Monday, July 2, 2007

Skill-Based Mini-Games in a Star Trek MMORPG 1

It's a pretty safe bet that characters in a Star Trek MMORPG will have various skills, whether selected individually or acquired through level up in a class.

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.
Following this model, one way to design shipboard gameplay might be to offer several different kinds of minigames for every skill specialization. For maximum Star Treky-ness, the specific minigames would reflect the kinds of things we've seen characters do on ships in ST, and for maximum MMORPGification, the minigames would need to offer things that likely subscribers will enjoy doing as gameplay that's shared with other players.

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
Engineeringimprove the efficiency of ship systems (competition with similar-class ships?)
Opsperform long-range scans; assist in creating/enhancing ship systems
Medicalrun experiments to find new medicines or improve existing medicines; monitor health of crew
Scienceanalysis of scans for unexpected patterns; classification of previously unknown phenomena
Tac/Secbattle drills; tactical simulations; monitor ship's security systems
Helmdesign/improve helm control macros
Commandcrew performance analysis; selection of new missions

Combat Mission -- fast-paced activities to support tactical conflict
Engineeringrestore offline systems, repair broken systems, replace destroyed systems
Opsacquire sensor data on local environment and vessels; reroute power around damaged/destroyed systems
Medicalheal injured crew; monitor ship's life support systems
Scienceanalyze sensor data for best use of environmental features; analyze specific capabilities of enemy ships
Tac/Secinitial tactical analysis of enemy capabilities; targeting and fire control; monitor status of ship's defenses
Helmmaneuver to support tactical targeting; evasive maneuvers; best pursuit course
Commandorganize activity of all departments; prioritize resource requests

Diplomacy Mission -- understanding other cultures and helping them
Engineeringfunctional analysis of alien technology; repairing alien tech
Opspassive short-range scans; transporter ops; guest liaison
Medicalevaluate medical/psychological aspects of contacted culture; monitor physical interaction protocols
Scienceanalyze alien physics/science; analyze language and assist in translation/communication
Tac/Seccovert threat analysis; heightened monitoring of ship security
Helmshuttle service; towing via tractor beam
Commandfirst contact; assistance/non-interference (Prime Directive) decision; speak for the Federation

Exploration Mission -- discovery and thoughtful problem-solving
Engineeringfunctional analysis of alien technology; repairing alien tech; integrating alien tech with Starfleet tech
Opslong-range scans; highly detailed short-range scans
Medicalcollect samples for medical research; analyze biological aspects of alien lifeforms; cure bizarre new disease
Scienceanalysis of scan data to identify new forms of matter and energy or signs of intelligence
Tac/Secmonitoring of ship's defenses; reinforcing specific structural integrity systems
Helmprecise maneuvering in dangerous conditions; shuttle reconnaissance
Commandrisk 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment