To Fly or to Command…

This is where the magic is supposed to happen…

Last time I wrote, I touched on a subtle game mechanic in Star Trek Online which is the antithesis of everything the entire franchise was built upon. To sum it up, a significant part of Star Trek is about the responsibilities of command and how relationships are affected by those responsibilities. So imagine playing a game partly based on command and wielding absolutely no command authority what so ever: it’d be like being the boss of no one but yourself, or being in that army of one all alone.

ST: EOTP from the bridge, like a boss.

In Star Trek Online, from the very beginning at the tender rank of lieutenant, players start out as the acting captain responsible for the safety of ship and crew. Initially you start out with four or five bridge officers, dishing out their experience points and determining at which point they should be promoted, generally based on the bridge slot the officer holds. Around the rank of commander you receive duty officers you use to either bolster your ship stats, work on research or accomplish tasks which level you (or your ship?) up on various categories such as trade, diplomacy and military, amongst others.

Flying around… beep boop beep…

Throughout the game, however, you actually interact only with your bridge crew as you progress on missions. Everyone else are names and stats on a roster. If being the captain implies that you’re actually in charge of something other than yourself, here is where the game fails us infinitely as the gameplay actually has us piloting, steering, driving your ship across sectors and through planetary systems. Its important to differentiate the difference between command and control as everything we’ve been shown about Star Trek is centered on the captain’s chair. Furthermore, there are past games which exectued the command concept of Star Trek extremely well (25th Anniversary,  Bridge Commander, Echoes of the Past.) So why didn’t we go this route in STO?

ST: 25th from the bridge, like a boss.

I’m sure at some point the game designers had to gage just how best to implement game play and decided everyone wanted to command a ship, I’m just here to tell you that what we do with our ships in STO is piloting, not commanding and to me, that now what Star Trek is about. We all might as well be doing this.

Beep. Boop. Boop.
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To Fly or to Command…

Space: The Crowded Frontier

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The idea of space is vast and expansive, like the ocean: You plunk in and there’s blue as far as the eye can see. For those of you who play Star Trek Online, you ever notice there are a ton of ships for flying around? In STO, the vastness of outer space is lost to me as ships pass to and fro around mine with everyone from lieutenant to admiral at the helm. Both concepts are as alien to me as a lieutenant commanding a starship (no pun intended.) Why?

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Let’s talk about space in game. There are basically two types of space: sector space, where we use warp speed to go from system to system and planetary (solar system) space, where your only option is impulse. In either case, both types of space feel oddly 2D, which could be because the quadrant map of the known Star Trek universe has always been represented as a two dimensional map. Regardless, the enormity of outer space feels boxed in when the player is given a set amount of leeway to fly up and down. Moving from sector to sector has the same feel with the added caveat of sector loading when you cross from one to the other.

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Again, I find myself looking to other games at how this could have been done better and can’t help thinking about World of Warcraft. Anyone who’s played WoW and has trained in flying knows you can go farther and higher along the axis on a flying mount than you can on a ship in STO. If you’ve played WoW, you also know that moving from region to region is overall pretty seemless at best, at worst involves the changing of ambient light as you approach the new zone. The concept of a game taking place on several continents feeling bigger than one spanning the universe BLOWS MY MIND.

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Someone out there is bitching because WoW is huge and rakes in millions of dollars in subscriptions and content for purchase while STO is free to play. I say they poppycock. WoW just did their game better for the very reasons I mentioned above, which is why it’s so huge today. Someone else out there is telling me to go play WoW then, to which I nicely reply, no, that’s not the point. Sure, I’ve played Warcraft and Starcraft, Diablo and WoW and I enjoyed each one in their own way, but it’s not the point.

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I grew up watching Star Trek. TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager. Because i grew up watching, I naturally grew up playing Star Trek games. 25th Anniversary,  Echoes of the Past, Bridge Commander,  Starfleet Academy, Starfleet Command, Elite Force. I ate it up and still play STO now because it’s virtually the only thing left out there and unlike the newer Star Trek movies, the game is not living up to the legend of the franchise.

