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Star Trek Online VIP Q&A with Craig Zinkievich

Updated Mon, Oct 26, 2009 by B. de la Durantaye

Questions by Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, Executive Editor, Ten Ton Hammer
Answers by Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, Star Trek Online (Cryptic Studios)

As part of our Premium Membership Program, members get a chance to ask their own questions of the developers for various MMOGs. This week, we talked to Cryptic Studios about Star Trek Online. Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, was more than happy to answer questions from our readers ranging in topic from ground vehicles, to some hints about crafting, to instancing and raiding.



Ten Ton Hammer: Ground vehicles - are there going to be any in the game? (stefman123)

Craig Zinkievich: Not at launch. It is something that, in beaming down to all these alien planets that we’re procedurally generating, you do want to jump into that cool buggy that  they had in the last movie. But no, no ground vehicles at launch.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us any more detail about crafting? (Stormnet)

Craig: We’re not ready to go into detail about crafting, but I can assure you that there are a lot of crafting-like systems in the game. One of the systems is going out and scanning anomalies, collecting alien artifacts, bio-samples, and bringing that stuff back to Memory Alpha, which is the repository in the universe for all data and information on the Federation side. Also, the ability to train your bridge officers is something that’s going to be in the game, but we’ll get a lot more specific about that in the coming weeks.

Ten Ton Hammer: During space travel, how much control do pilots have over the ship? For example, would it be possible to divert the power from the flux converter to the shield generator in a pinch? (stefman123)

Craig: Definitely in system space, when you’re flying around in 3D rather than the Sector Map, which is kind of the astrometrics overview of the game. You can transfer power to engines, get a boost, put it into your auxiliary, which also feeds your thrusters, so you get a little more turning radius. So you can definitely play around with your movement based on the items that you have, whether or not you have consoles that enhance your movement capabilities, what engine you have slotted in your ship, as well as just moment-to-moment changing your power balance to get a little burst. Lots of ways to change your movement.

Ten Ton Hammer: So ships have slots where you can upgrade your items?

Craig: Oh yea, definitely. You can upgrade your impulse engine item on your ships.

Ten Ton Hammer: Also with the system space view, is there any kind of viewport, first-person view, and what kind of camera angles are available? (stefman123)

Craig: In system space, it is all third-person. You can zoom in really, really close to your ship, but you can’t actually get to your bridge. The positional aspect is so important; we tried kind of a bridge view, the positional aspect was so fun that we kind of kept that and sacrificed the bridge view. It’s too hard to figure out exactly where someone is - are they on your right or rear shield? It’s just to hard to figure it out at the pace we have combat going.

Ten Ton Hammer:  What about cash ops and microtransactions? (OneEyeRed)

Craig: We definitely plan on having microtransactions in the game. I know it was a pretty big bruhaha when Champions Online announced it, but pretty much everyone understands that it’s for cosmetic things. If there are any items that you can get with microtransactions, you can also get them in the game. It’s not a microtransaction advancement model, most of the items are cosmetic - costume pieces, that sort of stuff.

Ten Ton Hammer: What about PvP? Are you ready to share a little more about that yet? (Metal)

Craig: There’s definitely PvP in the game, they’ll be arenas as well as battleground-type maps, but we’re kind of holding off on that a bit.

Ten Ton Hammer: How steep is the learning curve? Can players jump into STO quickly, or will players have to spend some time learning the controls? (Metal)

Craig: It is something that we’re continuing to work on. The game is extremely deep, it has a lot of strategy, a lot of things you can do within the game, so we’re not at all concerned about long-term viability and depth of gameplay. But we are continuing throughout the beta cycle, throughout our internal playtest, to try to lower that learning curve to try to get tools, get controls in place that allow players to jump in a little easier. We want players to get hooked and then realize how deep the gameplay is. So we’re constantly trying to make it as accessible as possibile without dumbing down the gameplay - without making it a casual flash game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there instances in the game? Could you tell us more about how instancing works? (Metal)

