Down to Earth or Another Planet - A Star Trek Online Ground Combat Q&A with Dan Stahl
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="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/76232">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: Lets take the
Klingon Federation Front as an example. Its
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 youll 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, thats one episode,
and there is a certain amount of episodes in every hub.
Then, in addition, you have patrol missions. For patrol missions, Id
say theyre 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, theres 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 wouldnt be
possible then, for a player to choose
to simply do only ground missions.
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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 its just to go look for scientific
anomalies. Then there may be a clue to send you to a planet to find out
whats 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
Dan: Where weve 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, its hard to get an overall view of that. Just
like any MMO, for the first ten levels, youre not going to get a
really good representation of class benefits.
Weve been recently playing some content in the later hubs, and its
really impressive to see how different the encounters play. For
example, when youre 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 were trying to keep it fun and
fast. Its 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 dont 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
theres 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 youre
going to do to your opponent.
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 cant
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 someones shooting you, theyll 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. Thats 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 theyre all tied into the
weapon that youre holding. Every weapon has three attacks.
Theres 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 its a rifle butt, or a hand strike something to keep people
away from you.
Weapons come in different flavors in the Star Trek Universe. Theres
phasers, theres disruptors, theres 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="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/68225"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 156px;" alt=""
hspace="3">Dan: 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
The nice thing is that if youre 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, theyll 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 youll move around the battlefield.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do the episodes scale
to the players level?
Dan: Episodes are a specific
level, simply because of where they exist.
As you progress through the hubs, content gets harder. Thats 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 were trying to group
people together, we certainly dont 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 didnt 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
youd like to tell us about
Dan: The things Im really
enjoying about ground combat right now are
the dynamics. Even by myself, I can outfit my away team to fill certain
Theres 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 Ill give expose weapons to some of my away team
members. What theyll 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. Its 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.