Massively multiplayer online games typically let you play as some sort of elf who ventures out into some sort of colorful, persistent world to repeatedly beat on some sort of rats in the hopes of looting a handful of some sort of treasure and eventually gaining some sort of experience level, so that you can seek out shinier treasures and beat up larger rats. One new game on the horizon will definitely deviate from this formula, all the way to space...the final frontier. That's right, the Star Trek universe created by TV producer Gene Roddenberry will be coming to life in a massively multiplayer online game brought to you by Cryptic Entertainment, the studio that previously created the online game City of Heroes. However, Star Trek Online was originally in development at an entirely different studio, Perpetual Entertainment, which has since closed its doors. What does that mean for the newly reannounced game? We checked in with Cryptic Studios' executive producer Craig Zinkievich for all the details.
GameSpot: To start off, please clear something up for us. What connection will Cryptic's Star Trek Online have to the game that was previously in development at Perpetual Entertainment?
Craig Zinkievich: We took some of the concept art--but the game design, assets, and engine are 100 percent Cryptic. If given the rights to use the Star Trek universe, who could resist the opportunity to design the game from scratch? We've been developing and refining our MMO engine and pipelines here for years and have shipped multiple games on it. Our Cryptic engine technology is so mature now that it's allowed us to take our ideas and vision and quickly get them up and running as a fully functional MMO.
GS: Next, give us some background on Star Trek Online. First off, in which era of Star Trek will the game take place? The original series? The Next Generation? Some other era?
CZ: The game takes place in the year 2409, roughly 30 years after the events of [the most recent motion picture] Star Trek: Nemesis. The galaxy has changed somewhat since then and faces additional challenges.
GS: Which characters and ships from the television series and movies will make special appearances in the game?
CZ: We'll doubtlessly include references to well-known and loved storylines, locations, and famous ships throughout the content within the game, but most of the characters have either retired or passed on. Star Trek Online is about letting players experience being a new member of the Star Trek universe--not reliving specific TV episodes or playing as specific captains.
GS: As captain of either a Federation or Klingon ship, what are some of the customization options you'll be able to use? Will advanced Borg technology like subspace warp drives come into play?
CZ: Cryptic is well known for delivering a high-level customization. As you "rank up" in the military, you'll gain access to larger and more powerful classes of ships. As captain, you'll have the opportunity to outfit your ship with the specific items, systems, and weapons that you want to put there. There are all sorts of different types of photon torpedoes and phaser arrays in the technological mythology of the universe, and you'll be able to put them on your ship. Change out and upgrade your nacelles, medical bays, sensor units...you name it. You'll be able to configure your ship so it plays the way you want.
You'll also be able to customize the look of your starship; put your fleet's emblem on it, change the colors, add decals, and, of course, specify your ship's name and designation.
GS: Which classes of chips will players be able to create? Birds of Prey? Deep space exploration ships? Hybrid warships like the Defiant? Shuttlecraft?
CZ: All of the above. Players will have access to many different classes of starships that let them create the look and feel of many of the famous "ships of the line" but also many new and different ones.
GS: Exploration has always been a major focus in Star Trek. How will the game encourage players to boldly go where no man has gone before?
CZ: The game will be filled with handcrafted Star Trek content that lets players play important parts in storylines active in the game universe. But exploration is key to Star Trek. Players will be able to pick uncharted star clusters of space and "seek out new life and new civilizations." There, they'll find content that will open up new resources, technologies, and even races with special abilities that they can recruit to their ship.
GS: One of the benefits of all that exploration is blowing up hostile new races that you encounter. Could you tell us about the combat system in the game?
CZ: There are two drastically different combat systems in Star Trek Online. The combat on away-team missions will be fast paced "run and gun" combat. As for space, we don't want to fall into the trap of trying to make starship combat into a dogfighter. That's not what Star Trek is about. In the shows and movies, space combat is about positioning, shifting power from weapons to shields, analyzing weaknesses, and having your crew come up with a plan at the last minute that can blast your enemy out of the sky! Space combat in Star Trek Online is a much more measured and tactical experience to reflect the spirit of the franchise.
GS: Will the game have any competitive player-versus-player elements to go with the player-versus-environment gameplay ? How will those work?
CZ: There will be PVP, as well as competitive PVE elements. We're keeping those plans under wraps right now.
GS: We understand that taking an away-team to the surface of new planets will be an important part of the game. Will the away-team be made of other players? Or will there be customizable away-teams featuring computer-controlled characters...or something else entirely?
CZ: Star Trek is not just about the captain and ship--it's about the crew too. One of the elements I'm really excited about is your "bridge crew." Throughout your career, you'll gain access to a number of player-controlled-but-AI-driven characters to name, outfit, customize, and level up. Your bridge crew helps drive the storylines you're on, gives your ship extra capabilities, and goes on away-missions with you.
When you're teamed up with other players, you'll definitely be going down to the surface along with them.
GS: How are you planning to implement combat on the surface using away-teams? Will it be third-person, real-time combat like we've seen in Cryptic's other upcoming project, Champions Online?
CZ: Yes--third-person, real-time, action combat.
GS: We also understand that important Federation and Klingon landmarks will be included in the game. What role will locations like Star Fleet Academy, Star Fleet High Command, and Klingon High Command on Qo'noS play?
CZ: We plan on using many of the famous Trek locales as places where episodes will take place; some as social areas and some as focal points for some of the major storylines in the 25th century.
GS: Aside from technology, what are the major differences between playing as a Federation captain or Klingon captain? Will Federation captains be bound by the prime directive or other Star Fleet registrations?
CZ: The ships, races, abilities, and technologies are all different. The flavor and tenor of the content will also be drastically different--there's a fundamentally different way the Klingon Empire would approach solving an outbreak of a dangerous disease from the way the Federation would!
GS: Finally, living up to the Star Trek name is a tremendous challenge, especially in gaming. How is the team making sure that Star Trek Online will do a good job of representing one of the most beloved franchises in science fiction history?
CZ: For one--we decided early on that Star Trek Online is not about trying to jam as many MMO mechanics together and skin it with a logo and uniform.
[Since we're working with] such a beloved franchise, we decided that the game must "feel like Star Trek." The team is constantly talking about why we love Star Trek and find it so exciting--and then we try to make sure that those elements come alive in the game. For example, when we got the license, the team broke out the DVDs and started to watch the 700-plus hours of content again. We found many of the episodes and movies have a distinct pattern and feel to them. We're trying to replicate that flow in the missions you'll play in the game. Every prop, set, and ship design in the shows and movies has technical reasoning, history, and mythology behind it. We're making sure that the things we develop do too.
What helps a whole lot is that the Star Trek universe has been so well defined, detailed, and is so vast in the amount of content that already exists. It's pretty easy to tell if something "feels like Star Trek."
GS: Thanks, Craig.