Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Questions for a Star Trek MMORPG FAQ

[updated 2008/08/11]

The question came up of what things people might like to know about a Star Trek MMORPG... assuming anybody ever successfully develops one.

In thinking about the questions others might ask, I realized that I was actually developing a pretty extensive list of questions for a FAQ. Next thing I know, I've dashed off over a hundred questions.

I get enthusiastic about things sometimes. :)

So here's the list of FAQ questions I came up with for Star Trek Online.

Who is the target audience for Star Trek Online?
What features will make Star Trek Online different from other prominent massively multiplayer online roleplaying games?
Will having some Star Trek knowledge be required to fully enjoy the game?
Will having some Star Trek knowledge make some parts of the game more fun?

Who will be the publisher of Star Trek Online?
What is the funding structure for Star Trek Online? (This is a legitimate question given the failure of previous developers of a Star Trek Online to secure stable funding throughout the development phase.)
When will Star Trek Online launch?
When will the beta testing phase start?
How can I be invited to participate in beta testing?
Will the game be available for retail purchase, as a digital download, or both?
How much will the core game software cost?
What will the game cost to play on a recurring basis?
Will there be any kind of microtransactions?
Will there be any kind of "premium" subscriptions?
Will the Terms of Service prohibit the out-of-game sale or transfer of in-game assets, and will this prohibition be backed up with legal action in addition to permament banning?
How frequently will the game be updated after launch to correct bugs and add content?

How many characters will be allowed on one account?
How many characters will be allowed per server?
How many servers will be enabled at launch?
Will there be European or Asian servers?
What ESRB rating will Star Trek Online be designed to have?
Will a paper game manual be available?
How much in-game help will there be?
Will customer service and/or tech support be outsourced to overseas providers?
Will there be effective tools for monitoring the game's economy on an ongoing basis to catch dupers and farmers?

On what systems (other than PCs) will Star Trek Online be designed to run?
What are the minimum PC system requirements likely to be?
What are the maximum PC system requirements likely to be?
Will Windows XP still be supported, or will Windows Vista be required?
Will Linux or Mac OS be supported?
Can I play with a dialup modem, or will I need a broadband connection?
What control/movement devices will be supported? Keyboard & mouse? Game controller?

How realistic will the art style for space gameplay be?
How realistic will the art style for avatars and ground-based/ship-based gameplay be?
Will any art assets be reused from the TV shows and/or movies, or will all art assets be created for the game?
Will any sound effects be taken from the TV shows and/or movies, or will all audio assets be created for the game?
Will Majel Barrett perform as the voice of the computer in Federation starships?

To what degree will the game interface resemble the LCARS interface of post-original series Star Trek?
How much control will players have over what information about their characters is revealed to other players?
How much control will players have over how information about other characters is displayed?
Will there be some Star Trek-ish form of "radar" map that shows landmarks, waypoints, and mobile objects?
How much will players be able to customize their user interface to the game?
Will 1st-person viewpoint be supported for player avatars?
Will 3rd-person viewpoint be supported for player avatars?
What viewpoints will be supported in space?
Will sectors be implemented as standalone "zones"?
What map types (local, sector, quadrant, galaxy) will be implemented?
What types of information will players be able to see on each map?
To what extent will a player character's available technology determine what can be seen on a map?

What is the overall storyline of Star Trek Online?
How will players experience this story through gameplay?
Who will be the primary antagonists in Star Trek Online?
Will players ever be able to "win" a large-scale conflict? If not, how will the constant stalemate be explained?
Will players be able to meaningfully affect the internal qualities of their chosen factional organization (Starfleet, Klingon military)?
Will any specific stories from the TV shows or movies be recreated?
Will player characters be able to visit the Mirror Universe?
Will player characters be able to travel backward or forward in time from the game's primary time setting? Will that be "real" (within the game setting), or only inside a holodeck?

What is the planned ratio of combat content to non-combat content?
How much of the content in Star Trek Online will be instanced, and how much will be in a single common area?
Which parts of the game will be FPS-style, and which parts will be RPG-style?
Will players have to be "twitchy" gamers to succeed in Star Trek Online?
Will there be an "end game?" What does it look like?
Will it be possible to change any large-scale aspects of the game world through cumulative gameplay?
Will there be a tutorial phase of the game, such as progression through "Starfleet Academy" for Starfleet characters?

