Rumours of the game have been circulating for years; it was originally being developed by Perpetual, but they failed to release it, and the rights to develop the game were acquired by Cryptic some time around early 2008, the same studio that brought us Champions Online last year, and long before that, City of Heroes.
I grew up a Star Trek fan; although I'm not quite old enough to have seen it in its first run on the air, I grew up with reruns, and there was a time that I could have quoted every original series episode and the animated series too. I had a collection of the Star Trek novels that ran into the hundreds, and somewhere in my parents house there are still probably little painted models of the Enterprise in various versions, not to mention Romulan warbirds and Klingon birds of prey. I still remember how excited I was to read that "The Next Generation" was going to be made, and where I was when I heard Gene Roddenberry died. I can even still remember an essential phrase or two in Klingon - nuqdaq yuch daPol?
Having now established how completely hopelessly nerdy my childhood was, let me get back to the subject at hand, the Star Trek MMO. I haven't actually been following the news about it closely, and I'm not in the beta, so all I have to go on is the FAQ linked above and the occasional article or trailer I've seen. But a friend challenged me to make a game prediction for the new year, so here's mine: much as I'd love it not to be the case, I really don't see how Cryptic's STO can possibly be a success. I predict a buggy launch, poor balance (both class and economic), and content both too detailed to be popular with only casual Trek fans, while simultaneously being too vague or unfaithful to the original to please the hard core Trek fans.
Why I predict this:
- I can't imagine any way that Cryptic could possibly have had enough time to develop a solid game in the 1 year they've had the license. EQII releases one expansion a year, and that's just an expansion based on a very solid existing game and toolset. Create a brand new game from scratch? (They got to keep some art assets from Perpetual, but nothing else as far as I've read.) Even using the Champions Online engine and tools it's a ridiculously short time frame to try and do anything in the enormous world of Star Trek. Most new games take years and years to develop. 1 year seems insane.
- I was had a few disappointments with Champions Online, so I naturally worry that, being released so close to it, Star Trek have similar pitfalls to avoid.
- All the trailers I've seen of STO feature almost nothing but combat ... even the trailer that is ostensibly the "exploration" trailer. No. This is not Star Trek. Star Trek is not about guns blazing and ships blowing up and phaser shots to the head. It's certainly easier to make a game about those things, but it won't be a Star Trek game. The reason Star Trek was so popular in the first place was Roddenberry's message of peace and optimism. We can outgrow our violent beginnings. We can look forward to a future of peace and health and safety. People who are different can learn to trust each other and work together as brothers. Star Trek's message was hope, exploration, the triumph of peace and rationality over violence and war. The STO trailers I have seen have nothing to do with hope, peace, or logic. They have nothing to do with Star Trek apart from using the same ships.
Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a Star Trek MMO. I'd love to play in that world. There are so many complexities of the Star Trek universe that could make fascinating MMOs on their own. Imagine playing at political intrigue and rivalry among the Romulan houses, in a political/space game similar to Eve. (And my ideal Romulans will always be the Rihannsu of Diane Duane's excellent novels, not the confused mess they have become since Roddenberry's death.) Imagine exploring space and forging the first United Federation of Planets. Just the day to day workings and missions of an enormous Constitution class starship would be fascinating. The holodeck could be a game tool on its own with enormous possibilities for player mods. Heck, I could spend at least a day just wandering around exploring the inside of a fully detailed model of a starship. Away missions, making contact with new civilizations, Starfleet Academy training, the Kobayashi Maru test, all of these would be fascinating. Of all the things that I could do in a Star Trek online game, blowing up other starships or going head-to-head in phaser battles has to be the least interesting and least Star Trek-like of all the possibilities. (How do you even adapt phaser battles into an MMO combat system? One hit and you're either stunned or vaporized.) But alas. I haven't seen a single trailer that isn't heavily focused on combat. And even if Cryptic's development team hadn't had a rocky start with Champions Online, I don't believe the best team in the world could create a product that would succeed in such a short time frame.
So I haven't applied to the STO beta, and I'm not getting my hopes up. That's my game prediction for this year: STO will not be the Star Trek game I hope it could be I hope I'm wrong, but I very much doubt I will be.
I guess we'll know in about a month.