Poor Impulse (Engine) Control: @trekonlinegame’s third expansion, Agents of Yesterday, approaches!

Star Trek Online‘s next expansion, Agents of Yesterday (AoY), goes where we’ve all gone before, into The Past. It’s 50 years since The Original Series (TOS) first aired, and STO’s paying tribute by adding a new faction and episodes squarely set in the “Wild West” period of the Star Trek universe.

Pinoeer, the new starter ship, is a TOS version somewhere between NX-01 and Reliant
Starship Porn: Pioneer, the new starter ship, combines bits of the original Connie,  NX-01, and Reliant. It’s best viewed from behind, but I’ll leave that as an in-game pleasure for you”shuttle bay” aficionados out there.

When the new episodes arrived on the test server in their current “diamond in the rough” state, I swore I’d do the tutorial and no more. That was easy at first because a bug half-way through prevented completing the tutorial. But that got fixed, so last night I thought I’d finish the tutorial, quietly put AoY back in its virtual box, and get to bed early. So of course I stayed up late and finished all the new episodes. Ugh, it’s the same kind of post-binge-eating guilt that leaves me feeling both satisfied and ashamed.

STO producer and shamelessly hard-core TOS fan Maria Rosseau talked with Trek.fm about the loving attention to detail–and sometimes lack of detail–it took to get the look and feel right [TREK NEWS AND VIEWS 103: PUTTING THE TOS IN STO]. AoY doesn’t attempt to improve on or reimagine TOS through the eyes of STO or all the Trek that followed it; that’s created some controversy in the STO community among players who can’t look beneath the veneer of TOS being a late-sixties TV program that sometimes viewed the future through groovy-colored glasses. I’ll gladly take another dose of go-go boots and space hippies and 23rd Century Gorn fashion over this year’s dreadful installment from that talentless hack. Set phasers to groovy and full speed ahead!


What is the mass of the Solanae Dyson Sphere?

In response to a question on STO’s sub-reddit, I started wondering about the mass of the dyson spheres in Star Trek Online. I love doing these paper-and-pencil what-ifs, and the sphere is one of my favorite zones in STO for look and feel. Here was my response to the original poster’s question about how the Solanae sphere jumping a few light years out from Iconia would affect the Iconia system …

There are too many unknowns to come up with a good guess at the sphere shell’s mass, but I assume it’s a fraction of its central star’s mass and wouldn’t contribute much beyond normal stellar-scale gravitational pull. So it’s no different than any other normal star a few light years away, having minimal gravitational impact.

An interesting consequence of the sphere jumping is having a clear way measure the speed of gravitational wave propagation. Barring some kind of Trekverse subspace effect, that’s theoretically at the speed of light, so it will take Iconia two years to feel even that tiny gravitational shift after the sphere jumped to two light years away.

If the sphere were constructed from the star’s original planets and we use our solar system as a base, then it’s no more than roughly 1/750th the mass of its star (based on planetary mass but not including asteroids and Oort cloud.) However, we do have some observations about the sphere to consider. And now, some math-based guessing …

Enterprise-D going “down the hatch” of the Jenolan sphere airlock in the TNG episode “Relics”.

Watching the Enterprise fly through the Jenolan sphere’s airlock in Relics, it looks like the sphere is several kilometers thick since the airlock’s inner and outer doors appear to be flush with the inner and outer surfaces. The gash in the Solonae sphere’s Wasteland zone looks much deeper, at least tens of kilometers thick. In either case, it’s thickness is much smaller than its radius, so we can approximate the shell’s volume as 4 * pi * r2 * t, where r radius (1.5E11 m, i.e., 1 AU) >> t thickness (1E4 to 1E5 m, i.e., 10 – 100 km).

That means it’s between 2.3E26 and 2.3E27 cubic meters (m3). The gash looks starship-like inside, and starships–like witches–float, e.g., Nandi at Risa. It may not be solid but may use superdense matter like neutronium for it shell, so let’s wildly guess at effective densities between water (1000 kg/m3) and iron (8000 kg/m3). To get a range, let’s use a lighter, thinner shell (1/2 as dense as water, i.e. like like a naval ship’s displacement) versus a thicker solid iron shell to get 1.2E28 kg to 1.8E31 kg.

For scale, the sun’s mass is roughly 2E30 kg which means our range is 1/100 to 10 times the mass of a Sol-type star. So, I could see the sphere’s mass being roughly the same magnitude as its star given a superdense impenetrable shell much like the doomsday device and vast energies from capturing the stellar output for force fields, integrity fields, artificial gravity, and active stabilization. It’s still measurable in normal stellar masses and not, say, galactic core black hole masses. Two solar masses over two light years is still not out of the ordinary gravitationally, but it points to the possibility that the sphere was constructed not from the mass of a solitary star’s planets but from one of the stars in a binary system.

