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Set 30 years after Star Trek: Nemesis (the last film before the J.J. Abrams reboot), Star Trek Online puts you in the shoes of a captain in a newly sparked war between the goody-two-shoes Federation and savage Klingon empire. The promise of exploring the final frontier, massive space battles, and obscure Star Trek references fills us with geeky glee. We went down to Cryptic Studios’ offices to play the game and quiz Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich to ensure that fans of Star Trek and MMOs are getting the best of both worlds.
Maximum PC: It looks like Star Trek Online is focusing more on action, as opposed to boring bits like interstellar diplomacy.
Craig Zinkievich: The game is set in 2409, about 30 years after the events of the Star Trek: Nemesis movie. A lot of stuff has happened since then. The Borg have returned to the Alpha Quadrant, bent on assimilation. The Romulan Empire still exists, but they have to deal with the fact that they don’t have a home world – so there’s a power vacuum there. The most important aspect is that the Kitomer Accord – the treaty between the Klingon Empire and Federation – has broken down. In STO, you play either as a Captain in Starfleet, the military wing of the Federation, or the Klingon Defense Force.
We’ve really tried to make the content in Star Trek Online feel as though you’re in one of the Star Trek shows or movies. You’re never just in one place. You can be on a ship, get a distress call, beam down to a planet, then beam up to a satellite that’s on fire, and finally back to your ship for a climactic space battle. You’re constantly moving between ground and space to really get that cinematic feel.
The biggest challenge in creating STO is that it’s two whole games—you have your ground combat and your space combat. But the game demands it; you have to go back and forth, and I think it’ll be the strongest aspect of the game.
CZ: Space combat is very much like the shows. It’s not a dogfight—you’re not zipping around. You’re in huge 1,000-meter starships with hundreds of crew onboard. In the shows, it’s all about tactics and positioning. It’s about bolstering a shield that’s taken damage, transferring power from your deflector dish to your weapons or engines at the right time. It’s about knocking your enemy’s shields down with phasers and taking them out with photon torpedoes.
Each ship has four directional shields – though some of the smaller ships only have one shield. All weapons in STO have facing and firing arcs to them. For example, a ship can have forward facing photo torpedoes with a 90 degree arc, and two phaser banks with broad-side arcs. So in battle, you would flank broadside along your enemy to use both phasers to knock down enemy shields and then turn toward the enemy to finish them off.
MPC: Is the point of the battle to destroy the ship?
CZ: Yes, because it’s wartime, the battle does come down to destroying your enemy’s ship. Most of the time, they don’t give up at the end. There are certain instances there the enemy will surrender to move the story along, but most of the time it’s a fight to the death.
MPC: How does respawn work, then, if your ship is destroyed?
CZ: Well, first and foremost, it’s a game. We thought of a whole bunch of different ways to do interesting things for respawn, but it really came down to getting players back into the action. You don’t lose your ship [if it blows up]; you just respawn at the beginning of the map with a little damage done to your systems. But overall, we don’t want you to spend 80 hours getting that Sovereign class vessel, get owned, and then lose that ship.
MPC: How does your crew and shuttles factor into the gameplay?
CZ: Each ship has a crew bar, which affects your hull regeneration rate – how fast you can repair systems that get damaged. There are certain powers that allow you to send boarding parties to other ships with shuttles, which takes crew. You can even send healing parties to repair other vessels during co-op.
The really cool powers come from your bridge officers. Like the shows, it’s all about the people—who’s there on the bridge during a crisis defines how the ship deals with it. You have a roster of bridge officers (starting off with one) that you can upgrade over time. These guys are like MMO pets, but taken to the next level. You name them, customize their look, give them equipment, and level them up with new skills and specializations. And the skills they have really end up defining what role you play in missions.
Some skills include tractor beams, which can hold enemies in place during combat, or high yield torpedoes that deal super damage. Each officer has one ability to begin with, but as you level them up, they get up to four skills. Each officer seat can also be upgraded, too. Officers in Ensign seats can only use one skill, while those in Lieutenant or Commander seats can activate more of their skills at once. With bigger ships, you gain more weapon slots and more bridge officer seats as well. The maximum is six officers with 12 skills total.
MPC: How does ship upgrading work?
CZ: Players start off with a generic Light Cruiser ship. Several hours into the game, you replace that with one of three different classes of ships – Engineering, Science, and Tactical, each with five tiers that you can advance through. Every ship has weapons, deflector shields, impulse engines, and Officer seats, all of which can be upgraded. But when you actually reach a different tier of ship, you get a new ship [of that class] entirely.
MPC: Can you re-spec your ship in the middle of the game?
CZ: You can change ship classes at any time if you want to try a different style of play. You just use your Starfleet “merit” and buy the ship at a Space dock. You don’t lose the previous ships that you had, either. You’ll always have the Light Cruiser, for example, if you wanted to use it for a specific mission. One night you could use a Defiant class ship for a quick space battle, and the next night, you could change to a Science class ship – the healer – to support your guild. You can really change what role you play on the fly.