Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Visual Style of a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Jaedon Rivers:
The main hooks of [Team Fortress Classic's] stylised look are that not only is it very crisp and looks great, so it's visually interesting yet comfortable on the eyes, it also allowed the developers to inject some uniqueness into the characters: you usually tell what any class is from a decent distance away, you can see what weapon they've got out and so on. When they taunt, it's turned into something amusing instead of something to get stressed about. It makes the game a more playful and fun experience, which for adults can be very important even though we might not freely admit it because of "cartoonish" and "childish" associations, because you're not led into taking the game far too seriously and burning out.
I think a critical distinction between where you may be coming from and how I'm looking at Star Trek Online is "game" versus "world."

Looking at ST:O as being most similar to a game-y game like TFC naturally leads to being OK with stylized characters. If it's just a game, with no literary or artistic pretensions and therefore no intention of being useful for storytelling, then obviously it's not meant to be an immersive experience. A highly stylized art style is fine.

But as I've argued before (and no doubt will do again), a massively multiplayer online persistent-world game is more than just a game -- it's a place. And there are plenty of gamers who want to "live in" places, not just "play in" them.

And I'm pretty sure that this is especially true in the case of Star Trek.

So to imagine an online Star Trek as nothing more a multiplayer online action game (even a good one like Team Fortress Classic 2) so that a stylized character model is good enough is to miss an exceptionally important aspect of what I think a lot of potential players are going to want from it.

Yes, I read what Daron [Stinnett, producer of Star Trek Online for Perpetual Entertainment] said (on the now-defunct fan discussion forum) back on Nov. 22, 2006:

Originally Posted by Perpetual_Daron:
Come on guys. If you don't like MMORPGs, you're barking up the wrong tree. I love to play MMORPGs as do the STO team. We play WoW, EQII, Guild Wars, EvE Online, etc. If you're looking for an MMORPG without combat at its core, give Tale in the Desert a try. It seems that a few thousand enjoy it but it's not my cup of tea.

Did you have this combat debate for the Elite Force games? I guess I can understand it a little more for MMORPGs given that the genre is so new and their intensely social nature tends to compel some to play gameplay mechanics they don't enjoy. But I have to chuckle when I think of the same debate going on for other genres.

If you don't think you could ever enjoy a mainstream MMORPG, I'm not sure why you think STO will make you suddenly start enjoying the genre. Sure, we'll make improvments to the state of the art, and as I've said before, Star Trek does make us think of traditional mechanics in new ways, but the botom line is that this will still feel and play like a member of its genre. Whether we'll hit the few things on your particular shortlist of MMORPG mechanics you don't like, I can't say. But rest assured, that even though we are MMORPG fans, belive it or not, we're also intense Star Trek fans. We think long and hard about how to stay true to ST and still make a great MMORPG.

I think everyone here already knows the direction we're heading. And I really wish there was a way to please everyone. But I'd hate for non-MMORPG fans to stay with us through the development process only to be disappointed that in fact, we really are an MMORPG. This group needs to stop thinking of STO as the uber Star Trek simulator and come to terms with the idea that this is a game.
I understand and accept that a Star Trek MMORPG has to be and is going to be a game, first and foremost. I will be very unhappy if anyone tries to claim that I'm pushing for a "pure Star Trek simulation" or any such thing -- I'm not for that; I don't believe it should happen; I don't believe it will happen.

What I'm saying is less extreme: I'm saying that in addition to fun gameplay, worldy-ness is also important in MMORPGs, and it's particularly important for an online game world based on a license that has created fans who've wanted to live in that world for 40 years. That doesn't mean everything has to be about worldy-ness. It means that too much emphasis on gamey-ness is a mistake because it'll fail to attract the many people who want to imagine themselves living in the world of Star Trek, who are eager to tell their own Star Trek stories. Some amount of development attention to environmental depth and plausibility beyond mere gameplay is necessary to maximize revenue by attracting more than just core gamers.

That's why the cartoonishness of the alien image concerns me, and why I take the pro-stylization argument seriously.