Saturday, January 23, 2010

Terilynn's Trek: A Noob's View Of Star Trek: Online

Taking a perspective from a true non-gamer

Ask anyone who knows me to describe the kind of person I am. You might get a slew of words thrown back at you like crazy, funny, Trekkie, boot-lover, geek, and maybe even: talkative, snarky, nerd and bitchy.

But there is one word I doubt you will ever hear used by anyone who has known me for any length of time and that is …


I can hear my friends laughing from 800 miles away already.

I have never been one to play any sort of electronic game. Let me clarify that … I’ve never been one to play any sort of electronic game well.

My idea of a fun video game is MarioKart Wii and that’s solely because I don’t have to push more than one button to make anything happen. I simply press one button with my right thumb to go, and when I get a banana, I chuck it with the button under my left thumb. Easy peasy!

That's just pathetic really, considering the time period in which I grew up. Videogames and videogame arcades were all the rage when I was in my mid-teens in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The only games I could play and not be utterly humiliated were Pac-Man, Frogger and Tempest - and I was really good at Tempest. I could play so well I would actually draw a small group of onlookers to watch at the Golf N’Stuff arcade as I hoped to impress a really cute guy who hung out there.

Sadly, those easy-to-play games gave way to the complex NASA control panels included with the home-game consoles that came out in the 1990s. Because of my horrid hand-eye coordination, I was relegated to the observation lounge of the gaming world until Wii showed up and let me play sled games with my butt.

So what was this Trekkie to do when she found out that not only a new Star Trek game was being developed, worse, the game being developed was something called an MMORPG?

Now, I come from a world of acronyms. I started off in law enforcement where they breed acronyms like rabbits and ended up in the world of insurance which probably comes in close second to the military for being able to take what is a simple name for something and making more intricate than it ever needed to be. But when I read the first news article that Cryptic had taken over the rights to build the Star Trek MMORPG, my brain fried.

I sat in my chair utterly afraid to ask anyone I knew what an MMORPG was. So I Googled it. What remained of my brain from its initial toasting melted.

First off – the term itself almost threw me. “Massively multiplayer online role-playing game.” OK, the fact the term starts off with an adverb made me laugh. (Hey, most Trekkies will forgive “massively multiplayer” when they still quote “to boldly go.”) Then I read a little more and a little more and a little more and I realized I didn’t grasp it at all.

PvP? PvE? NPC?


I cried.

“I’m old!” I thought and I moped into bed, flicking on my eReader and tried to take comfort in a well-written Trek fanfic. It was then I realized the reason why I read Trek fiction (fan-made or professional) in the first place: because the stories provide me with more “new” Star Trek. It was also then I realized that Star Trek: Online might do the same.

So I decided that, come hell or high water, (sorry Long Beach, Calif.) I was going to learn how to play an MMORPG.

I went to the Star Trek: Online Web site and began to watch it for announcements and changes. Finally, a few months ago, the applications for closed beta went up and I foolishly applied, only to realize that the computer I owned was too old, too slow and too antiquated to be able to handle the game at all.

I cried again, then ate a chocolate bar and went to the store and bought a new computer. When the sales person asked me what I needed, I made him go to the Star Trek: Online Web site and look up the minimum specs and said, “Give me more than that.”

The kid looked at me like I was high, then his face contorted and he said, quite seriously mind you, “Buying your son a new computer so he can play this? You’re an awesome mom.”

I smiled kindly in return and said, “No, I’m buying this computer for myself because I want to play this game. I’ve never played an MMORPG before and I’m a huge Trekkie. I’ve been waiting months for this and now I realize I need new hardware to make it happen. And just to let you know I am awesome. I also happen to be 45 years old, married and childless.” And I stuck my tongue out at him. To say the least, the rest of the sale went swimmingly.

I brought my amazing new laptop home and waited impatiently until open beta was set to begin on Jan. 12.

The night before, I went to the site where my beta key had already been entered and clicked on the “download” button.

29 hours of active download time later (two days of real-life time) – I finally got into Star Trek:Online.

You read that correctly. It took me two days to download the software. Since I pre-ordered the game from the site, and because I’m the noob that I am, I used the site’s downloader – right at the height of the open beta crush. Others I have spoken to used a torrent stream (Pssst ... I’m totally faking that I know what that means) and shaved 10-plus hours off the almost 9 gigabyte download, but that’s still a very long time.

I think the two additional days’ wait to see the game was worth it though.

I am very, very proud to say that I have made it through the tutorial!

My character is a Starfleet officer (you can chose to play a Klingon if Starfleet is too squeaky-clean for your tastes) and I can run her into walls, tables, chairs, people and Borg with aplomb. She can shoot Borg, but she has to be in a very distant position, otherwise they beat the crap out of her.

My ship? My ship is a beaut! The U.S.S. Ada Byron! I’ve managed to get her smacked around by both a Borg sphere and a cube and she’s still in one piece! Although I really must admit that my ship's survival had more to do with the computer-operated engineering officer I chose than by any skill I possess.

I’m having the time of my life! I reported a bug and I always look forward to playing after the shards have been uploaded by the server people. (Again – can you tell I’m not a techie?) The play always improves.

If I had any criticism about the game it would have to be the overwhelming amount of stuff on the screen that isn't very well explained. Not being able to (or not knowing how to) pause my player to read up on what the little symbols mean and then trying to figure out if it's a button I can click has caused me some frustration.

I'm sure this is something that people who are used to these types of games have ingrained in their psyche, but noobs like myself end up being pummeled while we try to figure out that the little "h" means "holster your weapon" not "help." LOL! No wonder my character kept getting tossed around like a salad leaf!

I can say that I absolutely love the look of this game. The ability to create and alter every little detail of a character down to the shape of the head and the color and texture of the eyebrows is an absolute ball.

I still have to get used to the turning keys. (Isn’t there an easier way to move in these games?) It’s always rough to deal with the transition between ground-based gameplay and the space battle stuff. My brain gets used to moving my character forward with the W key. When the switch to space battle mode occurs, I still want to press the W to move forward, which only pitches the nose of my ship down and she ends up being Borg bait.

It’s going to take me a very long time to get used to controlling the game, but I’m determined to keep practicing because one day one of my friends is going to call me a gamer even if it kills me … or my character … several hundred times.