Phasers Set to Beta - A Star Trek Online Q&A with Craig Zinkievich

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Questions by Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, Executive Editor, Ten Ton Hammer
Answers by Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, Star Trek Online (Cryptic Studios)

The course is set, and it’s time to engage with Star Trek Online. Cryptic is turning up the volume as the closed beta phase of the game approaches, set to begin at the end of this year. So how is the game coming along, and how can you get into beta? And what are some of the challenges the development team has faced? Craig Zinkievich, Star Trek Online’s Executive Producer was gracious enough to tell us about how to get into beta, ground combat, and some of the challenges Cryptic has dealt with.

Ten Ton Hammer: So how is Star Trek Online coming along?

: It’s coming along really well. We’re moving into the home stretch now and looking at what we have, and figuring out where we think the holes are, and plugging those holes. We’re really starting to polish it; taking a step back and realizing we’ve got the core of everything in. Now what do we have to do to get this game out?

Closed beta is right around the corner, and we’re all chomping at the bit for it. PAX was a lot of fun. It was really amazing to finally get people from outside the company and friends and family to play the game and give us feedback. We’re all anxious to get the game out and get feedback in as soon as possible.

Ten Ton Hammer: So when is beta happening then?

: Definitely in 2009.

Ten Ton Hammer: What would be the best way for fans to get into the beta?

: Go to startrekonline.com and apply. Get on the list. Feel free to get involved in the community as soon as possible. Go to the forums and start talking there. Really, register. That is probably the best way to get in right now.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is it a manual selection? Are you looking for people who are more active on the forums than others?

: We will go out to the forums and look for a certain type of player. Often too, we’ll go to the demographic data collected when players apply for beta. For instance, we may be looking for people with specific hardware, or we may be looking for the type of player who plays a lot of MMOs, or someone who only plays a few. It’s not just going to the forums and looking for people that stand out. There is a whole lot of different ways that we manually select people.

At other points, we also do random selection. We want to make sure we get some people in who we wouldn’t otherwise select. So it’s a combination of both – shotgun random, and specific demographics.

Ten Ton Hammer: With such a large IP, many Star Trek fans are pretty specific as to what they want and do not want in the game. How has this affected development?

: It is a whole lot of work, but it is a whole lot of fun too. When I initially came to Cryptic Studios before we launched City of Heroes, I thought I was a comic book fan. I thought “I can do that.” When I got in here, though, it was more: “ok. I guess I’m not a comic book fan.” It’s the same thing with the Star Trek license. You get into it and you realize “I’m not a Star Trek fan.” There’s always somebody deeper; there’s always somebody who knows so much more than you. It’s really about being open to that, and getting as many of those guys as you can on your team, and going to the community for as much advice as possible.

To be totally honest, we were scared too when we got the license; looking at the community, looking at the fans, and thinking of the fan base as people who are really, really rabid, and not accepting of certain things. But I’ll be honest, having been really steeped in that community, and having gone to the cons, and  talked with the fans a lot, they are really an accepting fan base. Now, they love to argue, and they love to talk, and they love to really experience the universe, but in terms of sharing their knowledge, they’re there. So they’re not really as rabid and as scary as I thought they would be. They’re really accepting, willing to hear arguments, willing to discuss things. They’re really just a cool bunch.

Ten Ton Hammer: It’s refreshing to hear that you’re making an active effort to get involved with the community, and have the community get involved in the development process. Not all studios will do that sort of thing.

: I’ve always been disappointed to hear that about other MMOs. The coolest thing about an MMO, for us, is to release a game, and then work with the fans and audience to make a cooler game. They’re as invested in it as you are after launch.

Ten Ton Hammer: In addition to staying true to the IP, what would you say are some of the other major obstacles you’ve recently overcome in developing the game?

: Ground combat.

We did a lot of fast iteration early on with space combat, to make sure it felt right, and make sure it was cool. We probably got lucky with a couple of choices we made. Pretty much anyone who’s tried it has said “wow. There’s nothing else like it. It’s amazing.” We’re really proud of that.

I think the ground combat was something that was much harder to get right, looking back at the project. It was much harder to get the ground combat to feel cool, feel fast paced, feel Star Trek, and really satisfy all of the things we need out of ground combat. At the same time, we needed to live up to the really cool space combat; making sure that when you’re on the ground, you’re not thinking “when can I get back in my spaceship?”

I would say within the last few months we’ve tuned and tweaked and got ground combat to the point where it’s good, and it’s fun, and something we want to do. When you get into the game, you’re not thinking “I want to do space combat,” but rather “I want to do some of this, and some of that, and I want to do some of that, too.”

But it’s also really going to be one of the shining parts of the game – the content flow, the moving back and forth between space and ground and how our episodes our constantly going to be moving you from environment to environment. That feel alone is totally different from anything else that’s out there. We knew we really had to really make two games when we started out.

Things sound to be shaping up in the Star Trek universe, and we're anxious to see the game for ourselves. We bet you are too, so be sure to register for beta at startrekonline.com. Join us next week for another Q&A with Cryptic Studios and find out more about the universe and lore of Star Trek Online coming soon to a PC near you.

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