Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Visual Style of a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by [a fan]:
There are several reasons for a more simplified approach when it comes to graphics:
1. Ensuring an "E" rating - This is essential in a game that is trying to appeal to the masses. Violence that looks more "fantasy" or "animated" and less "real" will help with that rating.
The vast majority of Star Trek episodes featured lifeforms being phasered and starships being blown up (and not in a cartoonish or stylized way), and yet Star Trek somehow managed to become very popular. The biggest blockbuster movies of today -- which appeal to the masses or they wouldn't become blockbusters -- have lots of violence. And the computer game industry makes billions every year despite (or, perhaps, because of) the violence in many of the games released.

Also, if you're implying that WoW's success is due in part to its cartoonish art style, that's highly speculative.

So the notion that cartoonifying a Star Trek MMORPG will make it more popular is an interesting theory at best. To call doing so "essential" is to word that theory much too strongly.

Originally Posted by [a fan]:
2. Availability for lower end computers - This has been mentioned several times throughout the thread, but is still an important thing to remember. Not everyone has quad-core processors and SLI. MMOs usually are behind the times graphically compared to their non-MMO counterparts. If you want Crysis/Bioshock-level graphics, then go play Crysis and Bioshock.

I don't really disagree with your larger point, but why phrase your conclusion so dismissively? I could just as easily say "If you want cartoonish graphics, then go play Serious Sam and Mario Kart." But to say it like that would be to presume that I know what's best for Star Trek Online and anyone who disagrees is just wrong... and that's not only flawed thinking, it's not conducive to friendly discussion.

How about this: it would probably be good marketing to design a Star Trek MMORPG's graphics so that the game runs acceptably in its default graphical settings on the hardware that's expected to be common on the day it launches. Not photorealistic, nor cartoonish, but somewhere in between that fits what we've seen in the various Star Trek TV shows and movies.

Originally Posted by [a fan]:
3. It feels more like a game - Most players don't want to be immersed in a reality, they want to play a game. With emphasis on "play" and "game". Rest assurred, this will be a Star Trek game, not a Star Trek simulator.

First of all, "most players don't want to be immersed in a reality" is a guess on your part. If you've conducted or are aware of a methodologically sound gamer survey that backs up this assertion, I'd sincerely be interested in learning about it.

Otherwise, it might actually be correct that some majority of current gamers are more concerned with gameplay rules than with feeling like they can immerse themselves in a generated reality. But what about people who aren't playing any of the current online games because they like immersive games and aren't attracted to the "kill it and take its stuff" MMORPGs that are the only things available now? What about the fans who have been waiting for a gameworld that brings the Star Trek universe to life for them, and who'd be willing to pay to enjoy that experience whenever they want?

Again: I have no doubt that ST:O will offer plenty of the usual hypercompetitive, accumulation-driven, rules-based gameplay that many current gamers do seem to enjoy. That's a Good Thing. It's necessary. Commercial success for any generic MMORPG requires attracting these gamers.

But this isn't any generic MMORPG. It's a Star Trek MMORPG, and in my opinion -- which is no more or less valid than yours or anyone else's -- that means more is required. It means a significant degree of design attention given to immersive and social content could lead to even greater commercial success by appealing to the existing fan base of the license as well as to those who are turned off by the mindless mayhem of today's MMORPGs. I don't know that for certain and wouldn't presume to state it as a fact; I'm saying I think it's a reasonable analysis based on the available information, and as such it's at least as valid a position (if not more so) than implying that only pure gameplay matters.

Secondly, the "it's not going to be a Star Trek simulator" thing is tendentious and lazy and old. If anyone has specific reasons why they don't think it's necessary or useful to make some feature of this specific game look sufficiently Trekkish or behave plausibly, let's hear them. Otherwise, "it's not going to be a Star Trek simulator" is merely a handwave exercised to avoid stepping up with a serious defense of the assertion that gameplay has to trump everything else, and to hell with what any other potential subscribers might want.

That's not just bad logic and bad game design, it's bad conversation. I don't expect you or anyone else to agree with my opinions, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't dismiss what I (and, I believe, many others) want from a Star Trek MMORPG as mere "simulation" that by (some) definition is automatically not permitted.

Originally Posted by [a fan]:
4. It's easier/quicker to develop - Do we want dev time spent on bump-mapping and anti-aliasing, or intriguing gameplay? If you think graphics and powerhouse logic algorithms are important, compare the Wii sales to the PS3.

Of course not every game needs Crysis-level graphics... but we're not talking about some random game; we're talking about a specific game based on a particular bit of very well known intellectual property: Star Trek. So even if other games don't need semi-realistic graphics, maybe it's important for a Star Trek MMORPG to offer semi-realistic graphics applied consistently throughout the game.

If so, and if achieving semi-realism means spending some time on graphical shininess, then so be it. Is there a point of diminishing returns? Of course! I'm happy to agree that Star Trek Online doesn't need to be and shouldn't be designed to require Crossfire or triple-SLI setups to look right to most potential subscribers. I think most of us here are in complete agreement on that.

But I don't believe flat pastel graphics are right for this game, either. Of course it might be quicker/easier to develop such graphics -- that doesn't necessarily make them appropriate.


To sum up my personal position so that it's not mischaracterized again: I'm using the word "semi-realistic" for the art style I think would work best applied consistently throughout a true triple-A Star Trek MMORPG. It doesn't have to include all possible graphical bells and whistles; that would be excessive. But it should try to render all things -- ships, planets, structures, humanoid lifeforms, etc. -- in a plausibly realistic art style in order to be faithful to the license.

I truly don't consider that an extreme or unreasonable perspective on this question. If people have reasons for disagreeing with it, OK, we can discuss those differences of opinion, or simply agree to disagree. But I don't think there's any value in or need to try to misstate this position as some kind of "demand" for "realism" to achieve "simulation."