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Development continues on one of the most anticipated MMOs

Developing and testing a video game is hard work, with some of the biggest games employing dozens or even hundreds of testers to report programming bugs during a beta testing program. The task is made even harder by Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, which generally function in an open world with millions of variables on dozens of servers. Sometimes problems don't crop up until stress testing is conducted through software algorithms or real players going through the game.

For this reason, most MMOs today employ a beta program that is open to the public. Star Trek Online continued that trend with developer Cryptic Studios and its own beta program. Things started off with a Closed Beta on October 22 last year that was limited to several thousand players in order to find and fix the most common critical bugs. STO transitioned from Closed Beta to Open Beta on January 12, and recently ended the Open Beta program on January 26.

Most video games today ship with multiple bugs, as a consequence of the strict deadlines in the industry. Ship dates for games are set months in advance, and developers and publishers can face hefty penalties for missing those dates. As a result, many games ship with bugs that are fixed with patches or expansion packs. This may save a company millions, but also means that customer satisfaction could take a setback amongst influential early adopters.

MMOs, on the other hand, typically go through a process of continual improvement, not only on the server side, but on the user's client side as well. A subscription model allows for permanent staff to work on game play optimization for usage models that are unanticipated. Certain levels or scenarios may grow more popular over time, or exploits developed that must be closed.

DailyTech tried out Star Trek Online during the Open Beta period, and noticed a marked improvement in gameplay during the two week period. Load times and the number of critical bugs decreased during this time, even with the number of players growing constantly. Publisher Atari gave away over 100,000 Open Beta keys to its partners, such as NVIDIA and gaming websites. Over half a million bug reports were generated by the end of Open Beta through the in-game bug reporting system.

However, there are multiple bugs that still exist. Not all of these are critical, but do affect game play. One bug that kept popping up was during the transition from a ground environment to the space environment. The player's avatar is supposed to change from a humanoid to a space ship, but sometimes it doesn’t quite happen (see picture).

There are also some problems with Mission Rewards, in which a Bridge Officer or in-game item is supposed to be added to a player's inventory but isn't. In many cases it is just a matter of players not looking in the right place, but this is an issue that we have personally witnessed. In some cases, Bridge Officers with the wrong ability set are added instead.

Perhaps the most critical bug left is with the in-game cursor, which was completely invisible when I first started playing the game. I had to switch to a windowed mode and select a software cursor in the troubleshooting settings. This is a problem that has still not been fixed in the company's Head Start program, which allows customers who have pre-ordered the game to begin playing ahead of Tuesday's official launch.

Pre-orders are an important way for a company to gauge interest in a game. If a game is doing well before launch, a company may decide to purchase additional servers in order to meet anticipated demand. Most game developers bear a large upfront cost for game development over several years, and often don’t want to invest too much in hardware in case a game isn't as successful as hoped.

Unfortunately, the interest in Star Trek Online seems to have caught Cryptic off-guard, despite the fan base of several hundred million people. The company announced that it was ordering new servers during Open Beta, but dropped connections are still quite common. There are often problems logging in, retrieving characters, and loading maps. STO servers have been down for "emergency maintenance" at least a dozen times during the last week as more gamers have started playing.

The good news is that it means the company is working on it, and there have been several client patches to address numerous issues. We often forget that even the mighty World of Warcraft had numerous bugs at launch, and it took months to fix the most glaring bugs. Ultimately, long-term subscribers will wait it out, but others who are watching may not have the patience.

Update Feb 3:

We have received the following from Cryptic Studios:"We just wanted to update you on our in-game server capacity status. Throughout Head Start we noticed the overwhelming response to the game and we are working on changes to further increase the number of people who can play Star Trek Online at any given time. Our current plan is to have these changes in place sometime this coming weekend. We will, of course, keep you updated on progress as it happens".

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You sure it's a bug?
By amanojaku on 2/1/2010 5:51:22 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe that guy in space is a Q, and that cloud of gas is, well... :-D

RE: You sure it's a bug?
By Reclaimer77 on 2/1/2010 5:57:18 PM , Rating: 3
maybe when you cloak your ship, there's a bug that shows you sitting in the captains chair ? lol..

RE: You sure it's a bug?
By amanojaku on 2/1/2010 7:02:45 PM , Rating: 5
Klingon Captain: Where has the Federation Ship hidden?!?
Klingon Gunner: Sir! Sensors detecting an energy signature off the starboard bow!
Klingon Captain: On screen now!
Klingon Gunner: Captain! It's the rumored weapon Starfleet weapon! Janeway in the "chair"!
Klingon Captain: Ugh! Quickly! Raise optical shields now!
Klingon Gunner: Sir!!! I am detecting several brown torpedos!!!
Klingon Captain: Today is NOT a good day to die!!!

