Star Trek Online vblog #6: Broken Games

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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.

Why did Star Trek Online Fail?

I started writing my second in the series of “Fail MMOs” however after looking into the game I wasn’t entirely sure this game had failed yet.  If you missed the first in this series please go ahead and check out “Why Did Global Agenda Fail?

Today I’ve decided to examine the main reasons why Star Trek Online failed.  First, some background.

(1) It Might Have Been Destined to Fail

For a video version of this a podcast called STOked did a Youtube specifically on how rocky of a start STO has had:

It’s a 50 minute video so the short of it is this:

Sony Online Entertainment originally owned the intellectual properties for Star Trek Online.  It was originally being developed as an MMO for PS2.  Obviously it was dumped because of how horribly console based MMOs were doing.  Sony dropped the properties when they acquired the rights to Star Wars Galaxies and started to dump their funding into it.  Competing space games was not a cool idea for them.

Perpetual Gaming picked up the intellectual properties in 2004.  The only work that Perpetual did was renderings and art work, never any actual game play.  Perpetual like Sony was building a competing MMO, this one called Gods and Heroes.  Of course this MMO never made it anywhere as Perpetual declared bankruptcy and started selling off intellectual properties left and right.  Perpetual had apparently $9M in financing from a Korean gaming company called Gravity Gaming.  They attempted to get the intellectual property and any work they did in it so they could produce a free to play Star Trek MMO.

Cryptic Gaming creates a gaming engine for STO and puts a bid on the intellectual properties for the game.  Atari provides funding for Cryptic to purchase the title.  Atari was sold on providing Cryptic with this money in a partnership deal after seeing the gaming engine and concept art for this game.

Basically this game went through roughly 10 years of being tossed and turned between different developers before release.  When it finally got to Cryptic Studios it looked like it was finally going to get developed.  Cryptic took their engine from a different game and just finished up work.  It was completed in record time, less than two years to develop this MMO.

(2) It Might Not have Been Finished

When I played beta with a friend we went through the game and loved it.  However never at any point was Klingon available on beta.  We thought that this was a one-faction game and we were mostly fine with this at the time.  We liked a lot of things about this game including the character creator, the starship battles, and the mission concepts.

When the game went live… it suddenly felt so incomplete.  This is because when the game went live it did so with a PvP system that I cannot for the life of me ever remember being tested with a Klingon faction.  My other friend who was in beta (and bought the life time package) told me that yes, it was in beta it just wasn’t tested that much.

The Klingon faction went live with no missions (quests) at all.  Cryptic pretended as if this was intended by constantly telling us that Klingons would level through Player vs Player content.  I did it myself and after hitting max level and finding there was nothing for Klingons I was forced to level up a Federation character and deck my ship out.

Even the end game on Federation felt sort of week having nothing to do once you level cap other than PvP.  It just felt like they were creating a game where you level and do nothing more.  I will grant that the leveling experience was great, it did however take less than a week.

Another major problem was the lack of “group instances” available while leveling.  There was a group PvP event and there was a bunch of group raids that no one did because they were too complicated and were event driven.

(3) Content Updates Didn’t Come in Time

When you run out of things in a game (even one like World of Warcraft) and you promise something super cool will stay around for a little more to try it out.  Cryptic for whatever reason felt that they could do monthly updates like World of Warcraft did originally in Vanilla.

When the first month passed and there was no content update, people started questioning things.  It wasn’t until two months in that the first content update came out.  The stuff that came out was the sort of stuff that should have come out at launch, mainly the games first dungeon.  Because there really were no other dungeons before this one there was no learning curve.  The difficulty they presented in it lead to this inevitable problem of you actually have had to done it already to know how to do it.  This limited the people who could actually do this to those who were in Fleets that went on beta and spent time figuring them out.

When the next month passed and there was no update people started feeling disenfranchised.  It was bad enough they reduced the monthly fee and the cost of the game (meaning it would take two years of play to pay for that lifetime membership).

It wasn’t until 4 months in that the Klingon content was released.  Basically the content patches that came out ended up being content that people actually just expected to be available at launch.  Keep in mind, around this time Cryptic is talking about releasing a playable Romulan faction after how horribly the Klingon faction went.

After the Klingon patch it came a patch every three months.  They did come out with some great ideas.  Their most impressive of course was their user created missions concept.  Which of course was too late because all the creative people were off playing Mindcraft.

As content updates seemed further and further apart this user created content engine just seemed like a cop out… as if to say they were going to be making less and less content.  I mean weeks before this they had said they were increasing the level cap, thus evaporating all the difficult content they had made before.

