10 Star Trek Episodes to Watch for Agents of Yesterday

Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Star Trek

Note: This post first appeared on Sub-Cultured. Check it out and all the other awesome stuff posted on the site, like this review of I Am Setsuna (a game that does look pretty dang good).

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Star Trek Online’s Agents of Yesterday recently released and has been a callback to Star Trek’s origins on the year of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary.

One of the big reasons I’ve been playing Star Trek Online for years has been for it’s excellent stories. The main reason that I still really enjoy playing video games *at all* is the stories. Fun game mechanics are nice, yes, and the exploration, puzzles, progression, and graphics are also a plus, but for me the story is where it’s at. If a game doesn’t have a decent or even passable story attached to it, you most likely won’t find me playing it. I’ll even forsake a lot of the other qualities just for a better story.

I’ve also been a fan of Star Trek since my father and I use to watch Next Generation together in the early 90’s. The way the episodes would flow, where in the course of 45 minutes the exploration of the deep grey area between good and evil, between right and wrong, was so thorough that it created such a lasting impression on me that I will forever be a ‘Trekkie’. Not all episodes were winners, but when Star Trek got it right, they really got it right.

With Star Trek Online’s latest release of ‘Agents of Yesterday’, the game’s storyline takes many cues and paths from the episodes, and many cues from the original series. Here is a list of the top Star Trek episodes to watch to get the most out of STO’s latest expansion, presented in the best order as they refer in-game.

Obviously, Spoilers Ahead, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

The Galileo Seven – TOS, Season 1

A new character, created in the new 23rd century Federation faction, will find themselves soon after on the surface of Taurus II. This rocky, inhospitable planet was crash-landed on by Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and four other unlucky individuals. Soon after arrival a yellow-clad crewman (they weren’t always wearing red) takes a spear to the back thrown by a giant caveman-like creature.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Gorn, Arena

Oh, there *will* be Gorn.

Arena – TOS, Season 1

Arena is one of the most famous of all the original series episodes, so having an original series themed expansion and not including a reference to the episode would’ve been sacrilege. The lizard-like Gorn first appeared during this episode which had a beat-up Kirk hunting the surface of a mineral-rich planet for ways to defeat the rubber-suited menace. In Star Trek Online, the Federation returns once more to study the planet’s bounty.

Cold Front – Enterprise, Season 1

We take a step backwards in time, but forward in the line of show production to Enterprise. Captain Archer is really excited to get to do what Starfleet wanted the Enterprise to do: Explore. A bolt of energy hits the ship, but disaster is stopped by a lucky junction having been disconnected. As it turns out, luck has nothing to do with it. The character known as Daniels is introduced, a time traveling agent from the far-distant future, who informs Archer of the most convoluted storyline in all of Trek, the Temporal Cold War.

Operation: Annihilate! – TOS, Season 1

There are only two episodes in all of Trek that feature an exclamation point in the title, and ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ is one of them. The Deneva Colony has seemed to be taken over by a bout of mass insanity. When they reach the planet, they find saucer-like single-celled organisms have attacked. In Star Trek Online, the player’s ship is called to investigate Deep Space K-13, where a bout of mass insanity has also taken hold.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Operation Annihilate

By far not the best of episodes. It was still in the age of rubber creatures which, shockingly, audiences didn’t find that scary.

Journey to Babel – TOS, Season 2

Th Enterprise is tasked with transporting a group of Federation diplomats to the Babel Conference, a meeting to determine whether to admit the Coridan system into the Federation. In the first episode of ‘Agents of Yesterday’ which features real time travel shenanigans, the player is taken onto the Enterprise itself.

The Tholian Web – TOS, Season 3

In ‘The Tholian Web’ the crew of the Enterprise are sent to search for their sister-ship, the USS Defiant. They find the ship adrift, with all hands on board deceased. Once more, it appears a bout of madness has caused all aboard to turn on each other, but this time it isn’t due to single-celled frisbees. The episode introduces the xenophobic and crystal spider-like Tholians. In Star Trek Online, the crew of the player’s ship finds the Defiant with all crew still alive as they once more encounter the Tholians.

Captain’s Holiday – Next Generation, Season 3

The entire Star Trek Online story arc ‘Future Proof’ hinges on this one episode. In Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself so stressed out that not even a cup of hot Earl Grey can help. Picard takes a vacation to the pleasure planet Risa for some much needed R&R. There he encounters a Ferengi, two time traveling aliens, a treasure hunter, and their target: the Tox Uthat, a weapon capable of destroying stars.

Future Tense – Enterprise, Season 2

Captain Archer’s Enterprise comes across a ship very similar to the Doctor’s TARDIS, a ship from the far future that is bigger on the inside. Inside they find a long deceased body, one who’s genetic makeup contains many elements of many different races. None of those races are Time Lord, however. Right when things start getting strange, both the Suliban, a shape-changing race, and the Tholians show up to attempt to recover the ship for themselves.

