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Making Galaxies fun again: An interview with the developers of the Star Wars Galaxies PreCU Emulation Project

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There’s a group of developers who are trying to resurrect the old, fun version Star Wars Galaxies with the Star Wars Galaxies PreCU Emulation Project. The “CU” stands for Combat Upgrade, a term Sony Online Entertainment, the game’s harebrained developers, concocted to described the game-breaking changes it made to the combat engine. Longtime players of Galaxies, my brother Gabriel included, hated the Combat Upgrade.(“Upgrade? More like downgrade!”) Gabriel, who helped me write that Hitler Twitter video and is now a freshman at NYU, spoke with the project’s developers last week in order to figure out what makes them tick.

This is their story, as written by young Gabriel.

I’ve played Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) since February of 2004. I’ve been through the Combat Upgrade (CU) and the subsequent New Game Experience (NGE) that followed six months afterwards. (SWG has a very interesting MMO history for those interested in doing a bit of digging). SWGEmu is a project that’s dedicated to resurrecting the original iteration of Galaxies. The project grows stronger every day with a dedicated community as showcased with their bi-weekly updates on www.swgemu.com. Just as interesting, if not more so, is the emulation project itself. The community, as well as the development staff, has had ups and downs. I interviewed a roundtable consisting of developers and staff members alike from the project. I joined (in no particular order) Aaron “Kellina” Eaton, Ramsey Kant, Jayson “Ultyma” Marion, Kyle Burkhardt, Tanner “Seaseme” Kalstrom, and Joe “Bobius” Sylve, Sawyer “PhantmLdr” Towne, and Todd “Thoop” Hooper in an IRC chat room.

The project, known as SWGEmu, started on December 24, 2004, before the first Combat Upgrade. Ramsey and Ultyma were part of the original development team that actually had a shaky beginning. “January – April we were pretty quiet, lurked on free forums trying to break the encryption,” Ramsey said. “A lot of the project’s time in the beginning was spent reversing the client and documenting the protocol… I had helped out with a few smaller server emulators here and there, but most of us were new to the game.” Aside from a difficult encryption (which they successfully cracked), the original builds known as Core1/2 were bogged down by bugs, a rough community, and yes, even an ego. “When our project first started, we were completely closed source. Part of the reason for that was our ego,” Ramsey continued, “We didn’t want to open up to the community at the time, because the original mentality was it was ‘our own work.’”

That was years ago. When asked about the progress they’ve made since the Core 1 days, the sentiment is unanimously proud and positive. Today, the community is strong, united and dedicated. What started as a small group of people working closed source has grown to “what, 30+ staff members? 60,000 thousand people” Seaseme, a 2 year vet on the project, informed me. PhantmLdr, a silent hero of the community, quickly corrected Seaseme and said it was 60+ staff members.

“I, for one, am always amazed by the progress this team has made,” Bobius, one of the developers, commented, “both technologically and socially. I remember when I first heard of this project. I believe it was from a digg article declaring the project over. Ha! This project had been declared dead more times than Duncan McCloud. What we have now is on such a different level that what was around during the core1 days,” said Bobius.

“The project started when I was still in high school and it’s been in my routine almost every day, so it’s awesome to see how far the project has expanded,” added Ramsey.

For Kyle, the developer who brought crafting in the emulator, it was much more simple. “The moment struck almost a year ago when it became more of a downhill ride, than an uphill climb,” he said.

“I will still always look back to the very first stress test that we had. I think it was like 3-4 months into development,” recalls Ultyma. ��We had 452 people online at the Mining outpost on Dantooine, and every single player was in combat.”

The SWGEmu team is actually preparing for a second stress test on December 6. Since their previous test they’ve added more core features (like crafting) and want to test them out under a heavy load. They want as many people as humanly possible to help out. They don’t need to do anything specific, just logging into the test server and standing around will suffice. Instructions on how to setup the emulator and login are on SWGEmu’s website. The purpose does more benefit to the players than the actual development team. Several of the developers explained that the stress test that will take place is meant to determine the type of hardware needed to host an actual server. That means all the planned servers that will come up when the emulator finally launches will have just exactly what they need to host the server.

For those of you wondering about the developers hosting their own servers, Kyle answered, “We plan on making that decision by christmas and announcing our intentions then =).” However, feelings are generally mixed. They still need to look at the pros and cons of such a decision but rest assured, they are thinking about it.

When asked about the progress of the project as a whole, Bobius said, “I think we’re very near something that is ‘playable,’ not a release, mind you, but something more game like than just a testing ground.” Ultyma added that the game, when finished, will have very few holes that could not be filled because of complete lack of documentation missed out on from the Pre-CU era, but it will be as close to 100 percent as possible. Add to the fact a Client-Dev team that will be creating custom content, players will be able to pick up the game where they left off or simply start anew.

Overall, there’s a fun atmosphere. The team has matured along with the project. I asked if there were any final thoughts PhantmLdr would like to share for the interview and he said, “SWG wasn’t just a game for people, it was something extremely special, and when it was changed, many people died a little and lost hope in the MMO industry. We want to renew that hope and bring alive a game that people fell in love with and show people that sometime people can do something amazing just out of passion for the game without caring about their bottom line.”

Kyle then added, “Unlike the other emulators out there, we are NOT trying to bypass paying someone for their work. I will guarantee you that virtually the entire community would still gladly pay for this game monthly if it still was available, but it isn’t, and this is proof that the customer is always right.” The project has had its share of drama, ups, downs, points of hardly any progress and periods where progress couldn’t be stopped. Today, the emulator shows consistency and progress. The bi-weekly updates on www.swgemu.com detail each weeks progress. With strong support from their community, there will be a day when we’ll be able to re-realize our world in the Star Wars universe (God that was nerdy, smite me), and when it comes it will be a great day for Galaxies fans.

Full chat log with the developers: http://paste.littleaton.com/99999

The Star Wars Galaxies PreCU Emulation Project

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