Star Trek Online vblog #1: Free to Play Early Access Yo

I could not help myself.  I had to jump in before everyone else could.  STO sold over 1M units in under 3 months.  Having said that the price of STO went from $69.99, to $59.99 to $49.99 to $29.99 to the $9.99 we knew up until the F2p conversion.  I explain what happened and why some people are pissed.

As well I’ll do one mission and I will also show off their entire item shop.  Enjoy

Star Trek Online is Now Free to Play

Well in some news I have not been able to find anymore quests in GodsWar Online.  This browser based/Facebook MMO just doesn’t seem to have much for legs.  I gave it a good four days of trying to find a quest and there is simply no quests anywhere in the world.

In related news early access for the free to play version of Star Trek Online has begun.  This is related because I have decided to cycle GodsWar Online out of my rotation and rotate Star Trek Online in.

Star Trek Online was a game that came out with a pretty poor reception.  The space combat was not very good, the ground combat was terrible, and the random adventures were not fun.  The game survived as long as it did as a subscription because of a player development tool called the foundry.  The foundry allowed players to make their own missions and people to play them giving unlimited content.

Jupiter Broadcasting has done 109 episodes of their show STOked staying loyal to this game.

So I thought as a former subscriber I would jump in and get me some early access to see how the game has changed since I last played.  I will be starting fresh as per usual.

Five Biggest Fails of the Year

In light of my one year anniversary I decided to cover what I feel were the five biggest fails of the year.  I spent a lot of time thinking about this before compiling the list and I feel like I came up with a list that most people will agree with.

Fail #5: WoW’s Icecrown Citadel Patch

For the Icecrown patch I’d consider every single piece of content and balancing that comes with the game.  This includes the 5-man, the Shadowmourne quest line, and the rain dungeon.  I’ll keep my nerd raging about the balancing and PvP of this time for some other issue.

When Blizzard released Icecrown Citadel they KNEW it was too easy.  We knew they knew because all of the content was released on a time lock.  Basically the content was released in four sections each taking about a month to release.  And after each piece was released every single piece was killed within the week by roughly 1000 guilds.

The first section was completed almost immediately and after the first week there were guilds that had cleared out achievements for every single boss in this first floor.

The same reigned true for every single boss throughout the dungeon, it was pitiful.  People were hoping that hard modes would give them some challenge… but it didn’t.  People plowed through them with relative ease.  The only bosses that gave anyone any trouble was Professor Putricide, Sindrigosa and Lich King.  But in truth Putricide and Sindrigosa might have taken a good guild two weeks at most to kill.  Lich King might have taken a month or two…. but that’s it.  That means that if Blizzard had released this content all at once the whole patch might have lasted a month or two for your average progression guild.

Compare this to the end dungeons of vanilla and Burning Crusade.

Naxxramas was considered to be one of the hardest dungeons to date (before Blizzard made it too easy).  It required specific class compositions and everyone in your 40-man raid to be competent.  Finding priests was hard, finding priests with hit gear was harder.  Getting your guild to grind nature resist gear and frost resist gear was a nightmare.

Sunwell Plateau is often regarded as the single hardest dungeon Blizzard has ever released.  It was so hard that Blizzard put forth an entire expansion of insanely easy content as an apology to all the people who couldn’t get past the first boss.  Sunwell featured only six bosses… and yet that content lasted longer than dungeons with two and three times as many bosses.

Blizzard was accused of making hard achievements instead of hard content.  It’s no surprise that when Cataclysm came out they decided to release casual unfriendly content that took even the best guilds a long time to finish.

Another comparison can be made between Magister’s Terrace and Icecrown’s 5-mans.  Magister’s Terrace was designed with people who didn’t get to do Tempest Keep (The Eye) in mind.  Magister’s Terrace was masterful.  It was a dungeon that required crowd control in a bad way.  It had interesting mechanics that required your DPS to pay attention and participate (as opposed to attend) in the fight.  Icecrown Citadel did not have bosses that required team work.  What it had was an AOE grind fest and bosses that could be 2 and 3-manned.  That is, people could carry you through these dungeons.

