Thursday, August 14, 2008

Will Cryptic make a good Star Trek MMO?

Cryptic is a young studio having only released one MMO, but they seemed to have gained a lot of experience from it. Even though the game design for City of Heroes/Villains was grindy they did try out a lot of new ideas. Not all of them worked out they way they intended, but it doesn't mean they were a waste of time. For example, Cryptic used procedural generated content for missions and accidentally created very repetitive and boring instances. However, the idea of procedural generated content definitely has applications for randomizing PvP areas like arenas or battlegrounds. It's because of Cryptic willingness to be different that I try to keep track of whatever they are working on.

Champions Online looks to be interesting, but I have a feeling it's basically a remake of City of Heroes without NCSoft's interference. While secret identities and customizable power effects are nice features, it doesn't really have me excited. I will try out the game since I'm a fan of the cell shaded artwork, but it will probably be a 2-3 month fling rather then a long term relationship. Star Trek Online on the other hand might actually be worthy of long term involvement. I've made posts on other blogs that it's going to be very tricky making this game. There are a lot of different versions of Star Trek and a player's expectations are going to be heavily influenced by what series they watched. However, it seems Cryptic realized this and has made several design decisions to nip the problem in the bud.

Based on the FAQ sheet they just recently put up on their website it seems they are going to place their game in a future timeline after all the television series. Hopefully, this will keep most of the lore lawyers from screaming bloody murder whenever Cryptic tries to do anything innovated with the game design. I've already read some fanatic complaining about Klingons and the Federation fighting after the big peace treaty in the television show. Game designers need to ignore these people who quite frankly share a lot in common with the comic book guy from the Simpsons. I've written before how I thought the Lord of the Rings Online lost a lot of appeal because Turbine was too afraid to give any class abilities that might seem too "magical".

Another thing I noticed on their FAQ sheet that had me smiling was that their PvP ruleset seems similar to the security system that EVE Online uses. The rules are basically; no PvP inside a faction's territory, consensual PvP in the neutral zone, and open PvP in the unexplored regions of space. It's not as hardcore as EVE Online's system, but it seems to follow the basic tenet of space being more dangerous the further you get from civilization. This ruleset leads me to suspect that the majority of combat in the game will be space based. I'm sure there will still be a decent amount of avatar combat, but I think Cryptic knows the big appeal of Sci-Fi games is spaceships. I'm just hoping that they'll allow us to customize and earn upgrades for our ships.

I'm feeling good that Cryptic might be able to pull off a decent Star Trek MMO at this point. Things are still early, but I haven't seen any warning flags yet. There are a couple common concerns that are being thrown around by bloggers at the moment. The biggest one seems to be the mission structure which some people are afraid will follow the classic "Kill Ten Rats" structure. I'm hoping that Cryptic avoids this issue by using the thousands of Star Trek episodes to come up with missions/assignment ideas. The other concern seems to be having the two waring factions be Klingons and the Federation. Quite frankly all I can say is that Klingons have the most appeal out of all the Star Trek races. It might have made more sense to use a different alien race, but hell people actually speak Klingon.


iomegadrive said...

I am looking forward to the ST MMO, but I am afraid of the implementation. Like you said, "Kill 10 rats" would not be the most ... ingenious quests ever.

I think it's more of a systemic issue with developers of MMOs in general, who seem to have a "what worked for blizz must work for us" mentality instead of a creative/daring one.

Scott said...

Trek is a horrible IP for an MMO, but it has so many fans it was inevitable. I like that they're using a skills-based system rather than levels. Same with Champions Online. Rather than saying CO is CoX2, it almost looks like this time they're putting everything into CO that they said would be in CoX but wasn't.

Federation vs. Klingon. I called that one the day STO was annouced. The industry just hasn't grown beyond the simplistic "Alliance vs. Horde" mentality yet. Disappointing.

I've written before how I thought the Lord of the Rings Online lost a lot of appeal because Turbine was too afraid to give any class abilities that might seem too "magical"

On the contrary, the Tolkien lore-nerds have complained for over a year about the amount of "magic" in LOTRO that is contrary to the actual lore. For game design and mechanics, Turbine had to make concessions, and Tolkien Enterprises gave the green light. In the expansion, one of the new classes is the game's first true "magic user" and will be wielding the more high-magic spells.

Looking at Turbine's risky design decisions in both DDO and LOTRO, being "afraid" is not how I'd describe them.

Green Armadillo said...

Quoth Relmstein: "For example, Cryptic used procedural generated content for missions and accidentally created very repetitive and boring instances."

I'm not sure one can claim that it's an accident when you leaving the job of content design in the hands of a script and it produces repetitive content. That's a known limitation of just about every content randomizer that's been released. I don't disagree that they tried some innovative things, but the buck has to stop somewhere when the final product is repeating itself within the first hour of gameplay.

Relmstein said...

I'm glad they are putting in the first real "magic" using class into the game for the Moria expansion. However, its really too late for Lord of the Rings. They currently have around 150k subscribers and I honestly don't see that number ever increasing only growing smaller. Maybe "afraid" wasn't the right word to use, but they did avoid using a lot of magic in their early class design and I think that interfered with player's expectations of a proper fantasy setting.

Green Armadillo:
I don't think any MMO developer wants to intentionaly make repetitive and boring instances. I'm sure Cryptic thought they would have enough pre-made graphic "tiles" so that each instance would look different. They were wrong and I'm pretty sure they'll stay away from using it for instance design in the future. It does have interesting possibilities for randomizing the terrain in PvP battle areas.

Scott said...

I'd agree the low-fantasy Tolkien was probably a factor in turning away a lot of customers, as well as slower paced combat, which perhaps is appropriate for the low fantasy?

It's funny when all the so-called Tolkien fans were that upset over a lack of magic, and there certainly were some. I'm only a closet fan myself, I didn't care for the books but the movies were pretty decent. But even I knew Tolkien was low fantasy and only a select few people in Middle Earth had access to magic. Problem is every other MMO has been high-fantasy, and way too many people see "MMO" and automatically come in with preconceptions. Which is also why the genre is stuck in its current rut.

Conan is just about the lowest low-fantasy out there, but they had faster combat. Busy-work combat, yes, but the combat rounds themselves are pretty fast.

I dunno, even LOTRO-haters like Openedge1 are making comments that for them Moria just might make a difference.