Advice For Cryptic’s Star Trek Team

Well, the writing was on the wall, and now the wall has blown up. Perpetual’s spin-off company P2 is basically dead. They no longer have a game team; there’s just some web-developers remaining now. My condolences to the devs who lost their jobs in this mess. I hope you bounce back, and I hope your new job is better than your last!

Rumor has it that Cryptic has picked up the Star Trek IP. If true, that’s great news for the franchise, as they’re a seasoned company with talented people. Good luck, guys! But as I talked about earlier, Star Trek is an extremely difficult IP to work with. I want to give the new team some advice gleaned from my time working on STO. What’s better than free advice from the internet? Nothing!

Advice #1: Don’t try to be too true to the license

You’re going to need to watch every hour of Star Trek television and movies ever made. That’s a given. You won’t like about half of them, because only insane people actually like all of Star Trek. But as you take notes, you’ll find yourself trying to nudge things into the nooks and crannies of Trek, so that your game fits just perfectly. It makes us designers feel so clever when we make a design fit existing canon. But you have to watch out: that can easily become a straight jacket.

You’re gonna need loot. Now I know, we never saw a Starfleet officer rifling through the pockets of people he shot. And at Perpetual we were struggling hard to find an “IP friendly” way to deal with this problem. There are some solutions, but honestly? Just make the loot appear on the damn ground and people can pick it up. It’ll be fine. You just don’t have time to make every aspect of your game ultra-canon-friendly. You have to pick your battles very carefully.

You’re gonna need interesting races. Only a few of the Star Trek races are any good for MMO’s. Vulcans, Trill, and Klingons are great choices. You can easily come up with a half-dozen racial advantages for these classes. For the rest of the universe, you’re going to have to scrounge around, and make stuff up. I mean, Bolians, Ferengi, Cardassians, Andorians: these are all basically humans with back-stories and funny make-up. What you need is racial features that enhance the game’s core gameplay. So embellish!

For instance, the TV shows told us that Bolians have extremely acidic digestive systems. So embellish this; give Bolians an acid bite or something. A few hardcore fans will cry foul, but trust me: when Vulcans get nerve pinching and mind-melding while Bolians get a +5 bonus to barbering, you’re not gonna see a lot of Bolians in the world. Don’t be limited to what we’ve seen on TV. Think of it this way: there’s no way to prove that Bolians don’t have an acid bite. They just haven’t gotten around to using it on TV just yet.

Advice #2: Make a fun game loop first

You’re in uncharted waters. You have a really tough IP to work with. Things like killing, looting, and inventory all feel a little awkward to fit into the world of Starfleet. What’s your first order of business? Figure out your core game loop.

In WoW, the game loop is:

  • Talk to NPC, get quest
  • Run to location
  • Kill monsters, collect loot and XP
  • Run back to NPC, get reward

In Star Trek, the game loop might be exactly the same, if you’re okay with stretching things a bit. But you might also add “surveying the area” as a core loop element, or add a fun negotiation mini-game. (Good luck! That’s a hard one to do, but totally worth it if you can.)

The point is this: you’re going to make 1,000 quests and 900 of them are going to be very similar. Figure out why those 900 quests are fun. That’s your game loop. (The other 100 can use unusual game loops, much like WoW’s fetch-and-gather missions or escort quests.)

Advice #3: Don’t try to make the ground and space games at the same time

I suspect this one will be pretty obvious, if you’ve been watching all the other attempts at doing both games at once. But just in case you haven’t gotten the memo: do the ground game first, and get the space game out the door 18 months later. It’ll feel really strange without space, and some people will call you nasty names. But you’ll have a source of friggin’ income and you might not go broke. It’s the only way to get through this massive IP.

Advice #4: Ignore the fans

Now I don’t mean you shouldn’t try to make a game that is fan-pleasing. And you should absolutely do market research (with a reputable research firm, not some dumb internet poll). But you need to ignore the fan sites. Two reasons why:

  • they all want very different things from Star Trek, so you won’t be able to please even a decent portion of them,
  • the people who bother to post on Star Trek MMO fan sites are already going to buy your game. They may bitch about it at the top of their lungs, but they will buy it and play it.

Make a game for WoW players who kinda liked Star Trek. That should be your target audience. Trust me, it’ll be fine.

Advice #5: Don’t go public too soon

You’re going to need about 3 years to get this game out the door. Down deep you know this to be true. You aren’t going to say that publicly, of course, because that isn’t what your money guys want to hear. Officially, you’re going to say that you’ll leverage your core competencies, reuse existing infrastructure, and rely on some of the most brilliant people in the industry yadda yadda. I just hope you don’t believe that. It’s a nasty trap to fall into, because it leads to disappointment.

No, what will happen is that you’ll say it’ll be out in 18-24 months, and then you’ll delay it two times and it’ll ship in 30 to 36 months. That’s okay. It’s a hard game. And if you didn’t have core competencies and all that, I’d predict that you couldn’t do the game at all, ever. So you’re still way ahead of the curve.

But you don’t want to be talking about this MMO for 36 months. That’s 36 news blurbs your community guy needs to write. That’s 36 clever screen shots or mock ups. That’s 1095 days of fans screaming why isn’t it here yet I want it now. These are people who’ve already been waiting for years, too. They’ll wear themselves out.

Be smart. Start talking about the game 18 months from now. At that point, there’ll still be time to make modest changes to the direction based on player feedback, but you’ll have already gotten the core of your game plan underway. You’ll be able to use the feedback to improve the game, rather than being bombarded with too many details too early on.

