We had an interview scheduled for today with Daniel Stahl, the lead on Cryptic’s MMO, Star trek Online. Our original plan had been to talk about Perfect World buying Cryptic and what that meant for consumers but the best laid plans of mice and men…. You see last night world came out that Star trek Online was going F2P, this meant we had a unique opportunity to speak with Daniel about this before all the corporate talking heads started putting out company lines. So I am proud to bring to you our interview with Daniel Stahl.
Hey everyone, for the last month of so I have received a lot of emails asking when I was going to get Daniel Stahl back on the show to talk about the summer upgrades to STO, also know as Season 4; Crossfire. We tried to arrange to have him on before the release but his busy schedule made it hard to find time with him. However we where able to pull him away from his desk for a little bit Friday afternoon and so I decided to post this up for all you STO fans chomping at the bit.
Daniel Stahl Interview, Recorded 8 July 2011
I do not recall ever seeing such super hero hype in media as we are seeing this summer. Thor has released, X-Men First Class has just come out and Green Lantern is on the way in a couple of weeks and next month we have Captain America. To add to the hype Marvel has made sure their movies have included teasers to the Avengers next summer along with Ironman 3. This is truly the summer of heroes.
In the computer gaming world super hero games have traditionally not done well in fact they have been kind of jinxed. Most of the early games let you play a known hero and while they where decent enough games they failed to capture any kind of heroic feel to the game play. The jinx was finally broke with the game Freedom Force, which let you make your own hero. While this was a great game and the sequel was solid as well, it was not long before we hit a draught once again. Then Cryptic Studios smashed the jinx into the ground like the Hulk smashing a villain with City of Heroes. After a while however Cryptic moved on but they did not forget their first great love and so was born Champions Online.
Champions Online is based on the award winning Pen and Paper RPG, Champions. The Champions game system is set in it’s own gaming world, forgoing the idea of letting you recreate heroes from Marvel or DC. This world has a rich and deep history developed over the years of pen and paper play. The developers at Cryptic where obviously fans of the RPG, so much so that Cryptic actually bought the IP for it.
Now while Champions Online is a different product it is impossible to separate it from City of Heroes since Cryptic made both games. It is something Cryptic has had to accept, not only because these are the only two Super Hero MMOs out, but also the fact that they are both Cryptic’s creations. With that in mind I will warn you that you will see a lot of references for comparison between these two games.
The premise of the MMO is classic comic book. The world is in trouble, in this case an alien invasion is taking place and Millennium City, used to be Detroit, needs heroes to save the day. As the logo states the game is a Free to Play MMO. This means the basic game is free and that you can make micro-transactions to add features to the game you would like, more on this later. When you first start the game you are treated to a login screen that asks you how you want the control system configured. You can use the default Champions system, a system based on the way most fantasy MMO’s work or a system based on the way CoH works. This is actually a really nice feature right out the gate allowing you to make the game feel and control in a manner you are confortable with.
When you first sign up for the game using the F2P model you are given a choice of 8 archetypes. These archetypes are basically easy to use power sets based on the traditional hero styles. They allow the use of weapons from guns to swords, ice powers, raw strength, fire, a bow, metal powers and mystical. These basic types allow for people that want to play type of hero without having to get too caught up in the game mechanics of the powers. As your character levels the basic power choices are made for you with you having the ability to modify the way the powers work and how your character uses characteristics to create the hero you wanted. Each archetype does have two levels where you have to choose between two different powers and you get the choose the travel powers of your character. This means you decide if your hero flies, teleports, tunnels or runs really fast.
Now as we stated earlier this game is free to play, what that means is the games basics are free and that through small purchases, using Cryptic points you may buy additional game features. For the free players, they are called Silver in the game, you may purchase additional archetypes. Right now there are six additional archetypes you can buy, adding such hero types as the gadgeteer, electrical, darkness, the beastly hero, the super spy and the mighty weapon wielder, think Thor. Each of these additional archetypes cost about $12 a piece. While this might seem steep when taken into account that you just buy the hero type you want and can ignore the rest without a recurring fee and it does not seem so bad.
Once you have selected your hero type it is time to make your hero. The editor is very powerful and allows you to create any look you can practically imagine. You start from a basic template but as you can see there are a lot of options, in fact so many that I could not listed them all in this blog without spending the day at it. The character creator breaks the hero down into head, torso/arms, hands, legs/feet and then adds extra areas to each of these. You can independently color each part using a four color chose for each part from a very large color pallet. If all this seems overwhelming, fear not as the random button will allow you to let the system randomly create a look for you. The look on the left is what I got the first time I hit random. Now as with the archetypes there are additional items that can be bought to give you even more costume options. New costume options range from formal wear to Luchador, Ninja Warriors, Cyberpunk Cyborgs and much more.
