Loading... Live Episode 6: Star Trek Online with Craig Zinkievich - Full Transcript

Loading…Live Presents:  Star Trek Online Vooncast with Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich Broadcast Live via the Ten Ton Events Room on Voon – 2.19.09 Participants: From the...
Loading…Live Presents:
 Star Trek Online Vooncast with Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich
Broadcast Live via the Ten Ton Events Room on Voon – 2.19.09


Participants:

From the staff at Ten Ton Hammer:

Jeff “Ethec” Woleslagle - (Jeff) – Executive Editor
Ben “Machail” De La Durantaye– (Ben) – Managing Editor, Community Sites
Garrett Fuller – (Garrett) – Industry Relations
Reuben “Sardu” Waters – (Reuben) – Staff Writer

And very special guest from Cryptic Studios:

Craig Zinkievich – (Craig) - Executive Producer for Star Trek Online


Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer for Star Trek Online.

Jeff - Welcome everyone, to episode six of the Loading… Live weekly Vooncast from Ten Ton Hammer. I’m your host, Jeff “Ethec” Woleslagle, and I’m joined by Ben “Machail” De La Durantaye…

Ben – Greetings!

Jeff – Reuben “Sardu” Waters…

Reuben – Hey everybody!

Jeff – And Garrett Fuller…

Garrett – Hi everyone!

Jeff – But our very special guest for today is Executive Producer of Star Trek Online, Mr. Craig Zinkievich.

Craig – Hi everyone, it’s cool to be here.

Jeff – We can’t thank Craig enough. We had a small problem getting BioWare on the program, and because our session time was a little bit curtailed from New York Comic-Con 2009 where we had a Star Trek Online panel, we weren’t able to get any audience questions in for the game. So this was a perfect way to look at you guys in here to ask Craig some questions, and also have a pretty awesome podcast as well.

So, without taking more time than we need to, I just want to bounce this to Ben for the “Machail Report”, our week in MMO news portion of the podcast.

Ben – Thanks Jeff. This week in MMO news:

SOE may move their customer support from India. We haven’t yet been able to get a confirmation from SOE, but we did catch wind of talk that this may be the case. Ultimately this is a great choice for SOE, and probably not one that was made lightly. While a lot of companies turn to India for their call centers, game support is unlike most other industries. This kind of move could bring SOE service up some to the top performers, as communication for game support is paramount to a resolution of reported problems.

So I’ve gotta give my hats off to SOE if they go through with this, especially considering the cost factor a move like this would have in today’s economy.

What did you do for Valentine’s Day? Well, you could have been spending it in Hello Kitty Online. Sanrio Digital opened up the game for a public viewing and stress test from February 14th to the 17th. The event was named “Happy Hearts”.

Now, to give credit where credit is due, I’ve heard that the game’s quite good – I’m not denying that at all. But what I am saying is that it would take one hell of a special gal to talk me into spending Valentine’s Day weekend playing with fluffy kitties and happy hearts!

*laughter*

Delays in the Wrath of the Lich King Expansion for World of Warcraft in China may be attributed to disagreements between Blizzard and the Chinese licensed operator, The9. According to the market news site, Trading Markets, it is believed that Blizzard will not hand over the expansion rights unless The9 is willing to offer a higher purchase price. Meanwhile, The9 is reported to be holding off in an effort to force Blizzard to renew their contract.

In either case, I’m curious as to the fringe benefits having the expansion delayed in China would have. Less gold farming for a while maybe? Doubtful, but one can dream!

That’s all I’ve got, going back to you Jeff!

Jeff – Yea, we just don’t want to make the Chinese mad, not with the state of the economy.

*laughter*

Ben – Good point!

Jeff – Alright, well thank you for that Ben, but the real news of today is Star Trek Online and, again, we have with us Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich who, before he came on board with Star Trek Online was a serious mainstay of former Cryptic properties City of Heroes and City of Villains.

Craig, can you talk a little bit about your past? I know you have a very technical background, both with the early parts and then going on to produce City of Heroes and City of Villains and getting them out on time and on budget.

Craig – *laughs* On time and on budget – isn’t that the dream for everybody?

