After we got the license to Star Trek and the initial excitement died down – it was time to get to work. We picked a group of directors and designers to sketch out what we wanted to do with the game, and that group sat in a room for numerous 3 hour “lock in” sessions over the course of a couple weeks to hash out the core aspects of the game.
Right off the bat, we decided that we didn’t want to list all of the “standard” MMO features and then try to jam them into a Star Trek setting. The first meeting was us just listing all of the things that we, some as great fans, some as casual, and some who only had a rudimentary knowledge of Star Trek, expected to see or experience in the game.
What did the Universe require? What did the Universe want? Those were the things we wanted to shape into something that players could experience online. The whiteboards in the room filled very, very fast.
We made lists and lists of things that we thought needed to be in a Star Trek game. The races, the planets, the experiences, the ships, the gameplay, the different character roles – all the stuff you can imagine.
The Star Trek Universe is huge. Just looking at the list of things that we thought players would want to do within the game was daunting. Not only do you have starship captains, but you have first officers, engineers, medical officers, communications, etc … And the shows and movies don’t stop with the members of Starfleet; many of the show’s most famous characters don’t contribute directly to the day-to-day functioning of the ship or station. Sure, you need Mot to cut your hair, Guinan and Quark to serve you drinks – but do we need to allow players to stand in a transporter room all day and wait to beam another player to an interesting location?
How should we choose what to put in and what not to? Did we have to make all of those roles available?
Now, you could design an MMO that tries to be everything. A game that tries to provide the ability to captain an spaceship, to be a first officer, to run a bar on DS9, to do deep space tribble trading or even to cut hair on a starship. We definitely didn’t want to make mini-games for all these things. We wanted to provide players a deep roleplaying experience in the Star Trek Universe, not Raving Rabbids - Star Trek Online Version.
But heck – if we made that many full-featured and deep games, we’d end up either never getting the game out to you guys or providing a huge range of thin and rather crappy experiences. Neither is an attractive option.
So you focus the experience. (Unlike this rambling devblog!) You pick what is important and focus your resources on making that as great as you can.
The hardest and most controversial decision we had to make was where to stop. Everyone in the room had an interest in pursuing a design where multiple players could work on a ship together. Someone could be captain, another navigator, a third person engineer, etc. So we thought about what that gameplay could be and what it would feel like. Someone pilots, someone works the weapons, someone is busy with the shields, etc. Could we make each of those experiences special and different from each other?
We could probably design and make something – but it added up to at least five or six totally different gameplay experiences that we’d have to deliver. The engineer couldn’t just worry about his systems when the battle turned sour – we’d have to come up with gameplay that someone would enjoy for hundreds of hours, for each of the jobs.
One undisputed fact about Star Trek Online was that as much as some people may want to be that engineering officer and play a supporting role on someone else’s ship, that almost EVERYONE at some point in time was going to want to be a Captain. Players would want to take the center seat and command their own starships.
It wasn’t easy – we argued, fought, waffled and fought some more – but that’s what we finally decided was our core, our kernel, to build the game around. We would make sure that as we designed and developed Star Trek Online, we wouldn’t do anything to close the door on being able to add player crew members, but for the launch, our focus was going to be making the coolest possible game with YOU as the Captain.