Why I can’t stop playing Star Trek Online

2014-10-14_00005In many ways this has been a post I’ve been trying to write for a long time, but it clearly has been given focus by recent events.

Star Trek has always been a part of my life. I was watching The Next Generation before I was old enough to remember it (so probably as soon as it started). My dad had all (four) movies and two random original series episodes on VHS (the episodes were The Trouble With Tribbles and The Enterprise Incident, not because they were his favorites but because they were the ones in stock at the store).

I remember first using the porch as the bridge of the Enterprise. I don’t remember anything else about he porch on that house, but I started using LEGOs for Star Trek around the same time, and that pretty much never stopped. What started with a sister’s first attempt at building a starship lead to significant revisions and using the entire LEGO table as Earth Spacedock. Eventually I built custom classes of ships based on show designs and made my own decals in the computer and glued them on.

It wouldn’t take much investigating for you to discover that most Star Trek video games over the years have been garbage, with the big exception of the 4 (or 5 including Checkov’s Lost Missions)-disc CD-ROM classic Starfleet Academy. This had the proto-dialogue options you’d recognize today in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, with the main gameplay of a dogfight simulator. Fully acted out in computer generated environments (think Quake, not Avatar) it might have looked a little funny but the acting was solid and featured the talents of Walter Koenig, William Shatner, and George Takei. It became the standard I held as to whether a Star Trek game was any good, and pretty much nothing after it measured up.

NimoyAnd now let’s take some time to talk about Leonard Nimoy. We have been gifted with his work as Spock for almost fifty years. The 2009 movie is an enormous gift in that regard, and that is because Nimoy guarded Spock with such passion over the years. SyFy this past weekend highlighted his appearance in TNG (Unification), but what most people don’t realize is how often Nimoy was invited back to the franchise, and how regularly he turned them down. Time and again he was offered the part and he would look at the script. He protected Spock as a parent would a child, so when the scripts frequently didn’t matter if Spock were there or not he declined.

The first instance I’m aware of this was Star Trek Generations. The film starts out with Kirk, Scotty & Chekov on the ceremonial maiden voyage of the Enterprise B, but it was supposed to be Kirk, Spock & McCoy. Supposedly Nimoy pointed out that the script didn’t do anything with Spock or McCoy, and that you could swap them out with any other cast member and it still worked. This is why Chekov’s lines are reminiscent of Bones and why he’s playing medic when we’ve never seen that before. This is also why Kirk is running to Engineering instead of Scotty.

Given this dedication to the character, Nimoy’s presence alone in Abrams’ films was a stamp of approval for Spock’s journey in it. And while we have now been given that gift for the last time, Nimoy has done more in Star Trek in the past five years than many realize. He did a good amount of voice work as Spock in Star Trek Online.

Star Trek Online takes place in the 25th century, starting in the year 2409. However the latest movie in the in-universe timeline occurs in 2380, with the destruction of Romulus that Spock told us about happening in 2388. That’s a lot of time to catch up on considering we had at least one TV show running constantly set in the years of 2365-2378. So far removed from what the player knows, the game has a full history known as the Path to 2409, but you can’t count on players to read a summary of each year before they play a game to catch up.

Enter Leonard Nimoy. In character, Nimoy provides crucial context to what is going on in the game. As well as narrating the opening sequence for the Federation, Spock talks to the player about each new space map when you enter it for the first time, explaining the situation you’re flying into. Knowing that Nimoy had been part of the game was the only seal of approval I needed, especially after it went free-to-play. The game is certainly not perfect, and was definitively less so when it first launched, but knowing the stories and scripts had passed Nimoy’s quality control was telling.

2013-12-01_00031One of the big problems with the recent films has been the focus on action, but if you don’t get that right in a video game then you have failed completely. One needs look no further for proof of this than Star Trek Legacy, which had story but terrible gameplay. STO’s space combat is well-refined for this reason. Ground combat of the other hand didn’t start out well, and was still a big issue at launch. It’s come a long way since then, but is still inferior to the space-combat experience. However action is only one part of the experience.

conference Not every mission is purposefully a battle. Sure, most of them still end up that way at some point, but we get the full gambit of missions, from trade negotiations to scientific investigations to preemptive strikes on an enemy base. The stories have slight personal aspects depending on what you’re playing as, especially for the beginning of the game. As new content has been added, the talents of Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Chase Masterson, Robert Duncan McNeil, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips, Jerry Ryan, Tim Russ and Garrett Wang have all been added. While Nimoy gave the narrative for the original game, Denise Crosby as Empress Sela did the job for the Romulan expansion, and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine for the Delta Quadrant.

2409crewThe game is broken down into three different classes; tactical officers, engineers, and science officers. This in turn correlates with three main types of starships; escorts/warships, cruisers, and science vessels. The game has ship classes independent of Officer type, so one can be a science officer with an escort if desired. The game for Starfleet goes against established uniform codes and uses different colors for engineering and tactical officers. This is done to differentiate classes at a glance, and also I’m sure so that once again your no-name security officers are Redshirts. I have of course ignored this for my bridge officers on all characters and recolored them to gold, reserving red for command.

Sierra1 While the game gives you massive customization options (many of them as in-game-purchases), i cannot bring myself to deviate from established uniform code anymore. This however is significant, because when the game launched I couldn’t stand the way the uniforms looked. For the most part the standard uniform was okay, but i always had to recolor the grey to black before i was okay with it. However, the big issue was that there were TEN standard Starfleet uniforms, and aside from your bridge officers, you have no control over the uniforms of your crew. So if you decided you wanted to use the TNG movie uniforms, only your senior officers could follow suit, while the lower decks did whatever the hell they felt like. This finally changed with the introduction of the Odyssey uniform, where the developers finally decided that Starfleet should really have one uniform as standard and updated all the NPCs accordingly. I’d still love being able to establish “crew uniforms” just as guilds (fleets) can establish “fleet uniforms,” but that is a long way away if it ever happens.

Odyssey Uniform While the development team has done a wonderful job with the game’s missions, they also created The Foundry. The Foundry is akin to StarCraft’s map editor, letting players create and share their own missions. These are searchable and available by simply flying up to the planet or system where it would start. With feedback in both ratings and reviews, it’s fairly easy to determine what you’re getting into and if you’ll enjoy it. Between the community’s own creations and the constant stream of updates from the development team, Star Trek Online remains the one game I can’t stop playing. I haven’t touched it in about a week, but that’s because I don’t have the time to spend two hours with Captain Paris and his daughter on the latest mission unless Bunny has Liam, and I’m not going to play the other characters (yes I have 8 total) when there’s a new mission I’ve never done before.