Craig: There are definitely instances in the game. The majority of the PvE content that is  in the game is 5-man instanced content. The episodes, the patrol missions, the majority of the game ends up being 5-man instances. But some of the systems we’ve put in place make those 5-man areas feel like they’re persistent areas. You could be directed to rescue this ship under attack,but when you arrive there, there are already a couple people there that have just started that episode. Then we team you up and you get to go through the episode together. So we kind of call it “open instances” - we allow you to join other instances, but they are still 5-man instances and are a majority of the content.

Ten Ton Hammer: These other areas - are they pretty much unlimited or do you predict that you’ll need to divy those up into other instances kind of like what we saw in Champions Online?

Craig: The episodic instances and the 5-man instances that I was talking about - it’s a lot more like City of Heroes, where you go on a mission and that’s your mission, as opposed to unlocked big endgame instances. We have those endgame instances in the game, but a majority of the other stuff is not unlocked like that.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us a bit more about the endgame raids?

Craig: We call them “raid-isodes” - it’s part of the endgame, but there are definitely raids at the endgame and a reward structure that goes along with that. They’re 5-man, so they’re like episodes, but they’re scaled up - you can’t even do them solo well (maybe if you’re really, really good).

Ten Ton Hammer: So there’s no 20-man raids or anything like that?

Craig: There are fleet actions, which are kind of the large 30-40 starship battles and ground combat actions that are more like a persistent area where you end up going to, as well as really large PvP battles. But there really aren’t 20-man PvE raids in the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is Star Trek Online Windows 7 compatible? (Metal)

Craig: We are going through compatibility testing with Windows 7, we haven’t had any issues so far. We definitely have to make sure we support that because I imagine that a whole lot of the new computers will be loaded up with that.

Ten Ton Hammer: One reader was asking about time travel, warping, and alternate universes. Are those themes going to be present in the game? (Mordan)

Craig: Sure - you can’t make a Star Trek game, you can’t expect to put any story into a Star Trek game and not at some point go back in time or to a mirror universe. So, yea, definitely, that stuff is in the game. All of our story-driven content is really inspired by what Star Trek is about.

Ten Ton Hammer: Going back a little bit to space combat - how dynamic is it? Will players be able to do special piloting moves - one example given was the ‘Kaufman Retrograde’, spinning on the ship’s axis to fire behind while maintaining momentum forward?

Craig: We played around with that a little bit in the beginning, but we ended up sticking to the idea that the ships always move forward, that you can’t apply thrust and then turn around. When we put that in, we pretty much just had everyone in the game constantly kiting, and we were like, ‘Wow, that’s really actually no fun at all.’ So starships always have forward momentum. If you want to move in a different direction, you do have to actually turn around.

Ten Ton Hammer: So there’s no reverse at all?

Craig: There is a reverse, but it’s really intended to get yourself out of situations like if you get yourself jammed against an asteroid. If you’re really really good, you can play around with reverse in combat, but it’s very slow compared to moving forward.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will STO have separate servers, or will it be one massive universe?

Craig: At launch it’s going to be one shard, one universe. Bruce Rogers, our CTO, has done a fantastic job of architecting a system that allows us to have that one shard, one universe, and it just makes for a much easier world to manage and easier for people who don’t understand the whole process of figuring out which server your friends are playing on. It’s better for that not to matter.

Ten Ton Hammer: How will that affect players overseas? Will it all be one North American server?

Craig: Currently Champions European players play on the same shard and the text is localized, chat is not auto-translated. So everyone plays on one shard,

Ten Ton Hammer: And there hasn’t been any kind of performance hit because of that?

Craig: The networking guys here have done an awesome job; most of the guys in Europe are really really happy with the way that it performs.


Be sure to join us again next week as we talk to Cryptic about Powers and Professions in Star Trek Online.


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