; early chats with Haden were marked by a lot of “and what about X, is that staying?” All in all, even though it was probably the cleanest solution, it never had a chance for reasons that had little to do with game design.

So, that left us at the three pillars, intact. Powerful, rare, and in the hands of players. We were screwed.

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The crazy idea I still wish we had done

JediGhosts-ROTJI had a brainfart that never made it past those early days, there in that house. The idea took inspiration from Hardcore mode in the Diablo games. We would offer a Jedi system that effectively gave a different way to play the game. A method that kept Jedi rare, powerful, and yet allowed everyone a shot.

Every player would have a special character slot available to them, distinct and parallel from their regular character. This character would be locked into one profession, one class: Jedi. They’d start out weak as a kitten though, untrained in combat or anything, and with barely any Force abilities at all. Luke without womprat-shooting experience maybe.

Although the design wasn’t done yet, we knew that the game would be classless. So this pathetic Force Sensitive character would be able to gain better Force powers by earning Force XP by using the Force. They could also go off and learn other skills. But either way: if they died, that was it. They were dead. Reroll. Start over. It was that dreaded word: permadeath.

In the corner of the screen, there would be a timer running logging how long you had managed to survive. It was your score, for this weird little minigame. The name of the game was survival, but it was rigged.

You see, the moment you used Force powers within view of anything or anyone Imperial, or indeed any player, they could report you to the Empire. To Darth Vader’s Death Squadron in fact. And that generated someone to come after you. After first, just lowly Stormtroopers. Eventually, cooler characters, such as some of the bounty hunters like IG-88. Eventually, really cool ones like Boba Fett or fan favorite Mara Jade.

VadercostumeThese would be brutal fights. Odds are you’d just die. So hiding and training very carefully would be essential. But it wouldn’t matter, of course. As you advanced, your powers would get “noisier” and cooler. You wouldn’t be able to resist using Force Lightning in a crowd, or equipping your lightsaber in view of some Imperials. And eventually, after Boba Fett and Mara Jade and everyone else had failed, well, that would be when Darth Vader himself bestirred himself to take care of the little problem.

And you would die. It would be rigged.

Your time would go up on a leaderboard, and everyone would be able to ooh and aah over the hardcore permadeath player who managed to get all the way to seeing Darth Vader and getting her ass kicked.

As a reward, if you managed to make it to Jedi Master, your very last skill would be “Blue Glowy.” You’d unlock a special emote for your main character slot that allowed them to summon up the ghosts of every Jedi who had made it that far. So all the bragging rights would carry over to your other character. Heck, I had a picture in my mind of the most amazing player summoning up not one, but a whole set of them — the most badass player would have a coterie of Jedi advisors, hovering around their campfire, as they showed up.

The response to this idea was pretty much “Permadeath?!?” And so Hardcore mode never happened.

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The actual design

Now we hadn’t managed to remove a pillar, we’d added one. Not a step forward.

121004_sonygameI am pretty sure it was in conversations with Chris Mayer (our lead server programmer) that we hit on the notion of making the process of becoming a Jedi effectively a personality test. As I recall, the question was around “if we’re going to have all these Jedi around, and need to keep them rare but acting like they do in the movies, that almost calls for a roleplayer only profession, or some other way to make sure that only those who actually deserve to be Jedi become one.” See, we knew that Jedi would be the top target above all for the Achiever and worse, the Killer types, in Bartle lingo. It was too attractive a target, and if we made the way of becoming Jedi involve quests, or grinding points in some fashion, it would inevitably go to the powerhungry. But really, we wanted a system that was more for the Explorer type: someone who savored the game.

This meant we couldn’t do something with a standard quest. Too susceptible to the issues with static game data in large communities. Any solutions would get shared, and the rarity would fall by the wayside.

I pulled out a very old idea, so old it was from the MUD-Dev days, about a spellcasting system that used spell words, but the words were different for every player (didn’t Asheron’s Call end up doing something of the sort?). That way recipes couldn’t be shared, but just the broad idea could. That seemed like it had some promise. So we started thinking of tasks or quests that players could do that could vary by player. And I am pretty sure it was Chris who said “what if the tasks were from different Bartle types?”

And so we landed on the system:

  • There would be a large pool of possible actions a character could undertake, divided into four categories, one for each Bartle type.
  • These actions would include things like “visiting the highest location on a given planet,” “using this specific emote,” “killed this particular creature,” “learned this skill,” “did five duels,” “entered this battlefield,” “crafted this item,” etc. Some of the exploratory ideas were taken from Seven Cities of Gold, and others from badges we expected to give, and so on. (Remember, achievements didn’t exist yet. The idea was almost certainly copied from online games).
  • Every player would randomly roll up a different set of actions they needed to undertake. Their personal list would include some items from each of the four categories so that it was always balanced across playstyles.
  • swgmusicThe player would not be told that they had checked off an item.
  • The player would not be told that they had checked off all the items, either — they would be notified of Jedi status the next time they logged in.
  • We wouldn’t tell even the development team how exactly it worked. Most of them didn’t know.

Yes, it was absolutely security through obscurity, which is exactly what security people tell you not to do. But it had some great advantages.

  • Nobody would know how to become a Jedi, so all those obsessive grinders and walkthrough readers wouldn’t be able to do it by rote. And yet we could tell everyone with utter honesty that anyone could become a Jedi.
  • It would be pretty rare. A player who actually engaged in all the different aspects of the game, who moved across playstyles that freely, would be highly unusual.
  • We could keep Jedi superpowerful, since they were so rare. Odds were that any player who had done that breadth of things was already maxed out in power anyway.

Given the level of investment required at that point, permadeath seemed like it didn’t fit, so that went away.

At that point, all that would need to happen would be implement a truly expensive set of custom animations and skills. So, we made the plan, a doc was specced out that included the list of possible tasks, and there it sat until we got to it on the schedule.

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We’re out of time

Star_Wars_Galaxies_Box_ArtWe never got to it on the schedule. SWG’s development was hurried. The whole game was made between September of 2000 and June of 2003, which is an insanely abbreviated development time. For comparison, World of Warcraft was announced in 2001 and launched after probably five years of development. In SWG’s case, sure, there had been a bunch of time invested in the game with the earlier team, but there was virtually nothing we were using. Effectively, we had started over from scratch. The originally announced availability date was in 2001, which was already impossible. As a result, we were already insanely behind by the time we hit the alpha date. It was September of 2002 or thereabouts and so little was working that we did what eventually turned out to be an incredibly valuable testing process: we inveted only 150 people in, and we focus tested each feature as it was ready.

Yeah, that means we tested chat for the first time in September of 2002. And launched less than a year later. Combat came online in November or something. And content tools came online… never.

Well, no, not never. Just hardly ever, if that makes sense. SWG hit its “code complete” drop dead date around February. What you think of as “the game” was mostly built between August and February. We had building tools and the like, and we had a rich set of game systems, because sandbox and simulation-heavy games can be made much much faster and more cheaply than content-heavy games. But adding the required content to the game starting in February, to finish in May? Just not possible.

