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Nuke 'Em 'Till They Glow!! - The  Early Years

A Brief Jaunt Into Star Wars: Galaxies
Written by Benjamin A. Oliver
Screenshots © LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment
Star Wars: Galaxies
December 30, 2003

Equinis Des'PoticTwenty Seconds Left Until
You May Log Out Safely

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games… Things sure have come a long way since I first played things like Tradewars on local BBSs through a dial-up connection after getting home from Junior High in the afternoons. Instead of the goode olde text-based gameplay, now we've got 3-D stuff that can fry even the most hotshot graphics cards and enough person-to-person connections to people to make verbal communication obsolete.

And yet… things aren't really any different than before—faster, yes, more constantly demanding of time, yes—but I can't really say things are really any "better" than they have been.

Now, I never touched Everquest or many other online RPGs, though I did spend a few minutes playing Ragnarok Online while it was doing the free beta. And for the current Online RPG experience, one day my brother-in-law brought over a copy of Star Wars: Galaxies and invited me to try it out. This was in August, and I knew, generally, how much time MMORPGs would take away if I would let them. I was uneasy, at first, since I was just about to start another semester in college… but he kind of insisted, so I installed it and the adventure started.

Character creationCharacter creationOne big thing SWG has going for it is character customization: There's about half a dozen races, each with traits modifiable by a convenient slider. Why, you can just as easily make a muscular midget male Bothan scout as you can make a dainty, towering, busty female Twi'Lek entertainer.

While it would have been fun to try on the entertainer for size, I figured, "Eh, nah, that's the kind of character I'd want to woo, not the one I'd want to roleplay." So, I went for the muscular midget male Bothan instead. Gotta polarize these choices, y'see. Wouldn't be proper if I didn't.

I technically started out with the scout class, though you tend to pick up pretty much any skill avalable since you can be trained in any starting class for pretty cheap, starting off. It's true, there's 250 skill points to use and distribute, so I didn't have to worry about giving up skills to get points back for quite a while. I started up on the Intrepid server on Talus, a far-off moon of Corellia with two cities that nobody really cared about when I started up there.

Beginning the game, I found the interface clunky and hard to work with, though I later adjusted to it, since it did let me use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out—a critical thing for assessing situations and looking around.

Small FryWhat's more, I was a little short in the game. To give some idea of scale, my character barely came up to just above wookie's knees.

What would I name a midget black Bothan with mean eyes, long Batman ears, and a face like a horse? Equinis Des'Potic, that's what! It was sufficiently feisty, with dominating overtones and an underlying sense of… horsiness. And that was the way it was, and I liked it!

Looking through my archive, I don't have many (any) screenshots taken of my early days on the game… but those were pretty boring, anyway. I had my dinky little CDEF Pistol, my drab camo gear, and I was good to go.

It should be noted at this point that in the game, money plays a somewhat large role for those of us without any. I tried out the little mission terminals with their delivery missions, netting a whopping 50 credits for each three-minute dropoff, but that just wasn't enough. Since you need thousands of credits just to train new skills, that was taking way too long.

So, I tried out something that would net me a thousand buckaroos: a whack-the-foozle mission. I had to go to some creature's lair and blow it to bits!

One thing that should be said about three-foot-tall Bothans with wimpy pistols: they don't too last too well against four-yard-long Greater Sludge Panthers with six-inch claws.

Basically, most newbies (especially Bothan newbies) barely qualify as light snacks for the local fauna on Talus. Sure, I could have gone for the weaker sheep-like Paralopes, but at that point, I thought those would be too tough for me to go after. I didn't have any qualms about going up and poking a giant tiger to see how many seconds it would take to eat me.

If I were an artist, I would draw you a picture of one of these beasties licking its lips and saying, "Yum!" with a black Bothan leg hanging out from between its teeth, because that's exactly what my character was: monster chow, time and time again.

So I became very well acquainted with the local cloning center in the nearest city, Nashal. At least I kept the items I'd picked up along the way when I had to respawn in that manner, so very many times. The developers initially wanted to make players do corpse runs and loot the items off themselves, or charge insurance so they wouldn't have to go do those runs. But that was very buggy, so it was temporarily disabled. Later, they instituted a "decay" system such that no matter what you did, if you died, all the items in your possession would degrade 1-5%—nevermind the fact that several of these items decayed plenty on their own, thank you very much. I will say to you that none of the developers ever played the game for any amount of time whatsoever. In fact, I think the people coding it were locked in some room in the LucasArts basement and given instructions from the strange men in black suits upstairs. There is no other explanation for some of the stuff that went on. Grrr! Statistically balanced, my—But I digress.

