In 2003, way before anyone could even imagine a Star Wars-Disney union, thousands of eager padawans signed up for an online game called Star Wars Galaxies.
Today, Galaxies is no more, rendered obsolete by a glut of other massively multiplayer RPGs including BioWare’s recent Star Wars: The Old Republic. But back then the SOE-developed game was innovative, unusual, and beloved by a whole lot of people. So it’s fun to take a step back and imagine what could’ve been.
In a lengthy blog post published on Gamasutra last week, Star Wars Galaxies creative director Raph Koster writes all about some of the design decisions they made while making the game—specifically, the ones involving Jedi. One of the biggest design questions in any Star Wars game is how to implement Jedi without making them too overpowered, and Koster tackles their thought process here.
If you’re into Star Wars at all, you should go read the whole thing, but there’s one chunk that really stood out: Koster’s incredible permadeath Jedi idea that I hope he turns into an independent game one day.
I had a brainfart that never made it past those early days, there in that house. The idea took inspiration from Hardcore mode in the Diablo games. We would offer a Jedi system that effectively gave a different way to play the game. A method that kept Jedi rare, powerful, and yet allowed everyone a shot.
Every player would have a special character slot available to them, distinct and parallel from their regular character. This character would be locked into one profession, one class: Jedi. They’d start out weak as a kitten though, untrained in combat or anything, and with barely any Force abilities at all. Luke without womprat-shooting experience maybe.
Although the design wasn’t done yet, we knew that the game would be classless. So this pathetic Force Sensitive character would be able to gain better Force powers by earning Force XP by using the Force. They could also go off and learn other skills. But either way: if they died, that was it. They were dead. Reroll. Start over. It was that dreaded word: permadeath.
Already this is enticing—the tradeoff for getting to use Jedi skills is that one bad decision could cost you your entire character. Smart.
In the corner of the screen, there would be a timer running logging how long you had managed to survive. It was your score, for this weird little minigame. The name of the game was survival, but it was rigged.
You see, the moment you used Force powers within view of anything or anyone Imperial, or indeed any player, they could report you to the Empire. To Darth Vader’s Death Squadron in fact. And that generated someone to come after you. After first, just lowly Stormtroopers. Eventually, cooler characters, such as some of the bounty hunters like IG-88. Eventually, really cool ones like Boba Fett or fan favorite Mara Jade.
These would be brutal fights. Odds are you’d just die. So hiding and training very carefully would be essential. But it wouldn’t matter, of course. As you advanced, your powers would get “noisier” and cooler. You wouldn’t be able to resist using Force Lightning in a crowd, or equipping your lightsaber in view of some Imperials. And eventually, after Boba Fett and Mara Jade and everyone else had failed, well, that would be when Darth Vader himself bestirred himself to take care of the little problem.
And you would die. It would be rigged.
Could you even imagine? Star Wars meets Diablo meets a stealth game. Don’t you want to play this?
Your time would go up on a leaderboard, and everyone would be able to ooh and aah over the hardcore permadeath player who managed to get all the way to seeing Darth Vader and getting her ass kicked. As a reward, if you managed to make it to Jedi Master, your very last skill would be “Blue Glowy.” You’d unlock a special emote for your main character slot that allowed them to summon up the ghosts of every Jedi who had made it that far. So all the bragging rights would carry over to your other character. Heck, I had a picture in my mind of the most amazing player summoning up not one, but a whole set of them — the most badass player would have a coterie of Jedi advisors, hovering around their campfire, as they showed up.
The response to this idea was pretty much “Permadeath?!?” And so Hardcore mode never happened.
Welp. Another brilliant idea cut down before it even had a chance to prove itself.
Again, go read the whole post if you’re interested at all in Star Wars Galaxies. It’s good stuff.