Important Aspects of the Franchise
Developing an MMORPG based on a popular, pre-existing intellectual property is a tricky business. There are many expectations that need to be met, and every fan of whatever franchise it is that you're basing your game on has a different opinion of what elements from the original need to be there.
Star Trek Online is certainly no exception to this rule. Star Trek fans, after all, have a reputation for being not only, well, fanatical about their franchise, but also extraordinarily picky about how their universe is presented. With that in mind, it's safe to say that there is absolutely no way that every single fan of Star Trek, let alone fans of the MMORPG genre as a whole, will be satisfied with whatever final product Cryptic Studios presents to its audience.
For me, as a life long Trek fan, there are a number of elements that need to be present in Cryptic's game in order to make it feel as much a part of the Star Trek universe as I personally envision it. I'm not talking about specific game mechanics and the ins and outs of the design decisions that the company has or has not made. Instead, I'm focusing on broader themes and ideas for the overall feel of the universe. If the game doesn't find a way to incorporate these elements in some way or another, it just won't feel like Star Trek to me:
Characters on the crew
I know that Cryptic's design for STO puts each player in control of his or her own ship. I also know that the design as it stands now, doesn't allow for player controlled crews (ie: each player has a job to do), and instead relies upon NPC crews.
I can personally get past the idea of not having real people under my command, but it's going to be absolutely unforgivable from a Trek perspective if Cryptic hasn't done something to make those NPCs feel like real people. If they all just boil down to a set of stats, someone has missed the boat.
As many critics of STO have mentioned, probably the single most defining aspect of all of the Trek series and movies has been the cast of characters that were assembled. While the captain has always been the focal point, he (or she) has never been the be-all and end-all of the show. It's the interactions of the different personalities on the crew that give the franchise its broad appeal and longevity.
If Cryptic plays their cards right, they could capture that same feeling, even with NPCs. Give them a little bit of personality, give them back stories. Heck, they could even allow NPC crew members to initiate missions. Maybe we could solve a problem on our Operations Officer's home world, or help rescue our security chief's sister from the Orions.
If you want to populate my ship with NPCs, Cryptic, that's your call. But as a Trek fan, I'm putting the onus on you to make them an interesting and engaging part of my game experience.
From what I understand, Cryptic developers have included an expanding universe system that will make exploration a possibility for players and allow the developers to include thousands of unique planets for players to find and explore.
This, I think, is going to be one of the single most difficult aspects of the game for the developers to really master. First, there is a temptation, with the big fat juicy war going on, to make this game all about the war, and the combat. There's even show precedent with the final seasons of Deep Space Nine serving as a reminder that sometimes war can overshadow exploration, even for Starfleet.
The problem is, even with the precedent, that's just not going to feel like Star Trek to a vast number of the fans that are out there. For every fan who loved those seasons of DS9 (myself included), there are a legion or two more who felt that it moved too far away from the original ideals of the show.
Somehow, if Cryptic wants this to appeal to as wide a Trek audience as possible, they're going to have to have come up with a way to give both an engaging wartime experience along with an interesting exploration experience.
One of the coolest things about Star Trek has always been the way that it has been able to present the various and sundry different cultures within the franchise's universe. I could sit here and name twenty to thirty different races off the top of my head from the Trek universe, all with very different cultures that are more fleshed out and developed as each series progresses.
That's one of the things that makes me a little bit nervous about the character creation system, as dynamic as it is from an MMORPG standpoint, that allows players to make up their own races and looks for their characters.
Sure, I can look different from everyone else, but the diversity and backstory of the individual cultures in Star Trek is what makes them interesting and engaging. Just throwing new looking creatures into the mix without providing context and history just seems to run contrary to what races in Star Trek have always been about. I mean sure, in some of the movies we get a look at Starfleet aliens we haven't seen before and never see again, but I've always seen that as a detractor, not a benefit to those films.
A Sense of Humor
Star Trek has always been known as a show with heart, and core to that philosophy is the sense of humor that the franchise has always had, both within and about the franchise. Sure, it's all serious business, out there exploring the stars and fighting wars, but there's a reason so many classic Trek episodes ended with a freeze frame of people laughing. In the end, it's sci-fi that's almost self aware in its presentation.
If Cryptic somehow misses this important aspect of the IP, the game is in danger of taking itself too seriously and alienating a core of its audience.
Alternate realities have been a part of Star Trek from the very beginning, and I don't just mean that delightful mirror universe where everyone has an evil goatee. I mean, who can forget the time the Enterprise "C" showed up for Yesterday's Enterprise on TNG? Or that time the real Harry Kim got sucked out into space only to be replaced by the other Harry Kim from another Voyager?
I'm not saying that I want this particular convention to appear willy-nilly throughout the game, but it would be nice if it would make an appearance every now and then.
Along the same lines as the alternate realities, Time Travel episodes have led to some of my fondest Star Trek memories. One of the most popular and enduring episodes from The Original Series is still the City on the Edge of Forever, where they crew traveled back in time. We've also seen the convention repeated in every series that followed, from TNG's adventures with Mark Twain to DS9's trip back to the Bell Riots, Voyager's 20th century run-in with Sarah Silverman or Enterprise's run-in with Space Nazis.