Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Real Money Transactions in a Star Trek MMORPG

Discussions of Real Money Transactions (RMT), in which players of some game go outside the game to "buy" in-game items or currency, always seem to provoke someone to offer something like the following notion: "Well, people want to do it, so gold sellers will always exist to satisfy that desire, so it's always going to happen and there's nothing we can do about so we might as well accept it or even do it ourselves."


The fact that we can't prevent 100% of some undesirable thing does not somehow transmute it into a desirable thing. Nor does it imply that 80% or even 60% prevention aren't worth trying for. If the benefits of reducing some problem exceed the costs of enforcement to a useful degree, then enforcement may be worthwhile even if it's not complete. An inability to achieve perfection is a juvenile and utterly unconvincing excuse for accepting bad behavior. And that goes for in-game economies as well as real-world socioeconomic systems because human behavior is at the heart of both.

Speaking just of games, a game that's designed to tell a story within a literary universe (as distinct from our own real universe) means that at the boundary of the gameworld is a "magic circle" within which objects and rules from the real world can be disruptive. Such a gameworld is one that needs to have RMT minimized through design as much as is reasonably possible. Maybe that means soulbinding, or doing away with tradable objects almost entirely. Maybe it means preventing trial accounts from accumulating or trading any meaningful amount of anything. Maybe (probably) it means a combination of all of these and more. As long as those design features are within reason, then a game whose difficulty structure is dependent on people playing the game as the designers envisioned it probably needs to do them.

A game (or social world) that's deliberately designed to be a "velvet rope" or microtransaction-based virtual world, on the other hand, can do as much RMT as it wants. If that gameworld isn't intended by its creators to be a distinct literary universe, then it doesn't have to be one, and people can import whatever bits of the real world they like.

The key thing to see here is that it is correct to expect people to play by the rules of the game according to the folks who created the game. If someone doesn't like the rules of a particular game, then they shouldn't play that game. To play it and deliberately break the rules -- rationalizations for doing so are irrelevant -- is to foul up gameplay for everybody else who is trying to cooperate at playing the game as it was meant to be played.

The only reason developers haven't taken the goldsellers to court is because no one wants to take the chance that some utterly clueless judge will decide that developers don't actually own the ones and zeros of the data in their game.

Which means that if game developers don't like RMT, it's up to them to design their game so as to minimize in-game opportunities and/or rewards for such behavior.

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay +

Originally Posted by Jerosh Skitari:
I could be confused on what is gameplay features, I'm assuming this means such things as the economic system, skill training, ship operations, etc. If this is the case, then I believe that they should all be justifiable with the lore, if not explicitly justified with the lore if you catch my drift. The devs don't have to handhold us and tell us the whole story, but might provide bits and pieces along the way.
By "gameplay features" I mean the kinds of things that players do in the game, and ways that their character can interact with the game world.

As I noted in my original post, this would include things like:

  • local movement (walking? animal mounts? vehicles?)

  • distance travel (player-initiated instant travel? waiting for a shuttle?)

  • collision detection (can mobs be blocked? what about other PCs?)

  • grouping (how many in a group? what effects does grouping cause?)

  • character skill application (how do skills allow or improve character actions?)

  • character skill improvement (how do characters improve skills or learn new skills?)

  • containers (can characters carry or wear containers? how many objects can be stored?)

  • object creation (can characters create new objects?)

  • object possession (how many objects can a character carry? should weight/size matter?)

  • object exchanges (under what conditions should characters be able to give each other objects?)

  • object usage (what effects do objects have on the game environment?)

  • NPC interaction (what can characters do with NPCs? kill them? talk with them? take missions?)

  • mob AI (how do mobs behave? how "aware" are they of changes in their environment?)
What's worth noting about these gameplay features is that the basic code behind them is "pure" gameplay -- the forms may change, but the capabilities are essentially identical across all MMORPGs. (This is particularly true of MMORPGs stamped from the DikuMUD mold.)

The question then becomes: how do you take these soulless gameplay features and make a unique world out of them? Particularly when there's a license involved, how far must you go to wrap these and other pure gameplay features in the somewhat intangible but commercially vital elements that make the license distinctive?

How much artwork, quest text, major characters, and background audio based on the source material are needed to flesh out the pure gameplay features before the typical license owner is satisfied that their property is being appropriately exploited?

With respect to Star Trek Online specifically, how much time and effort should be spent on these non-gameplay things for the gameworld to "feel" like the universe of the Federation?

Should any time be spent developing Star Trek-y, world-y assets that have no direct gameplay functionality at all?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay +

Do all gameplay features in a Star Trek MMORPG need to have a plausible explanation?

MMORPGs are persistent worlds that, in addition to their pure gameplay, have their own physics (their "laws of nature"), their own historical narrative, and their own objects and NPCs who express these world-y things. This is true even if the MMORPG is one whose lore was invented just for that game.

When the game is based on a licensed world, however, the lore has a much higher implementation value. If the game world doesn't "feel" enough like the TV show or movie or book or whatever, then the game is less likely to appeal to the people who liked the original property. When they choose not to play, some of the money spent to acquire the license will not be earned back.

On the other hand, a typical major MMORPG has a zillion and one pure gameplay features that need to be designed and implemented. Just to be playable as a game, you have to build systems for local movement, for distance travel, for collision detection, for grouping, for character skill application, for character skill improvement, for containers, for object creation, for object possession, for object exchanges, for object usage, for NPC interaction, for mob AI, etc., etc.

Well, with so many pure gameplay features to design and code, it's perfectly understandable if developers (or designers, or producers) sometimes think, "You know, I don't care why they can do it, they just have to be able to do it." The temptation to add a new feature to the game without having to spend time dreaming up some plausible-sounding bit of supporting lore -- just to be able to get to the next hundred gameplay features that have to get done -- must be extreme.

Whoever winds up developing a Star Trek MMORPG will face these questions as well. For example, consider the desire to allow players to quickly access the kind of content they consider fun. Suppose a developer decided to offer this by implementing a quick travel feature -- click a button to go from San Francisco to a combat sector in seconds. This would be one gameplay feature among a vast number that has to be coded... so should the developer spend any additional time trying to find some "treknobabble" to explain this capability? Or should they just say "there it is" and move on to coding some other useful capability?

Yes, in this particular case you might respond by saying, "Oh, they can just call it transwarp." But this is just one example -- what about all the other gameplay features to be implemented? What about gameplay features that a MMORPG like Star Trek Online may need that have no obvious analog to anything ever seen in Star Trek? Should some developers spend time coming up with lore explanations for them, too? What happens if they don't?

In general, how should the developer of a Star Trek MMORPG balance the competing needs of pure gameplay and fidelity to the lore of the license?

Should their development process require that every feature that's implemented be explicitly supported by some piece of Star Trek lore, even if this requirement means leaving out some features in order to make the release schedule?

Or should they decide on a set of gameplay features and implement them without backstory, and then later -- if they have the time -- make a "lore pass" to provide in-game explanations for these features, even if this leaves some features feeling arbitrary and excludes some license elements?

Or is there some other approach to this challenge a developer could take?

If you were directing the design and development of Star Trek Online, how would you decide this question?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Procedural Content Generation for a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by psyonic:
Creating satisfying input should not be too hard. ... This is hand crafted data, EVE Online use such techniques extensively ... EVE's portrait data is stored procedurally, and transmitted to all players from the server, and reproduced. Each time, the same portrait is grown, procedurally, from the data. Portraits made by the players themself, from the portrait editor in chargen.
You're right about EVE's character portraits. That's a good real-world example of how storing information as a few numbers and using static code to generate the output for everyone from those few numbers at run-time allows a lot more objects to be stored and communicated than if you (for example) stored character portraits as JPEG files.

Again, the tradeoff here is storage space and communication speed versus processor speed. Pre-generating and storing object information as big files that can pretty much be slapped as-is onto a user's screen or out their speakers is a good way to go when CPU speeds are low compared to hard disk sizes and communication rates. But when everybody's got a fast processor (and coprocessors for video and audio), and you've got a huge number of objects to store or share among many users, then a procedural generation system that stores form/behavior information as a few small input parameters starts looking much more attractive.

That said, I suspect you may be minimizing the difficulty of generating input parameters that produce satisfying output.

Why do people spend so much time using the portrait editor of EVE's character generator, or indeed with the advanced portrait editors now found in some games? I would say it's because finding a set of input values that produce aesthetically satisfying results when run through procedural code is non-trivial. Out of all the possible combinations in a system with a large possibility space, a lot of those combinations will look awful. So finding a combination that satisfies our aesthetic sense of beauty is basically an exercise in creating art.

People can do that. But how do you get a computer to do it (and do it reasonably efficiently) when you need to do it perhaps millions of times? How do you teach a computer to be able to generate combinations of input values which when run through a procedural generation system produce output that many users will find aesthetically pleasing?

I agree with those who think that this is a challenge. Where we may disagree is that I don't think it's a flaw or deficiency in the theory/technique of procedural generation, because coming up with satisfying input values isn't a problem that procedural generation was designed to solve.

If anything, procedural generation may actually be a tool that gives us some hope of ever seeing machine generation of aesthetically pleasing combinations of input parameters. Parameterizing inputs to a generation system makes it a heck of a lot easier for a computer to provide inputs to what we might call an "art generation system" -- it would be much harder if a program had to create beautiful JPEG images or MP3 songs directly!

