Star Trek Online : TrekCore Interview with Daron Stinnett

TREKCORE > GAMING > STAR TREK ONLINE > TrekCore Interview with Daron Stinnett

Date Published: January 17, 2008
Interview Date: May 23, 2007


Foreward: Straight off, I want the readers to know that this interview took place months before the game was shelved by Perpetual.  I was taking a vacation down in California, and requested Perpetual to allow me to tour their studio one day and perhaps do an interview for TrekCore to help promote the game.  They graciously agreed to this.  After returning home, and transcribing the audio into the transcript below, I sent it away for approval.  The reply from Chris Launius (then head of Community Relations) was as follows:

"Hey Michael, after discussing this more with the team and putting everything into perspective, we would really like to hold off on this interview for a few months until we get a little closer to starting the media communications.

We have been trying to maintain Radio Silence as much as possible and really feel that interviews and such on this level really go against the will of that."

I replied, and they never responded to it.  I asked a few months later if they were ready, and they didn't reply again. So now that Perpetual has lost the game, and it will either be cancelled or transferred to a new developer, who will likely change many, many things, I felt this might as well go out there to get a bit of a better idea of what Perpetual envisioned.  So keep in mind, whoever picks this game up, don't expect anything in this article to reflect what will be in the final game.

While I am disappointed with how Perpetual ignored my emails, I do appreciate that they did allow me access.  It was a great tour, and they were very inviting and excited about the game.  They really did have the best intentions.

And now that I bored you enough...  here's the interview!

May 23rd, 2007 was my final day of vacation in San Francisco and I was privileged enough to spend it touring Perpetual Studios, the developer and publisher of the upcoming game entitled Star Trek Online. If you are unfamiliar with this game, this article and interview will give you a very good overview; if you are familiar with the game, there are some new tidbits as well that may help fill in some gaps in our understandings of the game.

Upon arriving, I was greeted by Chris “Binky” Launius, who is Manager of Community Relations for Perpetual. Binky has been working in the gaming industry for years now, and was extremely friendly and really made me feel welcome! He took me up to Perpetual Entertainment, which occupies two floors of an office building, with the 4th floor being entirely Star Trek Online. Binky took me around the STO floor, with concept art and Star Trek memorabilia all around, and introduced me to a few people working on the game. Everyone I talked to was extremely positive and had genuine excitement about the game. We began looking at concept art, of which there was plenty! Several walls covered with highly detailed and colored concept art. The ships, being designed by John Eaves and Ryan Dening were absolutely astounding. It was exciting to see new, futuristic ship designs that seemed natural extensions of what we have seen on the shows. The Excalibur Class (see concept art), which Ryan Dening revealed a couple months ago is the class of the new Enterprise for the game, was really amazing because it had several angles displayed, and one of them was very reminiscent of the Enterprise D. It is great how Ryan Dening is including hints of nostalgia in his designs. A short time later I met up with Daron and he took me around to other concept art and we discussed them. Both Daron and Binky showed a lot of Star Trek knowledge in our discussions, and it’s clear to me they both had a great sense of what Star Trek is. In the final selection of races for the game, Daron pointed out how each of the races have their own domains for sizes and physical attributes, which will allow the players to distinguish different races from far distances. He also talked about some of the character customizations they plan to allow the user to have, and they are quite extensive. In addition to art for familiar races, there was art for new races as well which looked extremely cool and interesting. In fact, one of the races looked liked a realization of a race that never made it to the screen. The concept art I saw for some of the homeworlds and alien ships again had the hint of familiarity combined with a new, (even more) futuristic design. From everything I saw, I can say I am very excited about the art direction in the game. It is great to see a game finally trying to do something new, rather than simply trying to recreate what was in the shows as photo-realistically as possible. The game art has a beautifully unique look, it gives the Star Trek universe a sense of wonder and freshness again…

Daron and I sat down for a one on one interview. The transcript is as follows:

1. Can you give some information about your past work in the gaming industry?

I’ve been making games for a little over 25 years. A lot of those years I was at LucasArts running multiple Star Wars games, so I have a lot of history doing Star Wars. I did Dark Forces, which was a prelude to Jedi Knight; I did a non-Star Wars game called Outlaws, which was a western shooter; I did a couple of and flight sim/action games called Star Wars Starfighter and Jedi Starfighter; I also worked on Republic Commando. Before LucasArts I was doing flight sims for Spectrum Holobyte in the Falcon series. We were working on a Star Trek game at Spectrum Holobyte called, though that wasn’t my project, it was one my friend was producing. I remember the challenges he had in those days of working with Paramount because they wanted a non-violent linear game.

2. Has Paramount loosened up since then?

Yeah, they have, and now it’s also CBS and things with them have been going great.

