The Digital Continuum: Pondering Star Trek Online

Kyle Horner
K. Horner|08.17.08

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The Digital Continuum: Pondering Star Trek Online

As a kid, I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mostly because my parents watched it constantly, but also because I found that I enjoyed the show. Another staple of my nerd-influenced upbringing was a steady diet of Star Trek movies. Since those formative years I've also watched Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, Voyager and more recently Battlestar Galactica. So it's safe to say I'm at least a casual sci-fi and space nerd. In fact, when I'm not entrenched in some form of entertainment, I tend to spend my extra time over at the official website of Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Of course Star Trek has never been purely about Science. It's always been -- to me, at least -- a mixture of social-political issues, engaging drama and several degrees of actual science. Different writers and directors have, over several decades, writ large their envisioned versions of Star Trek, with varying amounts of the three critical factors that make up a Star Trek experience. So, obviously, I now find myself wondering what Cryptic Studio's massively multiplayer online version is going to be like.


Most of the time Star Trek is about Human exploration into our far-reaching galaxy. Whether Humankind is exploring the galaxy with diplomacy or science in the right hand, our left hand tends to hold onto a weapon of some kind. This is why I said, "most of the time" Combat, being the core of just about every MMO, means that I have to wonder just how much of it will make up Star Trek Online. Looking at the recently released FAQ, we find this excerpt:

Q: When does the game take place?

A: Approximately 30 years after the events in Star Trek Nemesis. The game starts in 2409. Technology has advanced and the galaxy is a much more volatile place.

This tells us that Cryptic wants plenty of galactic head-butting in Star Trek Online. I know that some of the more hardcore fans probably won't like this, but I feel like it's really for the best of the game experience overall. People like to fight stuff, videogame nerds especially. It gives everyone a clearly defined goal: win the battle. That being said, I really do hope that Cryptic plans on implementing some especially awe-inspiring celestial objects to discover and even investigate. I want to scan binary star systems, white dwarfs and even a black hole or two.

Which reminds me of something. How exactly is Cryptic going to handle dying in Star Trek Online? Especially if they grant my wish and add black holes to the game. It can't really be anything like EVE Online, where you've got pod and that's pretty much it. Are they going to have some sort of escape vessel for your primary crew members to board or do you lose all of your crew -- both redshirts and deck crewmembers -- when you die? There's no way to know right now, but it's certainly something that's got to be weighing heavily on Cryptic's mind.

Getting back to combat, I'm hopeful that both space and on-foot encounters will be thoroughly butt-clenching. I want to feel the tension of an especially harrowing battle, be it in space, on ship or on a planet surface. The first gameplay trailer showed what looked like very early combat sequences, so it's hard to gather anything from the footage other than, well, it's in there. If I had to request one thing, I'd really like to see some creativity put into whatever ability progression system is used for the on-foot characters. But mostly, I just want to be able to bust out a Medical Tricorder and do some on-site healing with some hypospray and a dermal regenerator. Everybody loves a guy with a dermal regenerator.


Arguably the coolest thing from the recent FAQ was this delicious doughnut of information:

Q: What races will we be able to play?

A: The plan is Human, Vulcan, Andorian, Klingon, Orion, Gorn, and several others. You will also be able to create your own race with its own custom look and attributes.

Upon reading this, the first thing that popped into my mind was, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. We're going to be able to design our own races, complete with attributes?" After several minutes of thinking, I realized the implications of such a mind-numbingly impressive feature. It's highly likely that we won't actually see that many of the classic, official races. While I'm sure a segment of the hardcore fans will probably pick their favorite race, if it's offered. I can see a lot of the more casual players having some fun with that creator. Unless Cryptic does their usual thing and makes the race creation system just outright insanely impressive. If that happens, I kind of wonder if there'll be many, if any, Humans in Starfleet and Klingons in the Klingon Empire at all.

The secondary customization feature I have to give Cryptic some props for is the Captain system. While it's still too early to say exactly how this thing is going to work, it sounds like Captains are going to come in a variety of flavors via career choices. Essentially, they've figured out a way to more or less retain the classic MMO archetypes. Engineer, Tactical Officer, Doctor and Science Officer are the career examples given in the FAQ. Going in the same order as before, you pretty much have a Mage, Tank, Healer and a some kind of buffer/debuffer class. I'm not sure if this will apply to space combat or just on-foot combat. As far as I know, there isn't really a way for one ship to heal another in the midst of battle. Plus, the Doctor knows how to heal a person, not a ship. Whereas it's the other way around for an Engineer. I really have no idea how they plan to go about handling that one. It's just one of the many headaches that Star Trek has to offer an MMO developer.

Overall, I'd have to say that if I could choose any one group to be working on Star Trek Online -- aside from Blizzard, who only ever work on their own properties anyhow -- it would be Cryptic Studios. They've proven that they can think outside of the box and come up with surprisingly clever solutions more times than not. I do wish them the best of luck, though, because they'll certainly need some. Star Trek is probably one of the hardest IPs to convert into a mechanically and mythologically sound game. At least they're living up to the "Boldly going where no man has gone before." ideal.
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