Saturday, December 29, 2007

First Officers in a Star Trek MMORPG

One of the questions that comes up when talking about translating the world of Star Trek into a MMORPG is whether the role of executive officer (or first officer -- for now, let's treat them as the same thing) makes sense. How could an XO role be implemented so that it's fun in a multiplayer persistent-world online game based on Star Trek?

Crew management (after-action reports, reviews, etc.) is part of the XO's usual job description. For a game like Star Trek Online this might be sort of fun if it's thought of as a social function, as a way to help a ship's crew get to know each other, rather than solely as a hardcore gameplay-driven "ship's operation" kind of thing. I also like this aspect of the XO's job in that it helps to create a distinction between what you do as a junior officer in ST:O and what's expected from an officer learning to command. In Star Trek Online terms, crew management gameplay features would serve to distinguish Operational-level gameplay from Tactical-level gameplay.

But there's more to the executive officer's life than crew management. To offer a taste of what's possible, here's a list of things that the officer of the deck (OOD, who typically reports to the XO for most things) should know [with some possible Star Trek versions given in square brackets]:

1. Principal dimensions (beam, draft, length, displacement, etc.).
2. Fuel and water capacity, fuel consumption at various speeds, most economical speed.
3. Maximum speed available under different boiler combinations (steam plants) [warp core configurations].
4. Engine line-up and combination or turbine line-up and combination (gas-turbine and diesel ships).
5. Capabilities and limitations of weapon systems.
6. Capabilities and limitations of sensors.
7. Rudder angles for standard, full, and hard rudder.
8. Steering-engine controls and steering-engine combinations [impulse drive]; emergency-steering procedures.
9. Location, sound, appearance, and meaning of all alarm systems on the bridge.
10. Location of and normal use for all radio and internal communications stations.
11. Procedures and safety precautions for raising and lowering boats [shuttle ops].
12. Preparations needed for underway replenishment.
13. Preparations needed for entering and leaving port.
14. Operation of radar repeaters.
15. Operation of bearing circles, alidades, and stadimeters [Navigation].
16. Publications kept on the bridge, where they are to be found and how they are accounted for [use of ship's computer].
17. Procedure for manning watch and battle stations.
18. Makeup and check-in requirements for various security watches.
19. Regulations concerning disposal of trash and garbage.
20. Regulations concerning pumping bilges, oil spills, and environmental protection.
21. Characteristics and limitations of aircraft or helicopters carried [shuttles].
22. Operational, administrative, and task organizations that affect the OOD, and where his ship is in the organization.
23. Required reports to the OOD.
24. Location and use of emergency signals.
25. Preparations to be taken in heavy weather [structural integrity reinforcement?].
26. Basic ship's tactical information, such as turning-circle diameters under various conditions and limitations on acceleration and deceleration.

[Source: Watch Officer's Guide, 11th Edition]

Now, am I proposing that Star Trek Online should implement all these things? Absolutely not! I'm giving this list solely to point out some of the things that XOs are responsible for beyond just crew management, in the hope that some of the items listed might help generate ideas for fun gameplay features in ST:O that are appropriate for the XO role.

Overall, what should be borne in mind is that the XO has two functions:

1. Handle routine matters of ship operation.
2. Make sure that when the captain gives an order, it can be carried out.
And that's it. So the question is, should Star Trek Online be designed such that, on larger ships, there are plenty of fun gameplay features for both the captain (who handles the big-responsibility decisions) and the XO (who handles the ship's routine and makes sure that all systems -- crew and gear -- are working at peak efficiency)?

More pointedly: if it's a "routine" matter, is that worth implementing as something a character is responsible for doing in a role-playing game?

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing at this point. It's just a question that has to be asked.