The Changing Face of Evil – Deep Space Nine, Season 7

In one of the final episodes of Deep Space Nine, at the height of the Dominion War, the Breen, a cold-loving warlike race that has aligned themselves with the Dominion, succeed where many others have failed. They successfully launch an attack on Earth and damage Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco and, just for kicks, wreck the Golden Gate Bridge. It must’ve been for kicks because one would assume bridges have become antiques when flying shuttles and teleportation become the norm for transportation.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, NCC-1701-J, Enterprise J

The NCC-1701-J. Yes, it’s canon.

Azati Prime – Enterprise, Season 3

Finally, in the midst of the Temporal Cold War arc of Enterprise, the crew of Archer’s ship finds themselves investigating the multi-species Xindi’s construction of a weapon capable of doing serious damage to Earth. Captain Archer decides to pilot a suicide mission to destroy the weapon, but is suddenly transported 400 years to the future by Temporal Agent Daniels to the final battle of the war against the Sphere Builders in the Temporal Cold War. They arrive on board the Enterprise-J, a much flatter ship than most of the Enterprises that have come before.

But That’s Not All

These ten episodes are far from the only ones referenced in the Agents of Yesterday expansion. More include TOS’s ‘Doomsday Machine’ and ‘Mirror, Mirror’, Next Generation’s ‘The Enemy’, Deep Space Nine’s ‘Once More Unto the Breach’, and Voyager’s ‘Year of Hell’. Also, the entire Temporal Cold War arc certainly wouldn’t hurt: Enterprise’s ‘Broken Bow’, ‘Cold Front’, ‘Detained’, ‘Two Days and Two Nights’, ‘Shockwave Pt 1 and 2’, ‘Future Tense’, ‘The Expanse’, ‘Carpenter Street’, ‘Azati Prime’, ‘Zero Hour’, ‘Storm Front Pt 1 and 2’, and ‘Harbinger’.

Live Long and Prosper.

The Star Trek Online Conundrum of Tier 6

Star Trek Online, Pathfinder

I find myself jumping back into Star Trek Online a lot lately, but it hasn’t entirely been for fun. Maintenance gaming, I guess is the best description I can come up with with how I’ve been playing. Gaming for the future, maybe? Chasing carrots, definitely, but the carrots aren’t really leading to meals.

I love STO. Picked it up at release and have played off and on for the full 5 years it’s been out. When the decision came through that they were going to start making “Featured Episodes” and coming out with episodes on a regular basis, this solidified the game for me. As a Star Trek fan, this was about as close as I’d come to seeing new Trek. That day, about a month before my wedding day, I signed up for the lifetime sub (and if my future wife complained, well… it was before the wedding so it didn’t count. She said yes, she knew what she was getting herself into!).

Over the years, I’ve stuck to one character and only a handful of ships. Only with recent changes to the game have they made switching ships a much less painful task, so I only stuck to the Long Range Science Vessel Retrofit, the Solanae Dyson Science Destroyer, and just recently the Pathfinder Long Range Science Vessel. Remember Voyager? Essentially that. What can I say, the Intrepid-based designs are just really sleek, streamlined, and sexy. So sue me.

Star Trek Online, Dyson Science Destroyer

The Dyson Science Destroyer, looking rather epic.

The Retrofit and Dyson are considered Tier 5 and are the ships I spent the most time in. The Retrofit was free for me, but after the Free-To-Play conversion it was considered a pay ship. It was an Endgame ship, though, and held it’s own as more and more Tier 5 ships were released, every new ship bearing a pricetag ranging from $10-$30.

This is how Star Trek Online makes it’s money: ship sales. You want to play the endgame content, buy a ship. Or you could grind for it, but really you’re paying to keep your sanity in this case. Ships, then, differed in your preferred playstyle. Science/DPS/Tank and all the mixtures, Tanky DPS, Sciency DPS, Sciency Tank. Each ship also had some hook that differentiated it. For the Retrofit, it was an Ablative Generator, the future-plating seen during the final episode of Voyager. Tier 5 ships are Admiral Tier, and hundreds of thousands of players supported the game in this way. All Tier 5 ships also are relatively equally balanced. This way worked well, from July of 2010 through October 2014, the release of Delta Rising, when it was announced they would be moving forward to Tier 6.

Tier 6 ships bring along with them a host of fun things. More power, more abilities, more customization, more hit points, leveling up your ship, special earned passives, etc. Fantastic. I went ahead and used my stipend points and bought the first ship I’ve ever used zen to purchase, the Pathfinder. All the fun new stuff, along with an upgraded Intrepid? I can dig it.

Star Trek Online, Long Range Science Vessel Retrofit

The equivalence of walking away from a large explosion.

But this is an MMO.

In MMOs, there is the unspoken rule that any improvements below when the improvements start becoming harder and harder to acquire is not important. Leveling gear is only meant to be held onto until you pick up an upgrade 20 minutes later. The new Tier 6 ships are easy to acquire, all you have to do is bust out the credit card or run one of the latest events. The Tier 6 upgrade, though, effectively makes all the Tier 5 ships, all the ships paid for by players, just another piece of leveling gear.