Even as parameterized input it's still hard for a computer to generate output that we find pleasing. Just cranking out a bunch of pseudorandom numbers is easy, but the results are generally horrible. The difficulty lies in figuring out the rules by which we humans perceive beauty, then turning those rules into code that show the computer how to select specific numbers that follow those rules.

That sounds funny -- rules for perceived beauty? -- but they do appear to exist. Here are some examples of this with which I'm familiar (there are probably many others):

Theoretically, it should be possible to use rules like these to condition the pseudorandom generation of input parameters to a procedural generation system so that the output satisfies our aesthetic expectations.

Game design leads us to some funny places, doesn't it?

Procedural Content Generation for a Star Trek MMORPG +

Some additional musings on the procedural generation of locations in a large universe:

1. If you just look mathematically at a bunch of randomly generated worlds, you'll find that a lot of them don't differ by very much. In that sense, no, random generation of worlds with N parameters might not seem to hold much value.

But it's important to bear in mind that players won't be interacting with planets like that -- they'll be warping to individual planets in turn, not looking at all of them simultaneously. In other words, the gameplay experience is what really matters. Which means that as long as each place you spend some time in is meaningfully different from most of the places you've been recently, you'll tend to perceive more variation in the entire system than actually exists.

So the key to a system like this comes down to letting objects (like planets) have lots of parameters, each of which has numerous possibilities. Once those numbers are high enough, the perception that comes from a one-at-a-time experience of objects is "Wow, here's something I haven't seen before!"

2. Although I didn't come right out and say it, I definitely would not suggest that the developer of a Star Trek MMORPG should build all the planets for that game out of a bunch of scientifically valid astrophysical variables for no other reason than to be able to say that their world-generation system is "realistic." That takes us too far into Simulationland.

As it happens, I personally happen to really like sims of this type, and I wouldn't be at all offended if Star Trek Online's developer chose to use a planet-building system that created scientifically plausible worlds. But I also wouldn't be upset -- or surprised -- if PE went instead with a system that created what we might call "dramatically plausible worlds," which is to say, places created to support Star Trek-like stories.

So I would say that none of the parameters I proposed (including orbital eccentricity, planet age, etc.) should be used unless it has some practical effect on gameplay.

Having said that, I think I could make a reasonably good case for every one of the parameters I suggested being able to have some gameplay effect. For example, orbital eccentricity, if pronounced enough, could occasionally alter a planet's weather, or take a planet into the path of a planetoid belt or meteor swarm or subspace anomaly. That creates opportunities for the kinds of missions we saw all the time in Star Trek. As another example, the age of a planet determines how weathered any continental land masses are. A very old planet might be very flat, which could generate away team missions that would be different from ones on a young planet with lots of mountains.

In summary, I would never suggest throwing a bunch of parameters at a world-generation program just because it would be cool. For a commercial MMORPG, there has to be the likelihood of a positive ROI on every feature implemented.

Originally Posted by AaronH:
The excitement isn't in the way they are generated, but in the ease with which they are generated. Thus freeing up time for the devs to pour into more interesting things.

Bingo. The value of a computerized content-generation tool is that it handles the boring, calculation-bound tasks so that humans don't have to do them. And that leaves people free to do what they're good at, which is the artistic process of creating new and aesthetically pleasing content.

4. The excitement of a MMORPG in which high-quality random content generation tools are used to produce enormous quantities of good content is this: that kind of game is qualitatively different from one that has only a few areas, all of which (regardless of their apparent size) will have been fully explored within a month after the game launches.

In other words, a game that has so much explorable content (whether planets or systems of magic or whatever) that it is for all practical purposes infinite is going to be hugely more appealing to the Explorer gamer than current MMORPGs, which have only a very limited amount of explorable content.

If I can post a complete map of a game world on the interweb, that's an Achiever game. Finite content eliminates physical exploration as a viable gameplay style. (There are other kinds of exploration, but that's a different discussion.)

If OTOH a game is designed such that no one can ever post a complete map of a game world because there's more content than all players will ever be able to document over the entire lifespan of the game, then that's a game that Explorers can also enjoy. Because no matter how many Achievers play, it will always be possible for an Explorer to discover something that's never been seen before.

Not every game needs content for Explorers. Nor am I proposing that games should be designed to appeal only to Explorers. I'm not anti-Achiever. But I feel strongly that current games are so lopsidedly Achiever-focused in their designs that they're turning off the many gamers who don't care for that style of play. In short, MMORPG developers are leaving money on the table because virtually none of them have designed their games to offer some meaningful amount of real Explorer content.

What's more, if Star Trek is to some degree about exploration -- as I and at least some others believe it is -- then I furthermore think that a Star Trek MMORPG would be the perfect game to be designed with serious Explorer content. If any AAA-quality game can and should be designed to attract those underserved Explorer gamers and their money, it's Star Trek Online.

5. Back to Spore for a second: what if we made an analogy between the creatures of Spore and the starships of Star Trek Online?

The Spore Gameplay Movie 1 shows how a creature is built by a player, and once built how the form and behaviors of that specific creature are procedurally generated during live gameplay. Well, what if we could do something like that in ST:O? What if we could specify the parameters of a starship -- engines (locomotion), sensors (eyes), weapons (teeth/claws), etc. -- and ST:O dynamically ("procedurally") generates the behavior of the starship as defined by the essentially unique combination of all those parameters?

Just something to think about.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Roles of Starship Classes in Star Trek

I've found myself spending a lot of time lately praising the Intrepid class design, to the point where I'm starting to wonder: why? What is it about this class that makes a ship like Voyager more appealing to me than, say, an Enterprise-D or -E, or an Equinox or Prometheus?

One possibility is that I like the characters and/or stories of VOY more than I like the characters/stories of the other Star Trek series. Maybe... but for the moment let's assume that's not the case. What if there's something about their design that makes these ship classes distinctive?

As I got to thinking what it was that distinguished these ships from each other, I found myself fitting them into the three-fold model I imagine for Starfleet's charter responsibilities: diplomacy, scientific research, and the military defense of the Federation. Some classes seem specific to one of these jobs; some are capable in two; and a few classes are designed to accomplish all three needs.

So I thought it might be fun to rationalize this notion, to lay it out in detail and see whether it explains why I like Intrepids so much. If I'm onto something useful here, perhaps it will serve as inspiration for the development of new ship classes.

Right, then -- here's a first cut at categorizing some of the TOS+ canon Starfleet ship classes by designed role.


Hermes, Oberth, "Raven", Nova

Defiant, Sovereign, Prometheus

"GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY" (Diplomacy + Tactical)
Excelsior, Challenger, Steamrunner

EXPLORATION (Science + Tactical)
Miranda, New Orleans, Nebula, Intrepid

SOCIAL (Diplomacy + Science)

FLAGSHIP (Diplomacy + Science + Tactical)
Constitution, Ambassador, Galaxy

So how about this classification scheme of Starfleet ship roles? Does it makes any sense overall? How about which ships I've tentatively assigned to each role -- do those seem about right? Can anyone think of a starship class (i.e., not just a runabout) that is designed solely for Diplomacy?

Following this diplomacy/science/tactical breakdown and the four secondary role types I've derived from them, I see the Intrepid class as the latest iteration of Starfleet's exploration-focused designs. These exploration vessels are the ships that combine good firepower with science, but do without the support overhead of diplomatic facilities. The Intrepid class is thus distinguished from the Galaxy class by removing the requirement to house family members and civilians, thereby eliminating most of the Galaxy's capabilities for supporting diplomatic missions. (Of all canon Starfleet ships up to about 2380, nothing beats a Galaxy for its balanced effectiveness in all three of the primary starship roles needed by Starfleet.)

Additionally, the Intrepid class's use of folding pylons for the warp nacelles (to produce a warp field geometry that minimizes the damage to subspace caused by traveling faster than Warp 5) suggests that Intrepids are meant to spend a lot of time zipping around in deep space. Such maneuverability also supports the view that exploration is the primary mission for this class.

Dropping the support for diplomatic functions thus allows an Intrepid-class ship to focus on science and tactical ops. I don't know of any circa-2380 canon Starfleet ship class that better integrates just those two mission profiles in its design. The Defiant, Sovereign, and Prometheus classes are all much more focused on combat capability, while the Nova class is more science-specific. And although the Nebula has both science and tactical capabilities, from what I've read it seems focused more on science -- the Intrepid seems to offer a better balance between knowledge collection and firepower.

So in the end I see the Intrepid class as the paragon of Starfleet's exploration vessel designs up to around A.D. 2380.

And that's probably why I find the Intrepid class so appealing. Given that I'm a dedicated Explorer who not usually very social, a technologically modern ship like Voyager that's capable of discovering new things and living to tell the tale is exactly what I'd design for myself if I could!

Procedural Content Generation for a Star Trek MMORPG +

I've read a number of objections to procedural generation of content in Star Trek Online. They seem to come down to the following (which I'm ordering in terms of how hard they are to answer):

1. Over billions of instances, there's no way an individual object can be unique in every instance.

2. "Procedurally generating" objects is really just a fancy name for random generation.

3. Procedural generation (i.e., random generation) of unique and high-quality story-based content over billions (heck, even mere thousands) of instances is just not practical -- there are only so many variations possible on mission text. Randomly changing one word from an existing mission script doesn't make the new mission interesting.

4. Human-crafted content will always be superior to machine-generated content. So there's no point in designing and implementing code to crank out millions of pieces of junk -- just hire smart and talented people to handcraft a few really good assets.

