Star Trek Online, Early Review

My history with Star Trek Online started way before their first beta. When it was announced, I created an account hoping I would get a beta key when it started. I got a key indeed, but it was (and still is) a Windows only game and I wasn’t in the mood to do a Boot Camp just to play a game when World of Warcraft was playing fine on OS X.

The story would end there if it wasn’t for an offer appearing on my Steam window after playing Terraria. The game was now being offered at US$ 3.75 and, since I now have a Windows partition (just to play games), I decided to finally check it.

Installation

Not that many people take notice of the install process, but I kinda felt there was something wrong when the Steam installer said it would need “10.000 Mb”. I mean, such round number seems someone really didn’t care how much space it takes; it was just someone saying “Meh, just make it 10Gb” instead of doing their job and checking how much space the game really uses.

With 20Gb free, there went the installer. Downloading 5.5Gb. Compressed around 50%? What a damn compression they have there, huh? Toping at 300kbp/s, it took a whole afternoon to download the thing. Rift, on the other hand, have to download 8.5Gb, but it goes up to 1.1mbp/s, giving me a playable game in around 2 hours.

After the download completed, the launcher appeared: A complete white screen with “Wait, loading…” Again, another sign that something was wrong: A launcher that looks like crap. After a while, a somewhat decent launcher appeared, asking login and password. The only reason I can think of for such awful thing is that the launcher is, actually, an HTML that needs to be downloaded from the server — or maybe they never heard of parallel programming or threads. Also, another sign of things going bad: pressing Enter after entering your password does not work; you must click the “Signin” button. After all that, the launcher pointed that “there was a problem with my account”, the problem being I didn’t had the game in my Atari account.

The launcher will launch the launcher when the launcher launchs

I got the keys from the Steam launcher, which kept popping their damn overlays all over my Firefox all the time telling me to add the keys to my game account in every chance it could. After a while, I got really fed up, copied the key to the clipboard and set it to go away and never come back.

Adding the key to the Atari account was as easy as you could imagine: You log in on your account, point that you want to add a key, paste the key, done. After that I thought I could finally play the game.

Not so fast. After the key was there and the “problems” with my account were solved, the game decided it needed patching. Another 4.5Gb download. And yet another sign something was wrong. I mean, if suddenly your patch is almost the same size of your initial download, maybe it’s time to redo your initial package install, as downloading large amounts of data only delays the experience for new players — which is something you’re trying to get selling your game at US$ 3.75. After a whole afternoon just trying to get it run, I gave up and went to bed.

Next day, new surprises: This time, the Steam launcher sent a 2.5Gb patch to the game. At first I thought it was the remaining of the previous day patch, but after it completed, the launcher went into patch mode again. Again, no amazing speeds.

The game

After the whole downloading was done and gone, I could finally see something that assembled a real game instead of a flash, in-browser game.

Captain, who you want to be today?

There is nothing fancy about the character creation screen: You have a character list, a create character button… Which gives access to Federation characters, and an option to create klingon characters, although you first need to unlock them (how is not explained). One thing you can notice there is that you can rename your character using Atari Tokens. Lots of content is available through those tokens, which you can buy with real money in the Atari Store and use on whatever games Atari have. My account had about 500 Atari Tokens and a rename costs around 180, if my memory doesn’t fail.

After you create your character, you’re greeted with him/her standing in the lounge of a ship.

Future captain Thor, of the U.S.S. Asgaard (believe it or not, I did manage to create such character)

The first thing you’ll notice is how cramped the screen looks. And how bad the graphics look. There is a reason for that: Apparently, STO is not capable of getting your current resolution, so it defaults to 1024×768, which is not my monitor native screen resolution. It took me a while to realize that was the problem and not that the game actually looks that bad ’cause… well, ’cause I didn’t had to change a game resolution for ages. World of Warcraft starts in the right resolution, Portal 2 starts with the right resolution, Rift starts with the right resolution. STO starts with whatever resolution the developers feel like.

Also, disregard the yellow bar right in the middle of the screen. To take screenshots on a MacBook Pro, the key combo it kinda messy like Shift+Fn+Alt+F11. In the game, Shift gives you a running speed, which can only be kept for a while, indicated by the yellow bar. Since I was pressing the Shift key, even without doing any movement, my “run power” was running out.

