Werit had a solid post on Exploration a couple of weeks ago. The thrust of it was that Exploration in an MMO needed to be Interesting and Persistent, and that as a result, procedural generation was not a good option for it. The backdrop is STO and how to integrate exploration into it after pulling the plug on their previous system.
I have to confess I do not agree with this stance. I loved the Exploration system in STO and spent most of my time doing just that. It *felt* like the most Trekky part of the game. I would load my ship up with supplies and head into the unknown clusters. Each point of interest either spawned a shiny in the form of a crafting node, or a mission. Sometimes a planet to explore, sometimes an asteroid base to defend, sometimes a Borg invasion that I had arrive just in time to quell. And sometimes it was no mission at all, but rather aid and diplomacy – passing out industrial replicators or medical aid to a planet in distress.
At the end of the night, I would warp home, my bay emptied of commodities and filled with trinkets and crafting goodies, to receive a commendation from the Admiral. Even the duty officers had tie ins, with special missions to establish colonies and such and even recruit the rare species of that cluster on to the ship. In other words, it was very interesting, at least to me.
Was it persistent? Not in the sense that I could revisit the same planet twice, but then again, how often did they do that in Trek? How many Encounters were there at Far Point? Every episode was something new, and in that sense STO did it right. The point was not to find a new home base, it was to explore new worlds. And those I liked, I took screenshots of, which are what you see in this post.
I have never again visited the AT&T planet, as I called it. But it is persistent – I have a record of my time there, and I still remember the mission. Which is more than I can say for some of the “featured episodes” and definitely more than I can say for any Foundry mission I have ever done.
To me, the real crime was that the system was simply dropped instead of being tuned and made better. How could they have done that? A couple of things.
The first was further tie in with the duty officer system, and in particular the Diplomacy subsection. Colonization and Diplomacy should have been broken out of the duty officer rotation and into its own reputation mechanic, much as they have done with the special Task Forces and New Romulus and so on. And exploring the planets and points of interest in the clusters should have afforded the commendations necessary for those unlocks. Here is where your Ambassador titles and cross-faction immunity buffs come from, as well as special uniform and item unlocks.
The second was to further flesh out some of the missions. The aid missions boiled down to dropping off supplies and a small pat on the back. Commodities, rather than being bought, could have been (and still should be) a crafted item, much as The Old Republic does with its new conquest system. Get enough commodities to the planet, and good things happen. This could even be a long term missions. Many people don’t realize that while the generation of the planet was in some way temporary, it was tied to your mission log. If you kept the mission open and uncompleted, the client/server was able to return you to the same system again and again. If the mission objectives were changed or made long term, you could keep returning to the same system, unlocking new sub goals (as you would in a regular quest) with each step of aid granted. Or perhaps they could be tied to the project system directly in the Reputation system as it exists today.
With some improvements, you have the PvE version of all the damn Reputation grinds that STO is so enamored with these days, all of which center primarily around PvP or required group content.
Instead, unlike other “useless” aspects of Star Trek (like starship interiors) that developers have realized are actually important to subsets of the community (like Roleplayers), and put a little bit of time and effort into improving and strengthening the tie ins with the rest of the game, it was jsut tossed aside, with nothing to take its place. It is mind boggling that any game would simply throw away content, particularly without having a replacement in development, or at the very least, to have an idea of what they eventually wanted to replace it with. It still ranks high on my list of “worst developer moves in an MMO” category of failures.
Would it work for every game? No. But in this game, with this lore, it was a pretty good emulation of what Star Trek is about. Exploration was not only possible, it was truly, for the first time in an MMO, not limited by the creativity of the dev team or artists, while also leaving room for the player to make his mark on things.