Jeff – That’s awesome, it’s there in your wiki article…

Craig – Isn’t that nice…

*laughter*

No, I came onto Cryptic Studios about six years ago. I think I was like employee 13 for City of… and pretty much sat in a room with Michael Lewis and Jack Emmert and kind of redesigned CoH from scratch. I was the Technical Designer on the project, which really meant that I got to help software pretty much design all of their systems – Make sure that the systems were there, they were extensible, they let us do what design really wanted to do in the game and could expand in the future in an MMO setting. You know, you always have to add stuff, you always have to add new features, new content.

And so, ended up working really closely, making sure the design was on target and software was on target, and started working with art to make sure that they were scheduled and built stuff right so it would fit in the systems correctly. And then all of the sudden we realized that, hey, guess what? That’s what producers do!

*laughter*

So I ended up getting the title, and ended up producing CoH and CoV, and since then I’ve been doing Director of Production level work – did some work on Champions and stuff like that. But it’s cool to be E.P. on Star Trek where I really get to get back down and really touch game again. It’s a whole lot of fun; it’s really what I love.

Jeff – Outstanding. I guess, speaking of redesign, my earliest memory of Star Trek Online was when it was with that ‘other company’ at GDC two years ago. Just seeing the kinds of stuff they were able to do with environment design – I mean, they were sitting in a room designing planets, and it reminded me of that scene in Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Can you talk a little bit about what you were able to use from them, and where you’ve kind of expanded upon what they’d done?

Craig – Yea. So we got the license about a year ago, and at Cryptic Studios (I don’t want to get too boring) but we have a massive amount of tech. That’s really one of our strongest points is we have really proven, really mature tech pipeline back-end; the engines, the database, the graphics engine, the editors – everything within in the game for CoH, CoV, Champions…

Jeff – The editors are phenomenal. *laughs*

Craig – Thanks. Yea, I know, people get really, really spoiled being here…

And so, when we got the license we didn’t really take anything. But they had a huge amount of beautiful, beautiful concept art, and they had done a whole lot of work on that side. But on the tech side, to toot our own horn, our tech is far more advanced, the team here is far more familiar with this. We just weren’t gonna go to somebody else’s engine at that point in time – our engine rocks.

And really, anybody who’s listening, you guys, if someone said “here you go, here’s the Star Trek license, go make Star Trek Online”, are you gonna look at anybody else’s design? No! We all like sat in a room, we were like “what do we want to make about this game? It wasn’t just, you know, picking up somebody else’s design and implementing to it. I mean, it’s a chance of a lifetime basically.

Jeff – No doubt. We know also, that there’s just an absolute ton of lore, and I’m really anxious to get to the audience questions because one thing that the… It’s almost kind of like a tailgate party atmosphere in here. Even two hours before this Vooncast began. These guys know their Star Trek.

Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve done with the team to kind of indoctrinate them into the Star Trek Universe?

Craig – Well, we’ve done a number of things. It’s cool. When we got the license, rumor leaked out to the dev team before hand, and I was blown away by the number of people who came into my office, went into Jack’s office and was like, “Look, look, I gotta work on this game! Do we have this game? Are we doing this game? Look, here’s a picture of me at a Star Trek con when I was 10 with a standee of William Riker!”

*laughter*

People just coming out of the woodwork who were real, real big Trek fans. I was talking to you a little bit earlier about this. It’s the type of thing where I was, you know... yea, I love Star Trek! I watched Next Gen., DS9, Voyager – that’s really where I got into it. I thought I was a fan, but just like with City of Heroes and comic books I thought I was a fan of comic books before hand. As soon as I got online with this, started meeting the fans, interacting with the community, even the other members on the team it’s like “wow, there’s so much work to be done.” I don’t know anything compared…

*laughter*

So as a team, we pretty much went out, I mean we bought all the DVDs, we bought all the movies, just traded those back and forth. I mean, every week we all get together for lunch, sit down, watch an episode. You know, pick things out, make sure that some of the team members who haven’t really been indoctrinated get so they see some of the sets that we’re trying to build, some of the environments that we’re trying to reproduce, and really just try to force it upon people as much as possible.

But it really doesn’t take much until even artists who’ve never seen an episode before, which was kind of surprising for me, really start to get into it and wonder what we’re gonna watch next week.

