Thursday, April 8, 2010

Post Launch Star Trek Online Interview with Craig Zinkievich

My Science Officer is currently cruising through the great black expanse that is space. I've had some great adventures and still have plenty of new planets to visit and alien species to meet, but like every other gamer out there, I'm also still wondering as to what comes next from Star Trek Online. We sat down with the game's Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich to see what we have to look forward to now that the launch of Star Trek Online has come and gone.

MPOGD: What has been the development team's reaction to how the fans and critics have responded to Star Trek Online since it launched? Has reading those pros and cons given you new things to thrive for or change?

Were listening closely to our subscribers. We really want to keep an open dialogue with our customers and find out what it is they like, dislike, and want more of in the game. Reviews and such are an important metric, but at the end of the day, reviews dont pay your bills, your customers do. So thats where weve really been focusing, and weve gotten a lot of great feedback from our community.

MPOGD: One thing that almost everyone wants is a respec. Is there any word on when it might be coming, how much it will cost/how players will go about getting it, and how all encompassing is Cryptic looking at making it (will it mostly only concern the actual player's character or bridge officer abilities too)?

Respec is definitely on the way. Were still working out the exact specifics, but itll be available in-game and in the C-Store. The respec you use in-game will cost Merit to employ. We plan on having it ready when Season One: Common Ground launches later this month.

MPOGD: Shortly after the game was released, Cryptic added two new character races to the C-store: Klingons (Federation side) and Ferengi. Are there any plans to add new races anytime soon to either the Federation or Klingon sides, and if so any clue as to what they might be?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Well be offering three new Federation species in the C-Store later this month: the Tellarites, the Pakleds and the Rigelians.

MPOGD: What can you share about the upcoming raid content that's been announced? What's the story for these Special Task Forces and what kinds of action will players be partaking in? Are these STFs going to be end-game based too in terms of level restrictions?

The STFs are all about advancing Star Trek Onlines story. For instance, in Infected, our first STF, the Borg have begun assimilating a space station. Much of the high-ranking content in the game has been leading up to direct, meaningful contact with the advanced Borg. This is where you run into that.

Weve designed STFs to be endgame missions, partially because we want to give players a big content reward at the end of their advancement, and partially because weve built them to be the most challenging portion of the game.

MPOGD: Are there any plans for any STF (or other potential content) that's more than five-man based?

Not in the near-term, no. But, we are working on core technology to allow for this. It's just not something that will come right away.

MPOGD: Unlike a lot of MMOs, there's not really a lot of content that absolutely requires grouping. Given that, you don't see a lot of people saying, "LFG need tank or healer." Do you look at that as a positive or negative? On one hand, it's great to know that if you want to group you can pretty much join and not have to worry about being left out, but then again, you sometimes feel like your class isn't being utilized properly. As someone who plays a science officer that heals, buffs, and controls the enemy, when am I going to feel needed more than whoever has the biggest guns? Am I ever going to see a team makeup is required and I'll finally see that "LFG science officer"?

Definitely in the STFs. Weve seen a lot of people get specific about the types of captains they want on their teams, down to the Kits being used. Im not sure its that necessary to get the perfect assembly of complementary powers on a team, but it really does demand that players work together to their characters strengths, rather than just run in somewhere with guns blazing.

To answer the first part of your question, its both good and bad. Its the tradeoff you make when you create a solo-friendly game. People become more self sufficient, and by definition you dont need to rely on people to fulfill a specific role quite as much. Ultimately, I think history has proven its better to come down on the solo-friendly side rather than the forced-grouping side, but it is a matter of opinion.

MPOGD: Are there any plans to add any new ships to either the Federation or Klingon sides? If so, is there anything you can tell us about them? How players go about getting them? What classes are they for? What they look like? Etc.?

Definitely. Well be releasing a Klingon Battle Cruiser thats available to Klingon captains at the rank of Lieutenant Commander. When you promote from a Lieutenant, you can select to use that ship right away. Were also adding some new cosmetic variants to some existing Federation ships into Season One: Common Ground, our big content update coming this month. Those will be available in the C-Store.

