I suppose this means the U.S.S. Fort Kent needs to have natural lighting in the light panels

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Captain Teegan of the U.S.S. Fort Kent(All pictures are screenshots taken by me while in Star Trek Online. Click on the thumbnails to get full sized easily looked at pictures and junk.)

So here we are. It's January. Earlier this week, Star Trek Online went into Open Beta after being in Closed Beta since October.

And, unlike many or even most folks, I've actually been in that Closed Beta almost from the beginning. My invite came in early October, which isn't quite the beginning but is near enough as no-nevermind. Certainly, I feel fortunate in that regard.

And so, I've seen a lot of changes and evolution, I've written forum posts and bug reports. I've tried my best to make it a better game. And now here I am and I can finally talk about it publicly.

Do you want the 'in a nutshell?' Okay. This is a good game. It's a lot of fun. It's pretty darn Star Trekish. I'm glad to have been a tester, I am preordered for the game, and I expect to be playing it for years to come.

Not everyone will agree with me on these facts -- which is understandable. The game isn't what I would have created if I were capable of creating a game. Neither is it the game you would have created. In the back of every gamer's head, every Star Trek fan's head, and every game-playing star trek fan's head is a nebulous half-formed idea of what a Star Trek Game should be. It's impossible for any of us to articulate what that is, because it's just a half-formed notion. However, you will know it when you see it. And when you look at Star Trek Online or any other game, you're going to have to leven your "this is so cool!" or "this sucks!" reaction with the sure knowledge that this game isn't that game in the back of your head. It can't be.

So. I'm going to go through some of my impressions of the game, and some of my beta experiences, and there will be lots of screenshots. Not screenshots generated by the press kits or PR folks at Cryptic, mind. These are the screen shots I took as I went along in the game. The ships you see in these shots are ones I created and piloted. The characters you see are either my Captains or their trusty Bridge Officers. That initial picture up in the corner? That's a perky red haired Trill Captain, crouching next to her Captain's chair on the bridge of the U.S.S. Fort Kent.

And at least one of those bridge officers? Is a tree. I totally made a Tree bridge officer. I am weirdly proud of this fact.

And, as this is going to be long and there will be many pictures, I am going to put it behind a 'click here to continue' wall. And I'm going to try and avoid just going over all the stuff that press previews and beta reviews and the like have done. This is "what Eric Burns-White liked as he went through the game." Sure, I like the whole "fight in space and then down on the ground in an episode" thing, but that didn't excite me nearly as much as "oh my God did that tribble reproduce?" and "Holy crap, I made a Tree bridge officer!"

Click on, if you dare. Or, you know, feel like it.

U.S.S. John StarkThe Tutorial and the Very Beginning

To the right, you see the U.S.S. John Stark, the very first ship one of my characters commanded in Star Trek Online. This was a heady time and exciting. It was a largely unmodified Miranda class light cruiser -- otherwise known as 'that kind of ship the U.S.S. Reliant was -- you know, the one Khan commanded in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." It's a largely unmodifed Miranda, except I replaced the nacelles with something a little more rugged and modernish looking.

But you'll notice the profile is very, very right. I have another picture of the John Stark flying through the nebula (this, by the by, is the Paulson Nebula, from "The Best of Both Worlds" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation) head on -- it's not as good a shot, so I didn't include it here, but looking at it I have a weird feeling of deja vu... and then I realized why. It was a shot that belonged on the viewscreen of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan just before Kirk shouts "evade to Starboard!" and the two cannons on the outer struts start to fire. As a side note, if you have a single phaser bank it fires from specific ports on the front dish. If you have a 'dual' phaser it fires from those two cannons, just like in Wrath of Khan. The art department clearly worked hard on this.

And that's one thing to point out. This was the first ship I ever commanded in the game -- the first ship any of the spaceborne stuff was presented to me, and I was amazed at how right it felt. It's a "light cruiser," a Tier 1 ship out of five possible tiers, and the least powerful ship in the game... but going to full warp, flying at impulse, banking into a turn to present a fresh shield towards an enemy and firing a barrage of phasers and photon torpedoes this felt like a Star Trek starship. Not a 'starter ship,' but a multi-tonned ship nearly three hundred meters long (almost twice as long as the Pennsylvania class battleships of World War II, I would point out) crewed by 200 souls. This wasn't a chintzy "play this for four hours and then get a real ship" toy, this was a United Federation of Planets Starship, and it felt like it.

U.S.S. Fort KentBut we should talk the tutorial.

The tutorial changed many times in the beta, and honestly they blur together, so let me just say "it was okay, then it got better and Cryptic actually listened to us about it. Go us." And I'll hit the high points of the current tutorial as of Open Beta:

You are a young officer serving aboard the Starship [whatever you named your starship]. It is a time of war, and so there is an influx of new faces and new blood. Your ship is called to Vega after a general alert -- the Borg, missing since the end of Voyager -- have made their first incursion, and Starfleet has to try and stop them.

You're guided through your initial steps -- you first appear in a mess hall -- by the disembodied voice of Zachary Quinto, who does a reasonable if somewhat generic job. They give a reason for his voice being your guide, but it only comes later on in the tutorial, which seems a touch... odd. Still, it's nice enough. Movement is easy enough to master, and then you're summoned to the bridge. The flagship -- the U.S.S. Khitomer -- has been attacked and boarded and the Emergency Medical Hologram (again voiced by Quinto) has called for help, as he is overwhelmed by patients and doesn't have any means of contacting the senior staff. Your captain sends you to help the EMH.

