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SFC:TNG (Taldren's Next Game)

- By SFU Staff Reporter Jefe March 25, 2002

Easter came a week early for Starfleet Command (SFC) fans this year. Hearing that a great pronouncement would be made, many gathered at the Forums temple and awaited the news. Blues, whose name foreshadowed events to come, sounded the news, and the Easter Egg that many had waited for was revealed. There was great joy on seeing the name SFC had been spared the Roman fate of extinction, and would live to be III. Then the huddled masses wanted to see what was in the egg. A peek was offered. The mere sight of the new ambassador of SFC drove many insane on the spot. Bloodletting poured out across the Forum as Taldren was crucified that Friday. But hope is eternal and there is little doubt, (even among the crucifiers), that like the Phoenix, SFCIII will rise from the ashes of Fridays flames and become a burning hot product again. But enough of the parables, and on to the facts.

Taldren is a business, and to remain a business they must make money to pay their employees and hopefully grow. What they are good at is producing a nice tactical space game, with a strategic element to it. Unfortunately, they have not yet been able to significantly diversify their offerings and reduce their dependence on this one product. They'd like to, but it hasn't happened. In the meantime, their publisher, Interplay, who is in serious financial trouble, effectively cancelled their contract with Taldren to do 3 other games, forcing Taldren to find another way to make money to keep its doors open. They approached Activision about a space sim for the TNG era. At the time, Activision did not have rights to the TOS/TMP era, or (oddly) the DS9 content, but can produce products based around the TNG/Voyager series. (Who can do anything in the new Pre-TOS/Enterprise era is unknown. But SFC isn't geared for that galactic environment. It's ideal for the large galactic empires model shown in TOS and later timelines.) Both Taldren and Activision knew that SFC had a strong fan base, but it's appeal was more limited due to the complexities and depth of the game. Many players unfamiliar with SFB details became frustrated with all the things they had to account for to compete in the game. Top that with the lingering memory of the December 2001 release problems, the current programming complexities of SFC2, the fan base's SFC3 wish lists, and the fragmented licensing situation, and it is clear that Taldren's options were limited. While it is a subjective interpretation of what happened, Taldren probably felt that to make a successful pitch to Activision, they would need to sacrifice some depth of game for broader accessibility to other players. The trick is to retain enough depth to keep the majority of the older fan base, as well as build a larger, stronger fan base.

Friday's announcement of SFC3 will hopefully be the worst day of SFC3's life. The peek we got showed us that we lost the games original basis, Starfleet Battles (SFB). The debate over how closely SFC needed to adhere to SFB's rules is over. SFC is truly no longer SFB. Save your copies of SFC1, EAW, and OP. It is extremely doubtful that SFB will be put into another computer game. The main things we lost are:

  • Gorns (a canon race), and the non-canon Hydrans, Lyrans, Mirak, ISC, and a multitude of pirates, totaling 13 playable factions - all gone.
  • Unique weapons like the Expanding Sphere Generator (ESG), Fusion Beams, Hellbores, Maulers, and the Plasmatic Pulsar Device (PPD) are gone.
  • Possibly also gone are any kind of Missles/Drones/AMD. I thought Plasma Torpedoes were gone, but it seems they will return even though they are TOS.
  • No more Fighters, Fast Patrol ships, and presumably their Carriers as we have known them.
  • The possibility of rounding out the basic SFB expectations of including Tholians and Andromedans, each with their unique weapons and capabilities.
  • The SFB ruleset which gave many people the ability to have an understanding of the game that could never be fully explained in the SFC manuals.
  • The individual racial interfaces of the tactical screens. For SFC2, we gave up the all of SFC1's nice race specific screens and interfaces except for the tactical screens. For the lost screens we got a generic cross between Dune and Myst/Riven types of screen interfaces. They weren't bad, but they didn't have the nice Star Trek feel that SFC1 had. Now we are also losing the individual tactical racial interfaces. Given how much less Trek-like the music sounded in SFC2, the only thing left that reminds us of Star Trek is the models. Can you say StarFire? If all of the User Interfaces are reduced to generic displays, then any genre can be interchanged with the game's mechanics easily. This may be the intended reason for the design, so that modders could truly swap out for a Babylon5 (or other) mod. This actually may also be considered a plus.
  • The Original Series (TOS) and The Motion Picture 1-6 (TMP) timeline. Considering how many people in their 30s and 40s play this game and are fond of that era, this is a significant loss as well.

