Tag: video (page 2 of 2)

Preview: Star Trek Online

Fans of Star Trek, brace yourselves. Cryptic Studio’s Star Trek Online is just around the corner. Some are already scrambling to get lifetime subscriptions and all the extra goodies they can, whereas I’m just trying to determine if this game is worth my time and money. From what I’ve seen of the open beta, it could be. There’s a lot going for it, but the game suffers from a few flaws that may prove fatal to the experience of other players.

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When the latest Star Trek film was released in 2009, some blabbermouths in the media talked about how it made Star Trek ‘cool again’. Star Trek Online has somehow pulled off the opposite. Star Trek Online has returned Star Trek to the bailiwick of the nerd. I happen to think this MMOG is pretty cool, but I’m a Star Trek fan, and that’s the target audience for this game. Not the general public, but Star Trek fans.

While Star Trek Online doesn’t boast the story emphasis BioWare is touting for Star Wars: The Old Republic, a good number of Trekkies are more interested in becoming part of the Star Trek universe and its ongoing story than they are the universality of the gameplay mechanics. This doesn’t mean that Cryptic Studios has skimped on the gameplay, because there’s plenty to be had. It’s just not the same kind of experience one gets from World of Warcraft or Aion, and that can be an obstacle too great for some to overcome.

Gameplay in Star Trek Online is divided between ground combat and space combat. Ground combat is typical MMOG fare. You have abilities with cooldowns used to defeat your enemies. When defeated some enemies drop items for you to use, equip or sell. Your primary attack abilities are based on your equipped weapon. It’s nothing terribly new here, but there’s an aspect of it that feels different from other MMOGs that I’ll address in a moment.

Space combat, on the other hand, is likely to be the biggest stumbling block to people, because there’s a good amount of it in Star Trek Online. Space combat in Star Trek has been depicted as battles between capital ships more often than not. The game aims more for that feel than that of a frenetic dogfight. Like the tabletop game on the subject, Star Fleet Battles, or its tall ships cousin, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, the mechanics of space combat focus on positioning, hit location and resource distribution. If you’ve played Wing Commander, you’ll be familiar with this form of space combat and you’ll find it happening at a managable pace from an outside perspective rather than being in the cockpit of a starfighter.

Over at Classholes Anonymous, awitelinsta put it succinctly:

This is you.

Instead of the traditional quest structure, Star Trek Online divides its content into “missions.” From anywhere in the galaxy, you can hail Starfleet to get a new mission. These missions vary from general exploration and patrols to an arcing story about escorting a diplomat, investigating the theft of precious material or rescuing colonists. Missions are geared to take about 45 minute to 1 hour, slicing the content up into very managable chunks. While most of them fall into a specific pattern – warp into a system, shoot at enemy ships, beam down to the ground location, blast people down there, beam back up for another space battle and warp out – there’s enough variety in the types of missions and stories to keep things interesting.

The party system also bears a mention. If you’re not in a party already, and you warp into a system where others are on the same mission, you’ll be automatically rounded up into a party, and the difficult of the mission will scale accordingly. While this idea seems innovative on paper, more often than not you’ll find yourself staring down a well-armed enemy fleet while you and your fellow players float there in your starting ships. Even on your own, the combat can be challenging. However, when it comes to facing ground combat alone, you’re never really alone.

If you beam down to a location without a group, Star Trek Online provides you with an Away Team. Your Bridge Officers, who have abilities that can assist you in space combat, fill in the empty spaces in your party. Other MMOG players are familiar with ‘pets’ and the Bridge Officers do fall into that category. They have abilities of their own and participating in a mission with them, for me, almost makes the game feel more like Mass Effect than an MMOG. Of course, the Bridge Officer AI isn’t overly complicated, but you do have the option of having a ‘red shirt’ run in front of you to take all of the enemy fire while you come in behind them to clean up.

These somewhat unique elements make Star Trek Online feel like a different MMOG experience. For most MMOG players, though, ‘different’ does not necessarily mean ‘good’. A lot of players are going to be put out by the space combat mechanics, the brevity of missions, a lack of clearly defined ‘dungeons’ and the overall aesthetic of the game. Even some Star Trek fans won’t be able to overcome these obstacles to the fun. It really comes down to personal taste.

