Interview: Star Trek Online’s Jarrod Fisher looks back on 10 years of MMO trekkin’

    
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If you haven’t heard the word yet, this year marks the 10th anniversary of Star Trek Online, which released way back in 2010. To say that the MMO has come a long way is a vast understatement, as it now sports numerous ships, original stories, and even many of the actual voice actors from the series.

While Cryptic is being, well, cryptic about all of what the 10th anniversary celebrations will entail, Lead Producer Jarrod Fisher sat down with us to talk about how far the game has come and what makes this space-bound MMO appealing to both Trek fans and gamers alike.

Space me out.

Massively OP: Ten years is a significant milestone for an MMORPG and a good occasion to look back at the growth and development of the game. In your opinion, what have been some of the most significant changes and improvements to Star Trek Online over the past decade?

Jarrod Fisher: Given that Star Trek Online is very different than when we launched, there are so many changes we could expand upon, but I think the main improvements fall under our storytelling, gameplay expansion and accessibility over the years.

As time went on after the game launched, the team really wanted to do stories that involved characters from different shows, but we didn’t have much voicework in the game. Once we started incorporating more Star Trek actors into our game, it opened a huge door which allowed us to drive our own stories and connect our content to the events fans have watched in the shows and movies. This made our stories more exciting to write and allowed players to play alongside their favorite characters from the shows and movies. We now have over 30 original cast members, including Leonard Nimoy (Spock), LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge), Michael Dorn (Worf) Armin Shimerman (Quark), Mary Wiseman (Tilly), Anthony Rapp (Stamets) and many more. In recent years, this also drove us to make huge improvements to our cutscenes, making the storytelling even more impactful.

For our general gameplay, the original content we launched with contained three classes, 1.5 factions and the gameplay was only focused on entering a map and defeating waves of enemies. Over the years, we have added so many new and dynamic powers that allow players to focus on whatever kind of gameplay styles they want. Also, we expanded the Klingon faction and added Romulan, TOS, Jem’Hadar, and Discovery era factions for players to explore. We’ve also gone back and remastered numerous episodes, while cleaning up the main episode flow for the best experience. Although our gameplay is still very much focused on defeating things, we have added puzzles and unique gameplay mechanics to mix it up. Also, unifying the factions under the Alliance means that all factions get every new episode we make, so no one gets left out.

As far as accessibility is concerned, we have made many changes which allow players to jump in and play the game along with everyone else, regardless of level. This includes altering our Task Force Operations to be accessible to lower level players, instead of hiding them behind a level 50 cap. Also, allowing players to skip to missions and transwarp between them has been a great feature for new players. Our event system revamp and increased focus on events also allows any player to log in, play a new piece of content, and earn some great rewards.

From your perspective, what significant internal milestones excited and satisfied the development team during this stretch?

Since Star Trek Online has been in development for over 10 years, it’s hard to point out specific milestones that have made us especially proud, but maybe explaining the general excitement the team still feels over producing new content is a good way to answer this.

I would say for the first five years, the excitement came from just trying to incorporate as much of the content you’ve seen in the shows and movies into our game. As our lead designer, Al Rivera, has said: Star Trek Online is like a theme park of all things Trek. The STO team is comprised of hardcore Trek fans so for us, it’s been an honor to bring ships, characters and continuations of storylines from the shows into the game. This is especially true for expansions centered around Voyager, The Original Series and Deep Space Nine.

Although we have continued to develop the content mentioned above, I would say after this period we focused more on revamping older content that didn’t meet our current standards and getting Star Trek Online on consoles. We remastered quite a bit of content and released a huge lighting and graphics update in conjunction with the launch of console to give STO a nice facelift.

In the last couple of years, we have continued to investigate ways to improve our content, but we’re also thrilled to be working with brand new series like Star Trek: Discovery, that are currently live on air. Doing the Age of Discovery expansion over time was exciting because for the first time, we got to actively interact with a new show in production. Being able to create stories that connect to things we’ve seen in Discovery has been so much fun for the team and we look forward to doing more with the new show content coming out this year.

Mirror match!

A very common criticism of Star Trek Online is that while the space combat is well-done, the ground combat isn’t nearly as good. Is this a fair assessment in your opinion or has STO done enough to make ground combat better? Are there any thoughts to the future of ground combat?

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve focused more on space combat than ground, because our starships are one of the best features of the game.

Over the years, we have kind of focused more on combat for space, whereas we use ground to tell the bulk of our story. I do feel like we have incorporated some very creative powers and combinations to make ground combat feel a lot more dynamic than it did in the early years.

For the future, there is currently no plan for large changes to ground combat, but we are always looking into creating new and exciting powers for players. Plus we’ve been focused on improving our gameplay mechanics, as seen in some of our latest and updated ground missions and Task Force Operations.