One might say the only good thing Blizzard did was bring out Shadowmourne.  However the blade lost it’s uniqueness when 11 people (including 2 healers and 2 DK tanks) in my guild had one.  As opposed to the war glaives which only two people had (one warrior had an off hand the other warrior had the main hand).

Overall this patch represented one giant fail for Blizzard.  Cataclysm is proof of them admitting to this massive flop.

Fail #4: The Agency

The Agency will soon be a memory forgotten.  At an E3 Convention SOE stated “we’re sick of the fantasy tights wearing fantasy games.”  This of course is a funny statement to make considering they’re the same studio that works on Everquest 2 and Vanguard.

Only two years later they let out this bomb shell:

As part of a strategic decision to reduce costs and streamline its global workforce, SOE announced today that it will eliminate 205 positions and close its Denver, Seattle and Tucson studios. As part of this restructuring, SOE is discontinuing production of The Agency so it can focus development resources on delivering two new MMOs based on its renowned PlanetSide and EverQuest properties, while also maintaining its current portfolio of online games. All possible steps are being taken to ensure team members affected by the transition are treated with appropriate concern.

In light of SOE’s economic disaster they decided to cut out their development projects and work with DC Universe Online which was out.

In case this game does get forgotten The Agency was an attempt at a first person shooter MMO.  It is by no means unique.  It drops the theme of Hi-Rez Studio’s Global Agenda, an espionage style first person shooter MMO.  The only difference of course is that The Agency was going to do it right.  Unlike Global Agenda it would be based on present date and would have realism and actual first person shooter mechanics.  The fantasy crowd wasn’t excited about this but who cares, it was aimed at your gun toating Call of Duty crowd.

I hope in the end someone purchases this game off of SOE and publishes it, just so they can stick it in Sony’s face when this game makes tones of dough.  I often complain about how there’s no diversity in the MMO genre and it’s largely because people slash development on them and either release them before they’re ready or cancel them.  Big Eff you to Sony on this one.

Fail #3: Sony Hacking

 At some point a buddy of mine called everyone together so he could show us all something so awesome…. a fully functional hack for PS3 and PSN so that he could play all PS3 games for free and gaining full access to the PSN network and trophies.  We all thought he was stupid for thinking this was a good idea. I mean imagine hacking an online game and being so tenacious to think that you could not only play it but also get credit for an achievement system.  He explained to us that with the way they have it setup it is completely untraceable.

So he conned a few other people to hack their PS3s and we thought they were all stupid.  Nine months later Sony Online Entertainment breaks the news that PSN was hacked.  As it turned out my friend was 100% right, PSN cannot track unauthorized users on it’s network.

The hackers stole millions of dollars through people’s credit cards.  The security attack on Sony was massive and it extended to Sony’s PC branch, Sony Online Entertainment.  This caused their entire network, including Everquest 2, Vanguard, Free Realms, and DC Universe Online.  Keep in mind historically Fail #4 came before Fail #3.  That means even worse times for Sony.

It also means less game development coming from their MMO department.

About a week into the server shut down they came out with a well organized flow chart indicating exactly how the hackers got into their systems.  You felt like you were sitting in front of some top secret SPECTRE meeting where Ernest Blofeld was explaining his diabolical plot to once and for all get rid of James Bond, make some sort of profit and put the world in jeopardy.  At the end of thise press release people had to ask themselves…. did I really need to know this?

But on top of that they spent that whole month working on security.  I mean… a week to work on a security issue, we get that.  It took 24 hours for Blizzard to resolve the hacked authenticator issue.  A month was needed to develop some massive security package.  This included a new protection for PSN and Sony Entertainment Online, identity theft protection, and a new encryption system for your pass codes.

It was all just a bit much.  I think any gamer knew that this could actually happen to anyone.  In truth if someone actually wanted to play World of Warcraft for free they’d find a way (*cough* free servers with older versions of World of Warcraft).  But Sony went to hell with it all and took more time than they really needed to deal with what should be a minor problem.

