Unless you've been hiding on the holodeck for days -- a wise choice, given the circumstances here on Earth -- you surely have heard the news: STO Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich is gone, baby, gone. According to Zinkievich's farewell letter, Daniel Stahl, formerly a producer on STO, has taken the helm in his place.
I thought we'd briefly discuss Zinkievich's departure before moving on Stahl's recent video interview with the STOked podcast crew, where he dropped some delicious hints about future content and provided insight into his mindset as STO's head honcho.
Auf wiedersehen, adieu
So Craig Zinkievich is out. We sure didn't see it coming, especially with the massive Season 2 patch expected to launch this month. And judging from reactions on the forums, neither did anyone else. Such a major departure naturally invited prognostications of doom and gloom from the teeming masses (more so than usual, anyway). And The Escapist pointed out how "baffling" it is that Zinkievich would leave what he described in his farewell missive as "the coolest job ever."
I can tell you I'm a tad baffled, as well. Sure, Zinkievich has spent two and a half years of his life on STO, but most MMOs spend nearly twice that time just in development. Zink's letter offers no insight into his reasoning, beyond some silliness about goats and bees, so fans are left to speculate. An abrupt, unexplained departure of this magnitude smells to me of two possibilities. The first would be that Zink was pushed out, and while I'm not his biggest fan in some respects, the guy's dedication to the STO product is visible from space. The second possibility would be personal reasons, perhaps an illness or something, and I sure hope that's not the case.
Either way, happy trails, Mr. Zinkievich! It was fun while it lasted.
Meet the new boss...
So with Zinkievich out, Daniel Stahl is in. Stahl was a producer on STO, and now he'll be the mastermind behind shaping everyone's favorite Star Trek MMO. And he's not wasting any time celebrating, if his interview this week with Jupiter Broadcasting's STOked is any indication. The new man in charge dropped a few nuggets of info worth noting, so let's note them, shall we?
- The end is not nigh
"Star Trek Online has had very little turnover compared to other projects that I've worked on," Stahl insisted.
"Their projects on Star Trek have actually catapulted them," Stahl said of those who have left the team, including a few character artists, "and they're actually going on to bigger and better things. I don't feel like there's people leaving the project because they don't want to work on Star Trek."
This is totally understandable! Again, Cryptic Studios developed STO in half the time most studios spend on MMOs, so Zink's departure seems premature. But for artists and designers to build on their work and find other projects is nothing new or frightening. STO isn't dying!
- Expect deep storylines
"We're just not sure if it's gonna work," Stahl said. "If it takes off, we're just gonna keep making 'em."
- From concept to reality
- Playable factions delayed
"Adding a new faction right now is kind of doing a disservice to the Klingon faction," he said. "So we've shifted gears away from doing a new faction right now and we're really trying to focus on the two factions we have and making them more equal."
Thank goodness. Finally, some sense-talking. The folks at Cryptic definitely still want to add Romulans and Cardassians and the like, but not anytime soon. And that's fine. I have contended all along that they need to focus on the two current factions, particularly the Klingon side. Speaking of which...
- Focus on the Klingons
On the plus side, Klingon PvE is growing. Stahl said Season 2 will introduce eight Klingon-only episodes and provide Klingons access to the new high-level Undine and Borg episodes. Stahl also teased new customization options on the Klingon side, as well as a mysterious new nemesis for the Klingon Empire.
"They're not your typical Star Trek, walking-around-with-phasers kind of bad-guy group," Stahl said. "They're a little bit more mystical, they're a little bit more ancient-enemy-like. And we're hoping to introduce some types of gameplay that we just haven't seen in Star Trek before."
Unfortunately, a lot of the coming PvE is more of the same. Season 2 will introduce new high-level missions and the new weekly episodes, which is great, but they're open to both factions. On one level, sure, it's great that the Klingon faction has more to do. But that's the sort of double-dipping PvE that Cryptic already gives Klingons. Instead of fleshing out a Klingon storyline, Cryptic first let them into a few previously Federation-only fleet actions, and now this. We'll see how things shape up in the long run -- particularly if the secretive force set to assail the Klingon Empire turns out as awesomely as Stahl suggested it would -- but I'm a tiny bit pessimistic about the Klingon faction's immediate future.
...Same as the old boss?
All nitpickery aside, I think we learned some vital information from Stahl's interview with STOked. The man is clearly dedicated, and STO will continue to expand in exciting new directions. I never doubted it, but Zinkievich's exit seemed to signal Armageddon to some fans.
More importantly, though, I see a new development philosophy in play. Where Zinkievich seemed set on promising everyone the moon, the stars and a beachfront condo on Ceti Alpha V, Stahl seems like a more practical chap. Already the folks at Cryptic have backed off new factions in favor of fleshing out the current content, and Stahl seems wholly aware of the Klingon faction's deficiencies.
I have very high hopes for STO under Stahl's leadership, and all it took was a single podcast. So here's to you, Mr. New Executive Producer! Make us proud!