And here I have to pause. Zachary Quinto does a perfectly passable EMH voice, and he offers to keep a combadge-connection with you after you meet him, but honestly, it would have been 7.4 thousand times cooler to hear Robert Picardo's voice instead of Quinto's. Right now, the only Trek voice actors in the game are Quinto and Leonard Nimoy -- both cool, and a nice tie between the Abrams Star Trek and the original Star Trek, but this is a video game essentially set in the post-Next Generation, with way more callbacks to the TNG-through-Voyager era than anything else, and they have absolutely no voice actors from any of that time period. At least, not yet. This is a glaring omission and I hope it gets rectified very early in STO's life. Sure, getting Patrick Stewart would rock (and it's not like he's adverse to voicing video games) and I will always want to hear Avery Brooks, but heck -- Jonathan Frakes, Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Nana Visitor, Alexander Siddig, Jeri Ryan, Colm Meaney, John Billingsley, Dominic Keating -- I could go on, but it comes down to there's a billion guys with voices that will help immerse us in your game, and not all of them will want a billion dollars to do it. They don't have to voice their iconic characters, but they should be in there voicing stuff.

Screenshot 2009-12-16-15-57-06Anyway -- the tutorial is a great time. In it, you help with patients, beam Borg into space, find out these borg are somehow faulty and disconnected and therefore are vulnerable (with an easter egg for the type of Borg we'll be dealing with at the Admiral level), discover a subsequent attack wiped out the bridge and left you in temporary command, pilot your ship, rescue injured personnel off of several ships, blow up some faulty Borg spheres, beam down to a planet, learn some more things, save some colonists, deactivate some Borg macguffins, go back and fight the Borg off alongside a few dozen of your closest friends (since it's a multiplayer/raid style ending, which feels right. You're suddenly in a pitched battle with ships everywhere firing phasers -- it's very, very cool). And then you're commissioned as commanding officer of your ship (it is, as we said, a time of war and right now there is a shortage of commanders. You seem to have what it takes, so... there is some Trek precedent for this, even if it's a bit stretched here). And you level up.

By the by, going up in levels is twofold -- one, you rise in levels like normal, as you accrue Skill Points. (You also accrue Bridge Officer Points for your bridge officers to improve.) Two, when you spend enough Skill Points you rise in rank -- to, say, Lieutenant. Or Lieutenant Commander. Et cetera. At the same time, when you go up in 'grade' (normal levelling, from L2 to 3, for example), you're surrounded by a DS9 transporter effect for a second and then Leonard Nimoy says "congratulations, Lieutenant!" (or whatever rank you are).

That's right. Spock gratzes you. This became a thing in closed beta, because a bug meant everyone around you heard Nimoy say it, so at places where levelling was common his voice became overwhelming.

Once you've gotten through this, you go on missions (patrol missions for short skirmishes, exploration missions for a variety of content, and 'episodes' where you go through five or six interconnected missions that tell a story.

The Crew of the John StarkThe First Crew

Over to the left, you see (and as with all these pictures you can click to enlarge) the crew of the U.S.S. John Stark. The art is significantly rougher than it would later become (the disadvantage of screenshots in closed beta), and they're carrying enough monumentally oversized ironmongery to make the Ghostbusters and the guy from Doom shake their heads and mutter about compensation, but even in this early build you can see how well the system worked even back then. The center woman -- the blond -- is a Bajoran captain modeled after Trudy Glick from Gossamer Commons. (I should point out that my lead characters tend to be female, after the Francis Ottoman defense: if I'm going to be staring at an ass in tight clothes all day, it better be a nice ass.)

At this point, it was all purely random, and the pool was limited. Today things are much broader, and we're millimeters away from that increasing, but back then what you got is what you got. So my Bajoran captain got a male Bajoran engineer, a female Bajoran tactical officer, a female Andorian tactical officer, and an 'unknown' male officer. You can then go to the tailor and remake them however you like within the confines of your race. I did my best to make the Unknown officer a Xolchipalian from my old Superguy series, and I think I managed it pretty well.

The John Stark Crew at the beach!I didn't really get a sense of 'person' from these characters -- I put way more emphasis on actually trying to push to my first 'Tier 2' ship. Still, even at this early stage the characters were cool. This group shot of them on the beach of a colony world is really very nice. At the same time, take another look at that picture up at the top, of a current character crouching on her bridge. The art has jumped forward a quantum leap as you can see. And with it, a sense of embodiment in the characters.

On the other hand, there were ships to earn. A ship, in particular. You see, I loved my Miranda. It was really amazing. But when you are promoted to Lieutenant Commander, you get to select a Tier 2 ship. Some of these are Escorts - fast, small ships with a lot of punch, culminating in ships like the U.S.S. Defiant from DS9, some are Science Vessels (ships like the U.S.S. Equinox from Voyager, and culminating in ships like the U.S.S. Voyager and beyond itself). But the other choice are the tanklike cruisers.

In this case... the Constitution Class. The very epitome of Star Trek itself. This is your first chance to really put your hands on the Enterprise. Or at least a ship that looks like it.

Screenshot 2009-12-04-23-03-34Now, in this case it is not really the Constitution Class I picked. You see, each new ship tier has three different classes of ship in it -- they have identical stats, but look somewhat different. And then you can mix and match parts between them if you want, until you have a unique looking ship (with perhaps some paint on the hull) that doesn't really match up to any of the classes. At Tier 2, the cruisers you can pick are the classic Constitution class (a movie-era Enterprise clone -- really remarkable how close it is, too), the Vesper -- which has a guppy-like secondary hull and looks somewhat like someone took the U.S.S. Excelsior and crushed it down into the size of a Constitution class ship, and the 'modern' Excalibur class -- updated versions of all the parts. I took an Excalibur under the name the U.S.S. Bennington, and you can see it's a pretty exciting ship (it's over on the left). It looks and feels right, in every way.

