So far, so good.
That’s Daniel Stahl’s assessment of Season Two: Ancient Enemies, the Star Trek Online content upgrade that went live on July 27. And Stahl should know: he’s been part of the Season Two team at Cryptic Studios for a long while and just got boosted to executive producer, taking over from Craig Zinkievich. “We’re really happy with having Ancient Enemies out the door,” Stahl said during an interview last night. “A lot of people have been asking for these features, and to be able to see things like Ship and Tiers and Klingon Missions in the game, we’re excited about that and our players are really excited about it, too. We’ve increased the skill cap to 51, and we’re getting positive feedback to that.
“I personally love the non-combat missions, which are new and are something I wanted to see,” Stahl continues. “You go on some missions and you don’t shoot anyone. It’s all very Star Trek, very much about diplomacy and dealing with things in a non-combat way, as a true Starfleet officer would. I think they’re very well done and I can’t wait to do more of those. And around August 17 we’ll introduce the first of our Feature Episodes that will be available for everybody to play. It doesn’t matter what your level is or whether you’re a Federation or Klingon player. You can both play it. I’m really excited about that.’
As with any launch, Ancient Enemies has a few kinks and bugs that require fixing. Stahl promises quick corrections. “A lot of people wish there were more to do on your ship interiors, and that’s something we’re looking into for the future,” Stahl says. “Also, just in general, something I’ve been talking about since I became EP, is there are issues in the game, whether it be bugs or features that are in early stages, that need to be fleshed out and developed. We’re aware of them and moving forward with that.”
Gamers tend to make their pleasure and displeasure known to other gamers and to game makers. Star Trek fans are a vocal lot as well. Put the two together and you’ve got an exceptionally demanding, exceptionally knowledgeable consumer. It’s why, Stahl points out, he and the Cryptic team pay close attention to player critiques. “We really view the game as a community effort, working directly with people,” Stahl says. “We’re on the forums constantly. We do polls. We do things like allowing people to suggest ideas. We also put things up on our test server to allow them to check out our new features and provide comments in enough time that we can actually react to that. So we view the fans and their feedback as a huge part of the game’s development, and all of our updates up until now, whether it’s Season One or Season Two, have been greatly influenced by direct player feedback.”
Stahl, as noted, assumed the EP position from Zinkievich, who exited Cryptic on July 6. Zinkievich apparently left on good terms and Stahl describes his ascension into the STO captain’s chair as smooth. “Craig and I had worked very closely together throughout the development of the game,” Stahl says. “He was executive producer and I was his lead producer. So it’s been a really easy transition because we both knew pretty much what each other were doing. We were left and right hand. So I feel, from an internal team perspective, it’s been extremely smooth, and from an external position, from what I’m hearing from the players, I’m just honored (by) and thankful for all their positive feedback towards the transition. I think they’re very excited about where we’re headed.”
That last sentence begs the following question: Now that he’s in charge, what can players expect as Stahl begins to exert his own preferences, interests and control over STO? “I think the things you’re going to see out of me are a focus on quality and a focus on making sure that some of the early features that players have really, really wanted developed in the game, such as exploration and Memory Alpha, which is our crafting system, are done in the way that we originally envisioned them,” Stahl replies. “I think there’s a lot of room to grow there. And, like I mentioned, we have the weekly Series, and you’ll see a direct influence from me on that as well.”
And, if time, budget, design and script permit, Stahl has one other trick up his sleeve that he hopes to pull off. “My avatar on the forums is V’Ger,” Stahl says, laughing. “I don’t think any Star Trek game – maybe I’m missing one or two – but I don’t think any game has ever actually tried to go back in and fly through V’Ger or have missions that take place in the V’Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I always joke around about it because, from a development standpoint, it’s such a huge environment and would be a huge challenge to do. But who knows? Maybe that will happen.”