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.

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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.

The new Star Trek series that isn’t behind a paywall!

Hey kids! Are you jonesing for a new Star Trek series but you can’t swipe mommy’s credit card to pay for CBS All Access? Then we’ve got a free option for you!

Tune in to Star Trek: Joyride, a brand-new, multi-million dollar series here on Bio Break! Free with no commercial interruptions, we might add. It follows the adventures of Crickety, a snarky Starfleet ensign who — against all common sense — is given command of her very own trillion-credit starship right out of the academy. With no restraint holding her back and a bridge crew that is too afraid of her cutting intensity to challenge her authority, Crickety goes on an interstellar joyride to see what trouble she can get into this week!

Oh yeah, Crickety makes graduating look good. She’s no trust fund baby, but instead a tortured soul who ate the last four Mary Sues she came across. Her mother was a one-eyed vampire. Her father was a blue space cricket. Her best friend was Borg Spock from the mirror universe.

Cap’n Crickety does what she wants, when she wants, because she has the impulse control of a baboon. Check out episode two, “Fun and Games,” where she receives a distress call to help a freighter under attack. When her away team beams aboard, she challenges her crew to a game of lethal laser tag. The prize? Whatever loot they can grab from this rusty bucket before it explodes!

Oh, Star Trek: Joyride is certain to be canceled after six episodes, but Crickety is going to make those adventures count and leave a deep and oozing scar on the surface of the Federation. In episode three, “Forbidden Love,” she steals a sentient shuttlecraft and takes it on a series of romantic dates across the galaxy. Will she say “I do” before the authorities catch up with her? Tune in and find out!

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

Star Trek Online: Back to the Delta Quadrant

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I swear, getting to tour around ships and see what interesting room designs are around the corner is pretty much the only reason I put up with ground combat.

In terms of my slow-as-snails progression in Star Trek Online, I hit a bit of a snag. I wanted to jump into the Iconian War arc, but apparently it’s all grayed out until I complete the entirety of the Delta Rising expansion. You know, the expansion I left in the middle of for how boring and annoying it was. It kind of chafes that the devs don’t let you pick and choose your episode arcs, especially at max level. It’s not like I’m really gleaning a great story or need to know this for the test later.

What makes this worse is that my interest in the game is hovering around 20% of so these days. Enough to log in once in a while and do a post, but when I do, I want to be playing the content that interests me, not Neelix’s leftovers.

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So I’m in the middle of some long chain, the narrative thread lost to me a long time ago. There are the aliens that sound like a type of furniture, Vaadwuar or something? Yeah, those guys. And we’re friends with the Romulans and Klingons, which is all kinds of weird. Anyway, my first mission back was a boarding effort on a hijacked Romulan ship. This was interesting enough for the touring aspect and the alien bad guy who solves all of his problems with uppercuts.

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From there it’s a trip back to Kobali Prime, the planet of soul-sucking. It’s one of those places that you can’t understand what went so wrong in Cryptic’s meeting rooms.

INTERN: I just finished up with that player survey, and as expected, the least-popular activities in the game all have to do with ground combat.

LEAD DEV: So you’re saying… more ground combat?

INTERN: No sir, just the opposite.

LEAD DEV: A *huge zone* of nothing but ground combat?

INTERN: Uhhh…

LEAD DEV: And we’ll restrict each player to only two additional bridge crew!

INTERN: [headdesk]

Star Trek Online does a lot of things well, but usually those things are done in balanced moderation. Kobali Prime is an example of a dev falling too much in love with public quests and World War I battlefields.

At least during one of those long public battles, another player decided to spray the area with confetti and flopping Swedish fish. THIS IS SRS SCI-FI, PPL!

Star Trek Online: Tzatziki saucers

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Since it’s Star Trek Online’s anniversary and the launch of a new season and all, I figured I owed the game some time. Even though I have a few episode arcs to catch up on, I went ahead and jumped into the new Season 12 mission, Of Signs and Portents.

Plus, as with most new episodes that STO releases, there are some limited-time rewards for running it, including a couple coming up in, um…

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1999? Is this Cryptic’s way of saying that the studio has mastered time travel? Are we to be sent back to the Clinton era? Gotta brush up on my Matrix memes and warn the world about the Nokia N-Gage!

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As this is the first of a line of eventual quests, there’s very little meat to it. I’m sent in along with the Klingons and some other alien race that I have yet to meet in the episode arcs to investigate some planet-destroyin’ that’s going on with protomatter bombs. Those are the BEST bombs, by the way. So much better than antimatter, doesitmatter, and promatter bombs.

The big baddies this time around are the Tzenkethi, or as I like to call them, the Tzatziki, because I love my Greek food. Can I just admit that one of my pet peeves is how annoying most Star Trek alien race names are? It’s like the writers gave up after the 189th race and just started slamming letters and apostrophes together in the hopes of creating something mysterious-sounding.

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I don’t think these aliens are all bad, not really. For one thing, they’ve got these sweet cyber-armor outfits that look like something an alien extra from Mass Effect would wear. For another, the first time you see them, one does a cannonball into a pool. Dude just wants to party.

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Hey, it’s a bomb! Looks like the whatever-they-are are trying to get rid of crystals, so I’m guessing that it’s a big fake-out and we’ve yet to meet the real threat going on. I hope these lizard guys end up being on our side. Would love to recruit one for my bridge crew.

There’s more ground combat in this mission than space, and I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that my shotgun, while cool to look at, is a poor weapon in this game. It just doesn’t shoot fast enough or handle quite right. Alas.

Anyway, happy birthday Star Trek Online!

Star Trek Online: Interstellar dodgeball champs

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The last mission of the Yesterday’s War arc (so far, at least), Terminal Expanse sends me to investigate the Sphere Builders who are setting up interstellar dodgeball championships… or messing up the timelines of multiple universes or somesuch. I choose the dodgeball theory. I mean, look at that thing!

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This is where we start butting heads (or rubbing shoulders) with the JJ-verse, or the “Kelvin Timeline,” as Star Trek has chosen to awkwardly name it.

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I am… not a fan of the JJ-verse Connies. They look like they’re trying to compensate for something with those muscle car fins. Just a very off-balance design.

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The interiors I can get behind, however. They still look very Star Trekky, and in a bolder and more high-tech way than we got on, say, Voyager. I beam aboard the Yorktown to visit the sole JJ-verse movie character that the game could secure, some one-liner blue shirt from Star Trek Into Darkness. But at least he has freaky eyes!

Actually, good for this actor. I mean, imagine you got a bit part in one Star Trek movie and wasn’t included in the next one — and then you get a call from the online game that wants to put you in a starring role in a mission with voice work. It’s a heck of a consolation prize.

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Say what you will, but Star Trek Online is second to NONE when it comes to capturing the intense thrills of using tiny fire extinguishers on localized blazes.

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We beam over to the rather sparse and unimpressive interior of the giant sphere and do what we do best — plant bombs all over the place and try not to think about why Starfleet is so very good at such things.

Plot cutscenes intervene again, with the Envoy talking to the Builders and reminding me of why I completely tuned out of Star Trek Enterprise in season 2. The whole “temporal cold war” storyline was as muddled as it was dull, and STO doesn’t do itself any favors trying to reheat that arc here.

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Space dodgeball evolves into MechaFireBall!

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With the Sphere blowned up but good, Daniels gets another time-makeover and Science Officer 0718 gets a few final lines before being ushered back stage at Cryptic Studios. I’m hoping we get to meet the huge-eyed OBGYN doctor from the first movie next!