In Star Trek Online, every player is the Captain of his own ship, but like the characters in the TV series, there are career choices. Captain Jean Luc Picard was a diplomat and archeologist, and players similarly will develop skills. Apart from the character development, players will recruit their Bridge Crews throughout the game. These are actually Bridge Officers; the Communications Officers, Science Officers and the like, your Spocks, Chekovs and Scottys, a distinct difference from your Ship Crew, which are your hundreds of nameless crew that help run and repair the ship. The gameplay mechanic for your Bridge Officers is somewhat akin to minions and pets. They are the "phat lewts" of the game and will be earned, leveled and can be traded, although some will be bound to you.
Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer of Star Trek Online at Cryptic Studios was on hand at a Developer's Chat on IRC earlier this week to answer questions and tell us more about this important game play feature.
"Bridge Crews give your character some of the cooler powers in space. You start off by yourself," said Craig, "but you'll get your first Bridge Officer very early on, within the first hour or two [of play]."
Players will have full control of their Bridge Crew, being able to customize them with names, appearance, species and uniform of each member. You will also equip them, level them and choose their skills.
Starfleet/KDF will grant players Bridge Officers, but players will also be able to recruit them from planets after they have completed missions there. "There will be rare Bridge Officers," said Craig, "some that you'll only get access to when you do high-end content, some you'll get through luck and exploration."
Officers can be cross-trained once you obtain one with a skill you wish for another to have, Craig imparted. "If you get a wicked cool new Tactical Bridge Officer who's got a power or skill you want, you can choose to either recruit them to your crew, or train up one of your existing crew with the new skill."
This means that players can have, if they wish, skills for races that traditionally are unique to other races. A full crew of Klingon or Ferengi is possible. It might take some dedication and time on a player's part, but it is possible. Bridge Officers will have a number of skills that will open up as they rank (level) up, but Captains may only command Bridge Officers that are one rank lower than they are. So although crew members are transferrable, Captains aren't "twinkable" with high ranking Bridge Officers. Crew promotions are managed by you, the Captain, at the cost of Starfleet Reputation - a system of skill points gained while playing the game.
On the ship, the Captain is responsible for most of the buffs and the Bridge Officers provide the powers, but on a planet it is reversed, with the Bridge Officers you bring on your away team providing the buffs. Craig explained, "The Bridge Officers have special skills on the ground." It is still up to the player however to equip and direct the away team.
Bridge Officers are not just dumb pets either. "One of the main ways that information gets to you as captain will be through your Bridge Officers," Craig continued, "The majority of episode text is "spoken" to you by your crew, they are always scanning, contacting other ships or otherwise helping to move the story along."
Players will recruit a pool of Bridge Officers and train them to perform different roles. There are only a limited number of slots for Bridge Officers, depending on the size of the ship and you will want to change the make-up of your Bridge Crew depending on the role of the ship.
"The different ship configurations have different number of stations on the bridge. Each station (slot for your Bridge Officers) has a type - either Tactical, Science or Engineering," said Craig, "Given the configuration of ship - you'll be able to activate different permutations of Bridge Officers. For example - the Defiant will have more Tactical stations than an Olympic configuration."
Over time, players may wish to train different Bridge Crews for effectiveness in space and planet side. While on the ground, players will be able to direct the team individually or as a group. Players grouping for planet exploration will choose which officers to bring with them as away teams consist of five characters whether players or Bridge Crew.
"We really want to give you guys the freedom to build up a staff of officers that allow you to customize your gameplay," said Craig. "Maybe today you're outfitting your Sovereign class ship with a lot of Tactical guys - but tomorrow, you'll play more of a support role. Depending on what Bridge Officers are on the bridge - your role and gameplay experience will change."
As Craig informed us, Bridge Officers will not be lost through death in battle. "Your Bridge Officers are a very important part of your "character" - you'll invest a huge amount of time developing these guys - we don't want to be killing them on you. Three months of work gone in a minute - yeah, not fun for most." They will be saved in the nick of time. Beamed into sick bay or something like that. Not that they won't be removed from the scenario, just no perma-death.
No sacrificial red-shirts either it seems. All in all, the Bridge Crew system seems to be pretty flexible. Ferengi Science Officer anyone?