Star Wars starts to live online

by Mark Ward, BBC News Online technology correspondent at News BBC

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Slowly but surely the Star Wars galaxy is moving from deep space to cyberspace.

Until now the Star Wars films have provided the broad setting of the story, but this is about to change with the release of the online role-playing game Star Wars: Galaxies.

The computer game - which will be released in the US in December - contains locations familiar from the films but reveals them in more detail than ever before.

"It will allow people to live out their lives in the Star Wars universe and so many people have wanted to do that," said Tom Sarris, spokesman for Lucas Arts. "We're allowing people to create their own destiny."

Living locations

It happens in the year that Lucas Arts, the games arm of George Lucas' empire, celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Mr Sarris said that since Lucas Arts' inception, its job has been to provide fans with much more than they could from the films.

"George Lucas always wanted the company to be able to tell stories in a depth that could not be done on the film set," he said.

The forthcoming Bounty Hunter game for the Playstation 2 lets players take over the role of Jango Fett in a story set just before the events of Episode II - Attack of the Clone.

Although previous Star Wars games have expanded small parts of the story's setting, Galaxies goes much further.

Mr Sarris said that the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker first meets Han Solo and Chewbacca in Episode IV, will take a game character 55 minutes just to walk across, let alone fully explore.

All the locations within Star Wars: Galaxies have been drawn up with the help of the so-called keepers of the canon at Lucas Licensing who make sure that everything is coherent.

Title fight

Mr Sarris said Hayden Blackman, lead producer on Galaxies, drew up a 25 question Star Wars trivia test for those applying to be his assistant and gave the job to the person who got all 25 correct.

Star Wars: Galaxies is set in the classic era of the story during the Galaxy-wide war brought about by the destruction of the first Death Star.

But in the games company's 20th year, Mr Sarris said there was more to it than just expanding the Star Wars galaxy.

The fact that it could almost depend on making money by exploiting interest in Star Wars meant it also had freedom to experiment with games and storylines, said Mr Sarris.

In the past it has developed popular cartoon adventures such as Sam and Max, Grim Fandango, and Full Throttle.

A sequel to Sam and Max was being developed, said Mr Sarris, and the fourth instalment in the Monkey Island series of games.

But the company was also working on new games all of its own, he said.

One blood and sandals epic called Gladius puts the player in charge of a team of gladiators who must fight to survive in the arena against other teams.

"It's an accomplishment to have survived for 20 years," said Mr Sarris, "There are not many companies that have been around in the entertainment space for that long."