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Scott Jennings: Why I'll Play Star Trek Online

Column By Scott Jennings on January 20, 2010

As I may have mentioned, one of the benefits of working at a video game company is that you can play video games on your breaks without anyone really giving you grief. So, while poking my head up from a busy day of coding web tools designed to make gold farmers cry, I walked past a GM on his lunch hour who had the new Star Trek beta on his screen.

"So, what do you think?"

"It's *just like* City of Heroes."

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I watched for a minute, and sure enough, he had an action bar of punches and kicks, er, torpedoes and phasers that triggered off enemies using number keys. But... I didn't care. Because he was flying a MIRANDA-CLASS LIGHT CRUISER against a K'T'INGA CLASS BATTLE CRUISER and omg, there was a z-axis and he was strafing shield angles and yes, I am a horrible, horrible Trek fanboy who knows the correct spelling of K't'inga from memory. I am the target market for Star Trek Online, made manifest.

And yet, I'm not. You see, I am a horrible, horrible Trek fanboy who can spell Klingon words from memory. I am That Guy. I am the person who is going to recoil when all the many, many compromises necessary to translate an hour-long five-act drama into a hundreds-of-hours massively multiplayer interactive game make themselves manifest. My fingers will fly, nay, dance across a keyboard as I post (on my completely anonymous "Capt. Tim Watters" account) how allowing Pulse Phaser 360 degree turret mounts on Defiant-class ships completely destroys the entire experience of Star Trek. Oh, and, uh, diplomacy would be nice, too. And meaningful PvP! And trips to Risa! WTF, Cryptic.

See, at this point I don't even *care* about the skill system (which destroyed my enjoyment of Champions Online before I got very far into it), or how soloable it is, or how much polish the game may or may not have. I am a license fanboy. I have lived and breathed Star Trek for the past 30 years. God, I only wish I were exaggerating. I am a community manager's worst nightmare.

So of course, I have to pre-order. And what do you know, right there on Steam as part of the advertisement, pre-order the game and get into the beta RIGHT NOW GO GO GO.

Which tells you one important thing: this is a marketing "beta". Access was part of the sales pitch. Pre-order and PLAY RIGHT NOW! Which means that it should be feature complete, the interface should be ready to go, all the content should be in... yeah, I think you know where this is going. There's already a community note that talks about "a build you're not playing yet" that fixes things. Um, why am I not playing that build? It sounds better. You sold me access to a beta. Which means it's not really a beta, it's the launched version of the game that you don't feel as guilty about taking down during prime time yet. Whether or not you know it - whether or not you *like* it - that is how the players will perceive it, whether or not they can put it in those words.

But that's fine. I've been to enough of these dances to know that my partner may, if I'm lucky, change into a hotter dress at some point. So I dork around with my Lieutenant, begin to learn the ins and out of the combat system, think space combat is pretty cool in a shallow kind of reminiscent of Star Fleet Battles way, think ground combat is less cool but sort of grows on you (and a perverse part of me wants to field an all-melee away team just to get that Original Series karate-fu action), and... I run into something beta.

It could be a randomized mission that totally destroys my tiny little newbie Miranda due to a bad luck of the dice roll. Or maybe it was supposed to be a team mission. Or maybe I just am bad at this! Oh well, it's beta, I'll learn.

Or an away team mission where my away team stays behind. "Oh, you need to log back in and then 'request reinforcements' so they come back." OK. Except when I try to get back in, I'm told the server is full. Oh well, it's beta!

Or it's an entire faction with almost no PvE content at all. Oh well, it's... well, that's probably not going to be fixed on release day. I'm still going to play one, because, well, I'm the guy who can spell 'K't'inga'.

But the most typical "something beta" that I run into is a mission where I'm told to find five things. It doesn't really matter what they are... I'm sure the server doesn't care what they are, either. It's a Find Five Things Quest, and we all know and love them and it's one more step down the road towards unlocking a starship that isn't a Miranda.

But... um.... You know? Space is big. Can I have a hint? Just a little one. Maybe a pointer. You know, a little arrow on the minimap. Come on, you know where those five things are, you want me to find those five things as much as I do, can't we meet half way here? It's the 25th century, give me a QuestHelper arrow already for crying out loud. I'm waving my tricorder at my monitor and nothing is happening. Well, my wife is laughing at me. That's something. Maybe if I shout "Computer!!" at my mouse?

Oh wait, from the official site: "On ship and on ground, pressing the scan button located near the mini-map will point you to the nearest object that you can interact with." You know, it's in that build we don't have yet. And to be fair, I would probably gripe about more if we did, because it probably also crashes to the desktop every time you fire a torpedo and they might want to fix that part first. But I don't care, because it's beta.

I really shouldn't even care. They're going to wipe all the characters before the game goes live, and all my finding of five things will be for naught. At which point I'll be able to play the cool build that the official site is taunting me with (unless release day comes and it still crashes to desktop when you have a Vulcan tactical officer) and the server won't give me "Server Full" errors any more (unless they sell more than they anticipated, in which case it'll be even worse) and... Oh well, it's an MMO!

But I'm still going to buy it. And play it. And write bizarre fan fiction about my half-Romulan engineer. And post spittle-flecked screeds about the total and complete lack of ship and faction balance. Because I am the Star Trek Online community team's worst nightmare. And a twisted part of me is kind of looking forward to that.

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Scott Jennings
Scott Jennings is a veteran MMO designer and the Internet personality once known as Lum The Mad. He has previously worked for Mythic Entertainment, NCsoft and others. His popular blog can be found at BrokenToys.org.

Aside from this column, Scott is also currently contracting with NCsoft.

Every Wednesday he provides us an insider's look at the MMO industry.
Recent Articles: More Scott Jennings Articles...

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