In this exclusive interview, WarCry chats with Daron Stinnett, the Executive Producer of Star Trek Online. What's more, we also debut the first ever in-game avatar screenshot since the company rethought its art direction. The image shows a human character in battle with a Gorn Soldier.
It's been a turbulent couple months for the folks at P2 Entertainment (formerly Perpetual Entertainment). They cancelled their anticipated debut MMORPG Gods and Heroes amid layoffs and concerns for the company's long term health. Now as the dust begins to settle, we find out about Star Trek Online the game, it's long term health and where it's headed.
Yesterday, their former public relations firm Kohnke Communications launched a lawsuit against them, which included allegations of fraud against Perpetual, P2 and the company's leadership. The following interview was conducted last week, but WarCry did seek comment on the lawsuit from Perpetual and Kohnke prior to publish. As is customary with pending lawsuits, neither company had any comment.
Answers by Daron Stinnett (Exec. Producer)
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: This week you've released your first space image and now your first land image since you decided to move away from a photorealistic image and towards a stylized one. Can you talk about both images and why you think the decision you made is the correct one?
Daron Stinnett: We love the caricatures of the races in Star Trek and we had a strong desire to make sure that each race was as visually distinctive as they are on an emotional level. However that presented a game design challenge given that on TV, all those great races are just human actors with prosthetics and makeup to differentiate them; an approach does not translate well to the game world where subtle differences among players and NPCs would not be legible at typical view distances during gameplay.
So we gave ourselves the goal of creating very unique silhouettes for each race that better represented the character of each race. From there, we decided to keep going and wrap our stylized characters in a stylized world. We had the artistic talent to pull it off and it felt right to use the strengths of our medium to take the look of Star Trek in a new direction while staying true to it's core values. Of course, we had to get the approval of CBS, and we were certainly nervous that they would want to stick with the safer route of recreating what had been done before. But they got it immediately; saying "Yup, that's what we would have done with the look if we would have had the budget to do so in the TV series and films".
We're really proud to have the opportunity to evolve the look of Star Trek and it is because of our freedom and drive to do so that we've continued to attract the best talent in the industry. There have been a lot of Star Trek games in the past that have gone with the photo-real approach, and we came to the conclusion that it was time to try something new and haven't looked back.
WarCry: Recently, rumors suggested that STO would become a more casual game, while others said it would simply adopt a more casual business model. At its core, do you believe that the Star Trek universe is suited a casual experience?
Daron Stinnett: We've always believed that Star Trek is an inviting world for more than just the enthusiasts so we've stayed focused on making a game that everyone can enjoy. We know that difficult to learn gameplay can be a barrier for some as is the $15/month subscription fee. It is true that we have been discussing different payment models internally to see if there is a way to enable more people to experience Star Trek Online while ensuring that we are able to pay for the ongoing operating costs of a triple-A MMO. We haven't yet come to any conclusions though.
WarCry: A recent post you made suggested that your company is flexible and will work with future partners to adopt the correct business model. What kind of foundation have you laid to ensure that the gameplay compliments whatever business model you and your eventual partner eventually adopt?
Daron Stinnett: We're just doing our homework to make sure we understand what changes, if any, might be required for different payment models. I think most people will agree that there are a variety of payment models emerging so we're making sure that we are prepared should we decide to make a change. I think there are trade-offs to all the models for both the game developer and players. The obvious choice for Star Trek Online right now is the traditional subscription model, but we'll continue to consider the possibility of trying one of the emerging models.
WarCry: Your dev log focused on the "Interaction System", which is so fundamental to most MMOGs that it doesn't even usually get a name. Tell us what your system will do for STO that people might not necessarily expect?
Daron Stinnett: Given that we're making Star Trek, we started with goal of creating a really capable and well designed system for interacting with NPCs and the environment so that we could deliver the richness and storytelling that people expect from Star Trek. That means having a system that will enable us to create intelligent NPCs that can be more than just quest dispensers. We have also focused on making a system that would work equally well for both ground and space by helping us bring the richness of character interactions into space. Our recent devlog and accompanying screenshot was just a first peek into one of the ways we'll deliver a character driven space experience.
WarCry: You've always held that you would let fun decide how much time people spent in avatar vs. space form. What is it telling you now?
Daron Stinnett: That's right. We're not going to force players to spend a certain amount of time in either environment. Instead, we're creating a rich and diverse galaxy and let every player choose what path to weave though the ground and space experience. That's been our goal from the beginning and it hasn't changed.
WarCry: When Gods and Heroes was cancelled, many people left the company and others joined the development team. What has the entire Gods and Heroes project and its eventual demise contributed to STO's development?
Daron Stinnett: The Gods and Heroes team built a great server technology platform that we've been using since the beginning which gave us the ability to focus on gameplay systems, tools, and client technology. Anyone who's followed the business knows that making an MMO is our industry's moon shot; they are incredibly complex developments in every respect. I think Gods and Heroes is a very good game that will one day come to market, in the meantime I'm grateful to add team members who's experience is invaluable to our effort to build a great Star Trek game.
WarCry: Obviously, fan confidence is shaken when they hear news of cancellations and layoffs within a company. Why should people believe that STO is healthy and on track?
Daron Stinnett: There are a lot of development teams that can be very convincing that they are doing great - right up to the point when their product tanks in the market. And while I won't say it hasn't been a challenge to be a small developer taking on one of the greatest potential MMO franchises with a rabid fan following, the team is resolute in sticking to our plan to make quiet progress and release new information only when we're sure we can deliver on our promises. In the end, the most important criteria for success is the quality of the game we deliver and we're not going to get distracted from that objective.
WarCry: The Star Trek universe is huge, and realistically there is no way you can faithfully build it all for launch. The decision of how much to include and in what detail is likely one of the biggest and most controversial design and production questions you'll face. Where have you settled in terms of scope?
Daron Stinnett: MMOs and Star Trek share a core value: that people of different races, capabilities, and backgrounds can work together to solve problems. That concept is more important to us than any other aspect of Star Trek. It is with that idea in mind that we are focused building, testing, and tuning our core gameplay experience. And when we're satisfied with our gameplay, we will figure out where we draw the line between launch and post launch content with the knowledge that we'll never be wanting for interesting new planets to create and explore.