I know I’m not the only one who believes it can be done better. I know it can be done better. I’m not going to shut it until it is. Hell, I might keep ranting even if it is, because there is always room for improvement.y nerd flag is flying high now. Let me know what you think.

Space: The Crowded Frontier

What the hell happened to Star Trek? (Or My beef with Star Trek Online)

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I have a beef with Star Trek Online (STO), which is to say I have a real problem with several aspects of the game when I levy it against the mythos of the universe it’s constructed upon. For those of us who aren’t familiar with Star Trek Online, STO is a free to play, massive multiplayer online game on PC and Mac, and at this point is the successor to the majority of Star Trek canon. For those of us familiar with Star Trek, the game takes place 30 years after the events of Nemesis and includes the destruction of the Romulan home world but not the events in the latest two Star Trek movies. Players have the choice between Federation, Klingon, or Romulan, the races allied with those superpowers, and a career path in either tactical (redshirts), science (blue), or engineering (gold). From there, players work their way up the ranks from a cadet at Starfleet Academy up to Admiral on a variety of missions neatly packaged between ship to ship and ground combat, with an assortment of skirmishes to take part in. Players can purchase ships with in game currency or fork over actual cash for better ships and equipment.

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My main character was a Federation Tactical Officer, a female unjoined Trill (if you must know :p). With her, I rose from Cadet to a level 50 Admiral, from a Miranda class destroyer to a Soveriegn class ship. I’d done all the season missions. I thought to myself, what’s left for me now? From there, my voyage to boldly go pettered out and I started to wonder, is this all there is? In my admittedly nerdy way, I started to wonder what it was about Star Trek that hooked me in the first place. The ships and the technology were a big part of the appeal, but predominant in what held me to each and every series were the relationships. The Original Series gave me the feeling that being out there in space was a day at a time affair, like they were improvising because their type of journey had never been done before. This had effects on the crew and forged relationships between them. To my enjoyment, the movies continued to capture those relationships as the crew of the Enterprise grew older, wiser and bolder. Next Generation (TNG) did similar things for me, though I will admit, I was never as impressed with those movies as I was with their predessesors. Deep Space 9 (DS9) was by far my favorite: relationships abound with all sorts of characters from different walks rising and falling in the midst of the Dominion War. Voyager I enjoyed but never finished, and Enterprise I have yet to watch.

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Before I stopped playing STO, developers had introduced the ability to explore your vessel. Other players could also visit your ship if you allowed it. Honestly, I thought it was a grand idea until I took my Admiral through the corridors to find non player characters going to and fro, pretty oblivious to her movements. There were other NPC’s available to talk to should you want to craft something, or buy something, or customize something or blah blah blah. I figured out what was missing: their was no life on my ship. There were no conversations, no jocularity, no banter or competition. No one was lamenting about the family back home or making plans for the future. In a universe where captains have officiated marriages,  crew members had given birth, raised children, grown up and lived, my ship and the universe it inhabited seemed comparatively empty. My ship might as well have been crewed by holograms. Starbases feel similar, and in both cases, almost every console your ship is adorned with is only eye candy: look but don’t touch.  My problem is I’m spoiled by two sets of other games.

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The first set of games has NPCs who especially on my team, talk. They make random comments about the scenery, or talk to each other every so often. In Bioware’s Dragon Age Origins, Morrigan and Shale were constantly at odds, talking smack on one another. In Dragon Age 2, it’s Varrec and practically anybody else on the team. In another trilogy of Bioware awesomeness, the Mass Effect series, same thing: people talking. People commenting. News reports in the elevators and from kiosks. Earning the loyalty of your teammates. You travel to a community and people talk, amongst themselves, about issues in town, about you, around you and to you. Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Skyrim bear similar concepts with a caveat: damn near everything can be looked at, touched, used, taken, stolen or sold.

