Q&A: Star Trek Online’s Al Rivera

Reoh | 13 October 2009 | Comments off

It took a while with some delays at both ends, but I'm happy to present this question and answer session for Cryptic Studio's still in development MMORPG entitled Star Trek: Online. I tried to ask all the questions listed and a number of my own, as you can see though however there were a few that were not able to be answered at this time. Hopefully when a launch date is released and the game starts getting closer to that point then (and not likely much earlier) we'll be able to source some answers for those.

TOG: Firstly let me thank you for sparing the time to answer our questions. Would you please introduce yourself to our readers and state what your role is in developing Star Trek Online?

A: My name is Al Rivera and I am the Lead Designer on Star Trek Online.

TOG: How much content is there for someone that prefers the single-player experience, will players be forced to join in groups and fleets to progress and get the top tier equipment and personnel?

A: Between the hand-crafted episodes and the procedurally generated exploration star clusters, there are thousands of hours of PvE content alone. There are several large scale zones that require a team to succeed. We encourage players to participate in these zones simple because they are fun, but we try to avoid forcing a player to do anything they don’t want to.

There are, however, optional raid-style missions and zones that will require a team to complete, but players are not required to participate in this content to progress.

Throughout the game and at the endgame, there are many options for players. PvE raid style content, endless exploration, and PvP. Each one will offer unique rewards. So players can opt to engage in solo or group play in either PvE or PvP at any time to acquire top tier items. Some items are only available in some locations. So if you want all the different styles of top tier items, then you’ll need to participate in all the different styles of gameplay – but you can continue to progress by playing in any of those activities.

TOG: As players ‘unlock’ extra ways to play in their class, are these predefined or can a player choose to unlock the abilities that interest them most (and if so, can these choices be reselected)?

A: The skill-tree has almost no prerequisites. So you can choose any skills in your early profession, and then choose to either specialize or generalize as much as you like. The one exception is ship skill. If you want to successfully play in a top tier ship, say a top tier science vessel, you will need to invest skillpoints in the previous tier ship skill.

TOG: In a recent ‘Ask Cryptic’ (July 12th) you mentioned the differences in ship design and career stream philosophy between the two factions, can you tell us anything yet about the designations for Klingon ships and careers? How do they collectively match up against their Federation counterparts?

A: Klingon careers are the same as Federation (Tactical, Science or Engineer), although there are some minor differences, such as Bat’leth skills. Klingons will have access to Birds of Prey, Raptors; battlecruisers (like the Vor’cha), battleships (like the Negh’Var) or the new Vo’Quv dreadnought carrier. As you increase in rank, you will gain access to new ships.

TOG: The Vo’Quv super carrier was revealed on the website a while ago (July 24th); Will such carriers have automated pilots in small fighters as a weapon, perhaps something akin to the Scorpion Class attack fighters in the Star Trek: Nemesis movie?

A: The Vo’Qov carrier launches To'Duj attack Fighters, and perhaps a few Birds of Prey. If you are commanding the Vo’Qov, these ships can be launched and are autonomous pets.

TOG: Speaking of Star Trek: Nemesis, can I perform a combat roll manoeuvre to protect weakened shields by effectively being “upside down” in relation to an opponent and presenting them with a less damaged side of the ship?

A: You most definitely need to turn your ship to protect you weak shields, but you cannot roll “upside down.” There are fore, aft, port and starboard shields, but no dorsal or ventral shields. To be clear, Star Trek online is a true 3D game with full X,Y,Z movement. We do, however, keep all ship oriented in the same level plane – just like the show. We found that space movement can be disorienting, and keeping all ships in the same orientation makes it more accessible to most players.

TOG: During away mission play, how much of the actual shooting part of combat is passed along into damage, as opposed to number crunching/dice rolling in the background. Are we still playing a typical MMORPG with selecting targets and hitting abilities or will we find the game has shifted into a more First or Third Person Shooter mechanic?

A: Expect ground combat to be fast paced squad based combat. STO ground combat is an action MMO. You will still need to select a target, but there is no accuracy or missing in ground combat and it is not a twitch-based first-person-shooter.

TOG: How friendly will Star Trek Online be towards casual players, what sort of features might keep them competitive against a more hardcore player with additional time to spare?

A: This is very important to us. For example, I have already discussed how we keep all ships in the same orientation, but there are many other examples. In space, we have 3 options for managing your power levels – preset buttons, read only bar-graphs, or full manual control over all power levels. On the ground, your away-team is completely autonomous, or you can choose to give them more specific orders if you want. We try to keep this in mind with all the games features so casual players can be successful, but more hardcore players can take advantage of more advanced tactics.

TOG: What of the hardcore player; will they find content in the game to keep their voracious appetites appeased? What can they look forward to when they boldly go where no player has gone before?

A: In addition to the more advanced controls I mentioned above, and the different types of content including multiplayer Raids, procedurally generated Exploration content, and PvP (all of which is available throughout the game, not just endgame); I believe the hardcore player will be pleased with the amount of flexibility and combinations they will uncover in character advancement. Although basically foolproof for the casual player, the hardcore player will constantly find new ways to apply their skills, modify their ship, and build the perfect Bridge Crew. You can be the best tactical captain, have the best Escort with the best Tactical Bridge Officers, but some of you skills and abilities will work better when you are in a Cruiser with the right Science Officer. It will be up to the player to decide how to combine all these factors in the most effective way for them.

