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Where No Game Has Gone Before - Star Trek Online Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 09:04am 15/01/10 | Comments
AusGamers talks bringing the gaming masses to the Trek universe with Star Trek Online's Craig Zinkievich...

AusGamers: Star Trek is such a beloved franchise with larger-than-life characters - how hard has it been to craft a MMO with equally compelling characters (and character creation) through missions and exploration? What core element did you take from the TV series/movies to achieve this?

Craig Zinkievich: Hard. And yet... not so hard.

The Star Trek universe is one of the premiere science fiction franchises of all time and has incredibly rich and unique worlds and cultures that offer us, as game developers, a wonderful setting to create a dynamic and interesting gameplay experience. That makes hitting the ground running easy. Also, the STO team at Cryptic Studios is full of Star Trek fans and we love working on the IP. Still, the IP does require us to do things certain ways. And there are huge fan expectations. Ultimately, we have to balance it all. Balance is always the hard part.

In terms of core elements, one of the things we are really excited about with STO is that we offer players both story-based and open-ended gameplay. Star Trek Online delivers a lot of content chunks that we call "Episodes". The player will be directed through different locations and situations and will follow interesting story lines that can be stand alone episodes or part of a larger story arc. Episodes are a core component of the fiction. They pace gameplay and lead players from space to ground to a different ground and back to space, always keeping things exciting.

Players will also get to experience content as they want to with our exploration and Player vs Player features. At almost any time in the game the player can choose to just "explore", visit a star cluster and get to see something new and exciting. Similarly if they don’t want to follow the main story of the game through the episodes they can always do PvP and progress.

AG: It's said players won't initially be able to explore their vessel beyond the bridge - why is that? How long until we can, and will it only be key areas (such as engineering, sick bay or ten-forward)?

Craig: At launch, you'll be able to visit your bridge on your ship and there are a couple other notable starship locations we have in-game. Why we focused on those is a simple answer any game developer will understand but something not a lot of users appreciate... Feature creep! It's important for a developer to draw the line somewhere. "This far and no further!", as Picard would say. We could have quite literally spent our entire development cycle making rooms on starships. Think about how many different types of Federation ships there are. To be complete we'd have to do rooms and designs for TOS era, TNG era, late DS9 and our own 2409. Then we'd have to make sure we did variants for different types of ships - Enterprise vs Excelsior and that sort of thing. Then we'd have to do other races... it could stack infinitely.

So, instead of doing that we focused on the game. What will be a good Star Trek game? That's what we tried to make. We didn't go for a good Star Trek walkabout. We went for a game.

Of course, ours is an MMO. The beauty of a persistent world is that we can and will add to it. Constantly. The community will largely determine what we put in, but more in-depth, customisable starship interiors is definitely on one of our lists.

AG: How will any guild system work? Will players be locked to specific factions (ie Klingons, Ferringhi, Cardassian)? And how will any or all of this work with the information that players will be able to create entirely new races?

Craig: At launch, Star Trek Online predominantly focuses on the Federation for PvE content with Klingons pulling in some serious PvP. So, it's not that players get locked into those other factions and certainly not for guilds. Of course, players can create Klingon-only guilds (go nuts), but it's our hope players will experience the entirety of the game. Kind of like buying Halo for the story but also playing deathmatch. It's not either/or. Why should our game be?

Players can indeed also create new races for their characters, but they'd still be a part of the Federation, for example.

AG: Will there be an overall good vs evil story arc? For example, will the Federation be at war with Klingons or the Borg? And with any such arc, will there be a core 'end game' direction for players?

Craig: We definitely have a primary story arc. And we definitely have villains. Right now we break the story up into what we call seasons (acts or chapters would also work). Each season contains its own hubs and episodes (or missions). Borg, Klingons, Romulans, Caradassians - they're all there. We even have a few surprises, too.

AG: Can you explain how the levelling and XP system will work? What is the game's level cap?

Craig: As you gain skills points and experience you will be able to move up through the ranks. You don't level in this game as much as you rank - start as an Ensign and move all the way up to Admiral.

