Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

Jean-Luc Picard Is A Big Wuss

Posted by Stropp on January 20, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while now, but life decided to come by and slap me silly. (More on that shortly.)

Anyhoo. Star Trek Online. Oh, and please note this is not a review, I have spent in no way enough time in the beta to work up a review. This is simply an impressions and thoughts piece.

It sounds like the dream IP for a MMORPG developer. A huge pre-existing and completely obsessed with anything Star Trek fan base. An IP that is all about exploration, seeking out new life, and boldly going where no one has gone before. The TV series, all of them, have drama, diplomacy, puzzle-solving, space combat, ground combat, humour, and a hopeful outlook on the future.

It should be a MMORPG goldmine.

But, from what I’ve seen so far, I doubt that it will be.

Now to be fair, I haven’t spent all that much time playing the beta. I was invited to the closed beta just before Christmas and spent a single session of a game that seemed woefully incomplete. Since then I’ve patched to the open beta client and have found a much more complete version of the game. Lots of missing text and graphics is now in the game. There’s certainly been a lot of work done over the last few weeks, and a lot of improvements made.

To a certain extent, I’ve had fun playing the open beta of STO. The space combat is much more tactical than most MMORPG combat systems, except perhaps Eve.

But ultimately, Star Trek Online offers nothing of what made the television series(s) special.

There is space and ground combat to be sure, but there is no diplomacy game, the missions are all canned in that there are no real choices or consequences for the decisions you make. I haven’t seen anything that I have to figure out — do I kill that silicon lifeform rock-creature, or get Bones down to heal it? Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a bricklayer. — And the exploration seems inconsequential. There’s no relationship with my bridge crew, they just add stats and beam down with me on away missions.

In a nutshell, the game lacks content.

It’s odd because it feels like STO has less going for it (gameplay wise) than Tabula Rasa did at the same stage of development, and look how badly TR got caned for lack of content.

What Cryptic have with Star Trek Online is a great foundation for a MMORPG based on the Star Trek franchise. What they need to do is to take another six months for development and add in those elements that made Star Trek special.

  • Choices. Jim Kirk made his own decisions based on what he encountered. So did Picard and Sisko. (Janeway just parroted the company line.) He didn’t have a bunch of mission text leading him from one step to the next with no room to improvise. And maybe that’s what ST was all about. Improvisation. Can a Star Trek game, really be a Star Trek game without improvisation?
  • Real Exploration. While I’m travelling shouldn’t I come across the unexpected. A new lifeform perhaps a space jellyfish or some such thing? And it should have an associated story. See next point.
  • Solving Mysteries. If I’m sent to a star system to rescue a stranded freighter, don’t give me a damn slow escort mission that’s just a timesink, give me a mystery to solve. Or evolve the scenario into something interesting. Sure, Star Trek was in a “planet of the week” format, but each episode at least attempted to have an interesting story. So far the missions I’ve seen have been not much more that the kill ten rats or escort variety. It’s worse than that, it’s boring Jim.
  • Missions need to be Episodes. Following on from the previous point. Each mission really ought to be the equivalent of a weekly TV episode of ST. How many stories started with, “Starfleet has sent us to… ?”
  • Klingons. Don’t make them Monster Play only, unlockable at whatever level. The Klingon’s in the TV series, TNG onwards, were interesting. They had the best parties, and the Klingons seemed to laugh more than any other species. (Except for that stick-in-the-mud, Worf.) The Klingon’s also had the best ships in the first two series. TNG started developing a rich culture for the Klingon’s that was continued by DS9. There’s a wealth of content there for STO. Use it.
  • Away Team/Ground Combat. This needs to be sorted. It’s not very good and needs improvement. For one thing I have an away team, yet I can’t figure out how to operate them like a squad. I always end up leading the team into a room and get shot first. I need to be able to send my red-shirt in to danger first!

I think the real clincher for me is that when I think I should login to Star Trek Online and spend some time with it, I don’t really have much of a desire to do so. I end up opening up Everquest 2, or just sit down and read a book. It doesn’t give me any inclination to buy and subscribe to STO (let alone buy a lifetime sub — what a ripoff that is!)

From what I’ve read, Champions Online has become a virtual ghost town only a few months after release, due at least in part (in my opinion) to being released too early without enough content. I fully expect Star Trek Online to suffer the same fate. The only thing that may help is that die hard Trek fans could hang in there for a while longer than most.

My overall impression is that STO will be on life support within a year of release.

My Fallen Earth Open Beta Thoughts

Posted by Stropp on September 17, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I decided to download the Fallen Earth Open Beta and have a look at the game. I was pretty late in doing so, and ended up trying out several characters over the Friday night, Saturday and Sunday of the final weekend.

Fallen Earth is not a game for fast leveling. I managed to get three of my characters to level 3, and one to level 6 before I stopped  early Sunday evening. (I’m not exactly a fast leveler at the best of times anyway.) So, fair warning, this post isn’t a review, or even a preview, it’s more of my first impressions on the final days of the open beta.

Fallen Earth has since gone into pre-release too, and there have been a couple of patches, so some of the things I say might have been changed in the meantime.