The game has come under ‘enemy fire’ of its own for a variety of reasons. It’s not the most graphically advanced game out there. Aion is by far a prettier game. Sector space, the “world map” is huge, mostly empty and somewhat lonely as you move from one system to the next. And expect to see a lot of loading screens as you transition from instance to instance. Every system, ground location and starbase exist in their own instance, and the game doesn’t exactly handle the transition delicately. The levelling system is different in Star Trek Online than other MMOGs, as it is based on skills rather than overall experience, and most of your character’s abilities are based on the weapons, ‘kits’ and other equipment they carry rather than their overall rank. Veterans of other MMOGs may struggle to overcome all of these points, if they decide it’s worth their time to do so. Frankly, I can’t blame them if they don’t.

What nudges this game over to the ‘worth playing’ column, for me, is the sense of immersion the game provides. This feels very much like Star Trek. The music, the sound design, the user interface, the variety of characters and life forms – it all contributes to the atmosphere of a rich and detailed universe that many people have dreamed of joining for years. Hearing Alexander Courage’s music at the completion of a difficult mission seems to have an almost magical quality for me, washing away frustration at pirates or Klingons that was gnawing at my patience. I feel that Star Trek Online has a lot of potential. It’s made some mistakes here and there, but there’s a sense of overall improvement that, hopefully, will continue into the future.

It really does come down to personal taste if you feel Star Trek Online will be worth your time and money. I can’t blame the people who will decide that it isn’t. I, on the other hand, will be setting my course for the release date of February 2, and it is my sincere hope that as much fun as I’ve had so far in the beta, crashes and bugs and lag aside, Cryptic has even more to offer. Cryptic, make it so.

Roads Ahead

Good Luck!

Whoo, boy. Trying to sort out exactly where I am at the moment and what’s coming next is proving to be difficult. The dayjob is ramping up along with everything else so time during the day to get a plan of action together is difficult to come by, since I have settled on a long-term writing project that should be occupying most of my free writing time. I do have a couple other incidental side projects, and I don’t want all of it to get derailed by my interest in Star Trek Online.

Now, the game has been previewed in several places, and the open beta critiqued in a couple others, but I have yet to pass my final judgement upon it. I actually want to put together more than just some text and pics about it, however, which leads me to the big obstacle that I’ve run into today.

You see, YouTube and Google like each other a lot. They encourage you to link your YouTube account to your Google account, which I did. However, I picked up the YouTube account ‘jeloomis’ before I really got into the whole Blue Ink Alchemy branding thing. In addition to having a video supplement to my beta impressions, which will be more like a narrated slideshow than an actual video because of my desire to preserve processor power and a complete lack of knowledge in FRAPS use, I was thinking of reworking the ‘Powerless’ idea to something less artsy and more casual. In order to make sure people associate these things with this space and my other work, I wanted to change my YouTube account name. You can’t do that without deleting the old account, which I did, but in the course of doing so I neglected to unassociate that account with Google. So, when I went to create the YouTube account with my shiny username, guess what happened?

“That account is associate with jeloomis.”

So… it’s associated with an account that no longer exists. And there’s no way to unassociate it outside of that account.

Courtesy Black Eagle Ops/Classholes Anonymous

I contacted YouTube to reactive the old ‘jeloomis’ account so I can yank it away from Google and get this thing set up properly. We’ll see how timely their customer service department is. EDIT: Apparently very, but that doesn’t mean they’re helpful in getting the association severed. My vexation is COLOSSAL.

Meantime, here’s a to-do list for that project I’ve chosen thanks to the Magical Talking Beardman.

  • Get plot points vetted.
  • Generate dramatis personae document.
  • Work out rules of languages & magic.
  • Write the damn thing (target word count:125k)
  • Find an agent.

The first hurdle is, to me, a crucial one. I’ve laid out the plot of the novel in a document and shown it to a couple minds I really respect. My wife has given me some good feedback on it and I’ve tweaked the document accordingly. I’m waiting for a few more opinions before I proceed with the next step. Having a plan like this should keep me from procrastinating too much. I hope.

