Boldly, Gone

Angry Phaser Fire

In terms of sheer fanservice, Star Trek Online succeeds wildly. It embraces continuity in such a way that anyone close to the franchise will immediately be dashed on waves of nostalgia. Cameos bring up familiar names, places and plots, to the point where precious inventory slots will at some point be burdened with an abundance of Tribbles. There’s hardly a phaser or photon torpedo out of tune, hardly a miscellaneous forehead-alien that gets glossed over, the soundscape is alive with soothing pings and whirrs, and the jargon is as abstract and vaguely technical as it has ever been. Aesthetically, it’s all my childhood dreams of living in a starship brought to virtual life.

But as much as the world looks and sounds familiar, there’s something very off with the whole affair. The problem isn’t so much tedious plotting, writing, or routine play mechanics. Granted, a part of the shortcomings are due to its structure as an MMORPG – and my usage of the term "MMORPG" should clue you in on how completely uninvested I’ve been in that particular scene. But to be perfectly frank, there’s enough nerd-nectar to keep me casually on the hook for seasons to come, cross-galactic fetch missions be damned. I’m already content with building a collection of ships named after characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Just toss me an Enterprise-D after 100 hours of gameplay, and I’ll come out of it happy.

What I can’t reconcile is the tone of everything.

When I was growing up, my weekly dose of Star Trek: The Next Generation was inspiring. I followed the franchise through Voyager, in awe of a future where mankind could travel to distant planets, communicate with foreign species, and explore the far reaches of the stars. Unlike most sci-fi programs, Star Trek had no central villain. There was no disaster to befall humanity and force it out of its cradle. No tyrannical government enforcing lifeless uniformity. No cyborgs out to eradicate life — well, not until 1989, at least. It depicted a future, a seemingly inevitable future, where mankind had overcome adversity, racism, and hatred in the spirit of unity, discovery and exploration. That is what Star Trek feels like and invokes in me.

What Star Trek Online presents is a war-ravaged future where factionalism is the rule of the day. Allies are on the verge of becoming bitter rivals, ancestral homes are wiped out, enemies infiltrate the highest ranks of leadership, and the most common response to a tense situation is to atomize someone with a high-powered laser rifle.

There’s a bit of a disconnect from the “highly evolved” state of humanity that Captain Picard triumphed, to be sure.

I want to avoid attributing the bulk of this shift to Deep Space 9 because, while the change may seem like an extension of where DS9 took the franchise, that thematic core was still intact. In the face of growing paranoia, the crew of DS9 strengthened the bonds of friendship that had developed over the trials of the series. Where TNG presented mystery in the external, the writers of DS9 shifted the narrative to extremely personal stories — loss of love, questions of religion, struggles between observation and faith, betrayal — fundamental, human, stories told against the backdrop of undiscovered countries. In the darkest of hours, there was still a sense of humanity’s struggle to triumph.

I understand that the franchise is trying to maintain the timeline before J. J. Abrams’ post-processed reboot. I understand that the Earth’s governments have seen attempted invasions by zombified rubber-suited technocommunists, jelly-filled shapeshifters, fluidic-dwelling praying mantises, and (most recently) disgruntled Nosferatu-like malcontents. I get that the state of the universal union is fragile, frayed and barely functioning. At its core, though, Star Trek has always promoted the idea of better living through technology. It has fulfilled the 20th century belief that the next big thing will provide comfort to modern man and lead us down a path to even greater achievements. And though the ships in the series were well-armed, rarely was the first response to a chance encounter “bring every gun you have to bear and shoot until their electrons flop over in agony.”

In Star Trek the 25th Anniversary, a point-and-click adventure from the wizened era of the 1990s, players were chastised for acting in bad faith. If I decided to turn into a greedy, homicidal monster, Star Fleet would recall the Enterprise. If I engaged in mindless destruction, my crewmates would voice their disgust. Like STO, classic locations and characters from the series were utilized heavily. But unlike STO, players felt like their actions had consequence. They felt like they were representatives of something greater, something to uphold.

Every time I’m forced to carry out an action that is antithetical to the beliefs of the series, my belief in the game world is weakened. Every senseless act of violenece, unnecessary confrontation, and ridiculous weapon — There’s a phaser-minigun that you can give to your away team. Seriously. — pushes the game farther away from Star Trek, and into some vaguely themed Star Trek fanfiction universe.

And violence is pretty much your only option here. Star Trek Online robs the player of any sense of diplomacy, any alternative to flailing about with gigatons of life-ending hellfire. The few chances you get to play diplomat, medecin sans planets, or cosmic engineer are done through menu interfaces, by sending bridge officers away for a few hours. That’s great if your dream StarFleet job was head of pan-galactic HR. For the player, there’s no attempt to move beyond the confines of the setting — not the fictional world, mind you, but the mechanical world, the world of Games. In a future where energy is essentially free, where equipment is plentiful, and where the whims of man, be they pleasure, sustenance or knowledge, are literally provided out of thin air by the push of a button, STO limits the player’s experience by holding on to weary tropes.