The first thing you learn is how to interact with your surroundings.

Aaannndd.... ACTION!

The action in itself is good and bad at the same time: Once you get close to anything you can interact, a popup appears asking what you want to do with it (most of the time, there is only one action, though). It’s good ’cause it helps to find what you need to interact to continue. It’s bad ’cause it’s a freaking box that pops up right in the middle of your screen and there is no way to dismiss or move it. It may not look so bad here, but once you’re in warp space (I will get there, don’t worry), near a solar system, trying to find the next point you need to go to complete a mission and the damn box is right in the middle of the screen, covering whatever you have there, including the names of the solar systems — even the one you’re trying to find — you just want the thing to blow up and die horrible in a fire.

One of the things I like is the ground combat. It is not that different from combat from Rift or WoW, but it gives a bit more stuff, like “couching”, which increases your damage, resistance but reduces your movement speed. And that’s basically it, but it gives a bit of a different taste to this game compared to the other MMORPGs. Everything else is the same: Move with WASD, use the right button to select a direction with your mouse, move the camera with your left mouse button… pretty standard movement.

Yeah babe, shoot that borg! Shoot that borg good!

You have access to a map but… Meh. It does it’s job but there is nothing impressive. The first times I looked at it, I couldn’t figure out if there was a waypoint to my quest or not. It took me a while to realize that there was a circle and the “i” pointing to the direction. “Oh, you dumb”, you must be thinking. Well, there is this: First, the starting zoom doesn’t take the zone with your waypoint. Second, if the waypoint is out of screen due the zoom, there is no indication about that. Third, even when the waypoint is in the screen, it doesn’t blink or have a higher contrast to get your attention. If you’re not used to it, it just looks like another element in the whatever you are.

Damn, Google Maps in the 25th century looks really bad.

As you progress through your missions, you get equipment that can be attached to your character, to your team or to your ship. The interface is basically the same.

This goes... here!

The game changes the borders to where the piece can’t go in red, with low contrast again, which doesn’t get that clear that the piece can’t go there. If the places where the equipment would go in, say, bright cyan, the location would be much much easier to find.

Once you complete the ground missions you get your first ship. And that’s where the game falls flat on its ass.

Space Movemento and Combat

Space! Spaaace! I'm in space! SPAAAAACE!

Knowing how the other Star Trek games handle space movement (I had one for the PSP), I knew I’d be steering a cow in molasses. What I wasn’t expecting is that they would put such stupid restrictions in space like having a fake horizon, not allowing your ship to pitch up or down more than 45 degrees and make the ship “center” on the horizon every time. I played EVE 2 or 3 years before this game was released and they didn’t had an horizon, which gives a better illusion that you’re flying in space, not on Earth.

Not only that but, in space, you have to use your keys to control your ship. Oh, you can use your mouse, yes: Left clicking select a target, right clicking select a target and both keys let you move your ship — and your camera. There is no way, with mouse, to move your ship still looking for your target.

It may not sound that bad at first, but when you’re fighting 3 destroyers, twice the size of your ship and you want to change the side of your ship to face them, allowing your shields to regenerate, it becomes simply impossible to do. Either you have to use the damn keys or you’re fucked.

Not only the game takes you to that route, but warp is, actually, just another space. “Data, set destination to Wolf 359, Warp 0”. And then there is the damn action window popping when you just got into “warp space” and you’re looking for the damn system you need to go to complete your missions.

Once you complete the incredible easy starting missions — one single ship destroying borg drone ships? One guy with a single phaser killing borg drones with just 2 shots? — you get to the star base, which have a pretty crowded parking zone, you can customize your ship a bit.

Piece A connects to piece B...

The design options are a bit limited for starting ships, but you can get more stuff once you reach the rank of rear admiral — or so it seems, as most of the content you can buy with your Atari Tokens is for rear admirals. How long it takes to reach that rank is unknown to me: After playing for about 2 hours, all I could reach was the rank of “Lieutenant”, which is around level 3.