How large will the gameplay universe be? How many planets/systems/sectors will there be?
How realistic will space be? Will the stars in Star Trek Online be the same stars in the same locations as in the real Milky Way galaxy?
Will stars have multiple planets? Will they be orbited by different kinds of planets (rocky, molten core, gas giant) and other objects (planetoid belts, comets, etc.)?
Will Star Trek Online have all the subatomic particles, energy fields and so on so frequently encountered in Star Trek?
Will space phenomena be just for looks, or will players be able to use their ships to interact with objects and effects in space?
How plausible will the physical aspects of planets (gravity, atmosphere, hydrographics, length of day, etc.) be?
What size will world surfaces be? A few square meters of airless asteroid? Millions of square kilometers for a large planet? Billions of square kilometers for a ringworld or Dyson sphere?
Will planets have temperatures, atmospheres, and weather that are more or less scientifically appropriate (in a Star Trek context, of course)?
How plausible will the forms and behaviors of alien plants and animals be with respect to the specific environments in which they evolved?
Will some humanoid-habitable worlds have plant and animal life but no intelligent life?

What are the playable races?
Will many of the different species of the Alpha and Beta quadrants seen in Star Trek be implemented?
Will many other species of the Alpha and Beta quadrants not seen in Star Trek be implemented?
How will the unique cultures of alien species be represented? Will different species represented as NPCs have different languages, customs, dress, and behaviors?
Will different cultures also have their own unique architectures, spacecraft, and other artifacts?
How will the laws and rules of the various cultures apply to characters?
Will NPC cultures pursue their own independent behaviors with regard to each other (treaties, wars, commerce, etc.), or will all cultures be static?
Will cultures on different worlds have distinct forms and levels of technology?
Will each political territory in the galaxy have its own "faction" that player characters can gain or lose?
If faction is implemented for individual NPCs or NPC groups, to what extent will a player character's positive or negative faction with an individual NPC or NPC group affect their gameplay?
Will diplomacy be a viable option when interacting with organized NPCs?
Will there be content specifically created to support diplomatic gameplay or the use of diplomacy-related character abilities?
Will the Prime Directive have a meaningful role in gameplay?
To what extent will players who choose characters in Starfleet be rewarded or penalized for the degree to which they "act like Starfleet officers?"
Are those interfering Organians still around?

Will the characters from the TV shows appear as NPCs? How will they be used? What gameplay functions will these major and minor Star Trek characters fulfill?
Will the actors from the TV shows lend their voices to "their" characters?
Will dialogue written for NPCs be branching, with multiple possible outcomes? Or will dialogue typically be single-threaded with only "success" and "failure" conditions?
How diverse will NPCs be? Will they tend to be mostly humanoid, or will they often be non-humanoid?
Will NPCs have abilities that aren't available to player characters?
Will some NPCs be available as crew ("pets") under a player character's command? When will they be available? on the ground? in hubs? in personal ships?
Will crew NPCs be able to improve their own abilities? To what extent can specific NPC crew improvements be determined by players?
Can NPC crews be given tasks that they will perform while the player is offline?
Will mobs be able to move to any location (on ground as individuals or in space as ships) that player characters or their ships can reach?
Will mobs have their own lives that they lead regardless of what players do, and their own motivations for doing so?
Will mobs be able to react plausibly (based on culture, role, equipment) to environmental stimuli (run-away, attack, call-for-help, trade, offer-mission, repair, etc.)?
Will mobs be able to communicate information about environmental or internal states to each other?
Will mobs have AI that's good enough to allow them to effectively plan and carry out organized group actions?
How will players give orders to crew NPCs? Can orders be queued? Can orders be conditional (if X happens, then do Y)?
Can a player take over a specific station from an NPC (presumably to improve on an NPC's AI actions)?
Will crew NPCs need to eat or sleep?

Will characters have classes and levels, or will abilities be implemented as player-selectable skills?
Which of the different Starfleet departments (Command, Engineering, Medical, etc., and their Klingon equivalents) will be available to player characters?
How will characters advance in their departmental abilities?
What Starfleet ranks will be available to player characters? Will Commodore and Admiral ranks be available to players? What will players have to do to achieve flag rank?
Will characters advance in rank simply by earning XP or prestige? Or must some special action be completed to receive a promotion once other requirements are met?
What effects will rank have on gameplay?
What effects will being promoted to a new rank have on gameplay?
Can player characters ever be demoted? If so, how might that happen?
Can player characters ever be cashiered from their factional organization completely? If not, how will Cryptic insure that players play their characters with respect to the principles of their factional organization?
To what extent will operational and strategic gameplay be available beyond the usual short-range, short-duration tactical action?
Will characters require training from unique NPCs to learn new abilities? Or will they gain new abilities automatically when they increase in level or rank?
Will any specific forms of gameplay be required to gain new abilities?
Will there be a hard upper limit on departmental level, or a practical upper limit on the number of skills that can be learned?
Will player characters need to eat or sleep?

Will players be able to form small groups (2-8 or so) for moderately difficult content?
Will players be able to form medium-sized groups (10-40 or so) for very difficult content?
Will players be able to form large groups (50-100+)? What features or content will be offered for these organizations?
Will players be able to serve as crew aboard another player's ship?
To what degree will Star Trek Online be designed to support solo play?
How will solo play and group play be balanced?
How far can a solo player progress?
What rules will be implemented to prevent large fleets from blocking access to content by other players or groups?