We had to go through and make tough choices on cuts. As early as that Christmas I was already triaging the entire game design. My criteria was “can the game function without this.” Not “will it be good.” Will it work at all. This led to often weird priorities based on the fact that the game relied a lot on player interdependence. You could probably have postponed Image Designer (the profession that involved one player changing another’s appearance). But it was actually our first scripting test because it was so tiny, and so it made the cut because it got done way early and took so little effort. You could push off player cities because no players would be advanced enough to make one. You could always walk, if there weren’t vehicles. It would suck — the planets had been planned assuming landspeeders! But you could get there. But we couldn’t change out, say, dancing, because the healing of battle fatigue was a critical portion of the game loop. (Spaceflight was never intended to be in the initial launch — we knew on day one that was out of reach).

I watched so many features fall apart during this period.

jabbas

All those characters, so little dialogue.

Game scripting was in Java, and where I had hoped our designers would be able to script cool intricate quests, or even build us a quest system, we got rather iffy content that seemed to break constantly even though the designers tried hard. We had to resort to mission terminals, which were just one of many types of content that were supposed to be present, as our main content activity. I had dreamed of a Jabba’s Palace where every single character had the full backstories from the books, and you could do quests for all of them. We didn’t have a template-style quest system working; at one point Scott Hartsman came out to do a sanity check of our development, and I suspect he found me rather full of despair, as every item he enumerated should be there for content development was absent. This meant we sure as heck weren’t going to manage to get the player contract system whereby you could be given a quest by another player. Dynamic POIs were worked on for a month or two, then basically abandoned because of terrain engine issues and scripting difficulty.

Professions fell out. The designer who was doing the skill trees couldn’t manage to lick the problem of trees that were of varying sizes and interconnected in unique ways; originally, the trees were all different, and there were “surprise” professions that might appear if you mastered two skills from disparate professions, more like a skill web. Said designer left the company for another job elsewhere, and the producer made a command decision, created the skill onions, and we had to do those. This meant that professions that were meant to be tiny, like Image Design, had to bloat out to fit a rigid structure, which actually increased their scope. Other professions that could have had many more skills or skill lines in them had to conform to the rigid four-track onions. Some were cut altogether, including my beloved Writer profession, and Miner, and some others.

pistoleer_skillsWe learned during beta that our deployment hardware was going to be less powerful than we had expected. As a result, we couldn’t compute the really nifty procedural terrain on the servers as far out as we had hoped. As a result, our range for combat fell in half or more. This actually broke everything, because the new range was smaller than the minimum optimum range for rifles and snipers. Creatures couldn’t pathfind, suddenly. In alpha testing, our AI was way smarter than it was at launch. Pathfinding was supposed to include things like creature emotional state affecting the paths they chose — e.g., you could stampede a scared critter right off a cliff, and different creatures would attempt different slopes based on how scared they were. Instead, even the basics of whether they were scared of you or not started to not work well. Dynamic spawns that affected terrain couldn’t adequately check to see if anyone was there, so buildings would spawn on top of someone else. I don’t remember exactly when we realized we had to settle for 2d collision instead of 3d, which meant you couldn’t step over a short wall, but that made nobody happy, and I had to defend it on the forums.

Databases were clearly going to be a huge issue, thanks to the crafting system, which had turned out awesome but also considerably more detailed than specced. A large pile of unique stats needed to be tracked on everything. Space was at a premium; character records were enormous. This caused problems when players moved between physical servers or across server processes, because of the time required to copy the data and the race conditions that could emerge.

We were sent a literal army: dozens of QA and CS people were bused in from San Diego to desperately try to build out all the planets. They had to learn the tools and build little points of interest. We were desperately short on managers; Cinco Barnes, who had been just leading the content team, had to manage everyone on the design team — dozens and dozens of people — while the producers and I basically took on the job of hotspot firefighters, going from problem to problem to problem to fix them as efficiently as we could.

Oof, these 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. 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.

You can see where this is going. There we are, out of time. And there’s this big looming must-have system that is really, quite complex, adds a ton more tracking, and which we just didn’t have time for. Oh, we could push implementation of some of it to post-launch; after all, Jedi were going to be rare, so we had months before any Jedi Masters demanded that their Force Lightning actually, you know, work. But we couldn’t push off the tracking, because that was what the core was: whether you could actually start working on being a Jedi. We’d be lying about Jedi being in the game at all if at least that piece wasn’t there.

swgsunsetChris or J comes to my office one day. I don’t remember what I was doing exactly, and I don’t remember who it was exactly. Re-speccing PvP, possibly, or trying to get decent data so I could see if combat was balanced (which it wasn’t, and never was). He tells me, “We can’t do it. We can’t gather and track the data. We don’t have the time to do it. We need a new system.”

My brain fuzzes out. “It took weeks to figure out any solution at all. We can’t do a content solution, we have no time and no tools.”

“It’s OK, there’s an idea. We can’t track all of that, we there are some things we are already tracking. Skills. They cover all the different personalities, all the Bartle types. We have socializers and we have explorer skills with surveying and we have combat stuff all over the place… So I am here to ask you, can we just make the randomized list be a set of skills.”

I had twelve other things to do. I said yes, and on we went.

It was a fateful decision.

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A Jedi by Christmas

allakhazamThe game launched, barely. It was in such bad shape that we knew we were going to announce its launch to the beta testers and they would crucify us, because they could see perfectly well that the game was not ready. We flew out the top commenters on the forums and told them. Their faces fell. They were beyond dismayed. We threw ourselves on their mercy and asked for their help. Not to lie, but just to tell their fellow players that we were doing everything we could to get the game into decent shape. It was true; we were. We had managed to get a couple extra months from management — not the six months or a year I had hoped for. Everyone was basically living at the office. We had been so open and honest and communicative with the playerbase on the forums that when we asked for the playerbase’s goodwill, we actually got it. (Our community management actually became a case study for how to build collaborative environments with fans that was written about in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. I am very proud of what we accomplished there). People were upset, but there was a sense that we were all in it together. Our day one sales of the game were a one-to-one exact match for the registered forum population.

And then when the game launched, it didn’t actually work. Like, you couldn’t log in. But gradually, we recovered, and started working on the missing features, and did in fact deliver them over the course of the next six months. But many of the cuts had been irreversible, many of the changes permanent. Jedi work continued as the skills were developed, but combat was dramatically out of whack, there was a duping bug to try to find, player housing was getting placed around the entrances to the very few pieces of static content we had and people were effectively claiming dunegons as private property. All sorts of stuff was a mess.

This was the glorious “pre-CU period” that today people recall so fondly.

And I had been offered the role of Chief Creative Officer, in San Diego, before the game had even shipped. I had taken the role, but had stayed working on SWG to try to get it into good shape before I left — I was going to have to move. Gradually I had to give up more and more ownership over the game, and there were parts of things that simply vanished in the handoff — probably the most critical of these were metrics around gameplay balance and the economy.

playercityscreenshot0292

This was a player city.

But the game was shaping up. Players had formed governments. Vehicles were very popular. The early game economy, which was intentionally rocky becuse players had not yet developed all the interdependence infrastructure, had started to hum along. Entertainers were going on tour, and few of them were macroing, because they played entertainers because they liked it. People were building supply chain empires and businesses with hundreds of employees. Merchants were making a name for their shops full of custom-crafted gear.

And most importantly, nobody was a Jedi. Nobody cared. They were playing the professions they liked. They were doing what they wanted to do. The secret of Jedi was a secret still, and there were countless theories. Players thought they were being watched and only the deserving would be picked. Players thought that various half-finished bits of content were actually the star tof Jedi quest chains. And meanwhile, players were invisibly checking off items on their secret skill lists.

