Star Trek Online Executive Producer Talks TOS Expansion, Move to Consoles, and More

A lot is happening right now in the world of Star Trek Online, with two major announcements: an Original Series expansion, Agents of Yesterday, and the news that the entire game will be ported to Xbox and Playstation consoles. We sat down with STO’s executive producer Stephen Ricossa at Cryptic Studios in California to talk about all of the new exciting things to come. The takeaway? It’s a great time to be a Trekkie and a gamer, no matter your skill level.

Plus, expect to see lots of integration with CBS’s upcoming television series, which we’re calling Star Trek All Access. No word yet on how soon that integration will happen (it takes time to spin up a whole gameplay storyline!), but Cryptic are already working with CBS to make it so. Agents of Yesterday comes out this Summer, and the game will be available for Playstation 4 and Xbox One this Fall. Two very exciting things happening in STO right now: the original series expansion, and the port over to console. The original series expansion was announced first, so why don’t we start there?

Stephen Ricossa: Sure

TM: What can you tell me about the expansion in general?

SR: We plan our releases a few years in advance. We like to look ahead. So, a couple years back we were looking at what we were going to do this year, and we’re like ‘Oh, it’s the 50th anniversary of The Original Series’. So, we decided we definitely wanted to do an Original Series expansion. And, we told CBS, and they were very excited about it, too. So, we planned our story leading up to the expansion to let us have time travel a little more freely.

With the expansion, the goal is: you’re gonna start as a Captain from that era on a mission. And, you’re gonna run through the tutorial, and it’s all TOS-era stuff. We tried to get the look down. We got a bunch of ships; some of them are from the [already established] IP, some of them we had to make up. But, CBS was very happy when they saw what [ships] we came up with.

We’re continuing the story that’s in the game now. It’s just taking a little swerve at first, and then it comes right back to the main story as the player learns the depth of what’s going on with their character and with the whole war in general.

Gameplay from Agents of Yesterday

TM: Early on in this interview, I’m going to start with a confession. Which is that I haven’t played Star Trek Online since it came out, basically. One of the reasons is because I’m a Mac user. So, the announcement that STO is coming to consoles is awesome for someone like me. My question for you is: as someone who’s basically a newbie again at this point since I’ve been away from it for so long, how can I come into the TOS story line? Or, have I missed a lot that’s happened? If I start with the TOS expansion, am I missing the rest of the story, or can I go back and do that?

SR: You’re just fine. It’ll all be in there as part of your progression. You won’t miss anything. It’ll almost be like pulp fiction I guess for you. You’ll get a little of the middle, and then you’ll go back and play through the beginning and play through all that and you’ll catch up with the story as things are going on. Because it’s a time travel story, it’s interleaved throughout the existing content in the game. So, yeah, it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

TM: So it would be a not too dissimilar experience for someone starting now?

SR: It might even be a richer experience because it’s just all there and you’re catching it in the time travel order as opposed to ‘Oh, yeah, I remember when that happened, and when that happened…’ like someone who’s been around for the whole time.

The game from launch to now, it’s almost like a completely different game. From visuals to the amount of stuff to do to end game to fleet progression, there’s a ton there. Bringing a game that’s this mature to console just provides a really rich experience.

TM: Will the console release have absolutely everything that the PC release has?

SR: It won’t have everything at launch. Because of the certification process, PC will come first. But, within a few weeks, console versions will come out, and they’ll be pretty much in lock step after a little while.

TM: Can someone with a PC play on the same server as someone playing on console?

SR: No, it’s separated, so PC, Xbox, and PS4 will all be on their own separate servers.

TM: Do you expect that a lot of people will join up right away, right after it’s released so that there will be a big community right at the start?

SR: Yeah, I think so. Neverwinter was our first console game as a studio, and it was the first one that we ported and it was kind of the first that was ported to consoles in general in this generation. And, it was doing great. A lot of people showed up. There was a huge community from the start, and they were all kind of learning and growing together, so it was great.

TM: And, it seems like an opportunity, again for someone like me, to feel like I’m not stepping into this world where people have already been through it –

SR: Everybody’s already finished the end game…

TM: Yeah, every one else has already finished it. So, it’s cool how like you said you get to start together. That sounds really cool.

The bridge of everybody’s favorite Constitution Class ship, and even the Guardian of Forever!

SR: Yep. Everyone starting on the same page is almost one of the selling points. And the response has been amazing. I was in Germany at FedCon when we actually announced. And, people there were excited, and we were trending on facebook, and it was just crazy the amount of attention it’s gotten. So, I’m really looking forward to the release later this Fall.

TM: Different MMO’s really have different styles of community. How would you classify the STO community in terms of welcoming new players?

