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    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Captain Logan’s Star Trek: Online Review

    Before we delve in here let me be clear, this is not a video game review written by someone who is an expert on video games and video game play. This is review written from the perspective of someone who is knowledgeable about Starship Operations and Starship Combat.
    (That may seem odd but just play along and it will all make sense as we go. I promise.)

    The game itself:
    Despite attempts to mix in some more peaceful, exploration based missions this game is a pretty straight up combat game. The peaceful exploration missions are clearly just filler and by that I mean that they are basically a walk through. There are not a lot of options to allow for different outcomes. Orders and Reports come in with suggested actions. Not even a menu of choices beyond “do X to proceed” or “Exit”.

    Okay it’s a combat game. So, how is the combat?

    Space Combat:
    One of the first things you notice in the simulation is that they got the distances wrong. Starship weapons optimal range is 40,000Km. Yet in the game you cannot fire at all until 10,000Km. (As a side note; space is really big and if we’re within 10,000Km someone's finger better be hovering over the collision alert alarm.) This seems like a random number that could have been easily reset to the scales we’re already accustomed. Also there is apparently no combat at warp speeds. I’m not sure why this is and in fact the whole impulse / warp speed scale seems a bit off.
    (Here is a Warp Table that spells out Time over Distance: http://www.elysianvisions.com/integrity/warp.html
    But we can't wait for all that we need to keep things moving around here. This is a simulation after all.)

    In actual starship combat there are a number of options. Of course, due to relativistic effects, Phasers are just this side of totally useless at warp, but Torpedoes work just fine provided you fire along the right vector or compensate for the enemy’s position and motion. You can even fire blind against ships that have just cloaked, not here though, impulse only combat and no fire option without a weapons lock.
    Also what looks like a single opponent at warp may in fact be an entire fleet once you drop out to engage. This happens way too often and, if the enemy force is overwhelming, once you engage the enemy fleet you are often destroyed before you can even get a proper scan going. Some of the combat seems lopsided to the point of making one wish for a simple Kobayashi Maru simulation.

    Okay let’s cut to the chase, we’ve got a combat game that only let’s us fight at Impulse speeds, forget everything else how does this work? Well again it’s kind of strange. Let’s start by remembering that actual impulse speeds are not fixed but rather refer to a rate of acceleration. However I can understand that putting all of that acceleration math into the simulation would limit play to super computers so let’s leave that out as well.

    Here we are then, Impulse power, Shields, Phasers, and Torpedoes.
    Let’s break this down.

    Shields: It seems Shields are always up and on full. Power cannot be manually rerouted from one set to another. Also there is not a representation of a dorsal or ventral shield. For the sake of the simulation you get four shields (Port, Starboard, Fore and Aft) in two dimensions. In order to change the enemy facing shield you need to maneuver the entire ship and that brings up another weakness in the simulation. There doesn’t seem to be any compensation for speed versus maneuverability.
    A starship at full impulse does not turn on a dime; you have to bank and turn wide even with your Structural Integrity Fields and Inertial Dampeners running full out. To be fair that does seem to be the way the ship handles in the simulation but there doesn’t seem to be any commensurate ability to turn faster at slower speeds. When I reduce speed I want to be able to spin around and fire on a target not drag my way through a painfully slow rotation just in time to see the target drift past my arc of fire. Maybe this is actually built in to the simulation but, if so, it needs to be tweaked.

    Phasers: Phaser banks are the weapon of choice for overcoming enemy shields, in the simulation and out, but they do much more than that. In the simulation though Phasers seem to have only one setting - full power. The target lock is nice and works as it should but there is no manual ability to increase fire rates by reducing power output. Also the arc of fire is pretty limited leading to a bad habit of just giving the fire all weapons order.

    Torpedoes: The Torpedoes are hull and ship killers but again the configuration is limited and if there is a way to use them as mines - I haven’t found it. The arc of fire here is also pretty limiting. One of the nice things here though is that proximity counts.