Now with your character created and his or her look complete you name your character and set forth to rid the world of evil. Before you name your character you should know that the main superhero names, the ones that have a copyright on them, have been blocked out. So if you thought you where going to play Batman or Superman well you are out of luck. This does not of course stop the various play on words in an effort to create the name anyway.
The tutorial that follows character creation leads you through a series of basic missions to stop the alien invasion that has hit Millennium City. The cities super group, the Champions, have been neutralized and it is up to you and the other heroes that have assembled to stop this invasion and free the Champions. Once you have finished the tutorial you are put into the game proper with early offers allow you to begin your heroic career in Millennium City or in the white north of Canada.
The actually game system is easy to learn and the combat is fast paced. The combat system is based on having a power that builds your energy and then other powers that allow you to charge them up for maximum effect. They default control system uses the number keys for your primary powers and the alt plus number for your secondary powers. The travel system lets you use your faster travel powers for not just movement around the game but in combat as well. In addition some parts of the environment come into play, there is something cool about picking up a bus and throwing it at the bad guy.
The missions have some decent storylines and each area has multiple story arcs. Overall I really like the way the missions are laid out. The basic content is free for everyone to play and three mission packs are available for purchase if you want more content. There are three of these adventure packs all they seem to have around 4 hours plus of game play in each. The adventure packs and most of the missions can easily scale between running them solo or in groups, this is a great feature since sometimes you just do not want to play alone and other times you do. A recent addition is the comic series, a group of new missions released each week that are all tied into a single overall storyline. These have replaced the Adventure packs and unlike the older system these are 100% free for all players.
For people that want to play with their friends but cannot get as much play time there is the sidekick system. This allows players of different levels to play together at the same level. The system works pretty well though it does have the issue that you have to stay close to keep it going. Also the sidekick system does not just work by bringing a beginning character up, it allows higher level characters to play down at the level of their friends.
As I stated earlier I wanted to take a look at the idea of the free to play system. The concept is actually pretty cool for consumers. Essentially the basic game is free, no money needed to enjoy it. However there are extras you can get if you desire them, allowing you to spend what you want to create the game the way you want it. Some people do not like this system but I think it is great. For example if all I wanted to play is an Ice Powered hero and do not want to mess with the big adventure packs, I can play 100% for free with no added cost. If I desire down the road to play a gadgeteer then I would have to buy the archetype but I do not have to pay for everything including the stuff I do not want.
Now the other side of the hybrid F2P model that Champions Online uses is that you can pay a subscription fee. This fee gets you a bunch of the extra stuff including costumes and adventure packs as well as access to the free form character creation. Freeform means you are not limited to a set power arc and can mix and match all the available powers as you choose. This level of game play is for the more hard core player but the cool thing is you can start with F2P, see if you like the game and then upgrade later on to the full gold membership.
As I said at the start looking at Champions Online almost requires comparisons to City of Heroes. The first big difference is the subscription model with CoH being a full paid subscription system offering a light trial period but not the open ended free game play of Champions. The game system in Champions wins hands down for me from an easier to work with character creation system to a faster more action oriented combat system. While the graphics in Champions may not be considered state of the art they look better than CoH in my opinion and they do a good job of created the comic book look and feel. Finally the storylines in the Champions just work better with on many occasions my actually feeling like my character was a super hero, something I never really felt in CoH.
Now with this game approaching 2 years since release some people have asked why I am reviewing it now. You have to understand that I am an old school Champions pen and paper player dating back to 1981 and it’s first release. When I heard that Champions was being brought to an MMO I was to be honest skeptical of how the game would be. The transition from pen and paper to computer game has not always been a good one, historically it is usually a disaster. So with this in mind I was kind of scared to look at Champions on release.
However there is something cool about MMOs, the games that release are seldom the same a year later, as the game grows and expands. With that in mind when it was announced that Champions Online was going Free I decided it was time to dive in and this review is that time spent exploring.
I could give you a lot of different reasons why I like or dislike this game but I think there is an easier way to sum up my opinion. Right now my daughter and wife both are playing with me as well as Doug and his son. We are not just playing but spending money to get more access in the game was we explore it and everyone is having a blast. In fact Champions Online has stolen away almost all my Star Trek Online play time.
With all of the super hero movies out this summer it is easy for a gamer to get inspired. To envision create your won super hero, fighting against evil and saving the world. That can come in the form of a suit of super technology, a large hammer, the strength of a hundred man or many other possibilities. With a chance to enjoy this kind of game play for free there is no reason not to give Champions a try, and I think once you do you will want to stay.