Starships and You

USS MaineFlying an Excalibur is like flying a Miranda, but moreso. I've actually flown a lot of ships now -- a Rapier, an Akira, a Gallant (think Defiant), a Galaxy, a Nova, an Intrepid, and a Dakota, at different times during the beta. In each case, I felt like I could make it my own, and in each case it felt like a natural evolution of my character and his (well, her) command and responsibility. At the same time, different ships fly differently. The Galaxy class (represented over on the right by the U.S.S. Maine) is a stately and powerful ship, but it takes forever to turn or even to stop. Which makes eminent sense. It is not nimble, it is powerful and strong, capable of taking many barrages but not of outmaneuvering Klingon Birds of Prey.

U.S.S. New Hampshire

By contrast, the U.S.S. New Hampshire is a Gallant class ship (variation of the Defiant), which is in the same tier as the Maine but is an Escort instead of a Cruiser. it is tiny (with a crew of 50 compared to the Maine's 1000) but amazingly dextrous, able to bank and turn and run rings around her larger sister ship. And while the Maine can take amazing punishment while wearing its opposition down, the New Hampshire has the raw punch to turn her enemies into pudding -- which is good because her shields are made out of meringue and her hull is made out of tinfoil.

The key point here is distinction. There's no real reason to upgrade ships if the new ships don't A) have marked advantages over the lower tiers and B) the new ships don't feel different. Flying escorts feels somewhat the same from ship to ship, but flying a Rapier class ship, versus an Akira, and then a Defiant all yield different experiences and even if their practical effects are similar, through it all you get a different feel for what you're doing.

Playing the Game


Screenshot 2009-12-29-01-36-39So we've talking a lot about the trappings of the game, but how does the game play? We know it's a space game where you fire at ships, and it's a ground game where you're mixing it up like Kirk and Riker on Crystal Meth -- what does the actual gameplay feel like and does it actually work, mister Writer-Man.

In short, the game plays very well -- very well -- but has room to improve over time.

Of the two halves of Star Trek Online, the Space Game is by far the more polished. This is the franchise, and they've committed to it. Great care and attention has been taken to making the ship combat feel like Star Trek ship combat -- from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan all the way up to Star Trek Nemesis with lots of side-roads into the Dominion War for good measure. (Note that I didn't put the Abrahms Star Trek in that list -- the feel of that movie is very, very different than what we've seen before, and it is quite literally a different license. They are in the 'Prime' universe, not the alternate one. And there is absolutely no true crossing over). Ships turn and bank and broadside one another with much of the feel of the tall ships of the 19th century wet navy, with some third dimension added in. I say some because you're pretty much limited to ascending or descending at 45 degrees maximum (slightly more for the very maneuverable ships like the Defiant) which means you have to spiral and tack your way up or down. The justification is simple -- on Star Trek ships stay level to one another and generally on the same plane, but I think the effect of that could have been achieved by limiting ships to 85 degree vertical pitch and no capacity to tip over or turn upside down.

Akira backlit

In combat, you have your shields, you have beam weapons (phasers and disruptors, plus a plethora of other beams as you move up in level), cannons (the same energy types as beams, but in much harder hitting pulses -- think of the Defiant's phaser pulse cannons), torpedoes (photon, plasma, quantum, etc.) and mines (same types as torpedos). What you have determines your style -- if you're all beams with torpedoes mounted forward, you do a lot of turning profile and broadsiding your enemy with as much beam energy as you can (so long as your weapon power holds out), then swerving to bring torpedoes to bear after his shields are weak enough. If you have cannons and torpedoes, you're more likely to go head-on, reinforcing your forward shields over and over again while you hammer your enemies with your powerful front arsenal. 'Consoles' can be slotted into your ship to modify their abilities, which means two different ships may play very differently.

A ship over Deep Space 9You also have your bridge crew's 'bridge powers.' Depending on what station you put them at, they can bring tactical powers (loading more than one torpedo, targeting the enemy's shield emitter, overloading the phasers and the like), engineering powers (emergency power boosts to shields or weapons, 'reversing shield polarity' to absorb some of the incoming energy to reinforce the shields, emergency repairs to the hull and the like) and science powers (using tachyons to degrade shields, using tractor beam energy to knock aside enemies or hold them in place, finding cloaked ships). In addition, you have some powers of your own, depending on your own speciality. For example, Captains who were Engineers before they transferred to Command can eventually rotate shield frequencies to get a boost to their defenses. Scientists can develop scanning sweeps that find weaknesses in your enemy ships. Tactical captains can mess their enemies up. Stuff like that. As a result, the combinations mean two ostensibly identical ships can have entirely different weapon loads, installed equipment and upgrades, Bridge and Captain based powers and fight entirely differently. It's hard to get too bored.

On the ground, it's entirely a different game. In any situation where there's any chance of combat, you are an Away Team of 5. If you're teamed with other players, you beam down with them. If not, you're with four of your bridge officers. (You choose which ones.) In one nice touch they could do more with, the appropriate bridge officers on the ground and on the ship report to you. So, your tactical officer on the ground may mention if there's a group of Gorn approaching. Your engineer will comment on the machine you're examining. Your science officer will report on the weird radiation the crystals are giving off. Stuff like that. Meanwhile, when someone shows up in orbit, one of your officers still on the ship will call you. Combat is paced well, with lots of forward flips, good tactics, kneeling to aim, and powers powers powers. Your Engineer might reinforce your personal shields, for example (you have a personal shield now -- a derivation from Borg technology) or set up a series of Chroniton mines or a phaser turret. Your science officer might break out the medical tricorder and heal everyone or might create a 'gravimetric' snare that holds your enemies in place. Tactical officers might... look, they're tactical officers. They shoot things and they sweep their legs so they can shoot them again, okay?

