“Darth Kirk” or “Jean-Luc Kenobi”
Over the course of last week, plenty of news came out of the BioWare and Cryptic camps regarding their upcoming space-age MMOs.
Going Online Where No Star Trek MMO Has Gone Before
Star Trek Online will be released on February 2, 2009. This is very disturbing for me. Please understand that when I say I am a Star Trek fan, I don’t mean I liked John Cho reprise the role of Sulu as a Katana-wielding martial artist. I mean I own every episode of every series (except the animated one), and I have read all Star Trek books, including all volumes of TOS and yes, the narcissistic verbal diarrhea from William Shattner masquerading as works of literature.
I have been fairly blunt in my criticism of Champions Online in the last month or so. The game grew on me post-launch in unexpected ways. But the sheer lack of polish, compounded by the plethora of bugs / design flaws have taken their toll. I last logged in on Halloween, made this post about the sorry state of affairs in the game, and I haven’t gone back since. Of course it doesn’t help that I have WoW’s upcoming patch, EvE’s every changing world of political and regional conflict, Dragon Age’s anti-heroes and Borderlands’ cell-shaded, head-splattering goodness to keep me from it.
But I digress. Cryptic pushed out Champions Online on a strict deadline. Frankly that is commendable, considering the industry is notorious for development, publishing and release date delays. But there is a fine line between sticking to the deadline, and compromising content and design elements to satisfy the production timeline. In their bid to enter the fray during an economic downturn, Cryptic ended up relinquishing quality over release date rigidity. Blood Moon, the highly anticipated mini-event, aside from the incredibly fun PvP elements, was an unpolished, grind-infested and ill-designed abomination that may have turned away more players than it attracted.
It simply may be because the economy is in such a terrible condition, the only way for these studios is to push content out quickly and make the quick bucks to keep afloat. And I can certainly sympathize. Most recently Mythic fired 80 employees, which allegedly makes up 40% of the workforce directly responsible for 90% of the content. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts cut 1,500 jobs. What that says for the state of the gaming industry and the MMO arena in particular remains to be seen. But the need to rush content is no excuse for some of the sloppy and downright careless work we have seen so far. In retrospect, it is sad how these little elements, which individually would have had negligible impact, now stand between me and another $15 for Cryptic, to play an otherwise exciting and adrenaline-pumping title.
So when I hear that merely four months after the release of Champions Online, the studio has a set-in-stone deadline for Star Trek Online, my heart sinks. The true tragedy of the matter is that my loyalty to the IP will likely force me to pick it up and play it, that maybe I will find a diamond in the rough. The initial impressions have been quite positive, so I remain hopeful. And hope (no, not love), is what makes the world go around.
Perpetual Entertainment, the studio that had been working on Star Trek Online for four years, shut down in 2008. On January 15, 2008, production was moved to Cryptic. Star Trek Online was officially announced on July 28, 2008. Last week, the release date was set as February 2, 2010.Technically, at release time, the game would have been almost six years in development. Cryptic is responsible for two of those years. So for all the criticism Cryptic has faced recently, maybe Star Trek Online will become the genre-bending space MMO that I have craved since the days of Earth and Beyond.
Pros and Cons:
- (+) It’s Star Trek, and you get to be the captain of a ship
- (+) 6-year long development title; Cryptic has spent over two years working on the game
- (+) Cryptic already has an MMO launch under their belt
- (+) You get to fight on ground in away teams and in space in tactical ship battles
- (+) The game promises to build a lot of nostalgic lore moments from the series into the world
- (-) Cryptic‘s track record for quality control and polished content isn’t exactly noteworthy
- (-) Content past release has been sloppy, repetitive and uninspiring
- (-) Like Champions Online, many features that sound exciting “might” be part of the game, like a Galactic, dynamic economy
Star Wars: Ye Old Republic
BioWare, normally, rests at the other end of the spectrum for me. I am, in many ways, their unpaid mascot. The news coming out of this camp has been quite heartening. Bear in mind that although I own every Star Wars movie, and have read quite a few of the tightly structured novels set in the universe, I am not as big a fan of the series as I am of Star Trek. So it goes a long way to show the studio’s credibility if I am still looking forward to the MMO.
For anyone who has played more than a few hours of Dragon Age: Origins on a high-end PC knows the game looks breathtaking. The first major skirmish between the King’s army and the Darkspawn horde gave me goosebumps in a warm, cozy, well-lit, room. Suffice it to say that BioWare is very well ahead of the curve when it comes to graphics and technology.
Yet, last week, they invested in a new occlusion culling technology from Umbra. In layman’s terms, the technology keeps track of what a player is actively looking at, and reduces the graphical intensity and polygon count of the unseen parts of the environment. This reduces the strain on the processor, freeing it up for more complexity and graphical richness in the immediately visible area.
Second, a new novel was announced that details the story behind the MMO. The release date is July 27, 2010, a full eight and a half months away. It would be natural to assume the MMO would be released after this date, ergo, the MMO is at least nine months away
Third, There will be no initial testing for the mac. This is great news. I hate macs. Justin Long can get bent.
Finally the Imperial Agent class was revealed by BioWare. I believe only two classes remain unknown at this stage.
If Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect were to serve as examples, we know that this is only the beginning of a torrential downpour that will form a flood of marketing collateral, eager to devour all in its path. We are barely seeing a trickle right now. You have been forewarned.
Pros and Cons:
- (+) It’s Star Wars
- (+) It’s BioWare
- (+) Stellar storytelling; 12 full-time writers, some of whom have been writing for the project for well over 2 years
- (+) Compelling morality dynamics in that Jedis aren’t necessarily righteous and pure, and Sith aren’t exactly evil or corrupt
- (+) Its a fresh foray into an old IP. There is no reference to the movies, the game is set millenniums prior to the events in the Lucas films.
- (-) Its a fresh foray into an old IP. There is no reference to the movies, the game is set millenniums prior to the events in the Lucas films. (See what I did there?)
- (-) It’s over-hyped. Granted BioWare always lives up to the hype, but this is a colossal IP, and brings with it quite a rabid fan base. Any faceplants may be back-breakers.
Time will tell… only time. And Metacritic.