Star Trek Online is "a lot closer than you may think" according to Cryptic Studios creative boss Jack Emmert.
"I can't tell you when the game is going to be released," he told the audience at the 2008 Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. "The PR people in the back would freak out and my CEO would freak out. But rest assured I do know when the game is going to be released. I can't say it, but it's a lot closer than you may think."
"Less than four years. It's probably less than three years," he added when someone booted him for more. "If I say 'under three years' that's a shocking statement within the industry."
Cryptic first unveiled Star Trek Online at the end of July, setting the game in 2409 - around 30 years after Star Trek Nemesis.
The MMO puts you in control of a starship and crew "from day one", Emmert told the Vegas convention. You then work to become a captain in Starfleet or Klingon colours. Vulkans, Endorians and Tellarites will also be playable at launch, and Cryptic "will definitely be adding to that", promising Romulans and Dominion after release.
Captains will be your customisable avatars. Emmert was coy about specific class options, but suggested the various Star Trek captains as examples: Kirk was a brawler, Picard was a diplomat, Janeway was boring, etc.
The other people on your ship are bridge crew, who are essentially "pets" or henchmen that can be customised, levelled up, and taken with you on away missions. Red-shirts make up the rest - from several dozen to a hundred - and keep your ship ticking over. The red-shirt legions will be made up of lots of races and professions, which grant various bonuses.
Ships will be customisable within the guidelines of the craft you're flying, and you'll have free reign over the colour scheme. You'll also be able to board each other's craft and use the decks as a "social space" for banter about inverted polarities and whether you're straying too close to the neutral zone and so on. The interior of your ships will also be customisable to a degree, and player death will be tolerable because the emphasis is on fun. "[EVE Online] is not exactly what we're going for," Emmert said.
Combat, as we know, comes in two forms: ship-to-ship and on-foot. Space wars are third-person, tactical and paced like the TV episodes so you can issue crew commands between bouts. Land battles are fast-paced phaser affairs, although Klingons will wade in with their funny weapons and foreheads.
Trade is the "Galactic Economy", and will ebb and flow like a stock market. Resources can be pooled to form fleets (guilds). Fleets can build space stations, mining platforms, satellites, shipyards and more. "Some things can only be accomplished by a lot of people working together," said Emmert.
Quests will be issued from Central Command, and your friends - fellow captains - can join you on the ground in task forces to help. Everything is fully co-operative, apparently, dynamic events are in, and Cryptic is keen for you to explore the universe. This will play a "major part", and the "system of infinite exploration" means stumbling upon random, uncharted planets is a strong possibility. PvP is most definitely in, and there might be one giant server, but console platforms may forbid this, so it's not a lock.
As for the fiction that underpins everything, Emmert said the TV shows and films are "absolute canon", but said the game would do a few things of its own. "There's still many familiar places, all the familiar races, all the familiar empires," he said, "but some things have turned around in there: ancient enemies have arisen, friends have become enemies, enemies have become friends."
All of which leaves us with a lot to think about. Head over to Eurogamer TV for the first, Star Trek Online footage, as played by "people in the office", apparently.