Jedi_Holocron_waist_pack_2_of_5And LucasArts marketing says, “we need a Jedi by Christmas.” The rocky launch and general bugginess had cost us a huge number of subscribers. Oh, we were still the second biggest MMO outside of Asia, behind EverQuest, but the expectations were much higher. Many players had simply churned out, unwilling to deal with the general jankiness. But the game was improving by leaps and bounds, and marketing wanted to get a fresh flow of users in now that the game was actually working.

We looked at the rate at which people were unlocking their skill boxes, and did a back of the envelope calculation. It showed that the first Jedi might manifest in… 2012 or so. Marketing was not amused. “Drop hints,” the team was told.

I was already half off the team, commuting between Austin and San Diego every week or two. (I would eventually move at the end of the year). But I am pretty sure I was in at least some of the meetings. The decision was made to drop Holocrons, hint boxes that would tell you one of the skills you needed to learn.

The problem is obvious: as soon as three people all have gotten a hint that what they need is to master a specific skill box, the secret was out. It was weak cryptography. As the confirming data poured in that none of the Holocrons involved anything other than skills, the players set themselves with a will to trying to crack their personal codes. And they used the oldest trick in the book: brute force.

They simply started at A and learned every skill. In order. Probability being what it was, most finished when they got partway through. But the problem was this meant playing what you didn’t like.

The peaceful dancers who thrived on joking around with an audience and doing coordinated flourishes found themselves tramping around the mud looking for mineral deposits.

zillion

Obtainable. Powerful. Rare?

The explorers who enjoyed exploring distant swamps got themselves trapped in medical centers, buffing an endless line of combatants.

The doctors who derived their pleasure from helping out people in a support role found themselves learning martial arts or machine guns and mowing down creatures.

The combat specialists who were used to optimizing damage per second in taking down a krayt dragon were instead raising them from babies.

The creature handlers who tended dewbacks had to learn to chop them up and cook them instead.

You get the idea. 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.

Satisfaction fell off a cliff. I never did see a marketing push for Jedi — never saw a marketing push for the game at all, to tell the truth. But what I do know is that one 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.

My handle on the forums had been Holocron.

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And later…

ngecharcreatePretty 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.

Nobody much liked Holocrons as a Jedi mechanism, of course, and the playerbase felt betrayed. It seemed like a cruelly mechanistic trick, after the dreams they had had; a system that worked better when nobody knew how it worked. And it had worked, for a while. People dreamed of Jedi, and were content, and had fun. They were attainable, powerful, and absent, and the rat race wasn’t a factor.

Eventually, the team tried new things. They did a quest chain instead, the Jedi Village. To be honest, I never played it, and I was not only off SWG but very out of the loop by the time it went in. The genie was out of the bottle, though: Jedi was a thing for grinders and achievement-mad powergamers, and a little quest chain was never going to stop them. They were everywhere.

By the time of the NGE, they were a class to choose, as they had been in the original design we scrapped. Not very special. Not very powerful.

I never even logged into the game after NGE, to be honest.

Holocron was my last handle, on any forum. And I never played a Jedi at all.

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Also in this series:

  1. Temporary Enemy Flagging and PvP
  2. A Jedi Saga
  3. The Dynamic World
  4. A living society, part one
  5. A living society part two
  6. Did Star Wars Galaxies fail?

  155 Responses to “A Jedi Saga”

  1. This is really super-fascinating to read about, years later. The thing that really strikes me is this:

    “The crazy idea I still wish we had done”

    I remember this. I remember the player base knowing this was the plan, I remember us talking about it, and I remember the permadeath part that apparently killed the idea.

    I also remember that we LOVED it. Maybe it wouldn’t have been as fun as we thought (SWG is the game where I learned players KNOW what they hate but only THINK they know what they want), but there was a ton of “yes sounds amazing” support for that design among the playerbase.

    I’ve long thought Jedi unlocking in general was the ultimate death of SWG, but I think pinpointing it to holocrons is probably correct because… yeah, it’s true that it forced people to play what they didn’t want to do. SWG worked for so many people for a reason described perfectly in the installer– because it’s *your Star Wars story*.

    Honestly, the reason I and so many people look at early SWG as the version we liked is… well, it had the strange characteristic of being stronger for its flaws. Some of the most broken things about the game early on were some of the most charming and fun things I’ve ever experienced. I *still* tell stories about an early BE bug where a BE could sample another player whether they were flagged or not and kill them. It wasn’t commonly known because BE was broken and few people played it. But I was in the Theed cantina one night(I can’t believe I remember where I was, even), and a rowdy trandoshan was harassing dancers and some BE went prone, crawled over, and the guy dropped dead. We all applauded the intrepid BE for it. It was interesting, unintended and oft-overlooked things like that that made early SWG special. And it’s due to the fact that that period of the game *is* special to so many people that I still reflect back on that period of my life and learn things about game design in the process.

    So while it’s a little heartbreaking at times, I am glad you still find stuff from your perspective as a dev on the game to talk about (And I really wish MMOs were willing to take risks on things SWG did, these days).

  2. I am pretty sure that we only described the permadeath version as a past hypothetical we didn’t do… but with the old Sony forum archives gone, I have no way to verify easily…

  3. Thank you, Raph, for another great read.

    I was one of the players that, upon learning the secret of how to unlock Force Sensitivity, I chose to do everything but pursue Jedi.

    I played what I wanted to play, how I wanted to play it. I made millions of credits by Slicing (in bulk) custom crafted blasters that one of my server’s best and most popular Master Weaponsmith had crafted, re-selling them back to him for a healthy profit. I enjoyed providing a Stim service, buffing players near the Starport for competitive but fair prices. I enjoyed making my rounds around different planets to check out my many harvesters that were gathering tons of raw resources and selling those. I picked up Teras Kasi and Commando skills so I could raid Rebel bases and engage in supremely fun PvP with my Imperial guild. I did just about everything BUT work towards becoming a Jedi, and I LOVED it.

    I can see how you feel like you’re responsible for the game turning out the way it did – and I don’t know the whole story – but for what it’s worth, the first year of playing SWG was the single most enjoyable and memorable experience I’ve had playing any MMO in my life. I know there are many more of us who feel the same way.

    Thanks again.

  4. [Warning: Enormous block of text]

    First, a personal story:

    I was (still am) a huge Star Wars fan. I was pumped about SWG coming out. I was excited beyond belief at the prospect of being able to play my own character in the Star Wars universe. I got invited into the beta before the elite crafting professions generated EXP. You could take Novice Weaponsmith, but then you were done. You couldn’t get Weaponsmith EXP at that stage.

    I was shocked when the game’s release date was originally announced as coming so soon. I remember the initial release date being April 15th, AKA Tax Day. It was later pushed back, it was still astonishing to see how rapidly the game moved from its beta stage to the finish line.

    The game eventually came out, and I ran around trying to find my calling in the game. The combat system felt like a prototype, so I avoided combat professions as long as I could (which wasn’t very long). I decided to go down the crafting path just like in beta. After ~2 months of semi-casual play, I had reached Master Artisan/Master Merchant/Master Weaponsmith. I began my shop on Tatooine. Eventually, well, I stopped having as much fun from crafting and moved on to a new game.

