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Captain's Log

Captain's Log: Why Star Trek Online is kind of a mess right now

Sci-Fi, Expansions, Patches, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

A little messy and incoherent despite... hmm.  Commentary.
I haven't had nearly as much time to play Star Trek Online lately as I would have liked; I've had other projects to work on, other games to play, and a lot of holiday stuff going on. So my main captain, who's been trekkin' around since launch, is still woefully underleveled. I accept entirely that this is my own fault, but I haven't been stressing out over it; I have no need to rush up to the cap.

That attitude is helped substantially by the fact that the people who are rushing up to the cap or already did rush up are awash with complaints. The speed of leveling. The speed of upgrade mechanics. How the Tier 5 and Tier 6 ships interact. The price of items. The amount of mission content. Gaining new specialization points at the cap. Sure, some of it is pretty normal complaining, but there's a general sense of discontent with the game at the moment. And I'm honestly not surprised because this problem was always going to crop up, and it could have been managed so much better.

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Captain's Log Supplemental: Exploring the story of Star Trek Online: Delta Rising

Sci-Fi, Expansions, Game Mechanics, News Items, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

Two hundred passengers set sail that day for a three-year tour of duty.  (A three-year tour of duty.)
If you think about it, Star Trek: Voyager is basically a remake of Gilligan's Island. Ship goes out for a routine trip and gets stranded, and for the next several years the crew of that ship tries to get back home and repeatedly fails. I bring this up because I recently had a chance to to on a tour of Star Trek Online: Delta Rising, and I kept thinking that "going on a tour" was just the first step before being stranded in the quadrant myself.

Well, maybe not, but it's as good a segue as anything.

Lead Designer Al Rivera and Senior Producer Stephen Ricossa took me on a trip through all of the various systems of Delta Rising and several of the upcoming story elements. If you don't want to be spoiled on the expansion before it goes live, you might want to steer clear, but there are some fascinating developments awaiting otherwise. When players finally warp into the Delta Quadrant, they're going to be seeing familiar faces and facing some old problems -- very old, in one case.

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Captain's Log Supplemental: Exploring the art design of Star Trek Online's Delta Rising races

Sci-Fi, Expansions, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

It's like the Yamato, only in a series I like.
If you asked me about my favorite antagonistic race through all of Voyager's seven-year run, my answer wouldn't have been any of the regular suspects. It would have been the Vaadwaur, and not just because of their funky appearance; the race really twisted the usual formula of a Star Trek one-off villain, and besides that, they had a culture that hinted at something very unusual in the show. I was kind of sad that they never showed up again after their one episode.

Obviously, I was happy to see one of my favorite races get the upgrade treatment in Star Trek Online. But that poses a problem just the same because it's not as if the producers on the show detailed dozens of ship classes and a huge amount of culture for a race that showed up for 50 minutes. I chatted with art director Brad Stokan about bringing these smaller races of Star Trek into a fully fleshed-out form in Star Trek Online, discussing both the Vaadwaur and the Kobali and how his team took a one-off guest appearance and made a full race out of it.

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Captain's Log Supplemental: A look at Star Trek Online's history with lead designer Al Rivera

Sci-Fi, Culture, Expansions, Patches, News Items, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

You can amost hear the cries for coffee now.
Star Trek Online is a game that's got some history, not just by virtue of the franchise that's been running for half of forever but because the game itself has a rather madcap development history. Cryptic Studios got the license to develop the game at the eleventh hour, and the caveat was that the game needed to be shipped in the same timeframe as the original developer had promised -- leaving almost no time for development.

I sat down and talked with lead designer Al Rivera about the game's history, its development ethos, and where the game is going with the upcoming release of the second expansion, Delta Rising. It's been a long process, but Rivera shed some light on how the game is designed by its modern team, why things launched the way they did, and what players can expect as the game continues toward its five-year anniversary.

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Captain's Log: Star Trek Online's expansion and communication

Sci-Fi, Expansions, Game Mechanics, Patches, News Items, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

We're hard at work developing stuff, some of which will come off as tone-deaf.
So we finally know what the next expansion is going to be for Star Trek Online, and my speculation regarding the Xindi and points related turned out to be way off. Nope, we're heading into the Delta Quadrant, which is less interesting to me than the Gamma Quadrant, but I suspect the powers that be are exploring all the angles of existing content first. It's coming with a level cap increase, a new tier of ships, a bunch of new tricks, and apparently some bonus communication misses.

Delta Rising is really on track to be a pretty divisive expansion anyway. It was inevitable, really; raising the level cap now was going to lead to problems no matter how it was handled. Unfortunately, Cryptic Studios hasn't done a great job communicating what's in the works for players, nor have the first few things that we've heard exactly countered some early suspicions. It was a minefield that's thus far been navigated largely with a push and a blindfold.