Jeff – No doubt. When you move from the TV to the MMO, when we talk to people who have developed these licenses, they talk about the limitations that were there in TV episodes and movies just aren’t there in the computer world. When you’re making a video game, you have just a wide open canvas. Has it been a struggle to kind of rein in, prevent from scope creep and that kind of thing?

Craig – I don’t think so. I mean, part of what Star Trek is - its many different things, but the environments I think they always wanted them to be fantastic, always wanted them to be over the top, always wanted them to be bigger than life. It’s not scope problems, it’s really “Wow, we can do these things now”. CBS and the license, they’re really excited about the things that we can see. They’re really excited about kind of pushing some of the creatures that you’re going to see. It’s like “Well the Gorn looked like the Gorn ‘cause we could just afford a rubber mask that episode”.  Kind of really push them a little bit further.

And so it’s difficult to rein back a little bit, make sure that the team stays true to the feeling and the appearance of the IP. But at the same time, I don’t think the universe limits us in any way.

Jeff – I see.

We saw the race creator that you did a demo of at New York Comic-Con. If you guys haven’t gotten a chance to take a look at that video it’s up on Ten Ton Hammer and a couple other places, well worth a watch.

When players are putting together their race, are there any plans to… Star Trek has a number of, you might call them non-humanoid races or less humanoid races, maybe more reptilian kinds of races. I guess the most obvious example is Q which is, you know, he’s kind of energy. Are there plans to implement these kinds of races in the game, either playable or probably as non-playable?

Craig – We’re looking into… we expect at launch that most of the races that you’ll create will be bipedal. That doesn’t limit us from doing tails or strange legs or stuff like that but don’t really expect to get that Horta right at day one. But we are looking into doing holographic, if not your character, your bridge crew, your bridge officers which is another sort of customizable race in the game; making them holographic, making them into changelings. We’re looking at being able to do that, but we don’t have a definitive list right now.

Jeff – That’s phenomenal.

One question I know that’s gonna come up later – with the game taking place 30 years after Nemesis, where the major antagonist was the Borg, will we be seeing the Borg in the game? Will they be playable at all? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Craig – I think that you’re probably not going to play Borg – you’re definitely not going to play Borg at launch.

*laughter*

But I don’t think it would be Star Trek if the Borg weren’t there. That’s just one of the things you’re gonna have to see.

Jeff – Excellent. I’m gonna turn it over to Reuben, who has some questions to ask about exploration.

Craig – Cool.

Reuben – OK. Yea, so the first thing I was wondering is, what type of achievement system might you have for the explorer types out there? Like I know in the City Of… games you had the badges and everything – a way to show other players things you’ve achieved as far as exploration-type things go. Do you have anything planned along those lines?

Craig – Definitely. I think that you really want to… Even for people that just want to go out and explore, there has to be a, not a checklist, but some sort of achievement to it. Accolades, medals that kind of count what you’ve explored, seen, what you’ve discovered and track what you’ve brought back to the Federation. So there’s definitely going to be all sorts of medals and accolades that you can achieve by exploration.

Reuben – Awesome.

Then kind of following along that same vein, when you do open up any kind of achievement-type things with exploration, will that open up anything faction-wide, or is that gonna be more of like a personal event when you make discoveries?

Craig – We think right now the majority of the medals and accolades that you get through exploration will be personal. The things that you open up will either be personal, or you’ll be able to share them with your friends, like the location of this really cool planet that you found.

The majority of the faction-wide rewards that you’ll be able to open up will really be located within the indirect PvP content that we have planned.

Reuben – Alright, that makes sense. That’s pretty much all I had – I know we wanted to get to some user questions…

Craig – Oh yea…

Reuben - … so I’ll keep it short.

Jeff – Just to keep things moving here I’ll go ahead and ask the first question, which is always the first question. How are you doing with development, are you on track, do you have any kind of timeline yet for beta and release?

Craig – Yes, of course I have a timeline…

Jeff – That you’re not sharing …

*laughter*

Craig - … I’m not gonna tell you it.

