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Star Trek Online Q&A with the Dev Team


by Stuart Davidson - 18th Dec 2009
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Q&A with the STAR TREK Online Dev Team

DH: From the screenshots and videos available for STO it is clear that a lot of effort has gone into making the game look as appealing as possible. Like any game as time passes it will start to look dated compared to more recent titles. Has the game been built in a way that will allow you to enhance graphics as it matures or are future updates likely to be about content?
Jimb Esser - Graphics Engineer:
All of our games are built on the same engine, which we will be continuing to develop for future titles.  A result of this is that any graphical improvements we put in for newer titles can also be taken advantage of by our earlier titles (Star Trek Online and Champions Online).  We've found most MMO players rarely upgrade their hardware when they're actively playing a game; because of this, many years down the road there will still be a significant portion of players who are playing the game on hardware which is considered low-end by today's standards (almost antique by the standards in the future), and we are committed to supporting those players so we will not release an engine update which requires newer hardware to run.
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DH: STO uses your own Cryptic Engine, can you give us a little history on the development of the game engine?
Bruce Rogers - Chief Technology Officer:
Its roots go all the way back to the first days of Cryptic - we took the engine we developed for City of Heroes, and gave it a massive overhaul to support multiple games, better graphics, etc.
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DH: What do you see as being the major benefits of this engine over others?
Bruce Rogers - Chief Technology Officer:
Procedural content generation! For lots of cool planets and star systems to explore.
Massive server scalability so everyone can play in the same shard.

It’s the only engine we know how to use! :-)
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DH: What are the plans for delivery of the game. We assume it will be available on a retail DVD but will there also be the option to purchase the game online and download the client there and then? If so, will this be handled by your own download manager or through 3rd parties such as Steam or Impulse Distribution?
Andy Velasquez - Possibly the smartest man alive:
There will absolutely be options to purchase and download the games online. Customers will be able to purchase the game from the Cryptic Store as well as from other 3rd party distribution sites. The full list of websites for downloading STO will be published to the Star Trek Online Webpage in the coming weeks so be sure to check it out.
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DH: The system requirements tell us that a wide range of graphics hardware is compatible with STO, right back to the Geforce 7950 and Radeon X1800. Even those with onboard Intel HD graphics will be able to run the game which is great. Will there be any enhanced graphics effects/settings for those on newer cards such as DirectX 10 models?
Jimb Esser - Graphics Engineer:
STO will definitely support DX10 or DX11 cards but there won’t be any features that require DX10 or DX11. So players with high end machines will definitely be able to take advantage of their hardware and crank their settings!
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DH: A dual core CPU is one of the minimum system requirements, does the game make use of both cores on these processors? If so, how are particular tasks assigned to each thread? Also, for those with three of four core CPUs, will the game make use of those additional resources?
Jimb Esser - Graphics Engineer:
With City of Heroes/City of Villains we were the first successful MMO with an engine to take advantage of multiple cores.  At that point, our engine would take advantage of at most 2 cores (getting maybe a 40-50% speedup with a second core), and since then we have expanded on this heavily.  Our current engine gets almost a 100% increase in speed going from 1 to 2 cores, a significant amount with 3 cores, and slight increases for more cores than that.  Some systems such as our renderer are designed to only use 1 additional core (traditional task parallelism where 1 core is doing something and another is doing something different), while some such as our animation system will use any number of cores available (data parallelism where each available CPU can take chunks of data to do work on in parallel).
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DH: Ship (bridge) interiors were a late addition to the content available for release. What was the biggest challenge for the development team when adding this feature so close to launch?
Andy Velasquez - All around awesome guy:
Ship interiors were always something that we had hoped to be able to get to and so being able to work on bridges was definitely a reward more than a challenge for the development team. Once the team found out that this was a feature that we would launch with all of the expected challenges when introducing a new feature found themselves getting resolved quickly as people were just excited to be working on bridges!

If anything could be seen as a challenge it would be the much “loved” task of drawing the line for what we deliver at launch. Bridges are so iconic for Trek and so we wanted to make sure we spent the appropriate amount of time on the bridges instead of doing every aspect of a player ship. But hey there are always expansions...
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DH: We often see updates/news on UI, graphics, combat mechanics and general gameplay but another aspect of the game which rarely gets a mention is the audio/score. Other than the travesty which was the Enterprise TV theme tune, music and sound effects are an important aspect of setting the tone for Star Trek content in TV and Film. Overall what can we expect from sound in STO?
Michael Henry - Audio Department:
Indeed, music and sound effects are a huge part of the Star Trek legacy. You just could not make a game without the iconic sound effects from the TV shows – the transporter beam out sound, bridge ambience, photon torpedoes, etc. So we will utilize these sounds where appropriate, but also employ new sounds to match newly created environments, weapons, etc.

We have also stayed faithful to the Star Trek musical cannon.  Enterprise aside, the TV shows and movies have always had grandiose orchestral themes, and we have gone down the same path with Star Trek Online. We have also tried to create music that captures the flavour of the different races, cultures and environments that are found in the game. Thus, if your ship is being attacked by Klingons, you will hear some savage, tribal music that connotes the brutal nature of the Klingon race. The same thing goes for battle music that reflects the Romulan culture, the Cardassian culture, the Gorn, Borg, etc. 
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DH: Were environmental sound effects created from scratch for the game or were you able to sample sounds which have actually been used in TV and film?
Michael Henry - Audio Department:
Both. CBS/Paramount was kind enough to provide us with a library of sound effects and ambience from the original series through Enterprise, and also some sound effects created for some of the movies. However, given the time line for Star Trek Online and the variety of new environments we have had to cover, we have also been working furiously to create new sound effects and environmental audio to augment those from the Star Trek legacy. We are adding new and unique content on the art side, so we are adding new audio content as well, always keeping in mind the we are part of a great tradition.
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DH: Does the game engine allow use of hardware acceleration for sound such as EAX for Creative users?
Greg Thompson - Audio Engineer:
We are using FMOD middleware for our audio engine.  FMOD has support for "hardware acceleration", however, for compatibility reasons, we do all audio rendering in software (on the CPU).

FMOD does pretty much everything that EAX does, and does not require proprietary hardware to achieve the same effect. Therefore the advantage to using FMOD is that it runs on every system, not just on systems with Creative cards that support EAX, which constitute a very small percentage of users (the vast majority are simply using on-board audio – RealTek or some other non-Creative hardware).

EAX is primarily about DSP FX (e.g., reverb, echo, flange, distortion) happening on the hardware.  FMOD supports what we need for that, and the performance cost on modern systems is fairly minimal on the CPU.  We also have to support XBOX, PS3 and potentially other game platforms, so FMOD’s cross-platform capabilities are a big plus.

So regardless of your audio hardware (or gaming platform) you will get an EAX-like audio experience. :-)
DriverHeaven.net
Thanks to the development team for answering our questions.

Star Trek Online is set to launch in February 2010 for more information head over to their site: Star Trek Online
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