Okay then. So let's talk... personality.

A classic shotPersonality: bringing your Bridge Officers to life

Most of your time -- all your solo time, really -- it's just your captain and the bridge officers, and together they form the core of your Star Trek experience. (well, that and your ship). At the same time, the tools to really embody your crew with personality aren't great right now. Really, this should be a series -- rather than your character being 'Captain Zyzla,' your character should be Star Trek Online: Bennington about the voyages of the U.S.S. Bennington. Your whole crew should be a part of your 'character,' and the tools should support you using them that way.

Unfortunately, they don't. You have a Captain's log (which thankfully gives you real world dates and consistent Stardates) that lets you both make unique entries and add 'supplemental' entries to the official log entries made by the game when you accept a mission or the like. And you can set both your Captain's description and your officers' descriptions. But, you can't make Log entries on behalf of your bridge officers. They are forever mute.

However, what you can do is customize them. Every time you receive a new bridge officer, they come with a free pass to the tailor. So, you can change everything about them except their race and their gender. (A sticking point with some, to be sure). You can greatly alter them physically, and you can go kind of wild with their uniforms, which among other things lets you create a crew that looks good standing next to each other.

Screenshot 2009-12-22-07-59-26So, this is where you can add personality -- everything from their clothes to their face to their stance can be changed. Take as an example a Bajoran science officer I received with one of my characters. I've had several male Bajoran officers, and the prospect of another just bored me. However, I decided to make his complexion 'aged,' make his hair white and his eyebrows a bit bushy, gave him the 'gruff' stance, and voila -- an older Bajoran 'country doctor,' best known for his wisdom and his curmudgeonly behavior. I put him in the STO equivalent of a cardigan and gave him the nickname 'Doc,' and there you go -- a character who actually feels like he has character. If nothing else, I could assign him characteristics in my mind. I include a screenshot of one of his dialogue pieces, and hopefully you can see a little bit of what made Doc Doc. (And yes, he has the wrinkled Bajoran nose and the earring).

The crew I developed the most was the one who served aboard my Escorts -- as well as the New Hampshire and the Maine above. Let me go through them to give you some idea of what can be done with even just the basics -- and can be done to keep your crew from looking very default. Bear in mind, most of these officers were given to me automatically as rewards, not selected by me. I customized them from there, however, so the results are pretty much all me. These days, I'd hit the requisition desk at Starbase and pick my own genders and races (though the system's not yet fully functional) so I could tailor my crew as I see fit. Still, there is some pleasantness to doing it the random way.

Screenshot 2009-12-29-15-58-53Captain ZyzlaBeh zh'Ovlem, or Zyzla (her use-name among aliens) is an Andorian Zhen (Andorians have four sexes -- feminine, androgynous female, androgenous male, masculine. The Zhen is the feminine gender) who trained as Starfleet security and special forces as a Tactical Officer, having become the captain of her own ship, her philosophy is one of discipline and austerity. She requested postings to escorts in part because they do not have 'fripperies' but concentrate instead on their work. Her bridge is similarly austere, and tends to be kept at a chilly 10 degrees C (rather than the standard 20 degrees C) because she feels it keeps the crew on their toes (and besides, Andor is a cold planet). As a tactical officer, Zyzla specialized in sniper operations, and even as a Captain she focuses on such things. As of the point where the Character Wipe before Open Beta wiped her and her crew into history, Zyzla had a tetryon based sniper rifle that could kill a Gorn half a kilometer away.

A small Gorn, anyway.

Design wise, I wanted to go with a classic Andorian look. The uniform involves a uniform coat with a pleather panel that moves in to the pants. The brighter red pleather shoulders represents her command level stuff, while the darker red means she's a tactical officer (for the most part, engineers wear gold, scientists wear blue, tactical officers wear red and Captains/command wear whatever they like, with their specialty-color worked in there somewhere). The metal on her is her 'kit,' which gives her certain tactical powers on the ground (in her case, the capacity to focus fire on her enemies, interfere with their returning fire, and a series of plasma grenades that hideously burn her enemies to death. The Starfleet way!)

LorinCommander Lorin is Zyzla's first officer and chief science officer. He was the first officer selected to work alongside the Andorian when she first returned to her ship, and is well regarded among his peers. Obviously, he is a Vulcan.

However, in my case I wanted to make him more distinctive than yet another bowl-cut black haired white Vulcan science officer. Skin tone and some judicious adjustment of the face helped there, as well as giving his hair a chestnut undertone. I like the idea of racial diversity in Star Trek, in more senses than one.

Beyond that, there are certain requirements to make a character seem Vulcan. He shouldn't be overweight, he shouldn't be slovenly. He doesn't have to be thoughtful but he should be stoic. I think I conveyed a good sense of that here. I also like the shine off the black pleather of his uniform, but that's not really got anything to do with me, now does it?

The other sense I'm going for is competence -- Lorin is Zyzla's first officer, in part because he was the first officer she got, and in part because I like the sense of dichotomy. In the days of Star Trek: Enterprise the Andorians and the Vulcans were in cold-to-hot war with one another, and tensions were high. By making this Vulcan my Andorian captain's confident, I could convey a sense of how far the universe had come with the Federation. I threw in a point in his backstory that Lorin had been offered a command of his own, but declined. Logically, he can recognize he can do more with Zyzla than either could do alone.

AdlarLieutenant Commander Adlar was a poser. I mean, he's a Bolian. I don't really know much about Bolians and I don't much care to. They're cool to look at but otherwise... um... okay, they're corrosive fish. Double thumbs up! So I decided to give him a connection to Zyzla's career and to the game. One of the ships you rescue people from in the tutorial is the U.S.S. Montreal. Fine! I decided that Adlar was on board the Montreal and Zyzla led the rescue mission that saved him. After his recovery, he joined Zyzla's ship.