5. Why would we want billions of worlds to explore, anyway?

First of all, we need to agree on terminology. "Procedural generation" does not mean "generating the parameters that define an object." It's not about randomizing values to, say, Eyes_009 and Hands_012 and so on. What's being "procedurally generated" aren't the input values, but rather the appearance and active behaviors of objects whose forms and actions are specified by the input parameters (whatever they may be).

So in the case of Spore, you the player will get to pick the hands and eyes and mouth and so on of your creature, including where they go on the creature's torso -- no procedural generation there. What gets procedurally generated are the movements and dynamic behaviors of the creature whose pieces you put together. The "procedures" -- the code -- is where the knowledge of movement and behavior is embedded. And it's this code that takes the small set of values that describe a creature's physical components and from them generates on the fly the run-time features determined by those values.

What this means is that although all creatures may perform the same types of movements at a conceptually high level -- mating, for example, or swimming, or calling to similar creatures -- each specific creature (as defined by their input form parameters) will have a unique version of that movement. Every different set of body values will produce a different set of movements. They won't be all that different; there's only so far you can extend bipedal locomotion, for example. But to be able to create a software system that's capable of taking a few input values and generating visually plausible movement for creatures with two short legs, or four long legs, or six widely-spaced legs... that's nothing short of astonishing.

And that's the beauty of procedural generation: you don't have to write unique code for every unique object. Instead, you put a lot of effort into writing code that's "smart" enough to know what to do with a wide range of input parameters. And then you turn your code loose on whatever input parameters your users come up with and watch what happens.

In essence, the art of procedural generation is to move the complexity of dynamic object behavior from the data to the code. Once that's working, the size of the input data becomes amazingly small. And that's a major benefit when, as I mentioned earlier, you're dealing with a lot of objects to be stored or communicated.

The price of this, of course, is that your code gets a lot bigger and a lot more complex, since that's where you've shifted the rules for how objects behave. But at least that's a static problem, not a run-time problem.

So, all that said, let me now try to address the specific objections raised.

1. True, individual objects can't be unique over that many instances. However, if any individual object has enough different input parameters to a procedural behavior generation function, it only takes a few values before combinatorial effects kick in to allow a very large range of different forms and behaviors.

More importantly, a world doesn't just consist of one type of object. It's reasonable to expect that planets in a procedurally generated galaxy might have the following variable values at a bare minimum (I'm really just scratching the surface here):

  • distance from the star they orbit
  • eccentricity of their orbit
  • size
  • age
  • composition
  • rotation speed
  • core type (molten metal vs. cold metal -- determines planetary magnetic field)
  • atmosphere type
  • atmosphere densityv
  • mean surface temperature

  • surface temperature variation

  • plant life: hardiness, number of forms, growth style for each form, color(s) for each part of each form, etc.

  • animal life: hardiness, number of forms, physical parameters for each form, etc.

  • intelligent life: attitudes, outlooks, technology levels, government types, architectural styles, etc., etc.

Once you have those variables (and probably many more), and each one of those variables can itself vary in multiple ways, the combination of all of those things is likely to be reasonably different for many planets within a billion worlds. A billion is definitely a lot! But combinatorials generate pretty big numbers awfully quickly. So sure, in a billion worlds I'd expect the procedurally generated forms of some of them to look roughly similar. But with the kinds and amounts of variation possible in world-definition, I'd also expect the odds of running into apparently duplicate worlds to be fairly low. (Note, however, that you might actually want some apparent similarity based on world-building constraints. A planet near a sun should probably be very hot and lifeless; a planet far away from a sun should probably be either a gas giant or a frozen rock and lifeless either way; and so on. So I'd expect many of these worlds to resemble each other somewhat. I'd actually be more confused to see a nice human-habitable world placed just a few million miles away from an enormous ball of fusing hydrogen just for the sake of achieving an even distribution of different planet types.) 2. (Addressed above.) 3. I agree with you that this would be a problem, but it's not really a problem with "procedural generation" as I've defined it above -- it's a problem of random content generation. Going off the subject of procedural generation for a moment (because this is actually a pretty interesting subject), my gut feeling is that randomly generating a sufficiently large number of acceptably different missions is not an intractable problem. Assuming for the moment that someone wanted to do this (and someday, some developer of a huge MMORPG world might), the key would seem to be to predefine as many significantly different types of missions as possible. From there, you'd then devise as many variations on each mission type as possible, and give each variation as many possible values as you could think of. That would give you your maximum solution space. From there you'd probably want to condition the specific mission that's randomly generated according to certain features: the character's class and/or level, for example, or local environmental features. Obviously there would still be a lot of issues to figure out with a system like this, starting with (but emphatically not ending with) how each individual mission might fit into a larger picture. Big-picture missions might actually be worth hand-crafting; there's nothing that says a developer can't use multiple methods to create content. At any rate, I agree with you that this would be tough. But impossible? I'm not quite ready to go there yet.... 4. Well, here's the biggie: Can machines ever have and express anything even remotely like the aesthetic sense that humans have? In short, can machines create true art? That's really more of a philosophical question than anything else, so I don't think we're going to be answering it here -- not even if I could keep typing for another 50,000 words without being smacked with a wet newspaper for abusing everyone's patience. "Bad Flatfingers! Bad!" :) So I'll just say two things about this. First, to the top-level philosophical question, I cannot recommend a better study of this question than Douglas Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. I believe I'm safe in saying that there has never been a more erudite, funny, deep, smart, and beautiful book on the subject of "can machines ever think as well as the typical human does?" For anyone even remotely interested in this subject, GEB remains absolutely required reading. Second, to the practical question of generating content for MMORPG worlds, I would hazard a guess that as of today we are more capable of this than you suggest. But I would also say that we still have a very long way to go before machine-generated gameworld content matches the level of quality that human-generated content is capable of achieving. If that's true, then perhaps what we should be considering today is neither full human-generation nor complete machine-generation, but a balance of the two. Bring on a few CompSci doctoral candidates who haven't realized that they aren't supposed to be capable of discovering ways to allow machines to generate limited forms of rich, fun content. And pair them up with experienced world designers who can take the random-generation tools and use them to produce many, many more good objects than would be possible through pure handcrafting. The bottom line question is whether players of a MMORPG care more about quality or quantity. Of course they all want both... but which do they really want? A procedural content generation system whose semi-randomly generated inputs are hand-tweaked is, I think, the most effective way to meet reasonable requirements of both quality and quantity on a budget and a tight schedule. 5. Finally, why do this? Why bother procedurally generating billions of places at all? This is a gameplay design question whose answer, I believe, depends on who you think these MMORPG things ought to be designed to attract. If the aim is to provide a very directed gameplay experience, if it's to exercise a high level of control over what the players do and how they do it in order to insure that it delivers competitive, action-oriented fun (as in World of Warcraft), then handcrafting a small number of places is a reasonable design strategy. For better or worse, most MMORPGs are designed to try to satisfy Achievers with concrete objects to acquire, and with very specific and well-defined ways to acquire them. This implies a need for clearly-defined places in which to go to obtain these objects. So making just a few places with highly tailored features is simply efficient game design. But what if the aim is to give players more freedom to (boldly) go where no one has gone before? What if one of the intentions of a MMORPG's designers is to appeal to different kinds of players, including those for whom charting the unknown is as much fun as killing mobs and taking their stuff is for Achievers? Such a MMORPG would need to have a practically infinite number of places and systems to discover in order to insure that no player ever runs out of exploration-oriented content... and you're simply not ever going to get that by handcrafting every bit of content. This is one of those things that's a little hard to explain because most people are accustomed to thinking of their way of seeing the world as the only way that makes sense. Anyone who's an Explorer gamer has already understood what I'm saying and is waaaaaay beyond ready to play in the vast gameworld I've described. Meanwhile, anyone who's not an Explorer is probably shaking their head and thinking, "this guy has no idea what's fun; he has no clue what he's talking about." (Actually, the Achievers and Manipulators/Killers probably stopped reading this novel somewhere around the first line!) Ultimately the only proof some folks will accept that a billion-planet game can be made, and that it would be a lot of fun for a lot of paying customers, will come from someone actually creating such a game. Until that happy day arrives, those who think such a game wouldn't be enough fun for enough gamers and would fail miserably are entitled to their opinion. Fortunately, so are those of us who already know we'd happily play for years in a well-designed universe containing millions of procedurally-generated worlds.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay

Originally Posted by Biggs:
While on another thread I'll complain about having farmers and Warrior Players trying to thwart the efforts of Federation Role-Players - if you remove them all, who's going to fight the wars!!!
I was thinking about that when it occurred to me: Why should we assume that the people who want to play ST:O in the Federation universe would find it fun to have a war break out in their preferred gameworld?

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be drama or conflict of some kind in the Federation universe. I'm just wondering now -- assuming this dual-universe approach were implemented -- whether military conflict would be the kind of gameplay action most likely to satisfy the gamers who chose the Federation universe precisely to get away from that kind of constant-competition stuff that other MMORPGs are so full of.

If players of a Star Trek MMORPG want a war, let them have it in the Mirror Universe where it belongs.

Originally Posted by Biggs:
I'm also starting to think we should avoid the idea that there are only two types of players - The MMO gamers might only want to fight and farm and guild up, but the Trekkie players like me want a little of that (minus the farming) and the fun happy Trek stuff. Granted there will be extremes on both sides of the coin, I think most people fall somewhere in the middle.
I honestly don't know. I definitely agree there'll be some number of players who personally want to experience both conventional MMORPG-style conflict/accumulation gameplay and technobabular Star Trek-style discovery/interpersonal gameplay.