No word back yet from Polymancer, although there is another assignment I’ve been contacted about. More on that after I fit it into my schedule somewhere. And what’s this? A new Escapist editorial schedule calender? Hot diggity dog, it’s time to flood Jordan’s inbox with more pitches.

I really have no excuse for sitting around bored any time soon. Unless I’m in STO going from one system to the next and waiting for an instance to load. But more on that later.

Works in Progress III: Video Crossroads

Gears

The writing continues apace. I haven’t had another burst of words like last Monday night, but I’m still close to finishing another chapter of Lighthouse. I’ve been commissioned to write a Pathfinder adventure of 8-10k words, which I’m chipping away at with the hope of having something to deliver by the end of the week. Even an introduction would show I’m being diligent about the assignment. With Up arriving today from Netflix, I’ll have two movies to write up reviews for in addition to recording audio. Plus there’s the day job, gaming and spending time with my wife as well as doing chores and preparing for trips to Allentown and Charlottesville. That’s Thanksgiving and my cousin’s wedding, respectively.

However, the deadline of the Escapist Video Contest looms and I’m continuing to struggle with my concept. Or rather concepts. I have two of them now, solid ones I can execute on my own with a minimum of fuss & effort, and there are pros & cons to each concept. Like the Scissor Sisters, however, I can’t decide.

Powerless

The original idea I’d mostly settled upon before my muse fondled me the other day was this: every video there’s a reason the power’s out. It could be a down power line, a water main break shorting out a substation, a flood, zombies, nuclear holocaust, etc. Anyway, without power to run any major gaming console, I’d need to find another way to amuse myself, right? Right. So I’d talk about tabletop games and the like: how Chrononauts works, why all the versions of D&D are still valid, the awesomeness of Arkham Horror, etc. I know Alex Macris would dig it.

I just don’t know how long I could keep coming up with contrived excuses for the lights being out.

Spoiler Warning

So we have Zero Punctuation talking about games in general and Unskippable MST3King every intro cutscene in sight. But nobody so far seems to cover the endings of games, how utterly contrived they can be or how blatantly they expect a sequel to come next. This is something I could do, pointing out little things like bad characterization or stupid plot twists in a John Madden-like fashion, but without the extra 200 pounds.

I don’t think it’s as strong an idea as Powerless, but it might last longer since new games are always coming out. I’d try to give a game a few months before I skewer its ending, of course.

Lock the doors & close the blinds, we’re going for a ride.

If you have any thoughts either way, please share. I’d like to get some/most of the work on one of these out of the way this weekend so I have time to tune it up before the deadline.

Works In Progress II: Electric Boogaloo

Gears

So between items I need to fix for my day job, here’s a few snapshots of things I’d rather be doing with my time this morning.

  • Poor Lighthouse. I keep meaning to bang out more words in that novel but other things keep coming up. It’s only going to be an e-book, sure, but it’s still going to be something of a publishing credit.
  • No word from Fritz on the next book signing for Adventure on a Dare. Apparently the next one’s going to be Cabela’s, where all the sports aficionados can ask him about his canoe and the storm conditions. I’ll be there to sign copies for people and get my name out, which means I’ll need to print more business cards. Provided it hasn’t happened already.
  • I think that IT CAME FROM NETFLIX will, for now, remain a text-based feature. The video I’ll be working on for The Escapist’s Video Contest will instead deal with tabletop gaming. Alexander Macris, co-founder of Themis Group, told me personally that he wants more tabletop content on the Escapist. Days of High Adventure is a good start, and I want to help further the cause of unplugged entertainment. A video series may just do that. If I don’t suck at it.
  • Speaking of the Escapist, I’m still pitching them articles. It’ll be a couple months before I get a final answer, but I want to stay on their radar. Hopefully I’m doing so as a cool person, and not an annoyance.
  • I’m going to continue brainstorming my RPG every Monday. That way it doesn’t consume the rest of my time.
  • Also keeping my eyes peeled for freelance game-writing opportunities. I gotta start somewhere.
  • Still no word on Blood From the Underground vol 2 yet either. You’d think its release would be close to Halloween.

Back to coding I suppose. Web development might not be as glamorous or intellectually stimulating when you’re just fixing up things in a cart for someone selling silverware, but at least it pays the bills. Sort of.

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