To reflect that, I gave Adlar a prominent facial scar and gave him a very atypical red discoloration of his forehead color pattern (which sadly we have lost the ability to do in more recent builds). He's clearly gone through some violence and survived and even thrived.

Then... completely randomly, I got two more Bolian bridge officers. Both females this time. And I decided to have fun with it. Because what better way to build a sense of personality in a character than to completely screw with him?

Screenshot 2009-12-31-22-27-19Ensign Eldar is Adlar's little sister. Like Adlar, Eldar was aboard the USS Montreal -- taking passage between assignments after graduating the academy -- when it was nearly destroyed by the Borg. Like Adlar, Eldar was injured and was rescued by Zyzla and her crew. And so ultimately like Adlar she requested to be posted to Zyzla's command. After some time, she succeeded, taking up a junior science post under Commander Lorin.

Now, in my brain there had been some good natured ribbing between the straight laced Vulcan and the gregarious Bolian. But now, things were different. Adlar's little sister -- who he had decided was never going to grow up in the first place -- was now posted to his own ship, under the direct command of a Vulcan! This was a new level of stress for Adlar, and a source of amusement for Eldar.

To convey the family connection, I gave her the same sort of reddish cast to her stripes. She too bears a scar from the Montreal. She is considerably thinner than Adlar, especially in the shoulders, to give her a sense of youth. And her pose ('cute') is meant to do the same. She is generally posted aboard the ship (which means she's most likely to be the one to call down when there's trouble up above).

So. How to take a situation (and a second female Bolian) and ramp it up to eleven? Simple. Add in a mother.

Bolian Mother!Lieutenant Eshar was a retired Starfleet engineer who had been traveling with her daughter on board her son's ship when the Borg attacked. After recovering, she realized that with the war in the state it was, the Romulans acting up and the Borg returning, Starfleet would need all the able hands it could get. She reactivated her commission and underwent re-acclimation training. Passing with flying colors (but for some of the physical tests, which she is still working on), she reentered Starfleet.

Whereupon she discovered herself assigned to her son's ship. Specifically to her Son's command, since he's Chief Engineer.

So, not only is Adlar trying to deal with his little sister serving aboard his ship and not even in a capacity where he can look out for her... now he's trying to deal with his mother as one of his subordinates. In this case, he's not worried about looking out for her. He just has some difficulty convincing her that just because she wiped his ooze-glands down when he was a podling doesn't mean he can't order her around now.

Eshar was actually interesting to build. I broadened her shoulders and added significant stomach and hips, as well as giving her an aged complexion. She too bears a scar from the USS Montreal, but she lacks the reddish cast of her children. Must have been something their father gave them. Though I'd gone with 'tight/reinforced' on the pants of the basic uniform, I decided that would make a mockery of Eshar instead of simply making her older with some of the changes that come with bearing young and aging, and so I gave her loose trousers instead. I like that as you increase something like the stomach, the jacket's model gets a few folds in the fabric to represent drape and oddities of fit and cut.

So, there you have it. Three Bolians, all interconnected, all entirely different from one another. Given the limited palette of Bolian skin tones, I still think that's cool.

Finally, we have the Tactical department.

Screenshot 2009-12-29-15-57-59Lieutenant Ko Sura is one of Zyzla's oldest friends from the Academy. She was the first officer that Zyzla actually requested (Lorin was assigned to her, after all). However, she was disturbed to learn that she wasn't in contention to be First Officer under Zyzla. This manifested as more attitude than might be expected. This was all compounded by the arrival of Lieutenant Cassidy after a few missions. Suddenly, Ko wasn't competing (in her mind) with Lorin for the executive spot, she was competing with Cassidy for Chief Tactical Officer. The results have put the young tactical officer under a lot of stress. Her superior hand-combat skills have led Zyzla to assign her as chief of security while Cassidy is currently Chief Tactical Officer on the bridge, but with recent developments that may change -- Zyzla is a master torpedo officer, Cassidy is a sharpshooter with beam attacks... but the New Hampshire's primary armaments are cannons, and both officers are new to that.

To make Ko a bit more stressed, I lowered and adjusted the bridge of her nose, furrowing her brow. I also raised her nostrils, which seems like the silliest slider in the character creator, but look at the effect. She's sneering at the camera. Otherwise, you will note that I darkened her skin somewhat. I figure the Bajorans have regional melanin variations too, and it let me set something else up, which I'll mention below.

Screenshot 2009-12-29-15-58-13

Finally, we have Lieutenant Diana Cassidy. One of the rising stars of Starfleet, the human Cassidy is well known to be ambitious and confident in herself and her abilities. While she's content enough to serve under Captain Zyzla and she can't complain about the results, Cassidy intends to be a Captain herself within three years and preferably an Admiral within six. Outrageous? Maybe -- but it is a time of war, and things happen quickly. She is the kind of officer that inspires those under her command, she is quick and she is very often right when she takes risks. It is perhaps understandable that she threatens Ko by existing.

At the same time, Cassidy lacks the cool head that experience will bring, and she has a tendency to run off half-cocked unless she's reined in. While there is something to be said for initiative, she has to both survive its use and convince her Captain she was right. Neither of those things are particular easy.

And it disturbs Cassidy that she's gone from being a virtuoso with a phaser bank to being someone who lets the computer lock on so she can fire cannons. Interestingly, this is one of those areas where she and Ko understand one another, and both are training together and separately to improve their overall skills in the New Hampshire's primary weapons.