SR: Really welcoming. It’s very much the Star Trek mentality that people have where they really want to make sure everyone’s working together and knows what they’re doing. You’ve got people on the very very top end with their secret builds, their getting max DPS on their server. But, for the most part, everybody wants to share, everybody wants you to join up and, you know, ‘Join my fleet! Play with me!’ and it’s a great community for everybody that wants to come in, especially new people.

TM: Changing gears slightly, how do you feel about MMOs in general – what do you feel is the marketplace for that today?

SR: If you’re providing a solid experience for people in a way that they can engage with others – multiplayer games are huge; some games are shipping with just multiplayer – but, being able to interact with other players is big and only getting bigger as consoles’ multiplayer matures. I feel like if you’re providing a compelling multiplayer experience with what might be traditional single player game play, I think that’s something that can be big. You have games like Destiny that are kind of “MMO lights” taking that console space by storm, and I think there’s definitely room. We’re seeing a transformation of the console space for those types of games, so it’s really interesting to watch. We’re seeing the guts, the core of an MMO kind of leaking into more modern games. As gaming gets larger, people are being inspired by different sources and they’re kind of coming together in interesting ways.

TM: So, there is a LOT of Star Trek stuff coming up; it’s a big time for the franchise, not only with the 50th anniversary, but with Star trek Beyond coming out this year and the announcement of the new series.

SR: Trailer just came out.

TM: It did! You know, I kind of feel silly saying this, but I was really excited watching it! Even though it was just —

SR: Pure teaser!

TM: Yeah! It was just flying through planets and then the logo, but I was just so giddy when I saw it.

SR: Yep!

TM: How much are you guys going to, if at all, integrate with the new stuff that’s coming out?

SR: We’ve been talking with CBS, and our goal is to integrate as much as we can. We are probably going to meet with [CBS] next month to maybe get some light details on the [television] show and integrate however we can. So, we just have to learn about the series a little bit more before we can determine exactly what we’re going to do.

But, in the past they’ve let us know. When we were originally developing the game, we learned that the first Star Trek reboot in 2009 was going to destroy Romulus. Because we were building a whole Romulan arc, and we didn’t know that was the case. So [Paramount] said, ‘Well, the planet’s going to be gone, so there will probably be a lot of refugees. So, you might want to figure that out’. So, we rebuilt that entire arc to reflect the fact that these changes had taken place in the Prime universe.

The show runner [of the upcoming CBS series, Bryan Fuller] seems open to having their universe expanded through other media: comics, games, books. We’re excited to work with them.

TM: What would be the time frame for a collaboration? The show doesn’t come out until January, and it takes a lot of time to spin up a whole story line for a game. When can we expect to see things integrated from the show?

SR: As soon as we can! Once we find out what they’re doing, we can determine the best way to integrate it into the story that we’ve already been building. I wouldn’t be able to even venture a guess as to when some of that would make it into the game until we talk with them. But, hopefully soon.

TM: It seems like STO has integrated really well with Star Trek canon.

SR: We try to stick closely to the stories from the episodes and from the movies. We haven’t featured anything from the reboots yet. But, from the TV shows, there will be a story line where Picard or someone meets an alien species, and it’s like ‘Oh, we solved their problem’. Well, we like to come back and see if something else happened there. One of our favorite ones we bring up is – remember the episode from TNG where everyone is getting stolen, and cut apart, and then put back together?

TM: Schisms.

SR: It was Schisms! Alright, cool. The “click click’s”, right? The bad guys. We call them the Solanae, that’s the name we gave them. We got Michael Dorn to reprise his role as Worf. And, we’ve had these bad guys that are kind of the scientists for the Iconians doing bad stuff, but you never saw them. So, Worf comes with us, and you get accidentally pulled into this subspace space station. And, you’re inside of it, and he’s walking around, and you hear the *click click click*, and he starts freaking. He’s like ‘I know this sound’. And then you walk into a room and there’s the table with one light on it, and Worf says, ‘I’ve been here before’, and he has this kind of light PTSD moment of having been in that room. Players were really excited seeing us tie that story together, and it was completely unexpected. Because we were doing this crazy story and going into Dyson Spheres, entered a gateway. And now it’s like, ‘Oh man. These guys, the Solanae, they’re connected to the Iconians. They were stealing people to experiment on people to find weaknesses of species in the Alpha Quadrant’. Things like that get me very excited as a Trekkie, and they get the fans excited as well.

Concept art for the Iconians

TM: Another question about game play — I’m just thinking about this now as you’re talking about integrating all the stories. As you’re going through the game, how directed is it? You’re going through this world that’s sort of open, you can go where you want, but I assume you want people to follow the story line.

SR: More so on console than the PC we’re going to kind of direct you from episode to episode. So, you’re going to be playing through and run through the tutorial and then Admiral Quinn, if you’re playing as Fed, will give you your next episode. You’re just going to run through your episode progression.

