Interview: The scoop on Star Trek Online’s skill redesign

    
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I get the temptation, but you are not actually a captain.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m very fond of Star Trek Online, but I also make no secret of the fact that several systems underpinning the game are a bit of a mess. The game’s skill system, while charming in its own way, is something that I’ve tried to explain to many new players, and it’s an obvious sticking point for retention. The news of an overhaul piqued my curiosity, and at a glance it certainly looks like a major improvement.

Of course, it’s important to be a bit more curious than “yes, that looks all right,” so I had a few questions about the overhaul that’s currently on the PTS. Staff systems designer Jeremy Randall was kind enough to answer those questions for us.

Massively Overpowered: The skill overhaul looks similar in places to the specialization trees introduced in Delta Rising; was the possibility of the overhaul discussed at the time?

Jeremy Randall: We’ve known for a long while – since before the development of Delta Rising – that our skill system needed some updating and improving. The success we saw with the roll-out of the specialization system that launched with Delta Rising gave us a lot of inspiration for our newest update, which will be announced soon.

Their similarities are not by accident, as we want players to think of them as two distinct parts of the same act character progression. You deal with skills until level 50, at which point specializations take over. While they behave a bit differently, they are definitely intended to feel like a single cohesive experience.

Star Trek Online already overhauled its skill system once before; what do you feel didn’t quite work with that initial overhaul?

The previous skill overhaul did a lot to address many shortcomings that were present in the skill system that the game launched with, and was generally seen as a success in terms of making the game more accessible and understandable. But ultimately, it only got us about halfway (maybe less) to making the system something that players could easily dive into and enjoy interacting with. It relied heavily on translating the skill system we had at launch into something better, but really didn’t go quite far enough away from its roots. This resulted in a system that was better, but still not best.

Freaking spaceships, how do they work?

Are there any plans to make respeccing easier to alleviate some of the pressure of picking skills correctly? Currently respecs are very limited, even for subscribers.

The process for respeccing will be much simpler now that there are far fewer points to actually apply in order to be completely skilled up.  We are currently looking into possibilities to make respecs more readily available. At the very least, everyone will get respecced for free when the new system goes live.

With the addition of some skills as passive progression, is there any concern that players might be forced to place unwanted points in a progression path to re-acquire skills that currently are available to them?

This is certainly a risk, though I think the more appropriate term would be “encouraged” rather than “forced.” This type of scenario is something we’re going to be listening for when the system arrives on our Tribble test server and players get a chance to try out their builds under the new architecture. The position of certain unlocks, or even entire skills, could potentially be re-arranged if necessary, in order to get closer to our goal of having players get everything in the new system that they could achieve in the old one. We’re willing to be a bit flexible in that regard.

I’ll be honest, though. As much as we’ve striven to adhere to the “players lose nothing” design goal, there will be scenarios that simply can’t be replicated exactly. We’ll minimize them as best we can, but I think it’s unreasonable to believe we can make the new system perfect for 100% of our players in that regard.

If at first you don't succeed, alter the timeline.

Will any changes be made to the level 3 skills that are currently only teachable by captains at the apex of certain progression points? (In other words, Attack Pattern Omega III can only be taught to crew members by a Tactical captain with 6 ranks in Attack Patterns?)

Under the new system, training manuals will be included as things you earn in the unlock paths. Nearly all of the ones you can currently earn via the skill system will be accounted for, as well as a few others that were previously unavailable at all.

If a bridge officer ability was previously accessible via the skill system, and no longer is, our plan is to move it to the bridge officer training store available at major social hubs.

Will the new skill system have expanded tutorials for new players explaining how each skill affects long-term gameplay?

There will be a new in-game tutorial, but it really only serves to introduce players on how to interact with the system rather than being a more in-depth training program.

Under the new skill system, most of the in-depth information on how an individual skill works will be included in its description that appears when you select the skill. We’re expending a great deal of effort to ensure that these new descriptions not only describe what the skills do, but how they interact with other core game mechanics. And, as much as possible, we’ve attempted to break down that functionality to a point where we can tell every player exactly what effect they can expect to achieve – mathematically and mechanically – from each point of they get of that skill, whether that’s from purchasing it directly in the skill system or having it granted to them from a piece of equipment, trait, ability or whatever else.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions!

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flotsam7jetsam
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flotsam7jetsam

The skill update by itself is pretty cool. However, STO seems to be mainly a DPS race regardless of spec. Hopefully, Engineering and Science get a boost there. That being said, it seems that lots of the low DPSers (5K and and below) don’t seem monitor their DPS–which is a mainstay of the game. So hopefully, the skill tree is actually easier and better than the previous way–but if you don’t measure your DPS–who would know. I’m hoping that Star Trek Online starts to publish DPS after battles according to their records. Then perhaps they could give scores and bonuses for things besides DPS to players as well. But for seasoned STO fans, DPS seems to be one of the things that keeps them coming back to the game–good or bad.