We know so little of what we are gaining yet, but here is what we do know:
+ The Next Generation (TNG) timeline, though not some of the Deep Space 9 aspects. While Activision has acquired the rights to the full Star Trek Universe (as far as we know), it was not early enough for Taldren to be able to include those aspects. And regardless, the non-canon aspects look as though they will not be returning.

  • A Dynaverse3 which sounds better than the D2, but we aren't sure of many details yet, but it sounds like they are developing a more open universe.
  • An ingame customizeable ship building capability. From the sound of it, we will be able to build any kind of ship class we had in previous SFCs, limited only by the weapons and technology our race is allowed (or technically capable) to use. It sounds similar to the loadout system of Pirate ships in SFB. So, if you wanted minelayers, all you have to do now is build one! Theoretically, we now have more ship classes than ever before, as well as models for each and every one. Known configurable systems include (Fed ship example) "more than two dozen types of phasers, about 6 separate classes of heavy weapons, five shield strengths, 3 or so transporter types, 3 or so warp core classes, 5 impulse engine classes, thrusters, a bunch of sensors classes, armor".
  • Separate models file, that will allow us to use whatever 3rd party models we like, and a check so that cheats of ship design cannot occur. No more 7-8 model limitations. Now you can have as many as you can get your hands on. So you could bring back the TOS/TMP era ships easily (I will!).
  • Truly invisible cloak.
  • Also some sort of special sensors to possibly detect cloaks and other things. Could these be the new kind of working Scouts?
  • The Officer Corps is back, with more that they can do, if you can keep them from getting killed.
  • Sub-systems targeting. "Take out their weapons array".
  • Borg playable race added, and non-playable Cardassians and Ferengi added, along with the unspecified "Race of the Week".
  • The weapons that exist will have several varieties. From the sound of it, much more than a Phaser 1,2,3, or 4.
  • And of course there are the "New & Improved" graphics.

What we are keeping is probably more than we realize. The ideas that specific systems have a specific number of damage points, and that systems (not specifically targeted) take damage in a reasoned manner (the DAC) suggests that Taldren is keeping critical elements of this sort of game. What will be interesting to see is if the weapons variety can be improved from the TNG offerings. It seems that on TNG, the Feds have Photons and Phasers, while everyone else uses Disruptor Beams or Torpedoes. While I think that beam weapons and fast moving torpedoes are essential, there is interest in slow moving torpedoes, wave weapons, or any weapon that has unique characteristics or unusual damage capability. The case can be made that both Star Trek and ADB reused weapons across races too much. On the other hand, a beam weapon by any other name is still a phaser. Weapons range is more evenly broken down.

As for the User Interface, taking it panel by panel, here is what we know so far about the tactical operations:


Navigation & Movement:
Acceleration and turn ratios are dependent on your ship's loadout, which you can redesign. It is assumed that Emergency Stop, Standard Ahead, Standard Orbit, and Pursuit Course will continue to be implemented, and HETs seem to have remained but are calculated differently Warp and Impulse speeds are going to be considerably different. Warp speed is not to be used casually, and does not seem to be the best combat speed. And did I mention "Mr. Sulu! Reverse engines!". Ooops, I forgot the generational thing, I meant Data . . . no Wesley.

Engineering Repairs:
Repairs are to be handled by a specific number of Damage Control Teams (DCTs) instead of the "one-at-a-time" supply parts. Ships will have various numbers of teams.

Science Station:
Probes, scanning, and self-destruct all sound like they will continue to exist. Attack probes are unknown. Scanning abilities will be enhanced by virtue of the fact that it is now special equipment you can load on your ship. The enhancement can give you the ability to detect a cloaked ship. What other things you can do with scanning, and how it works is unknown.

Marines Station:
Captures and Hit & Runs will continue as before. So far, it looks like there are no changes being made to this aspect of the game.