I am stuffed to the gills with aforementioned Tribbles. I could turn my science ship into a travelling Tribble petting zoo at this point, were it not for my also-sizeable collection of multicolored, anomalous reading doodads. Why, exactly, am I still bound by inventory slots? Why are there no repercussions to providing the worst possible answers in an ambassador mission? Why, also, is it perfectly acceptable to massacre squadrons full of aliens after a cursory exchange of dialogue and not lament the loss?

Because it’s a game.

It’s unfortunate that STO hasn’t stretched its scope yet. Just this year, FTL proved that you can do an interesting take on the management of a space ship and have it be gripping to boot. If there’s a way to make space handyman an enthralling experience, there must be a way to similarly make ambassadorship engaging. And if STO is to spend its days as a Free-to-Play affair, it’d be wonderful if the generic MMOG grind could provide for features meant to go off the beaten path.

Given the geopolitical landscape of the last decade, it’s not hard to see why writers would feel like a bright, shiny future would be hard to swallow. Perhaps visions of a boundless future are becoming as antiquated as stories about atomic-powered rocket cars. More and more, it seems like Star Trek is leaving the utopian view of the future behind, favoring a more divisive universe. Look as far as Abrams’ next entry in the series, Into Darkness, to see evidence of this. I just hope that the franchise keeps in mind the qualities of hope and optimism that made it a cornerstone of science fiction

Comments

It's an MMO, basically is what you are saying. Which is very true. If you go in expecting that it is a ton of fun and has a very balanced F2P model. I have played on and off for years and enjoyed it a great deal. Nice change of pace from the 999 fantasy MMO's that dominate.

Honestly the entire franchise has this problem. They're not just now leaving the Utopian view behind. It's been left behind for years.

Just look at the last Next Generation era movies. Insurrection and Nemesis were both action sci-fi shoot-em-ups that had nothing to do with the television show besides the cast of characters (sh*t, even the ship is different!). The Abrams reboot just to that theme and mashed it into a retro aesthetic.

It's a shame, and emblematic of sci-fi in a general. Utopias just aren't cool these days.

Sap, I agree that it's a very entertaining MMO -- problems I have with the mechanics of the game type aside, cruising around in a new ship every few hours is pretty damned impressive.

But when StarFleet gives me a bro-hug for totally wrecking that klingon armada like a Kirkbeast, the resemblance to Trek feels mostly superficial. That's the incongruity that I keep bumping up against.

Spaz, have you gotten to a high enough level where you can play the most recent feature series?

The 2800, as a series, is the most classic "trek" out of all of them, with very little combat, and a lot of story and character interaction.

As much as I love Trek, playing STO requires blocking out all the theme/inspiration stuff and having a fun violent mess. It's warporn for Trekkers. I'm far from an MMORPG-fan, but the space combat in STO, and the STF missions both ground and space, are pretty enjoyable. It's better than swinging swords or casting spells, even if much of the underlying gameplay is pretty much identical.

<----preordered lifetime membership.

I think there is the Star Trek ideal that everyone wants to believe in (peace, diplomacy, etc.) and then there is reality. The fact of the matter is that all of the most popular Star Trek movies (Wrath of Khan, First Contact) and series episodes (e.g. Yesterday's Enterprise) all have to do with battle and warfare. DS9 wasn't all that interesting until the Dominion War.

I like STO, though I haven't been back in a while. But Spaz is correct...the diplomacy option isn't there. I just don't think that many people would use it even if it was there.

E Hunnie and I are going through TNG on Netflix these days, and the notion that it should be turned into a standard, "violence solves everything" MMO makes my insides flop around.

wordsmythe wrote:

E Hunnie and I are going through TNG on Netflix these days, and the notion that it should be turned into a standard, "violence solves everything" MMO makes my insides flop around.

I know, right? I demand missions featuring a pathologically literalist computer that insists on misunderstanding my holodeck requests and turning them into life-threatening farces.

Also: Ezri Dax in a cocktail waitress outfit.

Maq wrote:

Ezri Dax in a cocktail waitress outfit.

Star Wars : Jar-Jar ; Star Trek : Ezri.

Leaving aside the fact STO is a mainstream MMO and thus action will always be the first priority. I think part of this is just the eternal divide between TOS and Next Gen.

TOS was an action/adventure show first and foremost. Next Gen was primarily about morality plays with a little action on the side. Me I grew up on TOS re-runs and loved the adventure of the show. Next Gen bored me silly for the most part. STO, especially the featured series, captures the tone of TOS very well and that is a great thing.

