After City of Heroes/Villains and the recently released Champions Online, Cryptic Studios is developing another MMO, but this time without superheroes. Their new online RPG is connected to one of the most popular sci-fi series, namely Star Trek, and offers a lot of new features. In our exclusive interview we've talked to Andy Velasquez, Associate Producer of the team.
First, please introduce yourself and the team. How many people are working on the Star Trek Online project at Cryptic?
Yo! My name is Andy Velasquez and I am an Associate Producer on Star Trek Online. The STO team has been lean and mean since we started the project, we are now bigger than we have ever been and the core dev team is still around 60 people.
What is the basic setting and background story for the game?
Star Trek Online takes place in the Prime Universe in the year 2409 and the universe is considerably less friendly than when the shows and movies ended. The Klingon Empire has pulled out of the Khitomer Accord, their peace treaty with the Federation, and with their new allies the Orion, Gorn and Nausicaan stand on the brink of all out war with the Federation. The destruction of Romulus fragmented the Romulan people and smaller factions struggle for control of what remains of the Romulan Star Empire. The Borg have also returned with new powerful methods of assimilation and have their optics set on the Alpha Quadrant species once again.
By moving STO into the future we are able to give players the pleasure of playing in a familiar setting as well as coming across some of their most loved and hated races and factions. Setting STO in the future also allows players to be the true heroes of the era; we wanted everyone to be able to feel as if they could be the next Picard, Janeway or Kirk.
We'll have the Federation and the Klingon as the two factions in the game, will the player experience major differences by choosing one over the other?
There will be some differences between Federation and Klingon gameplay primarily in regards to the content that the players will get to experience with each faction but both faction’s experiences are authentic Star Trek.
The Klingon experience will be focused on PvP against both their Federation adversaries and other Klingons in house battles. Basic gameplay mechanics between the factions will not be drastically different so if you are used to flying around in a Federation Olympic class ship you should be able to pilot a Klingon Bird of Prey with little problem.
Federation players will also be able to engage Klingons in direct and indirect PvP and explore new and undiscovered systems but what is most different about their experience will be the episodic content, more on episodic content later in the interview.
What are the character classes of the game and how would you shortly describe them?
There isn’t a rigid class system for STO that one might expect if they are used to more traditional MMOs. Taking a cue from the shows a player will choose a profession upon character creation and this will nudge the player in a general direction but then it is up to the player as they progress to decide what skills, ship classifications and items they want to invest in acquiring to define the role they want to fulfill.
So for example if I really want to play a character that focuses on buffing my fellow party members I can choose the Engineering profession, take out my Galaxy class cruiser ship and equip a kit from the technician specialization to fulfill the support role.
What kind of customization possibilities will we get regarding our ship and our captain character?
The player will of course be able to pick from many of the iconic races in the Star Trek universe, such as Vulcans, Andorians, Bolians, Humans, and have tons of customization options within each of these well defined species.
With Star Trek Online’s 'Create your own Race' feature the amount of customization options for captain characters multiplies exponentially. Have you always wanted to see what a Vulcan looks like with Andorian antennae? Put the Vulcan ears on, add some antennae to your captain and see; then make your face blue, add a Bajoran nose, scale the back of your skull to accommodate your new races naturally large brain and create something uniquely yours.
Cryptic Studios is known for offering amazing customization options in all our products and the ship system developed for STO is no different. The interesting challenge with the ship system is that we wanted the ships to still look and feel like Star Trek and so we developed a customization system based around configurations. So if a player were to look at a ship they will still be able to understand the gameplay potential of the other vessel by its configuration but it will still look unique based on how the other player has customized their ship. Material type, window shape, trim color and pattern, Ship name and registry number, as well as nacelle, saucer, hull, pylon and other geometry variants are among some of the things that a player can choose to change.
By being a captain of a spaceship what kind of missions can we expect during the game?
We didn’t think grinding away killing tribbles for hours until a player leveled up felt very Star Trek so we developed our content in a way that took players to many diverse and interesting locations within a single play session.
Start out in space by a answering a distress call, fight through a blockade to get to the damaged ship, beam into the ship to save the captive crew, follow their research down to the nearby planet to confront the hostile enemies in a climactic battle. That is just a sample of what episodic content is like in STO.
Another huge part about Trek is going boldly where no one has gone before and so STO will also offer content that is focused on exploring new and interesting systems.
We'll have space combats and exploration of the planets with surface fights – what will be the approximate percentage of these elements in the game? Or does that hugely depend on the gamer's preference?
There are large amounts of content for both ground and space, it breaks down to be slightly more space content than ground content. That being said there is plenty of content of both gameplay types that a player will be able to enjoy the content that they want to.
If you really love PvP and you are feeling like taking your Defiant class ship out for a spin you can find a space PvP map out there. If you want to try out your new Anti-Proton Rifle against some Borg you can go find an episode to do that. If you have no particular preference you can just play through the games natural flow and you will experience a good breadth of both ground and space gameplay.
As we know, PvE will feature instance-based story, fleet action and exploration, could you describe these aspects?
As you say the PvE experience is very diverse. The main story is handled through episodic content which we have talked about already.
Fleet actions are large scenarios and events that require many players to join together to complete. For example when Borg cubes appear in the sector around the Sol System it will take more than just a few ships to handle the situation. A Star Trek game isn’t Star Trek if you can’t explore! We have spent considerable resources developing a system, one that we have lovingly dubbed the “Genesis System”, that will be able to procedurally generate content for near infinite exploration opportunities. With the Genesis system the player will always be able to explore and find something new and interesting that they have never seen before.
How does the surface exploration happen, what can we do once beamed down? Each player has his/her own group of 5 members or can they join and do quests on the planets together as well?
Players will absolutely be able to group with their friends on away team missions. If the player is playing solo their away team will consist of the Bridge Officers from their ship. However if teamed, the player’s away team will consist of the other player captains.
Our content designers have come up with all kinds of interesting things that the player ends up doing on ground maps. Rushing through a ship to deactivate the warp core before it explodes as well as searching through an alien landscape for a lost artifact is some of the things a player can find themselves doing on away team missions.
There are also many social maps that have ground elements to them. Want to kick back at Quarks bar or visit the Admiral’s office on Earth SpaceDock? You can do all of these things as your captain avatar.
What new features will Star Trek Online offer over the current space MMORPGs?
A lot of the features that I have already discussed stand out from other MMOs and are really exciting features in STO.
Episodic content is a really interesting and as of yet unseen way to deliver content to players, not to mention the fact that this is something that feels genuinely Trek.
The Create your Own Race feature is something that should be really exciting to lots of potential players. While most games have some amount of character customization players are often restricted in their options based on class or race. In Star Trek Online you can create something as human or as alien as you want, in the end making something that is truly unique.
The Genesis system and exploration, ship customization, the bridge officer system, the list goes on. All of these features are really exciting features for Star Trek Online.
Will there be connections with the TV series and the movies regarding characters, places etc.?
Absolutely! We are building this game in a way that players new to the Trek-verse can jump in and enjoy the story that we are telling but there are also many, many references to people, locations and events from the TV shows and movies that hardcore fans are sure to enjoy.
We are in the future so many of the great characters from the shows and movies have passed on but the player will run into decedents of the great heroes of the past and players will also have to deal with many of the ramifications of the TV and Movie character’s actions.
Locations are one thing that we have been able to do great justice to with Star Trek Online. Being able to go visit the Guardian of Forever, checking out the Promenade as your custom captain and cruising around the Sol System in your modified Akira class ship is sure to blow away even the most casual Trek fans!
Thank you for the interview!