Cassidy is designed as the ideal 'standard Human Federation Officer.' She is clearly attractive, has 'swagger' as her stance, and though she wears the same basic color scheme as Ko it is just slightly brighter red, to emphasize the sense of a 'brighter future.'

So, are these overly belabored points? Perhaps so -- but still. There are seven officers above, and those seven officers all have distinctions that underscrore personality traits. None of them are just cookie-cutter starfleet officers. Since that's the only personality we can give our Bridge Officers, I'm glad we can give it to them in spades.

And... I'll admit one thing. I'm kind of glad that in a bridge crew of a Captain and six Bridge Officers... four were female, one was black, one was essentially Hispanic, and only one was human. This is not Star Trek the television show with a makeup and effects budget to worry about, this is Star Trek Online, and by Crikey multiculturalism should be a given.

(It is worth noting that if you pick all random crew, you will in fact get mostly aliens and an even blend of men and women. Of course, it seems like all those with 'human' skin tones are Caucasian, but that is hopefully scheduled to change.)

Of course, it was Closed Beta, so of course they were all wiped out of existence by Character Wipe. Oh Q, what won't you kill for your amusement?

In Conclusion

Star Trek Online is a huge amount of fun. When the game is fini--

What's that? I forgot something?

Oh right. Sorry.

Klingons

There are Klingons in Star Trek Online.

In Conclusion

Star Trek Online is a huge amou--oh what is it now?

Seriously -- there are Klingons in Star Trek Online. They have bat'leths and really cool ships that can cloak. And they lie in wait in PvP areas hoping Starfleet Officers come to fight them.

And... that's about it.

I'm not much for PvP. I enjoy it in Champions Online every now and again, but it isn't something I go in for. And right now, the Klingon 'faction' is 99% PvP. What PvE elements it has are designed purely so you can farm them and get stuff for PvP. It bored me. I don't expect to do much with Klingons (except occasionally fight them when I'm in the mood) until a content release sometime in the future gives them real honest to God story content.

In Conclusion

Star Trek Online is a huge amount of fun. When the game is finished (which won't be until after launch, truthfully) it will be one of the greats. Even as it is it is enthralling. I will discuss some other points, like Exploration and Crafting, in other posts.

There is one thing I will mention, however.

While most of the people who have played the beta have enjoyed themselves, liked the game, or even loved it, there are a loud minority who don't. Generally, it is because some Pet Peeve has been tromped on. They hate microtransactions, say (there will likely be some). Or they hate how PvP was done or the lack of Klingon content. Or -- and this is surprisingly popular -- they hate that there's so much emphasis on shooting things. Star Trek wasn't about shooting things. It was about our bright, idealistic future!

Except it wasn't.

It was set in our bright, idealistic future -- and DS9, for all I loved it, bothered me when they tried to handwave it away -- but it was about the commonality of sentient experience, and the way that commonality was shown was through conflict. In every episode of Star Trek there was conflict. In most of them, someone died and shields were raised. Certainly, once we got to the Dominion War one expects there to be shooting.

And at the end of the day... this is a video game. Not a point and click adventure, either. There needs to be activity to be engaging. There needs to be conflict.

It is a time of war, and while the Federation strives to live up to its ideals, there are dark days ahead they have to survive.

And for all those who say it's "not like Star Trek," generally with no play or less than a few hours?

I say this to them: I have stood on a hundred alien shores, with no two alike. I have pushed forward against incredible odds and come up victorious. I have saved the lives of injured people not because I got cool bonus points for doing so but because it's what you do when you're a starfleet officer. I have learned the truth behind the Hobus Supernova and fought alongside the Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk. I have preserved the past, and saved the future, and when a common enemy rose up I have joined together with the Klingons to strike back at it. I have fixed weather machines, charted gaseous anomolies, been in at least one bar brawl, and used the power of legalisms and violated ordinances to get what I want. I have stored a tribble in the same inventory as a small thermos of Raktajino, and when I went back the Raktajino was gone but now I had two Tribbles.

I have shown my enemies my strength... and I have shown my enemies my mercy.

It's not the Star Trek game I would have written... it's better.

Screenshot 2010-01-13-13-27-16Open Beta and the U.S.S. Fort Kent Finally, I give you the hopes of my Open Beta ship and crew -- the U.S.S. Fort Kent flies the spaceways, under the Captain Teegan, an unjoined Trill space scientist. You can see that the art assets are greatly, greatly improved from the first cast group shot I did at the top of the page. I also haven't done a lot of customizing just yet. The graphics are just gorgeous here. You will also notice that the ironmongery is far less... less. They're armed for a war, but it looks more like what you would expect from Starfleet.

And on her crew, there is Ensign Mosxby.

I give you... the Tree Bridge Officer:

Screenshot 2010-01-12-09-53-40Screenshot 2010-01-12-20-00-32

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination, bitches.

27 Comments

I am and always will be monstrously jealous of your ability to both create and then write out deep character backgrounds...

It looks like a nice enough game. But "infinite diversity"? Only within the humanoid limitations of the franchise...

Well, yes. But that is only improving. The Undine, for example.

And the possibilities in a video game are broad indeed.

*whimpers pitiably and paws at the screen*

Want beta key.

http://startrekonline.com/openbeta#faq still lists several partners who are giving out beta keys to folks who want them. Most should be free. Give them a try!

The burning question in my kid's mind: can you run it on a Mac? (In emulation, of course. Since they can't see that they're consigning all mac-users to World of Warcraft and EverQuest's Al'Kabor server.)

The fact that Star Trek takes place in a happy friendly future but is all about the conflict parts reminds me of the Culture novels. I guess it's a popular solution to utopian boredom in storytelling.

