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Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 54
09-09-2008, 11:54 AM
Thanks for the bio, Al & company. It's always appreciated to get a better idea of the real people behind the product. In fact, this is an area where computer game development is far superior to pretty much any other kind of business -- how often do you get to meet the person who designed your car or your TV?

In particular, like others here I was really pleased at the final comments. I'm one of those who thinks this game will do best by serving both Star Trek fans and current MMORPG gamers in a balanced way, so it's pretty important when the lead designer makes it clear that in addition to offering deep gameplay, the IP will be respected.

Having said that... I guess I get to be the voice of caution.

Star Trek Online is going to be a massively multiplayer persistent-world roleplaying game based on an IP that makes the highly visible point that non-violence should always be the preferred option. So it raises a red flag for me when the lead designer offers the following comments:
Q: What part of Star Trek Online are you the most excited about working on?
A: Space combat. I am a combat system designer at heart, and I am very excited about the system we have worked out for space combat.

Q: What are your favorite episodes?
A: ... If I had to pick one, I guess I would have to say my favorite is "Sacrifice of Angels" (DS9), where Sisko retakes DS9; closely followed by "Yesterday's Enterprise" (TNG), where we see Tasha return, which eventually gives rise to Sela.
Star Trek most definitely has its smackdown moments. I consider it primarily a character-driven world, but there's certainly been a lot of phaser fire. (And I'm on record as endorsing the Federation philosophy of standing up for principles, even if that sometimes means violent conflict.)

That said, I'm a little concerned about how balanced gameplay in STO will be when the lead designer makes no bones about preferring destruction -- in Star Trek as well as in MMORPGs -- over constructive behavior.

I would have been happier personally if the lead designer for this particular game, with its particular IP, had been someone who was primarily interested and experienced in gameplay that's focused on character development, on world-building, on crafting, rather than on yet another set of rules for how to kill things. I'm not thrilled that the core design for non-combat content is in the hands of someone who by his own statements doesn't find that kind of gameplay to be the most exciting opportunity when designing an entire MMORPG based on a license that explicitly values non-combat solutions to problems. It's not a criticism of any kind of Al's experience or interests to say that I'm somewhat skeptical that he was the right person for this critical development role -- I'd rather the job had gone to someone who wasn't so combat-oriented.

On the plus side, he did mention preferring Picard over Kirk, so maybe there's some hope for him after all.

Seriously, though, none of the concerns outlined above mean that I'm angry or grumpy or having any kind of emotional reaction. Nor are my comments any kind of "attack" on Al or on Cryptic from which they need to be defended.

Nor am I criticizing the presence of combat in Star Trek Online. Combat is a part of Star Trek as well as being conventional MMORPG content, and on both of those grounds it needs to be baked into Star Trek Online's core design. Heck, I'm actually glad to hear that ship combat is being conceived as a deep tactical experience; that's exactly what I was hoping for. (Although I'm not satisfied yet that "tactical" is being correctly understood as requiring lots of environmental features, as opposed to just tying GUI buttons to character abilities and calling it "tactics." But the jury's still out on that one.)

What I'm saying is that the Star Trek IP has a uniquely strong emphasis on negotiation and science and cooperation over violence and destruction and competition. If the lead designer for this particular game is admittedly more energized by combat content, then those of us out here who believe that non-combat content needs to play an important role in this game need to politely express our hope that this aspect of the game will be given the enthusiastic high-level design attention that it deserves. And we need to step up with constructive suggestions for examples of broadly enjoyable non-combat content that can help achieve that balance between rules-based and world-based play that will best serve all of this game's likely subscribers.

I'd appreciate it if these comments were taken in the constructive and hopeful spirit in which I wrote them.

Thanks again to the folks at Cryptic for taking the time to say hello, and for letting us know that you hear our hopes for this product.