Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The other point of view on STO

Common Sense Gamer Darren is back from a blogging break, and he likes Star Trek Online. Nevertheless he has to resort to an analogy of an awkward highschool date with acne turning out to look like a supermodel 20 years later to explain his attraction. Quotes:
"The ship combat is a bit awkward to deal with in terms of camera and movement, but everything else about it feels bang on….at the very least, the ship combat that is in there right now is a great starting point for STO to grow from. Land combat is the black sheep, but why wouldn’t it be since it is Star Trek and we don’t see land combat that often in that universe….it’s all about the pew-pew in space."
"Technically speaking, the game needs some work. Keep in mind, that it is open beta…the FIRST day of open beta…so I expected the usual gremlins to pop in and say hi. Lag, disconnects, stutter-like gameplay, unfinished content. We’ve been through this song and dance before and we will again. Some are making conclusions based on this and again, we’ve seen that kind of behavior from gamers before too….but I’m thinking they will wish they stuck with the awkwardness at the end of the day."
I've read other comments along similar lines, saying "Admittedly STO sucks for the first 10 levels, but it gets better after level 12 (or some say 20)". Not having played STO past level 12 or 20, and not being in the possession of a functioning crystal ball, I can't say how Star Trek Online will turn out in the long run. Maybe in half a year all the technical problems will be gone, and people will be extremely happy with Star Trek Online. Or maybe not.

From the point of view of both a reviewer and a potential customer, I would still say that *even if* Star Trek Online would improve a lot in the coming months, and play much more interesting in the higher levels, that sort of design / business decision has serious flaws. For the review I simply didn't have the opportunity to play much more than I did, as I only got into the closed beta late as a Fileplanet subscriber. And then of course you want to publish something when the NDA drops, not 3 months later when maybe there are less bugs and the game improved, but nobody wants to read a review of the game any more. I checked various blogs, and game sites, and the reviews on several of them were obviously based on even less play time than mine.

But it isn't just reviewers with real or imaginary publishing deadlines. The majority of players reacts in exactly the same way: Test the game in the open beta, or buy it and play the first free month, then unsubscribe if the game didn't live up to whatever you hoped it would be. A "the first 10 levels suck" design, and a release date prior to "when it's ready" are creating a barrier to entry that a lot of potential customers won't get past. If I had absolutely nothing else to play, I might stick with a flawed game and hope it improves over time. But the number of games to choose from is still growing at a fast pace, so chances are that a game which makes a bad first impression won't get the opportunity to make a better one later.

Of course that is somewhat superficial, and by not testing every game long enough I might have missed some really good ones. For example I hated the original tutorial of Fallen Earth in the beta so much that I never gave the game a real chance, but lots of bloggers report it is in fact a good game (and apparently they even redid the tutorial completely). But as long as I'm having fun with whatever else I'm playing at the moment, me having missed a game is the loss of the game developer, not my loss. Thus I think that the MMORPG industry really has to think their business and design practices over, and make a bigger effort to create games that are fun from the first minute you log on, and run reasonably well. The "it's just the beta" excuse isn't really working well in the open beta three weeks before release. You'll only end up with bad reviews and cancelled preorders, which are going to hurt the game for a long time.
Also consider this situation...

Why spend 50 euros to play a game for a month just to find that is better to stop playing....

It's a lot better to try open beta (as I'm doing) and decide.

What I'll decide? Don't know but for now I'm not so thrilled to get into it... at least not at day zero.
That makes me wonder how much of WoW success is that the starting areas. They are mostly fun. Level appropriate (doing little things on a small scale) and do a good job of introducing the game.
"Thus I think that the MMORPG industry really has to think their business and design practices over, and make a bigger effort to create games that are fun from the first minute you log on, and run reasonably well."

I've been saying that for 3-4 years now but either a) developers don't want to hear it or b) developers are incapable of delivering it given various constraints.

Look at every major MMO since AoC launched a couple summers ago. They've all pretty much flopped from a player retention perspective.

We've never seen an MMO launch with a perfect combination of "technically sound" and "well-designed" but the market is demanding it more and more each year.

Maybe one day...
Having played in the beta for 4 hours or so, I canceled my pre-order.

I can forgive the stutter, the lag, the disconnects and the unfinished content. It's beta; I don't expect those things to be top-notch.

But I canceled because, quite frankly, I find the game to be utterly abysmal. The interface is atrocious, the gameplay is one-dimensional, the ship combat is just frustrating.

