TO: ALL COMMANDING OFFICERS
FROM: STARFLEET RESEARCH, COMPUTER INTERFACE DIVISION
SUBJECT: LIBRARY COMPUTER ACCESS AND RETRIEVAL SYSTESMS UPGRADE
On behalf of Starfleet Research and our development branch here at Memory Alpha, I’m writing to inform you that we are concluding the initial phase of field testing of the next generation LCARS interface. Results are promising and we intend to proceed with the fleet-wide rollout of the upgrade beginning in about a month.
This new system addresses many of shortcomings of the previous version, allowing more user choice, faster response time and a cleaner aesthetic. Attached is a more thorough breakdown of the changes you can look forward to. If you’re interested in running an early release candidate of the software upgrade, instructions for a Beta download and installation are enclosed.
We’ve been working very hard on this new update and expect it to be an essential component of Starfleet’s ongoing effort to maintain cutting-edge operational capability in these turbulent times.
Commander Thomas Marrone,
Starfleet Research and Development
Memory Alpha Annex
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"I know engineers. They love to change things."
– Leonard McCoy
Dr. McCoy would have been just as right if he had been talking about MMO Developers instead of starship engineers. One of the best things about working on an MMO is that it is never finished, and each new update offers an opportunity to add something new or refresh other things that are growing long in the tooth.
When we decided that Legacy of Romulus would mean adding a third faction for Star Trek Online, we had to decide what that meant for the game’s User Interface (UI) as a whole. Ever since STO launched, we set the standard of a different UI for each of the factions. The Federation had their bright blue windows and the Klingons their bright red ones.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
So, what would a Romulan UI for STO look like? Would it be the same glow-infused look as the current skins, but colored green? After some reflection, this didn’t seem like a good return on investment for the time it would take to implement. Recreating all of the UI textures in a style similar to the existing assets but flavored for Romulans – and then implementing a skin with these new textures – promised to be a daunting task that would have taken a lot of time.
What might have been…
We realized that if we were going to invest that much time into the UI, we might as well develop a new implementation that improved the look for all of our factions. This was also a great opportunity to explore a user interface design that felt more familiar to Star Trek fans. The Trek faithful know the sweep of Mike Okuda’s graceful LCARS "elbows" by heart, and it was time to finally bring that classic design to Star Trek Online.
LCARS: For the Next, Next Generation
For the uninitiated, LCARS stands for "Library Computer Access and Retrieval System." Designed by Star Trek graphic artist Mike Okuda for Star Trek: The Next Generation, LCARS is essentially the Microsoft Windows of the 24th century. It is defined by clean aesthetic and touch-centric interface, styling which has proven to be uncannily prescient. Twenty-five years after the debut of LCARS on the small screen touch-centric computing devices with bright, colorful aesthetics have become the norm.
An early, rough mockup of a new LCARS UI
With the new UI, we wanted a design that honored these graphics that had adorned our favorite sets for decades. As we discussed how to best to implement such a design, we also realized we could leverage existing capabilities to expand UI options available to players and offer other new features that complement STO’s gameplay.
Emulating LCARS wasn’t our only goal, however. We also wanted to address some of the issues with the visual style of STO’s existing UI. For example, all of the elements in the current UI have a similar visual weight. At a glance, it’s hard to tell what is usable and what is decoration: window frames and buttons all have the same tone and glow, and it’s only by moving your mouse over something can you figure out what is interactable and what isn’t.
Additionally, the colors of the current UI are very bright, maybe even to the point of distraction in the case of the Klingons. We wanted the new UI to compliment the action of the game, not distract from it.
To address these concerns, we developed a look that was higher contrast. We used bright colors to emphasize things that you could interact with and chose dark colors for decorative frames. It was important that it became very clear at a glance what elements were important to control your ship or your captain and which things were just there for flavor.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
By rebuilding the UI with LCARS in mind, we were able to leverage a "flatter" style that allowed us to use the game’s UI engine to offer an unprecedented level of customizability in STO. The new UI’s setup meant that we could now dynamically colorize most elements using data inputs instead of requiring new textures to be made in Photoshop for each different UI style. This gave us a lot of flexibility and inspired us to introduce the concept of "color schemes".
Color schemes allow players to choose their favorite UI look from a wide variety of options. The default Federation color scheme keeps STO’s 2409 LCARS style of "blue on blue," while adding some contrasting yellows for various elements. The default Klingon color scheme now uses orange as its primary interact color and a maroon for its window frames, keeping the fiery Klingon feel while being less intense on the eyes than the current Klingon skin. As for Romulans, they wound up with a cool green color scheme inspired by their control panels seen in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
We also took the opportunity to introduce color schemes that diehard Trek fans and Roleplayers will appreciate. Are you a Gorn renegade or an Orion privateer? There’s a color scheme for you! Nostalgic for the bright beiges, pinks and blues of the mid 24th century? The TNG color scheme has you covered.
In all, there are eight color schemes, and your color scheme option is independent of which faction you’re playing – so if you’re a Federation captain who really likes the Gorn color scheme, you’re good to go!
When Legacy of Romulus launches on Holodeck, you can access the color scheme choice on the 'Basic' tab of the Options menu.
Not only did the dynamic nature of the new UI allow us to offer color schemes as an option, but it also allows us to offer a UI that is more situationally aware and immersive. Initial experiments in seeing how the UI could react to gameplay led to the new Red Alert mode, where the UI actually pulses alert colors slowly while the player is in combat. This is especially useful in the contact or the character status windows, where your combat status limits certain actions you can take.
Plus, it really feels like you’re the captain of a ship and all hands are at battlestations!
Red Alert is the tip of the iceberg though, and we have discussed a few other cool ways the UI could react to important gameplay events. If you have ideas or suggestions, let us know!
Second Star to the Right, and Straight On ‘til Tribble
Working on the UI for a Star Trek game is a unique opportunity because it is one of the few cases where the User Interface can actually add to the immersion instead of detracting from it. Our goal with the new UI has been to create something more faithful to the look of Star Trek – something that naturally brings you into the experience of controlling your own starship or commanding your away team.
Simultaneously, the new UI de-emphasizes the elements that don’t require your constant attention, letting you focus on gameplay.
Unlike the fickle engineers that Dr. McCoy lamented at, we don’t want to change things just for change’s sake. We are excited about the level of immersion, responsiveness and customizability the new UI will bring to Legacy of Romulus and Star Trek Online.
If you have been following Tribble for the last couple of weeks, you know that we are paying careful attention to your feedback and have already made many tweaks and improvements to the new UI. Please continue to test these updates on Tribble and we’ll make sure the User Interface is ready when it’s time to march beneath the raptor’s wings this May.
We’ll see you in-game!
Thomas "TheCrypticCat" Marrone
Star Trek Online