STO: Where I prove I know nothing of MMO design.

The original show is almost forty years old. The whole Star Trek license is becoming less valuable — there are no shows on the air, the movie coming out this year seems more like a homage to a fading memory than a new start to the franchise, and I just have to admit that that ensign phasoring a Gorn just didn’t do it for me. Kirk spent an episode fighting a single Gorn; now they’re trash-mobs? Nuh-uh. Don’t go there.

In fact, I want you to forget all about normal MMOs. I don’t want to see Level 50 Engineers — ever. If levels weren’t in the show, I don’t want to see them in the game. If mass slaughter of harmless creatures wasn’t a normal part of the show, I don’t want to see it in the game. If grinding experience wasn’t in the show, I don’t want to see it in the game.

Hey, if I love the show that much, why don’t I marry it?

Why don’t you?

I mean it. Watch the show and try to think how to take that show — and make a MMO from it.

I think, pretty soon, you’ll pick up on the One Show is One Adventure idea. You start out on ship, and then something happens, and then even more bad somethings happen, you come up with a plan, try it, fix it until it works, and then it ends. The bad somethings may involve ship battles, or diplomacy, or exploration, or mystery, or meeting alien superbeings — WHATEVER, it’s Trek, anything can happen. Nazi lizard aliens? It’s in there. Time travel? It’s there. Wars between the gods reimagined as a Civil War battle? It’s there, it truly is.

Not to say it’s not corny.

Look at Dungeons & Dragons Online. This is basically their model. You start out at a meeting point, and then you choose an adventure and you go out and do it.

They have all that D&D baggage, though. Classes, levels, hit points, d20, THAC0… there is absolutely no reason why a Star Trek MMO has to do that.

And I know that’s — broadly — what Perpetual was planning with STO, from what we know. You start in your hub, choose a solo or group mission, go off on it, and come back. Some might have problems with that, but I don’t. The show was episodic. My problem was that it didn’t allow you to command your own, huge starship — to be on the bridge and be part of that whole bridge crew dynamic. I was still with the game, even then — where I lost hope was that screenshot of the popup window they were going to use for all character interactions, and that stupid screenshot of some crew member killing “a gorn soldier”, which seemed to go contrary to the episode in which they appeared.

In a world without loot, what incentive does someone have to play? Well, what is loot besides a marker of achievement that lets you access more content?

Imagine a future with dozens of factions — those who hate aliens, those who hate humans, those looking for power within Starfleet, those who want only to explore, those who want only to conquer, those who want to discover new technology and those who want to suppress it. It’s easy to think of many. Players start off only able to do, say, a hundred missions in and around Starfleet Academy. Each can prepare them for more difficult missions; each of them may have a positive or negative faction associated with it. Doing these missions will open more; some limited just by the number of missions you must have completed, some by faction, some by not having a separate faction.

And among these are woven many stories, so as you complete more missions, you advance your story. Many of these missions will be solo; visit an archaeological dig on a dead planet; successfully thread a wormhole at maximum warp; take a shuttlecraft and investigate a spacial anomaly. You know, Trek stuff. Others will require more help. Sometimes you may even have to get your guild to go.

Oh, of course there will be guilds. MMOs are built around guilds. And the larger your guild, the bigger the starship you get. Have a huge guild? You get a huge ship. But if too many people leave, you lose it. There’s a powerful incentive to keeping your guild large — and happy. It will require a specific series of missions to get your guild faction enough to qualify for the nice ships.

There will be a bridge on this ship — it will be able to be entirely commanded by a small crew, but more difficult missions will require sufficient people all working at their stations to complete.

Is this what Perpetual intended to do? I think they were headed in this direction, then took a different turn at some point. Nobody wants to wait several more years for a ST MMO. And if we DO have to wait, for God’s sake, don’t give us WoW in space. Missions. Ship the game with 200 and release more every couple of months. Expansions will open missions on new worlds and new factions — Klingons and the like. New ships to earn. New technologies available.

Just — something small, if possible, that gives us the flavor of the game and the TV show. And a framework that you can build on.

