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Star Trek Online interview

We met with Star Trek Online associate producer Andy Velasquez in Stockholm to talk about the upcoming MMO and Star Trek in general.

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What is the most important aspect of Star Trek that you wanted to carry across to Star Trek Online?

It's kind of hard to just say one. We have a few major systems in the game that are very much tailored to deliver an authentic Trek experience. One thing how the bridge commanders affect the game. Looking at the shows and movies, it's nothing if it's not about who's on that bridge when that crisis hits. And that's how they solve that problem. Worf solves problems very differently from Data and they're both on the bridge at the same time or if they're at the bridge at different times then the problem unfolds differently for that episode. Offering that kind of choice for the player on who they decide to bring with them on that bridge and how they solve those problems. Personally I like science ships, because they have lots of different science guys and I'm jamming people's sensors to take them out of the fight and then doing a whole lot of debuffing things. As opposed to my friend who just goes with all escorts as tactical guys and sort DPS punches that way.

The same thing can be said of our episodic content. The way that we're choosing to deliver the story and even the general quest structure of the game is very much based on the themes and the style of the show and we even call them episodes cause they're very similar in how they function and feel.

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One thing I would say is truly Star Trek is the sense of exploration. Is that something you wanted to bring across?

Yeah, with exploration we knew "to boldly go where no man has gone before" is huge for Trek. We named our system the Genesis system, which is a set of software technology that allows us to create planets and systems, ground maps, interiors so that players will be able to continously explore and generate new content for themselves that no one else has seen before. This is a tool set that we use internally as we develop the game to expedite the process. You loose weeks of development time if you were just white boxing environments, just making sure that this is generally what we want to do and then you have a designer coming in and place the content and then an artist goes in and hand touches that.

By the time you have an end product a huge chunk of that was just initial set up. With the genesis system we can have a designer loosely describe a mission "I want a snow planet with a bunch of Klingons here and you have to go defeat this first group and then you'll go find five bombs that you have to disarm. Then the Genesis system will automatically put that together and then we can go in and hand craft that and do things that only humans can do. But since we've been working on our technology for so long we've kind of refined it and are making it better we are going to expose that to players so that they can just fly and that system will generate something new that you'll do and you'll have that limitless exploration.

Star Trek Online

Why did you choose this specific era for the game (it's set in 2409, 30 years after Star Trek: Nemesis)?

Again lots of reasons. A key thing is that we want players to feel like the heroes of their timeline. It would be kind of cool for a little bit rubbing arms with Picard and Kirk and all them, but spending all this time and only being second fiddle to something... you know that Picard is the man. And we didn't want the players to have that feeling.

And we also wanted, I mean we're creative individuals on the team as well and we don't want to necessarilly be locked down to retelling the same stories cause we all know what happened when Janeway makes it back. (laughs) I'm sorry if that was a spoiler, but you know we want to be able to tell our own stories.

Where do you feel that Star Trek Online fits into the MMO landscape?

We are trying really hard to be something unique. That was one of the first things we decided as a group of developers to not just do what every other MMO does and then just skin it to be Star Trek. Within that 45 minute play session you will probably go between 4 or 5 different environments whether it's a space ship interior to a different space map where you're flying around in your space craft and you beam down to the planet. Very different from traditional MMO's where you're in the forest for unknown hours and then you move to a different environments.

With the bridge officer system, you're identity as a player isn't a single entity, your whole crew, the ship that you're in [is your avatar]. Very different than most MMO's out there. We're hoping that we can find our own place.

Star Trek Online

When you took over the project, did you start all over from scratch?

Absolutely, if someone tells you "Here, have the license. Oh and these other guys started on something..." Forget that! We're doing what we want to do. I hope that didn't sound like I was belittling anything Perpetual did in any way. But again, as creative individuals, being given an opportunity to work on this there is no way that I would continue what anyone else did.

There is not a single texture that you kept?

No I don't think so. We did use some of their concept art, cause they had amazing concept artists on that team. All of the designs are all our own and I don't think we used a single art asset. There was also some kind of technical implications making it work with our engine. When we were in early stages prototyping and demoing, rather than building a borg cube we would take some things, but we have since then made all custom Cryptic Studios assets.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from Star Trek fans?

Oh man. We get lots of feedback from Trek fans. (laughter) The best thing about Trek fans, or at least our Trek fans I don't know if that's true for all Trek fans, is that where they are critical, and trust me they are, they are constructive with their criticism. It's not just "nah, this is lame", instead they are like "oh, that is actually inaccurate because if you go to this episode and this minute you can see that the right exhaust port is a little bit larger than the left one". And they'll show a diagram and they'll have their own paper mocks that they did when they were ten.