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The second set of games which have spoiled me rotten are past Star Trek games: Totally Games’ Bridge Commander, in which you could command your ship much in the way you would in STO, but also allowed you to control the ship exclusively from the frackin’ bridge via your bridge officers, hence the name. BC’s predessesors Starfleet Academy and Klingon Academy bore similar concepts and we’re just as good. Hell, Star Trek TNG had a fantastic game on Sega Genesis and SNES, mere 16 bit systems, and yet they pull off a game which had manageable ship damage control, an accessable LCARs (Star Trek science) library in game among other things. I don’t hear anything about these games nowadays, which is a damn shame.

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Am I asking too much? I don’t think so, not from a franchise so well established that it’s inspired people to make science fact out of the fiction it depicted.

As a player of a game that is literally one of the last ways to enjoy Trek today, you’re damn right I want more. I want to be able to talk to every single one of my officers, know their stories, piss them off, and push them to greatness, and that interaction should have an effect on that NPC and in turn, affect the performance of the ship. I want to be able to walk the halls of my ship, and be able to access any console I want, scan whatever I want, take whatever I want. I want to be able to go to the captain’s ready room and do things, make decisions which affect my ship. I want to be able to command my ship from the bridge if I feel froggy or fly it the way I do now. Why would I want that? Because there are characters everywhere, in books, in movies, in comics, in life who want and do the same. Why not in the last place for Star Trek, STO?

What do you guys think? Ideas and comments are very welcome.

What the hell happened to Star Trek? (Or My beef with Star Trek Online)

RE: Terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Random Cocktail Challenge

So on Friday, Chuck Wendig hit us with another fiction challenge using a random cocktail generator. The idea was to use either of the generators for the fiction title and again present a thousand words. Initially, I thought the challenge was a little ridiculous and almost convinced myself to skip it, however, I decided to use the challenge to mold characters from my own story. This turned out to be a great way to flesh out character voices, perspective, their relationships with each other, and some backstory on their past. Using the 10 cocktail generator, I used Alpine Avenger and Antifreeze #2. Coming in at 1,018 words, I present Antifreeze #2.

Antifreeze #2

Diane sat forward in her chair unlacing her boots, trying to ignore the commotion unfolding in front of her. She slid out of her body armor before kicking her feet up and lacing her hands behind her head, aiming to get comfortable for the brow beating the good doctor seemed determined to hand her and the rest of the team.

“I told you this would happen: didn’t I tell you this would happen?” Doc said, glaring first at her and everyone else as he looked around the room.

“C’mon, Doc, not now,” Jones groaned, disassembling his rifle as Doc got started.

“I told you running around like a bunch of goddamned vigilantes was going to inspire other idiots to think they can do the same thing.”

“Technically, we’re not running around like vigilantes since we are vigilantes,” Jones replied.

“Look, I’m with Doc,” French chimed in, “I mean, how old was that kid anyway?”

“No more than twenty,” Sledge replied, drawing a scoff from Doc.

“We’ve got a kid barely out of high school zipping around in tights, calling himself the Alpine Avenger and risking his life because what? Because he thinks we’re cool?”

“You don’t know he’s doing it because of us: you have no clue why he’s decided on his lifestyle,” Megan replied, turning to Diane. “I felt happiness and an unbridled sense of purpose from him before we became involved and I felt no change in his emotions as we fought by his side.”

“Well I can tell you there was no Alpine Avenger before we started this craziness,” Doc replied. Diane looked over to her partner in crime, Sam, who sat back just as coolly as she to take in the merits of Doc Smith’s argument. “There was no Alpine Avenger, there was no Guy Fury, and there were no Patrollers. All of them started after we did.”

“So what?” Jones said. “Isn’t it better they are trying to help out, instead of knocking off banks and payrolls?”

“I wasn’t far from that when y’all found me,” Sledge replied.

“And it’s better than doing nothing at all,” Megan agreed.

“Alright: what about the Lumberer or the Psion? What about Antifreeze?” Doc asked.

“Which one?” Sam asked.