Another long-running criticism by players is that the Klingon Defense Force side of the game offers less content than the Federation. Is that still true, and if so, are there plans to rectify that?

We are always looking at our older content to see what can be improved upon and I feel like we’ve accomplished that in our Starfleet factions in the game, but I do agree that the Klingon Defense Force could use some improvements in its faction-specific content.

We do have a lot of new ideas we want to implement for the KDF and I believe we’re closer to doing something now than we have been in the past. As with anything, these things take time and we have many things we want to create in the pipeline.

Can you give us any hints about cross-media synergy with CBS’ ongoing Star Trek projects, such as Discovery, Picard, and the other developing series?

I would love to give hints because I hate keeping secrets, but I also like my job! In general, we are always looking for cross media synergy, but the reality is game development and television development are on very different schedules, so it’s difficult to coordinate timing. We can confirm that it is the team’s goal to incorporate all of the new series, whether it be Picard or Lower Decks, into Star Trek Online at some point.

Is the Cryptic team basically out of ship designs from the TV show and movies by now, to the point where all additional ships have to be created from scratch?

We have, indeed, created a massive amount of the ships that can be seen in all the television shows and movies. I think the last time we checked, we were at over 650 starships. We have also made a lot of our own ships along with reimagined versions of ships seen on screen. It is definitely harder than it was in the past to come up with a long list of ships we want to make, but I don’t believe we’ve reached the point where everything needs to be built from scratch.

There are still some ships seen in Star Trek: Discovery that we have not made, and I am sure there will be a good deal more in the multiple Star Trek shows coming out this year. The team has also come out with a new style of ship that we think the players will be excited about which could open a new door in unique original ships for the future.

Any plans for a Star Trek: Enterprise-era expansion now that the other shows have been represented with significant content?

The team loves all things Star Trek, so we are always looking to incorporate anything from the Trek universe into STO. Over the years, we have incorporated content from Enterprise, such as the Temporal Cold War and the Xindi, along with various ships seen in the show.

Currently we do not have any plans for an Enterprise expansion, but anything is possible as we continue to come up with new ideas for our updates.

What do you enjoy playing as in the game and what are your favorite activities?

I have played through all the factions, but my main right now is a Discovery-era Tactical Federation captain, as that is the latest faction to come out. I’ve always preferred Tactical Captains and more tactical heavy ships because I like to move around and blow up stuff fast.

I also prefer being able to jump in and do something quick as I am generally busy producing the game, so I run a lot of TFOs, partake in our events, and replay an episode every now and then.

Thanks so much for your time, Jarrod!

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PanagiotisLial1

I appreciate his honest take on everything and I wish they start working on all factions even if it means we get new content slower

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Castagere Shaikura

The game back when it came out under Atari was fun. Way back when your class had meaning and you needed all the classes to play the group stuff. Today the game is so unbalanced that everyone is super op in DPS one-shotting everything. The players spend tons of money on ships they bring out that have a tiny bit more power than the last ship. The game is PWE biggest cash cow. I really miss those days before PWE.

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Armsman

I don’t think those times were so great (and I’ve been playing since late September 2009 just after the ‘friends & family potion of the closed beta ended) because under ATARI they barely had a big enough team to keep the game in maintenance mode (which it honestly went into within a year after launch, with ATARI constantly complaining that: “Hey, the game is launched…what do you mean you want to continue to add features and content?!?” – and ATARI being stingy with any funds for continued new development of the MMO.)

Plus the company was really Infogames (they just bought the ATARI name because it had larger brand recognition.) I will give that ATARI credit for getting the game launched; but under ATARI it was not well supported.

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Castagere Shaikura

Yeah and look what happened with adding all those features has done to the game. The game is an unbalanced mess and they are never going to fix it because the whales keep buying ships.

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starbuck1771

The reason for the Atari issue was mismanagement on their part. They had access to many IP’s at the time and did nothing to profit off them. They could have done more with the Bioware games but chose not to. Not to mention Jack Emmert was a complete idiot. I told him the Romulans should have been in at launch but he wanted to wait. Look at where he is now. Daybreak Games which he very well did. LOL

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PanagiotisLial1

I also dont think it was fun when you had to decide to build either for ground or for space, both wasnt an option

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starbuck1771

I can go back farther then ten year’s. I can go back to when Perpetual Entertainment had the rights to the game.

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Armsman

…And in the years they had it, they produced nothing but a few screen shot mock ups, and one internal shot of a 1701-D room that even they claimed couldn’t be run real-time on your average gaming PC of that time.

JonBuck
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JonBuck

And then they had to get an MMO made in a short time, so they tossed it to Cryptic, who built a game in 18 months.

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starbuck1771

Actually they went bankrupt making the second game but tried to keep the star trek game via fraud.