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Web developer for a Connecticut-based insurance company that's over 200 years old! Also a bicycler, a blogger, a kayaker, and a hunter of bridges.

12 thoughts on “STO: Where I prove I know nothing of MMO design.”

  1. So, at the risk of continuing to sound like a broken record, the ‘no levels’ thing was something that preCU SWG did really nicely. Sure the levels were there, behind the scenery, but like all good theatre you only saw the ‘glamour’ that was on
    stage, in your face.

    ST also lends itself to that sort of ‘pick a skill, any skill’ sort of character advancement. Rolling how I’m thinking back a bit… your character joined the academy with what? A set of basic qualifications obtained at high school and early professional training. So your medical staff all have skill boxes to pick from that reflect that ‘interest’, likewise engineers, combat technicians, etc. As they advance by participating in missions they gain additional skills but, rather than just a linear level by level progression you get to chose whether your medic is going to specialise in, say, human medicine, xenobiology, psychology, combat medicine.

    Net result, you end up with characters that are not only varied in their skillbase but have a built in back story. And nobody gets to join up as an Admiral.

    Sadly the current design model for most MMOs is that linear progression one. I suppose it makes for cleaner coding but, well, sometimes you lose the soul of a game when you get too well engineered.

  2. And duh! of course, missions… Your new character would start off doing newb cadet type missions on their home planet. Starting off as a glorified Red Cross / UN, going to trouble spots, disasters, etc and either quelling unrest, bringing aid or helping secure resources. Working with other players and NPCs who will reappear at later stages in your characters story arc.

    C’mon, how good would it be to have this geeky kid on one of your away teams who is either really helpful or a totally liability. But maybe likable in an oddly charismatic way… (Could even a be mission that is designed to be failed so as to teach you, or your character, a lesson of some sort. You don’t always have to win by, well, winning.) Then, when you are finally qualified to apply for a Starship posting, there he is, and he’s up for the same posting. Moral dilemma, do you tell what a liability he was? Do you just do your best to beat him in the selection process?

    That character could keep cropping up in your story arc, becoming your best friend or your arch rival… it’d add a bit of depth and variety if nothing else.

  3. The “Rival” idea is one I’ve had too, I think it would be a great way of adding some dynamic content to a game. But basically I just want them to get a framework together upon which they could make the game as large as they liked, always have something new, frequent content updates and an ongoing plot every character can experience at their own rate, and perhaps even change.

  4. Hi Tipa!

    I don’t really have anything constructive to add. :P

    In comparing the two franchises, the Star Trek universe (based on the tv series only) seems so hollow to build an MMO versus the Star Wars universe (based on the movies only) and maintain that real feel – like you’re in their world. I guess I just see the ST environment to be a bit too sterile; happy-happy and stresses diplomacy versus pew-pew. Perhaps one could say more cerebral, more intelligent?

    People are sucked in to a [familiar] universe by visual cues. SWG pre-CU was a beautiful MMO even with all of its quirks. It had all the places we were familiar with and the music. It makes me so sad that SOE ruined a gold mine, with a pretty fleshed out universe, with its broken promises. ST not being a part of SOE will probably fair a lot better…I hope, for your sanity. :)

    Can you imagine being ganked in the ST realm? It seems so un-ST like. People will demand some form of PvP. This sort of thing always ruins the ‘balance’ of games, as there will always be the flavor of the month professions and the helpless but needed ones. It seems WoW is suffering from this. A PvE buff to a class can buff that class many-fold in PvP altering any sense of balance.

    Having instanced raid encounters, to me, are really boring. World encounters are exciting, but subject to so much griefing.

    Also, a game that requires 40-50 ppl to do anything is slowly becoming something from a bygone era of MMOs. Both Szel and I often think back to our time on EQ. I’m surprised we would have 80 ppl on at a time to attempt encounters!