Also, as I mentioned before, you can get more crew for your ship, with a tactical officer, a science officer and a engineering officer. As your own character you can customize them.

Don't even try to make a hottie like Beverly Crusher. It's impossible.

Some settings are just weird to watch them in effect. For example, changing the torso length and seeing it happen in real time actually looks like someone is stretching them, almost breaking their spines. Ugh.

Stretch the torso, freak out and throw up.

Glitches Galore

In just one hour of play time, I managed to get increasingly annoyed by some small glitches.

For example, just because you’re an admiral, it doesn’t mean you should stand up on your chair.

"I'm an Admiral! I was fighting the borg even before you were born, kid! I can stand up wherever I want!"

And then there is the little to no differentiation between NPCs and players. Because you can customize the hell out of your appearance, including your uniform — and not counting the uniforms and races you can buy with those Atari Tokens — and they used that same thing for NPCs, you are never sure who is a player and who is a NPC. I mean, come on, wouldn’t a star base at least have a dressing conduct or something?

One of those 3 in front of me is a player? Can you spot it?

And then there is the quest order you need to keep doing for NPCs to talk to you. For example, because I didn’t talk with the admiral first (actually, I did, but I had to talk to him again to complete the previous quest), I couldn’t talk to the NPC I needed to, even with the quest objective appearing right in front of me.

Commander Samuel Winters doesn't give a shit about your objectives.

I understand that those are small issues, but it keeps piling up and that is just the starting quests.

Curious Aspects

One thing that really caught my eye was the user content. Yes, users can create quests and such, which is rated by the users.

Spirits! In spaaaace!

There is only one thing: Because the content is created and rated by users, some… conventions are completely ignored. Or maybe the game simply doesn’t understand that people from different countries can be playing the same content.

Gespenster! Im weeeeeeeltraum!

Opinion

Honestly, although I call myself a trekkie and such, for US$ 15 per month, I’d prefer play Rift. Or even go back to WoW. But the game feels half-finished, even after a whole year after release. If it was cheaper, like US$ 3.99 per month or free to play — which could happen, as they have the whole C-Store and Atari Tokens — I’d seriously consider it. But, again, it feels half finished, some sequences are real killers and the price is too high for it.

EPTC “sempre” presente?

Ontem no Pretinho Básico foi lida no ar uma mensagem de um ouvinte falando sobre a última Massa Crítica, que fechou uma das ruas de Porto Alegre em protesto, como acontece em toda última sexta-feira do mês. Segundo o ouvinte, ele ficou no telefone por 3 minutos tentando falar com a EPTC sem sucesso. O pessoal do Pretinho nem soube dizer exatamente de quem seria a responsabilidade de colocar batedores e coordenar a passeata. Foi quando algum “responsável” (e coloco em aspas de propósito) enviou uma mensagem dizendo que sim, a EPTC é a responsável por colocar batedores e coordenar e sempre se faz presente quando avisada. E só isso.

Primeiro, esse “responsável” (novamente, entre aspas) não disse coisa alguma sobre se a EPTC foi avisada ou não. Deixou pendente no ar. Segundo, sequer tocou no caso do ouvinte ter ficado três minutos esperando para falar com alguém, sem sucesso. E não vou entrar em detalhes sobre vários participantes do Massa Crítica falando que, quando a foi EPTC avisada, no protesto posterior ao atropelamento de participantes na Lima e Silva, os batedores passaram boa parte de tempo andando na contra-mão e sobre a calçada.

Também consideremos o seguinte: A EPTC está sempre presente no crusamento da Plínio com a Carlos Gomes no horário de pico, quando vários carros passam o sinal amarelo, não permitindo que pedestres possam crusar a faixa de segurança quando o sinal deles está verde? A ETPC está presente na Dom Pedro II domingo de manhá, quando vários carros passam a noite estacionados em lugar proibido? A EPTC está presente na Dom Pedro II, próximo ao bar Santa Mônica, no sábado a noite, quando a faixa da direita é feita de estacionamento por flanelinhas? A EPTC está presente no crusamento da Cristovão Colombo, Benjamin Constant e Quintino Bocaúva para multar os “espertinhos” que utilizam a faixa da esquerda, destinada a quem quer entrar na Benjamin e sequem na Cristovão? A resposta para todas estas perguntas é um grande e sonoro “não”.