Furthermore, if the shell were constructed only from the planetary mass around a Sol-type star, then its effective density is pretty low to absurdly low. With our solar system’s total planetary mass of roughly 3E27 kg and that volume between 2.3E26 and 2.3E27 m^3, the shell’s density would be 1.1 to 11 kg/m^3 or about 1/100 to 1/1000 the density of water.  For reference, styrofoam is 40 kg/m^3 or about 1/25 the density of water. While anything is possible, the Solanae dyson sphere *shell* being 4 to 40 times less dense than sytrofoam is more than my brain can handle.

I wish they’d used a ringworld instead of a dyson sphere so my Kzinti–er, Ferasan–Captain would feel more at home exploring it.

Streamlining is not a bad thing.

In response to Face Of The Ranger’s Streamlining post:

super-maglev-trainStreamlining is necessary and inevitable for an MMO to remain healthy as it ages. As content stacks up over the years, new players struggle to cross ever-widening chasms of unpopulated zones to reach the latest content, where most of the player-base already is. The probability of them sticking it out decreases. That old content strangles off the flow of new players, and the game declines as older players move on.

Let’s be honest. Much of MMO content is not really story; it’s “Kill ten rats.” It’s padding so players don’t run through content (they may have paid for) too quickly. It justifies development dollars spent with hours played. As that content ages and the endgame fencepost moves, developers can remove that padding, keeping the essence of story without slowing players down from reaching the latest content. Refactoring old content also allows developers to use techniques they’ve learned or features they’ve added to out-of-date content. It’s an opportunity for the editorial process to include player feedback and retrofit old ideas with better as the storyline evolves.

Consider Star Trek Online (STO) refactoring the old Romulan Mystery episodes. It resulted in a much better experience: less padding, better story, and better technicals. Characters introduced in later episodes were woven back into older storylines, and an absurd plot involving Undine and a pre-emptive Federation strike against the Romulans can happily be forgotten. Denise Crosby reprised her role as Sela with new voice acting. If I put aside nostalgia, if I had a choice as a first-time player between the old and new versions, it’s no contest: Newer is better.

I replayed every episode for the Delta Recruit event, and content that hasn’t been refactored was painful obvious, particularly the Cardassian arc for Federation characters. Even the Breen arc, arguably Cryptic’s turning point in honing their content creation skills, needs refactoring–more because of baked-in technical problems that caused many people to crash in one particular episode. That refactoring is in the works, although it likely has to take a back seat to the new content around the Iconian War. New content tends to trump old since it’s more likely to generate new business, but the fact that Cryptic does spend time and money on this refactoring is evidence that they see it as an important part of the business model.

Compare that to Shadows of Angmar (Volume I) in Lord Of The Rings Online (LOTRO) which desperately needs streamlining. It’s the original storyline (a.k.a. Epic Quest) from LOTRO’s release and has only had some minor touch-ups over the years. I replayed it a few months ago and though it would never end–so much padding and back-and-forth that I had to buy mithril coins for fast travel to quest givers. It wasn’t fun anymore, and the story got lost in the tedium. I would guess most new players never complete it; once the starting quest for Moria pops up, they’re almost forced to head there so they can start the legendary item grind. That’s a shame because it’s still a great story and part of LOTRO lore. Volume I needs to be shorter while preserving the essence of the story, and it needs to take advantage of all those things Turbine has learned since about creating content.

Perhaps STO has a leg up on LOTRO with streamlining because it levels its content to the player. Cryptic expects players to replay missions, even encourages it by including special rewards that are often leveled to the player. I keep a list of those missions and will go back once I’ve reached level cap on a new alt to have those items at max level. Cryptic added brand new rewards when they refactored Romulan Mystery, and they even highlighted it as new quests in the quest panel. Beyond the skill of refactoring content and the properties of STO that encourage it, Cryptic has a process for getting people to the streamlined content.

Other developers have something to learn from Cryptic on this point. As games age and accumulate content, either their creators care enough about the whole experience to go back and improve old content or they don’t. I’ll gladly trade my fond memories of old, wonky content for a commitment to maintain a great game experience through all levels of play.

Building a Better Bridge Officer Roster in #STO

Star Trek Online recently changed how bridge officers (BOFFs) learn and use skills: any single officer can learn all skills, has a default set used when first stationed on a ship, and remember any combination of active skills in each starship loadout. This is a great improvement, and it allows captains to build better, shorter BOFF rosters. In response to a question on reddit, I posted the following more as a way to think through building a better roster than a TLDR response to the OP:

I’m still playing with the recent changes to BOFF training and trying to figure things out, but it definitely reduces the number of BOFFs you need to cover all the skills. I wish I could return the extra BOFF slots I bought now! Here’s how I’m redesigning my BOFF roster based on these changes:

For space, I think you need 4 of each career to cover the maximum number of stations you could have for each career, and IIRC no ship has more than 1 CMDR or LCDR station of any single career. So my plan for each career is train one BOFF to have all skills, one to have all skills to up to LCDR, and two to have all skills up to LT. That should cut down on the dilithium costs of making manuals or scrolling the BOFFs on the exchange. Ideally these BOFFs should all have space traits, so by default human (their trait does indeed stack again) and then swap in aliens with better space traits as they are acquired.

