STO Open Beta Weekend Getaway

After a rough weekend with servers up and servers down for the last weekend of Star Trek Online’s open beta, who couldn’t resist a little R&R on Risa?

A few snapshots from my weekend getaway.

/e sitlounge FTW!
Good thing I don't have allergies
Why can't I stop signing "Bali Hai"?

I still don’t understand why I don’t get invited to parties.

The Bridge: The Final Frontier

These are the voyages of the Starship U.S.S. Boursault on a continuing mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly sit where no one has sat before….

Stardate 01232010. Having just left Earth spacedock after the latest patch a recent retrofit, we were taking the Boursault on a shakedown when we received an aid call from Lt. Reynaldo Fabulous and the crew of the U.S.S. Wensleydale on patrol in the Bhea System.

I immediately headed for the turbolift to the bridge to get underway.  Arriving from the turbolift, I was pleased to see my bridge officers, Science Officer Cron, Tactical Officer S’Vek and Engineering Officer Delon already at their stations preparing to get underway.

I confidently strode across the bridge barking orders:

Skronk:  “Helm, set a course for Bhea System and step on it.  We don’t want Lt. Fabulous getting his hair mussed. ”

S’Vek:  “Aye sir.  Plotting course to Bhea System now.”

Skronk:  “Cron, what do we know about the Orion Syndicate’s presence in Bhea?”

Cron:  “Reports indicate the Syndicate has established a presence in Bhea. At last report they’ve constructed 7 drydocks to service their criminal fleet.  Numerous reports of Syndicate fleet activity in and around Bhea.”

Delon:  “Lt. Skronk, we’re receiving subspace communications from the Wensleydale.”

Skronk:  “On screen.”

Delon:  “Um, that’s just eyecandy Lieutentant.  Having trouble pulling the signal in, channeling audio now.”

Lieutenant Reynaldo Fabulous: “Boursault, this is the Wensleydale.  We’re taking heavy fire in the Bhea System.  Orion Syndicate cruisers and battleships are pounding us.  Heavy casualties.  We’re doing what we can, but we can’t hold out much longer.”

Skronk:  “Help is on the way, Lt.  In the mean time, try some aloe vera for that sunburn and redirect all power to the shields.  Boursault, out.  Dammit, S’Vek what’s taking so long?  And what the hell is wrong with this chair?”

Where's Herman Miller when you need him...

S’Vek:  “Helm is not responding, sir.  Its like the controls are … all for show.  They don’t doink anyting.”

Cron:  “Fascinating.  Your chair seems… in operative, sir.”

Skronk:  “Dammit Cron, I want answers, not excuses.  Delon, get me in this CHAIR! I can’t say ENGAGE standing like a fool!”

Delon:  “Didja try /sitting?”

Skronk:  “Its not responding.”

Cron:  “Maintenance logs indicate that sitting functionality is contained the the emote subsystem.  The sitting subsystem may be accessed by intiating an emote sequence with the desired sit functionality.”

Skronk:  “What’s that in English, Cron?”

Cron:  “Try /e sit, Sir.”

Skronk:  “You’ll have to do better than that.  Recomendations?”

Cron:  “System specifications indicate the presence of command functionality for commissioned officers.  Try /e sitcaptain, Sir.”

Bones! I can't feel my legs!

Skronk:  “Getting warmer Cron.  What was your class rank at Starfleet anyway?”

Cron:  “264 out of 311, Sir.  Perhaps, if we were to try to beam you into the chair….?”

Delon:  “Lt. Fabulous on subspace again, Lieutenant.”

Fabulous:  “Boursault, what’s taking so long?  They’re tearing us apart.  Shields are down and we’re taking damage to the structure.  Life support is failing.  My sickbay is overflowing.  We can’t hold out much longer.”

Skronk:  “We’re almost underway, Fabulous.  Bridge systems are not responding.  We fear the Orion Syndicate may have infiltrated Starfleet and sabotaged our controls.  We’re rerouting command functions now.  Stand by.  Boursault out.  Dammit, people are going to DIE unless someone gets me in this CHAIR!”

Delon:  “Why doon you try sneakin up on the chair?”

Skronk:  “I feel like a damned fool, but you may be on to something, Delon.  Cron, prepare to intiate emote sequence.”

Cron:  “Aye, sir.  /e sitcaptain on your mark.”

Skronk:  “MARK!”

Skronk:  “Excellent work crew.  S’Vek, set a course to Bhea, maximum warp.”

S’Vek:  “Helm is still not responding, sir.”

Skronk:  “Cron, what the hell kind of a bridge is this?”

