In his most recent Dev Diary #11, STO's acting Executive Producer Stephen D'Angelo outlined his future hopes for the game in 2012. As players are wont to do, we read between the lines and noticed not what was contained in the blog but rather what was blatantly missing: a detailed outline of future playable content.
A brief history of time
STO's last featured episode series, Cloaked Intentions, a five-mission arc that revolved around a Reman independence movement, was released in February of 2011. Two previous mission arcs, The Breen and The Devidians, debuted in August, 2010, and October, 2010, respectively. Altogether, 15 missions were released over the course of seven months. Since that time, there hasn't been any story-based content released into the game.
Since D'Angelo's blog contained very little hype about forthcoming mission content, several players questioned the subject's notable absence, and somewhat surprisingly, their concerns were bluntly addressed by D'Angelo in two follow-up posts in the forum.
In his first post, he wrote, "It's unfortunately impractical to deliver story content all the time. In fact, story content will mostly be coming through the featured episodes (with somewhere between 9 and 13 episodes next year as per above)."
The statement underlines the fact that players can expect two series of missions over the next 11 months, with a very weak expression of hope that a third could be squeezed in before the end of the year. If the upcoming arcs contain five episodes each (as they have in the past), it is safe to assume that there will be approximately 10 missions released over the remainder of 2012.
However, the next set of featured episodes, slated to revolve around The Dominion, will not be released until after the game celebrates its second anniversary in early February, which means there will have been a full year between content releases. Much of the players' consternation comes from this realization alone.
Many people remained hopeful that the teams at Cryptic were actively working on playable content during the past year and were merely withholding finished product in order to pad the launch of free-to-play on January 17th. It is now obvious that this wasn't the case and that there will be not a regular flow of content as seen in the past but rather two short bursts over the next year. If anything, it's now more apparent there was a deeper freeze on production during Cryptic's sale than may have been previously evident.
D'Angelo's first forum post also contained a clarification that the hotly anticipated playable ships, the Odyssey class and yet-to-be-named Klingon flagship, will be made available "through game play using in game currencies." This declaration may put to rest concerns that Cryptic Studios might have been tempted to make the ships available only as a reward for a game-of-chance or grab-bag.
As a side note for those who aren't aware, early last year, Cryptic and CBS Corporation co-sponsored the Design the Next Enterprise contest, and the winning design by Adam Ihle was chosen and subsequently fine-tuned by the Cryptic staff. The winner was announced last May, and at that time, the playerbase was informed that the Enterprise-F (and more importantly, its playable class) would make its debut during the next featured episode series. Since then, the players have been champing at the bit to man the helms of these new vessels. It's also another reason the persistent delays of the featured episodes have been so frustrating to so many subscribers.
Interestingly, D'Angelo's statement makes it clear that the ships' introduction will actually be made before the next set of Dominion-focused missions and not as a part of them (as originally understood by the subscribership).
In his second post, D'Angelo stated that the Klingon faction, which has been severely lacking relevant PvE leveling content since the game's launch, is "definitely on 2012's list, but [he] can't promise any date or details at this time." What that really means is anyone's guess; however, it's safe to assume that since there was a delay of featured content that's playable by both factions, very little if any focus will be given to Klingon PvE content during that same time.
Alas, it looks like the Klingons will have to persevere as always -- with angry stoicism.
Curiously, also mentioned in D'Angelo's blog were upcoming "significant improvements" to the game's PvP, Foundry and crafting systems. Additionally, he made a brief mention of a "fleet advancement system" but provided no real definition of what those upgrades might entail or when they might be seen in game. Still, the mentions of future alterations to PvP, Foundry and crafting are welcome tidbits to those who have been longing for overhauls and/or upgrades that are so desperately needed.
While I do not actively participate in PvP, I am well aware of the fact that the system has needed attention for more than the past year in order to make it more enjoyable for those who do. There are several areas within STO, most notably the surface of the planet Andoria, where it's obvious that the maps were created specifically for melee PvP yet remain void of any functionality. There are other areas that also seem perfect for open PvP in a space or ground environment, but they also remain untouched by the devs since the game's initial launch in 2010. Any improvements in this regard are long overdue.
The Foundry's basic tools have been sufficient since its debut, but due to many technical limitations, Foundry authors have been forced to come up with clever and creative means to overcome them. The Foundry has needed upgrades not only to make it easier to use but also to provide mission authors with more choices in environmental assets, character customization, and dialogue creation/progression in order to provide a more seamless experience for the end-player.
Foundry authors are glad to hear of any attention the toolset may be granted, especially in light of the Season Four fiasco that essentially broke the toolset for a period of over three months. While the system is currently working and has been since October 2011, the users are well aware that many of the developers who created the Foundry for STO were relocated to the team for Cryptic's yet-to-be-released game Neverwinter. To hear that the Foundry is not being totally ignored is very good news to the loyal band of player/authors who use the Foundry on a regular basis and whose missions have literally been the only source of fresh, playable content since March of last year.
Crafting has gone through several modifications since the game's launch, none of which seems to have settled very well with the players. It can be a tedious process that provides little reward during leveling or even at endgame. Again, there have been no details on exactly how crafting will be altered, but company representatives have said on multiple occasions that an "overhaul" is imminent. It now appears the players may see this overhaul by the end of the year.
Finally, it is very unclear what is meant by the term "fleet advancement system," and I am not about to venture a guess. There has been a lot of call from fleets to cement their identities by allowing them the ability to create their own home-bases or star bases, but none of that has been formally addressed by Cryptic. It will be very interesting to determine what Cryptic has up its sleeve in this regard, and I hope to find out much more as STO launches its free-to-play model and also prepares to celebrate its second anniversary.
As always, live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Saturday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.