    – Cassaendra

  5. Hi Cass!

    More than 80 when we did Plane of Time. A lot less for, say, The Rathe Council… :)

    With a mission design for STO, the designers could craft missions for any group size. Crew size? I think, broadly, Perpetual was making STO the only way it could be made, but then it had some design decisions with which I strenuously disagreed. Everyone gets their own shuttlecraft and they tool around in space in shuttlecraft groups — I thought that was silly. No justification for that in the show.

    I was bored stiff by SWG pre-CU/NGE, and I never played it after. Just one more mission where I had to circle strafe a termite mound or a pile of leaves and I would have taken an axe to my computer. MMOs have to be *games*. Plus the game barely ran on my computer. If I wasn’t running around beehives, I was enjoying pretty slideshows in the towns. A very disappointing experience all around.

    PvP really doesn’t have much of a place in the ST universe. But I could see consensual PvP in arenas, or faction-based PvP where sometimes tensions between opposing factions (such as pro-human and pro-alien) could break into open fighting, but the kind of game where you just run around shooting fellow Starfleet officers? I don’t think so.

    Mostly, what I want to see from STO is a framework where you can do FUN missions in a well-imagined ST milieu, and the framework is flexible enough to respond to the desires of its developers and players.

  6. Tipa,

    I’ve really enjoyed all your posts about STO and you really got me thinking about this game in a different light–less as an MMORPG fan and more as a Star Trek fan. This cannot (and hopefully won’t be) the Star Trek IP plugged into an MMO template–it needs to be the other way around to work. The MMO has to come to Star Trek on the IP’s terms, if that makes any sense.

    Star Trek is hands down my favorite American sci-fi series (I’m a big Dr. Who fan–otherwise Star Trek would top my list). The show has a complexity that transcends some of the now hokey, dated elements of some of the dialogue and acting of the original series. Something that in my opinion, the Star Wars films and too much old sci-fi FAIL to do IMHO. But anyway, back to STO. Let’s face it, sci-fi without content behind it does not age well. We as humans are just bad at predicting what technology will be like in the future, so there NEEDS to be content behind the blipping lights and lasers because one day those blipping lights and lasers will seem laughable to future viewers/readers.

    The main thing I came away with reading your STo posts is that whoever acquires this license needs to be loyal to the spirit of the show first and foremost. I’d even go so far as to say I’d be willing to take certain elements of MMOs that I don’t particularly care for–heavily instanced content, or free-for-all PvP for example, as long as playing the game “feels” like I’m “in” a Star Trek episode–social interaction and cooperative play on the bridge, a more diplomatic/exploration based game then grinding mobs of Klingons and Gorns (ugh!), etc.

  7. One of Perpetual’s realizations was that just living in the ST universe would be boring. I can say good things about them now that they’re dead — all eulogies are like that, right? Perpetual (as I understand it) wanted to cut out all the boring bits and just bring you to the exciting bits. The thirty days they spent cataloging nebulae you never see on the show — but the one nebula in which they find an abandoned ancient alien starship, that’s the one you see.

    I couldn’t get DDO to work on my machine, but I did play Guild Wars a little and this heavily instanced content just makes perfect sense for the Star Trek license, to me. Otherwise you end up with ensigns grinding on Gorn soldiers.

    I love Doctor Who, too, by the way — I guess my love for British SF is pretty clear. I recommend last season’s “Blink” to EVERYONE. Even though it didn’t have that much of the actual Doctor in it, it proved you could tell stories in that universe. Very GOOD stories. All of season 3 was fantastic, where season 2 was more hit-or-miss with me. Sorry, all of season 3 except for the Who Doll Tinkerbell Jesus. That was a little over the top. Loved The Master though.

    The Christmas special was meh, but isn’t it amazing how much Kylie Minogue and Billy Piper look alike :/

    Supposedly season 4 will have at some point all three of the Tennant’s female companions… love to see how they bring Rose back. And I think I read Captain Jack will be visiting too?