Eventually, I discovered survey missions. Equinis didn't have to kill anything (because, indeed, Equinis couldn't kill anything worth killing). All I had to do was run back and forth and back and forth for hours on end to spots with high mineral deposit percentages and scan it with a survey tool. After that, I had some actual buying power, so I picked up a decent Scout Blaster and started going to town on the Vynocks, just to vent my previous frustration.

…and here, if I could draw as well as that Ian Machall guy could concerning his online experiences, I'd show Equinis, with torn clothes and a maniacal grin on his face, blasting away at the Talusian fauna. "MWAA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAA!"

Things started picking up when I found out about the surveying-for-money scheme… Until

Another note about the developers: Anytime someone discovered some sort of advantage, or something they could do to make money and save time, they had to find a way to limit it so it wasn't too convenient. The riflemen had their main weapon reduced to utter uselessness. The droid engineers had their combat droid (The Probot, like an Imperial Probe Droid) lowered in power and given permanent death when they were knocked out. The Bio-Engineers had to deal with the fact that nothing they had worked properly, and the Carbineers had to deal with the fact that their profession was rather wimpy compared to Pistoleers, Commandos, or Bounty Hunters. Some of these issues got fixed as the months went by, but most of them didn't.

In my case, the survey mission thing didn't stay below the radar, and they extended the length of the trip my character had to go through to complete a survey mission. That wasn't so bad, at first; it's only natural that the deposits ought to be at least half a kilometer away. Then they moved it to a kilometer, and then just a little over that…

What could I do? I still had a wimpy combat character with a moderately cheap gun, so I took up Artisan skills and started walking and crafting at the same time to get money and experience. Aside from getting eaten by the random aggressive creature I didn't see until it was too late, I eventually built up enough experience to make mineral, chemical, and other extractors. Setting those up and maintaining them took an hour or so per day. For weeks, I had to be on every day, or my harvesters would explode. Or worse, the mineral deposits might slightly shift around, forcing me to move those extractors around so I could keep having minerals for crafting.

Fighting Dark JediIn combat skills, my character could handle the local gang-bangers and hunt down lower-end creatures. Plus, the odd Dark Jedi popped up, and people amassed a posse to get 'em taken care of, and I was glad to help out when that happened.

About halfway through September, while fighting off my assignments at the University and neglecting my writing, game designing, and comic work, I once again started to suspect what an incredible waste of time this was.

…Shrugging that off, I continued onwards and started picking advanced classes to follow. What would I pick? A mighty architect? A skillful droid designer? A crack-shot marksman???

Everyone in the game looked horribly-clothed with ugly colors. I could barely stand looking at 'em. So, I picked the Tailor class to follow, and spent a month beefing my character up to Master Tailor, with a side order of Pistoleer. Yeah, he was a creature-blasting, mineral-harvesting, hem-sewing dynamo as he ran back and forth doing survey missions.

I met some people along the way, we got along, and I started randomly giving out nifty-looking clothes to those that were otherwise fashion-impaired. The days of drab-colored clothes around Talus were numbered.

Gweem MafefetIn fact, I started getting noticed by the big-wigs with all the cash. A successful fighter was having a wedding—SWG characters with rings can get married!

The giant fly and the woman who loves him. (Sniff!) Such a beautiful story. Gweem asked me what it would cost to keep me on retainer for the wedding. I'd just spent around forty-five minutes fitting him for a new outfit, and I was getting cranky. I asked for a million credits. He didn't have that much, so I asked him for fifty thousand, no less. He gave it to me.

If I could draw, here's where I'd show Equinis grinning like a maniac with wads and wads of cash dripping from his hands, saying, "Right! No complaints from me, then."

I naturally got invited to the wedding, and made everyone's outfits for the occasion. Before then, I had no idea that a Tailor had so much sheer power. o_O

Some people really liked to look good in the game. The more demanding customers tended to be the really ultra-rich types that tipped really huge amounts. That was… nifty.

…and then, I discovered the true power of a Tailor: he could make bio-enhanced clothes. Bio-enhanced clothes are different than armor. Armor can shield from attacks, but Bio-Enhanced clothes could boost skills and look stylish at the same time.

Reea-flystalker, ArchitectGnibadab Moobadab, WeaponsmithI met some people: Reea-flystalker…

…and Gnibadab Moobadab, who knew a bit of my mad tailoring skills and invited me to join a mall.

The idea intrigued me. I'd been wanting to come aboard for a while, so I took up Merchant skills and set up shop in the mall. We started with a large house, but later moved into a huge Guild Hall.