Fail #2: Final Fantasy 14

 When Square-Enix announced they were developing another MMO I think most people cringed.  This is because people remember the horror that was Final Fantasy XI.  If you remember FFXI you might remember how much a grind it was and how bad the desert of group finding was.  So Squre-Enix had a lot to improve on since their last take on the fantasy MMO was so disasterous.

So people actually had pretty high expectations for FF14 because when a game developers screws up as bad as Square-Enix did you usually learn all your mistakes all at once.  So Square-Enix tried making a successful Japanese MMO… and failed horribly again.  In a matter of a month all of the FF14 fansites started crumbling and no one was producing content for this game.

If you play the first FIVE SECONDS of the game you find out how bad the game is.  You click a button and it takes time for the interface to respond.  Menus?  Yep, horrible.  For whatever reason if you tried to find anything anywhere in this game it was impossible.  Any minor task would take forever as you had to go through multiple menues to find anything.  Valuable information was of course the most hidden thing requiring you to have to go through more and more layers of menues to hit what normally would be a keystroke away in any other MMO.

If you continued playing you continued finding problems with the game.  One major problem was with the way they handled gearing up and leveling up.  In most games you  get gear as you level through various ways, quests, dungeons, professions, and random drops.  In FF14 most of the gear came from professions, there was ocassional gear from questing but never enough to matter.  People who didn’t realize this and tried leveling without a profession felt silly when they hit a certain level and they couldn’t progress any further unless they moved back to another zone and grinded out a profession to get some gear.  It sort of sucked grinding my way to level 20 and getting like…. 4 upgrades.

Of course if you talk to Square-Enix they will tell you that you’re not supposed to be questing alone, someone is supposed to offer to help quest with you.  There’s a quest timer in the game and if you do too many quests too fast they won’t let you take anymore.  This is a tool they designed to sort of force you to be social.

I’ll give this game, it does have amazing graphics.  It probably has better graphics than any MMO has had or ever will have for the next 4-5 years.  But after that statement it’s always followed by “not worth playing.”  There aren’t many games out there that get the review of “not worth playing.”  This one takes the cake.

I should note that upon release they didn’t charge a monthly fee for the game because even the developers didn’t think it was anything worth paying for.  To date it is still free to play.  In some ways I appreciate the generosity of an honest developer who takes pride in his work.  In other ways I just wish he would have made a decent game in the first place.

Fail #1: Star Trek Online

And the biggest fail of the year is…. Star Trek Online.  Despite not being as hyped or as bad a game as Final Fantasy 14 it was a big fail, to me… personally.  Star Trek Online was supposed to be the game that Star Wars Galaxies could not be.  Instead I found myself trying to download a game that was made 6 years before this one even stated production.  After a month of playing this game people demanded that it become a free to play game.

The problem inherent in Star Trek Online’s game was the redundancy of it.  Star Trek Online could not get the feel of Star Trek’s universe right.  In the Star Trek Universe there was more to it than just fighting.  There were ground missions.  There was exploration.  There were random weird space entities that were more powerful than anything we could deal with.  Star Trek was philosophical.  Star Trek was Shakespearian.  Star Trek was creative.

Star Trek Online didn’t have this.  All ground missions could be summed up in one of two types of missions, the ones where you kill a bunch of random aliens and the ones where you collect a bunch of random things.  Then you hit level cap and realize….. they only have one dungeon.  I mean, sometimes you feel that way around some fantasy MMORPGs… but Star Trek Online literally only have one group encounter at level cap.  Most have group activities to do all the way up to level cap.  This one was a solo game all the way.

I think the big slap in the face to gamers was when Cryptic told gamers they were thinking of adding a Romulan faction to the game.  Well not the Romulan faction never did get added because instead of working on a Romulan faction they decided to add a quest line to the Klingons who until this point were leveling entirely from PvP.  That is, the game wasn’t complete.  When you tell people you have made a game with two factions they assume it means two equal factions.

