I've spent three weeks trying to celebrate SWG's own personal Doomsday by perfecting my rendition of John Belushi's soul jive dance in Blues Brothers, which is basically what you should expect to see during the last gasp of an MMO. In the meditative stillness of an empty-as-hell content vacuum that is an MMO in its dying stages, the best you can do is dance. You take everything you learned in that Fresher's Week of a tutorial, then realise that everything you learned there is about as useful as an extensive knowledge of backyard wrestling when you're stuck on the lower decks of the Titanic. Hell with it, I'll dance on my sinking ship. Tell me there isn't a fine metaphor in that about tragedy, or loss, or the inevitable end of all of it.
Stuck in a chair.
It's just not often in games that you find yourself in a situation where a product is about to get wiped from the face of the planet. That's partly why I started this feature in the first place. For every person who longs for those halcyon days of early Sonic, and for every person who weeps for their lost childhood like an Arabic widow when they see a ZX Spectrum gathering dust in Pop's Crap Emporium, at least the objects of their affection still exist in this world, even with the fans ululating over it like it represents some form of cultural demise.
MMOs don't get so lucky. Someone in marketing might suggest something about maybe, sort of going free-to-play to the skeleton crew still working on an early 2000s MMO like Dark Age of Camelot, but when MMOs die you're not going to find any part of it floating around on eBay for a quid.
That's the thing, MMOs die. MMOs die all the bloody time. And if you're lucky, in return you'll get the kind of stuff your Mother-in-Law leaves you in the dregs of her will - all of the years of forgotten photo albums, but in this case they're all yours that have been accumulated after half a decade of screenshotting your way through levels. Our very own Andy Cole stopped programming for long enough to send me some of his early screens without breaking the website, and it shows us what SWG looks like when it's not on a ventilator: it's roughly 78 per cent dancing. It's alive. It shows a population that's interacting.
Compare that to SWG, which over the last couple weeks has been like walking into an old family home after the movers have rid it of furniture, only they've nicked the fridge and sinks too. Only in this metaphor, by the way, there's an asteroid heading this way to obliterate every cell from the wood panelling and copper wire that couldn't be stripped out fast enough. Trying to manufacture the same feelings you had about home for the inside of an empty building is an inherently stupid task, but it's hard not to feel something: Unbridled pity.
It's sad to see something that once had this much life in it dissolve, and I say that as someone who had already developed a healthy disinterest in the game by 2005, when the New Game Experience was borne out of a marketing meeting's bowels as a way of simplifying the game for a new audience. I say that as someone who thinks that anyone who's busy spitting at The Old Republic for cramping SWG's style is presumably the same sort of person who would throw away their telephones because overhearing truck drivers through their HAM radio is more "real". But I also say that as someone who can see, with the clearest of vision, the kind of home SWG once was.
A week ago you could hear the odd whirr of motorbikes and bots cycling on repeat through programmed audio, which suggested something of a city. Littered around town you could see the named houses of old, long-forgotten users, suggesting a player-base who were happy just to make content in a game. You could find the odd users dancing alone next to NPCs, which showed beyond anything else SWG's human heart. It's a proper and true gamer heart: somebody who will spend their time levelling their dance skill for the hell of it - because levelling is fun, and dancing is fun, and why the hell not dance? It's worth pointing how its users are supporting the end of the game during its final hours now - by being together:
Most journalists have been doing the rounds this week announcing the good news of TOR's early access with the fervour of a thousand early-morning Jehovah's Witnesses. So far the pre-access is already looking like a success, but it's hard not to take the end of SWG without the context of BioWare impeding on the brand name. While TOR is smoothly making its way to the top, SOE's side of the galaxy is about to go lights out for the final time, eclipsed by a slightly more modern era of game design.
Maybe it is the end of an era. Or maybe it's just business. I don't know, maybe I'll just dance here a while longer.