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Down to Earth or Another Planet - A Star Trek Online Ground Combat Q&A with Dan Stahl

Posted Mon, Nov 16, 2009 by B. de la Durantaye

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


This week's Q&A session with Cryptic Studios took place with Dan Stahl, Producer of Star Trek Online. We've talked about space combat with the team a couple of weeks ago, and this week, we wanted to delve in a bit more into ground combat. How does the game play feel and differ when on ground? How does ranged combat work? How often will we be on ground? All of these questions, and more, were answered by our guest, who was more than happy to explain Star Trek Online ground combat to us.


Ten Ton Hammer: How frequently will players be involved in ground combat?

Dan Stahl: Let’s take the Klingon Federation Front as an example. It’s the first hub in the game. Within that hub, you have a number of episodes. Each episode is a five act instance. Within those five acts, one to three are ground maps. Just like a tv show, one episode may be to fly to a system, take some readings, maybe go onto a ship, where you might get a clue where they beamed down to the planet, so you beam down, and then maybe you’ll have to chase them back up into space. So, within those five acts, you have a couple of space maps, and a couple of ground maps – one interior, one exterior. So, that’s one episode, and there is a certain amount of episodes in every hub.

Then, in addition, you have patrol missions. For patrol missions, I’d say they’re about 75 to ninety percent space. We do, however, have a few that do contain ground. On top of that, there are star clusters, which is pure exploration, and I think the balance there is closer to 50/50.

But, in general, there’s always going to be more space content than ground, simply because we never have you go from the overhead map directly to the ground. You always have to go through a system map to get to a ground map. So, by default, there will always be more system maps.

Ten Ton Hammer: So it wouldn’t be possible then, for a player to choose to simply do only ground missions.

Dan: Episodes are always going to involve, for the most part, some sort of combat in both arenas. Patrol missions are mostly space combat.

Star clusters are a little bit different, and this is where we try to balance things out. In exploration, there are space maps that have zero combat in them whatsoever, where it’s just to go look for scientific anomalies. Then there may be a clue to send you to a planet to find out what’s going on. So there certainly is content that has no combat in it whatsoever.

In addition to that, there are fleet actions, and these are our 20-man open missions where we try to get a bunch of players on the map and have them work together to complete objectives. There are both space and ground versions of those. For example, in the Klingon Front, you may go to the Gorn mine field, or Star Base 24 if you really like space combat, or you may choose to go to the Ice Mining Rig, which is just a huge, giant ground map.

Ten Ton Hammer: Would you consider ground combat more tactical, or action based?

Dan: Where we’ve slowed down space combat to make it more tactical, I think the fun on the ground is definitely more action. Less Gears of War, more Halo. With that said, we have been adding more tactical features just so you have class differentiation. Science officers can do certain tricks on the ground, as can Engineers and Tactical officers, and then on top of that, your bridge officers have a whole bunch of fun things.

Early on in the game, it’s hard to get an overall view of that. Just like any MMO, for the first ten levels, you’re not going to get a really good representation of class benefits.

We’ve been recently playing some content in the later hubs, and it’s really impressive to see how different the encounters play. For example, when you’re fighting Romulans, you may know that Romulans like to do things a certain way, so you adjust your tactics to suit that. So we do have some tactics in there, but we’re trying to keep it fun and fast. It’s not a turn-based combat system.

Ten Ton Hammer: How does ranged combat work? Is there a targeting reticule?

Dan: You select an enemy as a target. You don’t have to aim, so it is a little bit RPG style.
We do calculate things like flanking, whether or not the person has shields, if they have buffs, what kind of weapon is being used, so there’s a lot of RPG number crunching going on in the background. All of that stuff is taken into account in terms of how much damage you’re going to do to your opponent.

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