Recently I had the chance to speak with Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, Cryptic Studios about the pending Star Trek Online MMOPG. I had done an interview for the game a few years ago that was picked up by PC Gamer when the game was first in development at another studio, and I want to thank Craig, Danitra, and Jerry for setting up this interview.
GVK: How did the idea for the game come about and what can you tell us about what has changed since you obtained the game from Perpetual?
CZ: The Star Trek Universe is an obvious choice for an MMO. It has a incredibly deep, rich history with forty years of fantastic stories to draw upon, and one of the most vocal and loyal fanbases of any intellectual property.
When we received the license for the game, we started from scratch. Perpetual had a lot of concept art, and we’re using some of that. But in terms of game design and in-game assets, we’re creating all of it. If you were given the chance to create a game in the Star Trek Universe, could you resist the temptation to come up with your own vision? We couldn’t.
GVK: Which of the Star Trek televisions series have been your favorite and why?
CZ: I’d have to say Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m a fan of all of the shows, and I’ve watched the original series since I was a kid, but TNG was the first show that really hooked me on Trek.
GVK: What is the mix between planet, ship, and station missions, and will players have to be a certain level before they can board a ship?
CZ: About fifty percent of your time will be spent in space, and the rest of the time you will be exploring planets, boarding other ships, visiting space stations or performing tasks aboard your own ship.
We get you on the ships right away – you’ll fly your first ship during the tutorial, and from there the starships just get bigger and better.
GVK: What is the story for the game and is it opened ended or story based gameplay?
CZ: Star Trek Online begins in 2409, which is about 30 years after the events in Star Trek Nemesis. In that time, technology has advanced, the Klingon Empire and the Federation are no longer allies and the universe is a much more volatile place.
We will be revealing the story of what has happened in the Star Trek Universe leading up to 2409 in a series of updates on our web site. So check out www.startrekonline.com to learn more.
As far as the gameplay goes, there is both story-based episodic content within the universe and open-ended exploration content.
GVK: Will anyone from the series of films show up and provide voices?
CZ: In 2409, most of the major characters have retired or moved on. We’re exploring ways to involve some of the actors from the films and series in the game, but they might not be playing “their” characters.
GVK: How do players figure into ship departments, and how is the ship captained? Will players man science and medical stations and work as a team? Will NPCs come into play, or will command decisions be assigned to players?
CZ: You are the captain of your ship. You have customizable bridge crew pets to help you, and you can increase the skills of those crew members during play. But as far as the direct flying and commanding of your ship goes, it’s in your hands.
Being in command doesn’t limit your role. You can choose from a variety of careers such as engineering, tactical, medical, science, etc. Your career path will affect your skills and how you command your crew. Think about characters like Jean-Luc Picard, Beverly Crusher, Worf and Kathryn Janeway. Picard was an archeologist and diplomat, Crusher was a doctor, Worf was a security and tactical officer, and Janeway was a scientist. They all became ship captains, but what they had done before influenced their command style.
GVK: What sort of graphics engine is the game using?
CZ: We are using Cryptic’s proprietary game engine and technology. The engine has done a great job of rendering awesome customizable ground-based gameplay in the past, and the space gameplay we’re making with it now is pretty awesome too.
GVK: How are commerce and combat set up in the game? And how will players gain experience and level?
CZ: Combat on away team missions is fast-paced, “run and gun” fighting that involves ranged weapons like phasers, hand-to-hand weapons and martial arts. Ship combat is paced and more strategic. You’ll have to think about positioning, transferring power to boost weapons or shields, and how to best exploit your opponent’s weaknesses.
For commerce, you will get much of your currency through rewards and trading. You will get new technology from races you meet or you can create new items with resources you gather or trade for and information you learn as you complete missions. There’s also a chance of discovering technology or resources in salvaged ships or on planets.
There are a variety of ways you can increase your abilities – mission rewards, exploration and completing tours of duty are just a few.
GVK: How will player deaths be handled in the game?
CZ: We’re not ready to provide exact details, but the defeat penalty won’t be harsh. I think we’re past the days of outrageous death penalties in MMOs. People want to play and have fun.
GVK: What weapons and ships will players be able to select from and how will players go about upgrading their weapons? Can they make their own weapons?
CZ: Players will start with a basic starship, and as they progress through the game they will have the opportunity to upgrade to another ship or improve the abilities of the one they have. Some ships are more general purpose and some are more specialized. Your ship and the equipment you outfit it with help define the role you play in combat.
You will be able to craft or trade for items that improve and customize the combat, science and engineering capabilities of your ship.
GVK: How will missions and tasks be assigned, and will command characters be based on player level?
CZ: There are a variety of ways you will get missions and tasks. You may receive hails from ships in distress or planets that need help or you could have a task assigned to you by Starfleet or the Klingon Defense Force. And as you explore the universe, you’ll find points of interest that can lead to a new adventure or problem to solve.
GVK: What races will players be able to select from, and what character classes?
CZ: There will be a selection of races that players can choose from – Human, Vulcan, Andorian, Klingon, Orion and several others.
For players that don’t want to play one of those, we have the alien creator. There are a lot of episodes in the series that add a new race to the Star Trek Universe, and we want players to have the freedom to add new races to STO. Players will be able to customize the appearance of their new race, name it and choose racial abilities from a pool of bonuses.
Careers follow what you’ve seen in the series: engineering, tactical, science, etc.
GVK: Will the Borg or known enemies from the past series be in the game?
CZ: Definitely! You’ll see many of the familiar races from the series. It wouldn’t be Star Trek without trying to figure out how to penetrate the shields on a Borg cube or what to do to stop a Romulan plot.
GVK: Is ship navigation and combat in real-time?
CZ: If you mean instead of turn-based, then yes. If you mean “true to life,” it’s not exactly like that. We don’t want you to have to spend 16 hours warping from one system to another. That’s not fun.
GVK: The scope of the game sounds amazing. What are some of the biggest obstacles you see in creating the game, and what are your biggest goals for the game?
CZ: We don’t want to focus on making an MMO so much as bringing the Star Trek Universe to life. The biggest obstacle may be reaching the incredibly high bar that we, as Trek fans, have set for ourselves. I’m confident that the talented, dedicated team we have working on Star Trek Online is up to the task.
GVK: Will players be able to pilot shuttles in the game and use transporters? If so, how will this work?
CZ: Most of the time, you and your away team will use the transporters. You’ll be beaming all over the place! There will be some content that you need a shuttle to reach, but you won’t be manually flying the shuttle through the atmosphere and landing on the surface of a planet.
GVK: How do you address the issue of players dropping out of game during ship missions, as I can imagine losing your helmsman or tactical officer during a firefight could be tough?
CZ: In space, each player is the captain of their own ship. So if they drop connection, it’s like a player logging out of any MMO. On an away team, if a player drops out of your team you can replace him or her with one of your bridge officers.
GVK: Final question how do you plan to address player waits during travel times between destinations and how many planets will be open for players to explore and travel to?
CZ: Players will have a lot to do during travel. They’ll be outfitting their crew for upcoming adventures, chatting with their teammates and looking for new places to explore. We don’t want to make travel between systems onerous.
Exploration is almost endless! Players will be visiting major Trek locations like Vulcan and Deep Space Nine, but they’ll also be beaming down to the surfaces of unexplored planets and making first contacts with new civilizations. Cryptic has developed some really cool technology that allows us to generate exploration content that is compelling and complex. I don’t know of another game that’s taken it to this level.