Sabe onde a EPTC se faz presente? No estacionamento irregular sobre a faixa de pedestres na Carlos Gomes próximo a Furriel. Na troca de sinaleira da Cel. Aparício Borges com Oscar Pereira, as 8:30h da manhã, no horário de pico. Na demora de 3 horas da ligação para o serviço deles e a chegada de uma viatura para organizar um estacionamento irregular numa rua sem saída como a Carvalho Monteiro. E, principalmente, no caos generalizado que é o trânsito de Porto Alegre.

(E os eventos acima citados são apenas os que eu vi pessoalmente. Ouço histórias um pouco piores que estas dos meus colegas e amigos, mas não vou ficar no diz-que-diz-que.)

É muito fácil enviar um texto passivo-agressivo dizendo apenas “quando avistados, estamos presentes”. Não tão fácil é ter uma engenharia de trânsito capaz de trabalhar com a velocidade com que os carros são introduzidos na cidade. Não é tão fácil se fazer presente, multar e, principalmente, educar o trˆnsito desta cidade. Obviamente, escolhe-se apenas o que é mais fácil e ignora-se o que realmente deve ser feito.

Muitos poderiam dizer que a falta de educação e respeito as leis de trânsito da cidade são um sintoma maior de um problema cultural do país. Sim e não. A simples falta de respeito as leis poderia ser facilmente corrigida com fiscalização, parte que a EPTC simplesmente se recusa a fazer. Se existe uma lei, mas ela não é fiscalizada, esta lei não existe de fato.

Não estou, aqui, defendendo a Massa Crítica por ter fechado uma rua próxima a hospitais. Estou aqui, veementemente, criticando a EPTC por sua postura arrogante e total incompetência em gerir o trânsito desta cidade, como evidenciados pelos fatos acima.

Rift, Early Review

Recently, I decided to try Trion Rift, a new MMO in the block. I haven’t had the time to explore the game at its full, but I saw enough to write some words about it.

My experience with Rift started with a free weekend — which Trion seems to be spreading around, just keep an eye around and you can get a free weekend of play too — but after playing it for 2 days and reaching the level cap (of 15 out of the 50 in the full version), I decided to get the game and its free 30 day included, after getting tired of World of Warcraft.

Comparing Rift with World of Warcraft is kinda obvious and somewhat “forced”: First, World of Warcraft is the largest MMORPG around, with 12 million subscribers[1] and it’s called the behemoth to be bested; Second, Trion used phrases like “You are not in Azeroth anymore” in some ads — Azeroth being the world of World of Warcraft.

So, let’s start comparing with the similar stuff: First, as any RPG, either single player or multi-player, you play character that, by completing quests and killing enemies, earn “experience”, which accumulate till you get enough experience to reach another level, giving access to more powerful attacks and abilities, which let you fight bigger enemies, do harder quests, to get more experience to reach another level. When you level up, your abilities are not set in stone, so you can customize your character in a way that fits more your game play. As in World of Warcraft (and EverQuest before it), there are three roles a player can take:

  • A “tank”, who should draw the attention of the enemies and take the blows while his/her friends take care of killing the enemies. For that, a tank have special abilities to mitigate or avoid damage taken, sacrificing damage done in the process
  • A “healer”, which should heal the group when they take damage and
  • A damage-dealer, which is responsible for killing the enemies before they can kill either the tank or the healer.

At first, Rift seems like the RPG with the least options of game style: There are only 4 classes you can chose to play: Warrior, Mage, Cleric and Rogue, compared with the 10 classes World of Warcraft offers. Even Diablo 2 (which is not a MMORPG, but includes RPG elements) without the later expansion came with 5 classes (the number goes up to 7 with the expansion).