Instead what you found was that Klingons had better ships and weapons for PvP and doing any sort of PvP as Federation was worthless. What you found on Klingon side was a game that got boring very quickly and was just infinitely repetitive.

I leveled with nine other friends.  Initially we leveled in groups until we found out that there was no benefit to being in a group.  In fact being  in a grou was worse because the game actually made things disproportionately harder for you if you went in a group.  If there was a mission that had one ship the mission would have three ships if you brought a friend.  If you brought another friend there’d be four ships, but one of them would be a few levels higher than you.  If you’re on a ground mission and you have 10 people in packs of one you might have 40 people in packs of 4 if you bring an extra people.  It was complete nonsense and horseshit and you were heavily encouraged to try and solo everything.

When we all finally got to the level cap as a group we found out that the only end game content available was 4-man encounters.  So in a group of 10 we could split off into two groups of four… and two people were left in the dark.  Cryptic seemed dedicated to this format as they released another small party dungeon as part of their massive project.  The developers of STO just didn’t get people wanted something massive, a large ship battle…. not this.

One of my buddies bought a lifetime subscription which was supposed to pay off after one year of play…. he played it for no more than a month.  The game simply had nothing to it and let down so many Star Trek fans.

I think the biggest loser out of all of this are science fiction MMOs who will no doubt be compared to this game for years to come.  The failure of Star Trek Online to inspire could just as well cause the scifi MMO genre to be stuck in failure.

Lingering Doubts on Cryptic Studios

When Atari had announced that they had sold Cryptic Studios to Perfect World Entertainment there was a sigh if relief from all Star Trek Online and Champion’s Online players.

But I have some doubts about the acquisition and the future of Cryptic Studios.

My first thought is on exactly why Perfect World Entertainment said that purchased the studio:

“…which will help us further penetrate into the U.S. and global online game markets.”

I don’t know.  When I first read this what I thought this meant was that they were going to continue to fund Cryptic’s games and allow the studio to operate independently.  But as I thought about it more… I started to think that they have other intentions for the studio.

I think as gamers we often forget that a studio is a physical location space.  A studio isn’t just some floaty idea or some piece of software, it’s a physical business that operates with a budget.

This means that the studio would be able to hire programmers who are willing to work in California to help work on PWE’s projects, not Cryptic’s.  It’s pretty hard to convince North Americans to move to China…. but if there’s a studio right there…

Cryptic went pretty cheaply, less than $50M.  People were estimating it’s value in the range of $100M-$150M.  For it to go so cheaply tells us one of two things:

(1) Cryptic’s games were actually doing as poorly as they say they were


(2) The only buyer shopping was only looking for a North American studio

I suspect the truth is #2.

But what would this mean for us?

If this is true it would mean that Neverwinter Nights MMO will be Cryptic’s last title.

Star Trek Online wasn’t exactly the great title they released and in truth a lot of that was because they were forced to dish it out before it was ready.  They tried their hardest to try and make it look like it was ready but when the Klingon side had absolutely no content at all (literally not metaphorically) but PvP everyone knew something was up.

Champion’s Online was also another unique failure.  It was originally supposed to be a cross-console/PC Microsoft/Marvel superhero game and all sides pulled out when most of the work was done.  I mean, it was expected to fail after they lost the Marvel endorsement.

But we were lead to believe for some time that Champion’s Online free to play model was making money and Star Trek Online although not making massive amounts of money to pay off it’s development costs, it wasn’t losing money.

Star Trek Online is definitely something to highlight.  Star Trek Online is the first MMO out there to create a User Generated Content model.  Before this came out user generated content came in the form of addons and role-playing.

This is actually some technology that could easily be something Perfect World would want to adapt into… all of their games.  As big as creativity is over here China is the culture of creative speed cup stacking.

Cryptic Studios could default down to a specialization studio that works with a very specific type of update.

Alternatively Cryptic may just become an extension for Perfect World.  They could hire from California and just work on PWE games for a North American market.

We will have to see after Neverwinter Nights comes out what happens and whether or not my lingering doubts become a reality.