Captain's Log: Interview with Cryptic's Al Rivera, part three

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Today Captain's Log continues with the third and final installment of my interview with Al Rivera, Star Trek Online's Lead Designer at Cryptic Studios!

Rivera and I picked up the conversation and talked briefly about the Why I Play STO column that I wrote several weeks ago. I informed him that because of that column, I had received a few emails from brand-new MMO players who expressed frustration over the fact that as new free-to-play players, they weren't immediately allowed into the parts of the game that would give them access to the community, especially fleets, right off the bat.

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Rivera confirmed my analysis that many of the barriers that new F2P players face are placed into the system intentionally to keep spammers at bay.

One of the things that STO players haven't had to deal with to any persistent degree is spam messages from gold-farmers, and Cryptic seems eager to keep it that way. It's the reason in-game currency is tradable only in one direction and can never be "cashed in" for real life currency again.

However, quite a few new players have expressed their desire to meet and join a new fleet the moment they access the game, but they haven't been able to access chat channels to do so. He gently reminded me and others that if you want to access certain chat channels or the forums, it takes a very minor purchase in the C-Store to trigger that access in order to find the social group that may be right for you.

Rivera was also wise to point out that there are many people, including me, who will be undertaking STO as their very first foray into the MMO world and will likely be very hesitant and wary about any new person who approaches them in-game. Cryptic wants to ensure that the new MMO players feel extremely comfortable with the game first before unleashing an enthusiastic and supportive community (one so enthusiastic that it can be a bit overwhelming to a person who has never played an MMO before) onto an unsuspecting new player.

Rivera said, "It's very tough balance, and I'm not sure I have a good answer for you. I can tell you that fleets are something we are seriously focusing on. You'll see a lot more features coming soon that will make things a lot more friendly for new players, but I can't really talk about that in detail."

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He admitted that anything that may have been successful in Perfect World is a possibility for introduction into STO. "That's why we're partnered with them," he said. "We're partnered so much in that they bought us, but it is a partnership between our understanding of western gameplay and their understanding of the free-to-play model, and they're right -- it works for us too, but as a designer, the best that I can do is to make the game as easy to play and as accessible as possible."

He was quick to state that the word "accessible" is a tough one to deal with in the MMO development world. He tries to impart to the members of his team how important it is to make STO accessible to a wide potential audience without disenfranchising those players who have played the game for two years. "It's OK to make something complex, to make something deep, but to also keep it accessible and make it playable from the beginning... that's hard," he told me. "If we were to build this game from scratch, it would be a very different game. But since this was a conversion, it made things a bit difficult, and I think you'd see Cryptic do a better job and that Cryptic's handling of Neverwinter will be different. We've learned a lot."

Rivera then reiterated that the new F2P model will hopefully prove to new MMO players that there's nothing to be worried about. Cryptic "took away" the costs for special playable species, and it doesn't charge real money for the tailor, etc., in order to assure new players that the majority of the game really is free-to-play. While it's possible for new players to buy certain items right-off-the bat (like a Connie or an NX class ship), most probably won't. "They'll level up their character and then buy those items for new characters later," he said, assuming they decide they like the game and stick with it.

Our attention turned briefly back to fleets. We discussed the wide variety of fleets in the game, and he seemed very proud of the diversity that the fleets represented. He agreed that all new players, when they feel comfortable, should really seek out the camaraderie of a fleet. He wanted to convince new players that most fleets in the game are great sources of friendship and teamwork and that many have focuses that could appeal to the wide array of players interested in everything from roleplaying to PvP to casual fleets that have no pressure to play in any sort of style.

He knows that it can be frustrating for a new player not to have access to those fleets and social groups without having to level his character high enough or paying a small amount in the C-Store to open that access. "We recognize that, and we're actually actively acting to resolve it so that new players have access to the social dynamic from the very beginning," Rivera said.

He also acknowledges that new players are more apt to want to try the game out first on their own without being bothered by interacting with a larger group until they're ready to invest in the game and community and "start putting some anchors down."

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We concluded the interview with a discussion about the Klingon faction. He is hopeful that more players will give the Klingon faction a try as the devs are starting to put more future effort into the faction; he believes it has some of the best-written missions and best ship-modeling in the game.

He pointed out that most Fek'Ihri ships seen on the Klingon side are modeled after current and historical Earth-bound ships. He challenged players to look anew at their Fek'hiri vessels to determine what water vessel they were inspired by, whether it's a Chinese junk or a Viking death barge.

He and every other developer I met clearly took great pride in their work and in how much thought really does go into every little detail, from the ships to the shoes worn by a player's character. I want to thank Al Rivera for his time during my visit to Cryptic and for introducing me to "The Maxx." I'll never forget him.

Join me next week when I cover my interview with Executive Producer Daniel Stahl! Until then, live long and prosper!

Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to terilynn@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.