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Preview: Don’t Rush Out To Get Star Trek Online

Server issues among many of the problems from this disaster launch

We don’t really cover games on Airlock Alpha because there are so many sites that cover this area quite well (and I should know, I visit many of them).

But we have noticed Star Trek Online garnering a lot of pre-launch interest from readers of this site, many of whom were never serious gamers (in fact, read Terilynn Shull’s preview of the game from a noob’s perspective). So as someone who considers himself more of a casual online player, I felt it’s my responsibility to make sure you know what you’re getting into.

I was not part of the beta for the game, but I am part of the “head start,” which is what anyone who preorders Star Trek Online can do. The game itself launches Feb. 2, the same day “Lost” premieres on ABC, and I knew going in that I would have to battle through game bugs and such. I mean really, joining a game brand new, if you don’t expect there to be some bugs, then you really are unrealistic.

But I have been a part of a lot of different launches of games, ranging from Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars Galaxies. And while there were definitely some mugs and speed bumps to their successful launches (some more than others), I have never experienced the trouble that has plagued Star Trek Online.

As I write this, I am now sitting in a player queue (I’m like No. 1,010 or something) ,,, in head start. Which means there is only a fraction of people playing that will likely normally play.

From what I hear from World of Warcraft players, queues are pretty common. But then again WoW is the most popular online roleplaying game in the United States, and one of the most popular in the world. Not one I really play, but I can’t ignore how many people enjoy playing it.

We are talking Star Trek Online, who I’m sure doesn’t even come close to the number of players on average many of the games I played have used. Yet, this launch already has been so fraught with problems, I’m starting to count my blessings that I didn’t jump into a lifetime, or even an annual membership.

Yes, we need to be patient when games launch. But there is a limit to that. Saturday, the first full day of the head start, the Star Trek Online server (and yes, I am saying that singular … there is only a single server to this game) was down more than it was up. At one point, the server was down for five hours.

The servers also went down once while I was zoning (there is a lot of zoning in this game, unlike Lord of the Rings Online), and last night around 3 a.m., the server went down right in the middle of a battle with Gorn.

If this were Blizzard launching WoW way back when, and there were server issues like this, I don’t think too many people would complain. MMOs were still pretty new then, and Blizzard, if I remember correctly, had never launched an MMO before.

But Cryptic Studios has (City of Heroes, City of Villains anyone?) And while there may be issues with game play, shouldn’t the whole server problems have already been resolved ahead of launch? At least by the end of beta, one would think.

Because even though many gamers know the launch of a game will consist of some problems, they shouldn’t be at the scale that many other MMOs never experience, not even in beta mode.

Cryptic may be on the way of having one of the worst launches ever. I mean, if they are having server load issues now, imagine what it will be like on Tuesday.

What’s sad is that I really like the game, I want it to succeed. I didn’t participate in beta because I am more of a hand-to-hand combat kind of guy, and don’t like leading teams of computerized players. So the two key battle concepts of STO — computerized teams and space battles — didn’t appeal to me.

But my friends who participated in beta really liked it, and I thought I would give it a try. I started playing when head start launched on Friday, and played all evening, and enjoyed it immensely. I love the story, and I found myself loving the space battles more than anything else. To the point that when the servers went down on Saturday, I played a little Lord of the Rings online, and wanted my warden to find a spaceship to fight some Klingons.

The problems, however, started on Saturday, and they have continued into Sunday.

I don’t know if Cryptic has time to clean up the mess, but maybe they need to hold off on the launch a little bit. Obviously, there are some serious technical issues going on, and with a game getting as high-profile as STO, this could be the most well-known MMO disaster of all time.

If people can’t feel like the server will be up when they play, or that they can get right in when they’re ready to go … guess what, no matter how fun the game play is, if you can’t keep the game at least partially stable, people aren’t going to stick around.

Cryptic needs to actually finish this game before they launch it. It’s clearly unfinished, especially with the technical issues. If you think I’m impatient, you should see the gaming community as a whole. I’m actually calm compared to many of them (just check out STO’s message boards).

So, I was seeing if I could write a review in the time I had to sit in the queue. I just left queue, and made it into the game. I was trying to pick up where the server crashed last night — killing Gorn. But as I was zoning into the instance, it froze, and has been frozen now for 10 minutes. It just told me in red that I’ve been “disconnected from the server.”

I guess that means I should choose with either sitting through the queue again, or doing something else.

Sorry Star Trek Online. When Cryptic Studios can figure out how to actually run an MMO, maybe I’ll give it another shot. For now, I want my money back.

Clarification: (Updated 2/1/10) — We use the term “server” in this column, especially pointing out that there is only one. We are referring specifically to what might also be known as “realms.”

Typically, MMOs have different “servers” that you can join to help spread player load out, and not congregate the entirety in a single server, although other servers can be established typically for different types of play atmospheres like roleplaying or player vs. player.

There could be physically a number of servers for each aspect or zone of STO and beyond, and we are not implying there is only one handling it (although we don’t know the technical specs of the game for certain), and references to “singular servers” have to do with the above discussion.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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