EXCLUSIVE Interview: Star Trek Online Exec. Producer Daniel Stahl on Season 2 & The Future of STO July 26, 2010by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: Interview,Star Trek Online , trackback
Star Trek Online is getting it biggest update since launch tomorrow with "Season 2: Ancient Enemies". TrekMovie spoke to new executive producer Daniel Stahl about what is new in S2 and how the game is adding more episodes, exploration and diplomacy. We also talked about the future of STO, including the C-Store, the possible move to a ‘freemium’ model, facing competition from Star Wars, and more. Check it out with exclusive new Season 2 screenshots below.
Daniel Stahl on taking over and Season 2 of Star Trek Online
TrekMovie: First off, congrats on your promotion? So is it more exciting or scary?
Daniel Stahl: It is very exciting. It is something I had been looking forward to working with Craig Zinkievich was just a wonderful experience. Having the ability to go from start to launch and now be sitting in the executive producers chair is a wonderful place to be, but as you said, it is a little scary. Star Trek is such a beloved franchise, there are a lot of opinions about what Star Trek is and should be. It is proving challenging listing to everyone and making sure that everyone’s issues are being given justice.
TrekMovie: Regarding all those opinions about what Star Trek is. Can you talk about your Trekdom and opinion on what it is all about?
Daniel Stahl: I grew up watching The Next Generation, and it was the first show I really got involved with. My parents had watched the original series and I remember watching the movies as a child, but Next Generation and going into Deep Space Nine were where I was hitting my heyday, and started attending conventions and had my love of Star Trek, and going from there to all the movies and TV shows. For me it is about looking at all different things that have come out in Star Trek and trying to find that common thread and what is important and what to focus on.
TrekMovie: You guys are about to release season 2. A lot of Star Trek fans took a look when the game was launched and decided the game wasn’t for them, for whatever reason. How different is the Season 2 version of the game vs. what was released back in February.
Daniel Stahl: In the months since we launched, there have been a lot new features added, mostly from player responses – like adding the difficulty slider so you can customize the challenge. We have added a lot more content, like more conflict with the Borg and the Undine for the higher admiral levels. In season 2 we have added more things fans have asked for, like ship interiors. So you can get off your bridge and go to your ready room, go to engineering. We don’t have every room modeled, but we have those key locations that you see in episodes. In addition we are going to be starting up a feature like a weekly series. Every week we are going to release a mission that is tied to a specific story arc. We are trying to recapture the idea of a weekly series. We are putting a lot of effort into that. We aren’t talking about the bad guys as that is going to change from series to series, and we are going to release some surprises.
TrekMovie: So what is the story behind the title for Season 2 "Ancient Enemies"?
Daniel Stahl: That is another part of Season 2. The "Ancient Enemies" really refers to ancient enemies on two fronts. There is the ancient enemies of the Klingons – we are bringing back an enemy called the Fek’ihri. There is a storyline about Kahless and how he vanquished them and these ancient enemies are going to reappear and cause some grief for the Klingon players – adding more content for the Klingon faction. In addition it also refers to the conflict between the Borg and the Undine, which is our admiral level content and we are continuing some storylines we saw on Voyager where you are going into Fluidic Space and you are going to find out a little bit more about who these guys, and what are they really up to.
TrekMovie: You spoke about conflict and as a game there is obviously going to be conflict. But one of the big issues with a lot of Trek fans, especially those who aren’t regular gamers, is that Star Trek is a lot more than that. With Season 2 you are introducing diplomacy, so can someone play the game now and focus on exploration and diplomacy?
Daniel Stahl: We are certainly making an effort there. Early on in the game it was all about conflict, which in my opinion, isn’t all there is in Star Trek. Peaceful exploration is something that hadn’t been well-represented in our game. We have listened to fan feedback and we are making some changes with the diplomacy system. This is for Federation players and what it allows you to do is that you will be receiving missions from a contact who is really more interested peaceful, non-combat, exploration. And he will offer you perks and rewards for going on missions that focus on things like resolving a trade dispute, or delivering supplies to a planet or investigating a mystery. We are writing episodes that don’t involve conflict at all and there are a number to start with in Season 2. We hope players embrace this because we want to make more of this. We have a goal to make these non-combat missions an alternate path to leveling up and this is a first step towards that direction.
TrekMovie: Regarding the Klingons, that faction started with essentially just PvP [Player vs. Player]. Now you are adding more story missions and PvE [Player vs. Environment]. Do you see a point where you could start the game and choose Klingon or Federation and they are close to parity in terms of content?
Daniel Stahl: That is something I really want to see the team move towards. As we add more of these weekly series – they can be played by any level or any faction, so this isn’t content that is only for admiral characters or only for Federation characters. As we get down the road and you choose to play Klingon, hopefully there is now a wealth of content and more added each week. In time I foresee a future where we achieve parity. It will take a little while, but we are moving in that direction.
Stahl on ‘Freemium’ model, C-Store, competition, and future of Star Trek Online
TrekMovie: Speaking of the future, there has been a lot of talk in the MMO community and with STO that the gaming model is changing. And you have spoken favorably about what people are calling the "freemium" model that has been recently adopted by Dungeons and Dragons Online and is coming to Lord of the Rings Online. Is this something Cryptic is seriously looking into, or just something you noted was interesting?
