STO: Klingons and PvP Q&A with Cryptic Studios

Any game risks the wrath of rabid fanbois every day, but take an IP with a fanatical fanbase like Star Trek, and you've got the perfect tinder for flamefests around every virtual corner.
Any game risks the wrath of rabid fanbois every day, but take an IP with a fanatical fanbase like Star Trek, and you've got the perfect tinder for flamefests around every virtual corner. The recent announcement that Klingons would be PvP-only on set the boards alight in record time so Ten Ton Hammer Executive Editor, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye sat down with Lead Content Designer, Zeke Sparkes, to get some answers surrounding this controversal subject.

Ten Ton Hammer: How PvP centric is STO? Will federation players who choose not to participate miss out on important parts of the story?

Zeke Sparkes
: No. We actually just wanted to make sure that it was an alternate source of character progression. If you don't want to PvP, you don't have to and if you do want to PvP, that option is there for you pretty much from the beginning.

Ten Ton Hammer: Ok. So PvP is instanced. How do you enter these instances to get into the PvP combat? Can you choose your foes?

Zeke: Some of it is instanced, not all of it is. There are several PvP maps that are static maps so you can go there by physically going to the location and beaming in like you normally would for any sort of fleet action type map.

For the instanced ones, we have a queue system that you can enter and it will wait until it has enough people on each side and then launch the map for you. We also have a challenge system where you can set up a request for somebody else to enter a PvP instance with you. Unlike most dueling systems, it doesn't happen where you're currently at, but targets one of the instance maps. You get to pick where you're going, who you're going against, and hit the instance from there. So you can wind up doing either.

You can hit the queue and much like what we did with Champions Online, when you're queued, it'll send you to the location and when you're done, put you back to where you were. You don't have to go to a specific place to PvP. You can queue up where ever you are. All the PvP maps have physical locations. They're actual locations in our universe so you can go to that location if you want to and queue directly through that link as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: So is the matchmaking suited to appropriately leveled players?

Zeke: Yeah. We actually band by rank. So we make sure that if you're just trying to find a PvP match to get into and you're a lieutenant, we're not going to put you into a PvP match with a bunch of admirals.

Ten Ton Hammer: That makes sense. Do you plan on having PvP-only equipment and upgrades?

Zeke: That's kind of a tricky question to answer. Technically, yes, but probably not in the way that most people think. There is a set of rewards that you gain only through doing PvP that are not part of the same rewards you get through doing normal quests things. But they are not really PvP-centric. We don't have a division in the gear. So while the items might be unique to that avenue of advancement, they're not going to gear you in such a way that you are only good at PvP and that you're not good at doing PvE. We wanted to make sure that you could sort of switch tracks and do whatever kind of character advancement you wanted at any given time.

Ten Ton Hammer: So PvP leveling up and ranking up is sort of separate from the PvE levels then?

Zeke: It's the same levels, it's the same progression system, but you can level yourself up. You can get new ranks and make it to Admiral just by doing the PvP gameplay if you want.

Ten Ton Hammer: Cool. So will there be PvP Leader Boards?

Zeke: There certainly are within the match so you get to see who did the best within each individual game that you're playing. At launch, the full sort of worldwide boards won't be there. Having individual matches actually impact the gameplay is something that we're targeting to try and get going for the next update or the one after that. We want to make sure that it's cool and that it's meaningful, and that it's just not a color on a map that switches or something like that. We want to make sure that we do the system right when we get it in.

Ten Ton Hammer: Right. So how does Klingon versus Klingon or Federation versus Federation PvP work? Is it sort of like war games? What's the story behind that?

Zeke: Yeah. For the Federation, it's war games. You're just testing out your ships versus the other ships, just trying to figure out good tactics. The IP wrapped around that is that it's just a training exercise.

With the Klingons, it's actually a House battle. There's a lot of strife and conflict inside the Klingon Empire and there always has been. You wind up fighting on the side of one or the other major House when you go into a Klingon versus Klingon map.