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Captain's Log: Star Trek Online's eternal crafting problem

Sci-Fi, Patches, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Crafting, Subscription

Out of the wreckage.
I haven't had the chance to really dive into the new crafting system in Star Trek Online just yet, but I can tell it's certainly a valid effort to revitalize the crafting system for the third time in the game's lifespan, this time with an even more fundamental teardown. Memory Alpha is gone now, along with the exploration clusters that used to provide oh-so-many spots to analyze in the hopes of getting more materials.

Back at the start of this year, the column took a look at the state of Star Trek Online's crafting and asked whether there really is a future left for it. After all, crafting as a source of items was up against the fleet stores and reputation items. Could you make something better than those systems without replacing those systems? Would it even be worth it? What could be done to clean up crafting? We've gotten our answer about what will be done, but is it a net benefit for the game as a whole?

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Captain's Log: A year of Star Trek Online: Legacy of Romulus

Sci-Fi, Culture, Expansions, Lore, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

I don't know how Remans got to be so popular when no one actually liked Nemesis, but that's where we are.
The first expansion to Star Trek Online was the expansion everyone expected and yet one that no one really expected. Romulans were the obvious choice, the big gap in the game's factional lineup, the third major power that had been floating around in the darkness like some vast, predatory bird since the original series. But the idea of seeing a new faction after the Klingons had languished for so long seemed like a pipe dream. When it actually happened, I know I was sort of left just staring and disbelieving.

Of course, now we've had the Romulan Republic as a playable sort-of-faction for a year now, and that prompts all sorts of reactions. In many ways, this expansion is better than we could have hoped for, and in other ways it feels as if it kind of falls short. I come here not to praise or to bury Legacy of Romulus but to look at it a year out from launch and perhaps see what lessons could be gleaned for the expansion we're due to receive late this year.

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Captain's Log: A look at Star Trek Online's Season 9 to date

Sci-Fi, Game Mechanics, Lore, Patches, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Subscription

Yes, there's a reference in the registry number, if you can read it.
It's strange to be stepping on to an unfamiliar bridge, isn't it? To be in charge when previously you were just an observer, especially when the crew hasn't necessarily changed at all. But you didn't come here to read my metatextual woolgathering; you came here because you want to read about Season 9 of Star Trek Online. Yes, it's been out for about a month now, but that's enough time to get a fairly good sense of it, isn't it?

Season 9 is an odd beast, in some ways; elements of it suffered for its long development, but it moves the game as a whole forward and introduces some interesting shifts all around. Its biggest weakness is in how much of it is based not around content so much as improvements of existing content and systems. But let's not focus on that; let's start at the huge upheaval that came with the featured episode and the overhauls it brought.

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Captain's Log: There's no space in Star Trek Online

Sci-Fi, Patches, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log

STO Solar EV suit
Being away from a game you love can be both a curse and a blessing. The past couple of weeks I've been cursed with a flu that made it virtually impossible to play any game, let alone Star Trek Online. I've been back for a day or two now, and I've had the opportunity to check out some of the tech that has been pushed into the game since I fell ill. One of the new efforts is the ship-swapping system recently implemented into Star Trek Online, and I have to say, it's a great tool that might be the victim of the game's number one problem: lack of inventory space.

There's no space in space

The newest system to be injected into STO is the ship-swapping system. The tool allows players to switch ships on the fly as long as they are in a public zone like sector space or spacedock region. Essentially the player brings up his character screen and clicks on the "Switch Starship" button and moves into one of his other ships.

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Captain's Log: Stepping between stars in Star Trek Online

Sci-Fi, Events (In-Game), Patches, PvE, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Captain's Log, Anniversaries

There's one thing that Star Trek Online players crave: story-based missions. And when we get them, we devour them like starving locusts. After what can only be described as an incredibly frustrating first day, the new anniversary events are now live on Star Trek Online. Community Manager Brandon Felczer had his hands full during multiple game crashes last Thursday that were blamed on "network issues" as opposed to server overload.

I was able to ride out the network issues long enough to play the most recent mission, which highlights the voice talents of actor Tim Russ as he reprises his role of Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager. There are a lot of spoilers ahead; you've been warned! But I won't make any mention of the specific story choices that can be made during the mission. I want to leave some things a surprise.

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Captain's Log: Gearing up for Star Trek Online's fourth anniversary

Sci-Fi, Events (In-Game), Patches, PvE, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Promotions, Anniversaries

STO Tuvok concept art
We're only a few days away from the release of Star Trek Online's fourth anniversary celebration, and a lot of information about upcoming events is rolling out. As the team prepares for the launch, several new blogs have popped up teasing players with information about upcoming content and changes including news that actor Tim Russ, who played Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, will reprise his role in Star Trek Online's Fourth Anniversary Featured Episode!

