Captain's Log: Interview with Cryptic's Al Rivera, part one

Cryptic Studios
Last week, I headed to Cryptic Studios to meet with several of the folks responsible for the development of Star Trek Online. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be sharing what I learned from those individuals and from the team on the whole!

This week, I will begin my coverage of a lengthy interview with Al Rivera (@CaptainGeko), the lead designer for STO.

If I had any doubts about the team's love or understanding of our beloved franchise, those doubts were dispelled the moment I walked into the STO work area.

Inside the offices, bland industrial walls gave way to a dimly lit room filled with high-walled work cubes in the center and surrounded by similarly lit offices around the perimeter. As I walked around the area, it was utterly impossible to ignore the overwhelming presence of Star Trek nerdom stuffed into cubicles, bookshelves, and cubby-holes. Ship models teetered precariously next to books, DVDs, action figures, and plushies. Only in small crevices might you find a family photo or vacation picture. Some employees are fastidious, yes, but their desks are still laden with Star Trek paraphernalia.

Al Rivera's office was no different. As I entered the room, his Star Trek Original Series door chime announced my presence with the "door swish" sound effect from that show. A bookshelf overflowed with Star Trek books, ship models, and (somewhat oddly out of universe) a varied collection of Daleks from the Doctor Who series. A funky little purple monster sat on his desk.

His desk was covered with files, books, and paper, but there was a clean zone around his keyboard and computer screen, on which the new Bortasqu' class vessel appeared.

Rivera himself is a tall, broad man. His shaved head actually softens his appearance, and like many people at Cryptic that day, he was wearing a Star Trek t-shirt: black, with a reflective black Starfleet delta emblazoned on the upper chest.

A whiteboard on the wall contained notes, notes I'm not allowed to talk about. It's a shame, too, but I wouldn't want to steal any of Al's thunder.

So I sat down, snuggled against the bookshelf filled with the ships I already love, and turned my attention to the lead designer, the man responsible for the implementation of all content in the game.

We jumped right in. Al loves to talk about STO and was eager to just sit and chat. I led off by asking him how life at Cryptic has changed since the free-to-play launch in January. Al stated that while things are good, they're also markedly different. He said that the team is feeling the onus of putting out a great experience for the players along with ensuring that effort is well-balanced with the need to design systems that are monetized and still accessible. He conceded this is difficult but reiterated that the game now allows people to choose how much they want to invest and in what way.

I asked him about the feedback Cryptic has been receiving on the recently released Odyssey and Bortasqu' flagships, and he told me that for the most part it's all been pretty positive but that he has received some negative feedback, especially from those who believe the ships are overpowered. He clarified that while the ships come with some "really cool" abilities, those abilities are tempered by a loss of passive abilities (loss of a console slot that would have gone toward increase in hit points, etc.); additionally, the ships have what can only be described as laborious turn-rates, a disadvantage in battle.

While there was a list on the wall that reflected ships he and others have "brainstormed" about putting into the game, the list also included some ships that are already publicly being worked on. He stated he would very much like to see the Vesta class put into the game, but the devs are still working on licenses and other clearances and can't say when we might expect to see it.

He once again brought up the Caitian carrier and his desire to see it in game. To get around the Trekkie canon arguments as to whether or not the Federation would even have carriers, Rivera believes that making the carrier a ship of a member planet (not unlike the Vulcan science vessels) will allow it to be placed in the game more easily than a strict Starfleet vessel could be. He artfully stated that while a Caitian carrier is non-canon, that's only "because we've never seen one in the show." Yet getting the carrier into the game will allow Cryptic to open up a completely different type of gameplay for the Federation.

We moved on to talk about environments, especially the new social zone of Hathon on Bajor. Rivera suggested that Cryptic has received a lot of very positive feedback from the community about Hathon and is pleased that the team was able to get Bajor into the game. He has hopes of creating additional daily missions on Bajor or altering current missions into dailies in order to bring players to Bajor more often. He also seemed very eager to get the map and other recent assets into the Foundry as soon as possible, though he just couldn't comment as to when that might occur.

Rivera noted that the new Featured Episode series The 2800 has also received high praise. He realizes that many people have divergent tastes when it comes to gameplay, and he's able to see the dissent from players who didn't like the less-combat-focused missions on Bajor, but he's pleased at the number of players who did appreciate it.

He did say he was surprised at the lack of feedback on The 2800's focus on the individual player. He was proud about delivering a more personal story-driven experience for the players, who only once during the entire five-episode series beam down to a ground map with a bridge officer, and even that mission only required a single BOff as opposed to the entire four-person team.

We then talked briefly about the statement he made about keeping "re-playability" a focus of much of the upcoming content. More is en route to the game's event calendar in the coming months as part of an effort to give level-capped players more choices for play and reward collection. He specifically stated the mining mission (which was released to the game right before this column was written) was one such addition to the game. In fact, Cryptic will be focusing much of its attention on replayable content and content that offers leveled rewards, in order to encourage players to replay the missions in order to obtain the higher-level gear.

In the coming weeks, I'll continue my report on my interviews with Al Rivera, Executive Producer Daniel Stahl, and Lead Writer Christine Thompson. Until next week, live long and prosper!

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