State of the Game 03/12/10

This week, Cryptic's Craig
Zinkievich provides a new State of the Game for href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek Online.
With the tide turning away from launch issues (both things included and
excluded) and we turn our eye to the future, the SotG shows the
development team extending the olive branch as well as building the
community bridge. The href="">response
thus far has been almost too
sickly sweet on the official forums. Everyone seems to like this post,
so let's wade in and see what has them jumping all over this eye candy.


style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">"A few
more weeks of furious post-launch development have passed and we've
arrived at yet another State of the Game. Does time merely fly, or does
it actually warp? I'm not convinced any of us had a chance to notice
the days passing between the last State of the Game and now –
we've been working that hard.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">I
suppose we'd best jump right into this State of the Game before
somebody blinks and we all find ourselves staring at the next State of
the Game!"

Roll out the big guns. Wasting
no time, Craig brings in the end game fun:

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">"STF:
Infected is Live

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">We
pushed our very first Special Task Force live last week. Huzzah! A
terrific number of people have played STF: Infected, many have
completed it, and some even took a moment to provide excellent feedback.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">A
reminder for those who waltzed into Infected and realized their error
after being promptly obliterated: Special Task Force content is not
meant to serve as an Episode players can jump into and plow through
without breaking a sweat. STFs take coordination, talent, game
experience and familiarity with the specific STF being attempted. Come
in with anything less and ... well, role-playing space debris probably
isn't the best use of one's time.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Don't
worry, though! After completing an STF once or twice, a
like-experienced pick-up group can assemble and take names. In other
words, once the content becomes familiar, "Ms. Jet Boots" won't hand
your PuG its collective hat."

As is typical for a first end
game encounter, there is equal parts hate and cries of "impossible"
along with the facerollers saying "those who can't do this need to
learn to play (l2p)." Apparently there were some zerg tactics that
allowed players to literally blow through the initial space battle, but
according to the forums href="">this
has been solved - no more easy

The one fundamental issue that
boils to the top in the discussion continues to be the death penalty.
Not in the typical format this time though. The fix for people
zerging is to institute something of an encounter-wide style death
penalty. The problem is that ships can't be revived during space combat
like players can be during ground combat. So if players are dying in
the space portion of the encounter, then tough luck, respawn and head
back. Originally poo-pooing the death penalty debate, it appears there
may be some farther reaching impacts. Allowing players almost an
instant respawn does indeed provide for unlimited cavalry, however
instituting a death penalty almost requires players get the ability to
revive ships. Heck, this new solution may be more of a
hardcore death penalty, isn't that what a lot of players wanted?

Speaking of things that bug

style="margin-left: 40px; font-style: italic;">"Of
Bugs, Issues and Fixes

style="margin-left: 40px; font-style: italic;">We
know Star Trek Online
has its share of issues. We see support tickets, we see forum reports,
and we see issues when we play and enjoy the game in our own time.
Please keep the feedback coming. It is extremely valuable.

style="margin-left: 40px; font-style: italic;">It's
important to reiterate that we are, by no means, only adding content to
the game. We continue diligently squashing bugs and making
moment-to-moment gameplay better.

style="margin-left: 40px; font-style: italic;">In
order to keep you informed – so you don’t feel like
your reports have fallen into some kind of horrible oblivion
– our tireless Producer, Daniel "dStahl" Stahl, has started
the " href="">Engineering

style="margin-left: 40px; font-style: italic;">The
Engineering Report provides detail about what we're working on and
where that work falls in the development pipeline. Dan's Engineering
Report is regular, so you will see exactly what we're knocking down and
you will then see improvements moving through the development pipeline.

style="margin-left: 40px; font-style: italic;">Please
check out the most recent report right href="">here."

I'm a big fan of the href="">Engineering
Report, and think this is an
excellent move by the dev team. Many games will give high level looks
at what may be on the horizon, but I don't recall any of them showing
the priorities and potential launch time frames for upcoming changes.
Cryptic is definitely providing a peep-hole view into the STO's future.
My guess is that other companies don't do this for fear of being bitten
when things go sideways. 

The reality is though, with
open communications, the players know what is occurring and will
typically give the development team a break. This is quite evident in
the href="">EVE Online
community. Often considered the most cut-throat, the community
routinely backs CCP when events in the game are delayed or changed.
It's not all rosy, but it sure beats the alternative where information
is drizzled out randomly and poorly (I'm pointed directly at
you Blizzard).

Testing, testing, one, two,

In yet another show of STO moving into production and beyond launch is
the opening of the test server, Tribble.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">"Tribble

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Tribble,
our Public Test Shard (PTS for short), is finally live! Cue a
collective sigh of development team relief.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Birthing
Tribble took a little longer than predicted, but the Public Test Shard
is up and running.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">It's
such a relief to have Tribble operational; we can now publish in-game
changes and new features to a secure testing environment to get
hands-on player feedback before releasing said changes and features to
Holodeck. The "straight to live" method might be hilarious fun for
games developers who enjoy being completely overwhelmed by
uncontrollable terror, but publishing to Tribble first is definitely
the right practice.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">See an
issue or feature in the Engineering Report that you want to be
absolutely sure we're getting right? Just want to try the latest and
greatest before everyone else? Want to feel "teh l33t, lol" and collect
more fodder for forum posts? Copy your current Holodeck character to
Tribble and play on the PTS right now!

