With one week to go before it's shut down, we search a nearly empty MMO Star Wars Galaxies for other users.
After my time spent learning the complexities of dance animations in Galaxies' tutorial, I've landed on Mos Eisley - the Star Wars sandpit just over the road from Luke Skywalker's homestead. Mos Eisley is a big town of sand corridors and buildings that seem to grow into one another like a patchwork wall of beige graphics. Not unlike its film counterpart, Mos is rough around the edges; unlike the film counterpart this comes down to bugs and a lack of in-house cleaning in SOE's programming while the game gets ready to be laid to rest. Walking down the streets you can see NPCs leaning against buildings, some facing the wrong direction and propping themselves against objects using their faces, their backs turned to the user in an eerily depressing display of what it must feel like to be a dejected NPC in a dying MMO.
I begin to explore this land as part of my ongoing attempt to find other users on my server, but between the Arctic silence of this Mos ghost town and the fact that the families of twin orange buildings make every turn like being lost in a funhouse, I somehow lose my bearings. I bring up my map:
Good, there I am - between the 20 identical opaque green quadrangles, underneath the walls of overlapping hieroglyphic text. Instinct tells me the best place to aim for is the Cantina, so I begin my eight-minute search for text that alludes to that area. Cloning facility, Guild Hall, Guild Hall, Terminal, Guild Hall, Terminal, Cantina - got it.
I keep my eyes peeled for other users along the way. Some NPCs have been programmed to patrol certain areas, something that has me stop in my tracks every time their movement catches my eye while I try to make out whether or not they are actually human. I see movement up ahead.
No, just a bot. 20 minutes into Mos Eisley and I begin to explore the Cantina. The area upstairs is hot with NPCs, but no signs of life. Where do we go from here, then?
I try the Spaceport to explore different Cantinas at different locations. I click on Anchorhead, one of the first settlements on Tatooine, and once landed I leg it for the nearest bar. Still nothing but the mechanical clicks of the odd strolling robot outside, and inside it's not much better. Two NPCs stand uninterested against their nearest walls, but I notice a path down to the Cantina's basement. Maybe there is something of interest there?
The basement is made up of cement-like bunkers - some of which are massive, but utterly devoid of any objects. Still no-one here, so I continue on, back to the Spaceport.
Bringing up the Spaceport map, I scour the overlapping text for my next destination and decide "Amigoville" sounds like the likeliest place to find other users. Amigoville is a custom-made city run by three SWG users, something the game points out to you when you enter. I'm told to become a citizen I must first contact Big-Lovins, Rowook, or Snoop-dog. Usernames! Evidence of other users! I immediately try to message them but to no avail, as each message bounces back to tell me they are not online.
I soon begin to wonder whether this is just the destiny of GirlOfYRDreams - lone wolf of the galaxies, dancing alone in Cantinas while SWG's doomsday clock ticks on. I leave Amigoville for Bestine, to give it one more try before I give up my search for the night.
I land in one more empty desert, a few bots patrolling up north. But wait - what's that? What dance moves from yonder Cantina break? I see movements that seem too calculated to be non-human, and I race toward them.
I fumble a "helloo? Heello. Hi." And they speak in return. And oh the glee. After days of deathly silence I walk in on the Wookie dancing alone next to an NPC, seemingly at home in an MMO that's been empty for weeks, and join him in a 10 minute dance-off before we finally part ways again. With only eight users online throughout the entire server, we represent some of the very few with plans to stick around until the game's final days. The next week will be its last week live, after eight years; tune in then to see if it ends with a fizzle or a bang.