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Star Trek Online Developer Blog

The folks from Cryptic Studios' Star Trek Online have started this exciting new developer blog here at MMORPG.com.

Author: Awenyddion

Writing for Star Trek Online - Christine "Kestrel" Thompson

Posted by Awenyddion Friday April 3 2009 at 1:47PM
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When I tell people that I'm the writer for Star Trek Online, one of the responses I get is "Cool! So you write fanfic all day?"

… Not exactly. I get to play in the toybox that is the Star Trek Universe, and that's fabulous. It's one of the deepest and most detailed and most fun sci-fi settings ever, and I'm thrilled to be able to write Trek stories. But writing for STO isn't like writing a Trek novel or a script. There are a completely different set of questions to consider.

One of the big differences is characterization. Star Trek, at its heart, is its characters. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Picard, Data, Sisko, Quark, Dax, Worf, Janeway … they're iconic. And what makes so many of the episodes great is not the basic plot, but how these great characters respond to a particular situation.

When you're writing for an MMORPG, to some extent you're writing a story without knowing who the main characters are. The most important characters in STO will be the ones the players create. The players are the ones who get to shape the universe, make the big moves, win the battle, save the world. They have to be the heart of the story.

So how do we do that? First, we make the player characters the turning point of every story. Other characters may respond to them, ask things of them, attempt to stop them, or even try to blow their ship into space junk. But in the end, it is the actions that the characters take in the course of an Episode that are what's important.

Also, we have to be very careful not to limit the player's choices when it comes to creating his or her character, ship and crew. Our Bridge Crew is a prime example of that. A lot of information in the Episodes comes from your Bridge Crew. Just like in an episode of one of the shows, it is your crew that informs you of a situation, provides more information, or offers options for action.

When I'm writing dialogue for a member of the Bridge Crew, I have to be very careful not to do anything that would block the player from creating the crew that he or she wants. If I write a speech from the point of view of a sassy, overconfident young officer from Cestus III, it's going to sound pretty ridiculous coming out of the mouth of a Vulcan, Tellarite or Klingon. I've got to be careful not to break the illusion.

But "doing no harm" to characterization isn't enough. Because we're leaving the door open for players to create the characters and Bridge Crew they want, we've got to make sure that everything else is as Trek as possible. The situations, the ships, the look of space, the bat'leth moves … we do a ton of research and work to make it all authentic.

So no, I don't write fanfic all day. I'd say I help create a place where the players can tell their own stories. And I can't wait to see what the players do with it.
 

XNephalimX writes:

*gulp* you said "iconic" ladeee! thats like.. the mmorpg no no of all time lol great read thanks!

Fri Apr 03 2009 2:05PM Report
j4ack5p4rr0w writes:

ok so the storyline for the new star trek movie is romulus gets destroyed by a supernova and nero blames spock(go figure), so nero outfits his ship with borg technology and goes back in time to destroy vulcan to get revenge. he just happens to wind up in the time period that kirk and the gang are at the academy and its up to them to stop him and save the galaxy!

Fri Apr 03 2009 2:25PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Thanks for the insight Christine. 

I'm wondering a bit if some dialogue options only crop up if certain kinds of characters are around?

Say, might I get different input if I have a Betazoid or an original race with some kind of empathic abilities during a negotiation, for example?

Or are there times a mission might have different "suggestions" coming from a Tactical or Medical officer depending on his relative level of skill?

I'm thinking of how these abilities might work in a story situation.  Y'know, like, in Fallout 3 you'd get different dialogue choices depending on which Perks you had or how high a skill might be.

A second question, how similiar or differently do Episodic missions play out than Duty Missions (with the procedural generation system)?   Is there any similiarity or are they completely different beasts?

Thanks again.  Very insightful and your approach is sound.

You'd make a good tabletop storyteller given your understanding of the importance of both immersion and player latitude.   But your current gig likely pays better.

Fri Apr 03 2009 3:56PM Report
Zerocyde writes:

I really hope ship interiors not only get into the game, but the complete removal of the stupid "magical camera that follows behind the ship."

