Late last month, I had the opportunity to drop into the offices of Cryptic Studios to talk with the Star Trek Online team members. While they were still recovering from the intense work required to bring the Legacy of Romulus expansion to bear, they were all still very busy working on new material being produced for the game. New ships, UI changes, fleet holdings, and events were all being worked on. I even got the opportunity to play a bit of the summer event before it went live in the game.
However, I was really there to talk to the developers themselves, and I interviewed several different people. This week I begin my series of interviews with the team of Star Trek Online with a synopsis of my discussion with Lead Designer Al "CaptainGeko" Rivera.
Returning to the Star Trek Online offices was both familiar and foreign. When I last visited the studio in March 2012, the team filled just over half the space available for it in the STO wing of the studio building. It was very clear to me that Cryptic's sale to Perfect World Entertainment had caused the team to expand to fill out not only that empty space but beyond it.
Rivera was visibly pleased by the changes and also by my first question, which was about the health of the game. Rivera wouldn't talk hard numbers as to players, but he did confirm that the "numbers just keep going up." He said that even before the Legacy of Romulus expansion was released, STO had seen an increase in players because of the implementation of the fleet and reputation systems. He intimated that the reason Perfect World had decided to invest more into STO and "go big" by releasing LoR was the positive results seen with those previous pushes.
Rivera said that the response to the Legacy of Romulus expansion has been incredible. When I asked whether he thought expectations for LoR had been set pretty high, he laughed and stated that the team "no idea how it was possibly going to" achieve the goals that had been laid out for it. He even questioned whether or not the team might have been "set up for failure," but he was very happy to say that even with the high expectations, the expansion had very much exceeded them and continues to do so.
Rivera and I briefly discussed the decision to add endgame material to the game before concentrating on a new expansion (namely, to give a "robust" endgame), and then we moved on to the fact that the team is currently working on the upcoming content release due out before the end of the year. Rivera said that the team has yet to formally come up with a name for the release and cannot say whether it will be called Season Eight or Season Nine, but it will likely have a new reputation faction associated with it.
Rivera confirmed that a lot of focus has been placed on the fleets because "people who are in a fleet tend to play more, tend to stay longer, and yes, tend to spend more." However, he personally believed that the reputation systems are much more successful for the game because of the system's accessibility to all players. The systems were built with "scalability" at the forefront. And it was the success of both of the systems that allowed Cryptic to hire the staff needed to create and release the LoR expansion.
Rivera stated that because of the success of the expansion and the revamp of the Klingon faction's tutorial, the team is already looking at overhauling the tutorial for the Federation and might also be looking at implementing a "Tovan Khev"-style bridge officer for the Federation faction. While he wasn't specific, he told me Cryptic is looking at ways to have a player's bridge officers have "more of a history" with the player than they do now. The characters might even have voices like many of the characters in the Romulan and Klingon factions. He said that the team learned a lot of lessons on how to make a great tutorial while making the LoR expansion and is eager to see them implemented into Federation gameplay.
Rivera was genuinely pleased and amused by the thought that there is now a vocal call by many players to have the Federation tutorial revamped. He said that it was actually a good thing to hear so many people demand that better quality material be made for the Federation as long as those same demands were being made by Klingon faction players or people who just wanted to play a Romulan. He stated that he believes those demands will now always be cyclical in that one faction will demand what another faction receives, but he views demands for their ever-improving material as proof the team is doing something right.
I asked Rivera what would he like to do to change crafting in STO if he had unlimited resources. Without hesitating, Rivera told me he would "scrap the existing system" and find a way to assure those who had invested in it that they would gain credit from their previous work. He then would take "lessons from [the] reputation system, lessons from the duty officer system, and lessons from Neverwinter and Gateway" and use those lessons to create a new crafting structure in the game. I told him that one of our readers, Michael Keefe, had forwarded a question about whether we would ever see a crafting system akin to Neverwinter's in Star Trek Online. Rivera smiled and responded by saying that he views Neverwinter's crafting interface as "a minimum bar" and that he feels that with the momentum Cryptic has built to date, the STO team "could do something even better."
That's all for this week's column. Next week I'll cover more of what Al Rivera had to say and maybe even clue you in on just what's depicted in a few of the screenshots I've used in today's column! Until then, live long and prosper!