  8. Ya, noticed your Blakes 7 nod a few posts ago as well. I haven’t seen that show since it ran on PBS in this area in the mid-eighties! Must see if that’s been released on DVD…

    I’m loving the new Dr. Who series–I agree–Blink was just spectacular. Christopher Eccleston is a great actor, but David Tennant just NAILS the role IMHO, capturing the spirit of what I dearly love about the Doctor’s various incarnations during its first run in the 60s through the 80s.

    My favorite new episode was hands down when the Doctor was reunited with Sarah Jane–did you catch that one? Just great, great insight into the Doctor’s peculiar, sometimes misleading relationship with his female companions–one that is sometimes fatherly, sometimes mentor-like, but often has romantic undertones. This had never been addressed point blank until that episode–extremely well-written and always good to see K9 pop up!

    Took me a while to adjust to the new show admittedly, I did miss the charm of the “cheap set on some BBC backlot” with atrocious special effects of the original series, but it grew on me very fast. Anyway, sorry for straying off topic. It’s just very seldom that I get to rattle on about Dr. Who with anyone besides my Mom who introduced me to the show when I was a kid.

  9. I saw that one… I dunno, I was a little sad to see Sarah Jane. She looks so old now. I guess that was part of it — the Doctor goes on, but his companions wither. Anyway it was just a set up for her Sarah Jane Adventures spinoff — I haven’t seen any of those. Saw one episode of Torchwood. I should look both of them up, I guess. Captain Jack’s omnivorous sexual appetites are supposed to get even hotter in the second season :)

    Romana was my favorite companion, but then, The Key of Time is my favorite Who arc…

  10. Haven’t caught Torchwood–I’ll have to ask my Mom how it is next time I give her a call. Key to Time was Tom Baker at his best. I may have my episodes screwed up but didn’t Douglas Adams pen one of those episodes? “Pirate Planet” or something? I distinctly remember another episode where Romana regenerated–“Resurrection of the Daleks” or “Something of the Daleks” (there were so many) when she comes out of the TARDIS’s wardrobe room wearing a pink and lavender rendition of the classic Tom Baker costume with the long scarf and frock coat–funny stuff.

    One of these days I’m promising myself to sit back and revisit a lot of the very old Hartnell and Troughton episodes. I remember them being very hit-or-miss when I was a kid, sometimes even tedious compared to the Pertwee/Baker/Davison shows of the day but am curious as to what my reaction to them would be today as an older, wiser, and slightly more patient adult. Character-wise, I always had a soft spot for Troughton. Just a wonderful actor. Hartnell was good too–always menacing in a grumpy old man kind of way…

  11. I’d buy it! I like the idea of progressive content as it’s own reward although people also want to show off, so I think you’d need some sort of visible marker to fulfil that function of levels. SWG may not have had levels but they had trees and titles, so that people could see what you had done.

    I loved SWG but we did make our own content to a great extent — it really needed more quests and less grinding missions. You had to be an obsessive power gamer to craft which really rocked my world. ;)

    I left before the NGE though, I had made my millions and done my masteries. The Jedi villages awoke some interest and the dancing quests brought me back. That was awesome interaction! Probably my most favourite roleplay moment ever! in any game was standing in Theed, telling people it was my big chance to get a break, get into show-biz and all I needed was 50 people to watch me. It was tons of fun. :)

  12. @Tay — I think looking uber is overrated. Maybe EQ (both 1 and 2) has cured me of that, since (in EQ1) you get to choose your look to some extent with dyes and (in EQ2) people look however they like. I honestly couldn’t tell you anything specific about the look of any of the people I play with, nor can I think of any loot that would make me look substantially uber so that someone would take a second look. Now of course, WoW is different — people want to look as unusual as possible, but I doubt WoW players would want to play a game that isn’t obsessed with loot.

    My view of STO would be one that experience and skill determined how far you could progress. There would be some loot and probably a LOT of trophies for your quarters, but mostly, you’d have a job to do, and your skill at that job would be… your skill at that job. The various stations at which you work would be mini games of some appropriate sort, and your skill at that mini game would be your skill at your station. The mini games would be fun in their own right, and playable offline, and you would gain ranks in the games, badges, that sort of thing. There would be ways to mark your achievements.

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