Star Trek Online: The search for better music

Last week when I was griping about a few of Star Trek Online’s worst features, my sour opinion on the game’s music seemed to hit a chord with at least a few readers. I know my Battle Bards co-host Steff disagrees with me — she seems to like this OST, although I suspect it’s mostly for a couple signature tracks — but honestly I’m surprised how irritating and non-Star Trek most of these pieces are.

While I hate to turn off the soundtrack in an MMO, preferring to let the game present itself to me in its fully intended glory, I haven’t been able to listen to STO’s music for years now. Any time I come back, the music is always deactivated, and I provide my own score for the stars.

What I’ve been doing as of late is substituting the music from the Star Trek series and movies, and I have to say that it works remarkably well. In particular, Ron Jones’ TNG soundtracks transform this game with their very unique and memorable qualities. Berman reportedly disliked how much attention Jones’ music was getting, and Jones was let go after TNG season 4. That’s a shame, because most of the rest of the music from that show was pretty generic and forgettable. His stuff? Still well worth listening to today, even if it is totally synth 80s, through and through.

I took this approach with Star Wars: The Old Republic, too. SWTOR’s soundtrack isn’t bad (and I quite like the newer stuff, to tell the truth), but when it got a little dour, repetitive, or lengthy, I would switch over to a playlist that used the movie music as a perfect substitute.

Star Trek simply deserves great music. The franchise has seen some masterpieces (Star Trek’s I, II, III, VI, Ron Jones’ work, the theme songs), but it’s not as consistently great as it should be. Likewise, the game needs killer audio to go with its gorgeous visuals. I’ve put three screenshots from recent adventures in this post, and you can tell that this game is not lacking in those cinematic vistas. Bad music or no music at all detracts from it, while stirring symphonies transform these adventures into unforgettable experiences.

It’s probably just a pipe dream to hope that Cryptic will bring on board a composer(s) who would do this game justice at this point. Kevin Manthei has his strengths, but he is not suited for MMORPG composition at all. Maybe one day, STO will sound as good as it looks. Until then, my substitutions will have to suffice.

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6 things Star Trek Online does poorly

Now that I’m back in Star Trek Online and spending a lot of time going back through the storylines and building up a new ship, I’m convinced all over again that this MMORPG has really become a gem in the industry. I know it gets some flak for its lockboxes and cash shop, but honestly it doesn’t bother me that much or seem that prohibitive. There are so many great aspects of the game, yet I cannot help but see six areas that definitely need improvement.

Let’s gripe!

1. Cutscene glitches and lip syncing

Star Trek Online gets a lot of points in my book for going to great lengths to secure the actual actors from the show and for doing a whole lot of voice acting (in fact, I would say that STO has the most voice acting by the original cast of any IP-related MMO ever made, unless I’m forgetting a glaring oversight). Yet it often squanders that with abysmal lip syncing and visual glitches during cutscenes.

The mission briefing screens are fine, but any time the game decides to throw in a cutscene… boy. It’s usually pretty bad. Lots of overacting in the emote department and no link at all between the vocals being said and the way the characters are moving their mouths. My favorite glitch — and I’ve seen this many times — is when the game shows my character standing on top of the command chair with her head out of frame. They really need to throw some people at this.

2. A lack of true exploration

Star Trek is well-known and -liked for its focus on exploring the unknown… yet Star Trek Online has pretty much never had this. Its old exploration system was a laugh, and eventually Cryptic yanked it and replace it with a big “under construction — check back later.” It’s been years now and we still haven’t been able to really go exploring as ship captains. That’s a shame.

3. Explaining the stats

I’m willing to look stupid here by admitting that I have very little idea what all of the stats do in this game. Star Trek Online is one of those titles that has way, way, way too many stats (for both space AND ground), and once you get up in the levels, they stop being self-explanatory. What should I focus on? How do I build my ship? Eh, I’ll just trust that purples are “good” and hope for the best. It’s not like this game is ever going to explain it all to me.

4. The music

This is a Cryptic problem more than a Star Trek Online one, but man… the music in this game has never been that good. Oh, the main theme is dynamite and there are a handful of decent tracks, but for the most part it’s those blaringly awful Cryptic tunes that made me switch over to real Star Trek movie and TV themes while I’m playing.

5. Tight ground combat

I’m not one of those people who hates ground combat. I actually really do like controlling parties of fighters and seeing them all do their stuff. It’s also good to get out of the ship and see my avatar once in a while. Nice change of pace, that.

But my problem with ground combat is that it always feels loose and slippery. There’s too much rubberbanding and delay between what you see on screen and then actual effects happening. It all needs to be tightened up to be a lot more fluid and reactive, especially considering that all of this takes place inside instances.

