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Wretched Hives of Online Scum and Villainy

Despite the beauty of the world, it would be static if there weren't players to populate it. The character generation system is advanced, with eight different player races to choose from and almost infinite variety available with regard to their skin color, clothes, hairstyles, and more. "You need to have variety," Blackman explained, showing off a system wherein players could stretch and deform their faces when generating a new character. This ensures that everyone can have their own unique online identity. Races include a familiar array of Star Wars favorites, such as Wookies (Chewbacca), Mon Calimari (Admiral Ackbar) and Zabrak (Darth Maul.) Creating a Zabrak? You can enjoy painting yourself with the elaborate tatoos that helped make the species so menacing.

There are humans, too, of course. And yes: You'll be able to play for the Empire, crushing the fledgling revolution in the iron hands of the emperor, instilling abject fear of his authority throughout the cosmos.

Want to play a Jedi Knight? The road is not an easy one. Jedi in this era are, as Blackman described, "Mysterious and rare, cool and special." If you wish to become one, your every action is taken into account by the game. The skills are complex and faltering along the way may result in losing your abilities.

It's the Economy, Stupid

"We're aiming for a player-driven economy," Koster explained. "One thing we've learned [from previous online RPG development] is that the more you mess with the economy, the more you screw it up." As such, there's PLENTY of things for your character to buy and do. Trade skills will be important, as they were in Ultima Online. One particularly innocent example: Hairstyling. If you can develop this skill you'll be able to give people in the game new hairstyles that they couldn't get elsewhere. Since people love to differentiate themselves online they'll pay for the service. More practical, though, are skills like Droid building or maintenance, which can net you a pretty profit if you're good at it.

You'll recall my earlier description of the speeder? "You'll be able to buy them," Blackman said. "And joyride them!" With planets so vast, the ability to buy transportation is important. You can also buy or train mounts to ride.

And of course it wouldn't be Star Wars without droids. "Droids!" exclaimed Koster. "Buy them! Build them!" These are, in fact, the droids you're looking for. You'll be able to program rudimentary functionality into them with a scripting language similar to the way you program Lego Mindstorms. They can guard your moisture farms while you're offline (yes, moisture farming is a skill). Because different languages are incorporated into the game, having a protocol droid might come in handy. They'll also give you new abilities, such as hacking into computers, R2D2 style.

As in Ultima Online, players will be able to build their own buildings. But the designers have learned from the mistakes of the first generations of online graphical RPGs. For one thing, real estate isn't at a premium -- the worlds are huge, and building a town in uncharted territory can be a profitable enterprise. Wealthy players will be able to build and decorate their own structures -- anything from desert huts to battle stations with walls and generators and armed automated defense turrets. Once you build a spaceport your town will be linked to all the others for quick transit.

To help moderate the towns, players building up an area will be able to elect a fellow player as the "mayor" of an area (there are political skills to develop to assist you with this). The Mayor will be able to set the laws of a given town, setting automated systems to help keep order.

Next: Gameplay, the Skill System, and Space Travel

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