Sunday, February 7, 2010

Geekin' Out On Trek

If I have any blog readers, you might know I'm a huge geek.  Well, both in girth and in attitude, but still.

Grew up a huge fan of Star Trek, for one.  Also was hard into video gaming, as I was a middle-schooler the years that console and arcade gaming exploded on the market.  Atari Boy, y'all.  Evolved from there into other scifi obsessions (X-Files, the Matrix) and other gaming habits (computer and Massive Multiplayer Online).

All of this is leading up, of course, to this previous week.  When Star Trek Online finally came out (nice Websnark review here).

This had been a game in development for AGES.  Other franchises of fantasy and scifi had come out with MMOs of their own - notably Star Wars Galaxies and Lord of the Rings Online - but Trek seemed to have serious issues.

A lot of it had to do with roleplay within the established universe, as it were.  Most other games, you create a character and play it however you want, no problem.  The powers and actions of that character based on Archetype, sure, but otherwise you can do whatever you want wherever you were (depending on zone hazards, of course).  But Star Trek is, well, a little different.  Star Trek is an ensemble effort: a character in Trek is part of a crew.  A Trek character serves a function on a starship, be it a bridge officer, a security guard, an engineer, an Away Team scientist, a medic, what have you.  In a true roleplay environment, your character would be performing ship duties alongside hundreds of other online players... bumping into each other, arguing over who gets to work the Botany lab (or worse, arguing over who gets to sit in the Big Chair), filling out paperwork... in other words, getting bored out of your mind as you would in the Real World.  It also meant that when the ship you were on finally went into battle or a conflict of some kind, the success of the ship depended on hundreds of fellow online players, which meant shiploads of lag or problems with key players not being online when the action goes down.  Meaning harsher gameplay that wouldn't really be any fun at all.  Word is/was the original game designers were trying to create that kind of MMO experience... and were failing miserably.

Other companies passed this project around like a hot potato before it landed with Atari and Cryptic Studios.  The people involved here (including a particular person I'm not a huge fan of from the CoH days) made a judgment call for playability over pure roleplay.

They created a situation in-game where everyone gets their own ship and becomes Captain of their own crew.

The Trek purists, for what I know, did howl at that.  The gaming purists I'm willing to bet cheered their asses off.

It does simplify the game.  No arguments over who gets to be a Captain as EVERYONE gets to be one.  The argument now is more about A) what ship you really get and B) how quickly you can upgrade to the bigger (Enterprise) better (Enterprise-E) ships (ENTERPRISE!!!).

No arguments either on who plays what role as bridge bunnies, uh officers.  Each Captain hires on or 'buys' other officers at key positions (Tactical, Science, Engineering) depending on the number of Assignment slates available (higher ranks achieved adds up to 5 spots).  The bridge crew also works as your default Away Teams with you (basic Red Shirt security guys to fill the spots not yet unlocked in Assignment).

Multiplayer works like this in Trek: you fly your ship into star systems, to either patrol them, locate problems, fight off bad guys (Klingons!  Who have allied themselves with the Gorn, the Cardassians, and a few other minor villain classes), and otherwise cause havoc before the Prime Directive comes in.  You have fleet battles and beam-down away missions.  And you automatically team with anyone else who enters your system working the same mission objective (if people come in half-way through a mission, the objectives scale to difficulty accordingly).

Ship and crew upgrades come with Inventory items to boost shields, weapons, engineering, science, and tactical advantages.  You can sell Tribbles, if you dare.  Leveling up in rank involves 'training' your talents in particular matters as well as training up your bridge NPC officers (you can install Inventory items like more powerful phaser rifles to your bridge crew as well).

I've been playing for the past week (between job hunting and all).  One of the advantages of Cryptic being involved is that Trek Online gets the Character Creation system that Cryptic enjoys deploying: it's one of the most complex of all the MMOs out there, but also the best as it lets you choose uniforms, body shape, facial color and structure, EVERYTHING.  Eric at Websnark is particularly thrilled he built a Tree officer (!).

For myself, I am now Captain (Lt. rank, actually, but working to actual Captain status) of the USS Esoteric (yes, Phil, I'm borrowing one of your favorite words, sue me!), flying about the Vulcan/Risa sectors handling a lot of zone hunting missions and doing my best not to attract attention from the GIANT SPACE WASPS OF ALTAIR NINE!  eeeeeeeeeek.  Anywho.  The game is a bit of a blast... except I'd really love to get more weapon slots on my Cruiser.  Only two in front (Phaser, Torpedo) and one in back (Phaser).  I need more torpedo tubes!

Gameplay itself is a lot like the old Starfleet Command game: you fire attacks, you balance your shields, and you turn and circle about in space with your strongest shields facing your opponents at all times.  Meaning a lot of evasive maneuvers and spinning about the game grid.  Ground attack fights with Away Teams are a lot like regular MMO PvE: shoot at bad guys, get your teammates to heal you or buff your shields, and target the bad guys with special attacks for a one-shot kill.  Oh, and the Away Team missions if you team with other players have the 5-character slots filled by your teammates and by whatever NPC the team leader chooses (haven't played that option yet, but should be interesting).

I haven't run into any PvP instances yet, although I'm pretty sure that aspect is in the game - probably the Neutral Zone between Federation and Klingon space...

And now... TO INFINITY... AND BEY... what you mean, wrong show?  Sigh.  Go geeks!