We recently had a chance to sit down with developer Perpetual Entertainment for a cursory "sneak preview" of some of the features in this upcoming online game. Apparently, the developer has the rights to draw upon content from any of the Star Trek series, including the classic TV show from the 1960s on up to the modern-day shows Deep Space Nine and Enterprise.
The game will have an overarching story that will take place just after the events in the most recent motion picture, Nemesis, and it will feature what lead designer Glen Dahlgren describes as a "world-changing event that will affect all players," though exactly what this event will be and how it will work has not yet been revealed.
The upcoming game will let players choose to work their way up through the ranks of the Federation through five stations: cadet, crewman, command, commission, and armada. Each time your characters advance in rank, they'll actually age physically (the idea being that with further age comes experience).
Players will be able to choose to play as a character from one of seven races (from three major subtypes--analytical, versatile, or aggressive), including the usual suspects, like humans and vulcans. Whereas in other massively multiplayer games you choose a specific profession or character class for your character, in Star Trek Online, you'll choose a departmental specialty. These include flight control, science, medical, engineering, and tactical/security. As part of Federation directives, all cadets are trained for combat, so all characters will be able to take care of themselves.
Much of Star Trek Online's content will focus around space travel in starships. Starships will have two instanced areas, the main bridge and the engineering bay, where players will be able to use their specialties to better navigate the ship under the watchful eye of a captain player, who directs, among other things, the flow of power to the ship's various systems.
Currently, the game is planned to let individual players focus on their own specialties on the bridge (so a player using a flight control officer will actually sit that character at a panel on the bridge)--any gaps in crew will be filled by computer-controlled characters.
Starships will make for four major types of content in the game: social, bridge missions, away missions, and everyone's favorite plot device, the holodeck. All ships will have common social areas where players can walk about in a third-person perspective and play leisurely games of pool or darts when they're off duty.
As Dahlgren explains, the idea behind starships is also to make players feel like an actual crew, rather than a bunch of random players thrown together. The designer suggests that players may essentially approach being part of a crew like being a part of an online game clan. Bridge missions, however, will be far less casual. They'll involve battles to take over enemy ships by first disabling their shields in combat, allowing a team of players to beam aboard the enemy starship with the ultimate goal of disabling that ship's warp core, crippling it. Away missions will take place on terra firma and will actually include first-person shooter content--these missions will take place in instanced areas and play much like a cooperative multiplayer shooter. Finally, the holodeck will let players basically simulate all other content, including mock player-versus-player duels and mock crew-versus-crew bridge missions.
Dahlgren wrapped up the presentation with a brief overview of the game's command structure and the various paths open to players. Ambitious players may attempt to rise all the way to the top of Starfleet's ranks, eventually becoming a ship captain in charge of an entire vessel and its crew, then later becoming an admiral, who deploys player-controlled ships for specific missions.
The designer was quick to explain that becoming a commanding officer won't be for everyone. It will require players to invest a great deal of the experience they accrue in the discipline of command, so other players may simply prefer to become the best medic or technician they can possibly be. Perpetual actually plans to run an online leaderboard to keep track of the most successful crews, so while not everyone can be a Captain Kirk, everyone will have a shot at being the best in the galaxy.
The game is planned to ship with only player-versus-environment, and its planned player-versus-player combat will be added after launch.