The Mall

We all got together and had a council about how we'd handle it. A guy named Z-Zi was my bio-enhanced component supplier, and everyone else tended to get special treatment when I made stuff up.

Youngie Makashi the MedicWe had a great group: Dillgar the Armorsmith, Youngie Makashi the Medic, Nowdo Tings the Droid Engineer… We had everyone we needed to get a full-blown enterprise going.

The Council

I made up a bunch of clothes, set up six vendors with various styles in them, added in a truckload of Bio-Enhanced gear… and we had a great, big Grand Opening party to get it all rolling and the word out.

The Grand Opening party

A job well doneDozens of people started coming in and buying stuff—a marketer's dream. I think I made the most money of anyone—hundreds of thousands of credits every couple of days. My character became very wealthy and could actually afford good guns and the right size of mineral extractors and all that good stuff. I helped out random newbies that came along, giving them equipment, bio-enhanced clothes, and thousands of credits so they wouldn't have to fight through it like I did. At the end of the day, I had the nice warm, fuzzy feeling of having helped out and had a job well done.

A Beauty PageantPeople came to me asking for help making outfits for beauty pageants and whatnot. I did the best I could, color matching, etc. Making sure it looked good…

Town MeetingInki Gumbin, a rather fishy sort (what with him being a Mon Calamari), came along and plopped a Town Hall near our mall, making us part of his city. We all got together for a town meeting, threatening to lynch the guy and ride him out of town on a Bantha if he didn't do a good job as mayor.

He promised to do a good job, and we helped to build the town up, moving ourselves in and generally contributing to society. I still made a killing in the clothes industry. With good bio-enhanced attire and beefed-up pistols, I rarely got killed off in the wilderness anymore. I got myself a mount and rode around on it—quite fun, actually. I even went out hunting on Endor and Talus with Reea and the group.

Mounted Small FryHunting on EndorThe GangCamping outHunting on Endor

Somewhere, in the middle of all this, my brother-in-law had to cancel the account. I was okay with the decision—I knew it was taking up way too much time, time that I would have enjoyed dedicating to the comic, GDM, or even my badly-neglected writing. Oh, and then there were the classes I could have been paying more attention to, as well as the fact that I'd just applied to get into a program for a Master's Degree in MIS.

MMORPG's will devour your life and soul if you give them half a chance. Not like regular video games, which you can pause, save, and walk away from if more pressing matters arise. MMORPGs keep calling you back…

So, my character's fate was sealed: December 3rd would be the scheduled date for termination of the account, the current month already being paid for. That meant I had time to say goodbye to everyone—and also time to get rid of the hundreds of items and hundreds of thousands of credits I'd built up over the past months. Mine was probably the most successful tailoring outfit I knew about, and I wouldn't have been at all surprised if Equinis were the best Tailor on the Intrepid server, despite being situated on such a little-known world as Talus.

I had several weeks to dispose of my character's assets. Credits and clothes were easily given away. But there was just so much of it… I picked a successor: Inki Gumbin, the mayor of the town, who decided to become a tailor in my place. Somehow, the status of Tailor had become key to the success of the online society there. A Master Commando could be a hero and blast the ears off a Giant Ancient Krayt Dragon, but he'd never be a real legend until he looked the part. On the other hand, a first-day newbie, dressed like Neo from the Matrix, has a personality and a certain sense of style about him. It's a manufactured, overdone coolness, but a coolness nonetheless. Also, you can have a Master Dancer or Musician, but they're no good if they don't look the part. After all, gotta have them dancers in Revealing Fleshwraps and Exotic Leotards! Wouldn't be proper otherwise. A character's never complete without the outfit. Just look at Mark Hamil. He had a decent level of coolness when swinging with Leia in Episode IV, and he looked great when beating the heck out of Darth Vader in Episode VI. On the other hand, if you get a look at the interviews from 1980 when he's in Jeans and a T-Shirt… can we say "Epitome of Lameness"? Yes, we can.

So, Tailors and looking the part is vitally important in a fantasy environment. Armorsmiths got their portion of the marketshare, but just because armor reduced damage—not all of it looked that cool. ^_^

Equinis the WhiteThis was the little bit of Horse Sense I delivered to the masses at my character's going away party. I made a new appearance during the last couple of days with a new outfit, calling myself Equinis the White! Coming at the turn of the tide, at the end of the Age of Newbies and the beginning of the Age of Jedi. Jedi had just started to appear in the game, y'see, and they were hard characters to get!