I don’t mind the graphics–yet. It still looks like they are continuing to make progress in that area. I looks like they have talented artists, designers, and content designers. On an off note, I am amazed, however, at how constantly worthless the random drops are for items–the battles might as well drop EC versus items with how poor the items are, in comparison with what you need to be really successful.

I’m camped at Star Trek Online for now because the constantly growing story line gives the game a sense of organic growth. I’ve played Eve Online and the missions with that game are truly dulling. My concern with STO is, how often can you have static maps where ships pop out in the same place every time and  static universe where nothing changes but is procedurally created. For seasoned level 60 players it sure seems like there’s too much grind, and too much DPS focus compared to content–even though rolling a new toon and replaying the many missions and episodes can be fun from time to time. It feels like behind the scenes, Cryptic is making up for this by making more mini-game type grindy things to do–like space exploration and admiralty (should space exploration be a place where Star Trek Online shines?). And, replaying featured missions for different items in a set seems to add to the grindy feeling and detract from the game. I hope they find a balance.

I really like Star Trek Online, but I hope it get’s better.

40yrTrekker
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40yrTrekker

Skills don’t need a change so much as the game itself does overall.  I’d like to see the game completely redone at this point.  New graphics engine.  <again, new graphics engine> was worth 2 mentions imo as the game is now horribly dated in its graphics design. Rebuild of the convoluted systems as Loopstah mentioned.  It’s FAR too busy and there truly are far too many different resource/rep/consoles, etc.  Redo the silly AI also.  Having 200k+ hp on a AI escort isn’t a challenge, its a time-sink…the AI isn’t smart enough to be a challenge.  Fix that, and this is 2x as important becuase it needs to compensate for the lack of skill play one would get in a pvp system we’ll never have here.  Far too much “no-skill-required–click-to-win” to burn through matches and missions.  Reface Qonos and other kdf areas (even a small bit of the love they showed fed side/esd redesign would make a significant difference in how unappealing the entire visual appearance of the kdf side is…lets be honest, qonos is a horrid visual mess of design and color. I understand the kdf playerbase (as primary chars) is small, but I’ve known more than 1 player over the years to say the look of kdf alone was enough to chase them back to fed side.  (much of that would be improved on with a gfx redesign and on another note, it would allow the game to appeal to an entirely new generation of gamers for years to come…even being over 40, I choose games as much on gfx as gameplay, and this is lacking in both. (why do I have a state-of-the-art vid card to run games built on 4-generation old architecture?)  It will do for now, and I i’ll find something else soon i’m sure, but tbh, I’d like to stay here and enjoy the game it was always supposed to be.

seannewboy
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seannewboy

Spacejesus3k What they should do is every few episodes (one/chain?) is that you can get a respec token, like we get the spec points/upgrade items.

ZenJitzu
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ZenJitzu

The system does need an updated and modernization. I’ll be keeping an eye on the forums to see how if we’ll be able to get back to anywhere near what our current builds look like. I don’t like to fiddle with the skills (too expensive, no free respecs), so I tend to have an overall generic skill set to fly different ships. Forum scuttlebutt is that this update pushes for specialization, and they’re nerfing Auxiliary for science ships (because they aren’t tac).
On the one hand, it might be neat to specialize some of my characters, provide some variety since I’m an altoholic. On the other hand, this is one of the few chances they have to nerf…er, rebalance everything because power creep, so I’ll miss some of the things I could do before. Standard buff/nerf operating procedure, so not the first or last time. We’ll see how it goes. *shrug*

DanielReasor
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DanielReasor

CastagereShaikura Armsman 
Science ships are pretty incredible now…once you grind enough Science R&D to earn the trait that turns Particle Generators into a crit chance/crit severity stat for exotic damage abilities.
There’s a concept that ought to be baked into the new skill system: make Science abilities work without requiring the player to devote a trait slot in order to get something out of the primary Science space skill.

Hravik
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Hravik

Durenas Armsman JayPower Nope, he’s right on the money with Geko.  He’s constantly put his foot in his mouth over the years with his seeming distaste for anything that isn’t outright hero worship.

ThatLanteshGuy
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ThatLanteshGuy

EpicViking ThatLanteshGuy DanielReasor Spacejesus3k To be honest, I’m not sure. I avoid all of PWEs other games. I also avoid Neverwinter. And only occasionally play CO which does have paid respecs. Hmm, now that I think about I really only play STO when it comes to Cryptic/PWE haha.

EpicViking
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EpicViking

Armsman JayPower Well it’s not like he can do any more harm to Champions Online… right?

EpicViking
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EpicViking

ThatLanteshGuy DanielReasor Spacejesus3k Yeah the whole pay real money to respec thing is a thing Cryptic don’t do well, they need to stop learning from korean grinding games from the early 2000’s. Do PW’s other IP’s all include pay to respec?

EpicViking
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EpicViking

Loopstah One of the reasons i quit playing Champions Online, while Neverwinter was built with F2P in mind etc, the change from P2P to F2P for Champions Online and Star Trek just became very overwhelming. I haven’t played CO in years, i and i got Lifeitme Sub for that game. But everytime i try to get back into it, there’s just to much stuff going on.