Succeeding Star Wars: Galaxies

The Repopulation may be the science fiction sandbox MMORPG that we’ve all been waiting for.

That’s a very grandiose statement to make, I know. Hear me out, though, and you’ll see why this may just be Star Wars: Galaxies 2.

First, a little background on the team behind this upcoming MMORPG. The company Above and Beyond Technologies is headed up by Joshua Halls and J.C. Smith. Joshua Halls seems to be a relative newcomer to professional game development, but J.C. Smith has been involved with Nintendo for several years. The rest of the team is an amalgamation of professionals and amateurs with aims to become professionals, and the quality of the game even in its alpha state is testament to their collective skill. Regardless of what happens with Repopulation, I see great things in store for this team.

Back in June, A&B ran a Kickstarter for The Repopulation that asked for the very modest sum of $25,000 to finish the game by mid 2013. Considering that Star Citizen earned itself seven million dollars through crowdfunding, and that The Repopulation itself earned just over $50,000 in its Kickstarter, I think they were selling themselves a little short. They would have been better served by paying more attention to their Kickstarter campaign at this time. That said, the influx of cash certainly has added a lot of polish to an already-polished game.

Spiritual Successor to Galaxies

Even just watching the few videos on Youtube that A&B has released will get you excited about the game if you’re a fan of SWG. While the crafting system is certainly different from how SOE did it, preferring to use an overall grading system ranging from F0 to A9 instead of Galaxies’ 1-1000 resource attribute system, the feel is similarly complex. Your skill at crafting improves on a per-recipe basis, not just a per-category one, as with SWG. You may be fantastic at producing light weapon components but abysmal at medium weapon components. This kind of system provides for a lot of variety in crafted items, and bodes well for a player economy.

Also, The Repopulation has a unique item decay system. Items have a Minor and Major condition, which decrease over usage. They can be increased by repairing an item, but repairing reduces the item’s durability. Eventually, you will either wear out or repair your item into oblivion, requiring a replacement in much the same fashion as SWG had.

The Fittings System

Interestingly, The Repopulation has an item customization system which completely separates visuals from mechanics. You choose the appearance of items using molds, and then you can give the items stats by adding various Fittings. Fittings wear out just like items, and come in the same F0 to A9 grades. There’s a lot of complexity here, and a lot of opportunity for customization. Now, that does mean that inevitably there will appear Flavor of the Month item Fitting combinations, but no game is safe from that.

Fittings first appeared in conceptual form in the now-defunct Hero’s Journey, the very first MMORPG built on Simutronics’ Hero Engine. Hero Engine, made famous by Star Wars: The Old Republic, has a special place in my heart. I worked as a world builder GM for Hero’s Journey prior to its cancellation, and the engine was so easy and fun to work with that I was giddy with anticipation on what HJ would amount to. While that game never materialized, Fittings have seemed to survive through The Repopulation, which also uses Hero Engine. That makes me very happy.

These Graphics Don’t Suck

Generally, indie games tend to fall into one of two categories – either they’re artsy, or they’re just bad. On rare occasions you’ll find one that hits a very high-quality mark that competes with AAA titles. The Repopulation is one of those that has great visual appeal without catering to a niche audience. Some of the visual feel is comparable to Star Wars: The Old Republic, in terms of animation flow and physics determination. However, most of it has its own particular theme that suits the game’s premise very well. The GUI is well presented and clean.

In essence, The Repopulation’s UI looks a lot like how I’d imagine SWG would look, if given ten years to advance. The spiritual succession remains intact there. The icons being 2D instead of 3D is a departure, but a lot of the flavor is still present.

Creature Handlers Rejoice

The Repopulation features a pet taming system comparable to SWG’s. You find juvenile creatures and tame them, then teach them abilities they can use in combat. Also like SWG and other games since, you can harvest creatures for their parts. However, The Repopulation’s creature-harvesting system is even more complex than SWG’s. Like with item crafting, you gain skill in harvesting from specific types of animals, so while you might be excellent at fetching skins from the six-legged scorpion-like beasties, you might suck at getting bone from others.