And good luck, guys! I’m counting on you to break the curse and actually ship a Star Trek MMO. (I promise to buy a copy.) But I do hope you have a healthy respect for the difficulty of what you’re undertaking. As Worf once said, “Only fools have no fear.”

PS – Now I’m seeing rumors that it’s not Cryptic after all. If that’s the case, and some inexperienced team has picked up the IP, well, I hate to say it, but you’re pretty much doomed. But hey, maybe I can help you plan something achievable. My consultation fees are very reasonable. :)

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41 Responses to Advice For Cryptic’s Star Trek Team

  1. Robert says:

    Ferengi a boring race?
    Give me a freaking break. With the ‘profit at all costs’ attribute you could really play that up in an MMO. Make them have all sorts of economic advantages. They could be really good at ‘acquiring’ technology, etc.
    Not to mention the fact that they mandate that females be unclothed and you have a great race for an MMO!

    Cardassians? Boring? Have you even seen Deep Space Nine?
    The history they have with Bajor and the dominion, there is a huge treasure trove of interesting story and possibilities here as well.

    Loot on the ground that you just pick up? Bleh.
    That’s not the way to do star trek.

    Voyager, the Borg, Romulans, Klingons, Dominion, there are a thousand amazing stories to delve into for a star trek MMO.

  2. Vargen says:

    It’s not in how the loot system works, it’s in the trappings. In WoW you loot the the enemy’s corpse for the item. In Star Trek Online you could scan the enemy’s stunned body for the unstable, single-use replicator schematic.

  3. Grimwell says:

    Robert, you just proved his entire point about trying to please the fans, well done! ;)

  4. Eric says:

    Robert – yeah, they would have to play up the Ferengi’s economic advantages, that’s the only way to do it. That gives the Ferengi, what, lesee: +10 to economy, +5 racial bonus with “useless lightning whip”, and a +10 to misogyny. Sign me up! :P

    But you’re right, they’re a semi-decent race; they could make it work. Cardassians, on the other hand… there’s just nothin’ there. MMO’s aren’t story games. They’re action games. The only way to pay off on Cardassians’ story ties is to make a bunch of Cardassian-only content. That’s a sure way to over-exert the dev team and fail, yet again.

    Once the developers have figured out the “game loop” for the game, then they need to find ways to tie ALL the races into that loop. If they’re making a WoW-esque loop where you get missions, kill things, and come home, then ALL races need advantages in doing those very things. Story ties don’t make a race fun.

  5. Eric says:

    Vargen – I do like that approach, at least on paper, but I’m not sure how well it would play out. No tangible goods, for one thing. Makes you feel less excited to get your loot. Adding an extra step into getting loot also has lots of unexpected consequences elsewhere in the game’s development.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that they can’t fix the “loot problem”, just that… well, they’ll have so damned much work already that they really need to pick their battles. Each time they do things in unusual ways, they’re going to have to iterate on the idea many times. They need to KISS as much as humanly possible.

    Personally, I think loot isn’t worth the trouble it takes to camouflage with a Star Trek-themed flavoring. I’d prefer they spend their time adding a few new Trek-esque mechanics to the core gameplay loop…

    But I could certainly be convinced that looting is too critical to not get the “camouflage” treatment.

  6. Robert says:

    Honestly, I wouldn’t have away missions in my Star Trek MMO.
    I would focus it more on gaining skill in performing whatever profession you are going after.
    Tactical, Flight, Command, Engineering, etc.

    I would also focus more on the control of space territory by your faction and the wars and politics that erupt from that. I want someone playing a Cardassian for example to have real pride in being one and really care about their territory, etc.

    So it would be much more oriented on fleets of ships, combat, and tactical control and exploration of space.

    Being in the ships, walking around, having to run to a place on the ship and repair something if your an engineer during a fire fight, or rushing to the bridge or battle bridge to take the helm, would be big parts.

  7. Botanybay says:

    How to make a good Star Trek MMO according to Mr. Eric Heimburg:

    First: Waste money for an IP, that you do not care about. Then ignore this IP.
    Second: Make another World of Warcraft.
    Third: Ignore the Star Trek fans. You do not need them. You make a game for WoW fans allready.
    Five: And dont tell anybody anything, untill you finally can surprise the public with yet another WoW-clone.

    And finally, dont forget, you are doomed in any way, as long as you do not hire Mr. Heimburg!

  8. Loyal Star Trekker says:

    Ignore your fan base? that’s like shooting the horse out from under yourself just as leapt across th deep chasm!

    the fan base is wht’s going to bring the long term money in, you want long term subs? listen to the fan Base!

    Cryptic, Ignore this Loser!

  9. Rulebook Lawyer says:

    One point for me to disagree with is the use of a simplistic Game Loop to achieve a RPG effect.
    Rather than duplicate or modify and existing grind process, be innovative and find of another process.
    Role-Playing games have been around for years, D&D being what, over 30 years? There’s plenty of history to work with to bring about innovation to computer games.