It's only logical

Last week's announcement that Tim Russ would be providing his voice for upcoming content certainly made a lot of Trekkies happy. Community Manager Brandon Felczer interviewed Russ for the game's video blog and asked a lot of great questions. It was also revealed during the interview that recordings of Russ' voice won't just be used in the upcoming Featured Episode (called A Step Between Stars); it will also be heard in "upcoming content" including "Season Nine and beyond."

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Captain's Log Supplemental: STO's Stephen D'Angelo speaks

Sci-Fi, Interviews, Patches, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log

STO Defiant Bridge
Last week we reported on the announcement that Star Trek Online has a new Executive Producer. Daniel Stahl, who held the position for the past several years, has moved on to another "secret" project at Cryptic Studios. The game's new (and returning) EP, Stephen D'Angelo, has taken the chair once again and has already posted his first blog outlining a few of his desires for the future of Star Trek Online. We had the opportunity to interview D'Angelo and ask him a few more questions about the game and what direction he sees the ship heading.

Massively: Congratulations on your new position as Executive Producer of Star Trek Online! Of course, this isn't your first time in the command chair. What's the first challenge you were faced with when you finally took the seat, and how is it different from the challenges you faced the last time you were at the helm?

Stephen D'Angelo: Any time there is a change in leadership, there's a period of learning how the team operates. This time it was a pretty smooth transition, with no significant challenges. I've got a great working relationship with the team, and because there was nothing eminently shipping, I was able to ramp up at a reasonable pace. The last time was much more challenging. I was given the team without warning, and it was only weeks before converting the game to free-to-play. That was a pretty mad scramble.

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Captain's Log: Star Trek Online's Season 8.5 changes

Betas, Sci-Fi, Events (In-Game), Patches, PvE, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Rumors, Captain's Log, Anniversaries

STO Mogh Class
Last week I wrote about a few of the revamped Federation-Klingon war missions in Star Trek Online's upcoming Season 8.5. This week a few more notable changes and teasers were released, including the news that Star Trek Online has a new Executive Producer and a Star Trek actor's voice will be featured in during the upcoming anniversary event!

Pardon me sir, but haven't we met before?

The game's new (and returning) EP, Stephen D'Angelo, posted a blog last week announcing his return to the command chair, along with the news that former EP, Daniel Stahl, has been reassigned to another top-secret project. Many of us had already heard about the existence of another game in development at Cryptic, so it's not so much of a surprise to hear of personnel shifts in this regard.

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Captain's Log: Investigating Star Trek Online's Season 8.5 revamped missions

Betas, Sci-Fi, Patches, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, First Impressions, Captain's Log

STO Chimera Class
It's not very often that the devs at Star Trek Online manages to completely surprise the playerbase with something unanticipated. This week Star Trek Online Community Manager Brandon Felczer posted a list of patch notes for the Tribble test server as well as a new screenshot for the Friday gallery, stating that the screenshot was from the upcoming "Season 8.5" patch.

The patch notes contained a lot of changes that none of us was truly expecting, most of which (but not all, of course) are being generally well-received. The biggest shock is that the patch will include the first new PvP arena in years. Also included in the notes was the announcement that the devs have been busy revamping several of the low-level Starfleet missions to improve their look as well as their pacing.

I've had the opportunity to jump on the Tribble test server to check out some of the revamped missions. Of the 12 missions on the list, I've played four: Stranded in Space, Kuvah'Magh, Researcher Rescue, and The Ultimate Klingon. Many of the screenshots are from the updated missions, so beware -- there be spoilers ahead!

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Captain's Log: Can Star Trek Online craft a future for crafting?

Sci-Fi, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Captain's Log, Crafting

STO Memory Alpha
This week I'll be dedicating a whole column on the current state of crafting in Star Trek Online. If there's one thing upon which most Star Trek Online players agree, it's that the crafting system in STO needs a complete overhaul. But there's a very real question as to whether or not an overhaul is even feasible.

When it comes to business, it's usually best to save those parts of a business plan that are working so as not to waste the investments already made. In relation to MMOs, the same considerations should (and in the case of publicly-held companies, is legally required to) be granted to all aspects of its product. Since most MMOs have multiple features typical to all games (PvP, crafting, housing, PvE, etc.) each one of these facets' productivity matters.

If a single feature assists in keeping players in-game, then there's more potential for revenue generation to occur. If a feature not only keeps a player in-game but is, in and of itself, a point of revenue generation, then it's all the better for the company and therefore its shareholders.

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