Star Trek Online: Exclusive Jack Emmert Q&A from GenCon Indy '08
Only five days ago, our hopes for a Starfleet commission were revived when Jack Emmert announced that Cryptic Studios has taken over development of Star Trek Online. But if you were like us, we had plenty of questions following the announcement, trailer, and subsequent Q&A session. How will Cryptic implement their trademark character customization when both Starfleet officers and Klingons have regulation uniforms? How will the exploration mechanic work? Why was the idea of group control of a single trip abandoned for the game's initial launch? What purposes will the holodeck serve? While Cryptic is still addressing many of these questions internally, Mr. Emmert gave us some candid answers in this latest Q&A from GenCon Indy '08.
You mentioned [in the Champions Online portion of the interview] that customization will be a big part of Star Trek Online. However, when people think Starfleet they tend to think of standard, fairly cookie-cutter uniforms.
The customization will really come in your race - your face, your hands, your adding of antennae, big insect eyes, crazy colored skin, spots, and so on. Obviously there’s the uniform that Starfleet wears and, for that matter, Klingons wear relatively standard outfits too. But then the customization is really going to come with facial features: the forehead, the hair, all those items.
And this is why you made a point of the ability of players to create their own race.
Yea, because that’s definitely the best way to mix customization in. A normal human or vulcan - they’re only going to vary so much. But we wanted to allow players to explore wild extremes as they can in Champions Online. Besides, Star Trek fans have already come up with thousands of things both in websites and their imaginations.
Given that level of inspiration and imagination, have you come up against anything that, because of the limits of time or current technology, you’ve had to definitively say “no” to?
Some of it is just... you have limitations. Star Trek has had tons of different time travel episodes. The problem with time travel is assets. You have to create a building set for the forties that’s only usable in those instances. And that’s difficult because you only have so much time to make art. So you have to pick and choose; if time travel’s going to be a part of this, what eras can we do. Because if you start saying, ‘Well, we want to do medieval Japan,’ that’s a pretty limiting set of opportunities for other adventures. So, that’s tough.
Along that line of thought, you mentioned the holodeck as being more of a training ground in your keynote from Star Trek convention?
I don’t know what we’ll do with the holodeck yet. Training is a possible opportunity to be able to do training exercises, to practice.
So, maybe the flip side of the potential challenges question: is there anything that is definitively Star Trek, even apart from similar space / sci-fi IPs, that you absolutely have to get right in the game?
The spaceships. To me, even over Star Wars, Star Trek space ships have always captured my imagination. Their shape is unique, it’s more distinctive to me than anything else I’ve ever seen. Also the crew; we had to make sure that your bridge crew is a vital part of gameplay, because they’re a vital part of every episode.
You talked a lot about exploration; about discovering parts of the universe that maybe even other players have never seen before. Can you share a little bit about how this works?
We have a system that we are working on now that addresses creating and generating territory - boundless territory - for players to investigate. Maybe it’ll be inhabited, maybe it won’t.
Will travel time be an issue? Might it be a mechanic to keep players bunched and promote socialization or to prevent players from venturing too far into the delta quadrant?
Travel times aren’t going to be a problem. You’ll get around pretty quick. We can’t do real time travel, obviously, We’ve got a couple other mechanisms to make sure that players are interacting. Obviously there are going to be starbases and space stations. There will be natural chokepoints because there will be obstacles in space just like anywhere else; places that ships really can’t get through. And so players will be pushed into a corridor, so players will still be running into one another.
You mentioned instancing, how will Star Trek Online make use of non-persistent areas?
Definitely when you go to a certain planet, it’s just you and your teammates beaming down to it.
Tell us a bit about the incredible trailer that was released last Sunday. The space combat sequences - was that purely CGI, pieced-together game assets, or was that the real deal?
That’s all working today. Those are players playing starships - we spawned the Borg stuff - and that’s an actual battle going on.
In terms of one player controlling one ship, some players were hoping that the group dynamic (many players controlling one ship) that was hinted at in STO’s previous incarnation under another studio would be carried forward. Why did Cryptic elect to go with one player to a ship?
I think it would be a challenge to design a game where being a science officer, an engineer, the security officer, the navigation officer... to make that so fun that it would occupy your entire time. I think that would be a real challenge. I think that it would be possible, but it would be like developing 5 games almost in parallel because you would need to develop enough gameplay for somebody as a security officer to enjoy it as much as a captain. I’d think that a lot of people would want to be captains to begin with, so it’s easiest to start there and maybe we’ll expand downwards into other things. I wouldn’t rule that out. But just having to create that gameplay would be very, very hard.
Cryptic has two major projects (and maybe more) in full-steam development - I’m not sure that a single studio has ever attempted that before. For you, is it hard to switch back and forth between STO and Champions Online. I know you’re reading the Star Trek novels...
Most of my focus is on Champions. Our Executive Producer Craig Zinkievitch is doing the majority of Star Trek work. My work on STO is mostly support. We sat down, we came up with the initial vision, and now Craig owns that vision - it’s up to him to bring it alive. And so my job is to help as a resource; as an asset for him to use. So, he has me working on narrative and storyline. Whereas on Champions Online, everything - from our beta plans to marketing to PR to game design to art - I’m involved in everything.