Interview: Cryptic on the launch of Star Trek Online’s Agents of Yesterday

    
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I want to go back (go back)
Today, players will get to go back in time in Star Trek Online. Only for your new characters, it’s not actually back in time at all; it’s just the present. Agents of Yesterday celebrates the 50-year history of the Star Trek franchise by heading back to the original series timeline, letting players take command of old-school vessels before catapulting ahead to the modern era once more. It’s an homage, a new way to experience the game, and a continuation of the game’s lore all at once.

We had a chance to sit down and talk with the game’s executive producer, Stephen Ricossa, about the expansion launching today and what it means for the game. And it turns out that the best way to talk about the game really does involve time travel — because it involves a plan two years in the making that stretches through the game’s past several plotlines.

The seeds for AoY were sown about two years back, when the team was planning the direction of the game for the future. With the 50th anniversary for the franchise right on the horizon, it seemed like something that should be worked into the game. That meant planning stories specifically to revolve around the idea of time travel and moving back and forth, to get players used to the idea of characters coming from the past to the present. The Krenim, the end of the Iconian arc, the Nakuul… all of them were set up for their own reasons, but they also served to make time travel feel like a natural extension of places that the game had already gone.

Not that multidirectional time travel is going to be a regular thing. By the end of the 23rd-century experience in Agents of Yesterday, your ship and crew are lost, and you won’t be going back. You are lost in time forever.

Everything's cool, it's the future!

Fortunately for Klingon and Romulan families, none of their 23rd-century captains is similarly pulled through time. But why just Federation ships? The designers apparently went back and forth on the faction issue, but it ultimately was decided that the whole point of the expansion was to make an homage to the original series, which was very much focused around the Federation experience. Most of the Romulan or Klingon experience would have been made up whole-cloth, negating the entire focus of the nostalgic overtones.

It makes sense that this expansion is coming hand-in-hand with ties into the Kelvin timeline, of course, one of Star Trek’s biggest examples of alternate history. Which means that it’s funny that the convergence was entirely accidental; the STO team had started negotiations on getting some of the movie elements into the game about 8-10 months ago, well after AoY was already on track. The idea was to tie into the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, and the convergence of features is a nice but ironic coincidence.

Of course, the team is aware that the movies are somewhat controversial for some fans, but they’re also well aware that no Star Trek fan is necessarily a fan of all of Star Trek. There are players who hate the original series, there are players who hate Enterprise, there are players who hate everything but the original series. Ricossa stress that if you enjoy the franchise, you’ll enjoy what’s being done with the integration.

So why is Agents of Yesterday focused so heavily on the lower-level experience and asking players to make a new character once again? Ricossa explained that it’s very much a matter of looking at two different sorts of expansions. Delta Rising was meant to be played by people who already had a character at the level cap and were experienced veterans, while Legacy of Romulus was about bringing in players who may not have tried the game before for a variety of reasons. Agents of Yesterday is back on the “new player” side of things.

The game has been bringing out a new expansion roughly once every 18 months fairly reliably, and the next expansion will likely be on a similar timetable; the team is definitely happy about how specializations have worked out for the high-end players, however. Having the new Temporal specialization also gives veteran players new things to explore with the expansion.

Look at the time!

I asked Ricossa about the design for the new 23rd-century ships, and he laughed and said that the only ships which spent more time in visual design was the Odyssey class. Each of the new original series ships started with the 23rd-century version, with the futuristic update aimed at maintaining the lines and profile while also updating the details of styling. It was a complex task to make ships that could fit into two different eras simultaneously without feeling jarring.

Of course, another plethora of ships means that the game has another huge cluster of different craft for players to choose between, which Ricossa notes is a bit of a detriment just because you can only fly one ship at a time. The goal, however, is to give players plenty of different options for what to play with, with systems like the Admirality missions giving new ways to interact with a ship collection. More variety in a franchise that offers a lot of choice is a good thing.

I also asked Ricossa about exploration mechanics. He laughed and said that the team is still looking at new exploration options, but there’s nothing to be announced at this time.

Is there any hope about casting the game even further back chronologically, to the era of Enterprise? There have been hints in the game here and there about races like the Xindi and the Denobulans, and Ricossa won’t say that anything is impossible. This expansion’s max-level episodes will wrap up the Nakuul storyline, and there are already designs laid out for the next major storyline, but the team likes exploring different eras of the franchise. Anything is possible.

We’d like to thank Stephen Ricossa for taking the time to speak with us about the expansion and what players can expect. Of course, you won’t have to just “expect” for much longer: It’s already live. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the original series or just want to start specializing in time travel, you’ll have your options soon enough.