Even so, I'm more inclined to expect a bimodal distribution -- one big bunch of players doing almost nothing but combat, and another big bunch of players doing nothing but whatever Star Trek-themed non-combat stuff is available. How Star Trek Online's gameplay might be designed to satisfy both of these interests is the question.

(Side note: It would be great if there were some MMORPG with the same amount of Explorer content and Socializer content as Achiever content. That's a minimum requirement for getting an accurate picture of how many players really prefer which style of play -- the MMORPGs currently available make everyone who plays them look like an Achiever because that's pretty much all there is to do....)

Procedural Content Generation for a Star Trek MMORPG

What if a lot of the content -- planets, asteroids, etc. -- of Star Trek Online were procedurally generated on demand, rather than all of it having to be hand-created by artists and programmers?

In other words, information about assets is stored as a short series of values, which are then used as inputs to code (the "procedure") that generates the final version of the assets at run time when (and only when) a player needs them. The appearance and behavior of assets is dynamically generated by the code, rather than being stored in some bulky and near-final (but quick to display) form as data.

This was a technique popular when storage space and bandwidth were both very limited. As processor speed over time became the more significant bottleneck, programmers switched to pre-generating assets because it's faster to push those to the user. (But I understand that procedural generation has remained popular with demo programmers in Europe -- I think it's where Will Wright got the idea for how to create sharable creatures in Spore.)

Both Spore (for creatures) and Infinity (for planets) are using this method for defining content. Because the number of values used to produce the output is relatively small, Spore benefits from this method because it minimizes bandwidth in sharing procedurally-generated creatures over the Internet with other players. And Infinity benefits because the small storage footprint of each world allows for billions of unique worlds (and their rapid generation) on a game server.

So, going by that definition, I don't think we've seen anything yet from Perpetual that suggests that there'll be "run-time procedural generation" of content, which I agree would be tremendously exciting. Although Perpetual may be doing some random generation of planet features, it appears that planets are being pre-generated and hand-tweaked.

When presentation speed is an issue, that's not necessarily a bad choice.

But man, wouldn't it be beyond cool if Star Trek Online procedurally generated millions of planets in the Star Trek galaxy to explore?

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay

Originally Posted by Biggs:
The only reason I can think of to not support your proposal, Flatfingers, is that it will divert developer resources away from the one solid game.
I actually see the Mirror Universe/Roddenberry Universe pieces fitting together as "one solid game." (See my last comments below.)

Originally Posted by Biggs:
I'd like for PE to aim their resources at making just 1 really great game rather than dividing it by two to satisfy a market.
I think the solidity of a Star Trek MMORPG would actually be improved by a design that encourages the more aggressive gamers to do their bloody best -- just not in the same universe where the more Star Trek-oriented gamers are trying to enjoy gameplay based on Roddenberry's dream of a peaceful, cooperative Federation.

As I see it, that's not a mindless concession to crass market requirements -- it's a design choice that maximizes fun for both hardcore MMORPG gamers and dedicated Star Trek fans.

If both art and commerce can be satisfied in one design, shouldn't it at least be given fair consideration?

Originally Posted by Biggs:
It splits a world based on Unity into factions. Although, based on the interactions that take place on these forums, I'd have to say that the Mirror People would probably win. As one of the earlier posts on this topic pointed out, the Mirror Universe would appear a bit more like EVE, SWG and other Empire/PVP oriented games out there....in which the Sith take over the servers cause they're "Cooler"
Hmm. It's certainly fair to describe Roddenberry's Federation as based on an idea of unity, but I don't think the same is true of the Terran Empire or whatever they're calling themselves by A.D. 2400. (Although perhaps "everyone do what I say or else" is a kind of unity.)

As for the "Sith" of the Mirror Universe having taken over that part of the server... well, yes. That's exactly what I'm proposing -- if you create a Mirror Universe character, you start out on the Dark Side. That's your story-based rationale for being able to attack anything you want to attack if you enjoy that kind of gameplay. (Again, this could even provide a reasonable justification for PvP if Perpetual wanted to implement it.)

And, like Darth Vader's journey of redemption, if you find that the Mirror Universe behavior isn't right for you, then I'd offer a storyline in which your character is able to become "good," joining up with the resistance to fight to overturn the evil Terran Empire.


One of the corollaries to this Federation and Empire idea I'm still mulling over is whether players should be able to cross over between universes. Having some ways to transfer resources/items/people back and forth between the universes would help tie them together as a unified game.

For that matter, if changing universes is an option then all kinds of interesting possibilities pop up:

1. Would it be possible to lead an entire fleet of warships from the Mirror Universe to the Federation Universe? Eek!

2. If you cross over to the other universe, would you be able to meet your doppelganger? (Presumably as an NPC.) Or would there have to be some fiction created for why your double doesn't exist? "Oh, your opposite number was killed several years ago in a [Tantalus Field assassination | transporter malfunction | diplomatic misunderstanding]."

3. How about some story-based missions that require you to travel into the other universe and back again? "The Mirror Universe guys are tormenting the Halkans -- yes, 'again.' Go find a peaceful (or at least clever) solution." "The weaklings in the Federation universe have invented something called 'ablative armor' for starships. I want it. Go get me the design schematics Right Now."


Honestly, I'm not a fan of segregating different kinds of gameplay onto different servers. Gameworlds are more interesting when different kinds of gamers/characters mix.

In this case, however, I'd be willing to bend (though not break) that design principle somewhat by putting two universes with different political structures on each server. I think the development effort required to do so would be paid back several-fold by creating a single game that deeply satisfies both of the two main camps of likely subscribers to this game.

Especially if there's a limited way to move between the two universes. I admit it; I'm really liking that part of this idea.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay

Back to the question of choosing either a Mirror Universe or a Federation setting for Star Trek Online -- why not offer both?

Suppose ST:O created Mirror Universe locations and missions for those gamers whose primary interest is blowing stuff up, and (hmm -- what to call it?) Roddenberry's Universe for those gamers whose primary interest is cooperative exploration and socialization?

That doesn't imply that you couldn't do exploration/social stuff in the MU or combat in the RU -- the gameplay code might be the same for both places; only the rules of behavior would vary.

Don't think of it as "twice the work" -- think of it as "twice the opportunities." :)

Comparative Rankings of Starships in Star Trek +

Every now and then I get on a data collection and analysis kick (I once analyzed every single published change made to SWG up to the NGE to see what game systems got the most love). It's not so much because I like chasing little numbers as because when I'm done, patterns pop out. We get to see the large-scale structural information that's otherwise buried in the details.

As a big-picture kind of guy, I live for that kind of info. So I thought it might be fun to try to define most of the canon ships of Star Trek according to a single standard and see what, if anything, popped out.

As I noted, the first thing that jumped out at me was how high up on the list the Defiant and Intrepid classes were. On paper, they shouldn't be that studly, but there they were. The most reasonable explanation I could think of is the "hero ship" story, which says that the ship that the stars of a series fly around in has to keep them alive regardless of how their ship would fare if Star Trek were real. (This is the source of the frequent fan complaint that Voyager really ought to have had its butt handed to it by the Borg on many occasions.)

As for the Sovereign class, it actually did pretty well in my ranking. That said, it's noted in several fan sites that the Ent-E looked pretty lame against the Son'a ships. Only a clever trick (let's hear it for richness of tactical opportunities!) allowed our heroes to limp away from that fight. So the Sovereign class did take a minor hit to reflect its lack of balance (unlike most Federation ships, as noted above).

Concerning the ships of the original Star Trek, I debated quite a while over whether to include them. On the one hand, some people (I'm one of them) have a soft spot in our hearts for them. Additionally, because they've been around since the 60's we've got something resembling a consensus on their features, so that's good for a spreadsheet.

On the other hand, they do start to look awfully scrawny compared to late-23rd-century ship classes. Only my inclusion of shuttles allows the TOS-era ships to look useful. (Except for the Excelsior-class refit, which had to be made burly enough to survive -- if barely -- to participate in the fighting at Deep Space Nine.)

Overall, I figured it couldn't do much damage to include the TOS ships. I knew some people would want to see them, and with the inclusion of shuttles they didn't foul up the relative rankings much at all.

I really had to hustle to figure out how both the TOS-era and TNG-era ships would stack up against the Klingon Bird-of-Prey and the D7/K't'inga classes, though! I like where I wound up, but those Klingons just refused to behave themselves.

Typical. :)

At any rate, there's some more of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Player Ship Interiors +

Originally Posted by lethalkungfu:
please ask yourself the question. do you want yourself to have to go through all the npcs or playercharacters in order to operate you own ship every single time? i know i sure wouldnt.

From the way you're posing the question, I gather that you believe the obvious answer is "no way!"

Uh-oh. :)

I don't say this to be difficult or provocative or anything like that, but the fact is that yes, I do most emphatically want exactly that kind of command structure to be available to players in the larger starships.

It's because of how I define "fun" when it comes to playing a character who's a Starfleet officer in the world of Star Trek. Being part of a hierarchy whose members work together to achieve the positive goals of Federation military, diplomatic and exploratory policy sounds like fun.

But to achieve that goal, the game needs to be designed to make this non-combat action a style of play available to those who want it. Because it's the way the TV shows and movies worked, a big chunk of the "content" of an online RPG based on Star Trek depends on there being other members of Starfleet (whether players or NPCs) with whom one can work to accomplish interesting tasks.