It works absolutely fine in Boot Camp -- which is how I play it, on an older machine.

Does it work under Parallels/VMWare? I don't know -- it's not officially supported that way, but nothing is, really.

It doesn't work under Crossover Games/WINE at this time.

There's a reason most of Star Trek takes place far, far from Earth. :)

(this, by the by, is the Paulson Nebula, from "The Best of Both Worlds" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation)

You know, dialogue in The Best of Both Worlds places that nebula in the neighborhood of Ceti Alpha. I think it's the same nebula, re-named, as the Mutara Nebula that the Genesis planet was made from; after the planet fell apart from the protomatter. (Either that or Berman was trying to imply that the events of The Wrath of Khan never happened in his Star Trek.) Is there also a Mutara Nebula in the game? If not ...

I totally made a Tree bridge officer.

Is it a Ficus?

They make some references to the Mutara nebula and the similarities between them in the dialogue boxes of the Paulson nebula. There are other references to the events of Wrath of Khan in the same sector as well.

Looking at him, he seems almost more Juniperish.

Eric, that's really not fair, because I have WAY too many things I need to be doing to get involved in any kind of MOO. Quit making it sound so good, would you? :)

I got an Open Beta key with my preorder and I finally got the client downloaded last night. (Well, re-downloaded. Turns out if you try to open the file with the Windows built-in unzip tool, it corrupts the file. You have to use something like WinRAR or 7Zip.)
Can't wait to *finally* get to check this game out!

Eric I have to ask, how accessible is it to someone not familiar with TNG and DS9? It looks really cool, but all I've seen of Star Trek are the original series (when my parents watched the reruns) and the new movie. You can't be a geek and not pick up some Trek through cultural osmosis, so I recognize the names Bajoran or Andorian, I just have no idea who they are.

Really glad to see one of my favorite bloggers enjoying my new favorite game. I'm teetering on the brink of ordering the lifetime subscription, myself. What's your STO username? Be fun to bump into you sometime. :-)

That is a good question and I'm glad you asked it.

Honestly, the game will be perfectly playable and enjoyable. Familiarity with the original series and the new movie are probably more than enough for you to have a grand old time. You'll know that Klingons like to fight and Romulans like to scheme, and you'll pick up on it if you don't.

The Cardassian and Borg content, later in the game, may take some more doing, but they do a pretty good job of explaining it. Or so it seems to me. Honestly, I'd suggest grabbing one of the free beta keys from that link I pointed out up above and doing some beta testing. The perspective of a casual fan can only inform Cryptic of where they need to shore up explanations.

I played in a pnp Star Trek game for a while. My character was obsessed with the fact that the Mutara nebula was like half the size it was surveyed at on stardate such-and-such.

(We presumed that the whole Genesis device thing was still very secret information).

Well I finally got to take USS Tsushima out for a spin last night.

I blow up real good. Especially when the auto scaling scales the one battleship I should have to solo to 3 battleships, 4 cruisers, and 5 escorts-that-can-shred-my-shields for the three of us that were hanging together.

You know, it occurs to me the whole 'mix and match parts' thing (I've got disruptors on my CL) would fit better in the Mirrorverse. Some of the stuff I've seen there comments on things like having 'Tholian Shields' and such on their (Empire) ship.

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Or more accurately:

Buuuuuuuuuuuuurns!

I've got way too many games to play already, and I'd sworn off MMOs (at least until The Old Republic) because I tend to play them for a month before getting distracted and losing interest, but...

Grrrr. No, be good. Resist.


THERE...ARE..FOUR...LIGHTS!

Yes, but the important questions for this game are:

Can you masculinely slouch in your chair like Kirk, or facepalm like Picard?

To me, these are the essences of good Trek...

Yes, the 'sitcaptain' emote has a reasonable Kirk slouch, and yes the 'facepalm' emote is suitably Picardesque.

Nice! I'm sold... If I had a half decent computer.

Wow. Excellent review. I'm a lifelong Star Trek fan starting wayyyy back in the '70s, but I was feeling very ambivalent, even leery about trying this. (while being very eager for The Old Republic; perhaps because Bioware impressed me so much with Knights of the Old Republic)

You've convinced me to buy this!

You may want to take the Open Beta out for a spin, just to be sure. Since... well, you can!

I'm also in the beta, and frankly I'm having a hard time recommending this game to anyone outside of the space battle.

Let me just get that out of the way, the space battle component of the game is beautiful. The mild feeling of panic as you struggle to get your port shield in the way of that incoming torpedo. Watching your phasers coil across you saucer before it blasts out. It's all perfect. Which makes the rest of the game such a let down in comparison.

I find the "away missions" more akin to Mass Effect or Star wars then Star Trek. In the show, people take one (maybe two hits) before they crumple. Now we have long drawn out gun battles. The uniform I spent all my time crafting at the start, replaced by gaudy power armor. I'm eagerly looting bodies for things to sell for energy credits, even farming missions for items. This feels wrong.

Back in space, there is a whole lot of nothing going on. The sector map, for example. What function does it serve other then to eat up time? I'm away that time sinks are a MMORP standard...but usually those sinks at least have some risk, or at the very least something to look at. Now they are bathroom breaks, set your course and go make a sandwich.

And finally, my biggest gripe of all which is a terribly minor thing but sums up my issue with this game entirely: The Transwarp button. Hit it and warp back to Sol. Standard hearthstone stuff. Complete with 30 minute cool down timer. Why does it have a timer? Because MMORP laws say it does. You're back the shipyards, the heart of the federation, and yet they can't refuel your dilithium, scrub your deflector dish or flush the anti-protons, to fix it. No. They don't, because this is an MMORP and the rules say 30 minutes on your hearthstone cool down.

