Monday, October 1, 2007

Non-Combat Gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG

I'm hoping that combat -- in particular, the now-conventional combat roles of other major graphical MMORPGs -- won't drive too much of the design of Star Trek Online. That goes most strongly for character abilities and the game content those abilities will serve to access, but it also relates to how starship functionality is designed.

And again, this doesn't mean I'm "anti-combat." It's my opinion that, for both Star Trek and MMORPG reasons, there has to be combat in a Star Trek MMORPG, and plenty of it. What I'm saying is that, for this particular game, I think it will be more successful if combat is not viewed as The One True Core Activity because that philosophy has a nasty habit of turning all other aspects of a MMORPG into mere support functions.

In other words, I'm advocating a design for Star Trek Online that consciously strikes a balance between exciting combat action, meaningful social/diplomatic content, and thoughtful science/discovery/exploration gameplay, and in which personal ships, like other key game systems, will be designed to help express that philosophy of play.

The developer of a Star Trek Online is virtually certain to create new Starfleet ship classes. Well, if they can create some of these new ships to serve tactical combat roles like tank, nuker, etc., they can also create ships to fill other kinds of roles as well, including non-combat roles. A developer might also offer lots of new ships that are optimized for science and diplomacy (and commerce?), as well as some new general-purpose (exploration) ship classes. (Assuming that the game is set near A.D. 2400, 20 years of relative peace for the Federation since the Shinzon Incident should mean a renewed focus on designing non-combat ship classes, shouldn't it?)

If that's the case, then arguments against there being some personal ship classes designed for specific combat gameplay roles get weaker. If Player A is getting content that he enjoys, he's got little reason to complain that Players B and C and D are also getting something that they enjoy, even if nobody is getting everything they could possibly want (because sometimes providing one kind of content blocks another).

As long as there's a reasonable balance of content for the skippers of all these different kinds of ships to experience, then there's little justification for complaints. If however the subtitle of Star Trek Online is anything like "A Galaxy At War," then all bets are off for any kind of playstyle balance -- it'll just be another "kill it before it dies and take its stuff" game. There's nothing wrong with those, but there are already enough of them.

Let's hope for something better suited to this particular license, shall we?