So yes, I personally would get a lot more out of a Star Trek MMORPG that lets me be a part of a good crew of specialists than one that treats even large starships as mere mounts operable by a single player. (And again, I think I have to say this even though I'm definitely a soloer. Star Trek is a social universe whether I like it or not.)

Now, some objections to this position.

1. "Having to go through a bunch of subordinates to get anything done will slow down the game."

That's true... but I don't consider slower combat gameplay to always be a flaw.

If Star Trek Online works as I'd like it to, small ships which don't need many crew will be highly maneuverable, so the action in them will be fast-paced for those who prefer that kind of gameplay.

Meanwhile, the big ships will feel more like slow-to-turn naval vessels so that there's time to think and plan. In that kind of ship, having people to whom you can delegate control functions will actually make starship control much more fun for the gamers who prefer a thoughtful approach to gameplay over constant bang-bang-bang action.

There's nothing wrong with bang-bang-bang action... unless it's all there is in a gameworld based on Star Trek.

2. "You'll have hub ships for that kind of crew-interaction gameplay."

Possibly so, and that's not entirely a bad thing.

Although I think there are valid reasons for the larger player ships to have crews with specific control responsibilities, having that kind of gameplay on hub ships only would be better than not having it at all.

3. "But I don't want to play that way!"

That's why I was careful to phrase my initial "I wish" statement as hoping this crewed approach is "available to players," rather than being the only option.

As long as I can get the most out of a big ship by having highly skilled characters (player or NPC) handling specific ship functions, I have no objection whatsoever to allowing individual players to control even the biggest player ships by themselves. (To be fair, I could even go along with letting these two styles of play be equally capable.)

If I can play in the way I find the most fun, and so can you, that seems like a pretty desirable state of affairs to me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Player Ship Interiors +

Originally Posted by lethalkungfu:
in outerspace a spaceship is an entity, a living being perhaps and its actions are dictated by a single will. Why must there be intermediate steps before you "will" your ship other than for roleplaying purposes.
For a number of us (and presumably a number of those who'll try Star Trek Online) those "roleplaying purposes" are equally important forms of gameplay as blasting aliens and leveling up.

The ability to roleplay the command and operation of a starship with the avatars of other players (which PSIs enable) isn't just some trivial bit of throwaway code. It is "content," just as much as rules-based, numbers-driven gameplay is content, and as much as the visual and sonic and textual environment of the game is content.

Not to implement this social functionality in Star Trek Online's gameplay -- perhaps from a belief that combat efficiency is the overriding goal -- would IMO immediately disconnect a Star Trek MMORPG from a significant percentage of the value of the Star Trek license.

(Note that I'm actually arguing against my own personal interests here. I'm very definitely a solo gamer -- for whatever reason, depending on other people in these games, or feeling like I "have" to be online at a certain time, just isn't fun for me. So I'd personally prefer to be able to operate a nice complex ship in a Star Trek MMORPG all by myself... but I argue against that because I don't think that style of play is the best fit for the Star Trek license.)

This game definitely wants to be different things to different gamers, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Civil War in the United Federation of Planets +

Meanwhile, back on the question of civil war within the Federation, it certainly seemed for a while as though Star Trek's producers really wanted to get into this question. Could the Federation survive a threat to its existence with its utopianism intact? Or is it necessary that some within the Federation practice realpolitik even if doing so to save itself undermines the very principles on which it was founded?

Both Star Trek: Insurrection and several of the later episodes of DS9 (those dealing with the mysterious "Section 31") seemed to want to explore this question. But both VOY and ENT appeared to take the franchise back toward the traditional view of the Federation as a pure force for good (at least, for ENT, once it was founded).

So when all is said and done, my guess (and that's all it is) is that the main storyline of Star Trek Online will not be an internal fight, with the profound brother-against-brother emotional dramas of such a conflict. I suspect it's more likely to be a much simpler straight-up fight for survival against a Major Foe -- basically another Dominion War, except that this one will be unwinnable for as long as Star Trek Online lasts.

Which is a bit depressing.

Arguing against that rather mundane scenario are the possibilities in the idea of the kuvah'magh, Miral Paris. I really liked what Perpetual was thinking of doing with this bit from Mike Sussman's VOY: "Prophecy" story. The grave discomfort Starfleet had with a Starfleet officer also being an important religious figure was touched on occasionally with Sisko. But a Starfleet officer who becomes a spiritual leader to thousands of Klingon warriors, especially at a time when it may be necessary to rally all the major polities of the Alpha and Beta quadrants... wow.

It would have been interesting to see whether Miral Paris was treated as an unacceptable problem for the Federation, or as a desirable tool... or both.

Comparative Rankings of Starships in Star Trek


Back in the days when Perpetual Entertainment was developing the Star Trek Online MMORPG, one of the developers (Lead Systems Designer John Yoo) asked the folks at the now-disabled StarTrek-Online.net how they'd rank the starships in the Star Trek universe in terms of power.

Many of the responses seemed to make reasonable sense. But beyond "big ships can beat up small ships," a couple of things started to bother me about the various rankings provided.

For one thing, everybody assumed that "power" meant "combat power." But Starfleet in the Star Trek universe is about more than just combat, and its ships have other uses. What about defining "power" as "exploratory capability?" Could a satisfactory ranking of ships in the Star Trek universe be created on that basis?

More importantly, although some of the justifications given were obviously based on careful thought, many of the choices still seemed rather subjective. I felt if I was going to contribute a list of my own, I needed to offer some additional value. Adding a measure of objectivity might be something I could accomplish.

So it occurred to me that it might be fun to work up a spreadsheet. By entering as many canon-supported values as I could find for the ships of Star Trek, it might be possible to arrive at somewhat less subjective results. So that's what I've spent the past few weeks doing.

As I got into this process, two things became apparent:

1. For many ships, there simply is no hard canon information. In many other cases, information from one canon source conflicts with other canon sources. So while I could maximize the objectivity of my ship power rankings by using the canon data with which most sources agree, there's no way to entirely avoid some amount of subjectivity.

2. Having an automated (spreadsheet) way of calculating "power" means I'm not stuck thinking of power only as prowess in combat. Numerically documenting non-combat ship capabilities would allow me to generate a rating for each ship that describes its potential for exploration.

With that basic sanity check satisfied, I proceeded to create a spreadsheet with as many canon values as I could find for all the major ship classes. I then filled in the empty values as best I could with respect to the known values of other ships and the assumed ship design philosophy of each political entity.

From these values I calculate ratings for Maneuverability, Firepower, Survivability, and Science. And then I use these values to derive overall ratings for Combat and Exploration power. With that done, I can then use Excel's "Sort" function on the Combat and Exploration columns to show me how these ships stack up against each other.


The attempted demarcation point for including a ship class in this list is canonicity to the accepted timeline from the Star Trek line of live-action TV shows and movies from Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) to the end of Star Trek: Nemesis (VOY). This has the effect of including pretty much anything shown on-screen in a live-action Star Trek TV show or movie, while excluding essentially anything that appears only in print form, anything seen only in Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS), anything that appears only in an alternate timeline, anything only from Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT), and anything from "the future" beyond the USS Voyager's return to Earth (such as Admiral Janeway's shuttle in VOY: "Endgame" and the Wells- and Aeon-class timeships).

Generally speaking, if it appears in an episode of TOS, TNG, DS9 or VOY as a physical or CG model from that era, or if there's evidence for it from a screen display or Master System Display (MSD) graphic, it's probably listed here. Otherwise, it is (with a few exceptions) probably not shown.

This is why ships like the Equinox's "Waverider" shuttle, the Centaur, Challenger and Cheyenne classes, and and even the freakish "Curry" type are given, but ships found only in TAS (e.g., the Aquashuttle) or given in speculative form in printed works (e.g., classes such as the Zodiac from The Star Trek Encylopedia) are generally not included.

The crazy multiplicity of Trek sources -- not to mention inconsistencies in actual canon material -- mean that some amount of subjectivity is required. Even so, where inclusion/exclusion was concerned, I tried to be as consistent as possible in requiring some canonical reference to a ship type or class. For example, although the Ptolemy, Saladin/Hermes, and Federation ship classes from the Franz Joseph Star Fleet Technical Manual of the 1970s were once considered non-canon, their appearance on Enterprise tactical displays in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan creates enough of an appearance of canonicity to make those ships worth including in a spreadsheet. Likewise, the Olympic/"Hope" class shown in an alternate/future timeline in TNG: "All Good Things..." wouldn't be here if it wasn't referenced in DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels". On the other hand, classes such as the Daedelus (despite appearing in model form on Sisko's desk) and the Whorfin (which I love as a "Buckaroo Banzai" in-joke) just didn't quite make the cut.

And nothing in this world or any other could have compelled me to include the "Alka-Selsior". /shudder

(Here's an example of the kinds of decisions I had to make. There's a bunch of argument and blahblah over whether the Federation "attack fighter" is the same thing as the Peregrine class "courier" ship and/or the Maquis "raider" ship. Everybody pretty much agrees at this point that the Maquis ship is something different, but there's still confusion over the fighter/Peregrine situation. Although some [e.g., Star Trek vs. Star Wars Technological Assessment] have argued that they refer to different ships, others [Ex Astris Scientia] have concluded that they can be considered the same ship class. After considerable deliberation, I've chosen to treat them as the same vessel; the values provided here are for the attack fighter by whatever name we call it. But the nice thing about having a spreadsheet to play with is that, if you prefer, you can split this "Peregrine fighter" record into two records: a 20-meter "attack fighter" and a 25-meter "Peregrine courier" with its own stats.)


