Monday, June 25, 2007

Star Trek Characters as NPCs in a MMORPG

In any literary universe worthy of being turned into a MMORPG, a major part of what makes that universe unique is the cast of characters through whom the action occurs.

So it stands to reason that it's important to make effective use of a world's characters when building a MMORPG based on that world.

How should the characters of Star Trek be used in Star Trek Online? In other words, what gameplay features should known characters from the Star Trek TV/movie universe have as non-player characters (NPCs) in a Star Trek MMORPG? How should players be able to interact with these special NPCs?

The usual approach to implementing literary characters is to turn them into quest-giving NPCs. This approach does have some virtues, but gamers have also criticized it as being too passive and therefore failing to capture and communicate the active aspects of those characters that made them interesting to us. Isn't there more that could be done with these characters to leverage their value within the franchise?

How do you think the Picards and Tuvoks and Leah Brahmses and various "guest stars" of Star Trek should be implemented in Star Trek Online? What do they need to be able to do to make the game fun for most players? Should there be different types of characters with different functions? How close should these NPCs come to being able to do the kinds of things that player characters can do in a Star Trek MMORPG?

Is there a general solution to the problem of adapting literary characters to the MMORPG medium? Or does Star Trek Online need a custom solution fitted to its unique characters?

Here are some ideas for what characters from Star Trek could do as NPCs in a MMORPG:

  • static location quest-dispenser (the usual uninspired use for NPCs)

  • fleet commodore

  • one-time-only deus-ex-machina rescuer (for when your most critical mission goes completely pear-shaped)

  • presiding judge at your court-martial

  • your defender at your court-martial (in the world of Star Trek, every officer eventually gets court-martialed :) )

  • source of clues or items in a puzzle/treasure hunt

  • adversary in a training simulation (not necessarily combat!)

  • victim needing to be freed from alien technology

  • patient needing to be cured of alien disease

  • hostage needing to be rescued from bad guys (or so it appears....)

  • instructor in special (non-prestige-purchased) branch skills

  • appears in a change of command ceremony when you assume command of a major new ship

  • appears in a one-time-only cutscene to congratulate you on a major promotion
Any others?

What you can imagine these characters being able to do as NPCs in a Star Trek MMORPG that would become a new standard feature for NPCs in all MMORPGs that follow?