RE: You sure it's a bug?
By Reclaimer77 on 2/1/2010 7:51:22 PM , Rating: 2
AHAHAH. +6 for you good sir.

RE: You sure it's a bug?
By Reclaimer77 on 2/3/2010 10:28:47 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, to get rated to 0 for telling someone he made a good joke ?? There must be some bitter sad individuals here with a grudge..

RE: You sure it's a bug?
By bug77 on 2/2/2010 6:24:26 AM , Rating: 2
And mandatory:

Scotty: She's givin' all she's got capt'n.

RE: You sure it's a bug?
By Gyres01 on 2/2/2010 11:22:21 AM , Rating: 4
oh and....Dammit Jim I am a doctor not an IT specialist...

So how is this game?
By Chaser on 2/3/2010 6:17:48 AM , Rating: 2
So those of you that are playing: Does it capture the Trek universe in detail? Is it fun? Immersive? Or is it really WoW in space?

RE: So how is this game?
By The0ne on 2/3/2010 9:43:46 AM , Rating: 3
From the youtube videos, fun doesn't seem like the word for it. Shrug.

RE: So how is this game?
By Jansen on 2/3/2010 10:36:40 AM , Rating: 2
I'm still having fun with it, despite the bugs. There's a lot of content down the road as well, according to the developers.

It is a bit too targeted at the casual crowd, and there is a bit too much of a focus on combat. I'm pretty certain that there'll be a free trail down the line as the add more capacity, but they can barely support the people who've pre-ordered as it is.

RE: So how is this game?
By kattanna on 2/3/2010 10:55:33 AM , Rating: 3
i played in open beta and was completely unimpressed.

i had the opposite bug happen to me, where when i beamed down to the surface, i appeared as my ship on the ground instead of my trill person.

also had the issue with away party members not beaming down with me.

but aside from that, it was all very linear. i'll admit it was all beginner stuff, but there was no feeling of exploration and completely combat oriented. so while it might make an ok space MMO, i did not feel like i was in a star trek universe.

star trek has always had combat, but that was never its only goal.

also, you simply jump from one instance to another. there is no open space exploration.

RE: So how is this game?
By geddarkstorm on 2/3/2010 1:40:48 PM , Rating: 2
i had the opposite bug happen to me, where when i beamed down to the surface, i appeared as my ship on the ground instead of my trill person.

That's hilarious XD. I hope you got a screen cap or video capture!

RE: So how is this game?
By Screwballl on 2/3/2010 11:17:50 AM , Rating: 2
it is WoW in space, nothing more.... which that may help with the initial sales and word of mouth but I give it 6 months until it dies a horrible death and people all over complain about the "lifetime" membership they paid...

RE: So how is this game?
By Gul Westfale on 2/4/2010 5:56:53 PM , Rating: 1
it's fun, all action so far, and none of the boring crap of WoW or other MMOs. it was obviously rushed out the door (my klingon ship has starfleet bridge officers, for example), but it's the first MMo that i've played since planetside that hasn't bored me to death within one hour. if you like space games, buy it; if you like trek, buy it.

RE: So how is this game?
By 325hhee on 2/5/2010 3:48:12 PM , Rating: 2
It's very redundant. You're on ship, you're in combat, you're on the ground you're in combat. There is virtually no crafting or downtime to chat and BS with other players, everything is an instance, there is no meeting place like 10 Forward.

I'm a Star Trek fan, and was very hopeful for this game, but it turns out to be a big let down. If I wanted constant action without any downtime, I'd play an RTS of FPS game. This game is really lacking in the MMO aspect, even though I end up with instances with people, I don't feel like I'm in a world, I feel like I'm a Red Shirt that just got beamed into danger with some other poor hapless Red Shirt.

The biggest problem is, there is no real community, there is no real socializing, it's just instance combat over and over again.

The game looks nice, and it's fun the first time, but as I said, it becomes redundant. I'm glad I didn't hope on the life time account, when my 30 days are done so am I. This is just Champions Online with a Star Trek skin.

Going down
By microAmp on 2/2/2010 7:47:15 PM , Rating: 3
Only one way this game could go down faster is to put Deanna Troi at the helm...

RE: Going down
By Gul Westfale on 2/4/2010 5:58:36 PM , Rating: 2
down? server stability and loading times have improved markedly since beta, and the number of players since launch is incredible. and i wouldn't mind deanna "cleavage" troi at my helm :)

RE: Going down
By dgingeri on 2/5/2010 11:37:02 AM , Rating: 2
Have you seen her lately? She hasn't aged well. She's still a fairly handsome woman, but she looks markedly older.

RE: Going down
By JediJeb on 2/8/2010 1:58:54 PM , Rating: 2
Well she did survive a bout with cancer, so I think she is doing pretty well considering.

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