One significant problem in assigning values was that there were a lot of conflicts within canon sources. In most cases these differences are the result of inconsistencies of continuity in the filmed episodes of a series, differences between series, differences between TV series and movies, and innumerable differences between the TV shows/movies and the various printed "encyclopedias" and such. Between all these things, I did the best I could to rationalize the numbers. Sometimes that meant taking the best-argued number (usually from Ex Astris Scientia); a few times it meant choosing the most seemingly reasonable number between all the numbers I saw.

For example, the apparent size of the Defiant ranged from 50m to 120m to 170m, depending on the episode. But the best arguments, which considered visual appearances and canonical statements about the number of decks on the Defiant (although even that wasn't perfectly consistent!), indicated that a length of 120 meters fits most of the available facts. So that's what I went with.

An even more frustrating example of this was the case of the Amazing Expandable Bird-of-Prey. This vessel was scaled visually both upward and downward across numerous episodes to provide a desired visual effect against other ships. And to further confuse matters, this ship type was given multiple names -- B'rel, K'Vort, D-12 -- so that even one type might have multiple sizes. I finally had to just pick some numbers that, while not perfectly satisfying, would provide ships that cover most of the observed cases. For that matter, the D7/K't'inga sightings didn't make things any easier, either. (In fairness to the FX folks working on the various ST shows, their goal was dramatic effect, not simulationist accuracy. It just makes things a little tough for someone who's trying to find a rational consistency among these "facts" inside an imaginary world.)

A related problem was that even for the best-known ships, there are often gaps in the specifications provided. For example, what's the rated deflector shield power output for an Oberth-class ship? Although their MSDs suggest it, can Defiant- or Prometheus-class ships land on a planetary surface and launch back to space? How many laboratories are normally fitted on a Nebula-class ship? How many shuttles are normally carried aboard a D’Deridex class ship?

A final difficulty was the way in which the "hero" ships -- the NCC-1701, -1707-A, and -1701-D Enterprises, the Defiant, and Voyager -- survived encounters with ships that were clearly much more powerful. Obviously this was required for dramatic effect; opponent ships had to present a real threat but the main characters had to always survive. But when you create numbers that can explain this amazing survivability, those numbers are grossly inflated compared to the more reasonable (on paper) numbers for the generic ship of that class... so which numbers do you go with?


I used several methods to try to resolve all these issues.

For which ships to choose, I selected those that were shown on-screen in the main timeline between TOS and VOY.

To fill in the detailed specifications for each ship, I consulted numerous online sources:

Primary sources:
Memory Alpha
Ex Astris Scientia (general info)
Ex Astris Scientia (ship lengths)
Star Trek vs Star Wars.net: Volumetrics
Other sources:
Daystrom Institute Technical Library
Star Trek: A Call To Duty
Trekmania: The Fleet
Although these provided useful values, in many cases I still had to resolve conflicts between sources, as well as to occasionally modify the numbers of devices from the number given in some source in order to rationalize them within the entire system. For example, Memory Alpha states that the Nova class ships, which are intended for scientific research, are 165 meters long with a mass of 110,000 metric tons, which is fine... but it also states that this ship sports 11 phaser arrays and 3 photon torpedo launchers.

But an Intrepid class ship, with a stated length of 344 meters and a mass of tons, has "only" 13 phaser arrays and 5 torpedo launchers! Even though I've bumped up the mass of the Nova to rationalize it against the other ships, it seems completely unlikely that a Nova -- supposedly a science ship -- would have the room to carry so much armament, much less the design requirement to do so. This is an example of how I've made a few changes to quoted specs to bring a ship more in line with our observations of it on the screen. I've tried not to do it often, but I definitely do it. You'll have to be the judge of whether I've gone too far in search of rational consistency.

Where no authoritative source provided the kind of detailed information I wanted to track, I've chosen to develop a ship design philosophy for each polity. I then use this as a guideline to the kinds and numbers of systems I believe each ship class would have, given the nature of the culture that produces it, its apparent mission, and its baseline physical parameters (esp. size and mass).

The cultural design philosophies I've used can be described as follows:

Federation: "Individual lives have value." Ships are balanced offensively/defensively and have large power plants and redundant systems.

Klingon: "Glorious battle assures immortality." Ships are strong offensively and are highly maneuverable, but at the expense of defenses and support systems.

Romulan: "Subterfuge cloaked in mystery sheathed in deception." Ships are well-powered with good support systems, but speed and firepower suffer, requiring ships to be larger (more massive) to carry more weapons.

Borg: "Identical cogs in a perfect machine." Ships are fast, strong and survivable (through regeneration), but become too big to be maneuverable. They are also dependent on centralized command and control.

Cardassian: "Winning is everything." Ships mount a lot of offense, but require a lot of bulky power systems to do the job, reducing maneuverability and space for other systems.

Ferengi: "There's no profit in dying." Ships are fast, maneuverable, and have good active defenses. They're somewhat underpowered offensively when alone, but they can be dangerous in numbers.

Jem'Hadar: "My life for the Founders." Balanced offense and defense like Federation ships, but virtually no support systems.

Species 8472: "Enough pure energy can solve any problem." Species 8472 ships are essentially maulers: single-weapon ships where all systems exist to support the weapon.

Breen: "#%$& $*&#@ #@^&." Not much is known of Breen design philosophy, but it seems to emphasize energy/power systems. So Breen ships tend to have good support systems to power their energy weapons.

Gorn: "I'm tougher than you are." Their ships would have basic offense and support systems, and they'd be painfully slow, but they'd be so massively armored that taking one down would be a real challenge. (Note: There are no Gorn ships in canon Star Trek... but there should be. ) )
Using these philosophies, I tried to assign appropriate values to each ship class. (In some cases, this actually required me to invent technologies to support the values. What are the hulls of Jem'Hadar ships made out of, and how strong are they? What kind of computers do Klingons use, and how fast are they compared to, say, isolinear circuits? What about the Romulans? You get the idea.) At the same time, I also tried not to go cookie-cutter, giving every ship within a polity the same kinds of technology -- even within a fleet (even for the Borg!) there should be some variation.

Finally, to bring the strengths of the ships of different polities into line with the hints given in various TV episodes and movies, as well as to make the calculations of ship capabilities, I had to assign numeric values to the many devices and qualities a starship could have. For example, I needed to decide that a computer based on isolinear processing was the baseline (with a multiplier value of 1.0) and that duotronic circuitry was about 0.7 times as powerful; "unimatrix" shielding was 1.5 times better than standard deflector shields; a Mark VI Type XXV photon torpedo delivers 18,500 units of damage while a Mark Q-II quantum torpedo does 33,000; and so on. Virtually none of these values has any source in canon, but all were necessary in order for the spreadsheet to be able to calculate numeric values for ship class capabilities.

So I made 'em up. I tried my best to pick numbers that were both in line with TV/movie quoted statements and with published data, but which also generated reasonable results in calculating the relative strengths of ships with respect to each other. If any part of this spreadsheet is suspect as being as subjective as some of the other suggested starship power rankings, this is probably where the worst offenses are committed.


Rather than leaping directly toward the generation of Combat and Exploration ratings, I found it more useful to start with ratings that are more specific to the kinds of systems found on board starships.

Combat capability, for example, isn't just about how many weapons you're packing -- the ability to hang in a firefight also requires a ship to be able to take punishment. Being able to fly loops around an opponent is also useful, and the ability to analyze an enemy's capabilities can come in handy as well.

So I elected to start by generating four primary ratings: Maneuverability, Firepower, Survivability, and Science. I then use these numbers (with appropriate weightings) to generate the two secondary ratings of Combat and Exploration capability.

One important note here is that the four primary ratings aren't absolute numbers -- in all cases, I have made them relative to the number generated for the Galaxy class. This makes it much easier to look at a rating and see immediately how it stacks up against a Galaxy class ship like the Enterprise-D, and thus against all other ships. (This is why the Galaxy class values are "1.0" for all four of the primary ratings.) Another way to say this is that a value of less than 1.0 implies less capability compared to a Galaxy-class ship, while a value greater than 1.0 implies more capability in a particular area.

Here are the basics of the calculations I used to get the four primary ratings (excluding tweakage numbers):

Maneuverability: square root of ((Power plant output * Count of plants * number of Impulse engines / Mass) + Planetary landing rating)
Firepower: (sum of (Weapon Type output * Weapon Count) for three weapons) + Tractors + (Fighters * fighter Firepower)
Survivability: (Shield type * Output * Count) + (Length * Hull Type * Armor) + Size bonus + Sections + Cloak
Science: (count of Labs * Computer rating) + (Computer rating * computer Count)) * Sensor rating

From these relative rankings I then calculated the two kinds of secondary "power" ratings that are important for Starfleet vessels:

Combat: Firepower * 12 + Survivability * 10 + SQRT(Maneuverability) + Science
Exploration: Science * 15 + SQRT(Maneuverability) + MIN(3,Survivability) + MIN(3,Firepower/2)

The "MIN(3,X)" function serves to cap the value of X at 3.00 so that (for example) the crazy Maneuverability of shuttles (which I've capped at 8.00 times better than the Galaxy class) doesn't swamp the whole calculation.

(Note: In a more general MMORPG, we'd probably want to calculate a third secondary rating: Economic power. Among other things, generating this number would require knowledge of the cargo space available in non-military craft. Actually, we'd need more non-military craft, wouldn't we?)


