In 2010 the long wait will be over when Cryptic releases its massive multiplayer online game, Star Trek Online. In an exclusive interview with TrekMovie, STO executive producer Craig Zinkievich talks about how he will balance between hardcore and first time gamers, what you can do besides blow things up, We also have three exclusive new screenshots.
INTERVIEW: Star Trek Online Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich
TrekMovie: Do you think of Star Trek Online as being more for gamers, who may have an interest in Star Trek, or for Star Trek fans, who may be interested in gaming.
Craig Zinkievich: I think there is stuff there for both. Both audiences will have different measuring sticks and approach the game with different expectations. We are Star Trek fans and we are gamers, so we are making a game we are excited to play. Some of the time that is a really really good impressive game mechanic, and some of the time it is ‘I was just interacting with the Guardian of Forever, that is awesome!’. So I think it depends on the player. I think both of those audiences are going to find really cool stuff in here.
TrekMovie: In our polling, it appears a number of first time gamers, and certainly first time ‘Massive Multiplayer Online’ players are going to try this out. What are you going to do for them–to accommodate these total newbies?
Craig Zinkievich: I think you look to your tutorial. You look toward opening up content features and functionality to players as they advance over time, so you don’t dump everybody in right with a full functioning, with all the buttons and everything that is there right off the bat. You kind of introduce them to the mechanics as time goes on. I think that games in general, over the past four to five years, have really learned this and rather than expecting that their player is coming with preconceived knowledge, or expecting the player is coming already having read the manual even, they’re taking the player and right off the bat it is ‘let’s teach you from scratch what this game is.’ I think that gaming in general has exploded market-wise into people that aren’t gamers, so most everyone developing games is thinking about how is the non-gamer going to approach this game. So for us it is obvious what you said, there are people who don’t consider themselves gamers, definitely not MMOers, trying out Star Trek Online. And we need to make sure they can come in and the game is accessible and they can be taught all of those things that the MMOer is going to take for granted and skip through that part of the tutorial.
TrekMovie: There is a lot more to Star Trek, from TV and the movies, than combat. But a lot of the stuff we see from you guys, previews and images, that has a big focus on combat. What is there to do in this game besides combat?
Craig Zinkievich: It is true. It is game, it is an MMO, there is a great deal of combat within the game. That being said, we want to make sure that there are outlets and other things to do that everything you do in the game does not revolve around combat. There are social areas where people can go and role-play and hang out and do what they want to do. There is a harvest-crafting sort of game play so you can go out and scan anomalies, collect data, and bring that stuff back to Memory Alpha and help advance your character that way. There are some other things that we haven’t talked about, but we will be, that are from the non-combat side of things.
TrekMovie: Can you move your way up the ranks, from Lieutenant to Admiral, without ever engaging in combat or rarely engaging in combat?
Craig Zinkievich: You will have to engage your character in combat to move your character up through Admiral. We want to make sure there is non-combat gameplay in the game, but it is a core part of the game, especially at launch. I suspect we will be adding a whole lot of roles the universe as time goes on, as we expand. Hopefully we will allow you to not be part of Starfleet, be a Ferengi trader and kind of advance your character like that. But if you are going to be enlisted in Starfleet in a time of war, you are going to end up doing combat.
TrekMovie: You will be able to chose a science background and there will be ships that are more for scientific research, does that mean ‘science missions’ are more available to you than other players?
Craig Zinkievich: There will be some content differences based on your ship and based on what your career is, but really what it is, it really defines what role you end up playing in the game. If you are a tactical officer, you are obviously going to go in guns blazing. If you are a science officer, maybe you are playing more of a support role and looking more towards the harvest sort of game play. It doesn’t change the content you are experiencing, but it changes the way you approach that content.
TrekMovie: Star Trek Online has two warring factions, The Federation and the Klingon Empire. We did a poll on the site and it showed that the vast majority were more interested in playing on the Federation side. Plus it seems there are more Federation fleets forming as well. Are you concerned there is going to be an imbalance in the game?
Craig Zinkievich: No. Someone PMed me your poll, we did a poll very early on after we announced the game, and our numbers were right around the same numbers. So we have really tried to make sure that the design supports that natural imbalance. So the Klingon gameplay is going to be much different than what the Federation is getting. It is going to be a lot more focused on the PvP [Player vs. Player] and focused on the houses within the Klingon Empire than really big story episodic exploration-focused that the Federation faction is going to have.
TrekMovie: How will you be handling music in the game?
