Posted Mon, Nov 02, 2009 by Ethec
The excitement continues to build as Star Trek Online entered closed beta less than two weeks ago. For part one of a two-part series on space and ground combat in Star Trek Online, Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich stopped in to chat about how ship-to-ship combat plays out in the final frontier. What role will ship type, speed, maneuverability, and tactics play in battle, and can your friends join in your encounter or instance at any time? What about loot and loot split in co-op combat? Will STO support user interface addons and flight sim-oriented peripherals? And, as importantly as any of these questions, how will Star Trek Online preserve the "bridge drama" and atmosphere that has made Star Trek ship combat so compelling for generations? The answers to these questions and more below!
Ten Ton Hammer: So when I think of what makes Star Trek space combat bracing, it wasn't the budget TNG visuals, it was the bridge drama. The ship takes a hit, sparks fly, the viewscreen fuzzes out, the guys in yellow shirts flying halfway across the screen, and someone yells that deck nine has sustained casualties. How do you preserve that "bridge drama" with the third-person perspective in Star Trek Online? Do voiceovers play a role?
Craig: We're playing with voiceovers in terms of giving you information about what is going on during combat. And we're testing that and seeing how it works: seeing how annoying it can be to be told that you shields are going down over and over again, and trying to find nice ways to get that in the game because as you pointed out, I think that having your bridge crew, having your bridge officers actually relay the information about what's going on is kind of a very important part of Star Trek.
I think one of the ways that we really kind of approach the combat is really by slowing it down. I mean... we looked at a lot of games that were out there--a lot of space sim games and even a lot of Star Trek games that came before, and a lot of them tried to make it into a dogfight, or tried to make it zippy, or tried to make it really fast and action-y. And we really tried to slow the pace of combat down to the point where you could be worrying about your shields, you could be worrying about: 'Okay, I've got to go into defensive mode for a little bit to get myself back into the state where I can jump back into battle,' and allow you to play with your power levels, allow you to worry about positioning. So we did many, many iterations to kind of slow the pace of combat down to try to get that 'this one thing went wrong, how am I going to react to that one specific part of combat?'
STO will make extensive use of space combat to tell its stories.
Ten Ton Hammer: How does space combat interact with story? Can you take damage to critical systems as you're working your way into an instance... and be maybe a little more limited in your options? Can you loot interesting things, you know tractor beam them aboard and equip them right away? We talked about docking a little bit, and the kinds of things that would be available to you there. But, maybe you could talk about, just in general, how the things that happen in combat affect or change or build up the story?
Craig: Some combat ends in total annihilation of your target and some combat is pretty much halted right at the end. You finish them off, but they're still there- you beam aboard their ship and try to take that ship over. We're trying to work in different ways of merging the story and combat. More than half of the game does take place in space, so half of the time, you are adventuring around and discovering things, and realizing what is going on.
Now, there's nothing in the game right now, that's like, 'Oh look, his shields are down, so the instance is going to play like this instead.' But there are environmental things. I mean, it happens all the time in Star Trek where: 'Oh look, our communications aren't working.' Or, 'We can't transport out of here.... we've got to find someplace where the transporters are going to work.' Or even with the gameplay itself. I know there is this one episode where you show up at this system, and it is just crawling with Klingons--there's just no way to take them on straight on. But, you do have to get to a destination on the other side of the system. And so, you end up skirting all of the Klingons and you have to stay within the nebula so that they can't actually detect you. So there are a lot of things about the story and about the environment that kind of change up how your ship behaves and how combat works.
Ten Ton Hammer: So, we know about the two different views: the astrometrics kind of "overworld" view of the game, and system space where combat occurs. As you're going along in the astrometrics overview, is there a chance that you could be attacked by random NPCs as you're going along?
Craig: I wouldn't call it randomly, but yes. It's not a Final Fantasy mechanic where you're flying along and it goes "doo-dlee-doo-dlee-doo" and it takes you into an instance. But, there are critters, there are enemy signals that you will see on the astrometrics view... you know, Klingons coming into Federation space to attack planets or the Borg down in the southernmost sectors. And you can engage them or you can try to avoid them. Yeah, there definitely are (just to use MMO parlance) there are wandering mobs in the astrometrics in the system space view.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will they pursue you at all? Will you see those signals move toward you?
Craig: Yes. Some of the signals will actually move away from you, and you have to chase them down. But some of them will see you and engage and then draw you into combat. So, yes... it's really kind of up to the player. You can go right at them, but yeah, they come after you. They end up aggroing you just as if they noticed you and you noticed them. They'll just react how they are programmed to react. You may see a bunch of Klingons and then they turn to attack you. Now the cool thing is that that encounter ends up turning into a location on the astrometric map, where other players who are flying by and who are flying around in sector space can see that activity, that there's something going on there, and they can actually jump in and help out.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will those encounters kind of scale to the size and composition of your group? Or are they designed for a solo player?
Craig: They're actually designed for more than a solo player. So, a solo player getting jumped by one of them... it's one of things where we want... I mean, if players see this on the map, it's one of the things that they should think, 'I'm going to go help that guy, I'm going to go help out.' You can actually tell how many guys are in there. It's actually really hard for a single guy so if you get jumped as a solo player, you're probably going to try to get out of there as soon as possible. Or hope that other people are coming to help you. So, definitely, it scales.