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Star Trek Online’s newest expansion launches today, and the massively multiplayer online gaming is hoping to use nostalgia to bring fans into its game world.
Agents of Yesterday celebrates the 50th anniversary of the franchise by adding ships, characters, and more from the Original Series era. Previously, Star Trek Online was set in a post-Voyager era, so it had more in common with that show, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine than the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and crew. This expansion will not only give current fans of the free-to-play MMO content to enjoy, but it could bring in new or relapsed players (including those who try the console version when it launches later this year). The expansion is also available for free.
GamesBeat interviewed Star Trek Online executive producer Stephen Ricossa. We discussed the decision to go to the Original Series, creating an experience friendly to new players, and if that new Star Trek show will impact the MMO’s future.
GamesBeat: Why would this expansion entice old players like me to return?
Stephen Ricossa: This expansion offers a new playable starting experience. That’s a great way to get back into the game. You can start from scratch with all the other people who are starting there as temporal agents. You can experience the temporal agent story, as well as all our other stories that we’ve had over the six and a half years the game has been live. You can run through and play the Original Series stuff. You get bits of that temporal story throughout that experience, and then you close out a significant number of episodes with a big finale for this expansion. Tons of story content in there for you.
If you haven’t ever played, or haven’t played in a long time, there are tons of reputations for in-game, a ton of fleet system expansions, a bunch of new systems, crafting, admiralty. There’s so much stuff. It’s a very big MMO at this point as far as content and systems go.
GamesBeat: All of this Original Series stuff obviously takes place in the past. How do you shift that and the timeline of the base game?
Ricossa: You start off in the Original Series. Then, during your run as a captain in that Original Series, you get recruited by temporal agent Daniels, who’s from Enterprise. He’s recruiting as you some weird things are happening in the Original Series era. They need temporal agents from that era. At one point in the story you go to a battle he tells you not to go to and you get stuck fighting Klingons who’ve sprung a trap. Your ship and you hold off the Klingons as the rest of the Federation fleet escapes. You‘re recorded as lost. Your ship, your crew, all recorded as dead, and Daniel brings you into the Star Trek Online era and says, you can’t go back, so now you’re in this era as a temporal agent.
GamesBeat: Is the temporal agent starting area the only beginning point going now? Or are the old starting areas still available?
Ricossa: Absolutely. You can still play the standard Federation tutorial, the standard Klingon tutorial, the standard Romulan tutorial from scratch. You can log in and pick any of those four.
GamesBeat: Was this a conscious decision, to do something for the Original Series to coincide with the 50th anniversary?
Ricossa: Absolutely. It’s something we planned a couple of years ago. We like to plan our stories well in advance. We looked and saw, okay, the 50th is coming up, we should do something with the Original Series. We built our stories and timelines and schedules toward hitting that objective.
GamesBeat: Was that fun? A lot of what you’re doing is maybe geared toward The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine era. Doing something a bit more nostalgic must have been a nice change of pace.
Ricossa: Yeah, it was fantastic. It was great going through and building out all of the props and the enemies. Going through and watching the episodes and picking things out to make sure we hit all those moments. It was a great experience, finding a way to capture the feeling of the Original Series, playing through that ‘60s era. With our film-grain filters and all the new props and making all the bad guys — how far do we make it look like a guy in a rubber suit for the Gorn? It was definitely cool.
GamesBeat: Star Trek Online has been out for a while now. When did the game launch again?
Ricossa: 2010. We’re at six and a half years.
GamesBeat: That’s a healthy life cycle for an MMO. What do you attribute that longevity to?
Ricossa: There’s a few factors. It’s the strength of the IP. People love Star Trek. They want to get their Trek fix. It’s our respect for that IP, making sure that we’re fitting within — everything we do feels like it would happen in Star Trek. I think it has to do with how much we listen to our community. When the game originally shipped, there wasn’t enough to play, not enough content, not enough this, not enough that. After six and a half years, we’ve addressed nearly every complaint anyone could have about what’s in our game. There’s always more things to add, more things to get in there, but we have a breadth and depth of content that we never could have shipped with, and that most games can’t achieve unless they’re out for this amount of time.
GamesBeat: How has the MMO space changed since you launched?
Ricossa: It’s changed in a few ways. You have more MMOs coming out than you used to see way back, but it’s hit or miss on whether or not they’ll stick around. For a long time, for maybe 10 years, you’d see RPG mechanics appearing in shooters, or RPG mechanics appearing in other games in general, games that didn’t traditionally have them.