TOG: Would you please tell us more about your random content generator. Has Genesis reached the testing phase yet? If not, how is it coming along in general? What precautions have you taken in avoiding the City of Heroes/Villains issue with random dungeons becoming too familiar after someone has run through them many times?

A: What I can tell you is that this system is nothing like the CoH/CoV style newspaper missions. When Cryptic made CoH /CoV newspaper missions, they were all hand created, and it was very possible to play the same mission more than once. The Star Cluster you explore in STO are truly procedural. The mission, enemies, terrain, text and objectives are all procedurally generated. It is statistically improbable you will ever come across the same system in star cluster content twice. There are literally thousands of space, ground and interior maps that have been generated so the environment alone will always be fresh and new.

TOG: I believe this system ties in with your first contact missions, is that correct? In dealing with securing star systems for one faction or another to make use of as crew races and technologies, what more can you tell us about the first contact feature?

A: Not going to answer at this time.

TOG: In PVE (player vs. environment) is there an element of territorial control where players combat non-player factions for control of systems or is this only a Klingon vs. Federation feature?

A: Not going to answer at this time.

TOG: Does the Klingon/Federation border host a factional star system control PVP (Player vs. Player) battlefront that players contest over for the rights to decide which faction gets the races/technologies available in these systems, or is this just in PVE missions? If so, what can you tell us about it?

A: Not going to answer at this time.

TOG: PVP tournaments are very popular in recent MMORPG’s, but at a cursory glance they don’t seem to fit the nature of the Star Trek universe. Have you considered implementing a feature like this and if so what can you tell us about it?

A: Not going to answer at this time.

TOG: Adding anywhere and anytime instancing for PVP combat has been on the rise, will the game feature this sort of content? Some people suggest that adding this sort of instant action is the bane of an open system PVP, what do you have to say on the matter?

A: We think a system like this works very well for STO. Our challenge system will allow you to challenge another player or team at any time. Sometimes, players just want to test their mettle, and the challenge system allows them to do this with little effort. The PvP game, which takes place in the Neutral Zone, is much more involved and includes objectives and rewards (including character advancement) which offer something entirely different than the instanced PvPing of our challenge system.

TOG: In your opinion, what is the game’s biggest and most exciting secret that the public may not be aware of until they play the game? Are there many such nuggets for players to discover?

A: Off the top of my head, I can think of 2 that I think the players are really going to be excited about. But if I told you now, it wouldn’t be a secret.

TOG: How configurable is the User Interface? Will there be support for user generated modifications?

A: It’s too early to say at this time.

TOG: If I was captaining my ship, would I have the option of using my view screen or will there only be a floating camera third-person (ship?) view? How about in ground combat, may we expect both first and third person views?

A: No, you can’t play space combat from your view-screen. On ground we are currently experimenting with what to do with the camera when you zoom all the way in. We have tried a first person view, but frankly, it is not effective for STO.

TOG: Can you share any features for players that may live with handicaps that will ease their ability to play (such as colour blindness support, click to move interfaces, or subtitles)?

A: I don’t have any info for you at this time.

[Reoh - It should be noted that Cryptic's recently launched Champions Online just altered all default colouring for the chat interface to be colour blind conscious, that I personally do almost all my movement from the mouse but not through click to move (not sure how they could make flight work with that!), and that they also began subtitling their cinematics]

TOG: What degree of social networking and stat tracking for players and fleets will Star Trek Online feature? Will players be able to link their details from Champions Online accounts as well?

A: I don’t have any info for you at this time.

TOG: Champions Online recently announced their pricing options, along with lifetime subscriptions. Can we expect that the subscription fees and micro-transactions mentioned will be similar for Star Trek Online? Will either of these IP’s be supporting some sort of gamecard? Are you planning to give people who subscribe to both games a discount on their monthly fees?

A: I do not have any info for you about pricing at this time.

TOG: How important is continued development and content of the game to players for the team. Have you plans for new features you wish to add post-launch that you can tell us about? Will these be free content updates or paid for expansions or micro-transaction unlocks?

A: Continued development of live content is a huge deal at Cryptic Studios. While working on City of Heroes and Villains, we released a free expansion about every 4 months. Cryptic still strongly believes in this model for its MMOs and you can expect to see a similar level of free content and support for STO post launch. With an IP as rich as Star Trek, there is no lack of ideas. As for retail expansions, right now we are just focusing on getting this one out the door.

TOG: Will the game servers be coming down for regular maintenance, if so do you know how often that will be, or if a rotating schedule so as not to continually hinder any particular time zone regularly?

A: I don’t have any info for you at this time.

TOG: As a global community, TOG has members from all over the world. Will I as a player in Australia ever be able to compete against my friends from North America, Europe, or other continents around the world or will they have separate regional based servers?

A: Although it’s a little early to make any promises, North America and Europe will probably play on the same servers. I can’t speculate on Asia and Australia at this time.

TOG: How about a selection of beta invites for Star Trek Online to disperse amongst The Older Gamers some members (hint/nudge/wink)?

A: [No response on this one - Well, I had to try! Hahahahah!]

Thats all for this interview, hope you enjoyed the read and if you want to discuss this article or anything else Star Trek Online related, why not hop on over to our forums. Oh and don't forget to sign up for the Closed Beta!

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