Could I learn how to cope and deal with all of that over time? Probably, but as you said -- I have other games to play and a limited amount of time.

And though I do forgive beta glitches, I also realize that STO launches for real in less than a month. This game will not be ready for me to have fun with it by then.

Maybe I'll revisit 6 months down the road but I doubt it. Being a huge Star Trek fan, I found the whole experience nothing but a disappointment.

Zachary Quinto's voice was about the only thing that made me smile...
The game in its current state has a LOT of potential. There is still a ton of work that needs to be done.

You're absolutely 100% correct when you say that the game is too linear. And I thought WoW led me around by the nose...

The space combat lasers pewpew part needs some serious rework. The controls are absolutely godawful imo. It's a great start, and definitely has a star trek feel; however, as the main crux of the game it needs to be more intuitive. I think a lot of people with high hopes are going to be very disappointed in how clunky getting around seems.

Ground combat is terribad.

Why is the game so combat focused anyway? I understand it would be an incredible challenge to design an MMO without combat as its central focus, but every starfleet officer running armed to the teeth blasting every bad guy in sight is definitely NOT a star trek feel. More in depth diplomatic resolutions, faction standings, quests etc. would have been fantastic.

Finally, as a real life Ensign, why can't I get a damn bonus to command or something in the game? Actually, now that I think about, a penatly might be more appropriate.
You know my opinion on STO, but I do have the opinion that a beta is just a beta. And an opinion about a beta is a beta opinion.

Games should be finally judged at release date. I, at least, will read several STO release reviews before I decide to not buy it.

A beta review is just a prediction of the release version. A prediction I do take seriously when it comes from you, but judgement day is at release date - not before (.. and not a year later).
I understand it would be an incredible challenge to design an MMO without combat as its central focus, but every starfleet officer running armed to the teeth blasting every bad guy in sight is definitely NOT a star trek feel. More in depth diplomatic resolutions, faction standings, quests etc. would have been fantastic.

A dilemma that has been predicted.

For me there is a simple truth:
If even I cannot imagine how to make a good MMO out of Star Trek, nobody can.

It is exceptionally bad, however, that the designers probably didn't even try and just added combat, combat, combat, sex (?) ..
I am also an advocate of the idea that an MMO has to be fun from the first minute on. Of course you have to be careful with games like AoC, which were (at launch) really great for the first 20 levels and then basically ended.

For me STO is fun at the moment, even with all the technical difficulties it is a blast to play with friends and goof around.

Biggest worry so far: there is no option to reset your skills (as it was in Champions Online). If they don't implement this or try to charge money for it the game will die really fast in my opinion. No one wants to play a borked character and the skill system is rather complex in the beginning and you don't really know what's useful and what's not.
I find the differing responses to the STO beta to be fascinating. Not everyone has liked it, true, but from what I've seen it seems particularly unlikely that a person will like it if their primary game is WoW.

In a way that has a bit of an Opposite Day effect with me, as I could not get any enjoyment out of WoW on multiple attempts (despite how good I keep hearing the tutorial is) and yet had so much fun with the STO tutorial. It's like different sides of our brains are being stimulated here, or something.

"Look at every major MMO since AoC launched a couple summers ago. They've all pretty much flopped from a player retention perspective."

Uh...sorry. Aion.

May not be "WoW" numbers, but there is no doubt, based on their sales record and Xfire data, has not fallen like every other MMO.

It is not a perfect game ( I was not impressed)...but many are, and still play.

Polish was the key!

STO will NOT retain anything. Sci-Fi has proven to not succeed in the MMO field (barring EvE's bizarre case...), and I expect the same from STO.

It will sell good though.
I don't like people pretending like a game in Open beta 2 weeks before launch is going to somehow change drastically before the dead line.

It's not. WAR didn't, AoC didn't, CO didn't... go game does. Open beta is what the first month after release will be like.

Stop using it as a shield to hide behind obvious game flaws.

I agree completely that the "fix down the road" mentality is getting worse. Even single player games are launching with serious bugs under the assumption that the player will be able to patch the problems later.

Guess what mister smarty dev, the guy that bought the single player PC game may not use the internet!
Nils said:

A beta review is just a prediction of the release version.

and how many games have we ever seen where the gameplay of the release was even slightly different from the beta?
The tutorialof Fallen Earth is stunningly misrepresentative of the game. Some people love it, I hated it.

Fortunately I had read about it before I even downloaded FE, so I just gritted my teeth and got through it. Had I come toit cold, then like Tobold I might bever have got to the game proper.