Ten Ton Hammer: If Klingons can only be played after you reach a certain level within the Federation gameplay, and Klingons are primarily geared for PvP, are there any concerns about having a healthy Klingon population? Do you foresee players wanting to PvP primarily with their Starfleet characters since that's where they'll probably spend most of their time since it has the most content?

Zeke: I think what we've tried to do is make sure that the Klingon play captures that sort of element like the conflict and direct engagement. Do I think we'll have a healthy Klingon population? Absolutely. We think that the Klingon play is geared towards that kind of a population and we don't think we're going to have a hard time captivating that subset of players.

And just to be clear when you say you have to unlock the Klingons through Federation gameplay, it happens fairly early on. It happens within about the first five hours or so of gameplay that you're able to unlock and play Klingons. So it's not like you have to advance deep into the Federation storyline in order to get to play a Klingon.

Since Klingon gameplay is PvP-focused and that's more demanding skill wise than PvE, we wanted to make sure that players are comfortable with how ships, space combat, and ground combat work before jumping straight into the really PvP-focused gameplay. I think it's a really attractive style of gameplay and that we're going to have a plenty-big Klingon population.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any sorts of special perks or rewards in PvP, apart from playing as a Klingon?

Zeke: Oh yeah. Absolutely. They have their own set of perks. There's a lot of overlap with the Federation perks, but there are Klingon-specific perks as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: Going into the story a little bit, what's the Klingon motivation? Can they capture areas and pursue objectives other than hunting Federation players?

Zeke: Yeah. The entire universe has several stories that run through it and towards the higher end, Klingon players are involved in those stories. The Romulans are right on their border and reeling from having just lost their home planet and are becoming more aggressive. There's also the Cardassian area where the Dominion is trying to reestablish a presence. Some of the True Way Cardassians [a Cardassian terrorist group – Ed.] are trying to sign up with the Dominion to sort of take back their territory, so they're getting more aggressive as well. The Klingons can wind up getting involved in those things as well.

But again, the primary focus of the Klingon play is definitely the PvP and the Klingon versus Klingon play or the Klingon versus Federation play focuses that. So most of what Klingons will be doing is engaging other Federation or Klingon players in PvP combat. The other story elements do touch what's happening in the Klingon Empire, but the focus of the advancement is definitely on the war with the Federation.

Ten Ton Hammer: So will other races be able to join the Klingon faction, or is it a Klingon-only club?

Zeke: The Klingons are actually allied with several other races and as always, we love our character creator so you'll be able to make your own aliens that can join the Klingons. You won't be locked into just playing a Klingon. They're allied with the Gorn, the Nausicans, and the Orions as well. So when you make a Klingon, you have multiple preset options for species that you can pick as well as the "build-your-own" option.

Ten Ton Hammer: So when you make a Klingon, you're not necessarily making a Klingon? You can make one of the other races?

: Yeah, you're making a character in the Klingon Empire. There's a big story involved in it. They sort of bore down on the Gorn and brought them into their fold more or less forcibly and there's kind of a story with how they wound up getting all of the allies they have.

Ten Ton Hammer: How will PvP affect PvE balance and vice versa?

Zeke: We always try very hard to balance the game with PvP in mind from the beginning. The powers are meant to work the same way in PvP as they do in PvE. As a player, you wind up wanting to focus more on certain powers because they're more useful in PvP than PvE. PvE is kind of a safer environment because you're opponent is not as smart. So there are definitely powers that are more advantageous in PvP than they are in PvE and vice versa. But we built it so it operates the same. So you don't have powers that function differently on your enemies depending on what style of gameplay you're choosing.

Ten Ton Hammer: What else can you tell us about the PvP in Star Trek Online?

Zeke: One of the things we want to make sure people realize is that PvP is open from the get-go, rather than being an end-game feature like in some other games. It's rank-banded throughout. It's some thing that you can do at any time. It's a full advancement track on its own, so if that's the style of gameplay you like, we really tried to make sure that you could play that way.