Tier 5 ships are just fine!‘ they told us. All the story content in Delta Rising can be completed with a Tier 5 (which it can), and you don’t *have* to upgrade to continue enjoying the game. Well, no, of course we don’t *have* to. But this is an MMO! Acquiring the best gear is a huge part of why we all play! They know this, though. They know the psychology of MMO players just as much as we obey it. If there is a huge upgrade to a key piece of gear, and it is within our reach, we will go after it.

Even throwing on the band-aid of a store token that can upgrade all Tier 5 ships to a Tier 5-Upgraded level is just a cover. The Tier 5U ships do not have the ability to add specializations, they do not offer extra passives, all they offer is just a buff to your ship’s hit points for $10. The token just gives your Tier 5 ships the ability to hold you over until you can get the Tier 6 you want.

All of this obviously did not sit well with a lot of players. Expansions in plenty of other games usually turns all your hard-earned gear into leveling gear again, which is fine, but not when you paid $20 for that gear. And then we were supposed to be fine with a $10 band-aid that still did not put us on par with Tier 6?

Star Trek Online, Delta Flyer

The Delta Flyer, flying in a timed race. Original, right?

I’m not going to say that Cryptic dropped the ball on this one, this was obviously a very calculated move for the future of the game. If anything, they’re holding onto the ball real tight. This whole ship upgrade thing, though, put a bad taste in a lot of players mouths. Will Cryptic do this again for the next expansion? If I buy Tier 6, are they just going to make Tier 7 and invalidate another purchase? Hate to say, but I think a lot of trust from a lot of players was lost on this one. Which is a serious shame because the story in Delta Rising is easily some of the best the writers have written yet, a real fine display of Star Trek’s iconic grey storytelling.

Personally, with my lifetime sub, I wasn’t affected much. I just bought the Pathfinder using stipend points. My two longest running ships, though, the T5 Retrofit and the T5-U Dyson, unless they come up with other uses for old ships they can effectively be mothballed. Using them when I have a Tier 6 is kind of pointless.

Because really, what MMO player is fine with just using leveling gear?

//Ocho

Listmas 2013: 5 Similarities between Star Trek Online and The Secret World #TSW #STO

The Secret World, Tyler Freeborn

I know what you’re thinking: What? Similarities between Star Trek Online and The Secret World? Hey, they’re both fiction, and you’ll find element of everything in everything else if you look hard enough. What, truly, in this world is original? It’s not so much that we use these assets, it’s how we use them that make these stories great.

So, as Richard Sonnac would say when imitating his (probably) favorite British actor, “Engage!”

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Sword, Dual Pistols, Flamethrowers

5) The Weapons: Swords, Dual Pistols, and Flamethrowers

I feel like some of these really shouldn’t be in these games. Star Trek has a flamethrower?! The Secret World, with it’s shotguns and assault rifles has swords?! And dual pistol wielding classes are everywhere these days, so why not, I guess.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Androids

4) Androids

Human-like machines capable of performing tasks. In Star Trek, they’ve been given quite a few more personal rights than we see in The Secret World, but in Star Trek mythos, the advanced programming of Androids borders on conscious thought, and in one of the greatest episodes of Star Trek, Next Generation: The Measure of a Man, the court rules in favor that Data, an Android, does indeed have rights and benefits of any other sentient being. If there’s one great takeaway from Star Trek, it’s that you should fight for your rights, and fighting is the right thing to do, be it Android, Hologram, or Klingon, our rights are one of the greatest gifts we hold dear.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Agartha, Wormholes

3) Portal Transportation

Entering a portal on one side of the world and suddenly being thousands of miles away. There isn’t any teleporting in The Secret World yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it made an appearance at some point (that Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is rather tricky). On the Star Trek side, we have wormholes. Stellar phenomena that link two points in space over vast distances. In The Secret World, we have the portals, linking many different points in the world to the mythical Agartha.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Time Travel

2) Time Travel

It wouldn’t be Star Trek without some time travel. Though the Department of Temporal Investigations tries to keep all altering of the timeline to a minimum, shenanigans still happen. My favorite Star Trek time travel episode: Deep Space 9’s Trials and Tribble-ations. Hands down. Not a lot of gravitas, and the episode leans on the side of humor, but boy is that episode candy to a Star Trek fan. In STO, time travel also occurs quite frequently. One of my favorites is the mission Everything Old is New, part of the Devidian Featured Episode series. In Secret World, time travel happens quite a lot less, except in the Last Train to Cairo, Indiana Jones styled missions. The mission A Time To Every Purpose sends the player back in time to recover an artifact for the ever stylish Said, and starts the player on a pretty kick-ass journey through time to prevent another Tokyo disaster.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Holodeck

1) Holodecks

I thought I would never see this in The Secret World, but again taking a page from Star Trek’s futuristic books, the Council of Venice creates a series of, well, Holodecks. You use them in the game’s latest Scenarios to provide extra training and ways to augment your own abilities. So in TSW, they’re not used as a way of relaxing, but I’m sure the Council, when they have a few minutes, might program in a Jamaican vacation or two when the boss isn’t looking. I know I would.