But of those 4 classes, 3 of them can be tanks and 2 of them can be healers (and another one, although with very limited capabilities), which is pretty close to World of Warcraft numbers: of all 10, 4 can be tanks and 4 can be healers and 4 can be only damage dealers. This is accomplished by a confusing (at first) mechanic called “Souls”: In the Rift universe, players actually “tap” in the souls of old heroes, giving them different abilities to complete their tasks (of saving the universe, obviously). For example, a Rogue can, instead of fighting in melee range, chose a Soul that uses bow or gun and get a pet and fight as in World of Warcraft is the hunter class; a cleric, although just wearing mail (the second hardest armor type, behind plate), can chose a Soul that increases defenses and become a tank; a mage can take a Soul that instead of dealing a lot of damage, actually heals the party.

Although the range of possibilities is huge, the game keeps things nice and tied: First, each class have a base mechanic and keeps it no matter the chosen souls; Second, gear is constant no matter the chosen souls. For class mechanics, except for clerics, you have some sort of “stacking points”, with abilities that increase this count and others that use those points, increasing the damage: Warriors have attack points (stacking up to 3 points), rogues have combo points (stacking up to 5 points) and mages have charge (stacking up to 100). No matter what soul you pick, the base class mechanic still remains, meaning you don’t have to relearn the class when you decide to try something different. Also, gear is constant for the classes: Even clerics that decide to tank, requiring more Endurance (hit points) and melee attack power (most of cleric gear have spell power) get that from abilities, so the cleric can tank, heal or deal damage without requiring a new set of gear — in World of Warcraft, “hybrids” (the name classes that can do all 3 roles get) need a complete different set of gear when changing roles: A paladin tank needs a complete different gear when switching from tank to healer, leading to continuously running the same content over and over again, just to get the right gear. Obviously, this is easy to accomplish in Rift, with only 4 classes and each class with a different gear type: Warriors always wear plate, Clerics always wear mail, Rogues always wear leather and Mages always wear cloth.

Rifts is another thing that Rift have that World of Warcraft doesn’t: They are random events, which can spawn at any time. Basically, they are special points in the map, with special enemies, which give special tokens that can be traded with better gear once defeated. They also spawn what it’s called “Invasions”, which are basically small groups of enemies that will march to some player “safe base” and try to destroy it. To help players help themselves, the game create “public groups” once two or more players are close to one of those two, and newcomers are presented with a “join public group” option right on the top of their screen. This creates a feeling of “we are fighting for this” which brings players together. Unfortunately, once the players kill all the enemies, the group is not disbanded, which means, if you’re not paying any attention, you may run up around with a group of people without even noticing it.

Those events break the monotony of running around doing quests like “kill 10 of those guys” over and over again — which is a problem with most Rift quests and that World of Warcraft solved in the latest expansion with something that Total Biscuit called “magic wand quest”: Instead of mindlessly killing 10 of those guys, you get a special item (like a magical wand) that turns them into something else. It adds a little flavour to the quest, even if, in the end, you’re still just killing 10 of those guys.

Also related with Rifts are world events, eventually one “demi-boss” will get bored and decide to ruin the puny players questing and rift closing. This will spawn a lot of rifts all over the place, with a dozen of more invasions, which require the players to group up and fight to defend it while taking rifts and invasions down. Once a certain number of those are taken down, the demi-boss will show up himself/herself and players must, again, group up and fight it, which will give the players more powerful tokens.

But not everything in the garden smells like roses. As I mentioned, quests are really repetitive and lack some imagination. The scenery makes up a bit for it, but doesn’t solve that the basic mechanic of most quests is “go there and kill 10 of those guys”. Also, PvP (player versus player) speed is really slow. Either you’re ambushed by someone with a DPS so high you can barely see them or, when you join the warfronts — areas created specially for PvP, with objetives and such — the rhythm is so slow you feel like you’d either survive it or just die. There is no frantic pushing buttons, calling your survival abilities to get out of it like in World of Warcraft, killing any adrenalin rush you could get. Simply, there is none.

Overall, the game is prettier than World of Warcraft, still have some issues like repetitive quests and out of rhythm PvP, but one must also remember that World of Warcraft is 6.5 years old and that Rift is out for about 3 months only and, thus, a lot can still change while Trion polishes the game.

[1] Some people buy two or more World of Warcraft accounts and play more than once character at the same time, so it doesn’t mean there are 12 million players.