Being able to look at that is... what's the word... crowd sourcing is the new term for it. They find things, references and inspiration and things that even with our dev team given infinite amounts of time we would have never found it. This esoteric knowledge lives in different places and they were able to point it out to us. It's very, very helpful.

Star Trek Online
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What will the balance be between ground and space mission? Will it be left to the player to decide?

In general it's about 60/40 in skew for more space. As a player you can elect to, in certain cases, do more space or ground over space depending on which one you enjoy. But for the most part, as I mentioned before, it's a huge part of our identity as a game to send you back and forth across the places within a game session. It is not possible to ignore one factor of the game.

Where there any specifics lessons that you learned from launching Champions Online?

Yeah... Uhm, other than don't nerf the launch. (laughter) It's been really helpful for us to have not only that game launch before us, but being developed at kind of at the same time. Because we have problems that when we solve kind of propagates itself to their side and they can take advantage of that because we share the same core engine in the back end. And the other way around is true, if they find a problem and fix it then we benefit from that as well. So to answer your question, with different problems with logging and server things, we are definitively able to take very specific instances of problems there and directly prevent those from happening in our game.

Will there be something similar to Champions Store in Star Trek Online?

Yes, there will be a ST Store.

What has the player response been to it (Champions Store) and what kind of stuff will there be?

I can't speak too much for Champions Online we are two very distinct products. And we have our own development teams. I know that they did a lot of little microtransactions that people generally love, things like buying a new pet and things like that. Response to things like that are always positive. On Star Trek we're planning little pets and things like that to fall in place. One of the cool things we can offer like IP nods to the hardcore fans like authentic uniforms from different eras and things of that nature that Champions didn't have access to. But there are definitively new avenues to explore.

Star Trek Online

That ties into my next question: What kind of post launch plans do you have for Star Trek Online?

Since day one it's been like "oh, what do you wanna do for launch" and before we're even done with that conversation "oh, and in expansion 2 it will be like this". For the first couple of months after launch it will probably be very similar to Champions Online, where we'll have some free events and new content for players who are just blowing through things to quickly get in and enjoy and for the first update there will be some paid content whether it will be some new uniforms, aliens, contents or missions we're still going to decide that. At least that's the structure of how it will look.

Are you still looking to bring Star Trek Online to consoles?

Ever since the beginning of the project we have developed with the limitations, budgets and user interface considerations for what it takes to bring a game like this to the console. I used to play it with a controller every other play session to make sure we were satisfying that need. Now it pretty much rests on the business side of things and whenever that happens, porting it over to the consoles on our side, the development side, is relatively taken care of at this point.

Who is you favourite Star Trek captain?

I want to change to that question a little bit and answer my favourite character instead. I love Data. Data is the man. Actually he later becomes a captain so that's an accurate answer. I think he's hilarious. I remember when we first got this license and I started working on the project I was a moderate Trek fan. I wasn't the biggest fan, but I knew the characters and I sat down and watched the shows and everytime I saw Data he would be saying something funny. When he tried to learn how to laugh went "HA HA HA... I don't get it." (laughter) It's so goofy. I play a science officer in our game, and I generally don't enjoy the direct solution to combat situations. And fictionally Data always seemed to always solve problems in that way, like he'd invert the Tachyon beam flow that brings down their shield. You know just random science stuff. Not the Worf "I'm just gonna fire torpedoes at it" and not the Picard "let's talk about it". It's like "I'm still gonna punk you, but in a science way". Which I thought was really cool.

What did you think of the new movie?

I thought it was fantastic. I don't know anyone that didn't think it was fantastic. It totally blew me away. Although, as a funny story... We had an entirely different plan for the Romulans in our game and then when you go through rigorous approval processes and things like that they went "You should know..." and found this out a long time before the movie came out... "We're gonna blow up Romulus!" and we were like "What!"...

Final question... Are you confident that the game will be done by February 2?

It's funny because done is not something... We will be ready for launch. I never think a developer feels a game is done. Especially a person in my position who knows he has to cut things. We feel very confident about the core mechanics in the game and we've been getting a lot of positive feedback not only from the press but from our play testers. They enjoy the core of what Trek is, and we still have plenty of time to refine it and really add that polish. Definitively by launch day we'll be okay.

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