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Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk! July 18, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Misc MMOs, Sony Online Entertainment.
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As part of the discussion of the player reaction to the shutting down of Star Wars Galaxies, Bhagpuss brought up the fact that there were a couple of SWG emulation projects going on, and that this might allow people to continue to experience SWG after the December 15th shut down of the game.  They are, if you are interested:

They were once the same project, but branched over some sort of “tastes great/less filling”  argument.  Both continue along the line of emulating Pre-NGE SWG, which was what got them started in the first place.  That there will soon be no Post-NGE SWG has not changed that.

Emulation seems to live in a gray area in the world of MMOs.  Following certain guidelines, they are not really “pirate” servers engaging in outright theft of a game.  On the other hand, they do encroach on the work of others, so to say they are merely “private” servers does not cover things as well.  Occasionally somebody throws around the term “fair use,” but apparently only to show they don’t know what the hell the term means in any sort of legal sense and are generally engaged in something closer to “wishful thinking.”

This picture might actually constitute fair use

Still, where there is a will, there is a way… or at least a few people willing to give it a shot.

An MMO emulation project usually consists of somebody reverse engineering their own version of the server side software of an MMO.  When the server side emulation of the game is ready, the players then use the client from the original game to connect.  This is done by altering the client so that it connects to the emulation rather than the original game login server.

Such server emulators are available for Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and as we have discussed here before, EverQuest.

There are, of course, legal issues involved here.  And while nobody can ever really predict who will sue whom for what here in the US, the urban legend level consensus seems to be that if can avoid the following, you and your emulation project will be safe:

  1. Don’t Charge – If you set up an emulation of an online game and you charge people money to use the game then you are clearly attempting to profit from somebody elses work, as in the case of Scapegaming, which brought in 3 million dollars in revenue from their private WoW server.
  2. Don’t Use Source Code – Game companies do not make a habit of handing out their source code, but leaks do happen from time to time.  Taking advantage of such a leak can tee you up for a lawsuit.
  3. Don’t Violate DMCA – Ah, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, everybody’s favorite piece of legislation.  Circumventing security or encryption can get you in trouble here.  This was the other part of the Scapegaming case, the part that drove the award against them to $88 million.
  4. Don’t Distribute the Client – This is the part of the game that the end users needs to connect to your emulator, but it is also where all the copyrighted and trademarked material resides.

Following the above four rules will probably grant you about the same legal shielding that arguing that you don’t have to pay US income taxes because the statute behind it is flawed or the whole thing is an illicit conspiracy; which is to say, none at all.  Blizzard and Nexon, for example, quite actively go after any emulations of their game, though at least in the case of Blizzard I couldn’t tell you how you would do that without tripping over alleged rule #3.

But for some, life seems okay.  The EverQuest emulation community for example seems to have quite a few options, with everything from “real” 1999 style servers to happy solo-friendly romps through Norrath to new original content on top of the game, and Sony lawyers haven’t shut them down.

And, as an end user, as a player, these issues do not really come into play directly, except in the broader sense of there being a private emulation of your game of choice being available to you.  The companies in question are unlikely to spend time going after individual users when their goals can be accomplished by shutting down a server.

Except for one detail; the game client.

The game client is the one thing you need as an end user to be able to participate on these servers.

From what I have seen, a lot of the trouble of being able to play on these servers is getting the right version of the client.  EverQuest emulation, for example, seems to have a couple of very specific starting points, all of them older distributions of the game.

And for the Star Wars Galaxies emulators I listed way back at the start of this post, they will require a fresh, unpatched install from the original game disks.  No expansions, no compilations, no trial versions, no starter kit, no complete edition, no total experience, just the original distribution.

That original disk is a pretty rare bird already.  And you can bet if anybody tries to distribute copies of it LucasArts will jump on them right away.

So if you think SWG emulation is in your future, I hope you have that disk.

And if you don’t play on playing but have that disk sitting on a shelf somewhere, it might have some value on eBay at some point in the future.

Are you planning to play?  Or planning to sell?

Is anybody else planning to emulate the game?

And will LucasArts jump on these guys as soon as SWG is closed?

Comments»

1. TheRemedy - July 18, 2011

It’s silly to think that the original client isn’t already out on a torrent somewhere and probably has been for a few years. If someone is interested in the emulated game I’m sure that’s the first place they will look.