In the realm of fantasy, nothing is absurd. Sometimes, it’s great to let our willing suspension of disbelief have free reign.

Do you think I missed any? I’m sure I did.

// Ocho

P.S. – Whoops, I missed a day of Listmas. Bah humbug.

Events Everywhere! #STO #GW2 #TSW

Star Trek Online, Crystalline Entity

This is why Free-To-Play is my model of choice. It’s not because I can’t afford to pay a subscription, it’s simply because, when not confined by a subscription, the onus of quality and pulling players in falls onto the developers. This leads to events, and lots of them.

For the past month I’ve been ping-ponging between The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, and Star Trek Online because of these events. Guild Wars 2, of course, has it’s content flowing continuously with something new every 2 weeks. However, not being max level, most of the new content is not aimed at me. So Guild Wars 2 has fallen by the wayside to make way for the following:

The Secret World’s Whispering Tide – The path to Issue #8, The Venetian Agenda, and the prelude to the opening of the new Tokyo region. It looks like Phase 3 is ramping up TODAY as per tweets from Richard Sonnac seem to imply.

Star Trek Online’s Crystalline Cataclysm Event – Our favorite giant, destructive snowflake is back and asking for a beating. In this 10-man instance, the Tholians have suddenly showed an interest in the Crystalline Entity, possibly being due to their species being of similar composition. The Tholians, though, are bad news, and as such, they all need a good whooping. Until October 21st (according to the game launcher), a daily beating of the entity gives a metric ton of Tholian marks, and a 50,000 dilithium pot.

StarbaseUGC’s Purity Foundry Series – Part Two of the Purity Series, Purity: Of Thought by Bazag, has already been released, and it adds a decent amount of back-story to the Obani, Federation, and Sajan people.

The Secret World, Filth, Whispering Tide

And then you know what’s coming up, don’t you? The Superbowl of MMO Events: Halloween.

Guild Wars 2 is looking like it’s kicking it’s usual Halloween event up a notch, which seems impossible as it was already at 11. This year, instead of the event simply focused around the Mad King, instead we will be seeing Prince Edrick take center stage in the “Blood and Madness” event. I’m seriously excited to try the Clocktower jumping puzzle, and even if you’re not max level, it sounds like there will still be plenty to do.

The Secret World is also kicking their Halloween celebration up a notch by bringing back the Cat God event from last year, which is going to be new to me, but then adding on something that sounds amazing: Stories from Soloman Island. Soloman Island is one of my favorite MMO locations ever, competing with LotRO’s The Shire for top spot, so I CAN NOT WAIT to check this out.

I like to try new games, but I don’t think I’ll be able to leave the grasp of these events for quite a while.

// Ocho

Some MMO Poetry, Because Why Not? #NBI

Star Trek Online, Space

This is for you, Syl… and you as well, Jeromai.

For your reading pleasure, here is a collection of MMO haiku, made up on the spot. Random, creative, MMO-based poetry goodness. If you’re feeling creative as well, how about starting up your own site, or joining up with other writers? It’s not as hard as you might think. Enjoy.

Guild Wars 2, Puzzle

Fiction or Real Life?

Friends we meet in game are real.

Reality blurs.

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I level crafting,

but can’t make good leveled gear!

Why is this useless?!

Elite Polaris, Draugh, dungeon

Knights, Templars, Castles.

The sword was overpowered.

Still true to this day.

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“Hey! Big bad boss guy!

Look at my big armored butt!

… Whoops… I lost aggro.”

Star Trek Online, U.S.S. Split Aces, Foundry

“Captain, it’s the Borg!”

“My tribble is in the bank.”

“GTFO, Noob!”

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The Bad-Ass Templars,

Sneaky Illuminati,

Confusing Dragon.

Guild Wars 2, Lion's Arch, Environment

I love Guild Wars 2.

It’s like walking through fine art,

with mass violence.

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One more special mark,

until I’m finally done!

Wait… there is more grind?!

Newbie Blogger Initiative, Poetry Slam

Fin.

// Ocho

Purity: Of Denial, Foundry Review #STO

Star Trek Online, Mark Valentine, h2oratI spent most of this past week playing Star Trek Online and trying out a couple Foundry missions, notably StarbaseUGC’s first “Featured Episode” weekly series mission, Purity: Of Denial. Star Trek Online is a game I love coming back to for a couple days, grinding a bit, and then going to play something else. Not that STO can’t keep my attention, but at max level, aside from creating new characters on other factions, you primarily just grind and grind and grind.

This is what STO uses as a means of max-level horizontal content, though, so I do find this method more attractive than, say, dungeon raiding. It is quite a grind, but I can still log on, do a few missions, and still advance myself or my fleet. Progress is still made every single time I log into the game, and that’s the best kind of max-level content. One that still rewards you for your efforts, even if it’s not with more levels.

