Hello, computer (and players). The following information has been marked classified and restricted by Starfleet Intelligence; any leaks will not be tolerated -- eh, forget it! Welcome to MassivelyLeaks! As you may or may not know, I had an exclusive opportunity to visit Cryptic Studios in Los Gatos, California last month. Since I'm arguably one of Star Trek Online's biggest fanboys, this was a dream come true (/e squeal), and I am still in shock that I was in the very cubicles where the game is made.
Tucked away in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains, Los Gatos is a small town in Santa Clara County (better known as Silicon Valley), just southwest of San Jose. It is hard to believe that the entire Star Trek universe is currently one of its residents. But it is -- I've seen it with my own eyes, and I am excited to share my experience with you.
Ensign, warp 10! Let's get down to some cryptic business and invade the hive...
These are the adventures of Captain Felczer from Friday, February 18th, 2011:
11:30 a.m. -- I did not pick a good day to be driving down a two-lane highway with blind curves; fortunately, my windshield wipers were top-notch, because it was absolutely pouring with little to no visibility. Thankfully, I arrived safely to the studio, parked in the visitor parking spot and literally ran inside from the rain. Being from Southern California, I forgot to put an umbrella in the car; I am actually surprised I was not in shorts and flip-flops.
Walking through the front door was like stepping onto the bridge of the Enterprise, except I was actually in a reception area with a couch for the captain's chair, a flat-screen playing demos of Cryptic's various projects for the view screen, and the receptionist as my helmsmen.
After "checking in," signing my Non-Disclosure Agreement and receiving my visitor badge (which I did not get to keep -- boo), I was met by STO's Online Community Representative, Stormshade. Stormy (as the community calls him) and I are no strangers, for he has been on my podcast a few times.
11:40 a.m. -- To start off the day, Stormy took me on a tour of the studios. To be honest, I was expecting a giant office building, at least a few stories tall, with bustling activity in the hallways including people carrying clipboards and walking frantically on their way to the next meeting. Why did I have this vision? I really have no idea. I didn't know what to expect, because I have never been in a game studio. In reality, the hallways were quiet, the lights were dimmed, and it did not seem like there was anyone else in the building; I was actually starting to think that Stormy ran the whole show on his own. But, to be fair, it was a rainy day and I heard a lot of people were out sick.
I don't think many people realize how small Cryptic truly is. As the development team mentions all the time, Cryptic is an independent studio that happens to be owned by one of the world's largest game studios: Atari. Without giving away exact numbers, we know there are only a few dozen people working on each project and a dozen or so working in areas like Marketing and Community.
While on the tour, I was able to see the area where the STO and Champions Online devs work. Network Operations is a dedicated team that watches the servers and monitors their performance; Quality Assurance passes the white glove over the game's updates before they are released to the public; MarCom hosts the PR, marketing, creative services and community teams; and the "break area" is complete with lounge couches, Atari arcade games, computers, a tabletop RPG-like area, and other amenities to allow employees to unwind, relax, and have fun.
After getting over my nervousness of being surrounded by such awesomeness, I really opened up to them, and our conversation, surprisingly, stayed out of the gaming realm. It was great to talk to them as normal people who just happen to have superhero powers when it comes to STO. Now I am not saying there was no shoptalk, because you can't get a group of colleagues together and keep work completely out of a conversation -- I just can't talk about some of the things I learned at this point!
1:15 p.m. -- Lunch zoomed by, and we were already on our back on our way to the studio.
1:30 p.m. -- To work off some of what we had just eaten, Stormy and I decided to check out the studio's computer room and play a nice round of PvP. Without giving too much away and hurting anyone's feelings, I can say that Stormy won't be asking to fight me in another PvP match for a while. As we began to queue up for another match, Executive Producer Dan Stahl walked in the room.
This was one of the best parts of the visit, because Dan and Stormy spoke to me as if I were part of the team; they wanted to know what I liked best about the game and what I thought about some of the things I have seen in regard to where the game is headed. Much to my surprise, Dan then offered me an opportunity to play a new mission before anyone else. This turned out to be Episode 3, Frozen, of the latest Weekly Series featuring the Romulans.
I actually got to play this mission on Dan's test account, which, I accidentally realized, contains things that... COMPUTER ALERT: NDA REMINDER... Anyway, forgetting that I did not know how to run on god mode, Dan left me with no gear or upgraded weapons to use. Luckily, Salami popped in the room and took a few minutes to type in some secret commands that automatically speced me up with the best gear possible. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish the mission once Dan signed back into his test account in his office, forgetting that it would kick me due to duplicate logins!
3:45 p.m. -- After finishing up the show, I had the opportunity to hang out with Zero and Fark in their offices while Stormy took care of some pressing business. I got a chance to see some of the changes to the Foundry that are now on test server as well learn about how tough their jobs actually are. Imagine having to check an entire build for hours only to find one thing in the end that sends it right back to the devs -- ouch! I also got to see and pay, literally, homage to the "Epic Jar" -- anytime the word "epic" is used within the studio's walls, a quarter must be paid to the jar. I don't know why there are pennies in there, though.
4:45 p.m. – As my time at the studio wound down, the team was gathered once more for the group photo that is featured up top. I was able to have everyone sign my retail box copy of STO before I said my goodbyes.
5:00 p.m. -- As I left the studio and was walking to my car in the rain, I thought to myself, "Wow... that was so cool." I then started to break out into song and dance as I flailed my body around in excitement. OK, OK, that was a joke... or was it?
I want to thank the entire team at Cryptic for hosting me. I cannot wait for the next time I visit. Keep up the amazing work and don't stop trekkin'!
Well, Captains, I want to thank you for reading this week's entry and allowing me to recap my amazing journey to STO's central hub. I'll leave you with something to hold you over until next week's edition of Captain's Log... check out my first STO Livestream event from earlier this week!
Computer, terminate recording.
Boldly going where no one has gone before, Brandon Felczer transmits Captain's Log through Subspace right to your PADD every Thursday. Join him as he discusses the latest news, gossip, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Hailing frequencies are always open to his bridge through firstname.lastname@example.org.