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">This
second, we have a preliminary build for Season One - Common Ground
running on Tribble. If new content of this sort is interesting to you,
and you would like to better help us improve Star Trek Online, please
check href="">this
link for more Tribble

Two things strike me here - first, testing is better than not testing;
and second, will the test shard be overrun with end game players
looking for world firsts on Season One? Allowing players outside of the
developer team to test the new content is a luxury that Cryptic can now
employ. Players providing feedback prior to launch is definitely a good

Will the test shard just be a domain of end game raiders though? I
imagine it will at first since that is the lion's share of new content.
The question will be how hardcore the end-gamers get in their quest to
be first. That should become fairly evident soon enough.

Speaking of Tribble, Season One is out there for those wanting to check
it out:

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">"Season
One - Common Ground Coming Soon

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Our
first major update to Star
Trek Online
(because the
patches, STF content and Gamma Orionis content we already released is
just a start) is right around the corner. It's only been about five
weeks since launch, and href="">Season
One - Common Ground is prepped
to launch.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">A
preliminary build is on Tribble (see above for details). Expect the
Common Ground build on the Tribble test environment to be updated many
times over the next week as we intend to open up features, polish
content and stomp the bugs our coolest users *cough* Try Tribble Now!
*cough* are finding.
style="font-style: italic;">Respecs, new PvP maps,
new Fleet Actions, another STF ... Season One - Common Ground is
pretty-pretty-pretty robust."

First major update within two
months of launch is pretty amazing if they can pull it off. Even if it
rolls into month three, that is relatively unheard of (outside of
Cryptic games). Do you think they are recruiting hard enough for
testers on Tribble? Typically not one to jump onto test servers, I'm
intrigued by enough of the changes that I just may have to head over

Must not be a Klingon at the

In another showing of niceness, Cryptic announces their own freedom of
information act:

style="font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">" style="font-weight: bold;">Transparency Forward!

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">General
advisory: All Cryptic hands are hereby instructed to reconfigure comm.
badges to broadcast.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">What
does that mean? Our devs are on the forums more, we're sharing what
we're working on in a variety of ways and we're publishing a calendar.
The goal? Be as transparent as possible. We're going to tell you what
we're doing as often as we can. We're going to give you the date we're
shooting for on the calendar, even if it ends up slipping. We're going
to tell you the bug we're squashing, even if it's a resilient bugger.
We're going to show you that your subscription to Star Trek Online is a
subscription to an ongoing service of tremendous value.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">For
example, we've recently posted and updated the " href="">Upcoming
Events Calendar."

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">It's
improving, too. Soon, each item will link to its own descriptive page.
A better style calendar was just published, also.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">So,
rather than waiting until everything is done, finalized, blasted into
sacred stone and prepped for PR and marketing -- the traditional way of
operating -- we're going to post what we're planning on doing as soon
as we finish planning it. It's risky, yes, but it's definitely the
right thing to do.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">We
believe our customers and co-developers of Star
Trek Online
- you beautiful
people - deserve to know what's in store for the universe. We believe
it's more important to let you know what we're striving to accomplish,
even if we stumble, than it is to package releases in fancy boxes for
easy, last-minute consumption.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Here's
the drawback: Some of that information may, ultimately, turn out to be
inaccurate. Dates move, items change, content gets revised. Delays,
cuts, iterations, early releases ... Oh, my! That's games development
for you. We're hoping everyone understands this and still appreciates
the rare look at how interstellar sausage gets made.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Some
of the items on the coming soon list - Season Two and Season Three,
specifically - are a little vague right now. But, we want you to know
they're coming and when they're coming. As time goes on, we'll fill out
the calendar with more information.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Best I
can tell, this is a pretty unique strategy, as far as MMOs go. "Telling
the customers what we're working on well beforehand so they know where
their game is going." So darn crazy it just ... might ... work!"

Zinc is dead on, this is a crazy thing to do. If Cryptic sticks to
their words here, the STO community will be the most informed community
in the MMOG landscape, hands down. The honesty in the statements shows
how serious they seem to be, "It's risky, yes, but it's definitely the
right thing to do." Truer words may not have been uttered in terms of
community relations.

We are all big kids (except for some of the goons) and in these days of
the internet it always astounds me that game developers continue to
withhold information with some deranged idea that we can't handle the
truth. At least Cryptic is giving it a go and pretending like we're
capable of handling information.

Time for the big finish. Continuing the new trend of open
communication, Cryptic shares some information and asks for more input:

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">"Your
Feedback, Our Job

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">For
your edification, href="">here
are the results of the player
survey that some 40,000 of you wonderful players graciously filled out
for us.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Obviously,
more non-combat content and ship interiors are hot items. Rest assured,
we are forming our next update around those core concepts.

style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Expect
more polls and surveys in the future. Still plenty of questions to be
answered. For example:
    style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">
  1. "What new playable faction
    do you want?"
  2. "What current content would
    you like to see more of?"
  3. style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Because
    we intend our fans to directly impact development and we intend to
    address your concerns and implement your requests, we'll do more
    surveys, release the results and move in the right direction.

    style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Our
    entire team continues to look forward to resolving your most important
    issues and getting the exciting content and systems in that you request.

    style="font-style: italic; margin-left: 40px;">Until
    when next we boldly go,


    The results of the survey are close to what was anticipated: the only
    place crafting gets high marks is in the "Needs some love" category
    (aka Least Liked). Nothing new there. If I were using that survey to
    debate on the next features, I'd be hard pressed outside of crafting to
    get a feel from the players. The desired gameplay features had no clear
    cut winner, and one glaring omission is any discussion about a death
    penalty. The DP continues to be an entertaining conversation and I
    would guess we'll see that crop up for quite a while.

    Overall it's a good report and welcome news in terms of the developer
    bridging the communication gap with the players. Did anything jump out
    at you while reading this or was there another topic that should have
    been covered?

    To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Star Trek Online Game Page.

    Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016