Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Officers in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Horizon:
Ever notice how often they say "Reroute power" or "divert power" on that show? That was usually Kim's job. Same when they needed to scan the decks, reconfigure a piece of hardware, launch a shuttle, or set up internal force fields.
This comes back to some things I tried to express in my first essay on the possible design of a Star Trek Online -- the one on Starship Operations in a Star Trek MMORPG. Specifically, I tried to draw the following distinction between Engineering and Ops (and Tactical, which shares the gold uniform color with them): "Engineering, Operations and Tactical departments share numerous systems -- Engineering maintains them, while Ops and Tactical use them."

In other words, Engineering is responsible for enhancing the efficiency of working systems, repairing degraded systems, and replacing broken systems... but the actual usage of those systems is the responsibility of the Tactical and Ops officers and crew. Unlike Engineers, Tactical and Ops personnel are the ones who've had specialized training in getting the best results from operating the cool Treknology. It's sort of like the difference between being a great car mechanic and an expert racer -- sometimes one person can do both of those things well, but usually not. (This is probably why Seven of Nine held a somewhat anomalous position on Voyager -- she was one of those rare individuals who was equally strong at knowing both how systems work and how best to use those systems.)

So I think by the time of VOY we can see that this distinction between "fix" and "use" has led to specific and (reasonably) well-defined roles on Starfleet vessels. The question (as you rightly point out) is, what about Star Trek Online? Should it organize its space-based gameplay to distinguish between Engineering and Ops/Tactical activities?

I don't really like it, but I think I have to agree with your conclusion: an Ops role would be fun, but it's probably not necessary. I think having Ops-specific gameplay features makes good sense within the lore of the Star Trek universe, and I think it could be made a part of a Star Trek MMORPG without too much difficulty (as long as the "fix" vs. "use" distinction is maintained). But if the core design concept thinking of this game's developers is to make all gameplay very simple (as Perpetual did when they decided to eliminate the Helm role in favor of requiring the Command player to do the driving) and rely on ooh-aah graphics and bang-bang action for its mass appeal, then no, I doubt there'll be an Ops role of any kind. The closest the game might come to having an Ops officer would be to have a few system-usage features for whatever player has chosen to level up in the Science class, which I guess we could say would be sort of like how things worked in the ENT/TOS eras.

Obviously I think having gameplay for an Ops position would be a lot more fun, and I definitely think it's doable, but then I'm not the one on the hook to actually ship this game before 2010. :)