Roughly how many missions are planned to be available at launch?
How often will new missions be added on an ongoing basis?
Will every mission be of a specific type (destroy, fedex, recon, escort, etc.)? Or will missions be generalized so they can successfully be completed using any of several approaches (combat, stealth, diplomacy, trade, scientific or engineering or medical assistance, etc.)?
Will all missions be pre-written and taken from NPCs, or will there be some way to randomly generate missions?
Will players with higher-ranked characters be able to create missions for lower-ranked characters to take?
Will more than one group be able to perform the same mission at the same time?
Will there be a timer (if time runs out, the missions fails) on any missions?
Will there be a counter ("you may only take this mission N times") on any missions? Will any missions be infinitely repeatable?
Will it be possible to fail some missions permanently?

What features will Star Trek Online offer to support roleplaying?
Will there be separate roleplaying-enforced servers?
Will the use of out-of-character comm channels for OOC conversations be enforced on roleplaying servers (if any)? How?
In what ways will players be able to define the initial appearance of their characters?
Will players be able to choose their character's clothing, or will every character wear standard-issue duty uniforms?
Will players be able to accessorize their character's attire with rank insignia, badges, medals, awards or other wearable objects?
How much and under what conditions can players alter their clothing?
Will characters be able to disguise themselves, and if so how will that work?
Will it be possible for more than one player on a server to have the same name? What about personal ship names?
Will there be a name filter for characters? What about for personal ships?
Will there be sports games like parrises squares or dom'jot?
Will there be gambling games like dabo?

Will players be able to explore strange new worlds? Will they need special ships or equipment to do so?
How much of a planet's surface will be explorable? Will the entire surface be rendered, or will players only be able to travel within and between a few locations hand-crafted by the developers?
Will players be able to discover new worlds and new civilizations?
Will a player who starts a new character two or more years into Star Trek Online be able to discover new worlds and civilizations?
Will a player who discovers an uninhabited star system be able to name the star and/or the worlds orbiting that star?
Will there be strategically important resources (in space or on planets) that players can discover? Once discovered, how will these resources affect gameplay?
Will players be able to make official First Contact for their faction with a unique new civilization?
Will making First Contact benefit the player's faction in some gameplay-meaningful way?
Will players be able to persuade new civilizations to join their faction?
Will players be able to persuade existing civilizations not aligned with their faction to change their alignment to the player's faction?
Will diplomacy be a viable option in most missions?
Will there be character abilities specifically supporting exploration gameplay? What about abilities for diplomacy?

Will players be able to use tricorders and ship's sensors to observe their environment and collect data?
Will players be able to use computers to analyze data to reveal the operating principles of the Star Trek Online universe? How useful will a starship's main computer be in gameplay (beyond being a glorified help database)?
Will players be able to write new programs for equipment to detect or generate particles and energy beams/fields for special purposes?
How will Science officers be able to meaningfully participate in diplomatic or combat situations?
Will there be alien diseases to cure?
Will medicine be limited to "click-to-heal-damage" and buffing/debuffing? Or will it be more of a diagnostic, "solve-a-medical-mystery" kind of game?
How detailed will pre-scripted holodeck programs be?
Will players be able to create their own holodeck programs? Can they be shared with other players?
Will ship systems have efficiency ratings that Engineering officers can optimize as a kind of minigame?
To what extent will Engineers be able to monitor the various systems of a starship?
To what extent will Engineers be able to enhance the performance of the various systems of a starship?
Can players discover alien technology? Can we somehow integrate it into our own systems? Perhaps mate with it? (I'm just asking to see if anyone is still paying attention....)

Can players produce complete items such as phasers or plasma flow regulators?
Will equipment items be unitary objects, or will they be complex assemblies of components?
Can complex objects be broken down into elemental components?
Can players assemble components in new ways to create new kinds of items?
How will new objects be acquired? Assignment from HQ? Crafting? Or as loot scavenged from defeated enemies?
Will looted objects ever be superior in quality or function to the best crafted objects?
Will equipment become damaged through use?
Will equipment decay over time?
Can players or NPC crew repair damaged equipment or maintain equipment to prevent decay?
Will buildings and fortifications be constructible?
To what extent will replicators provide desired objects or components?

Will there be money? Will characters be able to buy things, or requisition things, or just be given what someone (maybe a player, maybe an NPC) thinks they need?
Will characters be able to exchange money or items with each other?
How will large fleets be prevented from gaining and wielding too much economic influence?
Will characters be able to own items (as opposed to being assigned items owned by their factional organization)?
What kinds of personal inventory will player characters have? Pockets? Teleporter buffers? Personal quarters?
How many items can characters store in their personal inventory? Will size/weight matter?
Will the notion of "prestige" be implemented? How can it be gained? Can it be lost? Can it be transferred between players? What can be done with it?

