1up: Producer Interview
Star Trek Online has had a troubled past, and has seen much adversity as it tries to find its place in the universe -- much like Khan Noonien Singh. After first being developed by Perpetual Entertainment over the course of four years, the studio filed for bankruptcy, and Cryptic Studios (famous for its City of Heroes and City of Villains games) then picked up the license. After that, the information flow about STO became a slow trickle. But over the last few months, said trickle has turned to a stream, as more and more screenshots have been released as well as new information on the starships players will be able to control. Recently, we had a chance for an email Q&A with executive producer Craig Zinkievich, and ended up asking some nerd-core questions to get a better idea on how the game is coming along.http://www.1up.com/do/previewPage?cId=3174863
1UP: Knowing that the recent film, Star Trek, has become a huge commercial success, it appears that Trek itself is back in the limelight. Have any more resources been given to this project as a result? If the film wasn't as successful, would these resources have still been put into the project?
Craig Zinkievich: It's awesome that the movie has done well. It's a great reawakening of the franchise. That being said, the staffing for the project was never tied to the commercial success of the movie. Cryptic has always thought that the success of Star Trek Online will ride more on the quality of the game than the movie. We've staffed the team to make an extremely compelling MMO.
1UP: Has there always been the intent of having the game centered in the universe after the events of film -- specifically the destruction of Romulus? Or was this a recent addition to take advantage of the film's success?
CZ: We have always planned to have the game set in 2409. We wanted it "in the future" of the Trek Universe so we could give players a time that was familiar, but not set during any specific show's era. We had storylines that connected to the various shows and movies that we wanted to explore, and setting the game in the near future allows us to do that. What happens to the Romulan Empire after the destruction of its homeworld is another great storyline for us to use in the game.
1UP: The dissolution of the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons opens up a number of interesting plot points for players, but can also place the game in a convenient "let's create tension and combat-oriented gameplay" situation for an MMO. Has there always been the plan to have this in place for the game, or was this a decision that was made later on in the creation process?
CZ: You're right -- it is both interesting and convenient! At the end of Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Nemesis, the Alpha and Beta quadrants have become a rather peaceful and happy place, which was great for the way those stories ended. In STO, we're opening a new chapter.
It's true that we wanted to add some more conflict and action to the story, but if you look at the history of the Trek Universe, these conflicts tend to be cyclical. When the Federation is in a good place with one or more of its rival powers, another will step in to fill the void as the main aggressor. And there have been multiple periods of peace and war in the Klingon-Federation relationship. They are two very different groups and it's not always possible for them to be in harmony.
That being said, there's nothing to say that the Federation and Klingons will never cooperate to face a greater threat. We expect the relationship between them to shift and change as the story advances.
1UP: Additionally, why the decision to go with the "Horde or Alliance" dynamic (Federation versus Klingon), and not offer other types of races to play as such as the Dominion, the Borg, the Founders, etc.?
CZ: We don't want to spread the initial player base out too far -- space is big, but we don't want it to feel empty! With one major conflict in the beginning, it gives players a focus, and helps direct PvP and competitive PvE. But there have already been a lot of requests to play Romulans, Borg, Dominion, etc., so that's something we're going to be looking at post-launch. Also, sticking to one major conflict at first gives us a chance to make the two factions distinctive. Klingon gameplay and advancement will be significantly different from the Federation.
1UP: Since starships are comprised of a variety of different characters, ranks, and positions, how do you plan for the player to be engaged with other facets of their ship when you limit their position to only being the Captain?
CZ: The players are all captains of their starships, but an essential part of being a captain is selecting and training a crew. As you advance through the game, you'll have the opportunity to recruit officers for your crew. Bridge Crew will be customizable, trainable "pets" that provide additional abilities for your ship. But you're the one who decides when to use your tactical officer's great photon torpedo salvo or who orders the engineering teams to reinforce your shields.
Your Bridge Crew can increase in rank as you do, and they can learn new things along the way. The crew you select and how you improve them is very important to the role you'll play in the game.
1UP: Furthermore, how do you plan on handling say, a hundred starships (players) sitting idly in the same vicinity?
CZ: Hopefully there aren't that many people just hanging around idly! There is a lot to do and explore in STO!
If there are hundreds of ships in one place, I imaging they're around a starbase or space station, in which case it makes perfect sense. There are also Fleet Actions that will require large numbers of ships working together to complete successfully ? you don't send one ship to confront a Borg invasion!
1UP: Why the decision to not allow a group of players to choose serving on board one ship, with each given a specific designation based on what they want their character to be besides captain?
CZ: We thought a lot about this when we started working on STO. One of the challenges of a multiplayer ship is making gameplay for everyone. What is the doctor doing? What about the tactical officer? What does the tactical officer do out of combat? Could we make hundreds of hours of this fun?
The more we thought about it, the more we realized that it would take a massive amount of time and resources to make what would essentially be five or six full-featured, deep games. And if we tried to do it, we would either never finish the product, or we'd have a huge range of minigames or thin, boring experiences. So we decided to focus our efforts on a core mechanic of being in command of a starship.
We're not closing the door on player crew members, but for launch, we want to make the coolest possible game with you as the captain.
1UP: When the player is picking their crew, are they pulling from a pre-selected pool, or will players be designing their own crew?
CZ: You can fully customize the look of your bridge officers, but the initial skills that are available to them are inherent to them. You do choose how to level your crew up -- where to invest points and how to equip them. You can even use another potential officer to train one of your current ones in a new skill.
1UP: Will space combat be closer to something that we have seen in the likes of Bridge Commander (more simulator-esque), or the likes of Star Trek: Starfleet Command (highly tactical)?
CZ: Space combat in STO is tactical and measured. You have to think about positioning, transferring power to boost weapons or shields, when to use your crew's abilities, and what is the best way to exploit your opponent's weaknesses. There's a lot more to it than "fire phasers"! [In fact, one] of the things we realized from looking at other Trek games was that we didn't want to make a dogfighter. We needed to pace ship combat so that there was time to make tactical decisions. With ships zooming and rolling around the screen at top speed, that can be tough to do.
1UP: How much customization will players be allowed with their own starships? Will these changes be physical in appearance -- like say, a third nacelle on their ship -- or will these customization options be invisible to other players who encounter a custom ship?
CZ: There is a lot of room for customization, but it's limited within configurations. We want all of the ships to look "Trek," so there are some limits on color 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 customized that their general configuration is unrecognizable.
1UP: On the official site, it mentions that player will "be able to create your own race with its own custom look and attributes." Can you go into more detail on how this will work?
CZ: We want to make it easy for players to share the races they make. It would be awesome for a single fleet -- or guild -- to all be of the same race or to randomly run across someone else playing the species you created! When it comes to customization, Cryptic loves making the tools, but it's up to the players to do awesome things with them.