Cron:  “Curious.  Ship engineering schematics indicate that command functions such as travel, navigation and combat are only available in tactical view.  As such, the Bridge would seem superflous at this time.”

Skronk:  “Cryptiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiic!!!  Attention, all hands, abandon the bridge immediately and return to tactical view.  This is not a drill.  And get this boat to Bhea!”

S’Vek:  “Helm is responding now, Lieutenant.  Settink course for Bhea system, maximum warp.”

Skronk:  “Engage!”

Star Trek Not Quite Online

Well, the open beta of Star Trek Online seems to be having a bit of a rocky start.  For the second night, there was “emergency” maintenance between about 7pm pst and 9pm pst which is primetime for me during the week.  Unfortunately, tonight’s outage was supposed to be until about 9pm but then extended until midnight, so I gave up.  Not so good for the second day of open beta.  Fingers crossed that this will be resolved before the three day weekend here (MLK Day).

Fortunately, I was the lucky albeit last minute recipient of a closed beta key from the good sisters at No Prisoners, No Mercy so I got to play most of this last weekend.  I probably logged about 10-12 hours all told before the wipe for open beta.  I may post an “impressions” or “review” at some point, but I don’t feel I have enough of a picture to really do it justice just yet.  I think I’ve only gotten to about Lieutenant, grade 5 or so (aka Level 5 out of 50– 5 ranks, 10 grades each).  Others, however, have posted their thoughts, so I’ll direct you to a few of them and then throw out some thoughts.

First of all, Sente at adingworld has a very thorough post describing the game through closed beta.  From my limited experience, I tend to agree with everything said there.  This is the kind of post I’d write if I had more time in game.

Next, Tobold weighed in on his impressions.  Although he’s not onboard, I think his criticisms and analysis are a fair take on where the game is at this point.

Likewise, Keen has some thoughtful insights on the game thus far that, although I don’t really agree with all of them, they are fair points.

Finally, Darren, who I’m very glad is back blogging, has his thoughts here.

Having done the Champions open beta, I had an inkling of what I was getting into.  A bit like the DDO/LotRO phenomenon– same engine (at least one of them anyway), same look and feel, but fundamentally different games.  As Keen noted, this is a game of boxes.  Unlike the too many boxes (imho) in Pirates of the Burning Sea, I think STO can get away with some of the boxiness.  There are three distinct frames of refererence (I’ll call them avatar space, sector space, and ship space), so its hard to imagine how to reconcile the three perspectives without some speed bump of shifting the frame from one to the other.

There are times this is a bit jarring.  And there are times that it feels less worldly and more gamey.  Despite the comments regarding the multiple instances of many spaces, I just didn’t find them that big of a deal.  I found them more jarring in LotRO and PotBS frankly.

As other have mentioned, the ship combat is great.  Naval combat with a z axis.  While its not perfect and some have complained about its slow pacing, I’ve found it fun and challenging in that lose-track-of-time-while-playing sort of way.  Thats a good sign.  The ship combat is more dynamic than Eve mission combat with timing tactics and positioning being more critical.

I felt like I had to actually fly the ship with some degree of competence.  Having to maneuver to preserve shields and place targets in firing arcs of weapons makes for a pleasantly fluid battle.  With a well coordinated and balanced group, I could see this being VERY fun.  Even with the random grouping, people figured out basic tactics fairly easily and generally coordinated well.

I found these initial battles more satisfying tactically than Eve PvE battles although you don’t have the Eve death penalty terror to keep you on your toes.  Nonetheless, the incessant TOS red alert sound effect and the Majel Barret-esque voice of the computer (“Hull integrity is below 75%”) made for a nostalgic and immersive battle.   Cue the french horns and theme music upon your victory and the feeling is complete.

As mentioned, ground combat needs love, but its far from complete suck IMHO.  The environments are nicely done, the battles tend to also be fluid if a bit shallow.  I almost feel like its an FPS shooter for old men.  Tab targeting FTW.

Performance wise, I haven’t had any real issues.  I’m running XP with a 3GHz Core Duo and 4 GB of ram and an 8800GT with 512MB of RAM.  Despite folks claiming Nvidia cards are having trouble, I’ve had nothing but very good performance.  I turned down the bloom (personal preference) but otherwise left everything pretty much maxed.  Very little lag, even in fleet battles with many other players.  YMMV.

