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Captain's Log: Did Cryptic betray the spirit of Star Trek?

Ryan Greene

Star Trek Online is terrible. Ground combat is tedious and messy. Space combat is repetitive. Missions are boring. The game engine is clunky and cartoony. The developers at Cryptic Studios are smelly doo-doo-heads. In short: STO is the worst.

Or so people would have you believe. In its seven or so months of life, STO has attracted an impressive collection of detractors, naysayers and Debbie Downers. For this week's Captain's Log, let's discuss the phenomenon of anti-STO fervor. We've touched on certain aspects of it before, but the time has come to examine what I think is the biggest claim by those who really loathe STO.

Does STO really betray the spirit of Star Trek? Read on as we play a little point-counterpoint, then feel free to add your two cents in the comments.

Haters to the left... AND right

People hate STO! Shocker. The vitriol oozes forth from all over the Interweb, and I see plenty of it in the comments each week. Ever since its February 2010 launch, STO has been the target of seemingly endless ill will. Maybe I'm more attuned to it, because I write about STO every week, but it seems to me that MMO folks have heaped the hate onto STO way more than they have onto any other MMO lately.

The hate cake has many layers. Anti-Cryptic sentiment makes up one layer, for sure. From their double-dipping to their stupid faces, Cryptic and its developers just rile people up.

Another layer consists of people's tendency to gang up on the shiny new MMO in town, especially when it fails to satisfy every fan's every expectation. While STO has suffered because of that, it actually stands to benefit from upcoming new releases. I've already noticed (or imagined) a shift in animosity toward Final Fantasy XIV, with its fatigue system and its software mousery. So as the newest big MMO inches closer to shattering fans' hopes and dreams forever, the pressure finally lifts ever so slightly off STO and the folks at Cryptic.

A third layer of loathing springs from STO's underdevelopment. We miiiight have mentioned that once or twice, and fans' dissatisfaction is totally understandable there.

The ruination of Star Trek

The final layer is perhaps the most significant. Star Trek fans have voiced, again and again, a genuine beef with Cryptic's translation of Star Trek the intellectual property into Star Trek the online video game. But for the most part, I disagree. I'm no lifelong, diehard Star Trek fan -- and I'm not saying my opinions outweigh anyone else's, believe me -- but I have known my fair share of Trek geekery. I've always loved Deep Space Nine in particular, and it took me years to accept that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is vastly superior to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, mainly because I dug Chekov so much.

As such, I like to think I understand the vital underpinnings of the Star Trek universe. So what exactly did the developers screw up -- or get right?


In STO, everyone can hear you scream about space. It sucks, and everyone knows it. Warp space looks like an interstellar highway map, with blue lines marking trade routes and sticks supporting solar systems. More than that, it's hard to say we're really exploring anything. Nebulae and such exist, but we mostly only ever encounter random asteroid fields, just like the random asteroid fields we chanced upon yesterday. The spirit of Star Trek relies heavily on the wonder and joy of exploration, which are almost entirely lacking in STO.

Not a great start for my dissenting perspective, but this is the most difficult complaint for me to disagree with, lorewise. The developers really didn't make warp travel terribly immersive, and the game is too heavily instanced.

But then again, I think many detractors gloss over the difficulty of implementing an authentic sense of discovery in an MMO. Is your captain the only member of the Federation who can discover a significant new planet or lifeform? If so, do the developers need to add thousands of significant planets and lifeforms to give many players a chance of discovering one? But then, if the new discovery is trivial instead, or if everyone can "discover" the same thing, then what's the point?


The Federation is fundamentally a society based on exploration and science and the betterment of civilizations and stuff. Starfleet's members have evolved beyond the petty motivations of greed and materialism. (Think of the scene in First Contact when Captain Picard explains that the Feds don't live for making money, and Alfre Woodard is all, "Son, you crazy.")

So the argument is that the developers betrayed the spirit of Star Trek by adding not one, not two, but, like, 17 different currencies to STO. You've got credits, merits, badges, latinum, and on and on -- none of which, some would argue, belong in Star Trek.

Acquisitiveness isn't dead in Star Trek. The Federation has to deal with non-member races that can't just get by with giving goods and services away for free. Quark's does fine business on DS9, despite the kind-of banishment of money. And Federation officers have been known to gamble from time to time. So from a lore standpoint, STO currencies make decent sense, while they remain indispensable from a gameplay standpoint.


Point: One of the most popular facets of the Star Trek universe, the Klingon Empire is a glorious legion that deserves better than its barely-more-than-PvP-only status in STO.

Counterpoint: On the one hand, shyeah, Klingons need more content. No doubt about it. But on the other hand, Klingons have never been the focus of Star Trek. We haven't seen any Klingon-based series or movies. So their current place in the galaxy, while lame from a gameplay perspective, makes tolerable sense from a lore perspective.

War is everywhere

Point: Here's the doozy. The Federation is all about peace and love and harmony. Even in difficult situations, its officers seek nonviolent resolutions through diplomacy, strategy or brinkmanship. Except in STO, where everyone just shoots first and asks questions later, maybe, if he feels like it. Even including the newly implemented diplomatic corps, STO's warlike atmosphere utterly betrays the most fundamental tenets of Gene Roddenberry's creation.

Counterpoint: No, it really doesn't. Sure, the various captains of the Enterprise value diplomacy and nonviolence, and STO needs more of that to balance the gameplay. But you know how every episode of the original series seems to include at least one Shatner-fueled fistfight? You know how they kill Khan at the end of the movie? You know how one of the coolest things about DS9 was when diplomacy crumbles and all-out war sweeps across the Federation? Exactly.

Violence and war and shooting and explosions are just as integral to the fun of Star Trek as summits and peace accords are. The folks at Cryptic failed to provide enough nonviolent gameplay, sure, but their focus on war is far from the bastardization of Star Trek that some folks seem to think it is.

My point

The people at Cryptic did not ruin the Star Trek IP! While STO's content and game systems needed work at release and still need work today, the high concept of a Federation at war surely does not have Gene Roddenberry spinning in his grave.

So, readers, what do you think? Putting aside any unreasoning hatred of Cryptic and nitpicking about specific features, do you agree that STO upholds, or at least doesn't contradict, many of the tenets of Star Trek? Or does it spit in the face of Trekkers everywhere?

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