Gearing Up in Star Trek Online – An Exclusive Interview with Cryptic Studios

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You can create the greatest game in the universe, but if it isn’t full of more loot than players can imagine, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle with your playerbase the moment it releases. We managed to track down Star Trek Online Producer, Dan Stahl, and System Designer, Joe Harrington, and convinced them to enlighten us on the importance gear plays in this upcoming title from Cryptic Studios.

Ten Ton Hammer: How exactly does gear work? Are there slots for your character's gear such as a chest slot, leg slot, etc?

Joe Harrington
: Yeah. You already know there's space and there's ground gameplay. On the ground, your captain avatar has multiple slots like a shield slot for a personal shield, a body slot for things like body armor. It has a kit slot for the various types of kits your class can use. It has a weapon slot with a primary and alternate so you can switch back and forth.

You also can equip your away team members. They have similar slots but not quite as many. They have a single gun slot, a shield slot, a body armor slot and a weapon slot. We also have consumable slots where you can slot up consumables so you can use them even though they’re in your inventory.

In space, your ships have some of the expected slots. You'll have weapon slots in space. You'll have a slot for impulse engines, shields, and deflector dish.

Ten Ton Hammer: Okay. You mentioned that the away team has some slots as well. What happens if a member of the away team dies? What happens to that equipment?

Dan Stahl: It stays on them. Most of your away team members don't actually die. They become incapacitated and so there's no permadeath in our game for your bridge officers because it's sucks to rank a guy up to level 30 and then all of a sudden you lose him and you're really mad.

Ten Ton Hammer: So what would happen if you put one of your really good weapons on one of your away team members and they became incapacitated? Would you be able to take their weapon and give it to a different member of the away team?

Joe: Yes.

Dan: While you can do that though, I would say you're not really going to because combat is so fast in terms of the encounters and most of the time you have a medic with you. Your medic is probably going to try and heal your away team member before you could equip his weapon.

Ten Ton Hammer: Cool. Are there armor types for the different careers, such as heavy or light?

Joe: Armor is more generic than that. It will have various statistics that give you some benefits, various resistances, and some bonuses. The only thing that's class specific is appearance.

Dan: The kits are class specific and that's what actually puts some of the gear on your character. But is there armor that appears on your body? Yes.

Joe: One of the things that we're pushing for is that when you equip it, your class's color should show. So if you're a science officer for example and you put on the polyweave armor, then it tints blue. There are different types of armors in the game, but there may be panels on it that will change color, depending on which class equips it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there any sort of cosmetic gear? Some thing that doesn't serve any actual purpose apart from changing how your character looks?

: For now, we're still focused strictly on gameplay gear. Later on, if we make cosmetic stuff, it'll be mostly social. So if you're on Risa, you may have some sunglasses. For now though, we're concentrating on getting functional gear in the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: That makes sense. So would you classify STO as an item-centric game? Are weapons and gear going to be the main rewards for completing missions in the episodes?

Joe: It's more item-centric than Cryptic has done in the past, but the design approach is that character development and away team development would be the primary focus. So as you get better ships, it improves your baseline as you go up levels. As you advance and improve your skills, you become more and more powerful. The items are meant more to augment and be hooks for that. Items are still very important, but it's not a design to make them a central focus of the game.

Dan: To kind of expand on that, I found that what items do for me is they help differentiate me from other people in my class. So for example, we could both be tactical officers and we skill up maybe a little bit similar because we're both tactical and we have a little bit of differentiation in our skills, but it's really the items that we equip that really make us different.

Like I put turrets on my Escort last night and that was freakin' awesome but not everybody does that because it drains your power levels. Items really make you different from other players.

Ten Ton Hammer: So you mentioned earlier different items will affect different stats. Can you give an example as to the sort of stats they would affect?

Joe: Things like impulse speed in space when you're running around doing things. Things like turning radius. Some f them impact things like bonuses to damage types such as more phaser damage. Things along those lines. The efficiency of engines, etc.

Dan: After just having gotten a lot of loot last night, there seems like there's an improvement for just about everything. It's pretty awesome the range of stuff you can get. I ended up with a bagful of stuff where I was like, "Well maybe that will be useful when I want to do this one mission," It's pretty cool.

Ten Ton Hammer: That brings up a good point. What sort of storage capabilities do you have? Is there a bank-type thing or a vault on your ship where you can store all your goodies? You know, for all the pack rats in us?

: We've been making some modifications to that, but the way it is right now, is that you as the captain have a personal inventory that is shared amongst all your entities. So, for example, there are a certain number of slots you have and right now, everything goes into those bags or whatever you want to call them. We call them transfer bays or cargo bays. Those cargo bays are shared among all your people. So when you get an item, or pick something up, it just goes into your cargo bays. You don't have to switch to a certain person and look at their cargo. It's all shared amongst the player.