Weapons Station:
While we don't know if a specific interface will continue to exist for this panel, the capabilities will continue. Grouping of weapons will still be available. It is unknown if Point Defense is even needed. All weapons for which Point Defense was needed seem to be gone. Mines will continue to exist (and in various varieties), and checking the number of mines left was about the only reason this panel was needed. And that could be checked under the Transporter Panel also. So eliminating this panel seems like one good way to streamline the User Interface.

Communications Panel:
Rarely used, except in single-player Campaign missions, this panel might also be eliminated. But it is dependent on Taldren's plans, and could turn into a more useful panel.

Defense Station:
Again, used for Point Defense, setting PD tractors, and launching Wild Weasels which are gone. Most likely an eliminated panel.

Some sort of Mini-Map will continue to exist. How it might actually be acessed is unknown. It seems like it would be better to separate it from the other panels since it is useful to see while doing other things.

Fleet Controls:
We have no idea of the changes planned for fleet controls. It is assumed that we can still fly multiple ships, and so some sort of Fleet Controls will be necessary, but this will need some detailing.

Energy Panel:
Energy usage will still be prioritized, though in a different manner from SFC2. Instead of systems being assigned a priority level, which could be equal, systems will be in a priority queue, thereby always giving some systems priorities over others. Additionally, some systems won't be listed anymore, because setting them did not affect energy use anyway. Hopefully the sources of power (Main Power, Impulse Power, Auxiliary Power, and Battery Power) will be able to be used more effectively.

The Settings Panel:
Since this adjusts game settings, this capability will continue to exist, but how it exists or is accessed is not nearly as important as access to the other panels.

Shields Panel:
Shields have been reduced from the 6 necessary for SFB's hex based game to 4, which is inline with how Star Trek has always portrayed shield generation. I think we can safely assume that reinforcement capabilities will continue as they have otherwise.

Sensor Panel:
Used only for Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) and Electronic Counter-Counter Measures (ECCM) which is gone, this panel is probably gone as well. Ship size and speed will be the factors for any Attack/Defensive shifts now. If a Sensor panel does continue to exist, it will be for different purposes involving Sensors, such as detecting things. But those capabilities might also be redundant with the Science Station's capabilities. Look at it this way, there won't be a need to discuss Magic Photons anymore!

Tractor Panel:
There should still be a use for Tractors, but not necessarily rotating the target. Tractor use may not be as useful as it was, since many ships were tractored to prevent WW shuttle launches.

Shuttle Bay:
Shuttles will still exist, but alas, no real Fighters or Fast Patrol ships. And from the sound of it, the shuttles will be the uber shuttles of DS9 and Voyager. Forget getting a fleet of ships, can't we just buy 3 Rio Grande types to hold off the Borg? From the sound of some in Taldren, they aren't quite happy with the shuttle abilities yet, so there may be changes here. We assume that they will still be able to take orders assigned here.

Shuttle Conversions:
No more Wild Weasel decoys, no more missle Scatterpacks, no more Suicide Shuttles with mines, and no more Assault Shuttles filled with Marines. No specialty shuttle conversions at all anymore, so the Shuttle Conversion Panel is gone.

The Skirmishes area of SFC3 will probably similar to what we have now, possibly adding terrain variations as an option (as was the case in SFC1). However, the Dynaverse3 is undergoing another revolutionary change. Details are sketchy, but players will be able to specifically head for specific destinations, engage specific targets with specific allies. Missions can persist over several battles as you may (for example) need get to the correct place to do the mission. Convoys will need to go all the way from their point of origin to their destination to complete that mission. We do not know how D3 servers will be handled yet. It would be nice if they were still operated by the playing community.

As I did not want to bother the besieged at Taldren, I gathered this information from several official sources, and posts. It looks as though the masses have beat down Scott and Brad for now. There don't seem to be any Taldren employees responding to the Forums flames right now. Hopefully, my information is correct. Hopefully more information will be forthcoming. Aside from the loss of the SFB basis, the largest item that seems to have many people unhappy is the greatly reduced number of playable races. Since the Cardassians and Ferengi are already in the game as NP races, maybe Activision and Taldren could be persuaded (nicely) to make them playable. Since the tactical interfaces are the same for all races, and ship classes are created from loadouts, it seems like they could be added with the least diffculty. The Breen and Dominion might be added as an expansion pack later. Well, we can hope. It is eternal you know. Happy Easter to all SFC fans and creators.

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