    At this stage, I was convinced Jedi were actually a hoax. There were so many different rumors, myths, and tales about how to become a Jedi that I had just assumed SOE had the core files for Jedi implemented in the game, but they weren’t sure how to actually handle Jedi or progression to the Jedi profession itself. So, the inverse of what was actually going on.

    I was part of a Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy community at the time, and they got very excited regarding the implementation of Holocrons. I resubscribed on that patch day and bought a Holocron. “Dancer”. OK, easy enough. I’ll drop a few Merchant skill blocks and go level up Dancer. I macroed the whole way there because I didn’t actually care about playing Dancer.

    Next Holocron. “Musician”. OK, again, easy enough. Drop Dancer as I gain Musician skills. I macroed my way there once more.

    Next Holocron. “Bounty Hunter”. I went out and I played for a while. I tried my best to level my skills. I think I had 4 total skill blocks in Bounty Hunter (including Novice BH) when the real trudge began. I didn’t want to be a BH. I wanted to continue being a Master Weaponsmith, but I had to give that up. I had to trade that in for the journey to Jedi. And… I never got to Master BH. I never came close. I wanted to craft stuff, but the idea of becoming a Jedi was very tempting and I jumped on it. Giving up Master Weaponsmith also sealed my second to last departure from SWG.

    I no longer felt attached to my character. I wasn’t playing the character I had originally created. I was now playing a character that was no different from an EverQuest character, and I enjoyed the combat in EQ far more. I was given a template step-by-step, and I went out and achieved it, but that wasn’t what I had fun doing in SWG. I logged out and unsubscribed. Next time I played would be in 2009/2010, but it was a brief sub-30 minute journey into SWG before unsubscribing once more and departing from SWG permanently.
    ————————–
    Now, on to a few design questions, because I’m a fellow game designer, and I like to ask other designers questions:

    1.) Assuming you were able to redo SWG but you could only add one of the mentioned features in this article to your “new” SWG, which would it be and why?

    2.) You mention profession fall out and how the original system had “surprise” professions. Was this intended to be a system for the Bartle Explorer types to give them incentive to discover previously unknown professions within the tree? Were there any concerns with the longevity and sustainability of the “surprise” profession system given your aforementioned points regarding static game data in large-scale communities? Would the “surprise” profession system have given way to more surprise professions being added in the future without being mentioned in patch notes?

    3.) I’m not sure if you can answer this one (for one reason or another), but you mentioned AI and the changes AI had to go through thanks to the server hardware changes. In a previous interview, you had also mentioned the original plans for a dynamic, simulated ecology. Was this change of server hardware also a culprit in the removal of the dynamic ecology, or was the dynamic ecology scrapped for other reasons (which I assume will be budget)?

  5. I feel for you Raph, the game itself had such potential, and in some regards has yet to be surpassed as an MMO if you ask me.
    Had you had more time and the money people had been more invested in producing a great game rather than cashing in on the franchise I think a system with more prestige classes would have solved the jedi issue.
    There should have been a powerful jedi hunter bounty hunter class. One that was set apart from the regular bounty hunter class and balanced to keep jedi in check. And perhaps some other similar classes… a Dathomirian Witch character that could have been unlocked or some sort of assassin droid. That would keep balance and might make people choose something else than glowy stick wielder.
    But oh well, water under the bridge.

    I thank you for all the fun you and your team did create for me. I remember that time fondly.

  6. Thanks for writing this stuff, it’s amazing to read.

    There was a long while during which my son, my dad and I were all playing SWG together, bonding, recreating, working, playing, being a family. We’ve tried to recreate that in ATitD, CoH and WoW over the years, but none of them supported all three of us for long. We remember that game you created quite fondly and for, I think, very subtle reasons.

  7. I never wanted a Jedi I never ground for one, or villaged up one. You don’t give yourself enough credit Raph, you created a loveable game, warts and all.

  8. I was happy with not knowing hire to be a Jedi. Was paying the game for the fun of it. When all of the sudden everyone started going for Jedi, i said who cares.. I didn’t care about being a Jedi, i was playing the way i wanted to. The day the village came out i was approached by an old man and told to go to the village. Guess I was on the right track for my character to unlock Jedi all along, but it wasn’t special anymore. Kind if killed the game for me. The NGE did kill the game for me.

  9. Raph.. I remember you making the post about the Jedi system, you had asked us if what we thought about a system you thought up. I think you got about 50% of us saying we’d love to see the Jedi be permadeath. The other 50% were completely against it. This was early beta phase 3 i believe.

    Your system of Jedi was what i always wanted. Permadeath powerful Jedi in hiding would have been AWESOME!

  10. /salute
    Heh, I remember that Christmas holodrop. Sold mine to help fund the town we were starting out on Lok. Got lucky two days later and got one as a drop (I was a TK/Doc)… and I’ll admit I was curious.

    Peace be with you, and… this is the discussion I’ve wanted to see for *years.*
    Ye will still be Holocron in my eyes… let go of the pain of the past and recognize the good of both the past and the future.

  11. Was interested in SWG at the time. Being a long time Austinite gamer, I knew several people on the development team. They warned me off SWG saying it was just too broken. Their words were something like ‘It’s not working and it’s not Star Wars.’ In private, they also discussed the counter productive shenanigans of certain highly paid upper management folks. This account of its development pretty much backs them up.

    Some kernels of great ideas, but too many broken parts.

  12. Wow, fantastic read. Really brings back the memories.

    It truly was an interesting time, being part of the community that formed around all these ideas, for a pre-release game. What hooked me, was the promise, the ideas about what this game was going to be. Endless debates with incredibly passionate people about Outcasts and Flags, bounty hunters, jedi, single character server, ui design etc.

    Had I known then what I know now about game development (how it’s almost exclusively an exercise in compromise, a vision rarely makes it through the process without heavy scars from cuts and adjustments. And how hellishly overworked game developers can be when given impossible timelines) I probably wouldn’t have been as dissapointed. As it stands, I was one of those who didn’t make it all the way through Beta to release, as the writing was on the wall that (due to fate/circumstance, etc) that the shipping game was going to be a ways off the mark from those initially intoxicating original design goals that were discussed when those forums first opened.

    Now looking back, especially after reading this (and other) post mortem’s, shipping a MMO at all, is a rather big accomplishment. Let alone one that isn’t just a typical cookie cutter design. SWG aimed to be something different, and even if it didn’t hit all it’s goals, it still ultimately was that. With such a timeline (and what we now know about the implosion of Lucas arts game development side) it sounds like you accomplished the impossible.

    The community interaction really was something to be hold (and note). Every aspect of the game was poked, prodded, deconstructed not just by enthusiastic fans but with input from the developers themselves. It really did feel like we were “all in it together” as was mentioned. Of course the downside to that is if players become invested in certain ideas, and those don’t quite make it, well then it can cause a large amount of disappointment. (Cue present day concerns about “over hype” and “over promising”.)

    Paid over $100 for beta disc shipping (UPS outside of the US was notably murderous) and even built a new PC on a shoestring budget just to participate, yet never made it to the final shipping game. Still was a super interesting experience to be a part of that I could never regret.

  13. I have one question after this, however: do you think that at this day horsepower we have could handle database issues and etc.? Or whatever power was used it would be still not enough, since it wasn’t main problem? To put it more simple: whether SWG be possible ‘as intended’ in this day and age or not?

