We have a brand new section as Star Trek Online on WarCry debuts here today. To celebrate, Perpetual Entertainment Executive Producer Daron Stinnett answered a whole bunch of our questions in this new interview.
Interview with Daron Stinnett (Exec. Producer)
Questions by Dana Massey and Matt Kull
WarCry Network: You’ve mentioned in a slew of interviews that you’re working on a game, not a simulation of Star Trek. Can you talk about some specific instances where you’ve run into “realism” vs. fun, what you did and why you went that way?
Daron Stinnett: One of the earliest examples I can think of is when we were thinking about how the player would beam aboard their ship. Naturally, our first thought was that the player would run down to the transporter room to request a beam-out – just as in the shows. But the more we thought about it, we realized that there is no reason a player can’t beam directly from wherever they happened to be standing. Forcing players to run to a particular location just because that was the way it was usually done in the shows, was silly and would get really tiresome. So we decided to streamline, knowing that players who still wanted to role play could always make the choice to beam out only from the transporter room without forcing everyone to play that way. That decision marked the day where we decided that we would consider the entertainment value of every design element on its own merits rather than blindly mimicking show mechanics.
WarCry Network: Star Fleet has always been a utopian and uniform society. They wear uniforms, their ships look alike, etc. How do you intend to promote the individuality (both for avatars and ships) people crave in these games without ruining the atmosphere?
Daron Stinnett: The great thing about Star Trek is that it is anything but homogeneous. Sure, we tended to see a lot of the same ships and uniforms in the shows, but that was often more matter of television budgets than fiction. When it served the story, and finances allowed it, you’ll find plenty of examples from the shows where the presence of variety and individualism within Starfleet doesn’t undermine the notion of Star Trek.
For us, the answer here was easy, a MMORPG must promote a player’s ability to individualize in order to be successful. We are creating an environment where anyone and everyone can participate in an interactive online community, and that means we can’t attempt to control a player’s desire to distinguish themselves within the game world. To do otherwise would be to create an exclusive club for hard core fans that would undermine the franchise in the long term, not to mention our ability to build and support a AAA title.
WarCry Network: Communication in Star Trek was always unique. They hit com badges and bring each other up on bridge screens. How will the game handle communication?
Daron Stinnett: While text chat will remain the dominant means of communication for the remainder of this decade, if not beyond, there is a lot of opportunity to turn voice chat into a more casual and ubiquitous form of communication. And as you point out, the Star Trek fiction pushes us to excel in this area. Our primary goal is to make voice chat more accessible beyond the realm of hard core grouping. Beyond that, we have a number of ideas borne out of the communications we see on the show, but I’ll save a more thorough discussion of our communication systems for when we are closer to launch.
WarCry Network: The holodeck was used in the show to sometimes escape and do whatever they wished. That opens a lot of doors for a video game. Do you have any special plans for the holodeck in Star Trek Online?
Daron Stinnett: We can use the Holodeck to go anywhere and do anything, and that’s a really exciting prospect for our designers. We also see a lot of unique exploration, trade skills, and social opportunities surrounding the Holodeck, but it is just too early for us to talk specifics.
WarCry Network: The race lineup has changed a few times. Where does it stand today? What races can you confirm and are there any planned beyond those?
Daron Stinnett: As we’ve explored the nature of Star Trek and pushed the boundaries of the fiction, our notion of which races make for the best lineup has evolved. All I will say at this time is that our set of player races is now locked and we are well into generating assets to support each of these races. In the coming months, we’ll be providing hints as to the choices we made on our teaser site.
WarCry Network: While I’ve heard you answer this a few times, some people seem convinced that they’ll be playing a single role on a star ship, like the show. Can you explain the control dynamics of the avatar vs. those of the ship?
Daron Stinnett: The easiest way to explain the dynamic between your avatar and ship in MMORPG terms is to think of your ship as a mount that is an upgradeable combat platform. Early in one’s career, you will gain command your first small solo ship to freely navigate the galaxy. As you progress in your career and make alliances, you’ll gain access to bigger and better ships to upgrade in parallel to your avatar. And when players decide to group with others in space, the choice is yours, group as individual ships or crew together aboard a single ship. Our design is geared towards providing players with the freedom to choose his or her own path on a journey through the galaxy.
WarCry Network: You’ve said in the past you foresee roughly 50% of the game as an avatar and 50% as a ship. For those so inclined, would it be possible, theoretically, to play their entire careers as one or the other? Maybe potentially not even own a ship?