AG: Will ships travel between planets in true geometry through any form of warp speed? If so, how big is the actual game universe? Will players be able to visit the Badlands and wind up in the Delta Quadrant?

Craig: Badlands, absolutely. True geometry, no way. Asking anyone to model an entire galaxy is well... impossible. We have literally thousands of systems to visit, but those are connected using our sector maps, which can be thought of as fully navigable overworld maps.

AG: Can you explain how any PvP will work? Will it encompass both ship-to-ship combat and the surface-world run-and-gun combat so far revealed?

Craig: Both, correct. But, not at the same time. For instance, you cannot be fighting in space and on the ground in a single match.

AG: Will there be any classic, hidden planets from the original series (such as the Nazi planet?)

Craig: Definitely! You can't make a Star Trek game without Vulcan, Andoria, Qo'noS, etc. There are lots of other cameos... Guardian of Forever, for instance.

AG: Beyond character creation, how will ships work? Will players earn new vessels through mission rewards? Is there any customisation?

Craig: You will be able to earn new ships as you earn merit and move up through ranks. But what is also nice is that you will be able to keep ships so when you get a new one it's not like you have to bid your other ship farewell.
There is a lot of room for customisation, but it's limited within configurations. We want all of the ships to look "Trek," so there are some limits on colour palettes, etc. And we want players to be able to look at a ship and know something about it – "that's a Defiant configuration, so I know about what it can do." Or "that's a Raptor, so I've got to be careful of its forward attack." Ships will never be so customised that their general configuration is unrecognisable.

AG: Will there be any form of farming such as finding dilithium crystals, trading bars of latinum etc?

Craig: It's not our intention to have "farming" in STO. Players can find alien artefacts and minerals throughout their adventure, but there's not a traditional MMO gathering mechanic.

AG: So much of Star Trek's memorable action moments stem from the ship's crew working collectively as a team - will there be any micro-management with crew-members? Such as being able to boost engineering capabilities, linguistics or science?

Craig: A lot of your success will depend on your crew. How you rank them up, what special abilities you give them, which crew members you slot during ship battle is also important because each will have their own abilities. That being said, players do not have to micromanage every action, no. Players perform the actions directly (shoot, power distribution, shields, navigation). Players do not manipulate avatars that perform the actions in their stead.

AG: Do you plan on evolving the game universe over time? For example, World of WarCraft has often decimated entire areas with outcomes from previous instance directions, etc... will we see anything like this within Star Trek Online?

Craig: Of course. It's an MMO we're making. We'll expand and alter the universe as the game progresses in fun and exciting ways, certainly.

Latest Comments
Posted 05:41pm 15/1/10
I have been trying the beta today.

I dont feel like the game is immersive from the time i have played it. It is pretty easy to get used to the controls etc.

The ranking system i think could of been presented better otherwise I think this just might be a weekend game for me when release comes out.
Posted 10:29pm 15/1/10
It will be interesting to see how many Eve Online players it will attract, and then keep.
Posted 11:35pm 15/1/10
Hmm, have to say that the beta will have to shine up a massive amount to get close to eve online, and the ground based combat needs even more work - considering that release isn't too far off (at least, from what I've heard) I'm not sure how much they can change it at this point.

Still, I love the concept - ground and space combat missions bridged by normal/warp travel works pretty well, and the instanced fleet missions and things are a good idea.

Best of luck to the folks working on it in any case, would like to see more mmo's set in technologically advanced timelines be successful as opposed to the standard fare sword and magic ones.
Posted 12:10am 16/1/10
This game needs HEAPS more polish before launch. The guts of it are there, just it is pretty messy.
Posted 01:31pm 18/1/10
i smell fail....hopefully my senses a wrong...after playing beta...
Posted 01:35pm 18/1/10
a good mmorpg to me in eg. im in a room, theres a bed, a kitchen a table, maybe a fire, what ever....if i cant do something as simple as turning the tap on or lighting the fire, sitting on the chairs, instead somethings telling me just to move to another room to talk to one npc then press 1, and occasionally 2 to kill something and move on..i facepalm myself. IMMERSION!
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