  14. Fantastic read. To this day, SWG beta is by far the best, most fun beta I have ever experienced, and I have been playing since UO and beta:d almost every major game up to WoW, when I just got tired of testing. And the beta forum can take all the credit for that. We had some AMAZING discussions, you asked the most interesting questions creating a tornado of creative discussions, and you jumped into the discussions and made us part of the creative process. Not as some community building buzz word, we were actually an active part in creating the game. No, it did not release as you, and many players, had envisioned it. But what you did get out of the door, is to this day the most advanced MMO ever created. With all its problems, with all its limitations, it stands alone above all others in complexity and personal freedom, no matter preferred playstyle or mindset.
    And I still have the beta discs in my drawer, unopened in their little white, plastic envelopes. No matter where I move, or where I go, they will always be my precioussss little jewels. Looking at them fill me with the fondest memories.
    Thank you. Thank you for everything you and your team gave me.

  15. Oh, and the permadeath issue. It was in the beta forum, we had that discussion. as said, half loved it, other half hated it, but it created a longlasting pun, where people dreamed of having their jedi killed and be turned into a blue glowie, then only play their blue glowie harassing people with it. Roleplaying dead jedis… A lot of fun ideas came up what they could do with a blue ghost, all in peoples imagination of how it would work.

  16. I definitely think it’s possible from the technical end. Just the RAM needs on the server alone are trivial these days. Back then we had issues with the procedural terrain because we needed 3 bytes per square meter * 16k on a map side * 16k on the other * 8 planets (e.g., 4 gigs of RAM just for the planet terrain). We couldn’t afford to hold that in RAM on the servers at the time, so a huge chunk of server performance, lag, the collision problems, etc, was due just to that. Now that issue is minor.

    Now, whether it’s financially feasible to build the *content* we wanted… that I doubt. The bar there now is set by projects spending $250m after all.

  17. Wow. What an enlightening read. It is sad to say that the things the team managed to get up and running created the most ambitious and amazing MMO to date. The HAM combat system and the mission structure were two giant black eyes, but I can see how those would have been corrected if time and resources were allocated properly. I dare say that SWG was the pinnacle of what an MMO should be, and we will never see its likeness again.

    Señor Zocima Pepaso, B-Squad, Flurry server, MDE/MA/Carbineer.

  18. […] being Raph Koster’s article, in which among other things he […]

  19. In a way, the grind to Jedi did me a favour. Never again have I had the desire to grind out anything in a game. Since Galaxies, I have played MMO’s to have fun, and if the only way to achieve something to mindlessly grind for it, I don’t want it. My mantra has been that if it isn’t fun I’m not doing it.

  20. I remember the dreams, Raph. I was Tor_Genghyss, and trucking all around beta, seeing the suns set over Tattooine for the first time after being greeted by the devs like they were Obi-Wan opening up a new world to me… it was one of the most memorable experiences of my MMO life.

    I wish you’d had the time to do half of the things we dreamed about, but with the schedule there was never a chance. I didn’t play Galaxies as long as I expected to. I think the dreams were too big, and the realities of scale and budget and answering to bean-counters were not obvious to me at the time. I couldn’t come back to the reality that was presented once the game realities were carved out. The time on the forums is still a great memory, and if the game didn’t live up to our imaginings or its possibilities, I’m still glad I got to experience it.

    So from someone who was there when the discussions were vibrant and the dreams still pure, just know: I’m glad you took your shot, even if it didn’t work as intended. And you weren’t wrong about Jedi. There are so many great things about the Star Wars universe, and Jedi have only ever been a small part of that.

    I’m glad your focus was on the rest of wonderful corners of the galaxy. Thanks for that, even in memorium.

  21. And here you sit,, years later,, still typing about this game,, still making a living off of something that could have been great,,, I loved the crafting system in that game,, it is obvious to anyone who played it the + influence you had and the systems that worked that you helped build. To sit,, and lament,, year after year,, and not try again,,, that in my mind is the true failure. I wish every day you would get back on the horse and help design the next great MMORPG,, but alas,, it seems,, its not to be.

  22. I am not making any sort of living off of SWG. I was paid a salary during it — 80k I think? I was promoted in part because of it. I didn’t make huge money from it at all; I didn’t get royalties from it. I didn’t get big money off UO either. While on UO, my salary ranged from 25k to 67k.

    If you mean, my career was helped by it, sure. 🙂

    I don’t think of myself as “off the horse” just because I am doing things that aren’t MMOs. Metaplace was considered “off the horse” by most everyone, but it was an MMO, even! It’s true that these days I design board games and trivia and who knows what else, but it’s still game design, you know?

  23. thank you so much for writing this

  24. Ralph, would you ever consider being a part of SWG2 or something like it?

  25. I get asked this all the time. I burned out some on Star Wars, to be honest. But yeah, I’d definitely make a big, varied, simulation-heavy, feature-rich MMO again.

  26. I am resurrecting my old handle which I haven’t used in years. Thanks Raph for everything you did, even when I walked away from SWG most disappointed.

    I was studying design at the time, which I picked up because I followed my creativity. It occured to me that most people with that career choice are going to wind up doing advertisements, when I learned – from you – that designing games was a profession. I thought, over time, that maybe I could be doing that as well. I created games on my own before, and it was already part of why I signed up for design in the first place. However, it was reading about game systems and features and all that which gave me exactly the perspective I missed (also, internet was a rather new thing for me at the time). Your writing as “Holocron” opened that window.

    Later, I was somehow elected to be a GCW correspondent (I still have no clue why), a role which I reprised once more. I turned my back on SWG because of the changes you mention above and briefly went back after the NGE. I was disappointed about the direction they had taken, wrote the “Report” series which made some kind of splash, and then vanished for good. When my design study was nearly completed, I shot an application to a game studio and oddly enough, they hired me. Once in the trenches I felt some regret for my critique.

    Years later, at a GDC in San Francisco (probably 2012), I met you very briefly after a talk you gave. I wanted to thank you and mentioned “Holocron” (your handle) as the inspiration and you said something like “Oh no, I had nothing to do with this”. I think I was perplexed and didn’t have a good retort. Anyway, here you go: Thank you!

  27. Ha, I probably misunderstood you and thought you meant Jedi Holocrons. I am glad you managed to follow your dream all the way into the trenches, where presumably you discovered all the hard parts. 😉

  28. Ps it is nice to see an old familiar name in the comments. Blog commenting is kinda dead these days…

  29. I know it may be hard to answer but a guesstimate is what I’m looking for.

    Around how much more time would have been needed to deliver a version of the game that included the major things you wanted? How much bigger of a budget?

  30. At the time, I asked for another year.

  31. Do you think the development of SWG would have fit in better with some of the approaches games are taking today? Examples: Everquest Landmark/Next and indie games like The Repopulation opening up and taking payments in Alpha stages.

    While it may have been fitting, I’m a bit doubtful that Lucasarts would have approved of such a approach being such a large license/title.

  32. No — the blockbnuster mentality of AAA gaming precludes it.

    Also, it doesn’t lend itself very well to games with a lot of disparate interdependent features. We launched without spaceflight, vehicles and cities and caught hell. Imagine launching without, say, PvP. Or combat.