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2. Wilhelm Arcturus - July 18, 2011

@TheRemedy – That would not be the first place *I* would look. In fact, I view grabbing something from a torrent to be a security risk and would decline to do so were that my only option.

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3. Anonymous - July 18, 2011

no NGE?

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4. Stabs - July 18, 2011

I do have my disks and I’ll hang on to them for now.

I’ve always been leery of emulators because the quality and stability is often not very good. I don’t think it would be much fun playing a MMO where there’s a risk that your entire inventory might disappear due to a glitch. Not to mention the legal risk. As much as I try to play for the moment there is an inevitable feeling that one is earning future fun through present grind at times in any mmo.

I would be fairly astonished if Lucas and EA don’t shut these down around the time of SWTOR’s launch. I hope not, I think they are worthy projects and clearly provide fun to some people. But they just closed down a rival SW MMO for the simple reason that some fans might prefer to play that than SWTOR – and that was one Lucas was getting money from. Can’t see them allowing someone to compete for free after they refused SOE.

It could of course be beneath the radar. In which case, may I gently suggest that we refrain from blogging any further about it.

Looking at the larger picture games copyright is clearly borked. It’s bad law, law designed in the seventeenth century to protect book publishers and writers. For a video game I’d like to see 20 years from publication. That’s plenty of time to make your money and it would mean Civilisation, Lemmings, Sonic and Zelda would become public domain this year. Sid Meier would still be able to make Civ games but other people could also legitimately make Civ clones (which is happening anyway, just not legitimately).

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5. HarbingerZero - July 18, 2011

I’ve been curious about this myself, in particular who or how you enforce a copyright on something that no longer exists. Copyright laws are theoretically about intellectual property, but in reality they are about money. Sony, at least, can’t go in and say “hey, we’re losing money because of these guys.” LucasArts might be another matter. But then, what is the statute of limitations on this? If LucasArts knew these servers existed (and who are we kidding, they know) and failed to enforce their copyright (which is their responsibility) for the last 6 years, they may be out of luck.

And I agree with Stabs, the laws are borked here. 20 years is still too long. At the current pace of life, 10-15 years is sufficient.

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6. TheRemedy - July 18, 2011

If you hate torrents that much you better go back in time and unbuy your digital copy of Cataclysm that you got through Blizzard’s torrent then.

Kidding aside, I was only making generalizations. It’s a security risk even signing up and playing on one of these servers so I doubt most people will care if they take one more security risk in downloading the client via torrent.

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7. sente - July 18, 2011

For #4 it is rather “do not distribute the original client” – they do distribute a separate client, but one which is text only. This is probably also to try to avoid any legal issues, since players will not be forced to use the SOE client in order to connect to and use the server emulations.

The server side might be on safer ground, but players who use the SOE client may be at risk – but more difficult for SOE/LA to go after, at least if they were looking to get some money out of legal action.

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8. Wilhelm Arcturus - July 18, 2011

@Sente – I did not know that. But then this post was pretty much a compilation of everything I knew about emulated MMOs up to this point, which explains why it is so long for the topic at hand (need disks) and yet not really that long at all (because I know so little).

And I think that SOE/LA going after individuals would be counterproductive as well. They want them to spend money on other products, so creating more grudge bearing consumers won’t help them.

@TheRemedy – Damn, I meant to write “some anonymous torrent,” because I knew Blizz’s delivery method. (And have complained about it for quite a while.) Still, in my defense I always turn off the peer-to-peer option and make Blizzard carry the whole burden.

But yes, at this point me writing about these worlds is like me writing about donkey shows in Tijuana… all theory, no real experience.

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9. Brian 'Psychochild' Green - July 19, 2011

I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, etc.

Ultimately, it’s about keeping your head down and not getting sued. If you’re low profile enough, you can get away with it even if what you’re doing is technically illegal. It’s not like the law enforcement goes around sniffing hard drives for emulation code. (Yet.)

That said, Lucas’ operations are known for being particularly litigious. They might be a bit more enthusiastic about enforcement than your typical game company if they get wind of it. So, use at your own peril.

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10. Stabs - July 19, 2011

Copyright laws are theoretically about intellectual property, but in reality they are about money. Sony, at least, can’t go in and say “hey, we’re losing money because of these guys.” LucasArts might be another matter. But then, what is the statute of limitations on this? If LucasArts knew these servers existed (and who are we kidding, they know) and failed to enforce their copyright (which is their responsibility) for the last 6 years, they may be out of luck.