I am now off, there is a situation in the deserts of the southwest where a huge monster named Grond is terrorizing everyone. So the Blue Knight will answer the call along with his companions of the super group, the Round Table. We could use all the heroes we can get, Grond is a big one.
Have you been heroic today?
Review and Interview Segments as aired live 5 June 2011
One year ago Cryptic introduced Star Trek Online live to the world. With the game being built on a franchise as rich as Star Trek there was bound to be a few bumps in the road, no one however expected the off road ride this game initial took. In 30+ years of computer gaming I can honestly say I have never before seen a game garner such a level of love/hate. There was no middle ground and trying to stand it meant flame wars on many forums.
I myself was subject to many of those flames when I said a year ago that, “While STO is a good game is not a great game.” However that was a year ago and the very nature of MMOs means that it will grow and evolve over time. So one year later what has become of Star Trek Online?
Well first the premise of the game itself has remained solid, set in a period of around 2409 (30 years after the movie Nemesis) the game is firmly in the original time line, not going the direction of the new Star Trek. The Federation is at war, with everyone it seems. The Klingons have built a coalition of races and has gone back to it’s aggressive roots. The Romulan Empire is in chaos after losing their home world, the Cardassians are actually quiet but a splinter group has begun to cause trouble, the Undine (Species 8472) has openly engaged in hostilities and various other hotspots are everywhere. This is not a time of peace but of turmoil for the Federation.
It is against this backdrop that your character is thrust into Star Fleet and command of a starship. When I first reviewed this game I was playing a character that was basically myself, I wanted to feel like I was living the dream as it where. Well that is still the case, though I have been through a few characters over this year my primary is still me, though now an Engineering officer and proud member of the 3rd Fleet.
Fleets in STO are like guilds in various games or corporations in EVE Online, they are a social group in game that work together to enjoy the game. It is possible for someone to literally find any combination of characteristics to the various fleets. They range from uber-military style, the role play and super casual, plus of course everything in-between. I would advise anyone looking for a fleet to play with to take their time. Some of the recruiters out there are slick and will get you in a fleet before you know it only to find that it is not what you are looking for. Check around and be picky.
While the premise of the game has not changed the feel definitely has. The game now feels more polished, more completed than it did on release. While some areas such as exploration and ground combat still need work, other areas have begun to come into their own. The crafting system that before was overly simplistic has now evolved into a decent system that requires a bit more thought and effort but also makes more sense and has better options.
A diplomatic system has been put into the game. It is still a little bare but I would think we will begin to see it beefed up. Doing the diplomatic missions has the nice benefit of allowing you transwarp capabilities to various star systems in the game, making travel easier.
One of the complaints I had with the release of the game was during movement in sector space the game mechanics felt like they where getting in the way of the immersion. At the time sector space was filled with lines and grids, however Cryptic heard that complaint and the result is stunning. The shot above is in Sector space and trust me when I say down left and right, no lines.
The ship in the shot above is an Excelsior Class, taken from the early movies and Next Generation series. Other ships have been added as well such as the Nebula Class, a dreadnaught and numerous ships for the Klingons.
Speaking of Klingons, one of the complaints early in the game was lack of Klingon content, this is changing fast with the Klingons still not up with the Federation but nicely improved over the release.
One of the biggest changes though is the addition of the Featured Episodes. The idea is that an series is announced and then once a week for 5 weeks a new mission is posted in game, all part of the series. These episodes have a very good storyline to them and the game play is just plain fun. I do not think anyone has ever taken this kind of content approach before and Cryptic has done it well. The result is a literal buzz in the STO community as the day of release approaches and then excitement as we await the next installment.
There are a lot of other changes on the way as we discuss in the interview linked below but for now I want to look at STO as it is today.
In a years time the team at Cryptic has managed to take a game that was decent it grow leaps and bounds. The game has more depth, more excitement within it’s community and realized a lot of the potential we spoke of in the first review. The STO team is to be congratulated for living up to Captain Montgomery Scotts definition of Miracle Workers.
With that in mind I have to say that STO is at the precipice of being a GREAT game. With the direction the game is going I have no doubt they will achieve greatness but they must stay the course just a little longer.
As the game stands today however I have no issue with telling any MMO player, particularly anyone that likes Star Trek that this game is a MUST BUY! Future looks bright, the ideas ambitious and the people at Cryptic seem passionate about the future of Star Trek Online.
If you will excuse me now the USS Adventure is waiting for me to beam up before we head out. We recently received an assignment from Star Fleet to head for the Quadra Sigma system and investigate reports of a Borg fleet massing. The future of the Federation could be at stake…
Crisler to USS Adventure, one to beam up.
Interview with Daniel Stahl of Cryptic, Aired 30 January 2011