  33. […] commercial success. Raph Koster, one of the game’s designers, wrote this past week about how they dealt with the game’s Jedi problem. As in, how do you make a multiplayer game where everyone wants to be the game-breaking superhero […]

  34. […] A Jedi Saga » Raph’s Website (raphkoster.com). […]

  35. Hi Raph,

    I’m being nostalgic today – search Twitter for SWG and of course the best piece written about it recently was done in the last week. I was one of those people who spent hours upon hours trying to decipher the Jedi code. I remember acquiring two “Marks” – the Mark of Altruism and the Mark of Intellect. Oh man – I still feel a sense of pride for finding that random campfire spawn on Tattooine and getting the answer to the riddle correct. Was that just an abandoned quest line – if you recall?

    Your game brought out a sense of wonder which I will probably never find again – not just because the game is unparalleled but because I am old and less ambitious now haha. Haven’t touched an MMO since early 2005 – but I will never forget that year and a half on Sunrunner. Thank you and good luck with everything.

  36. I remember following the development of the game with great excitement. I was still in my last couple years of high school during that time; I applied for the Beta access but wasn’t selected, and it nearly broke my little heart. I stopped following it as thoroughly after that, because reading about other people’s fun without being able to participate myself wasn’t that great.

    My freshman year in college (04/05) had a Gen Con in Anaheim that I got to attend with a group of board and card gamers I’d found at ASU. The Star Wars ‘booth’ was massive, and it was right at the launch of Jump to Lightspeed, bringing space into it. I sat down at the demo terminal and blew apart Tie Fighters in an invulnerable X-Wing and was so hooked they had to ask me to step away so other folks could try.

    One of the women who was manning the booth struck up a conversation with me. All I remember about her is that she had lightish hair and an arm in a sling; I talked about how I’d followed it ever since it was announced, but hadn’t been able to play yet; she excused herself for a minute and came back with a collector’s edition of the base game and just straight up gave it to me. I was floored; it made my year, and I still don’t think I could thank her enough.

    I found another guy at my college who’d been playing for a while – he had a dark Jedi Knight named Pup Devlin iirc, and showed me the fun of being a Jedi. I played for several months, even past the Combat Upgrade, but the game was suddenly very different – and he, and a bunch of others I’d come to know, had bailed when it started turning into World of Warcraft.

    I left about halfway between CU and NGE; school got busy and I no longer had the friends in-game helping me out. I still look back fondly on those days, but I suspect a lot of it is nostalgia. I’ve booted into the SWGEMU project a couple times, and it *feels* just like the game I remember – but it’s full of grinding and cult knowledge I just don’t have the time or interest for, anymore.

    So thank you, for your part in bringing it to life. I’m sure much of my enjoyment is that I didn’t know any better; it was a chance for me to live out my Star Wars fantasy, and I will always treasure the memories from it. And if you have any idea who the gal was that enabled it – and still talk to her – thank her again for me. 🙂

  37. I run SWG Night Wing Come On Down And Play For Free Pre-Cu Server Up 24 7 online all day long Jedi Enabled Village

    http://swgnightwing.org/

    http://03c167c.netsolhost.com/smf1/index.php

  38. I’ll end my questions with a quote from the old forums. It seems a bit fitting here.

    “A sad fact about you player, as a whole: you only do what you are rewarded for. You will do something less fun if you see a carrot at the end of the stick, and you will ignore something more fun if it doesn’t give you a “ding” or an XP reward or a title.” – Holocron (11-26-2002 10:55 PM)

  39. Eep. Well, that quote hit hard. Sigh.

  40. That may just be the saddest gaming story I’ve ever heard. Which is a shame, because I’d wager there are hundreds of stories like this happening every year, some of them with even more disheartening endings. I remember the promise that Galaxies showed, and how excited my little brother was for it at the time. With developers so committed, a community so devoted, it’s painful to imagine what could have been if the money people had patience to match.

  41. I loved this game in beta, even with the glitches and I remember the day our guild discovered the path to grind. I got jedi on my…. LAST PROFESSION! I truly enjoyed this game pre-cu. That broke me, i tried to stay but just couldn’t. The spirit of the game was dead and people started defecting to WoW in droves.
    R.I.P
    Lemmy Killmeister
    XyonCore
    Chilastrae

  42. […] один из создателей Ultima Online и Star Wars Galaxies пишет о том, как его команда пыталась встроить джедаев в Star Wars Galaxies. Спойлер — встроила неудачно, игра в […]

  43. Damnit Raph some people are born to create worlds to live in, not games to play in and you are one of them! I’ve read a lot of developer blogs and posts but only a few seem to understand the games and the players like you do. To this day you are the only single person I’ve seen talk about SWG that got it like the players did. From Luke ,to Han to Lars to Jabba, Star Wars fans don’t want to play Star Wars, they want to “live in the Star Wars Universe”! Tonight when I lay down to sleep I will be dreaming a dream of Raph Koster making the mmo described above, it might not have the Star Wars IP, I hope it doesn’t have Jedi, but I hope some day this art gets made!

  44. Thank you for SWG, Raph.
    I still miss it a lot.

  45. Now now, I really enjoy making GAMES too! I have been working on board games recently, and hope to get some of those out soon. I hope the MMO audience will be willing to follow me to try some of them out, even if they aren’t immersive worlds.

  46. Hmmm, good read. I was one of those subscribers who left a month or two after holocrons started dropping. I realized the grind that was required, and that was it. A shame too… had a lot of fun in the beginning.

  47. […] Holocrons, the game was dead; it was just that nobody knew it yet,” Koster wrote in a recent blog post. “Pretty much every single subsequent change can be traced back to that day. All the panicky […]

  48. Raph – you’re still my hero!

    I followed the game two-years prior to launch, and played nearly a year and a half post-launch. I remember VIVIDLY almost every design point and pivot you mention in you article, and the amount of desperate rumor and debate we clung too.

    If I had infinite resources to change time, I’d LOVE to go back and empower you to have what you needed to finish out the vision you inspired us with on the forums. The game was a shadow of what you described to us, and even that was still a unique, enjoyable experience unlike anything I’ve played online to date.

    Thanks for this amazingly honest and hostalgic recap.

    Let’s play together again some time. Go, go Vagabond’s Rest!

  49. I’ve never played SWG or even heard of it till now but this was a fascinating read.

    I really feel for you as a developer.

    I do think your Permadeath idea was brilliant, it’s such a shame it never was even considered.
    In those MMO’s that do offer a permadeath hardmode option, it often becomes the “only way to play”, everything else is just sandbox mode and not challenging or thrilling by comparison.

  50. Amazing read, thank’s a lot for writing this down. But permadeath and force sensitive character slots DID actually happen in the live game. For a short while. I clearly remember my brother screaming in excitement from his room a couple times. One time when he unlocked it and many times when he died and lost his character. He still has screenshots where he is creating his first ever force sensitive character and a couple more of him grinding out in the open.

  51. I am curious, what do you think about the SWGEMU efforts now? Could it become what SWG could have been?

  52. […] Koster has been writing about Star Wars Galaxies development circa 2000-2003 and it’s a fantastic read […]

  53. I never played a Jedi and thats totally fine. I was one of the few trandoshan teras kasi masters!

    reading this has been very enjoyable and interesting. It makes me nostalgic for that game that had no content but the potential was unlimited.