What types of spacecraft will there be? (Starships, runabouts, shuttles, sub-light craft, etc.)
How will ships be provided to characters? Under what conditions can player characters gain access to new/better ships?
Can players design their own ships?
Can players build their own ships?
Can players direct NPCs to build new ships?
Will players experience/control ships in interior locations as 3D avatars, or from the outside as disembodied spirits, or both/neither?
Will starships be implemented mostly as unitary objects with a few capabilities (move and shoot), or as assemblies of systems benefiting from good teamwork?
How many players can be on one ship?
Will the size of a ship determine the minimum number of characters required to operate it and the maximum number of characters who can operate it?
Will multiple players be able to operate a single personal ship?
What are the ships that a solo player will be allowed to operate?
Can players modify the equipment and systems of their personal ships? If so, to what degree? Will certain character skills be required?
Will players be able to reroute power or computer functionality around damaged/destroyed ship systems?
Will some starships be able to land on planetary surfaces, or operate within planetary atmospheres or stellar photospheres?
Will players be able to set their personal ships to self-destruct? Will there be any gameplay repercussions from the player's factional organization for doing so?
Will Cryptic's version of Star Trek Online implement the "hub" concept? If so, what form will hubs take, and what will be their purpose?
Will players be able to name their personal ships? Will this name be displayed to other players?
To what extent will players be able to customize the appearance of the interiors and exteriors of their ships? How will this be limited so that each faction's ships are still recognizable as belonging to that faction?
Will there be starbases that provide useful facilities?
What role(s) will starbases play? repair? replenishment? territorial defense?
Can characters manage starbases? What gameplay features are offered at starbases?
Can characters cause starbases to be constructed, or participate in building starbases as a group crafting activity?

How complex will controls be for combat? Just a few distinct, easy-to-learn actions, or lots of actions with different modes and options?
For space combat, will tactical action be slower and "naval" in style, or will it be more "twitchy?"
For ground combat, can specific body parts be targeted? For space combat, can specific ship systems be targeted?
How "tough" will characters be? Easy to kill, dramatically hard to kill, or is toughness dependent on rank or skills?
Does taking damage on the ground affect a character's abilities and skills? Does taking damage on a ship slowly disable ship systems?
Will player characters or crew NPCs need to be healed during combat?
Can damage to ship systems be repaired during combat? Will some damage be significant enough to require a starbase or time in drydock?
Will the environment (on the ground or in space) be complex enough to provide meaningful tactical options in combat?
What effects will terrain or environmental phenomena have on combat?
Will stealthy play be supported? Can the environment be used to hide characters (fog, smoke, stealth gear) or ships (cloaking devices)?
Will piracy in space be allowed? Will it be possible to board other ships? Can other ships be captured as prizes?
Under what conditions will PvP combat be supported? Will it ever in any way be non-consensual?
Will consensual "tactical simulations" (combat that does no actual damage) be supported?

Will there be permadeath?
Will there be meaningful negative consequences for Leeroy Jenkins-like behavior?
What happens to our character if we get disconnected on a ground-based away mission?
What happens to our character if we get disconnected in space?
What happens to our character if we lose a fight in space?
What happens to our personal ship if we get disconnected in space?
What happens to our personal ship if we lose a fight in space?
Will characters age? If so, what gameplay effects will aging have?

Will players be able to drop out of warp anywhere in the implemented galaxy? Or will traveling between worlds be restricted to clicking on a planet in the current sector and moving there automatically?
Will there be any form of "instant" travel? Will players need to have visited a destination by more conventional means before being able to skip to there?
Where will players arrive for away missions? Can they choose to land anywhere, or will their avatars spawn in specific predefined ground locations?
Will transporters be allowed/required for traveling between a starship and other locations?
Will shuttlecraft be allowed/required for traveling between a starship and other locations?
On the ground, will it be possible to ride in vehicles or on animals?
What are the rules for player/player, player/mob, player/structure, mob/mob, and mob/structure collidability?

Will players be able to communicate instantly with anyone in the game regardless of where their characters or ships are located in the game world?
Will there be multiple text channels for various forms of real-time communication (server chat, ship chat, guild chat, trade, etc.)?
Will characters be able to learn and use different languages, and will these be supported in real-time in-game communication?
Will there be an in-game email system?
Will third-party programs like Ventrilo and Teamspeak be supported, or will an in-game VOIP feature be offered? Will any gameplay require a voice chat capability?
Will there be quick signals (e.g., "go to location X," "fire on my designated target") that text-mode players can send each other individually in groups? Will players be able to define their own quick signals?

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