Cryptic Games is celebrating 5 years of Star Trek Online and we scored some time with Lead Developer Stephen Ricossa to reflect on the half decade and the changes in game along the way.
Magicman (MM): For our readers that may not know, can you introduce yourself and give a sneak peek behind what you do for STO daily?
Stephen Ricossa (SR): My name is Steve Ricossa and I’m the lead producer for Star Trek Online. In addition to producing the systems and content teams, I also oversee development as a whole and make sure everything is running smoothly on the live server as well as with future updates.
MM: As we close in on the game’s 5th anniversary, looking back, the transition to a F2P model may have been one of the biggest moves for the game. Still up and running now, the transition has to be viewed as a success. How has that single big change revamped the longevity of STO?
SR: The transition to free-to-play was huge for Star Trek Online, as most people that played before the change can definitely attest. The barrier to entry was completely removed and we were able to reach far more gamers and Star Trek fans that had yet to check us out. The result was significantly more people playing the game, populating the world and engaging with one another, which is incredibly helpful to the longevity of any online game.
MM: The Star Trek shows and movies influence game development obviously. Even minor show references appear in game in some cases. How does the team and Cryptic decide what little nods and species and such from the show make it into the game?
SR: In general, we have an idea of where we want to go or where we want to be with the story. For example, with Delta Rising we knew we wanted to go through the Delta Quadrant and cover the aftermath of Voyager’s journey home. Everyone on the team had little stories they wanted to create, or references they wanted to get into the game. As we sat in story meetings we covered the main story beats we wanted to hit and spoke in general about the minor ones as well. The content team, along with our writer Christine Thompson, adds the references that came up in the meetings along with any small nods they really want to make on their own. Weaving the STO story into the narrative for popular episodes is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of working on STO, and it’s something everyone on the team looks forward to.
MM: Can you talk about some of the major system changes over the years and how they’ve improved the game as a whole?
SR: If we’re actually going back five full years the number of new major systems and system overhauls is pretty impressive. We’ve added the entire fleet system with four holdings, an endgame reputation system with six full reputations, the duty officer system, the Foundry, our weekend and seasonal events, featured episode series, the entire Romulan faction, created a Klingon tutorial, and completely revamped the Federation tutorial. Each change had its own impact on the game, and as a whole they’ve drastically improved the quality and depth of the game.
MM: Delta Rising recently launched. What has been the feedback from players on the content?
SR: The reception to the episodic content for Delta Rising has been incredibly positive. We’re telling a really engaging story with five cast members from Voyager, and made certain each aspect of the story, as well as each character, had their time to shine. The content in Delta Rising represents some of the finest we’ve ever created in STO and we look forward to continuing that trend.
MM: What was it like getting some of the Voyager cast to reprise their roles in game?
SR: When we began planning for Delta Rising we knew we had to get voice actors from Voyager to really make the expansion complete. The leads sat down and we came up with a list of actors we wanted to get based on the stories we were telling, knowing that due to one reason or another we probably wouldn’t be able to sign all of them. Well the list of actors that provided voice for Delta Rising is the exact list we pulled together nearly six months ahead of the development for the expansion itself! It’s incredibly rare to get exactly what you want, and it was exciting to see we were able to work with the actors and make it happen. Even more exciting than that was actually hearing them reprise their roles during recording. Everyone on the team would take a couple of minutes to go listen by the door to hear the actors as they recorded, and then were even more excited once the voice was added to the episodes. It was an amazing experience as a developer and a Star Trek fan to work so closely with these actors, and it’s a part of our cycles that we always look forward to.
MM: What can we expect from STO as we move through 2015?
SR: We have an exciting slate of stories and systems scheduled for 2015 that we’ll definitely be discussing as the year continues.
MM: Final question, I know you work on a Star Trek game, but, honestly, Star Trek or Star Wars?
SR: This is a pretty tough choice for me as I’m really omnivorous when it comes to my sci-fi franchises, my love for one doesn’t really result in hate for another. I’ve enjoyed both ever since I was a kid and I feel like I can’t win no matter which choice I make. I don’t believe in a no-win scenario, so I’m going to have to pull a Kirk and pick both as my favorite.
Our thanks to Stephen for spending some time with us and here’s to 5 more years of Star Trek Online.