    I would refrain from creating a ground-based system first and then take 18 months to release a space game later. This is following along the path of Star Wars Galaxies, in which the player population was on a decline prior to the release of the space system, Jump To Light Speed. Kind of pointless to be a Starfleet Officer when there are no ships to be manned. ;)

  10. Eric D says:

    Uh, just so you know Eric ignoring the fans outright will not make a good or sucsesful game. I have no desire to play another WOW clone. and you may be interested in the reaction of the fans on Startrek-online.NET to this post. and you know what? I feel the exact same way.

    http://www.startrek-online.net/messageboard/showthread.php?p=165400#post165400

  11. I’d add one other thing. Learn from Perpetuals mistakes with the game. Cryptic’s (I’ve heard that ther ARE getting the project) experience may actually enable that but I think there are great lessons to be learned in terms of why STO was going in a certain direction, why choices were made. Just don’t ignore the development cycle that has already occurred. I have NO doubt that different choices will be made and I have a sneaking suspicion that they will be BETTER choices (based on a certain Exec Prod not being involved). BUT, a lot of hard work and discussion (3 years worth) went into the project so far… at least take a look at the premises that STO started with and the various paths they went down and / or abandoned.

    One other thing… if you do want to get the fans excited AND stay true to what Trek is about (at least on some level) then include some of the original Trek creators / contributors at least as consultants. Mike Okuda and John Eaves have a wealth of knowledge and are reasonably open to hearing about new ways to approach things. Just having them sit in on some high-level design meetings would give invaluable insight into the workings of the Star Trek universe… it’s as close as you’re gonna get to Roddenberry and you know you’d be consulting him if he were still alive.

    Other than that… get a frickin’ haircut Eric!

    ;)

  12. Eric says:

    Can’t say I’m surprised the fan sites don’t like my advice to ignore fan sites :)

    Here’s the thing. My advice isn’t how to make the best Star Trek MMO.

    I’ll repeat that.

    It’s not about making the best Star Trek MMO.

    It’s about making *ANY* game that will actually ship. They need to make a WoW clone with some flavor crystals, and then try to add more flavor after they ship, because although that sucks for the fanbase, it’s the only way to ship the game. At all. Ever. I know that players don’t really believe that MMO’s are hard, or that Star Trek is extra-super-ultra hard. I get that, and I’m okay taking heat for it. Bit it’s true.

    Unless Blizzard happens to pick up the game and is willing to put $70 million into it, you’re not going to get a decent game with both ground and space activities. Companies like Cryptic can’t afford that. They can muster maybe $20-$30 million for a project like this. That’s small potatoes for an MMO. You can’t be a super huge game with that kind of money, so you’re gonna have to make HUGE sacrifices.

    That’s what this post is about. Of course fans hate it. Who doesn’t want to see a perfect Trek MMO? But sorry guys, we’re never going to see that. I’d settle for a halfway decent MMO of ANY kind that is Trek flavored.

  13. Miri says:

    Eric, don’t forget. Crypric just got a shipload of money from NCSoft for all the rights to the City of setting. I’d like to think they got more then 20M for it. Also if they are smart they will go knock on Paramounts door and say “We made a successful AAA game called City of Heroes/Villians. Give us some money (say.. the modest budget of a current AAA Movie title.. 50.. 60M) and we can make you something that will give you an awesome return. Though I do agree, I think Cryptic can pull it off but I’m not sure how many other studios could manage it.

  14. Rulebook Lawyer says:

    How about instead of going for the mass market (WoW-clone), go for the niche markets? A niche marketed game would cost less and have more dedicated/loyal fan base. Eve-Online is an example of this.
    But wait, how to get those millions of users?
    Go global and have more than one version of a Star Trek MMO are two possibilities.

  15. Eric says:

    Ken – hey man, good to see you again! I agree, it would be a real shame if the new team didn’t at least get their hands on the development docs and notes that STO created. A real waste. And Okuda and Eaves and a few others are great to work with.

    Miri – unfortunately my sources tell me they got… a whole lot less money than you might expect from the sale of CoH/CoV. If they can get Paramount to pony up some cash, that’d be something. But I don’t think it’ll happen, not least of all because Paramount sold off the Star Trek gaming license to a random branch of CBS. There’s not a lot of money to pull from.

  16. Eric says:

    Rulebook Lawyer – that’s a viable alternative plan. If they strip it down small enough so that it’s basically just space adventuring, they could definitely give EVE Online a run for their money. And then they could layer in ground activities later.

    Starting with space first instead of ground first means they won’t reach a lot of the more casual audience, though, so it will be hard to generate the revenue needed to graft a second game onto the space game. The danger is that they’ll end up stuck as a space-only game forever. But it’s certainly an avenue worth exploring.

  17. Brenelael says:

    I have but one suggestion for the new developers. Go and dig up the game overview that Glen put up on the original STO website and MAKE THAT GAME!!!!! That was the game that got all the fans excited in the first place. That is the game the fans want. Make that game and you can’t lose, period. Oh and hire Glen and Ken for the new team. Their vision for Star Trek online was extraordinary and they would be an invaluable asset to your design team.

  18. Finnigan says:

    Eric,

    Spot on! Don’t let the kool-aid drinkers of Star Trek Online.net get to you. While many that post their have decent ideas, many more of them were blind faith supporters of Perpetual even when it was obvious that Perpetual was royally screwing the pooch. The staff at said fan site is biased, heavy-handed, and even oppressive to anyone that didn’t drink the Perpetual kool-aid. While I do believe that a development team can get lots of valuable insight and ideas from fan sites, you are 100% correct that these fans will be buying the game no matter what. Listen to them in lurk mode but don’t become overly engaged in the fan community until AFTER the game comes out. Be especially careful not to make the foolish mistake Perpetual made and make one site more “official” than another. STO.net does serve some purpose, but they also cause lots of damage and bad feelings for many.