    Overall Configuration: The way the Simulation tries to compensate for all of the above is actually pretty interesting. What they have done is allow more exact configuration via NPC assignment. Train up crew people put them in the right stations and the overall stats go up based on where they are. I can increase torpedo yield for a few seconds by telling my Tactical Office to do it. I can use my Science Officer to scramble the enemy’s targeting sensors and so on.   Also my character avatar acquires new skills as I play, I can engage in evasive maneuvers, once I acquire the skill for it.

    How do I make this all work for me?
    As you close on targets, time your orders (IE: scramble the enemy’s targeting sensors) to go into effect just as you enter weapons range. Use the weapons range limitation to your advantage by isolating targets, move just to within 10,000Km of a single target and reduce your speed. Use your Phasers to overcome their shields. Then increase speed, go straight at the enemy, get in close and hit them hard with the Torpedoes. When things get too hot and the shields are failing, don’t panic. Increase speed away from the battle front and let a long sweeping arc give your crew the time to get the shields and weapons back on line, then come back strong.

    Having said all of that it’s still a lot of fun. The map and interface for long range navigation are fairly elegant and allow for a large universe to explore and play in. As a simulation this is one of the nicest features. There is a political history built into the simulation that seems to lend itself to some interesting story telling and expansion in the future. There is some new race called the Undine that are making trouble throughout the galaxy and the Gorn and the Klingons are raising hell. If I had to guess, based on what I’ve read, I’d say the Undine are perhaps a spin off of the Changeling race from the Gamma Quadrant. Maybe one of the Changelings sent out to explore the universe with no memory found a way to reproduce and that ended up creating a new race with no memory of the original race and their own belligerent agenda. That is all speculation of course but part of the fun of the simulation is that it leads to this kind of speculation.

    Look for more updates from Captain Logan as we learn to master the simulation going forward.  

    2 comments:

    Frank J. Hernandez said...

    Undine Update they're actually species 8472.
    http://www.massively.com/2010/02/11/star-trek-online-undine-exclusive-screenshots-and-video/

    Phoenix said...

    Ok here it is as promised. My take on the game thus far..

    The creation of the look of your character is rather well done. The random feature gives you some unique looking species for the aliens. I also like the design feature for the starships as well. Though I'm a little ticked that to change the starships name cost so much. As for the warp situation it's only used to go for block to block and there is a transwarp with a 30 minute cooldown that will take you back to the home starbase. What I really don't like is the way the Impulse engines work. You have a fast impulse forward an evasive impulse forward and turning, but the reverse impulse is no where near as fast as either of the forward versions. I believe that reverse Impulse should have the same speed ratio as forward.
    Weapons in the aft section of your starter ship have only one weapon slot. so a torp is fair at best phaseer/disrupters not much better but if you get the photonic mines they will do so damage to the enemy that is substantial if your trying to get out of a jam.
    As for tactics it's whatever style you prefer really. I like to have my dual disrupters set to auto as well as my torp. I get the photon spread ready and head in. One real problem is you have to have the enemy visible and I mean you have to see their ship cage in order to select it.
    Actually you should be allowed to select the nearest enemy regardless of where they are inside your Red Alert Zone.
    I'll generally go in to the point of the Alert Zone fire off a volley of Spread Torps along with the photonic mines to get their attention then go to full reverse even as sllooww as it is and pound them with the torps and mines, while keeping a facing to them and replenishing the front shields. If I get too badly hurt I'll rush past them and get outside the Alert zone and regain hull and shields and come in again and try.
    There's also an Exchange that you can access on the Starbases but it will allow you to put up items for sale but I have yet to see anything sell that I put up even when I put a really low price on it just to see if it moves out.
    Beware of tribbles they will eat your food while in your inventory. Probably will do the same in the bank.
    I did learn alot from watching the series I never go down to a planet alone I take a full away team. Right now will only a Light Cruiser if I see the word Battleship I warp out no point in a one shot one kill on me with that beastie.
    All in all it's not a bad game it just needs a little more tweaking in some things which I'm sure are on the way. It was nice to be able to visit spots that were on the shows or movies, memory Alpha, K-7, Risa ( oh the memorys there.. .) If we're lucky the NPC engine will get overhauled so that they can interact better, but that will no doubt be further down the road.