Maq wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

E Hunnie and I are going through TNG on Netflix these days, and the notion that it should be turned into a standard, "violence solves everything" MMO makes my insides flop around.

I know, right? I demand missions featuring a pathologically literalist computer that insists on misunderstanding my holodeck requests and turning them into life-threatening farces.

Also: Ezri Dax in a cocktail waitress outfit.

Tell me it wouldn't be awesome.

sapman wrote:

Next Gen was primarily about morality plays with a little action on the side.

I'm not sure there was any less action, there may have been less direct violence, but there was certainly a lot of brinksmanship and morality play in TOS as well.

It has fulfilled the 20th century belief that the next big thing will provide comfort to modern man and lead us down a path to even greater achievements. . .

I just hope that the franchise keeps in mind the qualities of hope and optimism that made it a cornerstone of science fiction.

Not allot of more recent Scifi (movies or books) does this though. Plus, I doubt those values really ring true to people now. I know the last, say, 4-5 years has scraped most of the optimism out of me. The dream of doing better, or at least the same as my parents, will probably not be a reality to me. To be optimistic takes consistant effort for me now.

An imagined world where tech solves large problems, where people can cooperate to solve big problems, etc. is not really where my head is at now.

Yeah it's a fun game. There's a lot of fan service in the ships, and the story lines you run across. Lots of old things from the various TV shows. Very cool.

But the gameplay is pew-pew and pew-pew some more. It's fun it its own way but not very Trek-ish.

Glad you mentioned FTL, as that thought has been tossed around in the FTL thread. It would make an awesome Star Trek game, just reskinned. Toss in a few varied campaigns instead of the basic "run 8 sectors" campaign that comes with it and it would be the best Star Trek game ever.

I think that TNG:Future's Past (the SNES version, not the Genesis version) is still one of the greatest Star trek games ever made. It's hard, but super fun once you get into it.

I just hope that the franchise keeps in mind the qualities of hope and optimism that made it a cornerstone of science fiction

I guess I'll be Comic Book Guy this thread, and point out that Star Trek is not really SF. Like Star Wars, it's magic in space, not science. They literally wrote their scripts with technobabble explicitly called out that way, and then they made up words to fit the empty spaces, kind of like Mad Libs. There's not really any coherent reality underlying the series; things happen because the writers want them to happen, not because the known systems on the ship would be able to produce that kind of result.

There have been some phenomenal stories in Trek, just like fantasy has had some truly amazing offerings. But they're both fundamentally stories about magic.

Not science?

Bah.

If Star Trek isn't science fiction, then neither is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 2001, KSR's Mars Trilogy, etc.

edit: The example in the first link about air pressure isn't quite accurate. Experiments/accidents show that dropping from one atmosphere to close to no pressure does not cause the mess envisioned. Still, best not to try holding a deep breath, but not because the lungs will rupture.

Of course its science fiction. It just isn't "hard science fiction". How can it not be, when Star Trek has directly influenced the development of real technology?

I think the term you're looking for is space opera.

wordsmythe wrote:
Maq wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

E Hunnie and I are going through TNG on Netflix these days, and the notion that it should be turned into a standard, "violence solves everything" MMO makes my insides flop around.

I know, right? I demand missions featuring a pathologically literalist computer that insists on misunderstanding my holodeck requests and turning them into life-threatening farces.

Also: Ezri Dax in a cocktail waitress outfit.

Tell me it wouldn't be awesome.

sapman wrote:

Next Gen was primarily about morality plays with a little action on the side.

I'm not sure there was any less action, there may have been less direct violence, but there was certainly a lot of brinksmanship and morality play in TOS as well.

My wife and I recently went through TNG as well (she'd never seen it before), and the shift is pretty noticeable in the last few seasons. Instead of Starfleet being an idealistic government that had supposedly gotten beyond racism, sexism & classism, it became full of the same xenophobic warmongers and greedy career politicians we've got now. Starfleet admirals were used far too often as an episode's villain.

Nice read Spaz. (And btw, get out of my head!)

I feel the same way about this game. I put in a good many hours after it went free-to-play a while back. My son was deep into it and I love Star Trek, so I thought "what the hey."

At first, I was very open minded. I realized it's a game, and there were "gamey" things I had to overlook. When I saw everyone running around with different uniforms I thought, "this is different." Then I made this badass uniform that my whole crew had to wear on my ship and I was set. The ship customization was nice too. Then I realized I could hide the weird armor and harnesses my crew was wearing also. Nice. The levels were oddly sized, as if everyone had been shrunk down relative to their surroundings, but then I read it's so you can pan the camera and not have your away team always get stuck on the environment. Oh well. I can deal.

I customized the hud and the controls so it almost felt like a fps. I was good to go. And off I went.