 

Star Trek game where you play as a ship = generic sci-fi garbage.

Star Trek game where you play as a person = Star Trek awesomeness.

Fri Apr 03 2009 6:16PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

I want that too, believe me, and I'm pretty sure I drive the Cryptic folks a little nuts on that account.  But we see here an intriguing glimpse as to why that may not be possible at least as an integrated experience.  This is something we didn't know before that's making a little more sense to me now.

Look how Christine describes the dialogue she's writing for NPC crewmen as they become part of a scenario themselves?  How would one convey that to a crew made up of players?  

I mean, it could be done, but it would mean a crazy amount of extra work for each and every "episode" mission. 

Functional multiplayer ships may be possible but they'd almost need their own kind of adventures, scripted in a different way entirely, than what we're seeing here.  That may just not be possible right off the bat.

I get that and I'm a little torn.  At the same time this approach, bringing your NPC crew into the tale as functional characters with their own lines and contribution to the story, is a pretty exciting idea.

I'm much more understanding now of the situation, if I'm reading this right, than I was just yesterday. 

Fri Apr 03 2009 6:26PM Report
Flatfingers writes:

A crew of permanent pet characters who follow the player character around all the time is bound to be both a blessing and a curse.

They'll provide opportunities to guide players to content. It makes perfect sense that STO's writers use them in the way that Kestrel has described -- it's good Star Trek and good gameplay for the given design.

The thing is, they really NEED lots of careful writing. We're going to be surrounded by these pets almost all the time -- if they have only a few canned phrases like parrots, we're going to be wanting to eject them from the nearest airlock five minutes into the game. They must come across as interesting characters that we want to have around us, or this core gameplay element won't work.

So here's to Kestrel. She's got a tough job to do here, but if her "Path" stories and the observations she's made in this blog are any indication, Cryptic has hired exactly the right person to make it happen.

Sat Apr 04 2009 1:15AM Report
spdkilla writes:

If one article from goddes Kestrel can give pause to, or even change the thinking of vocal proponents and fence sitters on PC Crews.  I think she should get nominated for membership into the Q continuum......       ;-P

Sat Apr 04 2009 2:29AM Report
Persephassa writes:

I'm definitely keeping my eye on this game. I'd like to try it when it comes out but the only thing that I'm not happy about is the lack of ship interiors. I would have liked to be able to walk the corridors of my own ship and see the many members of the ship.

People sometimes forget Star Trek is a drama about the characters onboard a starship as well as intellectual exploration; and less about space combat and action. I hope the cryptic devs don't forget that.

Sat Apr 04 2009 5:03AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Flatfingers:  I don't think they'll be able to "personify" our crew for us.  There are just too many possible ways for players to imagine their crewmen.  That said, I'm okay with that.  Even if NPCs are to be the crew we all know needs to be on a ship and are no real substitute for living, breathing, players for entertainment value this still works for me.

Almost every game I play with roleplaying elements requires me to do some creative imagining.  Giving my crew lines, even if ones that aren't overly flavorful, will at least offer my imagination a spur to hang a bit more narrative value on that NPC.  It should draw me into the story more and find me valuing my crew as "companions" more than just tactical oddbits.

I mean, look what happens if Christine were to infuse too much personality in a bit of dialogue.  We might have our Vulcan science officer babbling like an excited Wesley Crusher.  And, obviously, she sees this potential pitfal very clearly and even describes it. 

The way around, a little, seems to be to rely a bit more on objective detail about an object or event, dropping Trek terms where possible, than the manner in which that detail is relayed.

We don't know how all of this will work in practice but it seems like it could really assauge my need to have a crew around.  Perhaps not a player crew but something that will fill the need a bit.

And I have to admit I love pets and NPC parties in RPGs.  It sounds like they're giving us a whole party that will interact with its environment rather than standing around like bumps on a log.  That would be far worse.

Sat Apr 04 2009 7:07AM Report
Mariner-80 writes:

 It'd be interesting if, when you created your bridge crew, you could not only customize their appearance but also their behaviors, attitudes, backstories, voices, etc., sort of like completing a mini-"personality Profile" on each of them. I am really intrigued by STO and I'm curious to see how they handle these NPCs.

