Preface: Some of you may remember this thread from both closed and open beta. I've delayed in re-posting it for a few reasons; I wanted to let the post-launch furor die down a bit and I wanted to totally revamp at least some of my initial concept images.
Now that both of these requirements have been satisfied it's time to re-post the minigames thread. I have seen a lot of posts in various feedback sections with the same general thought: give players some minigames or skill challenges to fill out the non-combat missions and offer some more mission variety.
Minigames are an appealing way to do this because, while they might have high overhead, once they are done they could theoretically be re-used and strung together in quite a few different ways which would greatly enhance the genesis content without putting a ton of strain on Cryptic's development resources.
Having said all that, it was repeated over and over again in the other threads that any such games should be skippable by those who have no desire to play them. Some suggested offering a difference of skill points for the captain vs. skill points for the bridge officer depending on if the player did the game themselves or just delegated it. But again, the key here is that they COULD be skipped if the player wasn't interested.
Another thing that people mentioned which I won't really go into below is the concept of social minigames - poker, 3D chess, tongo, dabo, darts, etc. That's also a great idea and would really spice up the social areas of the game.
Anyway, on to the meat and potatoes of the thread.
Two of the most well-known examples of games to incorporate minigames in a similar fashion are the shooter Bioshock and the RPG Mass Effect. If you haven't played them, in both games to perform a successful "hacking" operation you needed to complete a very short (15-30 second) minigame.
In Bioshock the hacking game was based on the classic game Pipe Mania. In Mass Effect it was a radial version of Frogger.
One of the neat things about these minigames is that they didn't break immersion; in both cases you felt like the activity of the minigame (connecting a pneumatic circuit or inserting a hostile computer program) was directly related to the objective you wanted to accomplish.
I'm a huge Trek fan and I am enjoying the combat aspects of STO, but I agree with the other opinions around the board that non-combat gameplay needs a huge shot in the arm. I think the suggestion of adding minigames to the standard "Go here, press F" missions would be a great way to accomplish this.
Anyway, below are some suggestions for mini-games and how they could translate to non-combat mission tasks that sound appropriately Trekkish. (Keep in mind that these are rough comps and that I'm not a game designer or a programmer.)
The Game: In this game you would rotate each node to let a fluid stream through a maze of channels. If you accidentally direct the fluid into a damaged node the operation would end and your console might blow up, or you would just need to try again depending on the difficulty of the puzzle.
The Allegory: If you've seen much Star Trek you know that they're always re-routing the EPS flow or diverting plasma coolant or deuterium or something from one place to another to make the ship work (or keep it from blowing up.) In the "Azura Blues" mission a player could execute this game to turn off the plasma feed and stop the fires in the corridors.
This is based on the hacking allegory from the original Mass Effect. Incidentally, here is a really cool blog post about the development of this mode for the Mass Effect PC game.
In the version presented here, there are other types of programs the player can use to clean up "corrupted" data sectors - think of it a little like mine sweeper where you have to flag squares adjacent to the threat. I could see this game being one of the more involved ones.
The Game: This would be a simplified rhythm or simon-says style game. You would use the arrow or WASD keys to plot the points on the line graph as they passed to the right.
The Allegory: They're always doing something with EM waves. Analyzing them, generating them, plotting them, etc. Using the rhythm game model you can make it fun to plot EM waves of your very own, and use it as a device to add some more variety to the "go here, scan this" missions.
The Game: You need to match the frequency (width) and amplitude (height) of your sensor's decryption wave (white) with the incoming signal (red). I believe this minigame was used in Elite Force or Elite Force 2.
The Allegory: Enemy communications or other signals are sent along certain frequencies and you need to be able to decode them. By modulating your main sensor array to a specific EM band you can isolate these signals and access their contents.
The Game: The player would be presented with two 3D plots. The goal would be for the user to match the sliders so that the lines joining each pair are parallel. This could be complicated by the fact that if you raise the plot in one area it is lowered elsewhere, or perhaps both plots are constantly in a state of flux so it takes some skillful timing to get them to match up.
The Allegory: While it's a little vague how "scanning" works in Star Trek, in a lot of cases real-world sensors (RADAR, SONAR) work by emitting a signal and then measuring the image that signal returns. This minigame would be simulating the analysis of that returned signal and is general enough to apply to a variety of situations where a player has to scan something (plants, rocks, ship parts, etc.).
The keys, as mentioned in that article about Mass Effect, are to not create something that is so short it's trivial and not so long that it's just a chore. Individually these mini-games don't have much going on with them but taken together with the rest of the STO experience as it is shaping up and I think you'd have a pretty dynamic presentation!
Skill Chains - Linking Minigames
These minigames are all pretty simple and you couldn't build a mission around just one. But if you put the games in their proper context you could link several of them together to create a pretty involved non-combat mission as part of an episode or a patrol.
For example, the "repair weather sensors" blinky-hunt could be reworked as such:
Examine the first sensor. Your engineer tells you that there is a command lock-out and you have to hack in to repair it. You play the frogger mini-game to get access to the computer.
Once you access the computer you see that a few data transfer conduits are disrupted. Play the Pipe Dream minigame to re-establish data flow.
After accessing the data you recovered, your science officer tells you that there are some strange meteorological readings that need to be analyzed. You play the picture compare minigame to refine the data.
Once you have analyzed the data, you realize that a massive storm is likely days away from striking the planet but you need to confirm your findings from the global sensor network. Play the Sine Wave minigame to tap into the network.
The readings return conclusive. You hail the planetary authorities and warn them of the imminent danger. They thank you for your trouble and send you on your way. You've saved the day again!
So, with the minigames and a little extra flavor dialog between each game you can transfer a "press F 4 times" mission into something that feels a bit more involved and meaningful. And as is mentioned elsewhere in the thread by a few people, the games are small enough that they are modular and could hopefully be worked into a pre-existing workflow for mission creation. (Not knowing exactly how the Genesis system works this last part is pure speculation, but a fan can dream.)