If you are a true trekkie and not one of those poser trekkers you already know that a video preview of Star Trek online was released this weekend. The game recently changed hands after the last company who had the license to develop the property into an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) went tits-up. Last night I took some time to look into the site and check out what Cryptic studio's was going to do with the game, and I wish I could say I was pleased. Overall the game seems like it has potential except for ONE little thing.
You Are the Captain: Command your own starship as a Federation Captain or a Klingon Warrior. Outfit it with the systems that you need to make your mark in the galaxy. Customize your ship as you see fit. Recruit, train and mold your crew into an elite force for exploration and combat.
No no no no NO!!!
When did online game developers lose their fucking BRAINS?!?!?
Seriously, if I wanted to play a single-player Star-Trek game I wouldn't be shelling out $20.00 a month, there are plenty of those on the bargain bin isle of my 2nd hand game store. Do these people not have any idea what made Star Trek appealing? Or how-about online games for that matter? Making an online game based in space where everyone has their own ship would be like booking a convention center for hundreds of thousands of people to play Solitaire in. NO!
Let me break it down here. Star Trek is the perfect license to do something DIFFERENT with. You don't need brain-bursting graphics to pull it off, you don't need miles of drawn terrain, or endless lists of avatar customization options that chew up processing power and bandwidth all the time. Instead you have a space ship in space, which is pretty damn simple to render up graphically, or you have corridors with people in black and red or black and yellow jumpsuits walking through them. Star Trek is not about gaudy visuals, players don't need swashbuckling character animations where their avatars leap through the air guns blazing, or disarm their opponent in a flurry of melee attacks. The foundations are simple, explore, discover, create, and blow shit up. These are not new concepts, and thus are not hard to develop, so one can refine aspects of gameplay that will make the game stand out.
Now, I'm all for making a game accessible to start, gotta start simple, so making your dude the captain of a small research vessel, to start makes perfect sense. However online games are about working together, and working together does not work when you've made each and every player king of his own universe. Therefore, the cool stuff must come with teamwork, and teamwork comes from being a major cast member on a larger ship, part of a greater whole. This is no different than forming a party to do a major quest in a fantasy RPG. You've got your fighter, your mage, your cleric. Each has a role and it's in carrying out these roles that the mission succeeds. Here you have your engineer, your doctor, your helmsman, and your gunner. These roles are important too, sure not everyone is flying the ship, but that doesn't mean that each role can't be made rewarding enough to be interesting. Hell, if players will line up to be able to cast [buff spell] on the fighter in their party every 38 seconds, then they'll certainly be willing to play a ships doctor who carries a cartridge of nanites capable of cutting off the borg drones from their hive mind as they board the ship.
Being a member of something bigger than yourself is more rewarding and enticing than being the king of your own world, and the fact that game developers are unable to figure this out is mind boggling. Star Trek doesn't have to do anything that hasn't been done before to be great, being part of a ship's crew should be no different than being part of a guild. Managing Non-Player Characters so they run things smoothly isn't a new concept either, Real-Time Strategy games have been doing it for ages, so being a chief engineer in-charge of the engineering team, or the Chief of Security, leading a squad of officers to repel boarders isn't new territory. And these things could be SO FUN too, imagine you're in engineering and you have to scramble to stabilize the reactor core in the midst of a battle with the Romulans. Don't succeed, you might have to eject the core and then the whole team has problems. Succeed and you get the power you desperately need to head into Warp or get the shields back online and stop the oncoming boarders. I don't know about you but that sounds exciting, not because it's compelling gaming really, but because it's the team relying on you, your very own moment to rise to the occasion or fail horribly to have a good story to tell later. THAT would be infinitely more fun than a glorified version of space invaders… with PVP.
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