Craig Zinkievich: There is a lot of original music created by Cryptic Studios in the game. Also, there is a lot of the music we are also doing based on the themes from Star Trek music pieces that you will recognize. So you got to have the Pon Farr theme and the Klingon warbird theme and that kind of stuff you can expect.
TrekMovie: One of the biggest complaints with MMOs is the notion of ‘grinding’, as in doing boring repetitive tasks over and over in order to level up. You guys have talked about how you are going to avoid that, can you give an example of how you have solved that problem?
Craig Zinkievich: The terminology of grinding means different things to different people. In some games, grinding is what happens when you no longer have any directed content — nobody is telling you to do a specific mission and you just go out and kill guys to level up. One of the things that we really bring to the table and want to make sure that happens in the gameplay hours that take place in Star Trek Online, is that there are always choices as to what you can do. There is always episodic content, there is exploration stuff, there is always some sort of PvP thing, some sort of large-scale fleet action you can participate in. At any point that stuff in kind of in your face, like ‘hey do you want to do this, or do this’ and that we don’t just kind of leave the player to their own devices. It is still up to you as to what you chose to do, but at no point in time will you be ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I think that is how we are getting around the grind.
TrekMovie: Regarding ship customization, what can and can’t you do to your ship?
Craig Zinkievich: Within a configuration, if you look at the website and what has been updated recently, light cruiser would be a configuration, also research science vessel, cruiser, those are all different configurations of ships. What we want is for you to be able to look at a player and his ship, and know what configuration he is flying. So you can look at say an Olympic and a Sovereign, and those are two totally different configurations of ships. So you can look at an Olympic and say maybe the sphere can be different and the hull can be different and swap out the nacelles, but you can still say that it is an Olympic and not a Sovereign. So within a configuration you can swap out the saucer, the stantions, the nacelles, the secondary hull, plus you have sorts of different options, like the plating.
TrekMovie: Is there currency in the game? Is it latinum?
Craig Zinkievich: There is currency. There is latinum for inter-faction trading. Within the Federation there is ‘Starfleet merit’ that you gain and there are ‘energy credits’ that you use. They say there is no form of currency in the Federation, but the farmer in France can’t just say ‘look I feel like having a Sovereign ship.’ You do end up having to earn reputation and put your time in to gain those resources within Starfleet.
TrekMovie: Are there consequences in the game. Say for example I am a Federation player and I violate the prime directive, or a Klingon player acts cowardly or without honor. Is there a penalty?
Craig Zinkievich: There are some storylines in the game that change based on the actions that you have, but there are no sweeping rules like you described.
TrekMovie: OK, so let’s say I am on a Federation first contact mission, but I decide to kill everyone, can I do that? What is to stop me?
Craig Zinkievich: Currently we don’t have a choice that drastic that you can take. Any first contact mission, what stops you is that we don’t let you fire your weapons on the friendly guy. So you can’t actually target that poor new species and wipe them out.
TrekMovie: You guys use the term ‘fleet actions’, which are also called ‘raids’. Can you describe that, and can they be something as big as something like the Battle of Wolf 359, where everyone is a player character?
Craig Zinkievich: Yes. Fleet actions are the really really large scale battles in the game. One of the fleet actions in the game is Starbase 24 is being attacked by the Klingons. On the Federation side this is a PvE [Player vs. Entity], where you go into this system there are over a hundred Klingons attacking this system. You need to go into it with your team, as well as a bunch of other teams, in order to beat them back, get onto the starbase, get some data off that starbase before it is over run or you end up winning the battle. And in PvP there are these fleet action sized events where you get like forty players on each side and you go at it. So in both PvE and PvP, there are Wolf 359 sized battles.
TrekMovie: After the Star Trek movie came out, you guys put up a graphic that explains the prime timeline, where your game is set, and the alternative timeline, where the new movie is set. I think most people get that. But next year when this game is on the shelf at Best Buy, some people are bound to pick it up and think ‘hey Star Trek, I loved that movie’. So will there be any alternate timeline stuff in this game?
Craig Zinkievich: There will definitely alternate timeline stuff in there. If not the Abrams universe stuff at launch, you can’t make a Star Trek game without going back in time, without going to the mirror universe, without going to these alternate realities. There are definitely places in Star Trek Online, where you go to these places. We don’t expect you to go back to the Abrams timeline at launch, but that is an option to add after launch.
Star Trek Online comes out in 2010. Retailers are taking pre-orders for March 2010 release, however Crytpic have not yet set an official date or price.