    Fin

  19. Ivan50265 says:

    Eric,
    After reading your post I have to admit your comments are very interesting and maybe insightful of the industry in which you work. I believe to do yuor post justice I will just go down the list:

    “Don’t try and be too true to the license”- I agree this is an easy trap that any developer can fall into, but I think in this instance you need to strike a balance between the broad elements of the license as compared to the little things that make Star Trek what it is.(I’ll give you some examples of this as I go along to conserve space) I also am curious if you could not find yourself in the same “straight jacket” by embellishing too much? Or perhaps embellishing in the wrong areas? Also I’m not sure if the players will really benefit as much from and “acid bite” as compared to a bonus to engineering or medical skills. One would imagine the world of Star Trek to be more of a ranged combat base anyway. On the loot issue that one is messy no matter how you cut it. I agree though with the idea of schematics, artifacts, research, mission based items. I agree it doesn’t really matter how you get it as much as what you get. I mean what use will I have for a Gorn tooth? This is one of those balancing issue I was talking about.

    “Make a fun game loop first”- Absolutely! That seems to me to be a basic element of good game design. Although I’m not sure if layering the “WoW” loop in is the right choice. This is one of those broad elements of the license where you could fall really flat. Missions in Star Trek tend to be dynamic experiences rather than linear kill x number of Cardassians or go blow up 5 orion pirate ships. There needs to be some layering in the quests if you will where a standard “Map this anomoly” turns into an interesting adventure. Not go gather me 7 Klingon skulls and come back. I guess what I’m trying to say is that style of game loop was designed for a fantasy mmo and in many ways could really kill the gameplay of a more sci-fi based mmo.

    “Don’t try and make the ground and space games at the same time”- While I see the logisitcal nightmare involved I think this is unfortunately a necessary evil that comes along with this IP you need them both to make a good Star Trek mmo. Although I see merit in starting maybe with a space game I think you’d lose the ability to integrate the two through out the gaming experience. And as we saw with SWG not having both elements really hurt the game at launch, and then rushing out a generic space game only made matters worse.

    “Ignore the fans”- Name me a gaming company that doesn’t.:) But in all seriousness why alienate your strongest ally? We may not know how to make games, but we know how to play them as well as know when not to play them. Keeping fans involved to me is a great way to brainstorm some ideas, or get some free research done, andin the worl of Star Trek that could be a premium commodity. Maybe rather than “Ignore” us maybe you should “Choose” us wisely. Find a fansite or two that supports the game and talk to them. Recruit a site for research on ship designs and or races. If we’re part of the process we’re more invested. And don’t forget that yes we will buy the game, but we’re also you’re word of mouth advertising and tell me a better form of advertising than that.

    “Don’t go public too soon.”- First off define public. If that means no official forums well I don’t blame you, but staying hush hush for 18 months in this industry has got to be more challenging than making this game. Throw us a bone every once in awhile. Tell us who you are and that your working on it we’d like to know that at least. Like you said there are people who have been waiting for this game for years, and you want to leave them in the dark for 18 months? That just seems a little silly especially with the pre-existing fansites involved. Stop by once a month or do an interview about the game, but staying quiet about it is about as silly as Lucasarts and Bioware annouincing work on an “undisclosed” game. Give me a freaking break.

    All in all sir you know the inner working of this industry better than most if us, but the very idea of making yet another WoW clone to me is just ridiculous. It’s been done. If you want to see the fan who you said would buy the game no matter what not buy the game then by all means include a phaser +2, a uniform with bonus armor, and an epic mount to use on the ground. If not then try and make a Star Trek game it may take some time and maybe a little innovation, but in the end it will be a Star Trek game and no one will call it WoW with Star Trek on top. And that now a days is an achievment unto itself.

  20. Gamer says:

    Hey. Why don’t you just go work for SOE. Maybe you can create the next fuck up like the NGE.

  21. Pingback: weblog.probablynot.com » Embrace Your Niche

  22. Jessica Mulligan says:

    Eric, you really have to stop being such a wallflower and learn how to have an opinion, :D.

    For the record: I agree with just about everything you posted. For $20-$30 million, you can make a product specifically for the fans (probably on the order of a ST simulator; I know lots of local fan clubs that would love to be able to have their own ship for their members and do missions together, score or no score) or you can make a product specifically for MMO players who know something about the universe, but I really don’t see an easy way to serve both without spending a lot more than that $20-$30 million. We’re talking north of $100 million (though probably not the $600 million you mentioned). For some perspective: WoW cost less than $100 million to develop, maybe $65-70 million.

    For whoever it was that mentioned that maybe Paramount would toss some $$$ in: That is not how they work. You PAY Paramount for the privilege of working with the license, i.e. a license fee. Paramount is extremely unlikely to ever invest in a project like this; it isn’t how they do business. I say that as someone who has developed ST games in the past and dealt with Paramount on a regular basis.

    And why would they change now? At this point, they’ve had something like 3 different organizations over the last 10 years pay them license fees for the same online game rights and now maybe a fourth will have to. They are making money just shopping around the license, :D.

  23. I enjoyed reading this, I have a few minor dissagreements, but for the most part I aggree.

    “Don’t try to be too true to the license” – I kind of agree here, for me I think the best approach is to layout all the aspects of your game and then try to apply the Trek morals and ideas to them in pre-production. So maybe a system like CoH where you don’t loot the corpse, but you can gain rewards randomy when defeating an adversary, looking at ways to reward the player without actually having to lean over a corpse and steal what he had makes the game more Trek (as just one example of a mechanic been Trekified). Once however, you have your core gameplay ideas nailed, then I believe forgetting the IP is a good idea, theres to many contridictions and such so once the core ideas are laid down and seem to work well together for a fluid gameplay experiance, let the art department and storyline guys worry about it. Afterall, its important the game has pulling power and enjoyability than a game that fulfills every detail ever said in an episode but is a bore to play when you spend 3 weeks warping to Earth and 3 hours scrubbing plasma conduits in a jeffories tube.