Just to repeat what Wilhelm said and what Brian re-iterated you can’t argue a case for copyright infringement if the IP holder wants to enfore their rights. They knew we were doing it is not a defence. They never bothered before is not a defence.

They OWN this. If you are in the habit of borrowing someone else’s bike to cycle to work then one day it’s padlocked you have no rights to ride it.

There’s even reasons but I won’t go into them now because they’re a red herring and too often in these threads once one side starts going into reasons why copyright should be enforced the other side starts to rule lawyer them.

They can shut down anything that uses their copyright. Just because it’s theirs. They can do this as long as the copyright lasts which is either 70 years after the creators’ deaths or 95 years after publication (depending on the work).

Running an EMU is about two things – staying under the radar and the sympathy of the rights holders. If the number of people involved in SWGEMU stays small and LA sees that it’s a labour of love by people who adore the IP they may refrain from crushing it. Certainly Smed has been openly sympathetic to EMUs once or twice in the past.

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11. HarbingerZero - July 19, 2011

Non-enforcement has been a successful defense used many times over in civil contracts. That’s a hop/skip/jump away from what we are talking about here. Either way, you’re right, I don’t know of a case where that has been used in EMU defense. And we probably won’t ever get to the point of seeing it either.

And don’t kid yourself about 70 or 95 years or any of that other BS. Copyrights currently exist into perpetuity, whether you file the extension paperwork or not. See also: FunCom and Conan…

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12. Rothmog - July 19, 2011

I think I still have my original box and disks. Will check when I get home from work. I still have my other more current MMO boxes…even EVE Online (orginal release).

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13. Wilhelm Arcturus - July 20, 2011

Somebody whispered in my ear that SWG Emu will actually work with any currently installed version of SWG. We shall see.

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14. Rothmog - July 20, 2011

I cracked open my box of old PC games…and yes, I do have my original play disks. Guess I will have to check this out.

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15. Lumin - July 20, 2011

This is probably the best time to get into SWGEMU. As people are leaving the official servers, they will be coming to the emulators. This could be the perfect opportunity to jump-start new communities.

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16. redheadedtim - July 20, 2011

You can use any set of SWG install disks, not just the original ones that were released. Basically they don’t support the trial client. Anything else seems to go.

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17. Wilhelm Arcturus - July 20, 2011

@RHT – Is that for SWG Emu, SWG: ANH, or both?

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18. redheadedtim - July 20, 2011

I know it’s the SWG Emu policy. I can’t speak to ANH as I don’t follow them, though they have a cool website. Last time I checked, Emu was way ahead of ANH as far as publicly available servers went. That may have changed since Feb. I’m stickin w/ EMU for now.

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19. Ian - January 24, 2012

Early January 2012 Update

SWGEmu runs two servers – a “play” server on old code called Liberator, and Test Center:Nova, which is where their rewritten code base lives. Liberator will be wiped and TC:Nova is going to become the “play” server once certain feature milestones are hit, and TC:Nova just had a stress test, which is passed.

The big things Liberator are missing is housing and vendors ; they are in the current Nova code. Combat works, most missions work, crafting works, the economy works.

SWGAnh is more alive than it looks, having just completed their own rewrite that allows Python scripts to run most of the game functions, enable quests, and so on. Regrettably, they dont have any public test servers.

I’d encourage anyone with a SWG disks, a Steam install or some other legal SWG client to have a look :)

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20. Mmorp emulat | Monaschilling - July 13, 2012

[...] Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk …Jul 18, 2011 … An MMO emulation project usually consists of somebody reverse engineering their own version of the server side software of an MMO. [...]

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21. Tosche Station - July 5, 2013

If anyone reading has an interest in playtesting for SWGEmu, there are a few things you should keep in mind;

1). If you’re never played Star Wars Galaxies at all, you’re gonna have a bad time. The SWGEMU community is comprised of diehard SWG players who put on a good show of being friendly and helpful, until you start asking questions they don’t know the answers to. Then you’ll discover just how insular the SWGEMU community is, and the fact of the matter is that the majority of those diehards are every bit as clueless as you are.