Oh, and Entertainers Too

Yes, The Repopulation will have entertainers. And yes, they’re a lot like SWG entertainers, being able to buff other players at campsites by dancing or playing music. But they’re a lot more, too – they can weave stories, tell jokes, and customize buffs to a degree Galaxies players opined for.

Nation Building: Beyond Galaxies

In SWG, player cities were a much-anticipated and enjoyed feature. However, The Repopulation goes a step beyond even this. Not only can players build out cities using buildings, furniture, city walls, and other decorative goodies, but they can populate those cities with NPCs, manage the NPC populace, declare war or allegiance with other player nations, and command player militaries with custom ranks and titles.

The nation system provides the third faction that SOE never got around to developing in SWG. If you choose to align yourself with a player nation instead of one of the two NPC nations, you have access to a host of customizations that are currently only touched on in EVE Online.

The One Failure

No game company, especially an indie company, is immune to failure. In this case, Above and Beyond’s big failure is in its marketing. Only through word of mouth is hype spread about this game. While A&B does have a presence at a few major industry conventions, they have no advertising to speak of, and no marketing strategy. As a result, the player population could be devastatingly small at release for such a player-centric game. This may spell disaster for A&B unless they have help.

So, if you’re at all interested in the kind of sandbox MMORPG that Star Wars: Galaxies presented, give The Repopulation a look! I know I’ll be following its development very closely over the next year. There’s a lot more about the game that’s similar to SWG, so head over to their website and check it out.

Star Wars: Galaxies Crafting

Crafting in MMORPGs is a troublesome, complex issue. The ability for players to create things with which to equip, clothe, and house themselves is difficult for developers to implement, and many companies have tried a variety of ways to try and address this feature.

My first real experience with crafting in MMORPGs was in Star Wars: Galaxies, and that has colored my view on crafting ever since. This is not to say that SWG had a perfect system, but it came closest out of all the MMOs I’ve played.

This is chiefly due to the following eight factors. This is a fairly long read, so grab a cup of coffee, put on your bunny slippers, and sit back in your favorite chair.

I: Item Decay

In early Star Wars: Galaxies, items decayed over time and would eventually become unusable. If an item ever became unusable, it was done – you couldn’t repair it, like in other games since. Even if you repaired items before they became unusable, you were never able to bring it back to full durability. The item’s maximum durability decreased every time you repaired it.

The effect this had on the player economy was to keep crafters in business perpetually. There was always a demand for things like weapons and armor, because those players who engaged in combat were always wearing out their gear.

Vehicles, after they were added to the game, similarly decayed and could be outright destroyed. I remember distinctly being very upset whenever I lost a swoop, since that meant a long walk back to town and around 20,000 credits spent to replace it.

This system of item decay has never been replicated in any other game.

II: Customization

When crafting an item in SWG, you were able to choose its final appearance in a few ways. Clothing was the most customizable, with a variety of colors available. Weapons could have different models with different barrels (in the case of blasters). Armor, similarly, could have multiple colors.

The skill level of the crafter determined to what degree the item could be customized. This meant that high-level crafters were in high demand for those players who cared about appearances, and could charge more for their services.

Oddly enough, item customization as far as appearance goes has never been done very well in MMORPGs. That crown goes to Blacklight: Retribution, a free-to-play online FPS with excellent weapon customization. The game lets you change barrels, stocks, triggers, bodies, accessories, and colors of all of the above.

III: Experimentation

Part of the crafting process in Star Wars: Galaxies allowed you to improve the quality of a crafted item before finishing it. You could choose multiple areas to try and improve; in the case of blasters, for example, you could experiment on increasing damage, range, or accuracy. Depending on the crafter’s skill and the materials used to create the item, experimentation could greatly enhance, marginalize, or utterly wreck a crafted item’s stats.

No other game since has implemented an item-modification system quite like this.

IV: Resource Variation

Every resource in Star Wars: Galaxies had a unique set of statistics. Different kinds of item recipes used different sets of these statistics to determine the item’s qualities. Additionally, resource spawns in the game universe varied by planet and were in limited areas and densities. Every week, a new set of resources would spawn throughout the universe, and the old spawn areas were gone forever. This meant no resource would ever appear more than once, and really good resources thus became very precious.