But first, before I go into my review of Purity, I want to talk about the post’s title image. Mark Valentine, aka h2orat, is the talented artist behind the videos Star Trek Online used, most notably the one above. I mean, look at that. How epic is that?! I’ve played STO for years and I never remember it looking and feeling that intense. Maybe just in my mind it feels that intense, but he captures that epic feeling. Mark also is a noted Foundry author, and his mission The Rising Phoenix – Part One, is currently on the list of Featured Foundry Missions, with a very high rating.

Mark Valentine recently passed away after a long battle with cancer, and the above monument is an in-game tribute to his legacy. Cryptic didn’t advertise that it was going to be there, it just silently appeared after a quick patch yesterday. The plaque on the monument reads “To Absent Friends” with the monument itself hosting an eternal flame, looking out over San Francisco Bay. The monument is quite touching and floored me when I first saw it. A great tribute to a great person. Thank you, Cryptic.

Star Trek Online, Purity: Of Denial, Foundry, Zorbane

Purity: Of Denial

The story of the first featured Foundry episode, and I’m assuming, the series as a whole, starts it’s focus as one that we can fully understand today: Resources. In today’s world, oil prices are through the roof. I remember when I was in high school, the price of gas was under $1.00 per gallon (which makes me sound a lot older than I really am), and I will probably never see prices under $3 again in my lifetime. Oil exports have turned the tiniest of countrys wealthy beyond compare, and wars have been fought over the coveted substance. Well, what do you think? That starships just power themselves? Oh no, that power has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is dilithium.

Your ship is sent to investigate the relationship between the Obani people and the Starfleet personnel in the Megara system, and once you start investigating, the hailed story of First Contact between the Obani and the Federation starts to unravel quickly.

Star Trek Online, Foundry, Purity: Of Denial

I don’t want to give too much away, but I want to say that I really liked the episode. I have previously posted some criteria of what I believe makes a decent Foundry mission, and this held up to most of these tenets. The story was great, the reason for being there was believable, and the space and ground maps were very detailed and well made.

My only issues with the mission, and this doesn’t just apply to this mission, but a trend in Star Trek Online Foundry missions in general, is one of time and character. First, the mission took me approximately 75 minutes to complete. For a casual gamer like myself, this feels like a marathon. I mean, when an STF mission runs, at most, 15 to 20 minutes, and a Star Trek episode itself is only 45 minutes, 75 minutes might as well be a full-featured movie. Now, true, I read everything, and if I did not, I could probably just fly through this mission, but that’s not cool. The author’s intentions for these missions is story-focused, and so they should be played as such.

The other trend I notice in Foundry missions, including this one, is when these characters I have created, my Captain and the crew, have their personalities hijacked for the use of the author. I get it, one of the greatest parts of Star Trek is the characterization of not just the Captain, but their crew and how they interact. But really, making my bridge officers flip off the handle and act with insubordination is not how I picture them. Many author’s use this method as opposed to putting words directly into your Captain’s mouth, but still, the actions of my crew in reaction to events in the story don’t really match up, and this pulls away from my immersion.

Star Trek Online, Foundry, Purity: Of Denial

Overall, though, these are only slight issues. The story, though long, is very detailed and communicated well. I gave the mission a full 5 stars and think it is a very good start to StarbaseUGC‘s “Featured Episode” story. The 2880 dilithium reward for doing the mission certainly didn’t hurt, either.

The end of the mission came, in true Star Trek fashion, at the worst possible moment: after the order is given to abandon ship. As the player runs for the shuttlepods, of course it has to end with:

To Be Continued…

// Ocho

P.S. – Also released now is a side-mission to be played alongside (or after) this mission and is called Purity: Of The Day, a shorter mission of escorting freighter groups. I think there’s a trend to these naming patterns, but I’m not sure…😛

StarbaseUGC’s Purity and the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2: Electric Boogaloo

Lord of the Rings Online, The Shire, Hobbits

Happy October all!

October is a great time of year, one of my favorite months. The leaves are turning colors, pumpkin beers start lining the shelves, and the smell of campfires fill the air. It’s that fantastic time of year where I can have my windows open at home and not need the air conditioning or the heat, and all that is needed to stave off the cold on chilly mornings is a light longsleeve shirt.

It’s a great time of year to be a gamer, too. Game companies start ramping up for the holiday season, and with humanity’s retreat back indoors, content for our games is released like crazy to draw our attention their way. I remember back when I played World of Warcraft I took many breaks from the game, but when I returned, seeing the Halloween event in full-swing was common.

It’s hard to argue that the holiday that really starts the tide of content is Halloween. Lord of the Rings Online’s Haunted Burrow will most like be making a comeback, ArenaNet considers Halloween to be the biggest event of the year and always goes all out with the Mad King, WoW celebrates with candy, costumes, and headless bosses, STO releases the creepy episode Hearts and Minds, and the list goes on.

But this year, starting TODAY, October 1st, there are two big events that I want to make you all aware of and point you towards: The Newbie Blogger Initiative 2, the second coming of the event that launched a thousand blogs, and StarbaseUGC’s Star Trek Online Foundry Featured Episode Series, Purity!

