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:: Friday, April 15, 2005 ::

Star Wars Galaxies

I play Galaxies. I like it -- many of my friends don't, preferring the EQ2 or WoW system. To me, there's little not to like. I'm not forced into PvP, so no worries about griefers. I can solo OR group and still access most of the game. Because it's skill based, not level based, if I get bored with one profession I can give it up and move towards another. Heck, I'm a weird mix of Tera Kasi, Merchant, Architect, and Creature Handler right now. It's got an amazing and complex crafting system (although they didn't take as much are as they should have to integrate the Jump To Lightspeed stuff) and while content is occasionally really weak, expansions were doing well adding more on.

There's some big flaws, of course. Some professions have never worked entirely right (Pistoleer and Squad Leader, to name two), a lot of things are broken that should have been fixed a long time ago, and the skills system -- which let you mix and match various abilities from various sources -- led to some serious game imbalances.

As a short term fix, they swung the nerf bat whenever some combination got out of hand. Better than nothing, but you still ended up with a handful of templates being the Flavor of the Month.

So, the Sony Team decided to do a "Combat Upgrade and Rebalance". On paper -- they released a great deal of documentation and were fairly open -- this seemed like a really good idea. They were going to reassess the combat professions, work on preventing uber-templates, and ensure that each combat profession had it's own useful role and abilities.

I don't know what, exactly, happened to that. I don't know what happened with the sandbox testing, the alpha testing or the closed-beta testing. But the open-beta has been a nightmare. Not bugs -- although there are FAR too many for a major upgrade they want to release on the 5th -- but the changes the made.

There's only the most superficial resemblance to the concept documents they released. It bears nothing in common with the reports from early sandbox testing and developer discussions on design.

I develop software for a living, and what it looks like from my perspective is that they were told to do it cheaper and faster. It WOULD be out by 5/5, no matter what. So I've been watching the open beta testing with astonishment. I've never seen people toss aside the concept documents like that. This is a complex, highly developed game -- you don't just throw in ad hoc changes like this -- but they have. They threw in an EQ2-style level system, but without removing the skills system. This has led to a lot of problems -- crafters who don't dare venture out of the homes, for fear of being killed in a single shot. People trying to take up a second combat profession unable to gain experience -- or survive -- because the game assumes they're level '30' even though they're trying to take novice marksmen skills and using a novice-level pistol.

So they fixed that by moving weapons from "skills certifications" to "level certifications", which -- in addition to being remarkably stupid and screwing over three or four professions entirely -- has fixed the 'trying to acquire a new combat profession' while breaking the 'trying to acquire your first combat profession'.

I've never seen anything like it, and I've participated in some truly FUBAR'd development efforts. I can't come to any conclusion other than that the Sony team decided to toss aside several months of work, all the concept documents (and the careful balancing that had gone into them) in favor of porting over EQ2 ideas -- since they're already balanced.

And it's causing the sort of havoc you'd expect -- every change causes 10 other problems. Not bugs, but severe "Oh crap, now an entire section of the game doesn't work anymore". All this level stuff -- leveled characters, leveled creatures, damage multiplies and reducers based on comparative levels -- has broken the game in so many ways it's unplayable. And yet they're still shooting for a 5/5 release date.

I like Star Wars. I loved Galaxies -- despite it's flaws. I loved the skills system, the profession system, the look and feel of the interface.....but it's been tossed aside for what amounts to a very shoddy attempt to replace the core of the game with EQ2. Rather obviously, since the cores of both games are utterly different, the fit has been rather bad.

I don't know what the hell Sony was thinking. I can't imagine their developers are very happy -- they tossed aside some solid work, some serious work in favor of this half-assed solution. God knows I wouldn't work for them and I'm not buying any of their products until someone else has rigorously tested them. They obviously don't listen to customers, they can't determine simple requirements, and they have no problem pushing half-ass solutions.

Hopefully someone will get up the guts to go to their boss and say "It's not going to work. They hate it, they hate it bad -- and you and I both know that MMORPGs work by maintaining user base. It's not going to generate an influx of new users, just drive away old ones. Call it off and let's do it the way our customers wanted".

I doubt it, though. This is such a visibly bad idea that I can't imagine their bosses don't already know. On the bright side, sooner or later the idiot responsible will probably be fired.

In the meantime, I have been wanting to try WoW. (After all, I don't mind level systems. Just bad ones. )
:: Morat 11:51 AM :: ::

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