Daniel Stahl: I have noted it was interesting. In fact, I had a couple people drop by my desk after I made that comment in the forum who asked me "what are you talking about?" The idea I was commenting about was someone made the comments that "if a game goes to free to play it is the last straw and is the worst case scenario and it is dying". My point, taking Dungeons and Dragons as an example as an outside observer, I think what they did actually worked for them and it wasn’t a worst case scenario. If it were, then why would they [Turbine, publishers of DDO & LOTRO] want to convert Lord or the Rings to the same model. I am very curious to see what they are doing. When I look at sales figures for games across the industry, they are not doing too good right now. So it is an honor that people are stilly playing STO and paying the subscription and we want to do a service to that and I don’t see us changing that. But I am personally interested in what happens with Lord of the Rings Online. Does it improve the number of people playing that game? Does it follow the same path that Dungeons and Dragons
had? I am curious to see.
TrekMovie: On a related not, you guys have kicked up some controversy over the C-Store and charging people for items per character instead of per account, and there have been some other issues as well.
Daniel Stahl: I really feel bad about this whole C-Store thing. There hasn’t been a lot of communication about it and it is something I am trying to clear up. We are tying to work together to come up with a better solution. We are fixing the thing about the costume slots, making them account-wide instead of per character, and we going to refund people. That whole mess up has made us reevaluate getting to the right pricing. With things like the ship slots and the bridge officer slots, we looked those as being per character because it is a storage issue, there is a lot of data associated with your ship and your bridge officers, they all have inventories, it is almost a full on character. So it is a cost associated with data storage, but we are re-evaluating and trying to figure out what is a fair price. As far as the ships go. One of things some players are concerned about, and I agree with them, is that some of these ships that players want, such as the Excelsior, they want to make
sure that we are not putting everything in the C-Store. What I am proposing is that if we do put something popular like the Excelsior in the C-Store, we also put in a way to get it in-game, so you don’t have to buy it from the C-Store, so you can get it as a reward in game. Those are the things I am proposing and trying to push through. It is a fair way to do things and not everything can go into the C-Store. I hear the community and am closely watching the forum and are trying to fix the whole thing.
TrekMovie: So you are still committed to not putting anything in the C-Store that would give you an in-game advantage? Didn’t the Galaxy X ship break that rule?
Daniel Stahl: Oh yeah, the "All Good Things", that ship has been a lot of controversy internally as well as externally. We do really want to focus on that early commitment. We do not want to put game-breaking things that are only in the C-Store. One of the things you are going to see in Season 2 is these new vice-admiralships is there will be multiple ways to get them both in-game and in the C-Store. We are trying to make it so there are multiple ways to get things, that is the philosophy.
TrekMovie: We were talking about keeping track of the industry. Have you been keeping an eye on the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic? And are there features from that game, like in-game voices, that you are considering bringing into Star Trek Online?
Daniel Stahl: All of us are gamers and we play a lot of games, and we want to see what is out there. When I look at Star Wars, there are a lot of things they are doing that I am interested in. I want to see how that is going to work and we have talked about it internally, how can we do a similar system, like adding voices to our bridge officers or doing V.O. We tried some things out in beta, but because everyone has such a large crew and there are so many characters that you meet we couldn’t simply do enough voices to do it justice. So we put it on the back burner, but it is something we talk about. And there are other things like cut-scenes, the ability to do multi-player dialog better, those are all things that we look at with Star Wars and take note.
TrekMovie: It is about six months to get to Season 2, is that the pattern we can expect for Season 3, 4, 5 etc.?
Daniel Stahl: Yes. We are really trying to stick with the level production we have had. We have put out a lot of updates, but I think we need to do a lot more. We cannot rest on our laurels and just say the "the game is done." I don’t think the game is done at all. I think the game needs a lot of work, fixing bugs, making features work better. Like exploration needs some love. And Memory Alpha and the data research/crafting component of the game is incomplete and needs more items and needs more things to do. So as we move forward, there is no end in sight on my list of things to do. We have a lot of things on the schedule.
TrekMovie: Do you see these things done with updates and ‘Seasons’ or will there also be big expansion packs, like say for adding a new faction, perhaps the Romulans?
Daniel Stahl: We have talked about that internally and we want to add new factions. I am not certain that requires an expansion pack vs. just one of our regular updates. I could see us doing either, we just don’t have a set rule that says "in order to release Romulans, it has to be a major paid expansion". If anything, it is a matter of timing. There is a lot of development for something like that. I can see us doing it next year for sure, but I don’t know if it will be an expansion or a Season.
TrekMovie: Early on I remember Craig once said there is a critical mass needed in order sustain the game. Looking at where you guys are, how do you feel about the future? Star Wars Galaxies was launched seven years ago, now they have their second game coming. How long do you see Star Trek Online going?
Daniel Stahl: I am happy where we are. Obviously I wished we had as many on our team as Star Wars has [laughs]. It is just one of those things where we have the same core of people who have been working on the game since launch and we hire people regularly as well. Looking forward on how we keep up the pace, I think we have a good solid team that can crank out updates, but I think we need to slow down a little bit and focus on making things right and focus on making higher quality content and really delivering on our updates. I think the team we have now can do that. When I look at Season 3, we may focus on fewer things, but we are going to do it justice and make sure it is solid.
Season 2 of Star Trek Online coming Tuesday
Season 2: Ancient Enemies of Star Trek Online will be released Tuesday July 27th (more info at startrekonline.com/season_two) Here is a trailer.
If you want to give Star Trek Online a go without buying it, you can play a demo of the game for an unlimited amount of time (with some restrictions) and includes the “Stranded in Space” mission. More info and demo download at startrekonline.com/demo
Start Playing – STO now $15
If you want to get into the 25th century and play Star Trek Online it is available at Amazon discounted currently for less than $15 (or $25 for the collectors edition), and that includes a one month subscription.