Now you’re starting to see some MMO-style mechanics in more traditional genres. For example, Destiny or The Division. You’re seeing a shooter with RPG mechanics that’s also grabbing some MMO mechanics. I feel like that’s an interesting turn in the last couple of years.
GamesBeat: Is your player base Star Trek fans, or MMO players who found their way into the Star Trek universe?
Ricossa: I’d say most of our players are Star Trek fans. But we do have some that are just big MMO or sci-fi fans.
GamesBeat: When you’re doing all the Original Series stuff, are you trying to do a lot of callbacks to things fan would recognize, or are you trying to do new things with the setting?
Ricossa: Callbacks everywhere, all over the place. We have an episode where you’ll go back in time during an episode taking place on the Enterprise. You’ll be trying to stay out of view, the just-off-camera thing. One of our episodes is based on a story that was told on Deep Space Nine by one of the Klingons that was in that Original Series era, talking about this great trap he sprung on the Federation. We built that into an episode. So yeah, you’ll definitely be seeing familiar places, familiar names, familiar enemies. Definitely getting that nostalgia going.
GamesBeat: Can you still use some of these ships in the modern era, the classic ships?
Ricossa: We have kind of future versions of these ships. You can put the Original Series costumes on them. We’re kind of saying that when they’re working in that future era, the guts of the ship are future tech, but the exterior is your classic starship.
GamesBeat: So you figured your way out of that plot hole.
Ricossa: Sure. You’re a temporal agent. You have to have your James Bond car, your Aston Martin with the machine guns. That’s your little TOS ship full of future tech.
GamesBeat: You said you did a lot of research. What was that process like?
Ricossa: Most of us have seen every episode, so we were going through and doing a rewatch and refreshing ourselves. Typically it’s picking and choosing a few episodes, but almost everyone on the team did a full rewatch of the Original Series. It was very cool for the team, kind of something we can bond over. Not just burning through at home, getting through as many episodes as you can in the night.
GamesBeat: It seems like recently, the expansions have been based around a particular show. The last one, Dealta Rising, was a Voyager-based expansion. Now this one focuses on the Original Series. Is that a trend you think will continue?
Ricossa: Yeah, I think it’s a smart move on our part. It lets us focus the story, but also lets us focus the assets around one era. We can also focus on the actors we’ll get for doing voice-over work.
GamesBeat: I saw that you got some of the Original Series actors to work on the expansion.
Ricossa: That’s correct. We have Walter Koenig, who played Chekov. We have Chris Doohan, the son of James Doohan, who plays Scotty. And then we have Chase Masterson coming in playing Admiral Leeta , the mirror Leeta from the mirror universe. She’s in a few scenes. We have Matt Winston, who played Agent Daniels on Enterprise. And then we have Joseph Gatt, from the Abrams movies. We’re bringing stuff from those movies into the game for the first time.
GamesBeat: How does the Abrams timeline fit in?
Ricossa: It’s not too hard to justify. It’s very cool storylines, very interesting props and ships. It was exciting for us to get right into that. It’s something we looked into 10 or so months before we began work on the expansion and we were able to get approval from CBS and Paramount. That was great.
GamesBeat: What do you think is the main thing your fans want from an expansion?
Ricossa: It’s all of the above. It’s new stories for sure, with new actors they can play with in new episodes. New content to engage in outside of stories. We have the temporal agent recruitment system. We have the temporal primary specialization. We’ve got the reputations. There’s a lot going on in this expansion.
GamesBeat: We know another Star Trek show is coming up. Is that something they let you guys know about, in case you want to use that in the game, or are you as in the dark as all of us are?
Ricossa: They’re not telling us all the details, but we’re probably not in as much dark as everyone else. We’ve been talking with CBS and we’ll have more talks as the year goes on. That way we can get more detailed information. We’re definitely going to get in on the new show.
GamesBeat: You have so much stuff you could possibly pull from when making an MMO. It’s a property that gives you a lot to look into. Do you have a lot of debates about what the next expansion should be? Or was it obvious that you wanted to do the Original Series?
Ricossa: It was definitely obvious that we should do the Original Series because of the 50th anniversary. But which episodes were going to be represented, that’s where the debates took place. “I love this one, I love that one.”
GamesBeat: Do you have a favorite?
Ricossa: I do. I really like “The Arena.” I think that’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a classic. After the tutorial that’s actually the very first episode.
GamesBeat: Do you think this has enough content for fans of The Next Generation and beyond?
Ricossa: Absolutely. The story is a temporal story, right? So if you create a new character the first half is all TOS, but then you start bouncing around through all different eras. Future, past, present, all over the place. There’s enough for everyone in there.
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