    “Make a fun game loop first” – This is relevent for every MMO out there, but its crazy how many try to improvise in the middle of production, which usually breaks another part of the game. I believe that for Star Trek the game loop should be a bit more advanced, simlar to Earth and Beyond in some ways, with thier been 3 types of loop (Combat, trade, exploration), this also falls into 3 of the Ralph Koster player types and I fully believe fleshing all 3 of these out (instead of just combat like most current MMO’s) is a good idea. EnB with its 3 types of experiance handled this quite nicely, which I believe is quite a nessacary thing to do as players ultimatly take the path of least resistance, thus if you have more than 1 game loop it needs to be kept seperate to prevent players from just ignoring it and going for the age old grinding of mobs, it also adds choice which is so important for players when they start getting burtn out.

    “Don’t try to make the ground and space games at the same time” – I’m stuck on this one, whilst I believe the ground gameplay is better for attracting your casual players. I also see a gap in the market for decent space games. I also think that this can be a dangerous path to take. Afterall, you want the 2 gameplay styles to interact seemlessly and designing them both seperatly can cause implementation issues further along the road 8(spacelanes). I can imagine that ground (because you could then make huge starships with player crews) would be more viable and pleasing to the fans, but the lack of space in a game about exploring the galaxy irks me a bit. Its a horrid choice to have to make and a real shame that $$$$ forces it to be made. In my ideal world I’d really fight to try and get both in, I’m hoping that if a compnay has an established MMO engine (like Cryptic) that they could simply upgrade thier CoH engine and save alot of work there and thus give the oppertunity to develop the space gameplay, more so if they have all the assets developed by PE already which will save huge ammounts of manpower in the graphics department.

    “Ignore the fans” – I know where you are coming from with this, its much like not listening to the community when making any game, because they are for the most part selfish (demanding game mechanics that are unblanced in the players favour) or inexperianced (asking for gameplay mechanics that would not be fun if repeated more than a few times). Its also important to note that forum communities for the most part are just a vocul minority of the playerbase and actually don’t represent the entire community, also they can consist of alot of the hardcore gamers/trekkers too, who again can be bias. That said, I do believe that keeping tabs on thier reactions to things is important. Another key thing is not letting the fans know you arn’t listening to them, its all good and proper not doing it, but the illusion that you do care and listen should always be presented. It helps to keep a happy community.

    Remember though, the Trek community has been burned a fair ammount in the last few years with people taking the easy route, for example, big explosions, cute women (although TOS did that too), rehashes of fan favorites and overuse of fan favorite races (the Borg), because of that I don’t think the fanbase is actually as willing anymore to “buy it because its Trek”, the last series and film proved just that. This all falls into my referance to the first point though, that basing your core gameplay of Trek values is the important starting point, you shouldn’t go too wrong if you do that.

    WoW wise, I think Blizzard is going to casual with that game, its been targeted more and more to children, been even more simple and easy to pick up (hence why my girlfriends 12 years old sisters entire class apart from 2 play it). I think the Trek IP deserves something alittle more indepth than WoW, however the premise of the game been easy to get into and learn like WoW is massively important. For me I’d say make a game similar to Earth and Beyond for your space gameplay (with eve style itemisation), with a mix of WoW, CoH and Saga of Ryzom for your ground gameplay.

    “Don’t go to public to soon” – Normally I’d agree, however I don’t think this is something the company has the luxery of. I do think its a good idea for the company to get thier pre-production sorted out first though before breaking radio silence on game content. I’m really hoping that PE’s previous work is reviewed though, theres most likely alot of good research and information there that would be a shame to waste. You don’t nessacarily need to come up with the same conclusions, but atleast checking it out is important and could save time, which also means money!

    Once the game is getting coverage, ie interviews with fansites and the like, then an offical forum is a must, as is a good community representitive, afterall, this game does have a following in the thousands already, whether its liked or not, they have been around for many years as well and simply ignoring them (like has been done for the last few years for the most part) would be a bit mean spirited. I’d say do a devblog bi-monthly or something, just to give an idea of vaguely whats going on, it doesn’t have to be major media coverage, just something to reward those people that really have devoted 3 years already to the project.

    At the end of the day though, as with all MMO’s this is all dependant on the $$$ available, this IP, to be a WoW competer is going to need some serious love in that department, $20-$30 million most likely won’t cut it and it would be a shame to have to make a sub-par Trek game due to financial reasons, so really, alot of the advice all depends on what money there is to play around with. But I do strongly believe that a sci-fi genre MMO can compete with a game like WoW, it just has to have the care and attention delivered to it which takes time and that sadly most investers arn’t willing to put money forward for. I will add one thing also that so many MMO’s seem to fall apart on, that been marketing, if you don’t launch the game worldwide and push public awareness with good PoS (point of sale) in the shops and magizines, then you won’t sell the game in the millions, if you look at WoW their campaign was quite huge with life size Night Elf figures in the shops, it all helps public awareness and increases the chance of a sell out of curiosity, afterall, you have to spend money to make money :-)

    I won’t bore you with my own ideas for core game-play mechanics for STO as that would end in us falling into a pre-production cycle discussion!

    Eitherway though, was nice to see your incites on this Eric.