Tailoring MadnessI made some last outfits for Reea-flystalker, our unofficial de-facto leader in the mall venture. Tailoring was a tough, detailed job sometimes. Reea was the best-looking Wookie in the game that I ever saw. If I could draw a glamorous Wookie, that'd be Reea. Odd mental image, that.

My last nightAnyway, I had become well-known enough on Talus and Corellia that we got a pretty good turnout at the going-away party. Some people showed up earlier, and others later. Reality slowly set in for everyone that it really was going to be my last day in that universe.

I put up all the items I had for sale for 1 credit apiece, and they all sold very quickly. Even the biggest freeloaders got totally full and had to move on. What's more, I asked people who were present, "Hey, anybody want bucketloads of Cash?"

Going away with styleGnibadab noted sagely that nobody was ever going to say no to an offer like that. He also seemed to think that I had good style, going away like I did. I mentioned later that, if I had to go, I might as well go with style.

I seemed to be unique among most players, due to the fact that I could actually chat in complete sentences, with punctuation, capital letters, and without many misspelled words to speak of. In an environment where, "how r u" and "i wnt sme csh" are epidemic, I suppose it's refreshing to have someone who can actually communicate. In the land of the grammatically clueless, the complete-sentence man has good style.

They had a Master Dancer and Master Musician come in for me, I tipped everyone in huge amounts since I still had a fortune to give away. I gave a 200k inheritance to my successor, Inki, and I bought all the crafters in the mall spiffy Ultimate-Advanced R3 droids with all the extras (crafting, droid repair, armor, medical, storage, etc) at 50k a piece. Gave away all the gun powerups, the enhancements, the bio-enhanced stuff, my harvesters… everything except just a few things like my mount, a giant duck named Shadowfax, and my R3 crafting/repair/medical droid named Tesha.

I had previously contemplated a duel with Gnibadab to finish it off, since we'd had a minor spat several weeks before and I wanted to challenge him to a duel to the death… but thinking it over, I decided on a better, more fulfilling ending to my character's story: he rode off into the sunset.

Fireworks We watched some fireworks…
We took some group pictures… Last group picture
Packing up I packed up for the trip, and so did some others that wanted to follow me to the bitter end…
And I rode… Riding off into the Sunset

And Equinis arrived at his final destination.

End of the TrailEnd of the Trail

He was a slow starter, but learned from his mistakes quickly, and, in some ways, he made a difference. He spent a lot of time achieving what he had, and when he saw the end coming near, he gave all he had to those who might have had a use for it.

This is the story of Equinis Des'Potic, and in these games, there are no stories worth speaking of, except for the ones that the characters make for themselves. The plots the designers make are weak, a piece of cheese for the rats to chase around in hopes of. The mazes are broken and hardly ever work, except for the most determined of mice.

But this old clothes horse became a sort of legend—for me, at least. And it was good to see him given such a good farewell and retirement. For me, he had a story, and a life of sorts. He had struggles and got back up after getting knocked down. He went on to create an empire and do something marvellous for the people around him. He finished up with a party, among friends. And he came to his final resting point, there to remain until called for again.

The End

Me, personally? I had enough time after quitting SWG to recover for Finals and managed A's in most of my classes (one's still up in the air—probably got an A in that one as well). I applied on time for the Master's program and have yet to hear whether I get in, and then I'll need to decide whether to go for that or pick up a lot of Computer Science classes instead.

One thing I do regret… Though I had the chance to meet up with many people with a sense of fun and good hearts, as well as experience the unique story of Equinis Des'Potic, I neglected several creative works. I could have, perhaps, worked to make the webcomic a more complete story with better, more inspiring writing, or perhaps learned to draw a bit myself. I could have dedicated more time to supervising the Galactic Destroyer Maker project, giving the programmers more support or perhaps programming a bit of it myself during the semeter. Maybe I could have even finished up one of those stories I've been trying to get written for the past year or more.

So many possibilities, so much gained and so much lost. That seems to be the way of time. As it stands, I can regret the loss of time, or I can take courage in what I have gained: a lesson about generosity and of taking action. Maybe a caution about the future that I ought not to enter into such huge time commitments for things when I want to accomplish something totally different.

Hmm. Yes, that's what I think I'll take from this experience; that whatever I do, I can learn from it. I learn from mistakes, it's true, and I'm able to spin stories from them afterward. However, things actually progress when I make the right decision. Ammon, Esa, Danny… Larry, Joe, Jason… Consider this my New Year's Resolution: to spend more time making things rather than just playing them. ^_^;;

Happy New Year, everyone!

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November 16, 2003: The Taste of Live Cat


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