While we were at the Austin Game Developers Convention, Keith Cross and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Daron Stinnett, the Producer of Perpetual Entertainment's Star Trek Online. Now, we haven't heard a lot out of these guys lately, and with good cause. STO is still in the early phases of development and talking about too much, too soon, can be a dangerous thing for an MMO. They don't want to be in a position where they have promised too much and delivered too little.
"When we're ready to talk about it," Daron said with enthusiasm, "the world will know about Star Trek Online."
Stinnett told us that Star Trek is loved by millions and millions of people worldwide and if anyone looked at the franchise, it is immediately apparent as to why the game would make a good MMO. Throughout the interview, he was always clear that they aren't planning to rest on the laurels of the Star Trek franchise. They hope to make a game that will appeal to MMORPG players as well as fans of the franchise.
"We're not building a Trekkers game, we're making a world class MMO."
Further to that, Stinnett hopes that players will be happy because they are treating the license seriously and with respect.
"We're taking the world of Star Trek," he said, "and adapting it to make a killer MMO."
Sometimes, this means educating fans of the Star Trek franchise about what they can expect from an MMORPG, a medium that they may not be familiar with. For example, the upcoming HD DVD release of Star Trek: The Original Series will include trailers for Star Trek Online.
Before we went any further into the interview, I wanted to ask Daron to try and clear up some of the mystery surrounding the question of starship interiors. The game, he assured us, will launch with very rich ship interiors.
There will be, he said, "No shortage of starship interiors."
In STO, the largest ships (and space stations and the like) will serve as player cities, and will obviously be explorable on the inside. There will also be missions that take place on starships.
There was a thought, for a while, that everyone wanted their own personal Galaxy Class Starship. Perpetual's philosophy is that it would be pretty boring to be alone on a ship that size, and that populating it with NPCs isn't really making it an MMO, so the solution seems to be that at around level six, players will begin to get their own ships. It will start with a shuttle, but as characters get higher in level, their ships will improve as well.
Players will be able to group in a traditional way, forming little armadas and of course, away teams.
The game will contain at least 50 different player ships and through one character's career, they may control only four or five of them. This leaves the game open for a lot of diversity.
I took a moment as well to ask Daron about the use of instancing in Star Trek Online. For me, instancing has always been one of those tools that can be used very effectively if wielded properly, but over-use of the convention can sometimes turn a game sour.
"People assume that this game will be highly instanced," he began, "this is not the case." The world, he tells me, is for the most part a public world.
"If the world of Star Trek were real," he told me with a bit of a shrug, "it wouldn't be instanced."
The last thing that we talked about really speaks to how malleable an MMORPG development project can be at this stage in the game. In a video that was playing at the conference, we are told that when a player begins as a Human, they will start at Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Headquarters, both located in San Francisco.
When I asked Daron about this, he told us that that idea has been revisited since the recording of the video. Instead of taking that very recognizable piece of Star Trek lore and saving it for the beginning, the team now feels that they should look at making it a place that more people visit at different points throughout the game.
Development on any MMORPG is fluid, development on an MMORPG with a license as popular as Star Trek requires a lot of thought and often changes.
In any case, we look forward to hearing more about Star Trek Online as development continues.