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Jack Emmert Talks Klingons

Dana Massey Posted:
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Cryptic surprised and, let’s be honest, upset a lot of fans this week when they announced that the eagerly anticipated Klingon faction would be PvP-centric for launch. We called up Cryptic Studios COO Jack Emmert to get the scoop on what they’re really all about, clear up some misconceptions about them, and find out why they made this choice.

“With any video game there are always hard choices to make,” said Emmert by phone as he walked around their Los Gatos, California office complex. “It’s just a simple matter of you have a certain amount of time and you have a certain size team and you have to make decision about how you’d make the best product at launch.”

The decision was thus made to make sure that the Klingon faction was a big part of launch. He admitted that there was no way with an IP as big as Star Trek that they could do everything everyone, himself included, wanted. He lamented the lack of Romulan and Cardassian factions specifically as things he’d have loved to have included given unlimited time and money.

For them, the biggest hurdle was fitting both away mission and space content into the game. Almost no MMORPG has ever launched with both, he pointed out (the only exception being Pirates of the Burning Sea) and it’s an absolutely massive undertaking.

“My own philosophy with MMORPGs is that if you don’t have it at launch, you might as well not bother having it,” he said, citing City of Heroes as an example of this.

Two of the biggest complaints people had is that it launched without PvP and without crafting, yet when they added those two elements later on they saw only negligible subscription growth. The fact is, people make their buying decisions early and he felt it was important to have Klingons in the game, even if they were not as deep as everyone would like, from day one.

“If I sit back and wait for it to be perfect, frankly people aren’t going to wait around for it,” he added.

To those who are disappointed, he promised them that what is there at launch is only the basis for more to come.

“Take a look at the history of Cryptic Studios, take a look at how much stuff we put out after we launch a game,” he said in reference to their City of Heroes franchise and more recently Champions Online.

One of their philosophies, a refrain I’ve also heard from Bill Roper many times, is that they really want to be more reactive to their player base. While admitting past faults, Emmert underlined this:

“One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is not to be too rigid as a designer, always try to keep a very open mind, because the players will tell you what they want,” he told us. “In the past I got tunnel vision in what I wanted, maybe I was right, maybe I wasn’t, but sometimes the players are right too and I’d rather go with their right than my right.”

So, what will the Klingon faction really be? Emmert insists that it is a full fledged faction within the game and not just a glorified version of Lord of the Rings Online’s Monster Play. They have a full set of skills, their own bridge officers, their own ships, their own territory, their own advancement and their own missions.

Part of this belief has come from the fact that Klingons have to be unlocked. When you buy the game, you must complete the first sector of Federation content, at which point the ability to create someone in the Klingon faction is unlocked. This is a global unlock and must only be done once.

“We want players to focus on a particular aspect of gameplay and kind of learn the basics of space and ground combat before entering into PvP,” he said. The Federation content is already a lot to take in and while much of the Klingon content is different, the basic mechanics of ground and space remain the same. He added, only half joking, that they only needed to do one tutorial this way.

Having played the Beta, this amount of content they’re asking players to complete is trivial. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.

Once unlocked, the Klingon faction has a full slate of races, just like their own Federation counterparts. Emmert gave us an exclusive first peek at what they are. Players can choose between Klingon, Gorn, Orion, Lethean, Nausicaan, and of course the custom alien option.

Bridge officers will be roughly the same, with a few surprises. Specifically, there will be a Borg officer. I immediately assumed “Seven of Nine,” but Emmert said no, that this one will be something different. What that is, we will have to wait and see.

These groups have all the same abilities and ranks to progress through as the Federation, the difference is that the bulk of the content will be directed at PvP, although perhaps not quite as exclusive as some thought.

“It’s not just limited to PvP, but it’s just not the same depth of PvE content as the Federation,” he explained. There will still be encounters in the Sector Space. These are visible on the map, and analogous to the random encounters people find in older RPGs like Baldur’s Gate as they travel to place to place (although being a real time game, you can also avoid them by simply flying around). They provide an outlet for some PvE, which includes a nice way to get some interesting loot.

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Dana Massey