  54. WoW was announced in 9/2001 and came out in 11/2004. So WoW had about about 6 more months of development than SWG. Not 2 extra years, as you guesstimate.

  55. The beauty in this story is the humanity that was displayed by the unfolding of the game itself. As you say, you went from everyone doing what they wanted, but as soon as such an offer of power was made, as soon as they saw an opportunity to stand above everyone else, “the dark side” came out in everyone, and they went through any “hell” to obtain it.

    Nietzsche would laugh. Has there ever been such a glorious social exhibition of the will to power in online games as SWG and it’s sudden shift from provincial clubhouse to the mad empire? You could actually make 4 images summing up SWG’s history that mimic Thomas Cole’s 5-part Course of Empire series: beta/launch was The Savage State. Launch until Holocrons was The Arcadian State, Holocrons through the Jedi Honeymoon and JTL was Consummation of Empire, CU and the Wookie Trashcan Nightmare was “Destruction”, and 20 dudes on the Lavabus hunting the Lavasaber was “Desolation”.

    Oh I love it.

  56. Games are not started when they are announced. Usually they are not announced until well into development.

  57. I checked Wikipedia, which claims 4-5 years of dev for WoW, fwiw.

  58. To continue with that, WoW’s team began forming in December 1998. They were at a highly developed pre-alpha stage by the end of 1999. Most of the essential systems were thoroughly developed and implemented by 2001.

  59. Such a great read, thank you posting this series Raph.

    If you were so inclined to open more old wounds I know a number of folks who would love to read your perspective on the Smuggler class. From the removal of slice and spice to the absence of a contraband/smuggling system I had heard there was a lot of contention over this class between Sony & LucasArts.

    Thank you again for these posts!

  60. see i would have love to have seen your crazy idea come into affect. that would have been the most amazing game ever. but there are a couple things i would have changed. i think the special class idea wouldnt have worked out so well, because yes it makes jedi rare but still everyone can be one so they arent as rare. thats what i dont like the everyone can be one part because in everything starwars a force sensitive child/alien was almost unheard of. yes it happens but so rare that both sides, good and evil, will desire the child and do almost anything for them because of their potential. i would have found it much more interesting if it were a complete random roll as to who were force sensitive. it would add an almost imposible feel to becoming a jedi much like it would if star wars were real life. also i think the perma death should take place once you start your jedi training. so you could basically opt out of the training and keep your main as whatever you wanted him to be.

  61. Spices caused lot of contention because, well, they are drugs. Hardcore SW fans always knew it. It looked bad, PR-wise, to have players engaging in drug trafficking.

    As far as the rest of it, well, smuggling was partially a content-dependent profession, and the content simply never existed.

  62. So I had to create an account to reply to this one 😀

    It’s a tragic tale, but hopefully you learned an important lesson. Never, ever trust marketing. They are not creative. They should not be allowed to make creative decisions. Failure to follow this rule inevitably leads to failure overall. Worse, marketing insists they are creative when mostly what they do is math that even actuaries find boring and then let Excel make the math into charts and graphs.

    So the next time someone from marketing tells you something similar to “U MUST HAZ JEDI BY XMAS!!”. Smile at them. Get out your chart (also made in Excel) showing increasing subscriber numbers. Then remind them that like lingerie, its often more tantalizing to conceal than reveal.

    If that fails, you can always drop a flame wall on their head ala Wired reporters….

  63. Obviously, people had been hologrinding for many months before the Jedi revamp in Publish 9: “Secrets of the Force” and Jedi were popping up all over; however, I found it very troubling that they allowed nearly everyone on the temporary TC-Bria to become a Jedi for an extended period. It began in late May of 2004 and lasted until July.

    Sure, the FRS system needed to be tested with a large group but people left their live characters in droves to throw around lightsticks for a month.

    On Ahazi and Bria, there were a noticeable changes in the market and entire PAs were offline. Once the test was over, thing seemed to stagnate as people waited for the new Jedi questline that would replace the disabled holocron system. Come August, many left for the test center again to spend a month testing the village.

    I had already quit prior to Publish 9 but returned to, yes, test the new Jedi system and examine how these changes would impact communities.

  64. Okay, I dug up some more old stuff…

    I found that many hologrinders quit after Publish 9.

    Among a group of known hologrinders, we did a small survey. While many enjoyed being a Jedi on the test center, a large portion of the respondents said that they were no longer interested and pointed to the instant gratification they had received during the test.

    To understand their play style, we also asked about their interactions with their communities and found that most had only been sticking around to attain Jedi. For those that had been playing since around launch, the consensus was that they had lost interest in their communities once a clearer path to Jedi had been revealed.

    “Instead of creating my own end game or waiting for other content — Jedi became an ultimate goal. It was the major feat of the game. It was how I could win and be better than my peers. It also seemed like that’s what everyone else, at least on the forums and in my group, had been focusing on.” – Survey respondent.

  65. (One more and then I have to go back to work)

    My big beef around the time holocrons were figured out was the rise of AFK macro grinders and the negative impact hologrinders had upon the market.

    This article sums up what I had been spreading on the forums back then:
    http://www.engadget.com/2008/06/26/a-star-wars-galaxies-history-lesson-from-launch-to-the-nge-3/

  66. Realizing that armchair quarterbacking is super easy – would it have been possible to instead of dropping hints in Holochrons, perhaps pulling strings behind the scenes? Find a handful of players that were close to making Jedi and just flipping some switches on the server, checking the remainder of their boxes for them. “Surprise, you are now a Jedi!”

    Do this for a handful of people across the servers and see if that was enough to get the ball rolling?

  67. Fair Enough about games being in development before they are announced. How long was SWG in development before you were brought in, Raph?

  68. Several months. But it was rebooted from scratch.

    I am unsure what you are getting at though. There is no question whatsoever that WoW has dramatically more resources. SWG cost something like $15m to make. WoW was more like $80m.

  69. […] Now, four years after Star Wars Galaxies shuttered its doors to players, and a decade after working on the game, former Galaxies creative director Ralph Koster is opening up about the original vision for the game and how its troubled development led to the downfall of that vision. While all of Koster’s (lengthy) blog posts have been interesting, this post about the game’s … […]

  70. “And LucasArts marketing says, “we need a Jedi by Christmas.””

    JULIO F—–ING TORRES! I knew it!

  71. No. Julio Torres was NOT marketing. He was at the time the assistant producer on the LA side, and he was an entertainer and tailor. He really really is the wrong villain here, just like Jeff Freeman was wrong. Please don’t perpetuate this. 🙁

  72. […] Really interesting piece on how not to build a Star Wars MMORG. MetaFilter mostly hated it, but I thought the idea of limiting the Jedi to a minigame where you […]

  73. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  74. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  75. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  76. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  77. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  78. […] are evil." That's how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  79. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  80. Good read, but I take issue with the idea that “Everyone wants to be a Jedi”. I can think of at least one person that doesn’t, me. Sure, I might be in the minority here, but being Han Solo (without force powers) is way better than being an overpowered jerk with a light saber.

    I think you missed a huge opportunity to give the rewards of Jedi powers to those that deserved them. And let’s face it, most people in MMO’s don’t deserve them, so that would’ve automatically kept them rare. No permadeath needed, just remove the powers when they stop deserving them. Problem solved.