3. Do you have time to play games recreationally? What do you play?

I haven’t had a lot of time lately with the project and all, but I’ve played some Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, a little Eve [Online], and as far as single player games I got a Wii recently, so I’ve been playing Wii Sports, and just got Super Mario 64, so I’m actually going back and replaying – it’s great to look back at that because I played when it first came out and it’s still a great game. I’m a big first person shooter player and played recently a little bit of Call of Duty 3, but didn’t get through it – just too much of a time sink and I need to play more MMOs.

4. Some of our readers will be hearing about Star Trek Online for the first time in this article. Can you give an overview of the game, and what people can expect from it?

First and foremost, Star Trek Online is set 20 years in the future beyond Nemesis, and it’s an online virtual world. It’s a game that the object is to go out and do missions for the Federation. You get the chance to play as one of seven different races in the game – they’re all classic Star Trek races. We haven’t revealed the whole lineup yet. Players take on the role of starting out as one of these races as an ensign and ultimately ascends through the ranks as the story… so everyone has the chance to start out as an ensign and rise to rank they wish to achieve whether it be Commander, or Captain, or Admiral, in a massively multiplayer environment where they are playing with thousands and thousands of other players flying around the galaxy, visiting planets, new races, and discovering new things along the way.

5. Star Trek Online was announced around the time that the Star Trek license was in limbo. How did Star Trek Online originate?

That was before I started, but my understanding is that our President, Chris McKibbin, and our CEO, Joe Keene, were sitting around trying to figure out what… I think the idea was for the company was that they should have a licensed MMO in the works, so they drew up a whole list of licenses they thought would make for great MMOs, and Star Trek hit the top of their list, and they went to Paramount at the time and asked them, and Paramount was interested and they made a deal. I joined in May 2005, to really kick the project off.

6. Is the game currently in full production?

We’re on a cusp. We have I would say 75% or 80% done pre-production. We have about 35 people right now, and we’ll begin growing our staff significantly.

7. What are some of the features or innovations that will set Star Trek Online apart from other MMOs?

The big differentiating factor of this game is going to be the starship aspect of it and the ability to really fly your starship - it is the way you get around the galaxy. You visit planets all over the galaxy, and there will be hundreds of planets to visit. You are really growing yourself as a starship captain and as a ground character in both arenas equally. That is going to really make the game play very differently from anything else out there. The actual style of space combat is going to be very innovative against any genre. It’s a very RPG-style gameplay dynamic with spaceships, and I don’t think that’s ever been done before, so that will differentiate the game as well.

8. What are some of the “fantasies” that players will be able to “live out” while playing the game?

Oh it’s endless. Well, I think everybody has that fantasy of starting out as an ensign and seeing this big world and getting the sense of they’re going to start out and find out what is out there. So that’s one thing. Whether you decide to start out as a Human, Klingon, or Vulcan, you’ll be able to play that role coming from that background. Another way I think of it is, “How did Worf become Worf?” and “How did Spock become Spock?”. You think in terms of those archetypes, whether it be a role that they play or a race that they come from, having that experience of starting out on those homeworlds and making their way into the Federation and Starfleet, and ultimately commanding a starship. Now of course there’s going to be the fantasy of the first time you visit Risa, or the first time you visit a giant space station or stardock, or the first time you step aboard a large capital starship and get to wander around the halls checking things out and getting to see the bridge. The fantasies are endless I think and one of the things we’re excited about is being able to realize a lot of the places that are talked about but never actually seen in the shows because of budget constrictions.

9. What is Project Darkstar, and what will it do for Star Trek Online?

There’s no collaboration right now between Sun and Perpetual and Star Trek Online. I think we’re meeting with those guys, but there is nothing official as of this time.

10. What are some examples of the HUBs we will see in the game at launch?

Oh there are dozens. There are a few major ones like Q’onoS will be a major hub and we’ll have a starbase/spacestation as a major hub and we’ll have at least one starship as a major hub. And then there will be a variety of smaller HUBs that are secondary places of convenience for players out in the galaxy whether they be smaller space stations, or towns/cities on the ground, and then we have microhubs which are going to be like small little colonial outposts and things like that out on a few surfaces. So it kind of spans the gamut from the equivalent of an ATM out deep in space to a major space station.

11. With many games encouraging players to shoot anything that moves, how will Star Trek Online motivate players to cooperate in the game and explore the universe both peacefully and diplomatically?

All players are Federation, so they are by definition on the same side, so players will have the opportunity to shoot each other, but it’s not necessarily part of the game. There are hundreds of other races out there, some are hostile and some are not. One of the great things about a new MMO is that there is all kinds of context for doing missions: some are peaceful, some are not peaceful and I think with Star Trek we have a special responsibility to make sure that the context for the player is not simply to “go out and kick some ass” but there’s always a context, there’s always something that’s a threat that you have to defend against, and that’s really just a matter of how we set up the missions. Not every mission is about killing things, a lot of missions are about discovering things, finding things, figuring things out, and helping people. All these kinds of missions exist in other MMOs, it’s just that unlike other MMOs we’re going to be kicking them further and have more noncombat missions. We’ll have more of them, and doing more with them than a traditional MMO does. But there will still be plenty of combat.

