The massive multiplayer Star Trek game ‘Star Trek Online’ is still a year and a half away, but Perpetual Entertainment is already building buzz about the project. Last week they showed off some of their work at the Game Developers Conference and today they put some of that artwork (below) on the official site. Now that things are starting to happen TrekMovie.com decided it was time to make first contact with Perpetual. Executive Producer Daron Stinnett made it clear that the game (like Star Trek XI) is just in pre production, but there are already 35 people working on it full time. Stinnett is a long-time fan of the franchise and apparently when the word went out that Perpetual were giving Trek the MMORPG treatment, the Trekkie game designers came calling. "A lot of great talent was attracted by it…people really excited to be part of a new vision of Star Trek," says Stinnett.
This new vision is a Star Trek universe set 20 years after the time of Nemesis. Stinnett says they chose the time for good reason…
We are not doing what other licensed games do. We are not just replicating the universe, we are creating a whole new world here. A world that will work well as a MMORPG and allow us the maximum of flexibility to match the fictional world to what we need to make a great game. The time after Nemesis gives us the maximum amount of creative freedom. It is a way to move Trek forward which many fans are looking forward to.
Even though they are moving the universe forward they are still sticking with the source material, especially TNG, VOY and DS9. "We are really drawing from everything Star Trek has to offer," says Stinnett. The playable map will encompass much of Trek’s Alpha and Beta quadrants (sorry no trips through the Bajor wormhole). This scope means players will run into many familiar races (including the Gorn), but there will also be new races to deal with such as the Bimphalians (a scary new enemy).
Klingons in Starfleet?
One of the more pronounced changes in STO’s universe relates to the Klingon Empire, which is now (gasp) part of the Federation.[or maybe not see update below] Although that seems jarring, the obvious benefit is that it allows gamers to play as a Klingon (all players must be a member of Starfleet). Even though the Klingons are part of the UFP, Stinnett still promises that there are still some conflicts going on within the empire. And don’t worry, there will still be Klingon style ships in the game. In addition to the Klingons there will be 6 other playable races in the game, but Perpetual are going to hold off revealing the final list and designs for a few more months. The final races have been chosen based on those that are "unique, in both physique and personality." Stinnett did say that early design sketches (see here) are no longer accurate saying "those are very wrong."
UPDATE ON KLINGONS: Daron tells TrekMovie.com that the details of what the arrangement between the UFP and the Klingons may not be that the Klingons are part of the Federation, but whatever the arrangement is Klingons ‘are free to join Starfleet and use either their own hardware or Starfleet hardware.’ Something in between an alliance and full membership perhaps. Hopefully when we do our next story on STO we can clear it up, but Perpetual do say that whatever the arrangement is it is controversial within their fictional world, as it is on some gaming message boards.
Even though Perpetual are moving Trek forward, there is still a respect for Trek’s sacred ‘canon.’ Stinnett assures:
We are careful about the history of trek. We tie into it and recognize that history. But the core are the values…we want it to be so people recognize the game as a Trek experience that feels like the values of Trek. Such as the value of ‘inclusiveness’, with Star Trek Online, we are working on game systems that promote diversity and inclusiveness among player characters. We also hold high other Trek values such as exploration, inventiveness, friendship, and of course, the notion that combat is not the only means to end a disagreement – even if it is often the most entertaining!
Yes sir, no sir?
One issue the developers had to deal with is replicating the experience of a Starfleet officer while still allowing the freedom of a game. Starfleet is essentially a military organization, with all its rules, regulations and following of orders. Players join as an ensign and can climb to the rank of admiral, but do you really want to have to follow the order of every player and NPC that outranks you (which is everyone when you start). On the other hand if you let everyone do what ever they want, then how can you run Starfleet and avoid the ‘Leroy Jenkins Factor‘ of one crewmember screwing things up. Perpetual’s solution to this is to allow player’s to choose how disciplined an environment they want, Stinnett explains
We have to be careful about griefing [players who disrupt the game and abuse other players]. It is not going to make a fun experience if there is a grievous environment where you are being told what to do, especially by other players. So there will be an option and we will have role playing servers where players who are more inclined to follow those rules as they saw it from the shows. We could have gone down that road and made it a hard core experience, but we decided to make it solo friendly. Rank will come into play much more with our version of guilds, which we call fleets. That is where there will be some player control over other players, but it is all opt in for the player.
In addition to joining guild/fleets, players will also be able to join factions within Starfleet. "Everyone is generally on the same side, but there is definitely internal factions from good to bad; there are plenty choices and opportunities to differentiate." This option will go some way to deal with some gamers concerns that, unlike other games like Star Wars Galaxies, everyone in STO is on the same side (Starfleet).
One area that Perpetual have worked hard to emulate is the concept of a bridge crew. This is of course a fundamental part of Trek on TV and film, but at first Perpetual struggled a bit to find a way to translate that fictional experience to a game. Stinnett thinks they have it down.
We thought long and hard about the bridge experience knowing how important it would be to the players. And I’m happy to say that we came up with a promising means to cast the crew experience as an extension of traditional MMORPG grouping to create an alternative and compelling form of social gameplay. It is a good example of how a license can push a team to think outside the box and move the state-of-the-art forward.
Picard’s last Enterprise was a Sovereign class ship, but since this is 20 years later the designers can keep things going. Perpetual have developed the successor to that ship which Stinnett describes as "conforming to the profile, but is new and different." However even though there are more advanced ships in the game, it is still not decided what kind of ship the Enterprise will be (or even if it is in the game at all). Some ships will be hubs (like cities are in other games) and Stinnett says that they may use a Galaxy class or even a Sovereign for these. There will also be space stations and ground based cities as well.
Much like Khan, Perpetual’s first view of space combat ‘indicated two dimensional thinking,’ but Stinnett says they have moved on from that. Originally space combat was not going to allow players much room to maneuver their ships in the vertical plane, but now that has been freed up quite a bit. Although Stinnett is clear that STO ‘is not a flight sim’, he says there is now some vertical breathing room….
Players wont feel they are overly constrained and trapped to one plane. There will be more freedom, but we don’t expect people to do barrel roles… that isn’t part of Star Trek combat.
Possible tie-in to Star Trek XI
If all stays on course then Star Trek Online will be released close to Star Trek XI’s premiere. Stinnett says they haven’t yet contacted Paramount to talk about tie-ins but thinks that the game and the film can help each other. He his excited about the possibility, saying "even though we are at the other end of the timeline, we still have holodeck and other tons opportunities to have elements that show up in the movie."
Like the film, Star Trek Online is still a long way off. However after the film, STO is the second biggest Trek project in the works right now and will eventually involve well over 100 people. TrekMovie.com will be keeping an eye on this exciting project and bringing fans the latest updates as they happen.
UPDATE: STO is ‘a year and a half’ away…and not ‘a couple of years’ away…even better!
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