I reckon it’s also fair to say, at the start, that this game will not be for everyone. It’s definitely targeting the niche market, and it is not World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 or Champions Online in a post-apocalyptic setting. The developers, Fallen Earth LLC, have only set up for one server for release, so it’s probably fair to say they weren’t intending to create a WoW-Killer.

First, I’ll list a few things that I like about Fallen Earth.

  1. The music is awesome. I’m not much of a music person in games. I’ll leave it on (I have friends who turn off music as the first thing they do in a game.) but generally lower the volume, and I tend not to actively notice it and it can become repetitive. The music in Fallen Earth struck me the moment it came on. It’s very atmospheric and completely appropriate to the genre and setting.
  2. The setting in and around the Grand Canyon. It’s an interesting setting that I didn’t think much of when I first heard about it. But it’s completely appropriate to the way the games feels. The game feels a bit like a Western at times with a bit of that Mad Max 2 and 3 vibe (without Tina Turner thankfully.) It also allows a lot of growth for the game. The Grand Canyon covers a huge area. A lot can happen here.
  3. The combat system. There’s no target locking and auto attack here. You have to actively aim and make sure the opponent is in your cross-hairs. This was a bit frustrating at times, I was sure I had the NPC in my sights and still missed, but that might be more lag related on my end. I’m not the twitch gamer I used to be, being a krusty old fart, but I still appreciate the style and quite liked having to line my enemies up.
  4. Crafting, while not really what I’d like to see in a crafting system, is well implemented. It’s easy to set a crafting process in motion and go do something else — either log off and read a book, or go out and explore the canyon. If a developer is going to implement a crafting system where it’s a case of hitting the craft button and wait, then it’s preferable to be able to do something and not sit staring at a progress bar.
  5. The post-apocalyptic setting. Finally, it seems that the SciFi drought is breaking for the humble MMORPG. There is Eve Online of course, but Fallen Earth looks to be the first of the new batch of MMORPGs that aren’t going the tried and true (or should that be tired and true?) route.
  6. There are a few more lesser points, but I’ll post about them later, this is becoming a huge article.

A couple of things I’m not sold on:

  1. Only four character slots. For an alt-a-holic like me this could be either a blessing or a curse. It may force me to stick with just a few characters, or I might find myself deleting lower level toons in order to try something new. However, the saving grace might be something else that I’m not sure is a good thing. See the next point…
  2. A minute number of combat skills. There are in fact only three real combat skills. (I’m not counting the whole mutations set because I didn’t touch that in the beta.) These are Melee, Pistols, and Rifles. So in fact three alts could cover the entire combat repertoire. I guess I was hoping for more of the range that Fallout provides, Energy Weapons, Heavy Weapons, Demolitions in addition.
  3. No fast travel. I’m not a big fan of having mechanisms in games to draw out the time needed to do things without having a reason for the mechanism in the first place. A good reason for long travel (for me) might be to implement a trading system where goods have to be shipped from one place to another. A not so good reason is to have a mechanism simply because it was once considered hardcore. So far, I haven’t seen a good reason to have slow travel in Fallen Earth, and in fact it makes it far harder for guilds to actually do anything together. Who wants to leave a quest and travel for half an hour just to help a guildmate with a ten minute activity, and then have to do the return trip?

Before I popped into the Fallen Earth open beta I had heard the criticisms, and that’s been the case since. However, it seems to me that most of the criticisms are more about expectations and gamer choices, fast versus slow travel for example, and that not of the criticisms are particularly deal breaking for me.

Perhaps the biggest criticism is that the game is still a bit rough around the edges. I’m in two minds about this. I’ve been somewhat vocal when MMORPGs have been released in an unpolished and unfinished state, but those have been developed by companies with the funding, resources, and knowledge to do better. Fallen Earth LLC is an indie developer without all that backing so I’m more inclined to give them a bit of slack.

From what I’ve seen on the official forums (which don’t seem to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy but a more friendly place at least at this stage) the developers are fairly prompt in getting bugs fixed. I don’t doubt that once they start making some real profits from Fallen Earth, the polishing will be kicked up a notch or two.

So the outcome?

I like the game, and I think it has a bright future. I’d also recommend buying a copy, if for no other reason than to support the developers. It might not be your cup of tea, and if you hate SciFi/Post Apoc by all means stay away, but on the other hand you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by a very different game.

In fact, when I logged off on the Sunday evening, I was a hair’s breadth away from hitting up the preorder page but didn’t.

What stopped me?

Firstly, I wanted to sleep on it for a week or so to see if I felt the same way after a bit of time had passed. In some ways, I feel more confident about Fallen Earth now than I did on that Sunday night.

I also wanted to give Champions Online a go and ended up buying the six month preorder for that one before I committed to Fallen Earth.

Well, (there’s a first thoughts post coming for Champions btw) I’m glad I did buy Champions Online, it certainly is a lot of fun, especially the character creator, but last night I did buy Fallen Earth. It’s a game with a lot to like, and the good points certainly outweigh the bad.

Overall, a upcoming great game. I reckon that Fallen Earth is going to be the surprise hit of 2009/10.

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