Now the calendar's just one page, and of course I am excited. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and the end of the year means end-of-the-year lists! As we all know, 2010 has been a big year for Star Trek Online, from its release in February to the introduction of Season 3 just this month. Skip away with me down the Memory Brick Road as we recall the biggest STO stories of the year!
Well dangsauce, of course this would come in at number one (even though this list assumes no particular order). Nothing could be more important than the day we all got our grubby mitts (butts?) on our own captain's chair!
After a whirlwind development -- which could qualify as news itself -- Cryptic Studios released STO on February 2nd, 2010. Players and Star Trek fans received the game with mixed emotions. The developers at Cryptic had gotten a lot right. Blasting Klingon (or Federation) scum in starship combat was joyous. The final frontier looked glorious. And the abundant fan service felt wondrous.
Unfortunately, players and onlookers alike soon noticed that STO suffered from some glaring deficiencies. Most missions consisted of shooting enemies in asteroid field after asteroid field. Exploration and diplomacy were rare and meaningless. Crafting was weak and uninspired. And the Klingon faction had been dumped into PvP-only limbo.
In short, STO didn't quite size up on release day to Cryptic's presumably AAA aspirations.
Three seasons o' fun
In a campaign to expand STO's content aggressively, Cryptic opted to bundle major additions into free patches called seasons.
The first patch, dubbed Season 1: Common Ground, hit servers at the tail end of March. Features included respecs, new uniform options, PvP interface upgrades, new fleet actions, a crafting upgrade, and some PvE content for Klingons. Cryptic also released the first of the game's endgame raidisodes around the same time.
Season 2: Ancient Enemies moseyed onto the scene on July 27th, bringing with it a new level cap of 51, minigames, an ancient enemy for the Klingons, diplomacy, and spaceship interiors. And Season 3: Genesis, boasting bug improvements, another crafting upgrade, an aesthetic overhaul to sector space and some other goodies, launched about three weeks ago.
Whatever your opinion of Cryptic or of STO, you can't say the folks at Cryptic haven't been busy.
In some sort of half-baked marketing move, Cryptic announced in April the formation of "an informal group of Star Trek and gaming fans who have been tapped to provide input on the development of STO."
The original lineup featured four members, presumably with more to come. But then the forums erupted in outrage, as players rebelled against the notion that a tiny group of fans would enjoy more input into the game's direction than most others. (I'm assuming those angry forumgoers missed the irony on that one, since the main point behind complaining on the forums is to influence the game's direction more than non-forumgoers.)
Anyway, we haven't heard much about the council in the months since its announcement. So what was all the fuss about?
Changing of the guard
In an abrupt twist, STO executive producer Craig Zinkievich stepped down from the helm in the beginning of July, just a few weeks before the release of Season 2. Zinkievich wrote fans a goodbye letter, but it offered no insight into his decision to leave, beyond some silliness about goats and bees.
Even so, Zink's departure didn't knock the ship off course. Daniel Stahl, formerly a producer on STO, took the reins and has kept the game running and expanding. Stahl's promotion brought with it a renewed focus on improving the existing game and an indefinite hold on the development of additional factions.
A few weeks after the release of Season 2, the developers started releasing one of the season's most anticipated facets: feature episodes. Replicating the story-driven fun of the Star Trek television shows, weekly episodes (aka feature episodes) went live each Saturday for five weeks.
The first series led players through a confrontation with the frigid Breen, who were on the hunt for an ancient alien race. The second series set loose the Devidians, a race of other-dimensional predators who use the chaos of war to cover for their crimes.
Plugged as a leap forward in STO's focus on story and Trek-ness, weekly episodes have lived up to the hype so far. They have offered varied gameplay, interesting plots, powerful rewards, and something new to look forward to. They've been on hiatus for a while, though, as the folks at Cryptic got ready to push out Season 3.
One of the biggest bits of news to hit STO this year hasn't happened yet... and it doesn't even involve STO. At the end of October, Cryptic announced that its superhero MMO, Champions Online, would assume a freemium payment model in 2011.
Maybe it didn't seem like a big deal at first glance, but Stahl had alluded some months earlier to the conceivable possibility that STO might go freemium someday. And then, shortly after the Champions Online announcement, Cryptic's Jack Emmert told watching fans that STO's chance of switching to F2P has a lot to do with the success of CO's transition. If CO does well, "that would send a strong message" supporting STO's switch.
Could 2011 see a similar announcement regarding STO?
The Foundry is open for business
User-generated content has (almost) hit STO in a big way with the beta release of the Foundry. Now players can create and share missions and rate other players' missions. Captain's Log has already gushed about it, played a few missions and designed one of its own, so let's not belabor the point.
The Foundry is sure to help propel STO into a pretty groovy 2011, but what else might we have to look forward to? We know Season 4 should overhaul ground combat, and I expect feature episodes to entertain whenever they resume. Plus, free-to-play could be in the cards somewhere along the line. I'm sure the folks at Cryptic will have a few other surprises up their sleeves, too.
For now, happy trails and enjoy the start of the new year!
Less trustworthy than a Ferengi loan shark and more useless than a neutered Tribble, Ryan Greene beams Captain's Log straight into your mind every Thursday, filling your brainhole with news, opinions and reckless speculation about Star Trek Online. If you have comments, suggestions for the column or insults too creative for Massively's commenting policy, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org.