An epic battle is drawing ever closer, one that will pit the very basic champions of geekdom against the other. Science fiction fans from across the world will band together on their own opposing sides, pitting their own worthy prize fighters against the other. In one corner is Cryptic Studios' Star Trek Online, where a contingent of dedicated Trekkies are practically drooling with the possibilities of an entire virtual universe full of player created aliens, never-ending worlds, and momentous exploration. On the opposite side of the ring sits Bioware's as-yet-unannounced Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic massively multiplayer online game, ready to introduce gamers to thousands of Force-wielding warriors, scruffy scoundrels and heroic pilots. These two games represent the pinnacle of science fiction IPs - Star Trek and Star Wars - and hundreds of thousands of individuals will be eager to jump into the two divergent universes represented in these two games.
But what does the convergence of these two games mean for the online gamer? How will the release of two of the world's largest intellectual properties impact the market? How will science fiction fans choose between the two massive games?
The pace of Star Wars and Star Trek are very different.
Every Solid Story Sets a Certain Pace
One of the biggest differences between Star Wars and Star Trek lies in the pacing of the two IPs. From the first day it hit the air waves, Star Trek was a slow-moving, intellectually stimulating sci-fi series. Due to the lack of high tech special effects, Star Trek had to rely on intelligence, wit, and the thrill of new experiences to win over their core audience. Rather than titillating viewers with action-filled sequences, the continued series relied on snappy dialogue and a small bit of sex appeal. Any ship combat in the show was generally more of a head-to-head sort of confrontation that seemed to orbit around intimidation, bluffing, and scare tactics rather than any sort of physical skill. Physical confrontations often resulted in bar brawl showdowns with the "beefier" of the races involved winning the day. Of course, no one could stand up to the Vulcan nerve pinch, or a solid blast from a phaser.
Star Wars, on the other hand, has always been about high-flying, daredevil antics with a focus more on the physical demands of both space combat and ground battles. In the very first scene in Star Wars, the tone for the entire series was set when dozens of Rebel troops ran down a hallway in an attempt to withstand the onslaught of an Imperial regiment. Shots were fired back and forth as troops ducked for cover or tried to maneuver there way over fallen comrades. Ships combat was played out on a similar scene, with the space vehicles constantly dodging and maneuvering around the larger, bulkier capital ships, hoping to score that one lucky shot that could take down a shield generator.
Star Trek space combat will be much slower and more deliberate.
But how do MMOG fans handle the two different pacing styles? Frankly, there seems to be little consistency on how gamers react to the various paces of gameplay. While a few gamers did appear to enjoy the slower pacing of Pirates of the Burning Sea, many more MMO enthusiasts stayed with World of Warcraft and the moderate pacing of that online game. However, a whole slew of MMOGs are coming out in the next few years that are more action oriented. The developers at Funcom have already shown at an action-oriented game like Age of Conan can achieve a measure of financial success and garner a portion of popularity.
Whatever happens with the popularity of these two games, it's realistic to predict that whatever combat engine each team - Bioware and Cryptic - comes up with, these engines will be emulated in future titles due to the potential popularity that each of these games could acquire. Like EverQuest and World of Warcraft before them, these games could each pull well over a million fans each in the first year of their releases, if all goes well, and with those sort of numbers, the features in these games could truly become the standard for the industry.
Star Trek will likely offer gamers more in the way of exploration and diplomacy.
Another major difference between Star Trek and Star Wars is the idea of exploration and diplomacy. Though Star Wars has a degree of diplomacy and exploration in its expanded universe - the universe that Bioware would be drawing from with a KOTOR game - it doesn't really compare with what gamers will see in Star Trek Online. In his live webcast, Jack Emmert discussed the main elements that are going into Star Trek Online, which included the concepts of diplomacy and exploration. While we haven't heard about the feature details in Star Wars, diplomacy and exploration, at least in the classic sense, won't be a major striking point in Star Wars.
Throughout the lore of Star Wars, the majority of the factions are constantly warring with each other. Although truces and diplomatic agreements are struck, the focus of the Star Wars story does not aim at any of these talking portions. Instead, conflict and warfare are constantly behind the storylines, which makes for an epic and action-packed setting. Star Trek Online may have conflict in their game, but it's not going to be the same sort of "good versus evil" fight that we constantly see in Star Wars.
Although Star Wars and its constant conflict won't inspire any particularly new features aside from improvements to combat mechanics, Star Trek's exploration and diplomacy features, if done correctly, could truly inspire some really intriguing new mechanics in upcoming games. Except for Vanguard, few MMOGs have attempted to foster any sort of diplomatic conversations between characters in any form, especially to the degree that Emmert described for STO. On top of that, the level of exploration that STO hopes to bring to the MMOG marketplace is beyond anything we've seen. Emmert described it as "unlimited exploration", which is a mechanic that many MMOGs wish they could brag about.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Star Trek and Star Wars is each IP's use of the fantastic in their games. Obviously the one crucial aspect of Star Wars that isn't even considered in Star Trek is the Force; the mystical energy that binds and surrounds all pieces of the universe. The Force allows its wielders to enhance their strength, speed, dexterity and foresee events before they occur. Individuals using the Force can blast lightning bolts from their hands and pull entire starships out of orbit. An individual's perception is greatly enhanced, allowing them to see far afield and hold their breath for much longer than normal. It's a magical piece of Star Wars, and certainly doesn't belong in the Star Trek universe.
Star Wars will feature the Force, a major draw for many gamers.
But Star Wars - unlike Star Trek Online - will be much more familiar to the common MMO gamer. Bioware will certainly cash in on the many aspects of Star Wars that mesh with more popular MMOGs. Force powers will certainly play a prominent role in any Star Wars / Jedi-based game, and Knights of the Old Republic will certainly have it's fair share of Jedi to contend with. In fact, many Star Wars critics have claimed that the Star Wars movies have much more akin to a fantasy story than anything written up by a sci-fi author. Still, that sort of magical realism may ring true with the common MMOG enthusiast.
Other Major Differences....
Of course, there are many, many more differences between the two different IPs, and I encourage all of you to explore those differences in the Ten Ton Hammer forums. If you have any opinions about what I've already discussed, I also encourage you to drop me a line on the forums!
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Ten Ton Hammer network or staff.