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

Today Captain's Log continues with part two of my interview with Al Rivera, Star Trek Online's Lead Designer at Cryptic Studios.

Last week I received a bit of feedback regarding the state of Rivera's desk. I withheld taking pictures of the interior of the office space for fear of inadvertently capturing information that I wasn't free to share. Happily, though, Rivera himself decided to tweet a few photos of the ships and Trek paraphernalia that graced our visit to his office. Yes, it also included a picture of what I had described in my last column as a "funky purple monster." Apparently my comic book naiveté has kept me from recognizing what Rivera informed me is The Maxx.

Sorry, but it will always be that funky purple monster to me.

We fell back into our conversation with a few questions sent to me by members of the STO community.

The first question posed to Rivera was whether or not we will ever see a species change token. Rivera was pretty quick to reply by saying, "We really have no plans to do a species retrain token, but what I definitely want to do is a trait respec token." Rivera said the devs need to find a place in the schedule for it, but he had no idea when that may actually occur.

He plans on updating the species traits because some of them are "a little boring and need to be more interesting," but he won't be updating the species traits until the devs are ready to go ahead with the trait respec token. As far as any future possibility of allowing a player to outright switch the species of an existing character, he stated that it's just not a part of any future plans and suggests players roll another alt if they end up not liking the species they initially chose.

Another question from the community revolved around the Duty Officer system and whether the players can expect any expansion of possible assignments from the current field of 20. Rivera stated that he didn't believe there were any plans to expand the available DOff assignments as they were "already really starting to break the level curve" and they were "OK with the [current] speed" of leveling.

This interview took place mere days before the implementation of the new Duty Officer assignments became available on players' bridge interiors, and Rivera was excited to share with us the facts about the new feature. It's now possible to obtain new DOff assignments from NPCs that are standing in key areas of the ship interior. Of note, many of these missions are fairly rare and can also aid in the crafting of certain consumable items like batteries and hypos.

To access these new missions, a player needs to visit her bridge from the icon drop-down near the minimap. Once inside her bridge, she can locate NPCs strategically placed in Engineering, Sick Bay, and Lounge; the captain can also access assignments from her Tactical and Operations officers from the console on the ready room desk.

Rivera was quick to point out that it will be important for those who are looking for rare, very rare, and chained assignments to monitor the availability of those missions on their bridge. The availability of the assignments are generated individually, so it's very likely that one captain will have very different assignments available than another player will. If one player knows his friend needs a certain DOff assignment in a chain, he can invite that friend to his bridge, where the other player will be able to access it.

Rivera was obviously happy that the team was able to integrate new DOff assignments into the seldom-used ship interiors and offer another reason for players to socialize.

The conversation turned back to the level curve, and Rivera confirmed that there was some expressed concern that leveling actually occurred too quickly in the game. He reiterated that Cryptic was comfortable with the existing speed that players can level and that "it's OK to get people to the endgame, as it's what [Cryptic is] focusing on." While he didn't necessarily want to outline what that strategy entails, at this point the devs do "recognize that and want to spend a lot of [their] time and effort [on] endgame."

Rivera stated it's important for both the veteran players and the recent influx of free-to-play players to be "invested in their characters by the time they reach level-cap." He also confirmed that many new players are reaching level cap without having finished a large portion of the story-based missions, so they have lots of content still to play, making it all the more important that Cryptic focus on new events and missions to keep people interested in the game when they do reach level 50.

I asked Rivera whether there was any consideration given to just outright renaming the ranks of the levels, as some in the game have expressed their dissatisfaction with reaching the rank of Vice Admiral so quickly. He replied by saying, "I don't know if I would if I could. The plan is the next rank will be Admiral and then Fleet Admiral," and the next ranks for "Klingons will be General and Dahar Master." While the combination of the two ranks will be only an additional 10 levels, it will "take much longer to get through" those levels as movement will occur "at a much slower rate than before." He also stated that there are no plans to raise the level cap beyond 60 at this time.

He told me that raising a level cap is a "massive" endeavor. "It's pretty easy numerically to do," he says, but Cryptic would need to get the content completed in order to accomplish it. He stated that the devs "have a [general] plan," but they don't have any specific plan in place for anything past level 60 at this time.

Yet he did say he would like for players to have the ability to change their titles so they can be reflected in the auto-generated references in missions. Right now, NPC dialogue (as it is with dialogue created in the Foundry) pulls the player's title from her current in-game level. This forces NPCs to acknowledge the player by the onerous title of Rear Admiral Lower Half, etc. Rivera would like to see an implementation in which a player could set her title to Captain if desired. Ideally, the NPC dialogue would pull from the player's selected title as opposed to the title issued by the game.

The conversation turned to the influx of not just new STO players but brand-new MMO players, several of whom have contacted me directly to talk about their desire to try the game. What advice might developers offer them, and how would they address concerns about whether or not STO really is free-to-play?

Rivera tackled the free-to-play portion of the question first. He believes it can be a "big question because so many different companies have so many different approaches" to what defines free-to-play. He has himself played games that turned him off; he'd begin to play a game but would be stopped short of being able to advance without having to pay. He felt that these games were really "more of a demo that's free" and that to play the real parts of the game, a player would have to pay.

Consequently, he says, it became very clear to the STO devs that they never wanted to place any such barriers to entry in the game. He admits that they do sell "more than just vanity items" in the C-store and that they "don't make any apologies for that, but [they] don't place any barriers on players." As he put it, "They can play everything in this game without having the need to buy anything." Yes, players can buy ships from their store, "but they don't need to" in order to play the game.

He reiterates that everything in the C-Store can now be earned by playing the game for dilithium, which can now be traded for STO-specific C-Store points, so even items and services in the C-Store can be obtained without your having to spend real life money. He admits that playing the game for gear can be perceived as a grind, but again he referred back to the team's current focus on level-cap content in order to provide more choices for players to undertake in their quest to earn dilithium.

My conversation with Al was a long one and will pick up next week with part three! However, please be on the lookout for a special Captain's Log supplemental edition, which will go over some of the new features STO is releasing soon, including the new Klingon mission (which I got to play while I was visiting with Cryptic).

Until then, live long and prosper!

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This article was originally published on Massively.