    *apologies for any typos, its not my strongpoint*

  24. Captain Dymond says:

    Ok, let me see if I understand you corectly, you beleave, that in order to make a sucsessful game, you need to screw over the fans and pay no atention to what they think (Starwars Galaxys ring a bell Gentelmen?), make the game for people who would rather play WOW in space, because the persentage of people who are actualy fans of startrek is so dismaly small that you wont get any return on your investment….. Have you SEEN how many people have regesterd at STO.NET? We have what? 7500 members? Guess what? We’re the ones who are going to be playing the game and not someone who isn’t on the gaming track anyway.

    In my honest opinion, You Eric, represent everything that is WRONG in this industry. You are so comfortable with the status quo that you are afraid to push the boundries of whats posible. Do you know how many games have tried to emulate WOW? How many projects crashed and burned because they were to similar to what was already in place. I’m not saying that WOW isn’t fun, I’m saying who wants to have to play nothing but variations of the same thing over and over and over?

    Have you people forgotten about the video game crash of 1984? if so let me remind you: people got sick and tired of all the poor titles, which were basicly the same game redressed and re-released. No, it was not the only reason but it was a big one.

    You say that you just can’t make the game with ground and space, BS. POTBS have done somthing similar, they have a sea/land system, essentially 90% of what STO could be, sure they dont have misions on the sea but what they do have is battles, and that game was made on a low budget so if given more, they could have really made ship to port interactions and the open sea more interesting.

    I’m sorry if I insult you but you are just plain wrong. I will hope that you listen, but since I’m a “fan” I doubt you will. I have only one thing left to say: Cryptic, Blizzard, whoever gets the Startrek IP, dont listen to these guys, push the boundries, make somthing truely memorable. Perpetual didn’t release ST:O only to see it rejected on the grounds of what had been built. Eric doesn’t come near to proving his original premise with this argument.

  25. Eric –

    There are very few who are as fantacial and excited about this game as I am. Whenever this game launches, and whomever the developer is, I will play this game. I freely admit that and never make dumb, irrational ultimatiums about “If they do X, I won’t play!”. I’ve played every Star Trek game ever made, and STO will be no different. I’m also an MMO addict, playing everything from EnB and SWG, to WoW and LOTRO

    That all being said, I agree with 95% of what you said. The only thing I will disagree with is to make the land-based game first, and follow up with the space game. While I understand the reasons you gave, and can agree with you on some level, Star Trek is about exploring the galaxy on a starship. That experience is what can set this apart from other MMOs.

    The idea that exploring the galaxy without a traditional combat-oriented mindset, while still being fun, is not only attainable, but really a no-brainer. Escort missions, exploration missions, and diplomacy missions are already a part of WoW-esque gameplay. Simply expanding them and making them 50/50 with traditional combat missions is the way to go. Here’s a short synopsis of an escort mission with this in mind:

    Mission – Into The Darkness

    “Lieutenant! We have a problem, and you’re going to solve it for us. There’s a medical transport ship, the U.S.S. Jetsy. She’s got a load of antibiotics that have to go to Resal VII. The problem is, that sector is crawling with Orion Pirates. They’ve blockaded the system, and no medical transport is getting through without some serious firepower.

    That’s where you come in.

    Get a sensor lock on her, and lead the way in. Be prepared for heavy resistance. If that ship is destroyed, thousands on Resal VII will have you to thank.

    Move out!”

    The mission involves the Jetsy following you through hostile space to a planet. Once she’s in range, she can begin beaming in the supplies. You have to protect her and fight off the bad guys while she goes in and dumps the medical supplies. Oh yeah, and you can’t have shields up when you’re using your transporter, so make sure they don’t get pot-shots off.

    Now, obviously, the way in which you are rewarded for this mission would be based upon how the leveling/skillset/prestige system works. You definitely don’t want this mission being repeated 900 times, but 3 or 4 times wouldn’t be bad. Plus, you get the benefits of combat without the trappings of non-Star Trek mindset.

    The game needs to look space-based, but play ground-based. Your ship needs to feel like a moving, upgradeable character. Maybe this means no, or limited, 3d movement in space. Which, in itself, won’t be a bad thing. The only people who will really care are going to be so damn hardcore, that they will probably hate most things about the game anyway. Keep space mostly 2d, it’s easier on the players and the designers. If you make an EvE-like space environment, you’ll los most casual players almost immediately. these are large, massive starships, not X-Wings.

    WoW-ing this game up is NOT a bad thing. It needs to be easy to play in order to be successful. However, looking to WoW for ideas on how to make it fun is the wrong avenue to explore. Look to Trek to make it fun, and look to WoW to make it functional.

  26. henke says:

    Im not saying that you are wrong in this and that is a problem. All developers think the same after wows entry on the mmo market LOTRO basicly the same just rings over the npcs heads everybody tries to use the wow formula and i find that boring SOE did it with SWG and lost around 200k subs. Sure i want a Star Trek MMO but not if its the same stuff that has been put on the table for years now. I say come up with something original or just drop it no need to waste players time anymore than most of the developers already done with some exeptions.

    A well i guess if this continues my hope is that the swgemu projekt worksout, so il be able to play a fun and “fresh mmo” wich is weird since its one of the oldest game designs.

    as i said i dont think that you are wrong i just hope you are:)

  27. Eolirin says:

    Suricata, those player types were originated by Richard Bartle and are typically refered to as the Bartle Types: Achiever, Socializer, Explorer, and Killer. Raph (not Ralph) had nothing to do with them. Both of them are really neat guys who’ve done quite a lot to advance the theory side of game design, especially for online games, but you should know whose work you’re referencing if you’re going to reference it.