*more laughter*

I’ll get in trouble! Actually, if you had asked me three months ago if we were on track, I’d probably have lied then and said yes, but it wouldn’t have been true. I think that a few months ago it was a little rocky, there were a few things that we were still trying to figure out that were core to the game, and iterating on.

But really, over the last month and a half, since about mid- December the team has really, really come together, really started to roll. And really, we’re just starting to churn out content now that is just... every single time we play it, it’s like, “That’s it. That’s what we want.” Every new skill that we put in, every new ship we put in, every episode that gets added in is just feeling right. So I really think the team has started to roll right now, and definitely, definitely on track for all our internal goals.

Jeff – Excellent, that’s great to hear. That was one of the finest answers to that question I’ve ever heard. That’s kind of a game for us, you know, it’s the eternal battle between devs and audience you know? Everybody wants to know when a game’s coming out, but no dev wants to commit to a date.

Craig – Yea, I think that you can look at milestones, you can look at goals and stuff like that, but one of the major, big-huge turning points is when the dev team starts playing. And we do. We have weekly play tests where the entire team has to play – Art, OCR, CS, QA – everybody is playing the game. And when it’s hard to stop them to wrap up and get their feedback, when they look forward to it and everybody’s raising their hands afterwards and saying that it’s fun, that’s when I think we’ve turned the corner and that’s where we are now.

Jeff – Excellent.

Garrett, do we have some questions from the audience?

Garrett – We have a ton! So Craig, I’m gonna rapid-fire through these as best I can. Some people are asking some good in-depth questions, but the first one I’m looking at here is, “What is Star Trek Online gonna offer role-players? Is there gonna be social areas for players to kind of hang out in the game?”

Craig – There’s definitely going to be social areas for the players to hang out in the game. Space stations, DS9, social hubs where you’ll be able to go and hang out as you’re captain. Go down the promenade, see what’s going on, go to a ten forward and sort of hang out, do that sort of role play.

Outside of that I think you’re gonna find that our fleet system, which our word for guilds, also is going to offer a whole lot options for people to role play there. One of the really cool things about the Trek fans – they have fleets already out there. Trek fan groups called fleets, and they have their order, they have their ranks, they know how to progress through them, and giving them that space in the game where they can do that sort of thing I think is an overlooked part of role playing, but kind of a big part of it in Star Trek.

Garrett – Awesome, awesome. The other thing is, I know someone here has a good question about the trans-hubs in the game, or transwarp hubs I’m sorry. As far as a flight path type of system, is that what you’re gonna work with, or can you stop off somewhere and go explore? How are your transwarp hubs gonna be put in? I guess they’re already in, but just talk a little bit about that…

Craig – Our transwarp hubs are pretty much instant travel to basically the far side of the galaxy. Not the far side of the galaxy … basically long distance travel to make it instantaneous. It is not the only way to travel between systems. You will basically go out to our sector-level where you’re traveling at really high warp velocities, which is kind of an astrometrics view of the galaxy. But transwarp hubs are pretty much, “OK, I need to go way across the galaxy, I don’t want to spend, you know 30, 40 minutes traveling there – take me there.”

Garrett – Awesome, awesome. I’m just going through this as fast as I can, there’s a lot of good questions here… You talked a little bit about the fleet system, so I’m gonna avoid that, but one of the things we already talked about, you will be at E3 – I see that one went by.

One of the following ones is about Geordi’s visor – will you be able to wear things like that in the game? Maybe talk a little bit about equipment.

Craig – I mean, if you’ve seen any of Cryptic Studios’ character creation and costume editing system, it continually blows me away what the artists are able to do. Our lead character artist, Matt Higginson, came up to me today and was like, “Look, I found out how to make normal maps go backwards now!” And I was like, “Wow, that’s great, that’s awesome. Now we can get more pieces in.”

*laughter*

And he is, him and his entire team are just throwing, constantly throwing pieces in. I’m sure Geordi’s visor is going to show up, I’m sure it’s going to be customizable. It’s amazing what the team here can do.

Garrett – Awesome, awesome. One of the other ones here I’m looking is, this is interesting, “Will the space environments have interactive celestial bodies? Will they have a sun, photosphere, cause damage to shields etc.? Black holes? That kind of thing.”

