Star Trek Online, the hotly anticipated MMO from Cryptic, will be beaming down to PCs next week. To celebrate, we caught up with executive producer Craig Zinkievich to have a chat about the reaction to the game from beta players, and what updates fans can expect post launch.
Q: Thanks for taking the time during this busy period to answer some of our questions. Firstly, have you been surprised by any of the closed beta feedback, or has it all been predictable?
Craig Zinkievich: Sure no problem. A lot of the feedback is things we've already talked about, but we're still getting some surprises. For instance, the sheer number of people playing blew us - and our predictions - away. It seems like everyone wants to play the game right now. This is great! It's also scary! We've had to purchase more server hardware to keep up with demand.
Q: Will you be making any changes to the game based on closed beta feedback?
CZ: We're definitely getting ahead on some bugs that players have reported, as well as looking at ways to improve the game from a quality of life standpoint. And of course, we're continually balancing the game based on user feedback.
Q: There appear to be some concerns among the community surrounding lag. What assurances can you offer to fans with regard to the finished game experience?
CZ: Well, part of the lag is due to the load on the servers, which like I said before surprised us a bit. But we've got more hardware on the way, which should alleviate a lot of the lag, as well as let more people into the game.
Q: Our impression of STO is that it's a slow burn, albeit one that quickly gets under your skin. Is the pace of the game in terms of combat, progression and the gaining of new skills deliberate?
CZ: Well, part of that deliberateness is the fact you're advancing through a Starfleet or KDF career. It takes time to advance through ranks, even though you can get through grades pretty quickly. As far as combat is concerned, we definitely wanted it to feel like you had decisions to make in regard to how you deal with opponents, which means things won't be resolved in just one volley of weapons (usually). Part of why it feels deliberate is you're actually thinking your way through a situation, rather than just mashing buttons and hoping for the best.
Q: Our take is that STO's space exploration and instance-led mission to mission structure lends it a more linear feeling than other MMOs we've played. Is that a problem, or is that something you're happy with?
CZ: We're not trying to be like all other MMOs out there. The instance-led missions are something we wanted because it makes it feels more Trek. You can team up with friends or you can solo if you want to. We have fleet battles for when there are supposed to be many people in one map, but it wouldn't feel very Trek if you were fighting a Klingon and 200 people were also trying to do the same thing with you. Often in the movies and the TV series they were out there by themselves. Now obviously this is an MMO so we want people to feel connected but not all in the same place at the same time.
Q: Are you happy with the on ground combat and how it's been received by players?
CZ: Ground combat has come a long way. Initially we were not very happy with it and then we made some adjustments to get it up to par with space combat. We will constantly be tweaking it and adding new things to it to make it even better though.
Q: What about space combat?
CZ: Space combat is definitely one of the highlights in the game because space combat is not something you see a whole lot of in an MMO. And it's fun! So we're happy with space combat but again we want to continue to make improvements and make it even better.
Q: Our favourite closed beta moments came when I joined a number of other players in large scale space battles against computer-controlled ships. What can you tell us about STO's endgame in terms of player versus environment?
CZ: There will be plenty of endgame where people can play in these large scale fleet battles. We've also got some raid-style Episodes on the way, designed specifically for high-end players with top-of-the-line ships. We want to challenge players and engage them in the game's story. We'll also be adding more PvE on both Federation and Klingon factions. We want to continually add new content that way players will always have something to do.
Q: Players can only create a Klingon Empire character once they reach level six, and then, they're limited to player versus player content. Do you think this is damaging to STO's chances of success?
CZ: We're pretty happy with where Klingons are right now. Yes, they're primarily a PvP faction, but that doesn't mean they will be forever. We've already got some PvE content planned for them, and are looking forward to getting it tested and introducing it to the game.
Q: What can players expect to be added to STO post-launch?
CZ: They can expect a lot. We'll be tweaking things and making new content. We want to have free new content patches and hopefully new expansion packs later down the line. A lot of what we do will depend on community feedback, though. We'll take a look at what they would like to see added in the game and then we'll try to make that happen.
Q: Talking more generally, Cryptic's had a relatively short time to create Star Trek Online. What design challenges have you experienced as a result of this?
CZ: It's definitely been interesting, but we went into the design process knowing we had a lot of things going for us. One of the nice things is that we have our own engine so our programmers and engineers can fix things really quickly. Also the genesis system allows our designers go into a map and put down what they would like to have in that map. Then our artists can go in and make it pretty. This is much faster so it allows us to generate things very quickly.
Star Trek Online is due out in the UK on Friday February 5 for the PC.