  28. Haha, wow I love seeing you stir things up Eric, a very fun read.

    I also worked briefly on the STO some time back. To be honest I wasn’t happy working there, but despite that I have great respect for the STO team and I think they did an admirable job. Sure some things could have gone better; I wish they would have managed to keep Ken and Glen and Eric and other key people excited and moving towards a common goal. Despite this it is my opinion that none of the problems that lead Perpetual to its current position are the fault of the STO team itself. The company had problems that made it obvious to me they would have a difficult time succeeded but despite that difficult environment the STO team did admirable work. So please show respect for those who worked hard on this project.

    To the fans out there, as an MMO player I too want new and innovative games to play. But as an MMO developer I realize that innovation takes time and money and entails great risk. Games are a young industry that lacks the tools needed to rapidly prototype and cheaply develop MMO scale games. Just try to understand that the fans are only one aspect of the a difficult problem.

  29. Rulebook Lawyer says:

    Eric,
    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.
    I’m sure that some viable method could be worked out, if given time, points taken, and compromises made. Would be nice to do so, but oh well, that’s not what either one of us will be working on.
    Enjoy.

  30. Sorry Eolirin, you are completly correct, I’ve talked with a few people who have worked with them, I’ve always loved the theory side of MMO’s, its such a huge subject that sometimes these referances get confused :-)

  31. Victor1st says:

    Here’s my advie for Cryptic if they do take it over…

    1: Ignore any former staff from perpetual

    2: Read rule 1

  32. Dan Ogles says:

    Hey Eric. I definitely see where you’re coming from, but (aside from #5 perhaps) this is pretty much exactly what Turbine did with LOTRO (after they scrapped the project and restarted, that is). LOTRO as it stands does a pretty darn good job of skinning WoW while keeping some authentic flavor of the license (and adding some new tricks here and there). LOTRO is not by any means a complete failure, but it also didn’t exactly take the world by storm, despite it arguably being a stronger license than ST.

    So given A) LOTRO did what you’re suggesting and is performing below expectations, and B) skinning WoW with the ST license is a *lot* harder than with the LOTR license, don’t you think they are going to have to think outside of the box a bit here?

    Making a Star Trek MMO is tough proposition, no doubt. One that I wouldn’t touch with a 20′ pole. But I couldn’t see myself working on any licensed-property MMO ever again.

    //dan
    PS. Regarding identifying the core gameplay loop (no disagreements there about it being the priority), I think the Puzzle Pirates gameplay could be a much better fit for the license. It’s by no means a one-to-one mapping, but the collaborative nature of “piloting a battleship collaboratively via minigames” is exactly what I’d expect a MMO Star Trek game to be like.

  33. Michelle D'israeli says:

    I’ve just read the post and skimmed through the comments…

    Regarding currency within starfleet, the single player ST games have already solved this. As a rule, they tended to use ‘prestige’, and that actually worked quite well with the cannon. Several books did all indicate that there was a level of acceptable usage of the replicators, so presumably you have to do your job to earn the right to use them, and do it well to get away with regularly ordering up some lavish gifts. This also solved one of the major problems that TNG had, as it made starfleet more political, and hence a little more interesting and less like a utopia.

    Generally I agree with most of the rest of your analysis, although there are some great thoughts in the comments regarding loot finding (scanning).

    Space looks to be a big problem. To be honest, I can’t see space action ever actually becoming deep enough to make it much more than “there for the ride”. Thinking about it briefly, I think an effective solution would be to have combat as a minigame whilst travelling to other locations. Skip the boring flight (although players may wish to be able to look around), and build a simple but effective small ship combat game. It was only in the era of DS9 that space combat began to get truly impressive, anyhow. For the most part, ST was less about the spaceships, and more about the people and the environments the people were in.

    Speaking of which, ST’s focus on people and their environments lend itself very well to a more casual game. Combat did occur in ST, but rarely did the watcher feel like it was actually dangerous. It was fairly much harmless fun and showmanship. ST is certainly not a twitch game concept, and it’s core audience (typically in their thirties) is less inclined for twitch.

    Similarly, we should address PvP, or the lack of certain forms. ST was about hope for a peaceful future, and we never really saw non-consensual PvP within the series. They always knew when they walked into danger (well, except in TOS, granted). The existance of universal translators also prevents one of the common factors in successful non-consensual PvP (a language difference, so that the opponent is impersonal and less able to offend and make you feel negatively about the experience). Some PvP should be available, but via carefully defined arenas only. It’s interesting to note that games like America’s Army claim to only let you play the good guys, and that could be useful here. When not in a gymn or other ‘fair contest’ arena, the opposition could always be presented as “bad guys” (e.g. Borg), and your team is always StarFleet.

  34. DOAM says:

    Must have ground and space… it’s the burden that comes with Star Trek. More so than even Star Wars. Ignoring fans? Maybe Star Trek fans. But MMO fans in general? No. That happened in Tabula Rasa, and didn’t work out well at all. Now, after having ignored the mmo fans, they’re giving everything “we” asked for. But it’s too late for too many.

    Making a WoW-clone in space will garuntee money in the short term. It won’t garuntee a long lasting game, because as people mature (mentally and physically) they begin wanting something differant. The “WoW generation” will be maturing eventually. I’ve already started. But I guess that’s why you’re just a systems designer. ;-) It’s not your job to know how to make a successful long lasting MMO, just code stuff. Yet you are trying… gogo code monkey.