At the end of the day, I’m more in line with Darren’s opinion– There is a distinctly Trek-like feel to the whole thing and though it has warts, I’m going to stick with it to see what it becomes for a while.  I’ve been married to the franchise since the Apple ][ days, so I’m clearly on board regardless.  Now, if they can only get the damned servers back up so we can play…

Resistance is Futile

I’m starting to be assimilated.  Been increasingly interested in the news flowing out of Cryptic of late as we slowly drift toward the STO launch.  Warcry has two new ship fighting tactics videos up that give us some more insight into what they have in mind.

You can view them here and here.

Considering the depth of the curse on the Star Trek franchise when it comes to games, anything short of complete failure would probably be considered a success.  Still, although I’ve been pessimistic about this latest offering because of its troubled past, I’m becoming almost optimistic about it the more I see.  Nothing I’ve seen in the recently released clips and info causes me much angst.  There’s so much more we don’t know at this point about other important aspects of the game, but at this point, the ship combat system is starting to look ok to me.

Some folks are decrying the sell out of falling back on the holy trinity of tank, dps and heals in basic ship design (Can I be the first to use the phrase “slap in the face”?– not because I think so, but because I want to be first).  I think that’s too knee jerk.  Frankly, I’m curious what other mechanic they’d suggest that would actually make what is essentially a hybrid naval combat game worth playing.

In any combat model (and I mean ANY), you really only have three levers to pull:  damage dealing, damage avoidance and damage mitigation.  All of these aspects can be present in any single game element (ship, player, item, ability, etc.) or spread across several allowing for players to make choices.

Given our own game universe to control, we’d probably all want a ship that was the “best” at each of the three areas and as a result be able to over match all of the game’s challenges.  Maybe thats a good goal for a single player game, but lets face it, that’s kind of boring and awefully linear.  When everyone is the best at everything, no one is, and “everything” is ultimately reduce to just one thing.  Meh.

When you make all the chess pieces queens, you’ve ultimately created a bastardized version of the checkers “end game”– all equal pieces with complete freedom of action all equally powerful/vulnerable.  Not very interesting to me, and quite frankly, never really represented in the canon of naval warfare upon which most space-faring combat games are based.

Eve follows a similar paradigm and seems to do just fine.  From what we know, STO will allow customization of the ship and bridge crew in a manner similar to Eve’s ship module system.  As some have pointed out, use of a wide variety of modules requring requisite skills in Eve allows you to change the play characteristics of a ship pretty significantly.

Yes, you can mine with a battleship or pvp with a Hulk miner with the right modules and skills.  Those are extremes, but the still the fundamental characteristics of each ship class remain.  Giving a nod to physics, battleships are big and owing to inertia tend to be slow, capable of dealing and taking a fair amount of damage and generating and requiring enormous amounts of power.  All of that comes at a price.  They tend to be sitting ducks, though mighty dangerous ducks.  Smaller, lighter ships are faster can deal less overall damage but are more maneuverable, harder to hit, etc.

In my most successful Eve two box setup, I pilot a battleship and battlecruiser– a Raven and a Drake.  The Raven is an “active” shield tanked ship and the Raven is configured as a “passive” shield tank.  “Tank” in Eve can refer to the role a ship plays in a group or to the damage prevention/mitigation strategies it employs.  The Raven grabs aggro and starts burning down the baddies while the Drake takes out the hard to hit frigates and drones, etc.

These two ships are Caldari ships which tend to rely on shield tanking (diverting power from the ships power plant to the shields to absorb incoming damage).  Other races rely on armor tanking (using modules that actively repair damage done to armor, entirely foregoing shields).  Wilhelm even made a “speed tanked” Cerberus that primarily relies on being too fast to be hit.

With the benefit of better skills and modules, players can make meaningful stategic decisions (e.g., my passive shield tank requires no intervention to maintain its defenses whereas my actively shield tanked battleship requires me to intervene to divert power to those modules that rebuild shields after damaging).

In my view, this kind of system (especially in a space game) works just fine and if STO’s system is even a shadow of what Eve’s provides, it will be full of win.  What might be more troubling (and is an entirely different post) is the AI “aggro” system which we’ve been given very little information about at this point.  To be fair, the AI in Eve isn’t too much better than that in a most traditional MMOs.  The AI tends to focus on whatever ship is highest on the threat list generally leaving the others without having to deal with being primaried in most PVE circumstances.  The Sleepers do a much better job of that, but again, that’s another post.

Consider how differently that plays out in PVP or in the tactics a player group uses against mobs– target the weaker targets to reduce the opponent’s damage output (dps casters) or mitigation (healers) rather than everyone keep beating on the big baddy with the most armor.  Lets hope that plays out differently, but as I say, threat mechanics is a different post…