Ten Ton Hammer: That makes sense. What about tiers of gear? Are there separate tiers up to and including an epic weapon or armor set?

Joe: Yes. The gear progresses. It's sort of in a traditional fashion. We have your basic gear, which is just a baseline item. We'll have gear that is less common. We're using a color system to differentiate the rarity of items. The additional rarity adds additional mods.

So like, I have a gun that does 10 points of damage, that's the baseline item. I have a gun that does 10 points of damage and it has a 2% chance to crit, so that would be less common. As you'd expect, as you progress through the game, your character will have more and more of the rare items.

We do plan on having some really high-end stuff in there for players to discover.

Ten Ton Hammer: Cool. When you get bigger and better ships, do they have more slots where you can attach more upgrades?

Joe: Yes, they do. They also introduce some extra characteristics. So the ship you start the game with is pretty vanilla. I hate to use the phrase, but it's probably the most accurate. When you get past your initial beginning and get your first promotion, Starfleet will offer you opportunities to try other ships that have different characteristics.

Dan was talking about his Escort ship earlier. It's sort of like a Defiant in that it's fast, it's aggressive, and it's agile. Maybe a little thin on some of its defenses, but it's definitely of the good offense/good defense type. Then you have a science ship that offers a different type of gameplay where you'll be using different types of powers and things. And then we've got the classic cruiser which is just your stalwart, tough ship. It's flexible, capable, lots of people, and is just a good, tough ship.

Dan: I've found that the different classes of ships, because as you progress you do get more and more slots in your ships, but they're specific to the characteristics of that ship class. For example, in my tier one Escort, I have more slots to put tactical gear in. So I can upgrade my torpedoes, my phasers, and my beam weapons, but I don't have a lot of options for upgrading my shields, engineering, or my science capabilities.

That's kind of an interesting dynamic because I may get some really good gear, but because I'm in an Escort ship, if I get that really awesome science mod, I've only got one slot to use it in. You've got to really pick and choose what you put there.

Joe: The other thing too is the ships also determine the bridge officers you assign, so you'll have more seats for more officers and the more advanced ships open the door for more advanced bridge officers and powers. So if you have a high-ranking science officer, he won't necessarily be as capable in an Escort class ship as he would be in a science vessel. You can also staff more science officers in a science vessel than you can in say an escort.

Ten Ton Hammer: All right.

Dan: We should also probably mention that certain gear is level capped or rank classed. Like I can't just get that awesome tetryon beam and put it in my light frigate. It doesn’t really work that way.

Ten Ton Hammer: Right. Are you able to pick up armor and weapons from space missions and conversely, are you able to pick up ship upgrades from ground missions?

: Yes. From the missions themselves, yes. The normal drops are still restricted to their domains so you'll never see a Klingon warrior drop an impulse engine. With the missions themselves, we're not trying to restrict ourselves because frankly, so many of our missions are blended. You don't typically do a mission that is all ground, or all space. A number of our missions have a ground and space component to them. So I guess we should say that mission rewards you get for complete the mission could be a ground or space item.

Ten Ton Hammer: With the rewards for these episodes and these missions, do you have an option to select and choose your reward?

Joe: Yes. We're trying to make sure that that's the case.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is that an intelligent system where it will recognize what your ship or class is and hence, offer an appropriate item or will it list out everything, whether you need it or not?

Joe: At the moment, the system isn't so intelligent it can say, "Oh. You're this class and have this type of ship so I'll offer you these items," It's much more generic. So we've been trying to make offerings that provide some real choice.

So for example, let's say you get a kit for completing a mission. There are three types of kits because there are three types of officers. So we'll give you a choice of multiple kits. Like one for each class.

But there are also cases where the choice is more generic, like an engine. So we'll give a choice of the high efficiency combat engine, the high-speed engine, or the balanced engine. We try to have a mix of both to try and make sure we keep it interesting.

Dan: I find myself always spending time trying to figure out what loot I want which I think is good. Because it means I really have to make a choice. I want it all, but I can't have it all, you know?

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you'd like to let our readers know about the gear in STO?

Dan: Joe mentioned it earlier, but I think this is the first time that Cryptic has really pushed heavily to make gear an important part of the game. Cryptic's known for being able to customize your character and altering your appearance, so this is really exciting for us because not only are we allowing you to do that, but we're now allowing you to get gear that then supplements that costume. That's something that we've worked really hard to sort of find the right balance between allowing you to look the way you want to look and yet let the gear also kind of define your character.

Ten Ton Hammer: Very cool. Thanks a lot for taking the time out to talk with us today.

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