Hello, my name is Daniel Stahl and I’m a producer on Star Trek Online.
Ask any Star Trek fan to quote the opening to the TV show and you’ll hear the words “…to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
It’s a defining characteristic and mission statement in Star Trek. Explore. Go out there and see what you find.
As a producer, it begs the question, “How?” How can you explore someplace new in an MMO where there are zones and maps and contacts and missions that everyone seems to have access to over the course of their character’s career? Most game content is hand created by a staff of designers and artists who spend time placing things where they should be, making sure that there is a natural progression to what you do. It is a lot of work just to make a single planetary system.
In order to make a game universe where players can go somewhere no one else has gone before, we’d have to make more maps than we physically have time for and we would have to keep making them until the end of time. So how can we deliver on this concept?
To answer this question we turned to the Star Trek movies for inspiration and found the Genesis Program.
In the movie cannon the Genesis program used technology to convert nothing into something. “Life from Lifelessness.” This was the Creation device that Khan threatened to destroy the Enterprise with and what eventually spawned the Genesis planet.
Star Trek Online has embraced the concept of Genesis as a method to generate planets and systems that no one has seen before. But as with any technology it requires a lot of brainstorming, engineering, and testing to make it work right.
The core concept of Genesis in Star Trek Online is to create places for you to go without requiring hours of art and development time for each location. In a lot of ways, when we think of Genesis we think of the Holodeck computer.
On the Next Generation TV show, when a character wanted to go someplace on the Holodeck, they would describe to the computer the locale.
“Computer, load up a beach on the shores of Risa” is all the character would have to say, and then a few seconds later, they are standing on the beaches of Risa.
But it often didn’t end there. Sometimes the characters would further iterate descriptions to the computer to fine tune the Holodeck program.
“Computer, add a cabana and a mariachi band. … Oh and set the local time to sunset.”
A few seconds later there’s a holographic band playing music next to your cabana.
Describing what you want in real terms is the key to the Genesis System in Star Trek Online.
“Give me an M class planet with a Federation complex set up in the mountains where some scientists are milling about ...”
“… Now add a bunch of Klingons attacking the complex …”
“... Oh, and make sure the Klingons brought some Targs!”
“… Now make sure one of the Klingons is a badass Dahar master”
“… And how about a really funny looking Ferengi running around screaming!”
I can keep on going for days like this. But that’s the point.
By building tools that automatically create what comes out of our designer’s brains in descriptive words, it allows us to use Genesis to generate locations that are in essence the direct results of our imaginations.
This is the technology that will allow us to generate the thousands of unexplored worlds that no one has ever been to yet without requiring a small nation of artists and designers to make.
It is a testimony to the spirit of Star Trek that the technology we are using to create these worlds is a direct inspiration from the show itself.
It only begs the question, “I wonder what is out there …”