Because of this system, harvesting itself became a lucrative business. Some players devoted multiple accounts just to collecting the best resources and selling them to other players.

Some games have come close to this kind of variation. Oddly, the one that has nearly replicated SWG’s resource variation is an MMOFPS rather than an MMORPG – Firefall. Like SWG, Firefall’s resources appear for a limited time, have multiple statistics that are randomly generated, and never appear twice.

V: Automated Harvesting

This feature made a world of difference to the crafting economy. Players could craft automated harvesters and place them in the world. Then, the player that placed the harvester chose one of the resources available in that area from the harvester’s command panel, and it would steadily recover a certain amount of that resource every minute or so. Harvesters required fuel to operate, which itself was a resource that could be harvested. Harvesters could be experimented on and improved in multiple areas, just like other items, and so a niche market existed just for harvesters.

Harvesters had an administration list that allowed the owner to designate other players as being able to turn on, fuel, and change the target resource for them. Since every character only had 10 plots, and each harvester took 1 plot, in order to field large numbers of harvesters a player would need to either have multiple accounts or engage the services of other players. This further supported a niche market for harvesting.

No other game has ever had automated harvesting, although the idea of harvesting as a lucrative in-game “profession” has been done also by EVE Online.

VI: Mass Production

In addition to automated harvesters, players could craft and place factories. These buildings took power and maintenance credits like harvesters. They also had a hopper of limited space for ingredients and for generated items.

At the end of the crafting process, players had the option of creating a blueprint instead of a finished item. They could take that blueprint, and stacks of the ingredients used to produce the item, and place them in a factory. Once the factory was turned on, it would generate copies of that item until it ran out of power, maintenance credits, ingredients, or available space in the output hopper.

Not only was this a godsend for crafters looking to mass produce items for sale, it also was a requirement to create certain items. Many of the higher-end crafted items required “identical” components – that is, stacks of items created by a factory from a blueprint.

No other game has ever done this. While not a requirement for a good crafting system, it’s necessary to support sandbox games that rely on player crafted items, since small populations can still create large numbers of items.

VII: Loot Sucks

Players that chose to engage in PvE gameplay in SWG relied heavily on the crafters. Items looted from humanoid NPCs were never very good, and creatures had no loot at all until later in SWG’s life. This meant that player-crafted gear was the only option for combatants, and required players to work together in order to play the game. Lone wolves rarely did well.

No MMORPG other than early SWG has ever done this again. Even SWG itself later did away with this, preferring to give players vendor trash, crafting components, and crafting blueprints.

VIII: Non-Instanced Housing

Non-instanced housing itself is not particularly relevant to crafting. However, the way it was implemented in SWG makes it vital to that ecosystem. All player-owned buildings were player-crafted. Harvesters, factories, houses, guild halls, city halls, shuttleports, med centers, and taverns were all created by players. And they were very expensive to build, at least at first.

When player cities were first added to the game, I was my guild’s Architect (an in-game profession dedicated solely to crafting buildings). Leading up to the release of player cities, we stockpiled large quantities of the resources needed to build the various city buildings. As soon as the update went live, I sat at my structure crafting station and put together a city hall deed, and we rushed to be one of the player cities on our planet. At the time, only ten cities could be established on any given planet. We were too late to be one of the cities on Corellia, so we hurriedly traveled to its moon, Tarus, and set down roots a kilometer northwest of the Imperial outpost there.

In order to craft that city hall, and any high-end items, I need a personal crafting station of the appropriate type for the item. Public crafting stations couldn’t stand in for them. Personal crafting stations needed to be placed in a player house, and they took a number of advanced components. They had a direct impact on the final quality of items, so all serious crafters absolutely had to have access to a house with all the different types of personal crafting stations. This led to most guilds having dedicated “crafting houses” that were so equipped, with backpacks placed in them with large quantities of the various resources needed for crafting.

No other game has ever had non-instanced housing with such a rich connection to player crafting – both in the building and usage of them.

That brings me to the end of my list. I wish I could find a game that had all of these features. SOE may be bringing all of this back with EQ Next, but until we get a science-fiction MMORPG that has all of the above, I don’t think we’ll ever come close to what Star Wars: Galaxies had.

Here’s to hoping, though!