So what gameplay features should exist that will enable players to apply those skills? In other words, what should characters be able to do with their skills?
My personal yardstick for measuring any idea for Star Trek Online (beyond the obvious "it must be fun") has two ends:
- It emphasizes the unique qualities of multiplayer persistent gameworlds.
- It maximizes the value of the most iconic features of the Star Trek license.
To accomplish this, I'd group gameplay into seven specializations: Engineering, Ops, Medical, Science, Tactical/Security, Helm, and Command. (I like the idea that Engineering is about maintaining systems, while Ops is about using them. Also note that I'm using the "new" purple color for Tactical/Security officers.) And to tie all these activities together, they'd be selected to work well for the kinds of missions that ST:O players are likely to encounter: combat, exploration, and diplomacy. (Hey, in my ST:O, those would be mission types that players could expect to see! :) )
In between missions (let's call it "downtime"), players would generally be free to pursue specialization-related interests, or just hang out with other players and socialize (which is a non-trivial aspect of both MMORPGs and Star Trek). And when on a mission, the minigames would be designed to interlock so that everybody can contribute. (But note that some missions, just like some quests in MMORPGs or episodes in Star Trek, might highlight particular specialties. On average across many missions, every specialization except Command players -- who have their finger on everything -- would get roughly the same amount of screen time.)
So here's an idea of what designing and organizing minigames by specialization and mission might look like:
Downtime -- socialization, skill practice (holodeck?), ship effectiveness improvement, ship operations management
|Engineering||improve the efficiency of ship systems (competition with similar-class ships?)|
|Ops||perform long-range scans; assist in creating/enhancing ship systems|
|Medical||run experiments to find new medicines or improve existing medicines; monitor health of crew|
|Science||analysis of scans for unexpected patterns; classification of previously unknown phenomena|
|Tac/Sec||battle drills; tactical simulations; monitor ship's security systems|
|Helm||design/improve helm control macros|
|Command||crew performance analysis; selection of new missions|
Combat Mission -- fast-paced activities to support tactical conflict
|Engineering||restore offline systems, repair broken systems, replace destroyed systems|
|Ops||acquire sensor data on local environment and vessels; reroute power around damaged/destroyed systems|
|Medical||heal injured crew; monitor ship's life support systems|
|Science||analyze sensor data for best use of environmental features; analyze specific capabilities of enemy ships|
|Tac/Sec||initial tactical analysis of enemy capabilities; targeting and fire control; monitor status of ship's defenses|
|Helm||maneuver to support tactical targeting; evasive maneuvers; best pursuit course|
|Command||organize activity of all departments; prioritize resource requests|
Diplomacy Mission -- understanding other cultures and helping them
|Engineering||functional analysis of alien technology; repairing alien tech|
|Ops||passive short-range scans; transporter ops; guest liaison|
|Medical||evaluate medical/psychological aspects of contacted culture; monitor physical interaction protocols|
|Science||analyze alien physics/science; analyze language and assist in translation/communication|
|Tac/Sec||covert threat analysis; heightened monitoring of ship security|
|Helm||shuttle service; towing via tractor beam|
|Command||first contact; assistance/non-interference (Prime Directive) decision; speak for the Federation|
Exploration Mission -- discovery and thoughtful problem-solving
|Engineering||functional analysis of alien technology; repairing alien tech; integrating alien tech with Starfleet tech|
|Ops||long-range scans; highly detailed short-range scans|
|Medical||collect samples for medical research; analyze biological aspects of alien lifeforms; cure bizarre new disease|
|Science||analysis of scan data to identify new forms of matter and energy or signs of intelligence|
|Tac/Sec||monitoring of ship's defenses; reinforcing specific structural integrity systems|
|Helm||precise maneuvering in dangerous conditions; shuttle reconnaissance|
|Command||risk vs. reward assessment; department management|
This is an initial cut at organizing gameplay that I think would satisfy a lot of potential subscribers to a Star Trek MMORPG. If I could spend six months to a year refining it in light of reality, probably a number of the specific ideas would change (e.g., better integration of activities for each mission type; removal of some activities that don't offer enough value for the development effort required; plussing the remaining activities). But I think the general approach of making sure that different gameplay interests are equally respected in gameplay features is the right way to go.
Incidentally, this is the kind of thing I mean when I advocate "balance": not a vertical balance of power within a specialization, but a horizontal balance of power across all specializations so that different kinds of subscribers can have equal amounts of fun.