12. A lot of new ships are being developed for the game to match the new time setting. What are some of the familiar ships we will see?

There are going to be upwards of 100 ships in the game and at least half of those will be for players. A third of the ships or more will be canon ships that we have seen before. Just like in our military we still have ships that were floating around in World War II that are still in active service. So you’ll see a lot of the big canon ships from before. The Defiant, Prometheus, and Galaxy will be there.

[Note: I naturally asked him if the Prometheus would have Multi Vector Assault Mode.  He didn't know what that was as he hadn't seen the episode.  After I described it, he didn't recognize it and Daron said he may have the name wrong, so really, the Prometheus probably wasn't going to be in it.]

13. What will the currency in the game be, and how will it be earned?

We haven’t gotten into specifics in what we are going to call it or how it works in detail, but yes, there will be currency. The thinking behind that is that A) there was currency in Star Trek and B) we knew that if we did not offer currency to the players, they would come up with their own form of currency because people like to trade with each other. It’s hard to find somebody who has exactly the item you want to trade with them, so it is better if you have currency because it allows you to trade with more people. We have seen in other products and other games, that if you don’t provide currency, or if you don’t provide good currency, then players end up creating some quantity that acts as currency, and it’s really just kind of a pain. Currency is just a convenient means of interchange. We realized that it would help our game if we offered currency, and there are plenty of examples in Star Trek where they use currency, even in Starfleet where they are not supposed to have money or need money, they still… you know. We’ll have a couple forms of currency that will be used in different ways. But we haven’t really fleshed out the details on that quite yet - we’re still working on basic gameplay. There will be a robust economy. There will be auction houses, trade between players and vendors and things like that.

14. Is Mike Okuda still working with the team? Will his console interface revealed last year be used in the final version of the game?

Those were very early concepts that gave us some basic direction for the look of things and we have taken what Mike did and molded it quite a bit and now we have an interface up and running in the actual game. We’re starting to finalize the look and feel of that. But it has evolved quite a bit from what Mike Okuda did. From time to time we stay in touch with him when we’ve got something that is juicy enough for him. He’s pretty busy.

15. Will non-player characters interact via text, audio, or both?

Both. We’ll have some stuff that is recorded and other stuff that will come through as text.

16. It has been said that players will be able to control ships slightly smaller than the Galaxy class at launch. Approximately how many players would it take to command a ship that size?

Every ship will have a crew requirement and the larger the ship the more crew you need. You players will have the option of having a NPC [non-player character] crew, so that nobody is required to have real players aboard to take out any given ship. Larger ships will accommodate up to 5 real players, but you can also fill all those slots with NPCs.

17. Is there anything new you can reveal about the game’s story and setting?

The fact that players will be starting out on their home planets or racial homeworlds is something new.

18. Are there any misconceptions or things you want to clear up about Star Trek Online?

The biggest misconception about Star Trek Online is that people assume that game starts off with you joining a 1,000 person starship crew and that real players are filling the various roles all the way up to the top of that starship. There is a real player who is Chief Engineer, there is a real player who is Science officer, and has his/her own science staff and those are real players, and ultimately one player is the captain. I think a lot of people come in with that base assumption because that is what they have seen in the shows or what they imagined was there in the show, when really the shows were about 5 or 10 people. There were a lot of implications that vast numbers of people were going to be occupying these ships. People assumed that they were really just stepping into the TV shows starting off as an ensign. I think that a misconception about the game is that the whole game is you running around the inside of a starship, maybe once in a while beaming down to a surface to run around, fixing systems or plotting courses or something like that from the inside of a starship. That is the misconception. In reality, every player will have their own starship very early in the game. They can invite other players on board and they can fly as a crew aboard a single starship, or they can go out with other players in their own starships and explore the galaxy and beam down to planets and have their own individual or group adventures down on the planets. No one is forced to be part of the crew or part of a group in the game. It is really up to the player to choose to do that. We will have what we call Fleets, which are a form of guilds, which are a little more structured: They will have a Fleet leader, and different officers in the fleet, that does kind of resemble that hierarchy you would expect within military structure. I’m asked sometimes, “How are you going to deal with the fact that everyone wants to be a Captain?” and my response is, “Well everyone can be a Captain.” I think that a lot of gamers get this and they get the experience that we’re delivering and people who may not be gamers come into it without the context and ask that question. Most gamers know that when you play a game, you get to be the hero, that’s what it is about, and that’s the kind of game we’re creating.