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Captain's Log: Interview with Star Trek Online's Al Rivera, part two


Last week I began a series of columns based on the numerous interviews I conducted while I visited the Star Trek Online team at Cryptic Studios. I continue today with part two of my interview with Star Trek Online's Lead Designer, Al (CaptainGeko) Rivera, who had lots of things to say about his hopes for the future of the game, including its duty officer system and how the "JJverse" affects the things we see in the game. So join me past the jump and let's get to it!

STO Risian Party Aftermath
Let's start with the duty officer system. Rivera told me that he feels the DOff system doesn't have enough "collectability" built into it, that it doesn't contain many unique officers able to perform distinct missions that reward something special. For instance, ideally, a player would be able to assign her unique officer to a tactical mission, and that unique officer would always return "a dead So'Na, or something like that -- something unique that the player needs." As he put it, "That's one thing I don't think our system has."

Rivera also explained that he believes the current DOff system lacks clear goals. While chain assignments do exist, Rivera would like to see changes implemented to the way assignments allow players to choose to complete specific objectives. He would like to see players be able to, for example, build a ship and see all the steps the player needs to do in order to complete that task. When asked whether he sees DOffs becoming a more integrated part of the crafting system, Rivera replied, "I would love to see DOffs and the reputation system merged into a greater DOff system that involves crafting, but as much as I want to see it built up, I also want to see it simplified."

STO Risa relaxation room
Rivera thinks that the current DOff system tends to scare away many of the game's more casual players; he would like any new changes to also include ways to make the system less complicated and therefore more fun to use.

To prove his point, he turned the question around on me. "Right now the duty officer system allows people to make ship consoles. Terilynn, how do you make ship consoles using your duty officers?" I admit it -- I was silent. I had no clue. He smiled and said, "Exactly." He wants it to be easier for players to identify the types of assignments that are available to achieve more specific goals, like building a console or similar items. He said that it was a "failure on [their] part" and that he wants to ensure that if a player wants to make a console, she has what she needs to make it the way she wants it.

STO Romulan Yacht
The conversation took a hard turn when I brought up a question from reader WayneMC, who asked if we will ever see the U.S.S. Vengeance from the most recent J.J. Abrams' film Star Trek Into Darkness. I broadened the question to include any ship or designs from any of the "Abramsverse" films. Rivera smiled and said, "No." It turns out that Cryptic doesn't have the license to any of the Abrams' universe material, though they are able to take some liberties with "some of the things that happen in the Countdown comics because those events happened in the Prime Universe and that CBS got to have some say with that, but once the timeline split, that was it." He said that Cryptic can "keep asking and keep asking, and maybe if J.J. ever loses interest, we might get a shot at it, but for now it's hands-off."

He admits that some of the Tal Shiar lockbox ships have a Narada (Nero's ship in the Abrams' film Star Trek) style, but that's only because the Narada was technically built in the Prime Universe, as was Spock's uniquely styled Jellyfish shuttle. Rivera told me that the most likely ship we might see is the Jellyfish for that reason alone, but the team just can't simply move forward; approval would still need to be sought.

STO Horgahn Holiday Corvette
Apparently, the team generally has access to all the movies (with the exception of the Abrams' films), all the television shows, and "most" of the animated series. He said there are a few animated episodes that are hands-off due to legal issues. He also told me he never wanted STO's lockboxes to bear that moniker. He said that it had been his preference to call them "stasis boxes" like the ones that appear in an episode of the Animated Series. However, due to the legal parameters of that episode, his team was unable to use the term. Similar problems arose (as many fans already know) when it came time to create a Klingon-affiliated feline species. The team at STO wanted to use the species that was seen in the Animated Series, but due to unique intellectual property agreements made during the making of the episode, Cryptic was forced to create one of its own.

STO Risian Moons
The next question came in from Justin Lowmaster, who asked Rivera, "I got my DOff crew where it is by compacting them up from white to green to blue to purple. The new cost to do this by reassigning under-performing officers has increased exponentially. What is the reason for the increase? Even if it won't change, I'd sleep better knowing the reason why."

Rivera explained that the team did a lot of math to determine what the actual costs, based on odds, to obtain a purple duty officer in a duty officer pack versus how much it cost to "grind one up." He said Cryptic realized it was "way undercharging" for the grinding missions, and he believes the studio is still undercharging, but previously the costs were off "by orders of magnitude." He said that before the changes were implemented, the game risked losing duty officer sales because the cost-differential was so vast.

STO Romulan Vet
Our discussion turned to one of our favorite topics: ships. I challenged Rivera to open the infamous spreadsheet of ships to determine just how many new ships have been implemented into the game. It took a while for the spreadsheet to open (it contains a list of every ship that has been or is currently in production), but he counted off a total of 35 (which includes the fleet ship variations) just for the Legacy of Romulus expansion alone.

Rivera admitted that there are very few canon ships that can be made for the game, and the ones that haven't been used yet don't have the most exciting designs. We perused a gallery of unused canon designs and agreed that many of them looked like bad "kit-bashes" and likely wouldn't hold up under the scrutiny of the STO community. If anything, many of the designs might be used only as costume designs or "skins" for ships that already exist in the game.

When I asked him what Cryptic planned to do to keep up with the demand for new ships, he stated that the devs got "a lot of breathing room" when they were able to focus on creating so many ships for the Romulan Republic faction in the Legacy of Romulus expansion, and they will likely get more breathing room in the future if the next expansion (which they are "seriously considering" and may contain another new playable species!) provides them with ample opportunity for new ship designs. He also said that they could do a lot with "alien" vessels like the Caitian, Ferasan, Lethean, and Xindi.

Now, for all of you who didn't see the comment section after last week's column, the STO art team sent me a bunch of wonderful screenshots of two new ships that are coming into the game. Two of them have been used again in this column. The shots depict the two new Romulan faction veteran ships. The small vessel that resembles the Romulan scout/science vessel is what is being worked up for the Romulan version of the Captain's Yacht, which is the 400-day veteran reward. The larger, sleeker ship will be the Romulan version of the 1000-day veteran's destroyer. I got to see her moves a little bit while I was visiting, and I have to say (since I also fly my Chimera on my Federation character) that I'm looking forward to seeing it in action in the game.

I'd like to thank Al Rivera for his time and hospitality and being such a gracious host during my visit to Cryptic Studios.

STO Vegas
Finally, I would like to take this quick opportunity to let everyone know that Massively, along with Trek Radio, will be proudly co-sponsoring the Star Trek Online panel at this year's official Creation Entertainment Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada! The panel is also been made a part of the official panel group, and we are tentatively set for Saturday, August 10th, in the DeForest Kelley Theatre. We hope to see you in person if you are able to attend. If not, please feel free to send me your questions for the STO developers to 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

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