Fallen Earth has a proper, comprehensive and informative second tutorial once you start the game proper. From there on it's a fine MMO. They would do themselves a great favor by dumping the first tutorial entirely.

Why games insist on having tutorials that are nothing at all like the gameplay you will experience for weeks, even months after you begin the game itself is beyond me. Loads of them do it, it never helps. Just start us in the actual game world and give us some tool-tip help.
At level 11 you jump into the next ship class, which can be cruiser (tank), escort (dps) or science vessel (healing+utility).

I am at level 8 and the server is down, so I will comment if the trinity works in space.

The trinity is probably closer to god there, but i fear it is even unholier than on ground... and even less appropriate for a space game.

There is already some evidence that playing tank or healer is a thankless task due to some game design decisions.
It's difficult to look at a beta and figure out when you should start playing. "This game will be great in a year" is not the same as "this game is great now."

I think your review was spot on: You rated the beta as it is NOW, now as it WILL BE. Now it's up to the readers to compare that to other betas and not finished, year-old games.
you never ever overcome the first 2 seconds of impressions.
Whether you play a game or meet new people, the first 2 seconds marks the road definitely
I've been playing the open beta of STO for about four days and my prevailing opinion is "meh".

The graphics are average for this day and age, but the animations are stilted and often confusing, especially in ground combat. There is no wow-factor that really grabbed me visually.

Space combat is pretty good considering the framework of the game and the nature of space combat in the ST franchise. There are some elements that are annoying (no auto-fire), frustrating (constant shield balancing), or simply stupid (full impulse hidden unless you set action bars to 3 tiers).

My biggest issue with the game, beyond all the beta faults and clunky nature of missions, is the heavy use of instancing. Every system you enter is instanced and, unless you specify otherwise, it's a random assignment.

This means I have to sit through 2 or 3 load screens before entering an instance and, unless I prepare in advance, I will not know who is participating in a mission until I show up.

I won't be buying this at release (Aion cured me of hype buying), but I can see myself checking it out again in 4-6 months to see if it's any better.
I have been in the STO beta for several days now and will not be buying this game.

People often say "it's a Beta" when others complain. I say that is not nearly enough of an excuse now.

A Beta is not just a testing period anymore. It is a preview, a test run, and an advertisement. It is what I, and many others, use to decide if we are going to purchase a game. The shoddy state of the game has left a bad taste in my mouth and I have no desire to drop $50 on a game that needs months of polish to be somewhat average.

If they didn't have the Star Trek imprint the game itself wouldn't be worth a F2P experience.
STO is nothing but loading screens and excessive instances, and a good bit of bad quality control. Very sad.
I played STO for about six hours and I'm pretty much done with the game. I never knew space could be so boring. Here are my main problems with the game.

You can only be a Federation race. No Klingons, Gorn or Romulans allowed.
A Vulcan pretty much has the same stats as a Betazoid.
You can either be a scientist/engineer or a butt kicker - that's it.
STO tries and FAILS to be a first person shooter.
You never get to sit in the Bridge - in your own Captain's chair.
You have to work for the Federation.
Every 20 yards or so is another screen load.
Ship combat is boring and tedious. It's easier and more fun to fly a mount in WoW than your own star ship.
You can have any ship in the galaxy as long as it's Federation.
The setting is barren and bleak. It's like being in the hygiene section of Walmart.
There are lots of bugs and errors.
The first noob battle is against the Borg. Yep, those Borg.
The map looks like it was created in ASCII.
There is a phaser sniper rifle.
You now have personal shields like in DUNE.
Walking around is like watching a bad VHS tape.
No real open areas to explore. Very linear instances.
Have no idea how to level or why to level.
Mixed bag of stuff - Red Matter story combined with Borg combined with old Star Trek.
Everything is blue .. literally everything is some shade of blue.
No free 10 day trial .. sign your life away or don't play.
No one actually talks (audio) except for the holo-doctor.
Oh, there's a holographic doctor.
Every mission is boring and tedious.

I know WoW's been around for a long time and I remember those bad days of WoW. However, WoW is rich in setting, environment, story-line, history, characters and even the bad dialogue is interesting.

For an MMORPG to work, you need to lose yourself in the game. I play a gnome in WoW and I'm obnoxious. I skinny dip in the sewers of Stormwind - it's my persona. In STO - I only get the feeling that I'm some game designer's puppet.
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