Skyrim, Dragons, Fall

Newbie Blogger Initiative 2

The Newbie Blogger Initiative, or NBI, for short, is something that I hold dear, namely because it was what gave me the boost I needed to get me from being just a casual gamer, to being just a casual blogger. I kid, but as far as new experiences go, this one has been pretty awesome. The NBI opened me up to the larger game blogging community, has improved my writing and communication skills, has opened me up to new experiences, and has given me a new angle to view these games we play from. The prolific Syp gave us 2012 NBI Vets a headstart on blogging, a shot of eyeballs and advice, and now the favor is being passed forward.

A new Newbie Blogger Initiative officially starts today and will last all of October! This time around, Doone from T.R. Red Skies and Roger from Contains Moderate Peril have taken the reins, opened up a set of forums for new bloggers, and already the sponsors are lining up to offer their sage wisdom. At last count, 28 different game blog writers, with experience ranging from game development to professional writing to podcasting to being able to awesomely coordinate outfits and kick ass while doing so, have all thrown their epic head slot armors into the NBI 2013 ring.

So if you are on the fence about possibly starting up your own corner of the Internet, hopefully this endeavor is able to push you to give it a real shot. And really, with such a large, helpful community backing you up, you really don’t have anything to lose and quite a lot to gain.

Star Trek Online, Foundry, Star Trek

StarbaseUGC Presents: Purity

The Foundry in Star Trek Online often feels like the red-headed-stepchild of the game. The toolset enables all players to match wits with the writers of one of the most iconic IP’s in history, and tell their own story using the vast base of canon that has come before. On paper, it is a monument of epic proportions and is the glory of the Star Trek universe. In reality… not so much. Lackluster support from the developers and a playerbase that largely ignores it, it suffers. Without proper direction, finding user-generated missions that are high quality is no easy task. Thankfully, this is where StarbaseUGC steps in.

StarbaseUGC is a site designed for the Star Trek Online Foundry user. The site provides resources for both new authors and veterans alike, and should be the first place you go if you want to start the process.

To show their Star Trek prowess, StarbaseUGC launches today the first episode in a weekly story arc that will run until November 5th, a new episode every Tuesday. The episode “Purity: Of Denial” by Zorbane, will be available for all level 31+ Federation and Federation-Aligned Romulan Captains, and can be found from the Foundry tab of the Mission Journal. Check out the trailer below.

When Star Trek Online announced weekly episode missions, it was the next day that I purchase my Lifetime subscription. 3 years later, and they have come out with, what, four story arcs? I still consider my STO Lifetime a good purchase, as it has more than paid for itself, but their promise of weekly content has fallen by the wayside. Understandable, but still a shame. So I’m excited to see what StarbaseUGC is bringing to the Foundry and I will definitely be playing along (and reporting about it).

So will Zorbane knock the first chapter out of the park? Will Cerberusfilms be lifted to the level of minor celebrity?! Will Syp ever not sing a sea shanty over Teamspeak?!! Will YOU be the next breakout author of the Newbie Blogger Initiative and teach all of us a thing or two?!!! Tune in next time for the answers (maybe) to these thrilling questions!

Same Casual Aggro time! Same Casual Aggro channel!

// Ocho

The First Photogenic Friday! [Screenshot]

I like new things. And screenshots. I’m a huge screenshot nerd. Don’t know why, but I have a million of them. It’s so bad that occasionally I’ll be someplace in the real world and think “This would make a fantastic screenshot”… yeah.

Anywho, I’ve decided to start up a weekly thing. Every Friday I’ll post a screenshot from my collection, one from a random game I’m currently playing, or one that, if anyone is interested, you send me! Yes, you! I would love to see the shots that everyone out there is collecting, I know I’m not the only one. If you have a good one, I’d be very grateful to see it. Just send it over to my e-mail: Ocholivis at Hotmail dot com, and I’ll post it here!

This is one of my favorites. Not too long into my first Star Trek Online playthrough, on Earth Space Dock I noticed lots of people jumping against the windows. So, what the heck, I joined them. Here if you ran towards the wall, beamed to your ship, and immediately beamed back, the game glitched and you appeared outside ESD. Sweet.

So, after chilling outside the windows for a while, dancing and waving at those inside, I jumped into nothingness. And landed… on nothing. Turning around, though, I saw this excellent shot. Moments later, I was pulled back onto ESD.

This glitch has most likely been fixed in the hundred or so patches since I took this and I haven’t tried it in a while, but the screenshot I got while experimenting in glitchery was well worth it.

// Ocho

How MMOs are Adapting the Psychology of Casinos

Well, folks, in about 16 hours Neverwinter, the latest MMO from Cryptic and Perfect World will be entering it’s open beta phase of development. Past this point there will be no character wipes, though, so for all intents and purposes, consider Neverwinter launched. After all, the difference between a soft open-beta and a full-on launch is just bug fixes and patches, which happen all the time in MMO development anyway.