With all these numbers generated, we can (finally!) use Excel's sort function to rank the various ships in order of each type of power.

Here's the full list of ships sorted by Combat capability (last updated 2009/03/03):

POLITY         CLASS/TYPE                  COMBAT RATING
Species 8472   Energy Focusing Ship        500.62  (planet-killer weapon)
Romulan/Reman  Scimitar                    317.08  (planet-killer weapon)
Borg           Cube, variant 1               8.10
Borg           Cube, variant 2, tactical     6.82
Borg           Cube, variant 2               4.94
Borg           Sphere, variant 1             4.14
Borg           Queen's Ship                  3.34
Species 8472   Bioship                       2.80
Borg           Sphere, variant 2             2.01
Jem'Hadar      Battleship                    1.84
Klingon        Negh'var-type                 1.45
Romulan        D'Deridex (B-type Warbird)    1.40  (said to be more than a match for a Galaxy)
Federation     Sovereign                     1.37
Romulan        Warbird (Valdore)             1.12
Jem'Hadar      Battle Cruiser                1.11
Federation     Prometheus                    1.07
Federation     Galaxy                        1.00
Breen          Warship                       0.83
Federation     Curry-type                    0.76  (treated as a carrier)
Ferengi        D'Kora (Marauder)             0.75  (said to be almost a match for a Galaxy)
Klingon        Vor'cha                       0.71
Federation     Ambassador                    0.68  (after phaser/photon torpedo refits)
Federation     Niagara                       0.67
Federation     Intrepid                      0.66  (on paper -- Voyager was tougher)
Federation     Akira                         0.65  (treated as a carrier)
Federation     Nebula                        0.65
Federation     Defiant                       0.64  (firepower + maneuverability)
Cardassian     Keldon                        0.62
Federation     Cheyenne                      0.59
Federation     Challenger                    0.58
Klingon        K't'inga                      0.54
Federation     Elkins-type                   0.53
Federation     Merced                        0.50
Federation     Steamrunner                   0.50
Federation     Norway                        0.48
Federation     Excelsior                     0.47  (after early refits)
Cardassian     Galor                         0.46
Federation     Federation                    0.46
Klingon        Bird-of-Prey, K'vort          0.46
Borg           Probe                         0.45
Federation     New Orleans                   0.45
Federation     Springfield                   0.45
Federation     Freedom                       0.43
Federation     Constellation                 0.41
Federation     Saber                         0.41
Federation     Nova                          0.38
Federation     Constitution (A-refit)        0.36
Federation     Yeager-type                   0.36
Jem'Hadar      Attack Ship                   0.35
Federation     Constitution                  0.30
Federation     Soyuz                         0.30
Klingon        Bird-of-Prey, D-12            0.28
Klingon        D-7                           0.26
Federation     Centaur-type                  0.26
Romulan        D-7                           0.25
Romulan        Bird-of-Prey                  0.25
Klingon        Bird-of-Prey, B'rel           0.24
Federation     Miranda                       0.23
Federation     Delta Flyer                   0.23  (advanced off/def + great maneuverability)
Romulan        Science Vessel                0.23
Borg           Scout                         0.23
Federation     Peregrine                     0.22
Cardassian     Hideki                        0.22
Federation     Saladin                       0.22
Romulan        Scout                         0.20
Romulan        Shuttle                       0.19
Federation     Scout-type                    0.18
Federation     Olympic                       0.17
Cardassian     Transport                     0.16
Federation     Raven-type                    0.16
Cardassian     Supply Ship                   0.16
Cardassian     Freighter                     0.15
Romulan/Reman  Scorpion                      0.15
Federation     Danube                        0.14
Federation     Oberth                        0.14
Cardassian     Shuttle                       0.13
Federation     Argo                          0.13
Federation     Ptolemy                       0.12
Federation     Intrepid Aeroshuttle          0.12
Federation     Shuttle, Type 10              0.12
Federation     Sovereign Captain’s Yacht     0.12
Klingon        Toron                         0.12
Ferengi        Shuttle                       0.12
Federation     Shuttle, Type 11              0.12
Federation     Shuttle, Type  7              0.12
Federation     Shuttle, Type  6              0.12
Federation     Shuttle, Type  9              0.12
Federation     Nova Waverider                0.12
Federation     Galaxy Captain’s Yacht        0.12
Federation     Shuttle, Type  8              0.12
Ferengi        Shuttlepod                    0.11
Federation     Shuttle, "Galileo 5"          0.11
Federation     Shuttle, Type 18              0.11
Federation     Shuttle, Class F              0.11
Federation     Shuttle, Type 16              0.11
Federation     Shuttle, Type 15              0.11
Federation     Hermes                        0.11
Federation     Sydney                        0.10
And the full list of ships sorted by Exploration capability:

Borg           Cube, variant 1             4.38
Borg           Cube, variant 2, tactical   2.64
Borg           Cube, variant 2             2.32
Borg           Queen's Ship                1.78
Borg           Sphere, variant 1           1.53
Federation     Galaxy                      1.00
Borg           Probe                       0.99
Federation     Nebula                      0.96
Borg           Sphere, variant 2           0.77
Romulan        D'Deridex (B-type Warbird)  0.74
Federation     Intrepid                    0.68
Federation     Nova                        0.68
Federation     Prometheus                  0.65
Federation     Sovereign                   0.61
Federation     Olympic                     0.60
Borg           Scout                       0.59
Romulan/Reman  Scimitar                    0.58
Romulan        Science Vessel              0.57
Romulan        Warbird (Valdore)           0.57
Species 8472   Energy Focusing Ship        0.54
Federation     Defiant                     0.50
Jem'Hadar      Battleship                  0.50
Klingon        Negh'var-type               0.48
Federation     New Orleans                 0.47
Federation     Curry-type                  0.47
Species 8472   Bioship                     0.45
Federation     Challenger                  0.45
Ferengi        D'Kora (Marauder)           0.43
Federation     Akira                       0.42
Federation     Niagara                     0.42
Federation     Freedom                     0.42
Federation     Raven-type                  0.42
Breen          Warship                     0.42
Cardassian     Keldon                      0.41
Federation     Cheyenne                    0.41
Federation     Scout-type                  0.41
Federation     Oberth                      0.41
Federation     Norway                      0.40
Cardassian     Galor                       0.40
Federation     Steamrunner                 0.39
Federation     Merced                      0.38
Federation     Saber                       0.38
Federation     Soyuz                       0.38
Federation     Constellation               0.38
Federation     Springfield                 0.37
Federation     Yeager-type                 0.37
Jem'Hadar      Battle Cruiser              0.36
Federation     Federation                  0.35
Federation     Hermes                      0.34
Cardassian     Hideki                      0.34
Klingon        K't'inga                    0.33
Klingon        Vor'cha                     0.32
Federation     Ambassador                  0.32
Klingon        Bird-of-Prey, K'vort        0.31
Romulan        Scout                       0.31
Federation     Constitution                0.31
Klingon        D-7                         0.31
Federation     Excelsior                   0.31
Federation     Constitution (A-refit)      0.30
Federation     Elkins-type                 0.29
Federation     Delta Flyer                 0.28
Federation     Shuttle, Type 10            0.27
Federation     Miranda                     0.27
Federation     Centaur-type                0.27
Federation     Sydney                      0.27
Federation     Ptolemy                     0.27
Jem'Hadar      Attack Ship                 0.26
Federation     Saladin                     0.26
Klingon        Bird-of-Prey, B'rel         0.26
Romulan        D-7                         0.25
Romulan        Shuttle                     0.24
Cardassian     Shuttle                     0.24
Klingon        Bird-of-Prey, D-12          0.24
Romulan        Bird-of-Prey                0.24
Romulan/Reman  Scorpion                    0.24
Federation     Peregrine                   0.23
Federation     Danube                      0.23
Federation     Argo                        0.23
Ferengi        Shuttle                     0.23
Federation     Intrepid Aeroshuttle        0.23
Federation     Sovereign Captain’s Yacht   0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type  7            0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type  6            0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type 11            0.23
Federation     Nova Waverider              0.23
Federation     Galaxy Captain’s Yacht      0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type  9            0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type  8            0.23
Ferengi        Shuttlepod                  0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type 18            0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type 16            0.23
Federation     Shuttle, Type 15            0.23
Klingon        Toron                       0.21
Federation     Shuttle, "Galileo 5"        0.20
Federation     Shuttle, Class F            0.20
Cardassian     Transport                   0.20
Cardassian     Freighter                   0.19
Cardassian     Supply Ship                 0.17

The Internet being what it is, I assume that no one will agree with any part of either of these rankings. :)

The good news is, now you have something approximating a factual basis for disagreement. I've attached to this essay the spreadsheet I used to generate the rankings I show above. Check it out; you'll see every assumption I made.

[Note: Given security concerns about Excel spreadsheets, I haven't yet updated this blog entry to attach my spreadsheet to it. If/when I feel it's safe to do so, I'll update this entry with the spreadsheet file and make a note of that as a new blog entry.]

Even better: Feel free to tweak any or all of the values and publish your own rankings. That's the main reason why I've attached this spreadsheet that I spent so much time working on -- I'm curious to see how other people will use it.

The obvious problem with doing that is, how do you avoid changing reasonably canonical values without having to look up every ship for yourself? In addition to cherry-picking numbers from multiple canon sources, I've obviously created a lot of numbers out of my head. How is anyone looking at this spreadsheet supposed to know what numbers are authoritative and which come solely out of my fevered imaginings?

