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A look at character development and combat


Books and movies rarely translate well to video games. In Star Trek Online (STO), Cryptic Studios decided to allow every player to be the captain of a starship, yet the developer has managed to keep as many elements of the Star Trek series as possible. Players will not be playing Sulu, Riker or Worf; instead, every gamer is a Kirk or a Picard, and as the captain of a starship, the player directs the battle.

Character Development
One of the game features Cryptic Studios is known for is its avatar customization. In STO, players can create their own alien races using the Species Creator. Each player character can be a different species, and species templates can be traded among players. Player skills, kits and ships allow each captain to take on a different role, and Cryptic does not expect STO to be “alt” heavy.


Being the captain of a starship is not the be-all and end-all career in STO. Captain Picard was an archeologist and diplomat. In STO, players can choose from three career paths: Tactical, Engineering and Sciences — which in parallel MMO terms are DPS, tank and support classes, respectively. Character advancement is skill-based, and completion of objectives, missions and episodic content yields rewards in Skill Points, Bridge Officer Points, Energy (in-game gold) and Starfleet Merit. In order to handle progression, players also gain ranks, which are dependent on the number of Skill Points earned. For example, when you reach the rank of Admiral, you get access to the final tier of starships.

Skills in STO are attributes that provide enhancement to powers and make players better at using their powers. As players advance, skills get more specific, and they can stack. There are currently 100 skills in the game, and each skill has nine ranks. Some skills are common across all careers, and some will be career-specific.

Powers are similar to skills and abilities in fantasy-based MMOs, such as the ability to fire a barrage of quantum torpedoes or the martial arts ability of close-combat melee. For players, powers also come from kits, which are career-specific, though there are many abilities that are common across all careers.

There are five Starship Captain Ranks: Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain and Admiral. Each rank has 10 levels, yielding a total of 50 levels. Rank is dependent on skills attained, so if you gain a great number of Skill Points but never use them, you can remain a lowly Lieutenant and never be able to promote your crew.

Bridge Officer Points are used to level Bridge Officer Powers. Starfleet Merit is used for promoting bridge officers and acquiring new ships when a player is at the rank to unlock them. Energy is used to equip ships, characters and crews — in customizing looks as well as purchasing and upgrading equipment. Kits are a separate feature and used by captains only on away or ground missions. Each career has access to three different types of kits, and everyone has access to hypo-syringes, which are used for healing and can be obtained through drops and from vendors.

Tactical has access to Soldier, Security and Special Ops kits, which provide abilities such as team buffs and martial arts, threat management and escort (the ability to beam down other team members), and stealth, respectively.

Engineering has access to Fabrication, Technician and Combat kits, which provide turrets and shields, buff/debuff of equipment, and mines and grenades.

Sciences has access to Medical, Research and Scientist kits, which provide better personal and group heals, direct personal debuffs (such as decreasing speed and health), and crowd control (such as stasis fields).

Ground Combat
sto_screen_092509_47Away teams will always have five members, be it players or bridge officers, with the game providing a security officer to make up numbers if players do not have a full complement of bridge officers to bring down to the planet. Prior to missions, players will have to kit out their captains as the kits equipped define the roles. Players will equip bridge officers as well as captains, but according to Cryptic, the game is not “gear-centric.”

“Ground combat is very much run and gun,” Craig said, “Facing counts and players will have to protect their flank and rear.”

Each captain has access to two weapons, which can be quickly switched, and each weapon has three attacks: regular, area of effect and special. A quick look at the paper doll of my demo character showed me a phaser, a rifle, shields, heals and a couple different kits.

“Bridge officers are MMO pets taken to the next level,” said Producer Dan Stahl, who handled the hands-on demo.

Currently, bridge officers have three states: passive, aggressive and one that has them target your target. The states are still being balanced, but according to Dan, bridge officers will never “go hunting” for you. They can be micromanaged or managed as a team and will join you in combat. In combat, their weapon skills are their primary skill, but they will use their secondary skills unless they are turned off. I wisely left the medical officer’s skill on.

“Everyone has the ability to resuscitate,” Dan said. “If you go down, your bridge officers will resuscitate you.”

Ship Combat
sto_screen_100209_21Starship combat in STO is a faithful reproduction of that from the TV and movie series. It is not a dogfight with spaceships zipping around. Instead, it recreates viscerally the feel from the captain’s chair as you manage your ship’s power and weaponry, shifting power to the shields as necessary, maneuvering so you can fire a broadside of photon torpedoes at your enemy, cycling to the fore weapons, and then waiting for the strategic moment to have a bridge officer use the tractor beam or disrupt the other ship’s shields.

As captain of a vessel, players have to manage power, which is divided into Weapons, Shields, Engines and Auxiliary. There are four settings: Attack, Defense, Speed and Balance, which shift power accordingly. Players can also manually move power to boost the shields that require it. Ships have consoles that contain equipment buffs and seats for bridge officers. At the top tier, players can have six seats and access to 12 powers.

There are three classes of ships in STO. The Escort class has small and fast vessels, the Cruiser class is your classic tank class with vast amounts of energy reserves, and the Science class is a defensive support vessel capable of subsystem targeting. That is to say, the Science class can target the weaponry or shield systems of an opponent. Ships have five tiers, corresponding to player ranks and 16 configurations. Players could potentially own one of each.

Player versus Player
PvP play is available in the neutral zones, but players who decide to play on the side of the Klingon Defense Federation will find that gameplay is heavily PvP. However, players also can play out their “Worf fantasies” and create Klingon characters on the Federation side, Craig said. The Klingon race will be unlocked after players play through the tutorial as a Federation captain; Cryptic has decided not to dedicate the resources to create a separate tutorial. More information on this aspect of the game will be available at a later date.

sto_screen_100909_15There are four major areas of content for the Starfleet area: Klingon, Romulan, DS9-Cardassian and the Borg. Each of the first three contain three sector maps or zones and are laid out like TV seasons, contain 14 major episodes and many minor side missions. In-between are star clusters for exploration for players to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Cryptic is proud to talk about its Genesis system, which is capable of generating space systems. The bits and pieces have been programmed, designers pick and choose parts and specify mission types, and the system generates the mission.

“It is exciting to see the combinations and permutations the system comes up with,” Dan said.

The content is then tweaked, and new lists and templates are set up based on the systems the artists, designers and testers enjoy the most and more are generated from that. Finally, Borg space is the end game, which will take teams of players to defeat.

“Bridge officers just won’t cut it,” Craig said. “This is raid content.”

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