Craig – There’s definitely nebulas that cause different effects on your ship as you fly through them. We’re working on trying to make it so that you either avoid, or you soak the damage if you need to. Or then nebulas that can give you benefits.

We’re iterating right now on asteroids, and whether or not they should cause damage when you run into them. It’s the type of thing that you always flip the coin between – it’s not a flip, it’s really a decision you have to make between realism and fun. If you constantly run into things that cause damage and you’re doing it by accident, that’s not fun.  *laughs*

So there are interactive stellar objects in the universe in the game right now, it’s just whether or not it goes full on simulator, I’m doubting that.

Garrett – Cool, cool. A good MMO question that’s being asked actually, and this is important for all MMOs right now is, “As far as content goes are you guys focusing more on leveling, or are you focusing more on end-game, and what kind of balance of those two features will you have?”

Craig – It is, it’s a really interesting balance. I think that it was at the MMO panel, and I can’t remember who said it, but I really think that it really works for Star Trek. When we got the license, we didn’t sit in a room and say, “OK, how can we jam Star Trek onto an MMO?” We sat and were like, “What is Star Trek? What do people expect out of this game, and then how can we make this into an MMO?”

For people who’ve seen interviews, or seen me type, you’ll hear me say this all the time. Star Trek is different things to different people. And exploring is going to be an activity that you get to do. There’s going to be the episodic content – the story driven content that you’re going to do. There’s going to be the end-game, the PvP, the indirect PvP. I think that it really is a question of offering people choices of what they get to do, and when they feel like doing it as opposed to, “OK, it’s linear, you level, then you go end-game.” I don’t think it’s as simple as that anymore with MMOs.

Garrett – Very cool. A quick question from Sir Cedric is, “Will there be admirals, player admirals in the game so that they can give missions to other players?”

Craig – There will be player admirals in the game, you will be able to achieve the rank of admiral. I doubt that at launch we’ll have it so that you’ll be able to actually task other people with missions in the game. Probably you’ll end up seeing that sort of stuff happening within the fleet system, but not in a game-supported fashion.

Garrett – Cool. What about space combat? I’m going through these as best I can. It says, “It looks like you’re leaning towards planed, flat-style battles, but will you be able to fly above or below your opponents, to kind of sneak up from underneath or something like that?”

Craig – Definitely. It is not a plane, it is 3D. It’s not a full-on ‘dog fighter I’m gonna get gimbal-locked’ 3D. We do want people to have a sense of space, and a sense of their orientation, but it is 3D, you do go under you do go above and you do sneak up on people that way. It’s one of the easiest ways to get from afore to the aft shields of somebody is to kind of pop under them.

Garrett – Cool, I’m just looking at this question here talking about the post launch content, and I know you touched on it before, but they were saying, “Is there something that you could say that would calm the fears that post launch content might not get the same attention.” And I know you talked about episodic content, which I think that alone is amazing, so…

Craig – Yea, I guess I giggle a little if people are afraid that post launch content is not going to be addressed. An MMO is not going to be successful in this market (I’ll put my business hat on I guess) If you don’t provide the users constant updates, constant content. At Cryptic Studios in our plan, the dev team doesn’t shrink when you launch the game. The dev team stays there, the dev team provides support, does quality of life fixes and continues to add content to the game.

I don’t think you can ship an MMO and then not support your customers. It’s one of the most exciting things about developing an MMO too, because it turns into an interactive development where your customers actually get to tell you what they want, tell you what you like. And then you get to kind of mold the game and help try to give them the universe that they want to play in.

So Cryptic Studios definitely, definitely believes in continually building content.

Garrett – Cool. The other one that I’m looking at real quick, which is raid-style content. “Do you plan on having any kind of PvE raid content? How many people will be able to go? Will the raids be on the ground, will they be in space?” There’s certainly a lot to mess around with there.

Craig – And that’s one of the things that we’re really iterating on internally right now. There definitely will be raid level content in the game. The full on details – how many people, space or ground – we don’t have all the details worked out, but I mean, we already go in and fight Borg Cubes with 10, 15 of us on the dev team. So I guess that’s what I’d call raid level content.

Garrett – I think everybody now wants to go work there Craig, after you said that.

