Monday, May 7, 2007

Player Ship Interiors

[2008/04/01: One of the design elements of Star Trek Online proposed by its former developer, Perpetual Entertainment, was the decision that the interface to player starships would be a third-person external view. Rather than treating player ships as mobile structures with internal rooms in which player avatars would be able to see and interact with each other, player ships would essentially be like the "mounts" of fantasy online games.

This player ship interiors (PSIs) decision generated a lot of discussion. Some defended Perpetual's design, which was based on the assertion that the third-person external view was most efficient for tactical action gameplay. Others objected to this design on the grounds that the gameplay of an online Star Trek RPG should be driven by more than just "tactical action," and that not allowing players to see and interact with each other's avatars inside starships would completely fail to deliver the crucial social aspect of the Star Trek experience.

The entries I wrote on this subject follow the latter viewpoint. I thought, and still think, that "players as ships" is the wrong design choice for this game, and I hope Star Trek Online's new developers will not make the same mistake.]


Originally Posted by Suricata:
I think Characters at consoles is a bad idea for combat. ... after watching some consoles displaying the water pressure of the fire main, or the RPM of the gas turbines, or the power output of the diesel generators, it gets boring very very fast. ... Having to run from console to console to raise the shields, to activate a thruster, to fire a torpedo was a lot of fun, but I could not imagine it would be fun to do again and again like things do in MMO's.
Great points, Suricata. In response, I'd say we're lucky that Star Trek Online will be a game and not a hardcore simulation!

Because it'll be a game, there's nothing stopping its developer from abstracting (or even inventing) only the most fun parts of operating a starship. There's no reason why "characters at consoles" has to only mean staring at one dial and occasionally clicking a button -- there've already been plenty of ideas in this forum for fun things that players at consoles could do.

For example, there was the excellent idea that the console user's screen could be split into (at least) two parts -- one that shows controls and readouts (the console), and one that shows the exterior of the ship, which displays what happens when the player takes an action. Sure, it's a little odd -- where's the camera outside the ship that sees this stuff? -- but it's no odder than being outside the ship all the time.

Furthermore, there's nothing whatsoever that says consoles can offer only a few boring commands. Take for example the Tactical station. Without even breaking a sweat I can think of five things that would be fun to do through that control station:

  • designate and prioritize threats to my ship

  • manually target an enemy ship

  • manually target a specific feature of an enemy ship

  • select a torpedo's warhead type for maximum effect

  • scan for and identify intruders who've boarded my ship
I'm sure other people can think of even more things that would be fun to do at a console. And all this would be in addition to (not "instead of") the other completely non-console-y things that a Star Trek character could do on the inside of a starship.

Could we do those things "outside" the ship? Sure... but then we wouldn't be able to see our comrades in arms cheer when we take out the bad guy. Representing characters inside ships allows for much more immersive interaction with other players than some weird disembodied voice telling us what to do.

So yes, "characters at consoles" could be very, very boring... if it was designed that way. Fortunately, there's nothing inherent in that particular design mechanic that limits it to the boring bits.

Originally Posted by Suricata:
It's understandable that players would love to reproduce how Star Trek is to perfection, but people need to realise that by doing that you risk turning the game into something that could end up feeling more of a chore or job. ... I'd also like to point out that as nice as some people think it would be for PE to make a game solely for hardcore Trek fans, it really is an impossable task, especially when some Trek fans refuse to even accept offical canon stuff as canon ... I seriously believe that a 100% simulation of a starship will only hit a very niche market of Trek fans which would seriously put the success of the game at risk.
This isn't a fair argument. I don't believe anyone here has proposed or wants a "perfect" or "100%" simulation of Star Trek (whatever that might look like). So arguing against that as you're doing here doesn't really address what some here actually want, which is just a more even balance of gameplay (the MMORPG side) and immersiveness (the Star Trek side).

I'm sure this is this a goal shared by most of us, including Star Trek Online's developers. We just have somewhat different ideas of what this "balance" looks like.