  81. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  82. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  83. In the years leading up to SWG release, and those excellent pre-game forums we had, I was consistently *delighted* that your feelings on Jedi meshed with mine, Raph. I was dismayed, p’d off, and many other things when Jedi were made a playable class. It was pandering to the baseline of new MMO gamers, primarily, and it was horrid. Sad times.

  84. Wow, I have to say this brings back memories for me. It was in 1995 playing X-Wing on my 486 pentium with my great friend, I turned to him and we began discussing what it would be like if someone made a game>(like SWG) before it had even been thought of. So it came to some surprise when I found out (someone) was working on this>around 2000-01..Anywho> Game came out we were both logged in, running around learning, we both like roleplaying so we often played out RP during NPC missions. We met some people we are still friends with today and we also had a thriving business’s selling high Qt meats/metals to doctors etc. Anyways, god I remember when we made out millions and both decided at the time since we both were master riflemen and the HEADSHOT was like being hit by a nuke was popular, our time a peaceful artisans came to an end, and I will never forget that faithful day. We were running out to meet up in a PVP fight, our friends needed assistance and as myself and my friend (listachos) was setting up we both saw this one single person in the midst of battle>a JEDI. we litterally gasps.
    From that one moment seeing that lightsaber flashing and our little band of raiders all being sent back to the cloners we decided that was our calling> remember the JEDI and Dark Jedi temples?..those terminals for the jedi’s to use to RANK up against other Jedi, but they never used them (Shame) We both dreamed of being a Jedi, now there was 2 then 5 then some you never knew. I unlocked first, wow.. like the most best day ever, but now I was scared. Only Listarchos knew, we worked together in unison while he was working on unlocking himself while I tried not to me (flagged) and hunted down before I was powerful enough. I ran across this lone JEDI on Yavin alone, he was just grinding on some huge beasts I wasn’t even tough enough to handle, we talked for some time then he litterally stopped typing mid-sentence and suddenly the area became a blaze of (force Run) and blasters> )Hey guys we get two for one) yelled one of the 3 bounty hunters, I was freaking as I felt obligated to assist him I stayed. Lucky for me, all 3 bounty hunters were locked in brutal combat. It only lasted about 5 minutes and all 3 master BH’s were sent back to the cloners, that lone Jedi was also the same one I first saw months before. My friend Listarchos showed up later as we made out way to a saver place, Wow those time of cat and mouse was INTENSE. Seeing one Jedi on the middle of THEED taking on 4 or 5 BH’s and never breaking a sweat was thrilling, I worked my butt off to level up. My goal was to do it in a PURE way. Not be FLAGGED or killed because that defeated the reason right? Listachos caught up with me, we hunted Krate Dragons together and sold the pearls. We lived off the land so to speak, BH’s got a slight boost too and became tougher, a major challenge too. If only SWG could have implemented a solid Jedi/Dark-Jedi temple system. Jedi should and could have been for the few, I kinda agreed with how you could lose DAYS worth of XP if you were killed in combat PVP.<Hard right. A lot of others are right some didn't want to be Jedi, some loved to be artisans or BH's. THEY LOVED IT. Jedi for me was a ROleplay achievement, then SWG turned me into a NEWB, (THE CU)combat upgrade) What a fuck-tarded idea. Now I had to start all over, grind up a ridiculas amount of (combat XP) and exchange it for another kind of XP.. I stayed, I cussed it and stayed anyways, then long comes…NGE, wow..I have to grind again, I stayed, then some else and after all those years I put into building my character and making close friends with a close guild we all QUIT. done and I have YET to find that same feeling again.. So I want to give a shout out to those DEVS or Money Guys for fucking up a good idea with a lame attempt to FIX. And the New SWKOTOR so completely sucks I played it for 1 hour and never went back, you have young gamers with the attention span of a gnat who will grind for weeks for almost anything and then you have the upper-crust gamers who want CONTENT and a reason to GRIND. ROleplay/PVP/social networking.
    Thanks for the Memories, some good, some bad.

  85. Raph, Just wanted to say thank you. The best game I have ever played was the version/vision of SWG put forth by you and the other Devs on the dev forums. I played it in my head for hours on end fiddling with the different ideas and mechanics we all debated endlessly. I am still pissed that they wiped the boards and that they are not available to read anymore. I didn’t make it into beta, I got and still have the collectors edition of the launch version. I never played much and could only laugh at the things folks seemed to love that had no idea of what could have been.

    On the boards I was originally Annakin Skywalker until asked to change it (moved to using Annakin Darklighter, stupid prequels…).

  86. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  87. Thanks a lot Raph for this fantastic article. It brings so much nostalgia.
    I still remember the nights spent hunting Rancor or simply roleplaying off a hilarious “best guy in town” election. You and your team gave us fantastic tools for expression, some (pre-holocron) dreams, and that’s what we still remember today.

    Thanks for SWG, and see you soon on CF 🙂

  88. […] Raph Koster argued Jedi are evil when it comes to balanced game design. […]

  89. It’s great to see that you are still writing about SWG and keeping the dream alive.

    Now if we could just get you involved in Elite Dangerous and working on designing the ground game/content/expansion for that.

  90. Interesting read. I always felt the grind for Jedi was created by the marketing people to try to keep the hardcore players subbed, the longer it took to get Jedi, the longer they’d have to stay subbed. Seems I was wrong.

  91. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  92. […] That’s how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the problems that faced his design team back in the day. Jedi were too powerful, too desirable and […]

  93. “No. Julio Torres was NOT marketing. He was at the time the assistant producer on the LA side, and he was an entertainer and tailor. He really really is the wrong villain here, just like Jeff Freeman was wrong. Please don’t perpetuate this. :(”

    Then there’s only one other person it could have been. The person to whom the New York Times itself ascribed the phrase ‘the definition of philistinism’:

    NANCY F……..G MACINTYRE.

  94. […] exactly how Raph Koster, creative director of the 2003 MMO Celebrity Wars Galaxies, begins discussing the troubles that encountered his style group in the past. Jedi were also powerful, too preferable […]

  95. […] why a series of posts of UO and SWG designer Raph Koster [1][2][3][4] really piqued my interest. He’s been recounting what went into creating SWG, both […]

  96. Hey Raph! Today is my birthday and I happened to come across all your new posts today about swg! Can’t explain how excited to see them! Somehow swg has stayed in my heart and mind so long, it’s like a phenomenon that I can’t seem to get over it. An obsession.

    I still feel frustrated that you didn’t allow force sensitive players to be as powerful as Jedi. After all, in the movies, characters like leia and Han displayed force like powers to dodge blaster shots and sense danger. One could argue that you don’t need a light saber to be a powerful player in this universe. It would have been the simplest, most elagant answer to this problem.

    One class should never have been stronger than the others.

    Take WoW- death knights were an elite class- only playable at the end of the game/at high levels. But they were not more powerful than other classes. This is how Jedi should have been.

    I can’t wait to read your other posts!!!! Sadly I’m being ushered away to a birthday cake so they’ll have to wait 😮

  97. Great stuff Raph! Thank you for taking the time to delve into the history of the game; it is extremely interesting to me.

  98. Have you been keeping an eye on Star Citizen? I think that ‘you’ are the equation lacking in that calculation. To be honest I’d be more excited about it if you were on board.

  99. […] LONG “A Jedi Saga” – Raph […]

  100. […] A Jedi Saga » Raph’s Website (raphkoster.com). […]

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