A year has gone by since we launched the ship and I’m happy to report that Star Trek Onlinecontinues to grow and evolve into a community driven portrayal of the Star Trek future. With the upcoming release of The Foundry, fans are weeks away from being able to create, share, and experience Star Trek Online episodes created by the fans themselves. It is an exciting time to be enjoying Star Trek Online and as we turn one year old, I wanted to take some time to talk about how far we’ve journeyed since we left the dock.
“Change is the essential process of all existence.” – Spock
There have been a lot players returning to the game lately and one thing I frequently see posted is how much the game has changed since we launched on February 2, 2010. One of the luxuries of being an MMO is the ability to adapt and grow with the audience much in the same way that a TV series can change after launch. Unlike a motion picture, we can make adjustments, alter stories, improve Special FX, and even introduce entirely new concepts.
Much like the first year of any television series, Star Trek Online has had a very intense relationship with its fans. Through passionate discussions, heated debates, and forum infractions galore, those who have played the game have provide valuable insight and constructive criticism. The development team has been able to channel feedback into action and deliver steady updates to expand the game. It is this collaborative effort that has led to some great improvements.
“All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by…” – Kirk
Improved Sector Space
One of my favorite improvements to Star Trek Online this last year was the changes we made to Sector Space. Travelling through the Milky Way in a Starship should evoke an emotional appreciation for the vast and empty beauty of the Galaxy. By studying imagery taken from deep space telescopes and fine tuning the way your Starship looks while moving at warp, we were able to greatly improve the visual representation of interstellar travel in the game.
Even though much of the footage was canned and repeated, it is understated how important that establishing shot is at the beginning of a Star Trek episode. To see the stars streaking by against the blackness of nothing, focuses your attention on the story and mission ahead. The art and design team accomplished a great feat by retrofitting all the galactic sectors of the game with this new look. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat. This simple change has had a huge impact on how the game feels, and we have the players to thank for helping us get it right.
“Let me tell you a story.” – Garak
Telling stories is at the heart of Star Trek. I can empathize with anyone who has created aStar Trek video game because there is a very fine line to draw a balance between storytelling and gameplay. While I feel our designers did a wonderful job of writing good TV-like missions for the launch of the game, the best missions with memorable scenes and stories were too few and far between for most players to experience and enjoy. Many of these high quality missions were made for higher ranked captains and for the most part, only those who managed to level up were able to enjoy them.
To allow more people to play through these great stories, we introduced several features, that when combined, allow players to experience the best storytelling in Star Trek Online. By creating Feature Episodes that can be played by any level of captain in either Starfleet or the Klingon Empire, we now have the ability to create big budget episodes that everyone can enjoy. Adding the episode replay feature also allows you to go back and replay any of these stories, much in the same way that we all still enjoy watching reruns of our favoriteStar Trek episodes.
I’ll be the first to admit that watching reruns, while enjoyable, isn’t nearly as exciting as watching a new episode of Star Trek. That is why our team has been committed to writing new series of episodes that can be aired in game on a week to week basis. Each series allows us to focus on a specific storyline, with specific actors and settings. To date we’ve released a two series, one featuring a plot by the Breen to uncover Preserver technology, and another featuring the Devidians who are travelling through time to feed on the souls ravaged by the Federation-Klingon war. This week we will be starting our third series which focuses on a power struggle in Romulan space in the aftermath of the destruction of Romulus.
So if you’re tired of Star Trek reruns, I encourage you to check out Feature Episodes and know that more are already on the way.
“What are you doing, Mr. Spock?!” – Ambassador
“Practicing a peculiar variety of diplomacy, sir. [fires phaser]” – Spock
One criticism that fans had of the game when we launched was how much “phaser-diplomacy” was going on in Starfleet. Despite the fact that Kirk would punch anyone, anytime, for any reason, there simply wasn’t enough diplomatic or non-combat gameplay options available for Federation players. Even crafting, which in many games is a non-combat activity, was sorely lacking.
While we have to acknowledge that we are game, and it is an awful lot of fun to fire a full spread of torpedoes, there needed to be a better representation to the other ideals of Starfleet. For the last several updates, the team has made a great effort to include more variety in non-combat gameplay by introducing the Federation Diplomatic Corps and improving crafting and research.
The Federation Diplomatic Corps allows players to practice and improve their diplomacy skills by interacting with other warp capable races in non-combat ways. When a Federation diplomat achieves a high-enough rank, they can even be sent on First Contact missions where they must pay attention to the customs and ideals of the species they are meeting, and ensure that they represent the ideals of the Federation properly. This is a much different experience than going into a mission with all phasers firing.
Crafting in Star Trek Online takes place as research at Memory Alpha. By travelling the galaxy and scanning scientific discoveries, you can gain samples and data that can be used to make improved versions of many items and starship components. Since launch, we’ve added several hundred new items to Memory Alpha to ensure that this sort of gameplay has a valuable reward. Players can look forward to more improvements to both Diplomacy and Crafting in the future.
“What you were, and what you are to become, will always be with you.” – Q
The Next Year of Star Trek Online
The game has come a long way these past 12 months. For the most part, the same team is still here working day in and day out to ensure that we are continuing to listen to the fans so that we can shape the future direction of the game. I’m always thrilled at the energy and excitement that exists in our studio today as we discuss and design the updates that will be hitting the game soon.
First up, the Foundry will be live soon along with the ability for anyone to use some simple tools to make great Star Trek episodes. In the coming days, we will be showcasing some of the fan made missions coming out of the Foundry Beta. We look forward to a future where any fan can create or recreate their favorite story.
Next up, we plan to devote more attention to ensuring that the conflict between the Federation and Klingon Empire comes into focus. As it stands now, there are some big differences between the Federation and Romulan factions when it comes to playing the game, and it is my goal to see the Klingon Empire portrayed properly with enough missions and stories of their own to make them a viable option for someone creating a new character.
Once we have the Federation and Klingon war fleshed out, then we can start to discuss adding more factions to the game such as the Romulans or Cardassians. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these factions in game by this time next year.
And as Q said, if you thought the Romulans and Cardassians were trouble, there’s many things out there that are far bigger threats than we’ve seen yet. You can bet that one of those threats will be the Iconians. If you’ve seen some of our concept art floating around, you’ll get a glimpse of what could possibly be a serious threat to everyone.
Last but not least, we also want to make big improvements over the next year to how Fleets interact and enjoy the game. We have big things planned in both player run Starbases, as well as Fleet-wide mission tools that will help organize friends into private instances of some of our best content.
A Big Thank You
This last year has been a great one for Star Trek Online and I can’t emphasize enough how much fans have contributed to our success. I’m thankful that the passion to ensure thatStar Trek continues on into the future is alive and well. We look forward to the years to come. Star Trek will endure.