The Star Wars Combine is a free online player-based simulation revolving around the Star Wars universe. First conceived in 1998 it was the brainchild of Frederic Weymann, Jehan Snyers d'Attenhoven, and Mario Dominguez and grew out of the demise of the 'Star Wars Sim' that had existed since 1995. Since its inception in 1999 it has been in a constant state of development, having passed to the hands of d'Attenhoven, a student at the Free University of Brussels.
The Combine is not affiliated with LucasArts in any way, and stands as an entirely fan-developed game. One of its most unique features is that it is developed largely by its players, and in October 2008 it had around 4,100 active members.
Originally realized simply through roleplaying, in February 1999 a Java-based client entitled Combine Commander, or CCom for short, took over much of the gameplay and allowed a client-based game. By April 2000, the game had grown and evolved to the point where two new programs came in to replace the old client, ICIS and Holocom. These would serve as the main force behind the Combine until the loss of several key ICIS developers and slow development forced the administration to begin looking to adopt a new client, if the game was to envelope new features. In late 2003, Darkness was released, replacing the downloaded components of earlier versions, it is a PHP/MySQL based web client that allows far more immersive gameplay than its predecessors. An additional advantage to using a more open development platform was the ability to add new developers with far less time spent on training.
The Combine's most varied attribute is its communication lines. The first is the in-game messaging system. It complete name is Combine Comm.1. Yet, it is known simply, as the Darkness. The Darkness is widely used by players but gradually used less and less as players progress.
The second line of Communication is the IRC Chat. It is used by many, many players and is used as its ability to bring together many players. In fact, the Galactic Empire developed its own set of rules for the IRC.
The third and least commonly used is instant messaging systems. This includes AIM, MSN, and Yahoo's messaging systems.
The last and most commonly used is forums. Everybody in the Combine, has, at one time or another, written in the forums. Yet, the Combine's forums are not the only ones, each faction usually has one. This goes as far as the smallest information faction, to the Empire itself. The forum's, are the most interchangeable, mass information distributor, and reliable communications.
One of the Combine's greatest strengths is its broad diversity of factions that players can join. Each faction is player-created and while some encompass the canonical world of Star Wars such as the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire while, others exist solely in the Combine such as the Eidola Pirates, the New Anzat Order, and the Falleen Federation. There are typically 50-100 active factions ranging from medical factions, to pirates, banks and droid producers. Each faction is comprised of at least 10 players banded together to pursue their in-character goals; however there is no limit to the number of players in a faction and some larger factions include over a hundred members.
The Combine boasts a self-sustaining economy that overarches just about every action in the game. Players are now required to mine raw materials through mining factions and then process them through individual production factions in order to build ships, vehicles or any other in-game entities. These are then bought, sold and destroyed between the player-base.
The ability to produce ships, droids, vehicles and other assets was released belatedly in mid-late 2006 allowing a new influx on assets into combine and sending prices falling (there was much rejoicing by the players who were sick of high prices).
The Economy has two major sources of direct income being Facility income (provided when you manage certain types of facilities) and Taxes (only available to government type factions. That is the main source of money flowing into the game, the money is then distributed (theoretically anyway) to all other groups through the trade and purchase of goods/services.
One of the long-standing thorns in the Combine's side is its lack of player-vs-player combat usually seen in other MMORPGs. Originally not wanting to release any form of combat that could be seen as potentially biased to particular factions due to an incomplete feature being abused, the development team has recently begun releasing and discussing quick-fix patches to allow some form of retribution between players.
In addition to its gaming aspects, the Combine is also a significant academic tool and testing ground for new ideas. It has been host to several studies by students studying psychology, and it has been used to test emerging web technologies in a fairly large-scale environment. Several studies have been conducted in the past two years and include a study designed to test the feasibility of web services designed to allow 3rd party management of characters and the associated trust/security risks, such as cheating. A number of faction websites currently use web services to provide streaming feeds of the Galactic News Service (an in-game news service) to their members, and the original Galactic Market used web services to verify accounts.