We've got different kinds of maps depending on what it specifically is about PvP that you like. There are different options for you. We've got arena maps, which are just kind of the one side versus one-side battles where all you really care about are kills.

We have our war zone maps. They're actually kind of competitive PvE environments where when you get in, it's a static map and there's an objective that is mostly PvE focused. You're trying to finish the objective and get more points than the other team but it's on a map where PvP is enabled. So if you decide that the best way for your team to finish before they do is to start PvPing with them, that's a perfectly viable strategy. That's kind of a nice step for people who aren't hardcore PvPers but are interested in getting a look at what it's like. It gives them a map where even if no opponents show up, there's still something for them to do. They can still complete it. And when the opponents are there, it's not necessarily a full-on PvP battle. It just kind of depends on the attitude of the players and the map.

And then we have full-on scenario PvP maps where there are certain objectives you're trying to go after. You're mostly going against other players although there are some computer mobs on the map as well. They're more direct conflict oriented than the PvE maps.

We've got an assault map where you've got to take forces from your side and deliver them deep into the enemy side. The further into the enemy location you go, the more points you get for delivering them.

We've got an area control map where you are trying to lock down key locations for your side. It's sort of a ticket runoff system where each side has a score at the beginning and when one side is controlling more of the locations than the other side, they're removing points from the other team. So you're trying to get the other team down to zero for control of the game.

Those are the two big ones that objective based, but really PvP-focused. And then we're also working on bigger and more epic fleet action sized maps for our launch. So what we get in at launch isn't the end of PvP. It's sort of leading up to a bigger and more grandiose map for the next patch.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are the different game mode maps available for both space and ground maps?

Zeke: The arena maps are available for space and ground. We have space and ground versions for the war zone maps. The PvP scenario maps are only in space for right now. That's sort of the type of thing that once it goes out to the player base, we'll see which maps they're really sinking their teeth into and really like and sort of support that going forward.

One of the things that we really like to do is see what the player base really wants and support those later. So if they end up wanting to have the scenario maps translated down to ground, we'll certainly do that. And if they want more space maps, then we'll do that too. We're more than happy to make sure that the players have what they want.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any sort of AI mobs in the maps at all?

Zeke: Yeah. The arena maps are pure, straight up, once side versus the other side rumbles. So there are no NPC mobs in those maps. But all the other ones do have AI critters running around and depending on whether or not it's a war zone, PvE focused map, or one of the scenario-based PvP map, that sort of sways how many computer opponents there are.

So like with the area control scenarios, you can't just waltz up and take the area right off the bat. There are things there that you have to disable first. But they're meant more as a delay so that you can't just blitz the other side and take your opponent unawares. They're not really meant to be the primary challenge. They're just there to kind of slow you down a little bit so that the other side can react to what's going on. And in the PvE (the war zone maps), they really are the objective and are difficult encounters that you have to work through like you normally would while you’re kind of watching out for the other team making a PvP run at you.

Ten Ton Hammer: One last question before we go. Would you consider most of the PvP to be more strategic or more like a brawl?

Zeke: It winds up being really strategic, especially the maps that have objectives on them. It's kind of funny. What we've found internally is that the maps themselves are really strategic but the combat is really, really compelling. So every now and then, you wind up catching yourself concentrating more on the brawling elements that you were talking about than the actually strategy of the map and then you're like, "Oh, wait! Wait! I've got to make sure we're actually winning instead of me just killing people!” So the maps themselves really offer multiple objectives for you to do, especially the scenario ones. You have to kind of weigh which objectives you want to do and how much straight-up fighting you want to do.

So far, there's been a really good balance where if you just focus on one or the other, the other team can exploit that pretty well so you need to have a good mix in there. Definitely, I would say they have a more strategic feel. The arenas are for when you just want to get in and fight other players and not worry about objectives. That's where you go for that and those are definitely big tactical-fests as opposed to strategic combat.

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