So Cryptic Studios' spacefaring MMO is one year old! That means STO is walking more, pooping less often, and not keeping you up all night with its bawling. That also means a lot has happened since STO went live 366 or so days ago. (Yeah, the actual anniversary was yesterday.) It's time to celebrate and lament the first full year of STO's lifespan.
Cryptic released STO on February 2nd, 2010. Players and Star Trek fans found themselves torn. The developers had gotten a lot right: starship combat, the lovely graphics, and abundant fan service. But repetitive missions, disappointing exploration and diplomacy, bland crafting, and an underdeveloped Klingon Empire left players in the dumps.
Even so, STO was a stable, fun change of pace from fantasy MMOs. Every MMO has problems getting out of the gate, and the folks at Cryptic approached their game's growing pains with a stiff upper lip.
March 2010 saw Cryptic release endgame Special Task Force missions and Season 1: Common Ground within a few weeks of each other. The former gave high-level players some dungeon-like group excitement, while the latter ushered in a host of improvements to the game. Those upgrades included respecs, new uniform options, PvP interface upgrades, new fleet actions, and some PvE content for Klingons.
The additions also set the tone for future updates, somewhat easing players' concerns about the relatively anemic release content. In just a few months, STO had expanded with new missions, updated crafting, and other features.
In July 2010, STO Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich resigned from the development team pretty abruptly. Dan Stahl, formerly a producer on STO and now the boss, has steered the ship admirably since then. Stahl's promotion brought with it a renewed focus on improving the existing game and an indefinite hold on the development of additional factions. So far, he has delivered on his promises and avoided making any grand, improbably farfetched pronouncements about future content.
At the tail end of July, Season 2: Ancient Enemies went live with a new level cap of 51, minigames in the form of Dabo and anomaly-gathering, and some more PvE for Klingons. Even more importantly, Season 2 implemented two major new features: the Federation Diplomatic Corps, which allows players to gain diplomatic experience for non-combat missions, and starship interiors, which allow players to run around engineering and sickbay. Well, they will be majorly important once the developers flesh them out more. Interiors, while fun, aren't hugely functional, and diplomatic missions haven't grown into their own yet.
A few weeks after the release of Season 2, the developers started publishing one of the season's most anticipated features: weekly 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. The third series, which started last week, continues STO's popular Romulan storyline.
Plugged as a leap forward in STO's focus on story and Trek-ness, feature episodes have lived up to the hype so far, offering varied gameplay, interesting plots, powerful rewards and something new to look forward to.
At the beginning of December, Cryptic released Season 3: Genesis. The patch boasted bug improvements, another crafting upgrade, a much-needed and quite spectacular aesthetic overhaul to sector space, and some other goodies.
One cool feature introduced ship-customization pieces based on Borg technology. High-level players can now get their hands on starship items that boost performance and add Borg-like particle effects and such to their space rockets. Cool!
But another feature overshadowed all that stuff.
Season 3 opened up The Foundry, the tools that will allow STO players to create, rate and share content with others. The system's still in open beta on the Tribble test server, but the developers are moving it slowly toward full release.
I have been excited about this one for months. I've gushed about it, played a few missions and designed one of my own. I also rounded up some handy resources and tips for getting to know the Foundry a little better.
Unsurprisingly for such a massive undertaking, we have no set timetable for the Foundry's future release into the wild, but I'm sure we can expect plenty of fanfare when that happens. The Foundry represents the future of STO, and it and systems like it bode well for MMOing in general. If developers can solve those pesky issues of exploitation and abuse, I would take a well-curated system of user-generated content over just about any other feature any day.
No matter how you slice it, STO has grown since it launched one year ago, and the Foundry promises an expansive future. We talked last week about what could be in store for STO in the next few years, from combat improvements to far-off expansions.
And, of course, a free-to-play business model could be in the cards someday, too. I caught some flak for suggesting that STO should go free-to-play, but I think that's because people still equate free-to-play with lousy or dying games. Open your minds and embrace change (just not in a lame Secret Invasion sort of way).
I know I say this every time, but the future of STO is looking pretty good. Really, it is. User-generated content? Sustained storytelling? Major updates every few months? STO started out with a steep hill to climb, and many still figure it's on a slow 10-count toward defeat, but the game is getting better all the time.
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.