All and all, I wish I could rip out the space battles as a stand alone game. The rest I can leave.

I find the "away missions" more akin to Mass Effect or Star wars then Star Trek. In the show, people take one (maybe two hits) before they crumple. Now we have long drawn out gun battles. The uniform I spent all my time crafting at the start, replaced by gaudy power armor. I'm eagerly looting bodies for things to sell for energy credits, even farming missions for items. This feels wrong.

The times we've seen protracted military engagements in Star Trek they've had a lot of the same feel. The major difference is instead of having cover found and fired around, the cover now comes with us in the place of the mobile shield -- it's one of those necessary transitions to go from a television show where you can choreograph the action to a show where you can dictate it.

We also know that forces on the ground do in fact salvage things from their enemies as they go -- we saw it in DS9.

As for the 'gaudy power armor,' you can remove that from your uniform's appearance (while maintaining its benefits) by going to your character's status page and clicking on the armor. Select "Hide from Uniform" (I think) and the armor disappears and your uniform is what you wear again.

Back in space, there is a whole lot of nothing going on. The sector map, for example. What function does it serve other then to eat up time? I'm away that time sinks are a MMORP standard...but usually those sinks at least have some risk, or at the very least something to look at. Now they are bathroom breaks, set your course and go make a sandwich.

Man, I wish that were the case. If I need to do anything at all outside of the game, I go to my bridge, because if I sit in Sector Space there's every chance the ship will get engulfed by a deep space encounter (and my log entry will get eaten without saving). Set your ship on course and go make a sandwich, outside of anything other than a zone you've levelled out of, and you're just as likely to come back and discover your ship sitting turned over in space, a burning hulk, the lamentations of your tribbles echoing through your tortured ears.

And finally, my biggest gripe of all which is a terribly minor thing but sums up my issue with this game entirely: The Transwarp button. Hit it and warp back to Sol. Standard hearthstone stuff. Complete with 30 minute cool down timer. Why does it have a timer? Because MMORP laws say it does. You're back the shipyards, the heart of the federation, and yet they can't refuel your dilithium, scrub your deflector dish or flush the anti-protons, to fix it. No. They don't, because this is an MMORP and the rules say 30 minutes on your hearthstone cool down.

There are two styles of transwarp access -- the stable conduits and the ones your ship generates. The stable conduits warp you between far-distant subsector blocks (which is why Sol and Deep Space 9 are just one subsector block warp away from each other even though they're on opposite ends of the Federation). The stable conduits do all the heavy lifting.

The transwarp back to Sol, on the other hand, uses your ship's power systems and experimental transwarp coils to access the conduits remotely. The strain on the ship is monumental and the system is power-hungry. It takes a long time to reset and prep the system and to let the necessary capacitors refill with the right kind of energy to fuel the next trip. Rather than devote a repair bay to this maintenance at Sol -- the one place where the transwarp conduit is completely useless and therefore a half-hour's maintenance and reset is mostly just a way to occupy your engineers while you're on Starbase -- Sol devotes its repair facilities to getting damaged ships back into the fight or retrofitting technologies and otherwise maintaining ships for combat in a war. Naturally, rather than drain Sol Starbase's resources to this menial task, I expect my own engineers to do it. This isn't a vacation -- if I had to transwarp back to Sol, there's a reason more pressing than Pinochle night in Club 47.

Is that an in-game style explanation for an obvious mechanic? Yes. That's the way it goes. But it's a reasonable one.

I can understand not liking the style of the ground combat. I certainly do, but not everyone would. But it seems to me the Transwarp mechanic is bothering you because it feels too 'Hearthstone.' I can't dictate what things will bring you out of the moment or not -- that's always going to be your response to the game -- but to me this is both easily justified within the context of the game (especially since the round trip from a distant port to Sol and back would make your complaint about sector space 1000x worse than making the trip a half-way affair instead) and entirely understandable in the game's internal context.

It also sounds like you might want to check out the current iteration of the (somewhat underground) Starfleet Command playing community. That may be more the game you want -- and though in ways it's dated now, I'll admit it's a darn good one.

You make a lot of excellent points, I grant you. Particularly the armor button, which I went looking for and didn't find at the time of previous comment.

But to beat on the Transwarp button, you spin a nice story as to how it could work (we will hand wave the instantaneous impulse engine swap "our engineers" can do for the moment). But I think my bigger point is *why* did the developers put a 30 minutes timer on it? What purpose does it serve other then to serve convention? It's not even like I need to go to Sol on even a semi regular basis. It's just such an arbitrary item, a relic mechanism from fantasy MMORPGs games.

(I also know about Starfleet Command, which is an excellent game, but the space battles in ST:O feel a lot more kinetic and allow for more of friends in on the action at once)

One item - which is more of a curiosity then a beef - Do you find the dodge roll actually helps you avoid damage? Damage always seemed to track me (logs confirmed it). I ended up mostly just using it to get into cover (around corners etc), which is ok by me, but was not how the "ability" was sold to me (as a means to avoid damage, rather like the block in Champions).

Personally, even though it would add even more of a "hearthstone" feel, I'd like to be able to drop a "transwarp beacon" or some other suitable techbabble name in a system or sector block so that I can transwarp back to somewhere I might find more useful than Sol at the time.

Beating on the transwarp button, I don't see the "instantaneous engine swap" that you do. There's no reason that the "experimental transwarp coils" can't be built into the normal warp coils in the nacelles.

Rolling only helps me (I'm not Eric, but I'm still throwing in my two cents) to dodge grenades and mortars. Although the damn Reytek or whatever that Gorn is called that throws the chunk of ground still seems to hit me no matter what, and that's annoying.

Logo: Sleeping Snarky

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