To make it clear where a value is generally agreed on and where I've had to improvise, I've adopted a color scheme for labeling each cell of the spreadsheet. I've left uncolored many (though not all) of the values that are taken directly from Memory Alpha or Ex Astris Scientia. Values that can be directly inferred from visual study of images of the ships (such as the number of warp nacelles and the configuration type), or are simple extrapolations based on hints from visual evidence and dialogue, combined with knowledge of other similar ships, are colored in yellow. And values colored in red are pure guesswork on my part -- those values are things that seem right to me for that kind of ship but for which I can point to no canon source or sufficiently similar ship.

(Note: There are probably a few places where I mistakenly failed to color some value in yellow or red that I should have. Please feel free to let me know where, in your opinion, I got a canon number clearly wrong or didn't label a number properly.)

The point to this labeling is that, if you like, you can second-guess my choices to come up with values that you think are more appropriate without running afoul of information that is considered (relatively) canon. It's a spreadsheet! Playing with numbers is what these things are for, so here's your chance to try out any crazy theories you might have about which is the better ship class and why.

(Note: If you want to add new Computers or Shields or other devices on the appropriate sheet [found at the bottom left of the spreadsheet], just be sure to add the new item in alphabetical order. Excel won't be able to find it when doing a lookup if you don't. Caused me all kinds of problems until I figured that one out....)

A final note: It's important to recognize that the calculated ratings for all these ships are their ratings on paper. All other things being equal, a ship with a higher combat rating (for example) will be able to defeat one with a lower combat rating... but things out in the field are almost never equal.

People, in particular, can make a big difference (up to a point). Technology is cool, but how it's used matters, too. What about crew morale? What about differences in organizational models (Borg-like discipline vs. Federation ingenuity)? What about legendary officers?

My spreadsheet doesn't track any of those things (although it does try to track crew size). Consequently, it's missing an important piece of what distinguishes a ship that appears relatively weak on paper (Voyager) compared to one that seems overwhelming on paper (e.g., a Borg sphere). I think it's worth seeing how ships look on paper, but I want to acknowledge that it's far from the whole story of how a ship will actually perform.

All that said, I hope someone will find this tool useful. If not... well, hey, I had fun putting it together.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Post-Launch Subscription Curves for Online Games

There appear to be two main types of post-launch subscription curves for online games. (By "subscription curve" I mean the plot of current subscribers versus time.)

The start-big curve is populated by the high-profile mass-market games that cost $20-50M and several years to make. These games start off with a subscriber population in the hundreds of thousands, then decline slowly over time (and may decline significantly when some similar but "newer" game launches). Such games therefore need to spend heavily on pre-launch marketing because they must recoup their development costs as quickly as possible.

The start-small curve is seen for games like EVE Online, RuneScape, and WWII Online. They start out relatively small, with subscriber numbers from 10,000 to ~100,000, then grow slowly over time. These games depend on low (or zero) subscription costs, and accumulate players over time by being perceived as a polished small game (possibly in an underserved niche market).

Most games fit seem to fit pretty closely to one of these two curves. In 2007, however, there were two glaring exceptions, both of which began life on the start-big curve but soon diverged dramatically from it.

The first exception is World of Warcraft. Based on its size and pre-launch buzz, WoW began on the start-big curve. Unlike other start-big games, WoW then grew much bigger very rapidly, and continues to grow though at a much slower pace.

It's tempting to conclude (as some have) that World of Warcraft owes its success to its gameplay, or its content, or its low technical requirements, or its polish, or to some combination of these. But I don't believe that any combination of those things (which other online games have had, at least in part) is sufficient to explain WoW's meteoric rise. As I discuss in The Secret of World of Warcraft's Success, I believe WoW has gained its massive numbers not solely by any intrinsic features (although those are necessary conditions) but by what I call the Hula Hoop Effect: once something hits a critical mass of popularity, the popularity itself makes it even more popular regardless of action quality or content. Like the hula hoop, going viral generates an order-of-magnitude increase in adoption that is otherwise inexplicable. That's not to say that WoW is a bad game; it's only saying that the features and quality of WoW's gameplay aren't enough to explain its abnormal subscription curve.

The other exception to the two-curves theory is Vanguard, which, though entering on the start-big curve, completely skipped the "slow decline after launch" phase and (according to MMOGData) plummeted directly to the "server merge" phase. This, I think, is the dark side of the Hula Hoop Effect: a product or service -- or person -- that's widely perceived (even if wrongly) as unpopular will become even more unpopular.

What's important to note here is that in both the cases of WoW and Vanguard, I don't believe gameplay alone can satisfactorily explain the levels of subscriber adoption and retention.

My guess for the mechanism behind the exceptional performance of WoW and Vanguard is that the core MMORPG gamers are so engaged with these products and so connected to the media and to each other that the Hula Hoop Effect is hugely magnified. That's just a guess, though; it's probably worth further consideration.

All that said, two questions arise.

1. What can an online game developer do to delay or minimize the "slow decline" part of the mass-market MMOG curve? Is there some way that elements of the game's lore can be used (gameplay design? gameworld design? marketing?) to stave off this slow-motion bleeding of subscribers that other games can't? Other than expansions, what can a game developer do to help keep their game constantly fresh and appealing to new subscribers?

2. Beyond just flattening the standard curve for a Big Game, what, if anything, can a game development studio do to induce a positive Hula Hoop Effect for their game? (Sub-question: Would they want to?)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Technology Levels in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Should Star Trek Online implement a defined system of cultural technology levels?

For example, consider the planet Arret III, on which we've just discovered a single pre-warp civilization numbering roughly six billion souls. They have computers capable of teraflop speeds but not isograted (or duotronic) circuits; they can do basic organ replacements but not full-scale human genetic engineering; they have chemical-powered rockets but not impulse or warp drives.

A tech level classification system would give us a way to say, "Ah, that's a tech level 8 civilization. The Prime Directive says we can't mess with them until they reach tech level 9 and are contacted officially by a Federation representative."

Does anyone else think there might be some value in having something like this classification system in Star Trek Online?

The concept of a system of planetary classification is an established bit of Star Trek lore. "M-class" planets, for example, have been mentioned many times.

So what about tech levels? This could turn into a useful bit of information to have if the Prime Directive is going to have any impact on gameplay.

We could go the easy route and simply classify cultures as either "pre-warp" or "starfaring." But it seems to me that this classification model would be too simple to offer some interesting gameplay opportunities.

What if figuring out a newly-discovered culture's technology level were part of a survey minigame? Exploration ships could warp into the outer reaches of an unexplored star system and start taking passive scans of the area, identifying each of the star's planets (if any) by type. Gradually you could work your way through each planet in the system, charting the details. If passive scans revealed no (apparent) signs of intelligent life, you could switch to active scans to catalog the mineral and organic resources found on each world.

And if intelligent life is found? Then it's time to analyze the passive sensor readings to classify the apparent technology level of the species you've encountered. That determination will then drive a lot of the subsequent gameplay -- if they seem to be pre-warp, do you switch to active scans and maybe even landing parties and hope to avoid a Prime Directive infraction? If they're post-warp, do you make first contact, or do you just collect data and let somebody with a Galaxy-class ship make the initial diplomatic overtures?

If there's anything like a Federation economy, how about using a planet's general tech level to determine (in part) the kinds of goods typically available there, or the kinds of goods that sell well there?

The point to all of this is to suggest that a considerable amount of enjoyable gameplay becomes possible once you accept the idea that something like a "technology level" is in the game. If you've got that, it implies a lot of other detailed information about planets and lifeforms, which in turn implies that players can discover and document that information.

Assuming for the moment that anyone's still with me :), there are a few additional questions.

1. If tech levels make sense for a ST game, should cultures/planets be classified with just one tech level? Or should a general tech level be calculated as an average of a culture's level of advancement in various specific technologies, such as transportation, communication, energy production, computers, military hardware, and so on?

2. How would we classify the tech level of a Balkanized planet with multiple civilizations at different tech levels? Pick the highest (especially if they're close to their first warp 1 flight)? Calculate an average?

3. Should civilizations at a particular tech level be able to increase their tech level during the course of Star Trek Online's lifespan? Wouldn't it be interesting if a pre-warp culture were to make their initial warp 1 flight and suddenly become a new candidate for admission to the Federation?

4. It's also worth pointing out that Star Trek uses the "pre-warp/warp-capable" distinction to decide whether a culture is ready for the shock of learning that they're not alone in the universe. That's a convenient shorthand for a TV show, but in reality, we wouldn't do it that way. Rather than using tech level as an indirect guide to a culture's openness to galactic life, we'd simply study that aspect directly. (Covertly, but directly.)


All this said, it's pretty obvious that I'm making a raftload of assumptions. I'm assuming that there'll be unexplored worlds in ST:O, that there'll be new species to discover and study and make contact with and that doing so will be a valid form of gameplay with actual content for those who enjoy this kind of thing. In short, I'm assuming that some of the gameplay of Star Trek Online will be about seeking out "new life and new civilizations."

Will everyone be interested in this? Of course not. Some gamers will prefer to be out fighting things, while others will want to spend their time roleplaying with other people. And it will be good for ST:O to offer those kinds of features.

That doesn't mean that it wouldn't be equally good to offer still other players gameplay that allows them to be explorers. I don't know for certain whether ST:O will or won't do so. So I'm posing this question as an optimist. I'm hoping that the kind of physical and cultural exploration I'm briefly outlining here will be a meaningful part of the gameplay.