*laughter*

I think you have a large amount of people now just driving off to California…

Craig – And we have openings! Look on the website, apply!

Garrett – Oh awesome, that’s a good plug right there *laughs*

Another question which is interesting… “Will there be immersive holodecks?” That’s a good one.

Craig – Oh, holodecks. Wow.

*laughter*

I think holodecks are… it’s almost a bugaboo on the team right now, and I’m about to throw down the gauntlet and say that no one’s allowed to say holodeck for the next couple months. The holodeck is something that is just so powerful that everybody wants to put everything there.

Its like, “Well the tutorial, that’s gotta be in the holodeck!”, “Oh, well we’ve gotta go and see Abe Lincoln… in the holodeck!”, “Well, that’ll be the way that we get to go back and replay episodes that we’ve already done will be the holodeck!”

And so it’s such a cool trope in the universe, it’s such a cool thing. Who knows, maybe you’ll get to go to the holodeck and play Champions Online.

*laughter*

Garrett – Somebody just wrote that – STO / Champions crossover.

Craig – I just saw that…

Garrett – I love it. I guess a good one here is the PC / Console server question. Are you guys gonna be, you know… With Champions and the console questions we always deal with, will you see Star Trek Online for the console?

Craig – We are developing the game for the PC and consoles right now. We do plan on making sure that this game plays and is fun on the console.

Garrett – Cool. I guess the last question, and I know everybody’s going nuts… I apologize to everyone if I can’t get to one of your questions. I’m doing my best here guys.

Jeff – We’re always open to fan questions, so if we didn’t grab your question here maybe we can send it to Cryptic and get it answered.

Garrett – Of course, post it in the forums guys, we’ll do our best definitely to send over a collective interview.

I guess the last thing I wanted to ask, and somebody brought this up and it’s very true Craig, and I know I had asked you when we talked at Comic-Con. Is there something that you can tell everybody about Star Trek that you haven’t said yet? Just a general fun… I know it’s a tough one to toss up, but it’ll give you the chance here to kind of say, “Hey, by the way, this is in the game and it’s freaking amazing and no one has asked me about it yet.” So go ahead, I’ll turn it over to you.

Craig – I think the only thing that I can speak to that won’t get me into total deep trouble with our PR team who likes me to keep tight lips, is really space combat. Space combat right now is just awesome. The team can’t get enough of it. It’s got a bit of a steep learning curve right now that we’re working on, that we’re trying to smooth that out, try to make it a little easier to get into. But really anybody, after they’ve played it for just a little bit, just a couple of times really, really get into it. And the strategy that is in there, the tactics that you can use, it really just opens up different levels of gameplay that I really haven’t seen in any MMO. And it’s really fun.

Garrett – That’s awesome, I think everyone’s looking forward to it. I can’t imagine how many people have been looking forward to this game over the years. We’ve seen it go through different instances, and I think we can all agree here, it’s in great hands.

Craig – Well thanks!

Jeff – Absolutely.

Garrett – it’s true! And we can’t wait to see what you guys have to show us over the summer, and next fall, and going into, you know at some point the beta and then the launch is just going to be great.

Craig – We can’t wait to show stuff off, it’s… I mean, you say, the response we’ve gotten from the fan, from the press, from everybody has been awesome how excited they are about the game. And I just want to express to everybody how excited Cryptic is, and everybody on the team is in making this game. This is just… we’re just having a lot of fun tackling the challenges and putting this content in, it’s awesome.

Garrett – Very cool, very cool. Well Jeff, I’ll turn it over to you then so we can…

Jeff – Craig, we can’t thank you enough for coming on and talking with us. This is actually just part one of the Cryptic double-header here on Loading… Live. Next week we’ll have Bill Roper, who’s executive producer of Champions Online – same bat time, same bat channel! Tune in next Thursday at 7PM!

So, this has been Jeff “Ethec” Woleslagle for Ten Ton Hammer, along with Ben “Machail” De La Durantaye, Reuben “Sardu” Waters, Garrett Fuller, and our special guest of course Craig Zinkievich, executive producer for Star Trek Online.

Craig – Thanks a lot guys, it was a whole lot of fun.

Jeff – And thank you, we’ll see you next week!


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