  35. Stormy Maverick says:

    With the “free” advice you have just given, anyone who takes on this game would be a fool to pay you for more. If a developer actually uses this advice, the game is doomed no matter who picks it up. Here’s some more free advice for the developer. Find another source for competent suggestions. You won’t find any on this site.

  36. Kyle Lees says:

    ‘Advice #1: Don’t try to be too true to the license’

    I agree in principle, although I disagree with the example of looting. Why do you need looting? Never mind the IP — why the hell is it in other MMOs to begin with? It is not something I feel strongly about either way, but I do find its perceived necessity strange.

    ‘Advice #2: Make a fun game loop first’

    I probably shouldn’t comment on this, as I don’t seek to loop. My friends and I go about our business as we see fit within the context of the world. Any looping is accidental. This often means taking a full year to reach so much as level 20, but I think that certainly makes for a much better experience than the miserable people who just to blow through everything and hoard at the expense of their own enjoyment and those around them.

    By the way, there’s that Ferengi gameplay you imply would be unpopular.

    ‘Advice #3: Don’t try to make the ground and space games at the same time’

    It is more interesting to play a character than a ship. That seems to be implicit in what you’re saying, and I agree. That is why I continue to insist that in space you should not be a starship, but a character in a starship. (See what I did there?)

    ‘Advice #4: Ignore the fans’

    I wouldn’t say ‘ignore’, because I disagree with the thought that fans will pay unconditionally. Many of them will probably buy it uncondtitionally, but how many will continue to pay afterwards? I would think that subscribers would be more important for an MMO than sales, but maybe I’m mistaken.

    If you are trying to make a mainstream game, put as much stock in a thousand fans as you would a thousand non-fans. If you are trying to make a niche game, it should be quite a different matter. I don’t know which approach I would personally prefer, but that is my objective assumption as to what would work best for the project.

    Also, while it is true that fans are fickle, I would assert that gamers are more so.

    ‘Advice #5: Don’t go public too soon’

    Nothing to disagree with here. You could stick to things like concept art, but then people go chant about ‘vapourware’ against all reason. Announcing too early is a mistake I think is made far too often. The worst part is that gamers don’t understand why it’s a problem, even though they are the reason it’s a problem.

  37. O.G says:

    Hi there !
    I know it certainly won’t make a huge breakthrough in our discussion, but i’d like to say one thing or two.
    I don’t know the games industry well enough to know if the perfect STO game is possible to make or how much it would cost. But i do believe that innovation is possible (even if expensive), that ST is a wonderful background for innovation, and that MMO players or even players in general are waiting for something, and THAT could be the success of a game, no matter which license or type it is.
    What i’m trying to say, as an humble fan of ST, is that i do want to play STO someday, but if creating a really new, refreshing, innovative game with real ST background and content, and without copying WoW, is not even possible, then stop !!! stop it all ! don’t spend millions to ship a copy of what is existing with ST on the box !
    I’m the kind of Star Trek fan who won’t buy and play the game not matter what.
    If you can’t to do it really good and really new, don’t do it, save $30M.

  38. Alexander says:

    Just play EVE and forget about all this crap. You have no control and there is no guarantee this game won’t wind up Vaporware. I’m more of a ST fan than any (so to speak), but EVE is a mature game. I’m definetely going to check out STO, if and when it does come out. I’m a Federation fan at heart and I do believe in the Prime Directive. There is a good chance this game will fail and a good chance it won’t. I think it’s Kismet at this point. One thing I can tell you for sure, if they use the same spaceship control mechanics/design like they have in ST games in the past (EG Legacy, Bridge Commander), this game is going to suck.

    I’m sticking to EVE for now and quite happy.

  39. Zippy UK says:

    I think the intangible loot should essentially be what gold is in other games, purchasing power for buying more powerful equipment, ships and bodyguards/squad members (pets). Rather than looting a body, the simple act of killing a hostile to your species should award you points for defending the realm, so to speak. Similar points could be accumulated for other actions as follows:

    Exploration and Discovery – points awarded for planetscapes and environments explored.

    Diplomacy – points awarded for the number of races you successfully repair/trade with/befriend.

    Loyalty – points for fighting enemies of your own chosen race.

    Heroism – points for defending friendlies or innocent neutrals from hostiles.

    Engineering – points for helping broken down allies or overcoming technological obstacles/enemies.

    Science – Points awarded for each race/technology encountered/scanned by tricorder.

    Medicine – Points for healing and curing new alien diseases.

    Cargo – Points for transportation of friendlys/goods.

    Espionage – Points for scanning enemies/hacking data and transmitting to friendlys.

    Commerce – Points bought with credits earned from trading.

    Etc.

    Looting an enemy’s hand weapon/technology should still be possible, but only if Starfleet are NPCs and players are just exploring a universe that contains Starfleet ships and stations, which you can ride in, walk around and dock with. Everyone can be captain of their own smaller fighter/freighter ships, upgrading to larger ships that may eventually exceed the size of Starfleet vessels, but noone should be able to captain a Federation Starship, merely SOS them when needed with a cost in points for a callout (no cost for running to the protective phaser-range of a starship however). Starships should also have patrol areas so weaker players may end up keeping track of the rough location of the nearest starship/starbase as a place to go for backup when fleeing attack.

    Im thinking of something like a Han Solo sim except in the Star Trek universe with their aliens and ships. Maybe like those poor sods at the start of Search For Spock lol.

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