Friday, February 5, 2010

SciFriday: Patience Is Key To Loving Star Trek Online

Over the weekend, during a moment of sheer frustration waiting in a 20-minute queue to get into a game that had already been testing my patience with server issues, I wrote a little opinion piece on the new massively multiplayer online roleplaying game Star Trek Online.

It was not part of the regular SciFriday column, but what I usually like to call a bonus piece from me. Not that it really does you, the reader, that much good, but more or less allows me to climb up on the soap box once in a while and express whatever is on my mind. It's almost like my own little therapy session, and you can see how well that's working.

Having a chance to express an opinion to such a good-sized audience is something not everyone has, but don't think it doesn't come without a price. There are always going to be people who disagree with you, and that's great. They may head out to message boards or blogs or wherever they fancy and share that disagreement about what you said.

Of course, if I'm not getting people talking about stuff, then I'm not doing my job in entertaining, informing and giving you something to think about. But then some go too far.

A Star Trek Online player decided to post a link to my column on the game's official message board. At first there was some agreement with what was written, but then the rudeness came out. I mean seriously, disagree with me, call me an amateur gamer, call me impatient. That's all fair game, and I'm used to that. However, making personal attacks? I honestly hope that these aren't the people who become the face of gaming, or worse, Star Trek fans.

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. It was something "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry considered the heart and soul of his Wagon Train to the Stars. People may not always agree, but they did everything they could to civilly disagree, and not turn something into a war.

Not everyone on the message boards were so hurtful. There were those who disagreed with me, but understood where I was coming from ... or at least respected my right to share my opinion. The message I was trying to give was more to the Star Trek community, especially to those who may not be experienced in MMOs, like our very own columnist Terilynn Shull, who has now tackled two columns talking about her experiences playing the game.

And we are not a gaming site. We rarely talk about games, and when we do, it's usually for good reason. In this case, Star Trek Online was looking to capture the hearts of a very specific fanbase, one we've catered to for well over a decade: Trekkies.

Server stability in a game is important. And while I wanted to come on here today and say that my concerns expressed last week about server crashing was a thing of the past, playing Wednesday and Thursday proved it remains an issue. The lag on the server was extreme for me both nights, which was something I did not experience during the pre-launch, and the server lost contact at least twice in the middle of missions.

For me, that made the game unplayable. Hitting buttons in a middle of a battle only to have nothing happen, or a two- or three-second delay take place first, is just not something that works in a high-intensity environment that Cryptic has created with Star Trek Online.

Now to Cryptic Studio's defense, they have acknowledged the server issues, and were expected to take the game down for a few hours overnight this past night to upgrade the hardware, and hopefully create a solid gaming experience in time for what is likely to be a busy weekend for the game. And I hope this is a fix that works.

Like I said in my first column, which some had construed as me hating the game, I really enjoy playing Star Trek Online. I love the space battles, I'm liking the story, and I'm even getting a chance to chuckle a little bit at some of the previews, like the Los Angeles Times' claim that no remnants of the latest "Star Trek" movie exists in the game (it does ... Romulus has been destroyed, and the backstory mentions the disappearance of Ambassador Spock and Nero).

But you can't enjoy a game that is not ready to play. And I know that if the game isn't fixed by this weekend, Cryptic will figure it out. I just worry that if it's not corrected in the near future, many players will give up and find something else to play.

I don't want that to happen because I want Star Trek Online to succeed. So anything I might say here about the game is not with any intent to knock the game down a peg or two, but to express how important it is to give gamers the backbone support to make it work.

So what gives me the right to have an opinion on Star Trek Online, and to express it here? Yes, I know, I'm not a game reviewer, and my life has not been spent playing a lot of games (trust me, that's more about time considerations than an actual desire to play, because I love gaming). But besides the fact that I own the site, and can basically publish what I want, I also paid $60 for the game, and I'm set to start shelling out $15 a month for the continued right to play. That alone gives me all the qualification in the world to have an opinion, and the right to express it.

Finally, some of the things said on this message board were about me personally, like my weight, how much of a life I have, etc. That's fine, I make fun of all those things myself (we expect our character of the Wii Fit to return to Alpha Waves Radio next week to address it). But I take real exception when people who know absolutely nothing about Airlock Alpha put it down.

We have a staff of about 15 people who work very, very hard to bring this site to you. It's a volunteer effort where we carefully select each and every person, because while we're not exactly a fan site, we're still a site designed for fans, designed by fans. And that's one reason why I think we've stuck around for more than 11 years, and why I hope we'll be around for about 11 more.

We are not a blog. Not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just not what we are. While this column and some of our opinion pieces bring us closer to the realm of blogging, these are more opinion pieces that are a part of a broader offering of content that includes video and news, what we think is some of the best-presented news you can find anywhere.

Will there be typos, misspellings, occasional grammar errors? Sure. Especially when you see me right. I literally have to write many pieces in a span of about 10 minutes, which means I have to take advantage of my high-speed typing skills, and the ability to multitask. Unlike our other writers who get the benefit of an editor's eye (like from me or Alan Stanley Blair), my stuff -- like this column -- usually goes up without a second read.

Do typos, misspellings and occasional grammar errors make me a bad writer? Absolutely not. A writer is usually only as good as their editor, and I am working as we speak to bring in a line editor who can read behind me and clean up any muck ups along the way.

But those errors only show that we're human, and it shouldn't detract from the substance of what's being said in any way. And I love the fact that people just like you forgive those minor errors, and will even point them out to me, along the way.

So what do you think of Star Trek Online? Are you experiencing the same issues I am? Or are you having an experience that works for you? Do you like the gameplay as much as I do? The story?

Share your thoughts my dropping me an e-mail at, and I may share some of those thoughts in a future column.

In the meantime, if you have more patience than me, give Star Trek Online a try. If not, give it some time. Cryptic will get the bugs worked out, and then you will find out why Star Trek Online is a game you want to play.