Welcome to another edition of Captain's Log, the greatest weekly column about Star Trek Online that you'll read on Massively today. I can't believe this, but there's a fairly solid chance that I'm digging myself out of another blizzard at this very moment, so I hope you're having fun reading this instead of freezing to death, shovel in hand. Winter is getting on my nerves.

Next week, STO will celebrate its one-year anniversary, and Captain's Log will celebrate with a half-amazed look back at 12 months of Federation funsauce and Klingon, er... hm. Anyway, we'll look ahead this week to STO's future -- both the future we expect, and the future STO needs to ensure it reaches its second, fifth and tenth anniversaries.

The way things are

We'll talk about this in detail next week, but STO has come a long way in 12 months. From a troubled launch characterized by anemic content and myriad bugs, the game has grown, matured and innovated considerably.

Even so, Cryptic Studios' take on the Star Trek franchise is far from perfect. The content is still thin in some places and just plain painful in others. And the bugs persist and persist and persist.

Don't get me wrong -- STO's in pretty decent shape nowadays, probably moreso than I once upon a time expected it to be. But even with the best MMOs around, what happens when we've been playing them for a long time? We spend a lot of time waiting impatiently for what's next, be it a new race or a new feature or a new thingie we've completely imagined, knowing full well that it'll never see the light of day. Heck, it only took World of Warcraft fans a few weeks with Cataclysm to start champing at the bit for Patch 4.1.

Fans and players aren't the only ones looking ahead, either. As we covered last week, Dan Stahl and his team have their sights set firmly on the future, too, from feature episodes to the Foundry.

So what's definitely coming down the pipeline for STO -- and what really should be?

New mission architecture

I mentioned this last week but dropped the ball a little bit. In his latest Engineering Report, Stahl mentions that the dev team is going to rework older content to bring it in line with STO's "new mission architecture." At the time, I glossed over that and joked that I didn't know what Stahl was talking about. Thankfully, commenter J Brad Hicks was a bit more on the ball on that one, and he explained:

"The existing storyline missions were created with an in-house piece of software called Project Genesis -- but about all it did was speed up art generation. All of the mission text, objectives, behaviors, NPC abilities and so forth were specified the same old way every MMO has done it: with some incomprehensible coding tool. ... Well, that got the job done, but the resulting files are almost impossible to debug."

I remember having read about that before! Now with the Foundry, I suppose the devs can rebuild older content in a way that allows the team to quash bugs. And they can incorporate newer features here and there, too.

Ground combat

I dislike the ground combat in STO. I always have. Not everyone agrees that it's awful, of course, but many others do.

The guys at Cryptic know that, and they've been promising a combat overhaul for some time now. Calling ground combat a "lackluster feature," Stahl teased the changes back in September:

"We have a new ground combat mode in testing that allows you to switch to a target reticule and shoot your weapons where you are aiming instead of needing to click [a] target."

That sounds like an improvement, for sure -- introducing action without turning STO into a first-person shooter or anything. Perhaps that could nudge combat toward the largely enjoyable system in DC Universe Online.

It better not be the only change we can expect, though, especially given that the overhaul has been in the works for months upon months. Enemies need to die faster, and I would love it if they didn't always show up in groups of at least six or seven.

Heck, they should make a lot of the ground combat optional. I would much rather work a little bit to sneak around and avoid patrolling enemies than have to phase dozens of guys to death every time I'm forced (yes, forced) to set foot on a planet or starship.

Free-to-play

I know the folks in charge keep flirting with the idea, but STO really needs to go freemium. Except for WoW (and who knows, maybe Star Wars: The Old Republic), free-to-play is the future (at least until someone comes up with a better alternative payment model). STO doesn't need to switch immediately, but sooner is better than later. I would almost suggest switching when the team is ready to take the Foundry live, because that would be the kind of major content addition on which to hang the publicity hat.

But Cryptic's guys or Atari's guys or whoever makes the major business decisions needs to do things a little differently. For one thing, our own Patrick Mackey has raised concerns about the big Champions Online switch. And we've already lamented Cryptic's proclivity for nickel-and-diming players with the C-Store. I fully expect STO to make the big switch in 2011, but the manner in which the team will divide free content and pay content leaves me with an enormous question mark floating above my head. And no, that doesn't mean I want your 10 rat pelts.

To expand or not to expand?

I can't see STO releasing a paid expansion anytime soon, if ever. There, I said it. The game thrives in part on the goodwill engendered by free content expansions. And beyond that, it occasionally sounds as if the developers are just barely keeping their heads above water with all the stuff they're working on now -- never mind throwing a retail-ready expansion into the mix.

Still, once the Foundry is chugging along, combat and crafting have been fixed, and things have settled down, perhaps the developers could turn their attention toward a mini-expansion. I'm picturing something like Warhammer Online's forthcoming RvR Pack, which will introduce a long-awaited playable race, increase level caps and add some content.

Now, raising the level cap isn't really a selling point for STO, since that has happened and will continue to happen in season-sized patches. But if the folks at Cryptic could manage to develop a new playable faction or two, with a decent amount of new content dedicated to each, and maybe a new feature, such as the ability to design whole planets using the Foundry? I could see putting a reasonable price tag of $15 or $20 on that.

Anyway, what do you guys think? With a week left in year one of STO, what do you see happening in year two and beyond?

Less trustworthy than a Ferengi loan shark and more useless than a neutered Tribble, Ryan Greene beams Captain's Log straight into your mind every Thursday, filling your brainhole with news, opinions and reckless speculation about Star Trek Online. If you have comments, suggestions for the column or insults too creative for Massively's commenting policy, send a transmission to ryan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.