Friday, January 08, 2010

Where no MMO has gone before

It's January, and if you're a Star Trek fan you may be aware that there's a Star Trek based MMO currently in beta, and due to launch on February 2nd.  (If you haven't been following it, here's a handy link to "everything we know about Star Trek Online" from the STO forums which will likely answer most of your questions.)

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.


  1. I agree, after Roddenberry's death, it's all been downhill. The constant demand by studios to 'sex up' Trek with violence and explosions and dumb science is the complete antithesis of what the series was originally about.

  2. That pretty much echoes my own concerns about STO. If I can't deal with a large chunk of the adventures through means other than killing people it won't feel like Star Trek to me.

    However, I've pre-ordered anyway. The recent couple of years have been fairly wretched for MMO releases (Champions included), but there was no way I couldn't try an MMO based on Star Trek.

    If STO turns out to not be very good, I think we may see new heights of fury in the angry mobs that will form. Hell hath no fury like a trekkie who thinks you're trampling on his childhood.

  3. I was one of the suckers who gave Cryptic my money for the lifetime, only to discover by around 13 that I couldn't make any progress.

    That did get me into the STO beta, so after several hours of patching I logged in and did the tutorial. The art is good. That's really about all I can say for it at this point -- having to restart a mission you've spent an hour on because you crashed, or had to log for real life, isn't my idea of fun.

  4. My Wife and some of her friends are very huge Star Trek fans, I grew up on next gen, and it was nifty, but personally im a Star Wars kinda guy. I've also played a almost every mmo i can get my hands on (though not all of them for long).

    My hope was to combine my wifes love of Star Trek and my love of MMO's and have a good time. Hoping the crafting and exploration aspects of the game would be a large enough part to keep my wife interested since she is not big on combat or pvp.

    This is not the case. There is almost nothing other than combat, especialy for playing klingon. Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying it and the SPACE combat is very interesting and fun. But my wife has no interest in the game and feels it has betrayed that which is Star Trek.

    Mostly all I do is log into my klingon toon, get in my bird of prey and do some pvp, which fun, is not what i was after.