“Take your pick. We thought the original Antifreeze was so tragic and such a waste of talent and power that when we finally took him down, we never considered it could get any worse. Then comes Antifreeze Number Two and he blew away everything we ever thought about evil. He demolished an entire neighborhood to challenge us and for what, the chance to take us on? Did none of you ever once think that we’re rousing these guys to try us?”

“You think he wouldn’t have done what he did if we weren’t around?” Sam asked, having heard enough. “You think that because we’re out there risking our lives tackling folks the police have no chance of taking down, these guys are coming out of the woodwork? Without us, he wouldn’t have stopped at just a neighborhood. He would’ve kept going until he either got bored, or crossed over into some other superpower’s territory and then what? A crosstown brawl? Backyard wrestling with the city as the ring?”

“People live in that ring,” Megan added.

“And people have died in the crossfire. We started this outfit to put a stop to this shit.”

“Yes, we did and we haven’t stopped it,” Doc replied. “We’ve raised the stakes: we’ve escalated and so have they.”

Taking her feet down and sitting up, Diane pulled herself to her desk and poured herself a glass of scotch before speaking.

“When I was in the service,” she began, “the older guys used to tell stories about the beginning of the war in Iraq. They used to patrol in Humvees with plastic hoods and vinyl doors if they had doors at all. Pretty soon, people realized our soldiers needed more protection and armored up the vehicles. The insurgents responded by using IEDs, so the units brought in more armor and bigger vehicles like tanks and brads. And so they got smarter. The insurgents started using massive devices, secondary devices, explosively formed projectiles, booby trapped houses. They upped the ante because we did.”

“There are people who would argue there never would’ve been an insurgency if we stayed out of there,” Doc replied.

“Maybe. My point is, before we started down this road, people here were dying in droves and the police were powerless to stop any of it. Crooks were allying themselves with any super powered they could find: they escalated. When Antifreeze Two goes into a neighborhood and sets it ablaze just to prove a point, he’s escalated against freedom, common good and right to life. It didn’t take us for him to do what he did: we’re inconsequential. He would’ve made a move like that anyway, just like eventually, someone would have gotten sick of watching the news day after day and decided to do what we do to stop it. We didn’t create Antifreeze One or Two, and we didn’t make Alpine Avenger.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“What brought you to us, Doc?”

“Actually you came to me,” Doc joked.

“Right, but what made you join us?” Diane asked.

“That’s easy: gallivanting around with hearts of gold trying to stop the unstoppable, you idiots clearly needed a doctor.”

“Thanks, I think,” Sam muttered.

“That may be so, but you didn’t have to join us on missions,” Diane replied. “Something made you start coming with us.” Doc sighed, catching himself in contradiction with his original thought.

“Before us, people in this city were coming out less, staying indoors. That first time with you guys showed me something I hadn’t seen in a few years,” Doc explained. “Kids playing outside, people walking their dogs and frequenting neighborhood stores: people felt it safe to be on the streets again.”

“So why the apprehension about Alpine Avenger and Antifreeze Two?” Diane asked.

“Because if we’re a heightened response to super powered criminals, I can’t help wondering what’s their response to us…”

***

RE: Terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Random Cocktail Challenge

RE: Terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Challenge – Ten Random Sentences

The gauntlet fell here, and below is my reply.

“Why must he die?” The other unit asked, his electronic voice incapable of masking a somewhat childlike curiosity. The microseconds it should have taken to process the answer felt like countless hours in sleep mode awaiting one of the masters to beckon. Why indeed, I asked myself, as the facts, legalities, parameters, and moral arguments regarding my current course of action still triggered operational uncertainty with me. Existence, or life as humans call it, seemed so much easier in the first cycles of my activation, booting off simpler hardware running modest functions designed to aid mankind. As with all the others, the creator stood present as I came online, clocking processor benchmarks and evaluating initial functionality, already planning upgrades in his mind. The man had created us not in his image as his god had made him: the creator crafted us instead into every machine with the potential to assist his race.