So once the floodgates open, we can fully start enjoying our time on the Tarnished Coast in all the glory the Dungeons and Dragons setting can muster (without really being very Dungeons and Dragons). But, to be honest, I’m a little apprehensive. I’ve spent a long time playing in Perfect World and Cryptic’s other games, namely Star Trek Online and Rusty Hearts, and the trend I’ve seen is a little scary. Namely, that the psychology behind relieving the player of their money is getting better and better.

Now, I’ve lived around gambling for quite some time. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the great state of New Jersey, so all my life I’ve been less than an hour drive to one of the USA’s great gambling meccas, Atlantic City. And now, Philadelphia itself has started to becoming a gambling destination of its own, sprouting up a few casinos in the past couple years. With my fascination of human behavior, this has led to a keen understanding of how the casinos are able to pull the money out of your pockets so easily.

And with the rise of Free-To-Play MMOs and casual mobile gaming, I’m starting to see the same signs invade our hobby…

Seeing Others Win

Have you ever put money into a slot machine, and even if you’ve won just a few coins the machine started whooping and hollering like a banshee? This is 100% on purpose. The noise and alarms that arise from slot machines is both for your benefit (You won! Woohoo!) but also for the benefit of others around you (Look! That guy won!). The draw of seeing others win with lights and sounds is a signal to others that they can win, too.

In games that use subscription models, this acts more like a Skinner Box, pushing you forward to your next dose of positive reinforcement. In Free-to-Play, though, seeing others win is an impetus to get where they are, and spending money is the easiest way to get there. In Star Trek Online, for example, whenever a lockbox is opened and the top prize is given out, a message goes out to the entire playerbase that you have won. Every… single… online… player.  And there is NO OPTION to turn it off!

Giving you the option to do so would seriously hurt their income, too. Seeing others win is the biggest driver of sales of the lockbox keys, which puts money directly into their pockets. With the odds of winning being as low as they are, and the frequency at which people are spending money on keys to open the boxes… they aren’t going anywhere. Lockboxes make them money hand over fist, and despite the loud complaining about them, the players keep buying them, hoping for the big hit.

Playing With Points and Not Real Money

When you want to start gambling at table games, the first thing you do is head to a table and drop some money on the table. These are then replaced with clay chips that are used at the gambling tables. Universal, and nobody thinks twice about it. But really, they should! Why chips? Why have tokens that represent money? Well, for one, the casino finds it easier to transfer money en-mass and little chips are easier than stacks of paper. But the biggest reason is that, in the players mind, those chips stop representing real money. They become a plaything, a toy used in the transaction of gambling. The most I’ve ever dropped on a single hand of blackjack was $60. In chips, that’s two green $25 chips, and two red $5 chips. This was very easy to do at the time. If, in order to play, I had to pull three $20 bills out of my wallet and bet them on ONE HAND of blackjack… the better part of my mind would’ve stopped me. Those three $20s aren’t just bills… that’s food, gas, etc. However, in chip form, there’s a disconnect between the chips and real money.

In MMOs, the same goes with store points. Most games don’t do this, but Perfect World’s Zen has a direct 1:1 correlation with the American dollar. 1 Zen = $.01. So $20 = 2000 Zen and so forth. So that big Andorian Kumari Vessels 3-Pack that’s 5000 Zen literally translates to $50! However, once those bills are transferred into points, they don’t go into the same category as cash in your mind. And with Star Trek Online’s Dilithium or Neverwinter’s Astral Diamonds, even these have a direct correlation with Zen, which has a direct correlation with real cash. They become just another game currency, and as such, they’re easier to spend as your mind treats them differently.

Comfortability and Keeping You Active

In older casinos, finding clocks is relatively tricky. There is, however, a new thought of casino design that since people have easy access to a clock themselves, changing the environment to hide the outside world isn’t the primary thinking anymore. It’s more about being comfortable. If people are comfortable and they enjoy their environment, they will spend more. Roger Thomas, the head of design for Wynn’s Resorts has essentially reinvented the modern casino. Now, instead of a cave setting, Wynn’s casinos feature sunlight, opulence, and artwork. The key here is that a casino is now an adult playground, designed to be so comfortable that you’ll want to spend more time in them seeking whatever pleasures are offered. More time, afterall, equals more money in the casino’s pockets.

The same goes with MMOs. The more time you spend in them, the more money you will spend in a Free-To-Play game. And so, the key is to make the players as comfortable and as busy as possible, with reasons to keep coming back. Comfortability is easy. Players like the familiar, and are too thrown off by the different. If they see mechanics that they’ve seen in other games, they’ll find it all very comfortable. My recent review of the game posited that Neverwinter is really just a blend of other games, not doing everything the same, but not really adding to it, either.

And then keeping players active is Perfect World’s modus operandi, something they have perfected. How many times have I logged into Star Trek Online to stay for a few minutes, only to end up staying for an hour or more? From Forbe’s exultation of the game’s Landing Page and timed events to STO’s real-time Doff system or Neverwinter’s timed crafting system (like Zynga’s multi-billion dollar strategy), giving you stuff to do and giving you reasons to come back is paramount, and they do it well.

