STO screenshot
So much has happened with Star Trek Online since Massively's last column on the game! The Captain's Log's previous author, Brandon Felczer, accepted a position with Perfect World Entertainment (Cryptic Studios' parent company) and is now a community manager for Star Trek Online. We wish him the best in his future endeavors. And that makes me, Terilynn Shull, your new STO columnist!

Since then, Cryptic's newest patch, A Call to Arms, was released to subscribers. The patch was really the preliminary push of the anticipated free-to-play model that Cryptic announced will occur on January 17th, 2012. To the dismay of many players, the patch did not contain any new mission content, and we've been told not to expect any new story-driven content until at least February of next year.

However, A Call to Arms did include the nervously awaited single-currency economy, the highly anticipated duty officer system, and a revamped set of strategic task force (STF) missions, and it was soon followed by the controversial holiday event and "homage" to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

First and foremost, A Call to Arms contained a monstrous overhaul to the in-game economy. Prior to the most recent patch, players earned badges, medals, and emblems for missions depending on their characters' level. Those were used to buy level-appropriate gear as well as ground and ship weapons. Once a player had no need for the lower-level items, her non-tradable badges and medals became moot and sat in her inventory unused.

The new system markedly changes the game's economy. All badges, medals, and emblems were converted overnight to a single currency called "dilithium." Dilithium ore is earned through playing missions (and participating in the duty officer system) and can be converted to pure dilithium at a limit of 8000 per day. Pure dilithium can then be used for in-game purchases such as ground and ship weapons, personal gear, ship consoles, and duty officers.

However, dilithium can also be traded for C-Store points, which are used in the Cryptic Store for vanity items such as tier 5 ships, rare bridge officers, and services such as additional bank, costume and character slots. C-Store points have a "real-world value" and currently cost $6.25 US for a 500-point bundle and $62.50 US for a bundle of 5000.

Dilithium earned in-game can be put up for sale on an exchange, and there is a floor and a ceiling limit to how much dilithium can be traded for a single C-Store point. The most recent review of the dilithium exchange reflects the current price of a C-Store point at about 435 dilithium. Of course, this varies from day to day, as any exchange does. It should be noted that the current floor is 50 Dil/C-Store point and the current ceiling is 500 Dil/C-Store point. Many simple "daily" missions will reward a player with 440 Dilithium, and a three-mission series rewards a player with 1440 Dilithium.

While the new economy was extremely controversial during its beta-testing due to its piecemeal implementation, the community seems to have taken to the new system rather well since the formal launch. This attitude may change once free-to-play players enter the game in January and begin to flood the market with dilithium.

Players have also had to get used to the fact that many items that were once available in the C-Store on an account-wide basis are no longer being offered in such fashion, pressing players to either earn even more dilithium to outfit their alts or pay more directly to the C-Store to do so.

The duty officer, or "DOff" system, is essentially an electronic version of a traditional trading card game that allows each "captain" to staff his ship with up to 400 crew (each captain begins with 100 open slots on the roster and can purchase 300 more) and then assign contingents of personnel to a possible 20 concurrent missions that are randomly available in every sector of space and in many social zones.

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Each mission contains requirements that can be matched against certain attributes reflected by each duty officer's biography (e.g., stubborn, logical, unscrupulous, seductive, and honorable). Matching these attributes can increase the chances of the mission's success and therefore increase the possible XP you can earn from your staff's efforts. DOffs can be earned through completing missions in the game, purchased via the C-Store, or purchased for dilithium currency, depending on the player's experience in any given "mission core." They can also be traded freely between players or sold on the main exchange for energy credits.

There are currently 11 mission cores: Diplomatic, Science, Engineering, Military, Exploration, Espionage, Medical, Colonial, Trade, Development (staff development), and Recruitment. Each core has a possible five levels, and upon achieving a level, the player is rewarded with an uncommon, rare or very rare duty officer.

Duty officers can fail their missions, in which case no rewards of any kind are granted. They are also capable of being injured during their missions, which requires them to be placed in the player's sickbay and remain off the duty roster for a set amount of time. The more common DOffs can also be killed during their missions, at which time they are removed from the player's roster permanently. Finally, Trekkies got their redshirts!

Including the core-specific XP points, the rewards for completing DOff missions range from dilithium, provisions, and energy credits to rare weapons, bridge officers, prototype weapon schematics, and anomalies used for crafting.

