Boldly Going ...
by Heather Logas & Josh Powell
We recently went to an International Game Developer Association talk presenting Ian Pieragostini, Lead Client Engineer of Perpetual Entertainment. He gave an amazing presentation on the art of the upcoming Star Trek Online MMO. It was very interesting and the game looks like it is going to be beautiful, but what really caught our attention was the question and answer session following in which he fielded questions about the game, including questions on game play and design. Here is our takeaway and thoughts. Keep in mind that the game is in pre-production so all of this could change.
Players will be able to "own" and control fleets of ships crewed by themselves and other players. This sounds like a very cool concept, but the challenge is that it isn't clear what the crew will be doing. Will they be sitting around, or playing puzzles to represent the different tasks (a la Puzzle Pirates), or ? It says on the website (http://startek.perpetual.com/gameplay.html) that players will be able to pick different specialties that will support your style of gameplay and that some will give you skills for away missions and others for shipboard activity. Other then drinking in Ten-Forward, what does a "ship based activity" entail? That brings us back to the puzzling, which doesn’t seem to fit the Star Trek genre, or some sort of grinding activity which would just be annoying.
One thing we thought of was possibility of a sim-like system whereby your character would have direct control over their NPC group. For example, if you are the chief engineer, you may have access to a panel on the bridge where you can monitor ship-wide damage and dispatch teams to handle it. This would essentially be a resource management mini-game where you would have to prioritize the tasks you distribute amongst a limited number of engineers. This might be an interesting way to handle things, although if implemented poorly it may result in frustration or tedium.
Another thing that made our decidedly non-vulcan ears perk up was the answer to Josh's question about the Holodeck. Ian commented that they were still kicking around ideas for how to handle this but it may provide a good opportunity for user-created content. Our minds immediately swam with images of player-created modules of everything from pirate to western based scenarios, or even a sneaky way to play Perpetual's Gods and Heroes MMO without leaving our comfy spaceships. A more likely scenario due to possible legal and financial constraints is limited player modifications of pre-built scenarios. An even more likely scenario after scoping (remember this game is still in its very early stages) is nothing of the sort. As we’ve seen in other places, the issue of player created content can be so legally thorny that either the company or license holder may wish to just avoid it entirely. Here’s dreaming though.
Ian also showed us concept art for very stylish and spacious crew quarters, and he said that all players would have quarters for their very own. It seems Perpetual has learned --where other MMOs have not – that player housing is extremely popular in our virtual worlds. We did not come away with a clear sense of the level of customization of the player quarters, and he admitted the art he showed us was of an admiral's quarters, but it's nice to see them thinking this way. At this point player-owned housing should be a given in any MMORPG.
We found Ian's answer about the game's economy to be slightly confusing. While its true that some races in Star Trek clearly have a defined economy (such as the Ferengi) the game is firmly based in the Federation which is an idealized society apparently lacking a currency system. However, Ian assured us that some sort of economy was being developed for the game and made mention of instances in Star Trek literature where federation members used "credits". Heather seems to remember from her days of entrenched Trekiness that this was usually when Federation members were trading with those outside the Federation. Individuals spending credits back and forth between each other seems inconsistent with the source material. We're just sayin'.
This game certainly feels like it has a lot of potential to move beyond typical MMO fare, and we are both keeping our eyes on it. We might even join the beta. We might even play the beta. We'll see.