I have to admit , I didn't pay much attention to the story in the beginning of the game. But in something like the third mission, a ship warps into a system where I am and the only option is to go to red alert and blast them into oblivion. It was then that the shine really came off the apple. I played a few more "kill everything" missions before I realized that there were far more capable shooters around that I could be playing instead of this. The space battles (while fun) nowhere approached the level of Bridge Commander. This game felt entirely empty and useless to me.

There were no options. No choices. No "role playing" of any kind.

After a few days, I stopped playing and haven't' gone back since. Why? It just wasn't Star Trek, and it wasn't fun. It's as simple as that.

Stengah wrote:

Starfleet admirals were used far too often as an episode's villain.

In their defense, they were often under the control of something else.

Nevin73 wrote:

Of course its science fiction. It just isn't "hard science fiction". How can it not be, when Star Trek has directly influenced the development of real technology?

Some definitions of "science fiction" encompass an incredibly limited field. There is no standard definition, but here is WorldCat's:

Used for works of fantasy that deal with possible though not necessarily probable events and are based approximately on scientific principles, e.g. space travel, time travel, etc. Used also for works in which mankind confronts alien cultures or environments. For works that deal with non-existent, incredible, or unreal worlds, characters, and physical principles, see Fantasy fiction.
wordsmythe wrote:
Stengah wrote:

Starfleet admirals were used far too often as an episode's villain.

In their defense, they were often under the control of something else. :)

At first yeah, but in the last few seasons they're just corrupt.

It is unfortunate that STO relies heavily on combat though.

When I was growing up, my weekly dose of Star Trek: The Next Generation was inspiring. I followed the franchise through Voyager, in awe of a future where mankind could travel to distant planets, communicate with foreign species, and explore the far reaches of the stars. Unlike most sci-fi programs, Star Trek had no central villain. There was no disaster to befall humanity and force it out of its cradle. No tyrannical government enforcing lifeless uniformity. No cyborgs out to eradicate life — well, not until 1989, at least. It depicted a future, a seemingly inevitable future, where mankind had overcome adversity, racism, and hatred in the spirit of unity, discovery and exploration. That is what Star Trek feels like and invokes in me.
What Star Trek Online presents is a war-ravaged future where factionalism is the rule of the day. Allies are on the verge of becoming bitter rivals, ancestral homes are wiped out, enemies infiltrate the highest ranks of leadership, and the most common response to a tense situation is to atomize someone with a high-powered laser rifle.

You have a highly selective memory of Star Trek, TNG, and Voyager it seems.

RolandofGilead wrote:

You have a highly selective memory of Star Trek, TNG, and Voyager it seems.

I don't think Spaz' memory is selective to a fault. The quotes were about humanity rising above factionalism, not all species in the galaxy. Sure, there were races with whom the Federation had rivalries, but that's in part because those empires didn't reach the techno-social utopia of the Federation worlds. Setting aside the Dominion War and the Xindi Threat (which aren't even in the series to which you're referring), I estimate that only a small portion (30% 40%?) of Trek episodes are about confrontation with Klingons, Romulans, Borg, etc. with the majority instead being exploration, diplomacy, and scientific/holodeck dilemmas. And of the rival-threats episodes, not all, maybe not even most, relied on violence or combat, instead being about diplomacy or some kind of technological challenge or trickery. The movies, on the other hand, those pretty much depend on action and combat.

Yeah as good as First Contact was, it tainted the rest of the movies, and the Voyager series that continued after it. Everything had to be "action-packed" after that. Voyager's shuttle got blown up and rebuilt how many times?

Hi there! First time poster.

Disclaimer: I haven't yet played STO (I need to upgrade my rig) but I've followed its official development postings and player wiki, so I'm familiar with the complaints of "isn't Trek about exploration?" IMHO, I'll probably be happy with just the starship customizing and combat elements.

A similar case of how'd-they-miss-the-point? afflicted the defunct "LEGO Universe" (Oct. 2010-Jan. 2012). As a brand, LEGO is about creative building, and the game's mission statement was "Save Imagination" -- and yet most of a player's time was spent smashing zombies. Oh, there was modular building of a strictly limited type, but free-form virtual building was possible only on player properties, isolated from the campaign and achievements -- for your constructs to have any effect on the shared spaces, you'd have to emigrate to "Minecraft." Build a ladder to reach that ledge, capture the zombies in a cage, alter your racer to change its performance, recolor your pets? Nope. The NPCs and scenery *looked* like LEGO bricks, but lacked their essential flexibility.

It seems the developers got mired in the standard hack-and-slash metaphors of the MMO industry, simply because they're more familiar and easier to express. (To be fair, development took four years and almost went in several distinct ways. To be critical, reports are that The LEGO Company never quite decided what they wanted in an MMO -- which is fatal to any software or entertainment project.)

(LU was hamstrung in other ways, and missed obvious cross-promotion opportunities, but those flaws aren't salient to Mr. Martinez's thesis re: STO.)