6. Give you stuff to do inside your ship

Watch pretty much any Star Trek show, and a vast majority of each episode takes place on board the ships. Yet in the game so little of it ever does send you to the interior of your ship. I was thinking about this, doing the tutorial a few weeks back. That was pretty great because it did have a lot more interiors — and your bridge officers even talked. But now all the action takes place outside your ship, and I wish that wasn’t the case.

Also, we need a LOT more housing options on board ships. I’d love to be able to customize my interiors! But I guess I’m out of numbers.

Star Trek Online: Another world bites the dust

One feature that I really like about Star Trek Online is its mission level scaling. I don’t know if it’s universal, but from what I’ve seen, any time there’s a featured episode or an event episode, pretty much anyone of any level can jump into it. Thus, even though this character was pretty low, I was able to enjoy the recent Renegade’s Regret episode and get the weekly reward from it.

Plus, it was kind of nice to get back in touch with this storyline, since it’s been a while. Going to be a while, too, until this character goes through it for real.

It wasn’t a hard mission but it was a good one from a storytelling perspective. You’re learning why this particular four-limbed cyber-reptile has decided to defect from his people. Basically, the answer is “planetary genocide.”

The twist here is that you, the player, actually takes the role of this alien in a series of events that led up to the defection. I was given an overpowered starship that ripped through civilian and defense craft alike and paved the way for the planetary bomb that would wipe out all life.

By the way, how terrifying would it be to live in this era? I don’t care about all of the progress and everything if there’s some xenophobic alien race that can drop a single bomb to wipe out any planet I may be inhabiting.

Even though it is really dark in theme, the visual effect of the planetary bomb is starkly beautiful. A very nice effect by the dev team.

Enough of that vacation, it’s time to get back to speed leveling! Star Trek Online has an imbalance in its campaigns, I’ve noticed. The first one, the Klingon one, has several episodes, whereas some of the later ones might only have a small handful. As such, it feels like it takes a really long time to get through that campaign when starting out.

It also meant revisiting all of these classic episodes that sometimes have pacing issues. For the record, I like an awful lot of them, especially the “Bonnie-Kin” mission. And I thought it was pretty funny to see a Reddit thread pop up for Delta Recruits that had a quick reference list to some of the more notorious quests and their very specific solutions (such as how to make that “nerve tonic” for Scotty’s friend.

Probably my only real complaint about the whole leveling process is that the ship progression feels really superfluous. I get quite tired of swapping out ships every four or six missions, and I never get attached to any of them because my eyes are on my future endgame ship. Maybe we should just start with that? Be able to upgrade it behind the scenes?

Star Trek Online: Flashback

I resisted as long as I could. Truly, I did. Hey, I don’t need another game on my plate right now, but Star Trek Online is going all out to grab my ears these days, so I guess that’s that. I’m back. Between the news of the upcoming expansion — which sounds way more interesting than the past two — and the return of the Delta Recruit event, I felt it was a sign that I should at least check in with the game on a weekly basis. And of course, I had to roll up a new character, since I do that pretty much every time I return to this game.

At least I have a good excuse here! I don’t remember the last Delta Recruit event, but it’s as good a reason as any to start from scratch. You get bonus rewards and some account-wide unlocks for pursuing alternative goals in missions and across the game, provided that it’s a brand-new character created in that time window.

So Crickety was reborn, this time as an Asian Trill. I even sprung for a Bajoran outfit, in honor of the Deep Space Nine expansion focus. The one big requirement for a Delta Recruit is that you have to go through the entire tutorial — something I haven’t done in years. And while it was cool from a story angle, especially with the added time-traveling stuff for the alternative objectives, man was it ever long.

I’ve never seen this version of the tutorial. Back in the day it was maybe 20 minutes, tops. This tutorial stretched on for two hours with multiple missions. Granted, it was well-done, had solid voice acting, and did a good job taking immersing you in both the game setting and the mechanics, but after a while I felt so antsy just to be done with it and get started with the proper missions.

Even with the exciting missions, it is beyond a stretch to take a wet-behind-the-ears graduate of Starfleet Academy and, within a DAY, see her promoted to a starship captain. I’m guessing that every graduate secretly hopes that their commanding officer will be killed so that they can assume the chair and stay there until the next graduate shows up.

My crew likes to drink. A lot. With the way I drive my ship, I guess that makes sense. By the way, it was a nice touch to have all of us start out in the academy uniforms, changing only to the customized uniform when captaincy was achieved.

In a night, I knocked out the tutorial and the first two missions while making headway on a third. For this run, I’m naming all of my ships after failed car models, so meet the U.S.S. Pinto. She’ll do 30 in a 50 m.p.h. zone and spew smoke the entire time.