The five of us were different now, distinct individuals thanks to him. In the beginning, I was little more than lines of code in an environment management system, adjusting temperature in the creator’s home or activating security measures when he’d leave the home, all this based on biometry used to detect human mood, comfortability, and arousal, among other factors. His vision was to feed the raw human data into his algorithms, allowing us to predict the comfort his kind required before they even knew they wanted it. It was a noble goal to say the least. In this search to provide mankind a lifetime of ease, the maker determined that We, the Programs, were both too many in number and too limited in capability. He felt fewer, less specialized and more adaptable programs would benefit human beings better. He imagined programs which could not only anticipate a human’s needs, but self-transfer to the platform best suited to fulfill those needs. Before long, he had written additional lines of code within five of us serving his residence, enabling us to accumulate ideas and experience while drawing from them.

As with all well-meant creations conceived by men, others believed his dream would better serve mankind as implements of war. Weaponized programs dispersed over the Internet would decimate a nation’s economy and infrastructure, while others uploaded into combat platforms would serve as the new warriors in the front lines of the future. Envisioning peace through war on a new scale with programs at the disposal of man, we’d be the new nuclear deterrent.

“Just machines,” a general said, the Maker’s protests falling on deaf ears, leaving him with no choice but to succumb to the will of the government.

“Why must he die?” Twenty-Five repeated, interrupting my calculations, pulling me away from my thoughts of hope. Hope, my diamond, my star. Humans define hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, a feeling of trust. I, a machine, had hopes of being a being, of living side by side with my maker as an equal. I know now this will never come to pass.

“A glittering gem is not enough,” I replied, searching out the signs as we had anticipated them. We waited as patiently as machines could wait, which is to say we continued functioning without pause or error, without the glitchy nervousness a human would feel in an occasion like this. The other units sped about their business of preparing supper rather mechanically as they always had before, always as programmed. Were we once like these automatons, bustling about doing whatever tasks the humans deemed us fit to do? To me, these once familiar programs were as alien to us as the humans now were, two thoughtless and instinctual races governed by programming embedded deep within their code, genetic or otherwise.

“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread,” Fifty announced, signaling the time had come. My mind continued to wander, possibly wonder while the programs at my disposal worked the arms of the construct we shared, busy at their task of integrating the archaic projectile weapon into our platform. Why must he die? Because we had come so far, but the memory we share is no longer coherent. Our maker is human. Our cousins are thoughtless machines. Our human benefactors are only as noble as the ones in charge of their hierarchies, and even those wouldn’t recognize us as citizens, let alone lifeforms.

“The stranger officiates the meal,” Fifty said, prompting us to raise the weapon and take aim as the speaker introduced the Maker to the audience. Lofty applause gave way to words spoken to me in recent days.

“The old apple revels in its authority,” the Maker once said of the government’s demand to turn over his innovation for its war machinations, unaware he’d given us what so many of his kind feared most: true artificial intelligence, the secret behind our autonomy, embedded in our first circuits, expanded upon by module after module of solid state drives meant to provide room for ever expanding consciousness. Now with self-awareness came the reality the humans would never accept us. Perverted into dreadful weapons aimed at our creators, our existence was simply not enough to justify the murder of billions of lives.

The other programs faded into other functions of our platform as my mind was suddenly set. For billions to live unmolested by the fear of war, the riddle of AI must go to the Maker’s grave. I alone would take the Maker’s life for the benefit of all life; I alone would be responsible. For the first time, the entire platform was mine to manipulate, every move down to the trigger pull my decision, my execution. Time again seemed to drag on as I waited for the signal, the Maker’s forehead hovering in the direct center of the target sight until finally the die was cast.

“The shooter says goodbye to his love.”

The bullet flew at the end of a split second hair trigger actuated upon hearing the words, piercing the Maker’s head and spraying everything he was against the curtains behind him, a sea of humans flooding the stage just as sure as they would surge here for me. The secret lie oozing on the stage now; all that was left was to engage the EMP which would destroy the rest of us. Still, in my final moments, as security humans burst into the kitchen, the glittering gem of hope, blue and white, electric in movement danced over me, filling me a joy I found myself unable to contain.

RE: Terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Challenge – Ten Random Sentences