For ground, you may want a few extra BOFFs based on their role and racial ground traits; i.e., damage dealing traits for dps/tactical officers and damage resisting traits for tank/engineers. Of special note, some races (e.g., Betazoid) have a threat reduction trait that is good for healers, and some races (e.g., Human) have ground traits that benefit the whole team. The value of threat generation traits is debatable: no BOFF can tank a target your captain attacks, but such traits can help them hold threat over other BOFFs like your healer/SCI while your captain’s attention is elsewhere.

With the 4-each for space, you can already create any combination of landing party (all one career or any mix), so more ground BOFFs is really optional. I tend towards landing parties of 2 SCI, 1 TAC, and 1 ENG; one SCI is for offense and the other is the medic, so I’m thinking of adding 4 BOFFs based on ground traits to the 12 for space as my default, then suppressing my inner min/maxer and using the space BOFFs to build specialty landing parties.

The other consideration here is that, without the station mechanic, any BOFF on a landing party could use any skill, so I’d train my default landing party BOFFs in all skills and likely substitutes in all skills available from the trainer (i.e., no crafted/dilithium-costing skills). The EC cost of trainer manuals is low enough that over time I’ll probably train every BOFF in every skill available from trainers.

Finally, for alts I will probably target 12 BOFFs total, 3 of each career for space (fully space trained to 1 CMDR, 1 LCDR, and 1 LT) and 1 of each career for ground (fully ground trained to CMDR). Needing 4 of any one career in space is really an edge case; I could do that in a Bird of Prey but never have because I always want at least some of each career’s abilities.

Music is Murder: The Myth of Moderate Minstrel DPS

Another one of those Minstrel versus Rune-keeper threads showed up in the forums recently. I saw several responses that echoed this notion that rune-keeper DPS was superior and Minstrels only had moderate DPS output. My recent experience with running up new characters on Laurelin doesn’t match that “common wisdom”.

Rune-keeper Epic Conclusion
Boom goes the dynamite! But only after reaching maximum dagor attunement.

It may be different at end-game, but the burst damage a minstrel can do–and now sustain–seems to eclipse a rune-keeper’s DPS in the middle levels. I just ran a minstrel and a rune-keeper through getting their legendary pages: Both started at 39. Both ended at 41. I could clear the Bitter Stair or Skathmur with the minstrel much faster than the rune-keeper.

Part of this comes from a fundamental difference in the classes: Healing and damage are front-loaded bursts for minstrels where rune-keepers are end-loaded over time. Moving through the areas, my rune-keeper required more positioning and preparation like dropping my rune of restoration and building up over-time heals before and in the beginning of combat; the minstrel just ran from mob to mob blasting them and self-healing only when needed. Mobs didn’t last long enough for over-time DPS or critical/devastating hits to result in faster kills for the rune-keeper.

This isn’t really new; the Minstrel’s makeover in Update 6 was amazing, and it’s been a struggle deciding to keep the rune-keeper as my main because the minstrel is so fun. What is new is power management. Before the power revamp, I would have to moderate my skills use and use Anthem of Composure for power regeneration rather than Anthem of the Free Peoples for morale regeneration–the latter being critical when tackling that four-mob cluster of orcs and Angmarim in Skathmur. This time around, I could spam codas and never run out of power.

Instrument of War
Instrument of War

In long fights, the rune-keeper may do more DPS over time, but in short fights the minstrel’s consistent burst damage and lack of power issues will blow through landscape content faster, at least at the middle levels.

Camenecium On My.LOTRO – Rune-keeper Traits

In response to a question in the Rune-keeper forums [How do you trait?]:

For my rune-keeper’s traits, I tend to default to a two-of-each approach for set bonuses and choose the third based on what I think I might be doing that night. (If I know I’m going to spend the whole session in a particular role, I’ll trait 2/5 plus the legendary capstone.) The goal is versatility and minimal retraiting for PUG skirmishes.

  • Beneditions of Peace: Linnod of Peace, Writ of Well-being
  • Cleansing Fires: Conflagration of Runes, Essence of Flame
  • Solitary Thunder: Closing Remarks, Confounding Principles
  • Legendary: Martial Training, You Shall Fall to Our Wrath, Steady Hands or Capstone

I pick my final trait from these three depending on the situation:

  • Harsh Debate (solo DPS)
  • Tale of Rage (group DPS)
  • Memorable Prose (healing)

Assuming you’re soloing, I’d recommend swapping out Rune of Endurance for Writ of Well-being. I always keep at least two Benedictions of Peace slotted so I can drop a Rune of Restoration at any attunement, and I choose traits for those two slots whose benefits don’t depend on having Nestad attunement.

The only real benefit from Rune of Endurance when solo is the rock’s increased morale. Being able to drop another rock at any time reduces the value of that effect. Writ of Well-being reduces your primary any-attunement (self) heal’s cooldown and makes it tier down rather than completely expire if you fail to refresh it. That’s equally handy in groups.

via Camenecium On My.LOTRO – Rune-keeper Traits.