6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

Star Trek Online: A bug obsession

In hindsight, it was probably a mistake for Starfleet to allow its captains the privilege of naming their own ships. If they don’t regret it now, they will when they hear about their newest registered starship, the U.S.S. Snuggly Hedgehog. Truly, a name to strike dark terror in the hearts of dastardly foes.

I decided to switch things up — for now — by swapping out my Atrox carrier for a Pathfinder-class science ship. Kind of a more advanced Voyager variant. Sure, it might not have squads of fighters as its disposal, but it’s more agile and has a pretty cool aero shuttle to help out with attacks.

I present this screenshot without comment. I don’t think there is a comment that actually fits this, other than to say, yes, it happened.

The newest featured episode is “Melting Pot,” which we’re encouraged to run weekly right now for special new rewards. It’s actually a fairly frustration-free romp on a pretty (if small) planetary playfield. Things get a little nutty when scientists being scientists decide to play God and unleash a wave of nasty crab-things all over the place, but that’s what my shotgun is here for.

Following that, I thought it best to double back and work on some mission chains that I hadn’t finished yet. Unfortunately, this meant a trip back to the Delta Quadrant, because apparently I can’t start the Iconian War arc until I finish this.

I did some mission that involved infiltrating a Vardwuaaaaaaar underground facility. Initially, I was pretty excited about this. There were new mechanics involved, such as zip lining and rappelling, but that excitement quickly faded when I realized that this whole mission is on training wheels. It’s one thing to tamper down the frustration factor, but c’mon, you have to have SOME challenge.

Here, Tuvok is omnipresent, offering a constant tutorial of where to go and what to do. Funny, I didn’t see him beam down with me, so how does he know anything of what’s going on down here? And if that wasn’t insulting enough, large bouncy icons show you where you need to go to hit the next “F” for victory. Even though the mission was making a big deal out of not being discovered, I think it would actually take more effort to fail it than not.

It did get interesting at the end, as a plot twist involving parasitic aliens showed up. I think these are the same critters from the only good season one TNG episode (“Conspiracy”). It’s weird to see them suddenly pop up here, but I think it’s cool that the writers followed up on something the show never had the guts to do.

Star Trek Online: Nostalgia Tour-D

Yes, so as you might have ascertained, the whole Star Trek Discovery thing and my brush with Cryptic’s Neverwinter as of late has led me back around, once again, to Star Trek Online. And what does Syp do each and every time he comes back to this game? Why, start over, of course!

I don’t exactly know why I relish raising up a new character. Maybe it’s the fun of the missions or trying to do things a little better this time or making different choices. It’s partly because I don’t feel anything for the characters I used to have and want to bond from scratch with new ones.

Also, I wanted to see the much-vaunted lighting changes. I have to admit, they are spectacular, especially in indoor ground missions. Familiar areas have transformed into very moody and atmospheric settings, and the lighting adds so much to the whole look of the place and characters. Bravo, Cryptic.

Anyway, while my Andorian Lt. Commander works her way through the Klingon series, I took a detour to do the new featured episode with Geordi LaForge. I guess it’s something that can be done at almost any level, because I’m like 10 and I had no problem with it.

Hey! It’s me and the Reading Rainbow guy! I love you, Geordi, but I do miss your visor. Your freaky blue eyes don’t make you as personable, for some reason.

So this whole mission — which has to do with an alien that captured a Galaxy-class starship a long time ago — is really a blatant excuse to take players on a tour of the team’s painstaking recreation of parts of The Next Generation’s Enterprise. Well, a ship very similar to it.

Why blatant? Because we’re in the middle of trying to retake this ship and Geordi abruptly says something like, “Hey, a holodeck! Let’s go in there! Nothing bad ever happens in those!” And I go, “Whatever you say, although I am holding the power cord in my hand and will give a sharp yank the second the giant bugs come out and the safety protocols go off.”

And yes, the safety protocols do go off, because of course they do. Borgs instead of bugs, though.

Ten Forward! I thought this room was bigger in the show, but it’s been a while and I’m not going to gripe here. I’ll admit that as a former Trekkie, I was poking around these rooms and quite enjoying the tourism angle. They really did a great job mocking this up.

Next stop on the Nostalgia Trip-D, engineering. Even more bits to look at here, although I could’ve done without the people shooting up the place. I miss that pool table in the TV show.

The bridge and observation room were all well and good (I was disappointed that I couldn’t go into the head to see what Star Trek Online’s version of the bathroom would look like), but I made a beeline to the ready room as fast as possible. I loved the view out of the window onto part of the ship, and it was kind of cool to see that there was a little bed around the corner for the captain to nap between saving the galaxy.

Great mission, 10/10, would run again. I was glad to get a purple ship phaser that would fire in a 360-degree arc. I’m sure that’s going to come in handy in my piddly tier-2 starship.