MPOGD: Are there any plans for either player-based or Fleet-based housing? I know some guilds that would love to be able to own a space station as their meeting place.

Thats one of those things that would be great to have, but its a matter of time and fitting in with the IP. Sisko ran DS9, but it wasnt really something he built on his own; he was promoted into that role. And, of course, that type of system isnt something you can just drop into the game. Theres a lot to think about: How do you get a space station? Where do you put it? Can you move it? How big is it inside? What do you do with it once you have it?

In the short term, well be doing more with bridges, cosmetically at first, to make them feel more like home. Once we get those to a point where players are really happy with them, we can start thinking bigger.

MPOGD: Right now the only thing that's visible inside your ship is the bridge, where you can hangout with people you invite. Will Cryptic be expanding the interior to allow us to visit other parts of our own ship? Would such plans be mostly a cosmetic change for people to look at or would individual areas have a functional usage too?

This sort of works with your previous question. At this point, were looking primarily at improving the bridge experience again, cosmetically at first. Once we master that area, we can move toward the next logical step if its something our users want, and something we can realistically achieve.

MPOGD: Other than the Crystalline Entity mission which the majority of people I've been around have said it's near impossible to beat there doesn't seem to be much in the way of challenge when it comes to Star Trek Online. Is Cryptic looking at doing anything to give the player more of a challenge when it comes to the game?

I think this goes back to the Special Task Force missions. Folks that have been playing through these have had a lot of trouble overcoming the challenges we have in place for them, especially with pick-up groups. Theyve shaped up to be the type of mission that demands a lot out of each group member, and people interested in that style of gameplay have been impressed with that.

MPOGD: I think one of the reasons for the lack of challenge, when looking at player reaction, is that death seems to have little meaning. You blow-up, re-load, and continue the fight. We've heard that the death penalty is one element that's going to be examined. What's your thoughts behind the death penalty debate and is there any word on what changes might be in store for it?

Were working on some death penalty options internally right now. The real trick is to figure out a way to make death something you want to avoid, but also make it work within the framework of the game. The way our acquisition of power works, its not as simple as losing everything youre carrying, losing a ship if it explodes and so on. Basically, you want players to feel a sense of loss, but it has to be a replaceable loss. Its something were still tinkering with internally, but were not a point where were ready to speak specifically about whats coming.

MPOGD: In a fairly recent State of the Game post, there was talk of what's being tentatively titled Update 1: Classy Marketable Name Coming Soon. Can said "Classy Marketable Name Coming Soon" be revealed yet or what this update will include?

Why, yes! Our first major update will be called Season One: Common Ground. We plan on other large updates to follow a similar naming structure. Season Two: Classy Marketable Name, Season Three: Even Classier Still!

MPOGD: Beyond Update 1 there's several interesting mentions as to what Cryptic would like to further explore. There's the Undine, Genesis System, new locations that could be visited, and potentially a new playable faction. Is there any info you can share on these things or are they more internal thoughts and hopes at this time rather than being concrete set in stone blue prints?

Weve got a general idea of where we want to head beyond Season One, but were not ready to talk about specifics. Were very focused on getting this big update out and playable for our subscribers. Then well take our next cue from their reaction and feedback on Season One. Really, we want to develop the game our players want, which means getting as much real, live feedback as possible before we really dive into a big mechanic or new feature.

MPOGD: Personally speaking, my favorite quests so far have involved things actually attached to the franchise, such as going back in time to save Kirk and crew. Is there any word or hints on similar content coming down the line where we might once again interact with either a race, character, or story point from the past television shows?

I dont think it would be Star Trek without a bit of time travel, some interaction with Q, Mirror Universe episodes, or a combination of the three. Definitely stay tuned 

MPOGD: Is there anything we haven't talked about that you'd like to mention or a final farewell to say to the fans?

Were really looking forward to showing off Season One: Common Ground. Be sure to check it out when it releases theres lots of great stuff in there for everyone