The main problem with when a game goes to user created content is that, that is all it ever ends up being anything more than that.  Developers end up fixing problems with the engine or adding new features to it instead of making content themselves.  This leads to our next problem…

(4) It Just Doesn’t Feel That Massively Multiplayer

The key aspect of a massively multiplayer online game is that it brings large groups of people together with differing skill sets in order to accomplish a mutual goal.

Given that you can find two problems with STO, first off that classes didn’t feel that different.  In this game you chose a ship class and a ground class, both of which wouldn’t necessarily have to be the same.  For example you could be an engineer running around with a tanking ship (inefficiently) while being forced into a support role on ground missions.  In this game all the roles just felt so hemogenous other than the healing ships.  At no point did you ever feel like you were performing a role as everyone (except Medical) just felt  like DPS regardless.  Think of a first person shooter.  Compare say Team Fortress 2, to a game like Call of Duty 4.  In Call of Duty 4 you have multiple roles… but they all essentially do the same thing… just in different ways.  Team Fortress 2 on the other hand offers many different roles offering insanely different tools to beat the enemy with.

The other end of this is the massively element… just a whole bunch of people doing something together.  STO never had that.  And it’s not because of the franchise.  Star Trek is known for it’s massive battles.  Here’s a few clips as evidence:

Deep Space 9: Dominion War

Star Trek The next Generation: First Contact

Star Trek has had TONES of mass ship battles.  But when you got to STO what you were stuck with was a pile of small battles that feel underwhelming.  You are always setting out with 5-6 ships tops doing mediocre tasks.  In one mission I did in a group my missing was to destroy a few cube ships one at a time.  And then after that we beamed on the ground and killed 2-3 main borg dudes.  It was kind of fun… but not epic.  It felt like Cryptic had released The Deadmines and told us this was all the end game content they intended to release for two months.

The actual “raiding” type content they came up with was unattractive because it lacked any real incentive… and on top of that it was event driven stuff.  Honestly you organize a raid and you’re 5 minutes late and because of that you miss half of the event.  Then some schmuck who is pugging it gets full credit and full reward since he was there doing the easy stuff from the start… yeah not that encouraging.

And honestly the actual massive raid content stuff they came up with (which was available from insanely low levels) ended up being objective driven stuff like “Kill 300 ships” or “Kill 200 Lieutenants.”  On top of this the AI is pretty terrible.  I remember the ships not attacking you until you attack specifically them.  You’d have this giant line up of ships and only four of them attacking you at once.

In the end this might have made a really amazing single player game for Xbox 360 or PS3, not really something massively multiplayer.  And as a final point of interest…

(5) The Game Got Boring

In fantasy MMOs they can keep a combat system interesting by relying on procs, effects, rotations, buffs. debuffs, or events to control what buttons you are pushing and how you are pushing them.  For example on my warrior whenever Sudden Death pops up I will Colossal Smash.  It is a way of making it so that you are constantly doing something cool all the time, as if every decision was something unplanned that you did on the spot to maximize your performance.

STO didn’t have that.

STO had two different combat systems, both of which were horribly boring (one moreso than the other).

The most boring of the two was space combat.  It’s not that you didn’t have something to do because your finger clicks were insanely important on this.  However it was the same thing over and over.  You have two things to worry about, defenses and offenses.  Proper defenses means moving your ship around so your shields are being burned equally and changing shield power from one to the other slowly.

So now you have your offensive system.  They tried to come up with different types of each but they really ended up being the same thing.  There are three types of weapons.  The first are phasers.  Phasers are used to drain energy from your shields to make the hull of your ship vulnerable.  the second type of weapons are torpedoes.  Torpedoes are used against a hull and are mostly blocked by shields.  The third type of weapon which ended up being a mostly PvP weapon was the mines which did a lot of damage all around but required people to run into them.

So basically what you were supposed to do was rotate shields around while firing phasers at a person until their shields on that side were down and then launch your torpedos.  Of course what people always ended up doing was just firing all of their weapons at once in a strafing pattern.  This of course gave rise to the habit of using every single defensive and offensive cooldown at once to front load everything.

If they wanted to fix this games combat they could have made tanking classes get procs that would reset tanking cooldowns or abilities.  Instead you are left on a game whose combat feels very static.

On to the second combat system… land based combat.

Land based combat had two main aspects, firing your phaser weapon and a class based kit.  Each class gets access to a certain set of kits each with different utility moves (3 tops) that can be used.  Most of the utility things they do end up not being entirely great or insanely situational.  I remember being an engineer and having a group look at me like I’m an idiot because I didn’t have the healing generator and the aoe snare kit.  Oh, didn’t know that I’d need this one of the 30 kits.

My point, when you want certain moves they’re not available to you.  Instead you’re stuck spamming your hand phase button and using your other things every now and then.

The one ground mission I did was probably the only part of the end game that was remotely fun.