2). If you played SWG, but not until after the Combat Upgrade or the New Game Experience, you’re gonna have a bad time. The Combat Upgrade was implemented for a reason, and it wasn’t because SOE’s development team were idiots…..it’s became combat in SWG at its inception absolutely sucked. And you’re going to find that out, and you’re going to be amazed at how so many people are willing to devote so many hours (we’re talking THOUSANDS of hours here) into hardcore grinding using the pre-CU combat system. They’ll cite nostalgia and how REAL SWGers did things the hard way uphill in the snow, and you’ll slowly back away and rethink your own life.

3). If you’re interested in SWGEMU for the 3d space combat, you’re gonna have a bad time, because it isn’t implemented yet (as of July 2013), and I doubt very seriously it ever will be. The developers say they’re committed to implementing it, but consider this. They still haven’t figured out how to get droid and creature pets to work. They still haven’t figured out how to get monsters from following your character all the way across a world, into a city, even into a cantina. My heart tells me it will be a very long time before these gamebreaking issues are addressed. Don’t count on ever flying your TIE Fighter or X-Wing.

4). If you don’t have an exceptionally thick skin, you’re gonna have a bad time. The SWGEMU deveolpers and “staff” (i.e. volunteers who don’t get paid, and will go out of their way at every opportunity to remind you of this…) aren’t the most cordial human beings on the planet (to be perfectly honest, they’re condescending jerks; classic IT and network administration), and God help you if you dare to ask a question on the forums that’s addressed in the stickies at the tops of the page (sandwiched into links to 8+ year-old guides that are almost completely useless in the SWGEMU environment). From the developers to the forum moderater(s) all the way down to the more vocal guild leaders, you should be prepared to deal with people who hate themselves almost as much as they hate you. And believe you me, they WILL get under your skin, taking out their own frustrations on anyone who dares voice concerns over the project. The concept of “fun” is apparently alien to everyone involved, and they view SWGEMU more as a technical exercise to see just how much they can emulate a game, caring not one bit if anyone playing actually enjoys it.

5). If you’re expecting a gameplay experience that’s even halfway playable, you’re definitely gonna have a bad time. The developers, for whatever reason, have chosen to put playtesters in the environment long before they should have, resulting in a “game” in which one is constantly working around game-breaking bugs and unimplemented features on a daily (realistically, hourly) basis. Want to build droids? Well you can build their parts, but you can’t make them, sorry. Want to have a pet womprat? Sorry, you can’t. Want to use camouflage kits? Nope. At this point, pretty much all you can do is spam 1 or 2 attacks until your enemy is dead….about as much depth as Clone Wars Adventures, except with dated graphics and no space combat. It’s a constant guessing game leveling up about which skills actually work and which are broken. Don’t waste your breath asking other players either. An alarmingly sizable chunk of them have been spamming skills that have never worked for months and don’t even realize it.

6). If you suffer from OCD, are unemployed or a stay-at-home mom, spend all your free time on the internet, or generally have absolutely nothing better to do, then I think you’ll fit right in the SWGEMU community. I honestly don’t mean to belittle the players (or the staff for that matter, although they most certainly deserve it), you just really need to know what you’re getting into. Don’t expect a strong sense of community….try to understand, Star Wars Galaxies was a game that was designed to be played away from keyboard, and that hasn’t changed in SWGEMU, in fact it’s intensified. Other than meeting up to get buffs, or buy goods, most SWGEMU playtesters do so by themselves, using two of their own characters at the same time (which was not possible in the actual game, and all this accomplishes is a false inflation of total participants). SWG was notorious for being a hardcore grinding game, with no content and even less reward. But it unquestionably has its fanbase.
SWGEMU is monetarily free, but you will pay a hefty price in time, frustration and futility. It will never reach its “goal” of achieving total emulation of the game prior to the combat upgrade, which is perfectly understandable…after all, they’re reverse engineering (at least they say they are) billions of lines of code to recreate the game from the inside out, and as they’re keen to point out at every opportunity, they’re doing it for free. But realistically, SWGEMU probably won’t even reach 50% of its “goal”, at least not within the next year or two (more realistically 5 years, and there probably still won’t be space combat or pets). By all means give it a try, but don’t expect….well don’t expect anything at all.

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22. Anonymous - April 21, 2014

The above post should not scare you off it is just one person who had a bad experience and wants to cry somewhere. SWG-Emu is fun and enjoyable to play even without many things in the game yet,

There are some points above that are true and others are just flat out opinions and not based on a general as a whole facts vs 1 persons experience.

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