TM: But, you still have a myriad of options to choose from. What do I do next? You can choose which thing you want to tackle.

SR: Absolutely.

TM: What else is going to be different about the console game?

SR: The control scheme.

TM: That seems like an enormous undertaking to take a game that requires a keyboard and mouse to a controller.

SR: We were talking about doing this at all. We’re like, ‘Okay, we’re going to put Star Trek on console’. And, I’m thinking, ‘No? How are we going to be able to do that?’ We’ve got a 72- key keyboard, and we use pretty much the whole thing. So, before we actually green lit the project, we sat down and we prototyped, ‘alright, how would this work on consoles?’ Let’s get an ugly UI in there, let’s get some just rough smoke and mirrors control scheme, and let’s see how it feels. And, after a few weeks we’re like, ‘Okay. This is really cool. Let’s dive in’. It’s gotten to the point where we have people on the team that prefer the controller layout because it just feels natural flying your ship, pointing it in a direction, selecting targets. We’re using a combination of quick keys and radial menus. We find that, once people sit down and play with it and get the hang of it, it works pretty well. Especially because people are going to be starting with a low level character, working their way up they’ll be slowly adding bridge officer powers. So, the wheels won’t be required for some time, and even then you only have a couple of options. That was, I wouldn’t say our biggest undertaking, but it was a non-starter. If we couldn’t get that figured out, we couldn’t do it at all.

TM: So, that’s pretty developed now?

SR: We’re still iterating on it. I mean, I’m a console first guy. So, that has to be key. It has to feel good on the sticks. Just yesterday I gave an adjusted control scheme to my software engineer to implement into the game, and we’re going to play test it this afternoon. There is a lot going on in that controller, so we just want to make sure that it feels good and makes sense.

Other big changes: we’re redoing the UI from scratch. It’s gotta be a UI that works for console players, so instead of having a mouse running around, it’s a completely purpose built UI for console. And we’re completely rewriting the back end to accommodate that. So, it’s not just stacked onto our existing PC [build]. It’s a brand new back end, brand new front end.

The other big change is that we’ve developed some new lighting technology over the last couple of years that we’re going to be putting into the console port. So, light probes, diffuse probes, specular probes, high dynamic range lighting, and deferred rendering. All these things combine to look like a more realistically lit room.

TM: That’s just for console?

SR: We’re porting it onto PC as well. But, if you don’t have a great machine on PC, you’ll just use the existing lighting system.

STO concept artist Hector Ortiz works on a new ship design

Star Trek Online: Agents of Yesterday comes out this summer and will feature Chekov and Scotty voiced by Walter Koenig and Chris Doohan, respectively, plus five new ships and the iconic Constitution Class Enterprise. Steve also told TrekMovie that they are hoping to have a playable demo on the show floor at the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas this August.

Star Trek Online comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox one consoles this Fall.

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I really wish I didn’t have to start from the beginning when I switch to console, as I have gotten pretty far on my PC game.

yeah, too bad. but the good news is that they are adding some cool stuff from the new JJ-movies:

Why not just stick to PC then?

The folks at SFD are really excited that they are bringing the game to console. We are even more excited that they are bringing the iconic ships from the new movies to the game. We are planning on holding a contest to give away a “Kelvin Timeline” Constitution Class and spread the movie of the new movie universe for everyone to enjoy!

When the interview describes the community as “very welcoming”, Starfleet Dental is the first fleet I think of. They organized the largest community giveaway project in MMO history, and have been keeping it running for over three years.

They also hold multiple ingame parties each year, giving valuable prizes for running races, answering star trek trivia questions, and winning costume contests. Last year they gave away one of each ship in the game!

I sincerely hope that the Spirit Of Starfleet Dental will be represented in the console communities as well.

Interesting to note, that a recent Star Trek Titan novel used the name “Solenae” to describe the same aliens, and according to the Author in a post over at TrekBBS, CBS requested he use that name.

So what if you have a life time sub? Does any perks transfer to console?

No, consoles are fresh start.

Yeah unless they are able to bring over all of the items and ships I already own I won’t be playing this on the console, as a lifetime member and some who was there in beta this is a huge disappointment and it’s something they can easily fix on the Xbox side when they link accounts.

Very true I have put to much in game to start over

FYI, there is a Mac version of STO already. :)

I still so sad they only developed Romulans as a half faction that needs Feds or KDF to survive.

It would be really nice if they made the crew from TNG playable on the game, like they are doing with Agents Of Yesterday.

I was and still am thrilled that its coming to a console. But I have to confess, I am bummed that I cannot continue with the PC version on a console. I have spent real money on the PC version and not even being able to access my monthly stipend seems rather odd. That being said, I will definitely check it out. Since buying a MAC I haven’t had a chance to play at all (it won’t work on my MAC despite my best efforts).