Friday, January 29, 2010

Star Trek Online Interview With Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich

It won't be long now until Star Trek Online is finally released to the masses. We've been a part of the beta and shared our experiences, but we had more lingering questions we wanted to see answered before the game's release date. We sat down to talk with Star Trek Online's Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich to see what light he could share on the upcoming game.

MPOGD: As someone who has always been fond of the Borg, I'm personally a bit disappointed that I won't be able to play as them with a regular subscription. Why the decision to make the Borg a Lifetime subscription only race? Will Borg become open sometime later for everyone else?

Well, bear in mind that even Lifetime subscribers arent playing the Borg race, per se. Theyre playing a liberated member of the Borg, like 7 of 9. So in reality, theyre playing within the Federation on Klingon faction, not the Borg faction. We dont yet have plans for making the true Borg a playable faction, but its something we may look into later on down the line.

MPOGD: Given the franchise and how die-hard many fans are to it, how hard was it building the lore and gameplay mechanics for the game? Were there any instances where you had to "step on the toes" of some fans or change elements of the franchise to fit the MMO format?

Im sure weve disappointed some Star Trek fans out there, but any time you create a game based on an IP, youre going to disappoint some people, just because their vision of the game is different from yours. With STO, we stated early on that fun gameplay was very important to us, and that wed design a game with that goal: make a fun Star Trek game. With that comes some sacrifices to realism, but overall we think we captured the Star Trek feel.

MPOGD: Could you explain the story of the time period the game is set and why that particular time frame was used?

Sure! So the year is 2409, which is 30 years past Nemesis. Romulus, as you know, has been destroyed so the Romulans are fighting among each other to rebuild their planet. The Cardassians have been hit hard by the Dominion war and they are barely hanging on existence at this point. The Klingons see this and they recognize this as an opportunity to spread the Empire. They also are aware of this species out there that are called the Undine. The Undine are shape shifters and have infiltrated every major power in the galaxy. The Klingons trust no one right now including the Federation, so with the Klingons trying to spread their empire, peace treaties between them and the Federation fall apart leading to war.

MPOGD: I've been playing the game and one of the big kicks I got was seeing Deep Space Nine. What's some of the other treats you have in store such as in popular landmarks or characters that will be making appearances?

You bet ya! There will be Riza, Vulcan, Qonos, and Gateway where the Guardian of Forever rests. Those are to just name a few, but there will be plenty of places that people see and recognize. Not as many of the characters are in just because most of them have moved on and retired, but you will see some. Ill let you be surprised when you discover who they are.

MPOGD: One thing quite different about the game is the leveling system, which doesn't exactly list people as numbers, such as, "Hey, I just dinged 25!" Why the decision to go this route?

We wanted progression to feel more like the Star Trek universe, so we wanted to denote big steps of development in the form of ranks: Ensign, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain and Admiral. However, there are varying degrees of each rank, just to reinforce that youre advancing within Starfleet even between ranks. So, a rank 5 Commander will generally be a bit more powerful than a rank 3 Commander.

MPOGD: Players can create their own character and race, but how tied is Cryptic to using what the franchise has already established? Was Cryptic able to make their own races and have them be main factors or villains in the game?

We do make our own races in the game, but those are used mainly for exploration. You come across a new race and make contact. At this point, however, a Cryptic-created race isnt a major villain in the games plotline, though we have developed the Undine a bit. There are so many adversaries the Federation are going to have to worry about that there is not just one main bad guy. They have the Klingons, Borg, Orion, Nausicaan, the Undine, and many more.

MPOGD: Unlike many other MMORPGs, Star Trek Online doesn't feature the same character classes and pre-defined roles. There's not exactly characters that are strict tank, ranged DPS, etc. Could you talk about the character classes and how they differ from each other?

It really just so happened that the 3 classes we have you pick is what makes since to Trek: Tactical, Engineering, and Science officers. Now, you can say that tactical is good for DPS, engineering for tanking, and science for healing, but they each do so much more, especially in space. You can, for example, be a Tactical officer in a Science ship, and use some of the innate properties of that Science ship to accentuate your Tactical abilities. We wanted everyone to be comfortable with the class they picked. That they werent going to be hindered by not having some of the other classes on their teams.

MPOGD: We've seen that pre-order bonuses are going to include pets. Are pets going to be offered outside of the pre-order deals? What can you tell us about what pets will be in the game and their function and roles. We hear the tribbles have the nasty habit of multiplying on players.

Pets will probably be something you can get through micro-transactions. They may have a little functionality but mainly be as something to follow you around.

MPOGD: The game currently doesn't have a death penalty, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it's nice not losing valuable time and stats from being killed, but yet it takes away the thrill and worry of going into a battle outmatched and giving us that fun sense of tension. Will a death penalty be added and/or why the decision to go the route Cryptic has?

We do currently have a death penalty; its just temporary. In space, any time you die, you lose some of your crew. Your crew affects your ships repair rate, as well as a host of special abilities you can use. And on the ground, if you die youre forced to respawn at a point behind where you progressed. Ultimately, we opted for a pretty light death penalty because we dont want to punish people for taking risks like the captains from the shows did. Kirk never lost the Enterprise, no matter what crazy stunt he pulled, did he?

MPOGD: For fans who have seen the various shows, Star Trek isn't always about going in with guns blazing, but also about meeting new species and coming to an understanding. While having a ton of that in the game wouldn't be the most exciting thing, are there any instances or quests that will lean towards diplomacy or this line of thinking?

Yes we have those. We have missions where you dont shoot anything at all and you do solve things peacefully. Early on, youre called upon by Starfleet to solve a labor dispute on a mining colony, for instance. Its also something were looking to add more of. This is a time of war and people will be fighting, but we do want to give people that sense that they can explore new worlds.

MPOGD: Most MMORPGs have a large, overarching story, filled with more personal and local stories that eventually lead to the bigger picture. What's the bigger picture of Star Trek Online? Is there an ultimate story or villain that's a major factor in the game?

We tell our games story through Episode missions. Theyre missions designed specifically to feel like an episode of one of the TV shows. They last between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, and feature a lot of scene changes, as well as transition between space and ground. Weve broken them up into seasons; each season is focused on a different antagonist. At launch, there will be about 40 Episode missions.

MPOGD: Right now people can only visit ship bridges, but will there be more areas that players will be able to access later on? Will ship interiors serve a bigger purpose or are they more for show and a sort of player housing more than anything else?

We want to add more interiors that people can visit and more functionality on them. It will really in large part depend on player feedback. If they want more command in the bridge and more access to other parts of the ship then we will most definitely try to add that into the game at a later date.