AGDC 07: Star Trek Online Interview with Daron Stinnett

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The lure of a good recruiting event – AGDC – brought Daron Stinnett, the Executive Producer of Star Trek Online, out of hiding long enough for us to pin him down and get a progress report on Perpetual Entertainment’s eagerly anticipated MMO.

Despite the fact that Perpetual announced STO before their upcoming debut title Gods and Heroes, the game has been shrouded in mystery for quite some time. With a license as popular as Star Trek, Stinnett told us that he does not want to deliver false promises or burn people out with too much information too early.

“We’ll start talking about it when we’re ready to show it,” said Stinnett simply. That said, they cannot disappear entirely and with that in mind, he took some time to bring us up to date on the game’s development.

For the first six months of 2007, the team has focused primarily on space gameplay. Then, this summer, they transitioned over to ground. The plan is to split this calendar year and as they hit the home stretch, Stinnett told us that both halves of the game are functional.

While technically, they’re not in full scale development, they are getting closer. Last time we spoke, the team’s goal was to create functional areas that act as prototypes for both land and space. Now, the team’s goal is to create many small areas that prototype the look and feel of each environment.

Once they polish off the second half of their plan, the real trick for the development team is to make sure both halves of the game work and play as one. While both have obvious differences and a unique feel, he does not want it to feel like two entirely different games.

The ground gameplay experience should be relatively familiar to fans of the MMO genre, at least in terms of base mechanics. They’re not going to reinvent the wheel and that means ability-driven combat.

Once off the planets, things spice up a bit.

“[Star Trek Online has a] unique and interesting combat model for space that people have not experienced before,” he told us. The Star Trek intellectual property treats space differently than the majority of other science-fiction properties. Ships are usually larger and more deliberate – unlike Star Wars, for example. In many properties, space combat owes its inspiration to fighter jets, while Star Trek’s lineage has more in common with large naval battles. This difference is part of their vision for a slower, more tactical experience in space combat.

At launch, STO will have 25 sectors (space zones) for players to explore. Each one has its own themes and storyline. Like the series, the game doesn’t want to send people mindlessly into firefights. Instead, there are larger issues to explore, usually related to real-world issues. One example of this is a sector that focuses in on the environment.

Like Tabula Rasa, this kind of real-world issue exploration runs the risk of being preachy, but Stinnett does not believe that will be a problem. Each theme acts as a jumping off point for their designers, some common theme to link things together. They have no urge to grind axes and will make sure that kind of thing is not in the final product.

After a few false starts where they released information way too early, Stinnett has become a cagey veteran at not saying too much. One example of this is the list of playable races. They had previously released a list and revised it a few times, now he has no comment on who to expect, save that they’ll unveil each one as it gets created, 3D model and all.

As Star Trek has recently been a dormant license for owner CBS, the timing of STO has enabled them to have a bit of fun and expand on cannon. Stinnett gave us the example of the Tribble. In the original series, Tribbles were cute balls of fur that reproduced rapidly. The result was James T. Kirk neck-deep in fur.

At Perpetual, they had an idea for a twist on it: the Killer Tribble. As the name implies, it’s a mean, evil version of the cute balls of yore. Well, CBS likely wouldn’t let them do it just for kicks, but in this case they had a plan. Star Trek lore also has the concept of a mirror universe where good is bad and so on. It seems a few Tribbles from the other side might have made it into this dimension.

Once Perpetual launches Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising and Star Trek looks to be roughly a year from launch, fans of the game can expect to hear a lot more from Stinnett and friends. Until then, back to development they go.

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