Captain's Log: Star Trek Online year in review, part one

STO Second Wave Ds9
Here we are again, facing another New Year's Eve and the taking down of the old beat-up calendar and replacing it with a brand-new, pristine one. It's a day to both reflect on the past and celebrate and revel in the exciting unknowns of the future. While we're still a few weeks away from Star Trek Online's third anniversary in February, right now for me it's a time to celebrate two other anniversaries: Last week I celebrated my first anniversary with Massively, and today marks my 18th wedding anniversary!

So I figured now was the perfect time to review the amazing changes that have taken place in Star Trek Online. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be going over what worked and what didn't work and try to prognosticate on what the past year may foretell for the future of the game.


STO KDF first city
Was it really less than a year ago that STO went free-to-play?

It seemed longer, didn't it? Looking back on my past columns, I realized with some shock that Star Trek Online converted from a subscription-only based game to a free-to-play model less than a year ago! At this time last year, STO had just released the patch titled A Call to Arms. That patch injected much of what became the foundation of STO's F2P model and included the new (supposedly) single-currency called dilithium. This was a big, big change for the playerbase. To say that the change went smoothly would be a lie. It actually took a while for things to settle down, and some aspects still have not.

To begin with, a new and fluctuating economy was introduced into a game based on a fictional universe where money supposedly had no meaning. Many of the Trek faithful protested; some even left the game. But others found ways to rationalize the changes or just flat ignore them in order to continue playing as a Starfleet captain in the one of the moved beloved sci-fi genres of all time.

STO Toni and Shonn talk with Counselor
The change to the free-to-play format also seemed to impart a significant delay on actual story advancement in the game. A year later, most players are still clamoring for story. Strangely however, since the game went free-to-play, most of STO's story has actually been fleshed out within the pages of Star Trek Magazine, not the game itself. Will STO ever see consistent story-telling again, or will the next set of Featured Episodes due with the upcoming release of Season Eight be the last?

One thing is certain: Changes to the game mechanics were necessary, and many are still are needed. Still, the developers at Cryptic shouldn't have to be reminded that the Star Trek television shows survived despite their cheap props and crappy special effects. Why? Because great stories were at the heart of the shows, and no video game can survive without a damned good reason to play. Mechanics don't give people a palpable need to play a game, but a great story can.

STO Boldy They Rode
The 2800

The year did see the temporary return of the beloved Featured Episodes. For those who are unfamiliar with the format, here's the skinny: For most of 2010, Featured Episodes became the way that STO players were fed the advancement of the game's story. Released on a weekly basis in four or five-mission arcs, FEs were very similar to television mini-series and drew large groups of players to play the newest mission and gain unique rewards.

Only one set of Featured Episodes, The 2800, has been released since the F2P changeover. The 2800 was a breath of fresh air into a game that had been suffering from such significant changes in mechanics that many players were convinced they'd never see an advancement of the tales that had begun with the television shows. However, The 2800 featured a strong story, based on a singular episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and it showed the return of the missing 2800 ships of The Dominion that had been thwarted by The Prophets as they entered the Bajoran worm-hole.

STO USS Enterprise 1701-F
A new Enterprise and a new Enterprise captain

The 2800 also revealed the new Enterprise and her crew. The NCC-1701-F, the design of which was based on the winning contest entry by artist Adam Ihle, made her first appearance in the final battle sequence in the last mission in the arc. Her commanding officer, an Andorian male by the name of Va'Kel Shon, had made a brief appearance in earlier episodes as the CO of the U.S.S Belfast. While some players have expressed disappointment in the character's new role, personally I was thrilled. Finally, in the true spirit of IDIC (the Vulcan axiom of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations), the CO of the Enterprise isn't a human. It's about time!

This ship's design also took a critical beating. In a significant change from previous Star Trek designs, the Enterprise-F's saucer section has a dual hull that connects it to the star-drive section. She's vastly different from her earlier counterparts, but in a way, that's also very consistent for the genre. With the exception of the 1701 to the 1701-A, no other Enterprise ever really looked like the ship before it.

The Odyssey class (the class of ship of the Enterprise-F) can be played in the game by any player who obtains one. Be warned: She's a beast to fly, but the challenge of turning her is measured with the beauty of her interior and her ability to take a beating.

STO Return to Terra Nova - Foundry mission
The Foundry ch-ch-ch-ch changes!

With a David Bowie earworm firmly in place, I will take on a brief overview of the last year for STO's strangest enigma: The Foundry. The user-generated content tool has seen its fair share of failures, bugs, delays and frustration. After the outright system implosion following the release of Season Four, The Foundry never really has quite recovered. Yet the lessons learned by the QA unit after the aptly named Season Four Fiasco have kept the UGC tool from suffering the same devastating problems when subsequent seasons were released during 2012.

The Foundry community remains one of the tightest and most creative, not just in the game but also within the greater Star Trek fandom. What some have labeled a clique is, in my experience, actually a group of extremely giving people, all of whom are willing to help players of any experience level improve their skills at creating their own playable STO missions.

To assist that community, the devs at Cryptic Studios and the community management at Perfect World Entertainment have finally made some changes with respect to how Foundry missions are played. Players receive increased rewards for undertaking the community-made missions. The devs have also created the Foundry Spotlight, a weekly special focus on one mission (alternating between Federation and Klingon factions) created by a player and highlighted on the game's website every Friday.

STO Tristan and Kaii on Mol'Rihan
Does this mean that all is well with The Foundry? Of course not. Plenty can be done to improve the tool in the game. While much has been done in order to make the tool more user-friendly, many players still find the tool a bit daunting. More experienced users are still begging for old bugs to be addressed and fixed, while others are hoping against hope that more assets will soon be added in order to increase the diversity of missions that can be created.

Be that as it may, The Foundry community has done wonders with the tool even in its current state, and many of the missions are (at least in my opinion) some of the very best -- not just in STO, mind you, but across the Star Trek genre as a whole.

I will continue my year in review next week! 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.