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

This week's Q&A session with Cryptic Studios took place with Daniel 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.

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 href="">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.

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

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

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

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

href=""> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 141px;" alt=""
align="right" hspace="3">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

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

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.

style="background: transparent url('') no-repeat scroll 100% 0%; vertical-align: top;"> style="font-weight: bold;">Ten Ton Hammer: Can you take cover in
the game?

Dan: The kind of cover that we
have is not the Gears of War cover,
where you lock yourself onto a cover. We have a Halo-like shield pop
where if you duck behind something, it blocks line of sight. You can’t
be shot through a wall or around a corner. If you stay out of combat
for a certain amount of time, your shield will regenerate.

Your shield is what takes most of the energy damage, whereas your body
takes the kinetic damage. So, if someone’s shooting you, they’ll have
to get through your shields before they can do damage. If someone walks
up to you with a melee weapon, it just goes right through your shields
and starts pounding on your body. That’s the trade-off between energy
ranged weapons and melee. Hand to hand combat, for the most part, is
going to ignore shields.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can your ranged
weapons be put onto different settings,
like set phasers to stun?

Dan: The way ranged powers work
is that they’re all tied into the
weapon that you’re holding. Every weapon has three attacks. 
There’s the standard default attack, which is the button to do steady
damage. Then, every weapon has a secondary mode. The secondary attack,
can be anything from a stun, like on a type two phaser, to area of
effect attacks, to other attacks. Every weapon is different. A sniper
rifle, for instance, has a regular attack, and the second attack is a
steady-aimed, high-crit rifle shot.

The third power is always some sort of melee attack with that weapon,
whether it’s a rifle butt, or a hand strike – something to keep people
away from you.

Weapons come in different flavors in the Star Trek Universe. There’s
phasers, there’s disruptors, there’s tetryon beams, all the different
colors of beams that you see in the show are all represented in the
game. And they all do different types of damage and are effective
against different critters.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there a way to
escape combat? Can you ask your ship
to beam you back up in a pinch?

href=""> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 156px;" alt=""
src="" align="left"
: You always have the option
to get out of there. If you can get
yourself out of combat, and get to a safe spot, you can come back and
do it later. Then you can beam yourself back up to the ship and the
sector map.

The nice thing is that if you’re half way through an episode you can
opt to finish it later. You can beam back up to your ship, and then
when you come back, you can continue it from where you left off. 
Each act has a progress meter.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will all characters be
proficient at physical combat?

Dan: Based on the weapon that
they have, everyone has at least one type
of melee attack. And obviously, any species, if they have no weapons
has basic punches and pushes.

Certain species have innate powers – for example, Vulcans have the
nerve pinch. In addition, depending on your career path, you may have
access to better melee abilities. A tactical officer will be much more
proficient at close range, assault, and hand-to-hand combat. They can
level up those specific abilities, such as martial arts. As they level
up in different abilities, they’ll end up with different sorts of melee
combos. Depending on how high you level up in those different
proficiencies, you unlock abilities to do other combos, like a
jab-jab-punch, or a leg sweep-kick-push. The more you advance, the more
fancy you’ll move around the battlefield.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do the episodes scale
to the player’s level?

Dan: Episodes are a specific
level, simply because of where they exist.
As you progress through the hubs, content gets harder. That’s not to
say that all episodes are set that way, because we do have certain maps
and systems that do scale.

Because we have open instancing in the game and we’re trying to group
people together, we certainly don’t want a high-level admiral spawning
impossible creatures. So you can always go back and do an episode,
regardless of your level, but the difficulty of the episode will be
based on the recommendation. (If you go into your mission journal, it
will tell you the recommended level).

We do have a replay mechanism, so you can go back and replay episodes
if you team up with other people, and then we give you a secondary
mission that didn’t exist the first time you did it. This allows you,
as a high level player, to assist for a secondary reward, so there is
an incentive for you to do that.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else
you’d like to tell us about
ground combat?

Dan: The things I’m really
enjoying about ground combat right now are
the dynamics. Even by myself, I can outfit my away team to fill certain

There’s an expose and exploit feature I like as well. This is where
certain weapons will expose your enemy to critical damage, and other
weapons can then take advantage of that. So, for example, one of the
things I do, is I’ll give “expose weapons” to some of my away team
members. What they’ll do then, is try to find weaknesses in the
encounter. And indicator will pop up and tell you which characters are
weakened or exposed. Then, if I have an exploit weapon, I can then do
triple crit damage to that entity. It’s a fun dynamic because you can
have different people trying to create openings in the combat, and
others to take advantage of those openings.

Another thing that was recently added is flanking. If you have a team,
you can assign someone to flank your enemy, and that person will do
extra flank damage. You can become very efficient on the ground by
using those mechanics.

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