Daron Stinnett: I think players can be pretty creative when it comes to the path they choose through the game, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. But as a rule, we are designing space and ground to be an integrated experience. However we will likely offer opportunities for players to specialize in either arena.
WarCry Network: Greed and money were not a driving force in Star Fleet. How do you envision the economy working in game? Is an ideal like this even something you will try to translate over?
Daron Stinnett: When we originally pondered this question, STO had a more hard-core focus on Star Fleet than it does today. But even then we realized that if we didn’t provide a fully functioning economy, players would just come up with other, less convenient means of exchanging goods and services. Fortunately, the Star Trek universe provides no shortage of examples where economy plays an important role – even within Star Fleet itself.
WarCry Network: While the show was primarily about adventure, war and diplomacy, it also had the element of invention. What do you intend on the crafting side of the coin?
Daron Stinnett: As one might expect, we’ll have a variety of very unique trade skills. That’s all I’m ready to say for now.
Daron Stinnett: Actually, players will be able to be crew members for other player captains. There’s just no substitute for having a real Klingon at the weapons station…
WarCry Network: Each series has its own villains running around. Without giving too much away, should fans expect to be primarily fighting Romulans, Dominion, Borg, someone new or all of the above?
Daron Stinnett: The familiar and expected foes will be there in addition to many favorites from different eras. And though we certainly have no shortage of enemy races to draw upon, it is true that the galaxy will face a new threat.
WarCry Network: You guys have been very shy about showing off screenshots. Can you explain why this is and give everyone an overview of the art direction?
Daron Stinnett: We will begin showing screenshots when we’ve entered our final year of launch development. We are really excited about the material we have to show but we’re also conscious of the pitfalls of revealing too much, too early.
When it comes to art direction, we’ve taken a dramatic approach that breaks free of television and film constraints to create a look that while recognizably Star Trek, is much more compelling, great for gameplay, and a better overall fit for our medium. When we reveal our look, it will say loud and clear that STO will be a wholly new Star Trek experience.
WarCry Network: Space is an ever-exciting infinite black void and on TV they can just chop out the flying around part in a way an MMO does not allow. What are you doing to keep things fun up there?
Daron Stinnett: One of the things that we love about MMORPGs is the sense of exploration and discovery that comes from a rich and varied world that is as beautiful as it is mysterious. So when we got started, we realized that space rendered traditionally as 99% vacuum, would not allow us achieve the sense of satisfying exploration that players would expect. Our conclusion was that this was an opportunity to innovate space as a gameplay environment. So while we still have warp to whisk players across vast distances, putting around at impulse speed is now a very rewarding experience. When we start showing screenshots, I think people will get a better sense of just how we’ve solved this issue by taking space environments to an entirely new level.
WarCry Network: Some might start to grumble that the license has been cursed lately. Despite such high hopes, Star Trek Legacy, a game that came out in December from Bethesda, has received mediocre to poor reviews. Assuming you guys took it for a twirl, what lessons did you learn from this most recent foray into Star Trek gaming?
Daron Stinnett: Having made several Star Wars games and now being involved in the creation of a Star Trek game, I can say that making a Star Trek game is very challenging But it’s not because the license is any less compelling; especially for an MMORPG, it is more compelling. With Star Wars, the approach was to pick great gameplay mechanics and wrap them around the franchise’s wonderful characters, adventure, and iconic scenes. Do a quality job with that approach and you have a great shot at a successful title. But with Star Trek, there’s a constant pull to derive gameplay from the show mechanics because they are such a large part of Star Trek’s screen appeal. I think this approach has too often made for muddled gameplay experiences that may be interesting for their clever use of show mechanics, but often fail to deliver a truly entertaining gaming experience for a large gaming audience.
I think everyone recognizes that Star Trek is an incredibly rich and appealing setting for truly great games. Getting it right will take dedicated focus on those elements that translate well to our medium and the willingness to leave the rest behind.
WarCry Network: While Perpetual is a new company, the people there are hardly inexperienced. What lessons have you and the team learned from other projects that you hope to use to your advantage in STO?
Daron Stinnett: The path to creating a triple-A title starts with assembling a team of individuals with triple-A standards and experience. The Star Trek team is comprised of people who are gamers that have worked at top-shelf developers and publishers building games such as Godfather, Monkey Island, The Sims, City of Villains, and World of Warcraft. We’ve worked hard at recruiting the industry’s best who believe that high production values, great gameplay, and authenticity matter.
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