In the end you might say this game failed simply because it was not a very good game.  Cryptic was under constant pressure to on the one hand make a good game and on the other hand make a game that Trekkies will enjoy.  In the end Trekkies looked upon it and frowned as it missed the spirit of Star Trek.  All the while gamers found this game’s entertainment value ended after the leveling experience.  It failed because it was in fact, a bad game.

Well I Uninstalled STO

The game is a victory and a tragedy all in one.  For the discounted price of $20 I was able to go through the greatest level experience of my life.  All the stories are rich and fulfilling.  All of the class abilities are fun.  All of the game was great (other than ground combat kind of stinking)… and yet it left me unfulfilled.

I haven’t played the game in two weeks.  I used to play it once a day to get my daily stuff out of the way, then I knocked out doing the two special task forces, then I cut out doing the explorations, and then I stopped doing the arenas.  It really left nothing to the game.  I tried playing a klingon, got is all the way to captain… and then I was just devoid of PvP to keep me going as no one was queuing for captain level PvP.

The game was a little more disheartening than quitting Aion.  For one I am a huge Star Trek fan so it took me a little longer to stop playing than that.  I also convinced a few friends to play with me and did refer a friend with them, but once we got to end game we had nothing to do.

I’d like to say I’d try the game out again once they increase the level cap but I’m not sure if I will.  I may just keep it uninstalled for good.  Case in point we’re less than two weeks away from the launch of Starcraft 2 and the Cataclysm beta is due early Autumn.

Right now I’m playing:

Global Agenda
Counter Strike:Source
World of Warcraft
Dawn of Discovery: Venice

There’s just no room for STO in my life at the moment considering all four of these games are more fun and take up more of my time.  STO would be so quickly replaced by Starcraft 2 and everything will get replaced by Cataclysm.

Sorry Cryptic Studios but you’ve lost yourself a customer.

STO To increase level cap

A little bit of late news but STO (Star Trek Online) will be increasing their leveling cap from 55 to 65.  The makers of the game realized very quickly that they invented a game without content.  Most of the pre-order benefits and lifetime benefits that were offered are being revoked.  Ironically one of the rewards was one free level… which means that a lot of the game will be logging in to Rear Admiral 4 (instead of Rear Admiral 5).

This is just one of the many changes that has happened to the game.  The game dropped the price by almost half by the time I bought it.  After one month they’ve added two new STFs, but now we’re going to wait a new month for content.  What they will be offering is new klingon content (actual missions), federation content, and the promise of one new mission per week.

Blood in the water or positive direction?

I think this is an admission by Cryptik Studios that they know exactly what they do well, and it is unfortunately not end game content.  The best part of this game was always leveling.  The missions were fun and entertaining.  But once you hit max level you kind of were playing and gearing hoping that something good is coming around… but it wasn’t.  So now the only reason to gear is to have an easier time hitting the new max cap.

This could possibly be a bad sign for the STO franchise, that it may come to an end faster than expected.  Right now people are paying a subscription for a game that does not have fun content to play.  Cryptic knows this.  Instead of working on improving the game as is they’re just increasing the level cap.  This means you get ten more points to invest into your spec.  They also promised some kind of fleet type thing, which probably won’t happen.

I just think they need to come up with some kind of progressive raiding system.  Even a single boss raid encounter wouldn’t hurt.  Something that would involve bringing 20 ships or so into a zone and taking down some mega super cube.  I mean the first 5-man they came out with we kicked out the Borg Queen and the next one we walked all over the Undine.

In Star Trek:DS9 (the only war time Star Trek series) there were multiple enemies within every faction.  Right now there is only one Klingon enemy (that captain dude who may be future chancelor because of family ties).  Compare that to DS9’s Cardassians who had Dumar and Dukat in the military branch and Tain in the intelligence branch.  Once they added in the allegiances you got to see one prophet, 2-3 different Vorta and a Jem’Hadar or two.

There’s no repeatable enemies to deal with yet.  There’s no excitement in this end game story.  What I feel is that they need to have one or two characters manipulating everything and making things happen… and they sit in the background awaiting you.  You get 4-5 instances where you are fighting some pretty big mass battles.  I mean I want something like the recapture of DS9 with a fleet of ships taking on a fleet of ships.  When the battle of DS9 happened there was this feeling that if they took it or not it would be a turning point in the war.  When I slaughter the Borg Queen in infected or close down the recreation of DS9 at the Terradome it just feels like I’m doing it because its the only thing to do.  As well I have to know that its possible to fail.  Like I can do some raid night in STO and I can fail all night.  The beginner content has to be so easy anyone can do it so people learn how to do it… but after that it has to be progressive talent.

This new patch could be near the end of STO.  Cryptic is in a bad spot.  They have to pump out content very quickly or else they are done.  They are promising possibly too much.  Free to play may be sooner than anyone ever expected.