In Guild Wars, the heroes have "personalities" (to a limited degree), but these are prefab NPCs, not ones you create on your own.

My preference would be for STO to create a roster of potential crew members, say, 50 or so, and then allow players to pick the crew they want. It seems like this would allow the developers to create distinct personalities for these NPC crews that could come into play during missions, cut scenes, etc.

Sat Apr 04 2009 7:52AM Report
bigdaddysfe writes:

Since SWG is pretty much empty are you guys gonna poach EVE for your beta testers or do you have another game in mind?

Sat Apr 04 2009 10:50AM Report
Drachasor writes:

I'm worried that the dialogue is going to be generic after reading this.  At that point the characters essentially have no personality.  It sounds like they aren't doing anything to make it so that the dialogue gets customized for your crew at all (which would require a good bit of programming work, I admit), so we'll be left with neutral statements.  Problem is that would cause the exact problem she is trying to avoid (dialogue interfering with how you envision your crew).  Maybe if you have a crew of Vulcans it would work well though.

Sat Apr 04 2009 2:18PM Report
hellmutt writes:

Bigdaddy, that comment dosen't related to this blog nor does it matter if they want sci-fi fans playing a sci-fi game to test and provide feedback on thier upcoming sci-fi game.

I don't understand why people got butt hurt over that instead of having it make sence to them.

Sat Apr 04 2009 8:13PM Report
chaintm writes:

Personally I am a critic of the game atm for many reasons, but kudo's out to the devs and Awenyddion for taking the time out to actually write this blog. It is fun and interesting to see "behind the scenes" workings and a part of the game that is as many have put here a very important factor.

If your writing here indicates your abilities, there is hope for this game yet after all :) Kudos to you! Hope to read more.

Sun Apr 05 2009 8:48AM Report
Hagonbok writes:

Really interesting read. Getting more and more excited about this game all the time.

The philosphy behind the writing is spot on I think, and the decisions to not limit the game's potential by having it sim like have been so encouraging. No destroying the game with lame pinched in view screens while trying to captain the ship, and them showing that they're on the ball and concentrating on what really matters to gamers instead of wasting precious time and resources of fluff, leaves me a very happy camper thus far.

Sun Apr 05 2009 12:23PM Report
Eryxx writes:

Bigdaddysfe, (this has nothing to do w/STO at all, but you introduced the topic), why do you say SWG is empty? Ever since the free server transfers, many of the servers are teeming w/players once again. Sure, the overall population isn't what is was 4 years ago, as a whole, but (informally) merging the servers has brought the individual server pops way back up into the playable ranges. Perhaps you need to try SWG again and see what is going on there these day.

Regarding STO, I'm (cautiously) enthusiastic about trying it... hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, LOL. After trying CoH (hated it) my optimism has waned a bit, but I still am hoping for something great.

 

Sun Apr 05 2009 1:34PM Report
ktanner3 writes:

Interesting read. I'm curious how you can create personalities for every crewman. It's a probably all a mix from a database of personalities that are tailored to situations. I'm also curious how you pick up your fellow officers in the first place. Can't wait to see how it works.

Mon Apr 06 2009 12:42PM Report
chryses writes:

I applaud you for trying to let players develop their own stories and I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do that in an MMO that isn't purely sandbox. The double challenge for this MMO is that people expect great space experience as well as detailed planet side content and graphics.  Almost like making 2 games at the same time I imagine.  Really hoping there are a lot of RPG elements in this game because imo the industry is in dire need of another great sci-fi game with depth.  So many have come and gone and its pretty sad.

Mon Apr 13 2009 4:45PM Report
voyager101 writes:

i can not wait for the game to come out i am a big voyager fan what seares do you like the moast

Wed Apr 22 2009 7:32PM Report
55memo55 writes:

MMORPG games are in Turkey! For detailed information and game reviews http://mmoturkiye.org

Sun Dec 13 2009 10:04AM Report

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