The DOff system has been so well-received that many players are now requesting that Cryptic develop mobile applications so they can monitor their duty officers from their smartphones and tablets. While Cryptic has acknowledged this as a goal, no firm plans are being made for mobile applications for the game. However, it wouldn't be surprising that a priority may be given to the research and development of such an app.

The patch also contained the revamp of the strategic task force (STFs) missions. Prior to the patch, STFs were extraordinarily long (3+ hours), team-focused missions that concentrated on the Borg. They were and are only playable by endgame-level players. Unsurprisingly, STO players tend to be more casual players than other MMO players, and many complained they didn't have the time to dedicate to completing the STFs. Cryptic listened to the playerbase; one developer took on the project to divide up the missions and in doing so changed the rewards that players receive for their efforts. The new versions of the STFs are now about half the length they were before, as the space battles have been divided from the ground battles. This also means there are now twice as many missions to complete. The rewards are also new: The Federation and Klingon Mark XI body armor can be earned through multiple completions of the STF missions. The more advanced and complete set of body armor, the Mark XII set, can be obtained by multiple play-throughs of the missions at the "elite" difficulty setting.

A Call to Arms was immediately followed up with Cryptic's Holiday Event. The event went live in the first week of December and introduced the extremely controversial Holiday Gift Box to the game. The gift box is PWE's first push of its notorious game-of-chance model into Star Trek Online since its recent purchase of Cryptic Studios.

Each red holiday gift box can be obtained in one of two ways: First, the box can be purchased for 100 C-Store points (roughly $1.25 US). Second, the red box can be "won" by completing a foot race that has been set up in Q's Winter Wonderland. The chance of obtaining a red box after the race is complete is very slim. Most people who complete the race are awarded the less-desired blue or green gift boxes. A red gift box has a fair chance of revealing a blue giftbox, which in turn opens up to reveal an uncommon or rare weapon plus some additional holiday craftable items. The red holiday boxes also have a much slimmer chance to reveal a rare Photonic Bridge Officer, Photonic Tribble, an Acid or Crystal Battle Horta, or the coveted "ultra rare" Jem'Hadar Attack Ship.

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It's this ship that has caused the controversy.

Star Trek Online players are used to being able to obtain higher-tiered playable vessels either by grinding missions to earn the currency necessary or by simply buying them in the C-Store. This marks the first time a playable vessel has not been made available to every player, and it's even more controversial because the odds of obtaining a Jem'Hadar escort appear to be less than 1%, based on several players' calculations. Cryptic has not listed the actual odds of obtaining a Jem'Hadar ship and has not responded to player requests in the forums. In any event, it's clear that when Cryptic stated the ship would be "ultra rare," it meant just that.

Nevertheless, Cryptic's acting Executive Producer Stephen D'Angelo has stated that the holiday gift boxes have been an extremely successful venture and that both A Call to Arms and the subsquent holiday event have "more than double[d] the number of players actively in game and significantly increased the average time each person spent playing." In fact, because of the holiday event's success, the entire event was extended by one week and will now end on January 9th, 2012.

The holiday event also brought with it a bit of a shock to some of the game's hardcore Trekkies. On December 20th, STO developers sneaked a bit of a surprise into Q's Winter Wonderland. Next to a small geodesic tent, just a short walk from the main vendor table in the event area, stands a small, green, robed Ferengi. He looks remarkably like a small alien whom we all know and love from another power-house sci-fi franchise. He even has a quirky way of speaking. He is handing out free melee weapons to anyone who asks for one. Although they look like a Klingon bat'leth and a Vulcan lirpa, these weapons have "nanopulse" technology that causes them to glow either red or blue, and they carry a faint electronic hum when wielded.

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When asked directly about the Star Wars references made on the exact day of SWTOR's launch, developers were unabashedly stunned at the backlash from some Trek-loyal players, and Cryptic admitted that the entire gimmick was meant purely as an homage to SWTOR and not a slam against Star Trek or a means to jump on the coattails of SWTOR. The devs stated they are Star Wars fans too and wanted to do something fun to acknowledge the game's release -- a game that many of the developers play themselves.

Perhaps because of the recent Star Wars vs. Star Trek media blitz by William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, and George Takei, Cryptic may have forgotten that the hardcore fans of these two franchises have always had more of an "us vs. them" mentality. The team probably should have expected some players might be offended at lightsaber knock-offs in their game. To their credit, the weapons themselves don't resemble Star Wars lightsabers -- they look like glowing Star Trek weapons.

We wish you the happiest, safest and coziest of holidays filled with love, friendship and lots and lots of game time! Peace and long life; live long and prosper!

Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Saturday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to terilynn@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.