E3 2001 First Impression: Star Wars Galaxies

LucasArts finally unveiled its massively multiplayer Star Wars RPG, and it looks extremely impressive. Find out all about it, and more about the newly announced outer-space expansion.

Today on the morning of the first day of E3 2001, LucasArts unveiled its forthcoming online role-playing game behind closed doors. What was shown was extremely impressive, and what was described was very ambitious. The game is being designed at Verant Interactive, the makers of the extremely popular online RPG EverQuest, and the team working on Galaxies is composed of veteran designers of EverQuest, as well as Ultima Online. Their collective experience really shines through in the ingenuity of Star Wars Galaxies' design. This makes its extremely ambitious intentions seem possible, and in turn makes the project very exciting.

Star Wars Galaxies will let you play as a number of different, recognizable Star Wars races, all of which have been revealed by now on LucasArts' Web site. If you've seen the concept sketches before, then you already have a good idea of what these characters will look like--because the 3D models used in the game are even more detailed. You'll be able to customize your character's appearance in thousands of different ways; you might give your character a distinct hairstyle, or if you're a zabrak (like Darth Maul from Episode I), then you can even get your own tattoos. This level of customization and attention to detail in the character creation actually extends into the entire scope of the game.

These are some of the things Star Wars Galaxies will let you do: You can save up to purchase a land speeder (just like Luke Skywalker's), and then save some more to trick it out with custom parts. You can become a Jedi eventually, though it'll be very difficult to do so. Conversely, you could become a Dark Jedi. You could be the mayor of a player-built town, and determine that town's laws and regulations. You can build droids, and literally program their behavior. You can catch, tame, and train a variety of different creatures. In some cases, you can even breed them. You can learn different languages. Many of the best items and equipment in the game will be made by players--not dropped by defeated monsters. You can give quests to fellow players. For instance, if you're a smuggler, you can make money delivering goods to the players that happen to need them. You can be a hairdresser. If you get good at it, you'll be able to create hairstyles that won't be available for characters by default. Unlike most traditional RPGs, characters in Star Wars Galaxies gain skills, not experience. The branching skill system promises to have something to offer players of all types, and the game itself is being designed to be accessible to anyone.

For example, even the perspective in the game isn't fixed. Certainly the first-person view affords the best opportunity to see the highly detailed characters in the game. However, Galaxies will also feature a locked, isometric perspective reminiscent of numerous top-down role-playing games--including Ultima Online. The robust, proprietary engine used for the game makes this possible. It's designed to be highly scaleable, and will readily support low-end graphics accelerators as well as most of the enhanced special effects made possible by the recently announced GeForce 3 chipset. Allegedly it'll even support features from next-generation graphics chipsets.

The game will contain no discreet 'zones', meaning areas will blend together seamlessly. Some of these areas include the deserts of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home planet; the grasslands of Naboo (from Episode I), as well as Episode I's underwater Gungan city; and thick swamplands, reminiscent of Yoda's home world of Dagobah. The grasslands, swamplands, and desert were shown running, and all looked highly authentic. For instance, plants could be seen blowing in the breeze; a stronger wind would make them react accordingly. Day and night cycles were beautiful to behold, as shadows cast by each object gradually elongated at sunset, and finally faded into midnight.

The inclusion of both classic Star Wars settings and new ones alike begs the question of whether Star Wars Galaxies is classic Star Wars, or new Star Wars. But of course the answer is that it's both--not only will Galaxies include elements from all four Star Wars films, but it'll also draw upon elements from the forthcoming fifth film. The game is actually set at a time when Emperor Palpatine's grip over the galaxy is very strong. The Rebellion against his cruel authority has already begun, while any remaining Jedi are being hunted down. Players will be encouraged to help shape the results of these troubled times. The game itself will make it fully possible to do so.

LucasArts also discussed at greater detail the announcement from this morning, about its plans to expand the game into outer space. You'll be able to fly any number of different fighter craft--it wasn't revealed if you could fly larger craft, or serve aboard starships--and these already looked graphically impressive. The outer-space sequences will be action-oriented but kept relatively simple; for instance, they'll be fully controllable using your mouse. The space combat in Star Wars Galaxies is being developed by a separate, highly focused team of designers, who worked on projects including the Wing Commander series and the unfinished Privateer Online game.

The scale of the game seems remarkable at every level--vehicles like the mighty Imperial AT-ATs and Jawa sand crawlers are shown to scale. Planets will be gigantic--significantly greater in size than the total land mass of Norrath, EverQuest's world. Fast modes of transportation will be available to make traversing such distances feasible, and interesting. Actually, one of the main goals of Galaxies is to eliminate all of the tedium and downtime and routine that's typically associated with online role-playing games. The game promises to always engage the player, whether he's hunting tusk cats in the plains, or decorating his newly purchased home.

Given its level of ambition, needless to say a lot of questions remain unanswered about Star Wars Galaxies. For instance, the team noted that it still won't reveal how player vs. player interactions will be handled, but that this information will be posted to the game's official Web site soon. In fact, this new site just launched today, and is available at http://www.starwarsgalaxies.com/. We'll have more information on Star Wars Galaxies in the weeks to come. Until then, take a look at the impressive screenshots that LucasArts made available today.

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