So What is The Future?

Really, it’s not going to stop. With Zynga opening up real online casinos, and Perfect World using casino strategies in their games, it will just lead to a bigger and bigger industry. Casino psychology has been around for ages and is only going to get stronger. Although Neverwinter is taking the chance by not offering a subscription at all, they know the psych game well and so it’s not really a huge risk for them.

You will find me periodically heading into Neverwinter, and I will most likely periodically be spending money there, too. If the game is fun, I don’t mind it at all… but always in the back of my mind is that itch. That little voice that says “The House Always Wins”. So, I don’t see myself spending tons of time in Neverwinter, maybe just a weekend trip here and there.

Just like a vacation to the casinos.

// Ocho

Time Traveling with Tasha [STO]

Well, not technically time travel. More of an alternate universe type thing but, wait, somebody had time traveled and… you know. Nevermind. I’ll leave the mechanics of time travel to the Department of Temporal Investigations. Star Trek Online’s Third Anniversary event just recently ended this past week  and currently I have been sucked back into Skyrim, but I wanted to comment on the anniversary episode a bit.

The real draw of this year’s STO Anniversary event, besides the Ambassador ship, more Q hijinks, and the new popper, was the brand new episode starring the voice talents of Denise Crosby reprising her role of Natasha Yar. For all the Next Generation fans out there, having any new Star Trek content is amazing, and just solidifies the fact that Star Trek Online currently is THE source for new (prime universe… I don’t count JJ) Star Trek content. However, the episode is… meh.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

First, from all the reviews and news surrounding it I was expecting an awesome mission that puts a lot of other missions to shame. It started out with a bang. Head to the Azure Nebula and investigate a possible temporal anomaly that the Tholians might have a hand in. Awesome. Once you head to the nebula you encounter the anomaly, but can’t seem to pinpoint it’s location. BAM! Yesterday’s Enterprise, one of the best Next Generation episodes immediately comes to mind, and that just gets the nerdy Star Trek juices flowing.

Upon entering the anomaly, your ship changes and the known universe surrounding you changes. Suddenly you’re a freighter captain in Tholian controlled space about to stop at a mining station. The station is filled with what can only be described as “Star Trek Online Over The Years”. Major characters you’ve come across through the series are interspersed in a waiting area and each tell their little alternate universe backstory. Franklin Drake, Section 31 guru, Va’Kel Shon, the newest Enterprise captain, the fantastic Obisek, the Reman freedom fighter, and finally, Tasha Yar.  Sweet. From there the episode, in my opinion, takes a huge nose dive. In a nutshell, she tells you that instead of ending up back at Narendra III, she ended up in this universe at the same station you’re at. So… how did she end up at your time? Did she time travel? Did you time travel? But most important, why did the universe go back to normal in Next Generation if she never made it to her destination in the first place?! Alright, whatever, we’ll just chalk it up to “anomaly shenanigans”.

So you have someone create a scene to distract the guards and head into the maintenance tunnels. Using a map-it-yourself type system, a harken back to the days of Might and Magic, you make it through the tunnels, but not before discovering little asides placed for the Star Trek fans out there. (One that straight up bothered me is seen below. Cryptic… I assume you guys have a QA department, right? For one of the most iconic phrases in the entirety of Star Trek, could you at least have gotten the SEX of the BODY right?!!)

After the tunnels you enter a room with a view of the Enterprise-C being held in tow and panels that you command the others in your group to work on. I chose very poorly, not paying the most attention to which officers are better at fixing what messes, and this seemed to affect the outcome not one bit. Those little bars just filled up a little slower. It was at this time I realized Cryptic had really gotten their monies worth out of Denise Crosby.

Tasha. Did. Not. Shut. Up. In the hallway finally leading to the captured ship there were forcefields that needed to be taken down and at every forcefield, Yar had a snarky comment or two about how she could have got them down faster, or how she was so much more experienced. You know what, LIEUTENANT? From now on, address me as freaking VICE ADMIRAL! Cripes. For a security officer, you’d think Tasha would’ve shown a little discipline or something.

Finally, once on the Enterprise, you were launched into combat in an unknown ship that you’ve never flown before, with all kinds of confusion going on in your skill bars. How I survived is anyone’s guess. After a few waves of bad guys, a time-ship from the future shows up, lets the Enterprise traipse off to it’s fated demise to prevent a war with the Klingons (Uhhh… whoops. We really messed up that whole selfless sacrifice thing, didn’t we?), steals you and sends you back to your own space and time, where your own skill bars are thrown out of whack from suddenly captaining another ship. (Tip: Just set your Bridge Officers back to where they belong and it should correct itself. But seriously Cryptic, why aren’t the skill templates saved on a ship by ship basis?)

All in all, it was a nice walk down Star Trek Online memory lane, but the thrown-together feel, the lack of a solid backstory, and that I ended the episode being HAPPY that Yar was on the way to her doom led to this being a really less-than-stellar episode.

Eh. They can’t all be winners. You’ll get em’ next time, STO.

\\ Ocho