Bridge Officer Combat Guide
The care and feeding of your crew.
This is a guide on how to get the most out of your Bridge Officers in combat. This guide will not cover Bridge Officer ground skills. I'll save that for others to do. What this guide will do is to reveal how your Bridge Officers react, and how you can control what your Bridge Officers will do. And I'll also be revealing a bit of how the game AI work.
Section I - The Basics
"Are your out of your Vulcan Mind?"
OK, your Bridge Officers are NPCs (Non Player Characters). That means there isn't a human behind their controls. But they are your NPCs. They are loyal to you and each other. The game server is what controls that actions. The thing that does that is called the game's Artificial Intelligence or AI. (Some would call is Artificial Dumbness. And I would't call them that ). The AI is a set of algorithms that determine how the NPCs will act given a certain set of circumstances. Your Bridge Officers has a slightly different AI which controls their behaviors that make them uniquely your crew.
You'll note I called the AI dumb above. The NPCs may certainly do some seemingly dumb things under certain circumstance. But your Bridge Officers are surprisingly capable on their own. The key to this keeping your Bridge Officers fairly close together and within line of sight of each other. Many times I let my away team deal with a Klingon Swordmaster while I deal with the rest of the spawn. I'll turn around just in time to see the Swordmaster fall to defeat.
The best advice I can give overall is to watch and observe your Bridge Officers. Watch to see how they react in certain situations. You'll eventually learn how the AI reacts in any given circumstance. When a Bridge Officer is starting to do something dumb, you'll know when to go in and take control.
"You want me to go there?!?"
This section will cover some basic behavior of your Bridge Officers. First off all bridge officers have a certain location they want to be when out of combat. I call this their leash point. By default a Bridge Officers leash point is a location in the rear facing of your Captain's avatar. The points are arranged in a semicircle. You've all seen this. As you turn or move a bit, your Bridge Officers will jump all over themselves (literally) scrambling to get back to their leash location.
In combat this behavior changes a bit. Bridge Officers will now move away from the leash points in order to close to within weapon/ability range of target. They will also try to get flanking positions for the extra flanking damage modifier. But there is something that isn't apparent in the AI's combat movements.. There is a distance from the leash point the Bridge Officer will not go beyond. I call this the leash distance. If a Bridge Office goes beyond the leash distance, it now becomes a high imperative of the AI to return within the leash limit. Actually the imperative is to return to within a certain minimum distance of your character. You can see this behavior if you run off away from your crew while in combat. Your Bridge Officers will race back to your new position. Normally that means that your Bridge Offers won't go wondering off on their own too far.
I'll come back to this later, but you can change the leash location for your Bridge Officers. You can set a rally point for an Bridge Officers and that point will become their new leash point. The out of combat and in combat behaviors as described above don't change except for the new leash point. If you set a rally point for your away team, your captain can wonder away and leave your away team behind. If you get attacked too far away from your crew, you are own your own. They will not come racing to he rescue. You ordered them not to. If you set rally points, don't forget to remove them.
(Yes, I've gone off and left my away team behind. I quickly remember that fact when it's 8 to 1 in my next fight.)
"Alright, mister. Who threw the first punch?"
In this section, I'll cover aggro. And I'll discuss things I've learned about Cryptic's game AI over the years. Take this stuff with a grain of salt. I'm relatively certain about things. But I freely admit I might be way off base about sometings.
Aggro is a pseudo-word that has evolved from the mists of time of MUDs and MUSHs to MMORPGs. The word basically means who does the AI pay attention to or "The target for tonight is...". This section also applied to the enemy NPCs and ships as well.
Cryptic's AI uses a computed value called threat level for target determination. The game AI computes a threat level for all near targets of the NPC. That list is sorted by threat level. Threat level is a long complex formula with many different factors in it. But the the way threat works can be disstilled down to two things: distance and damage.
Distance is inverse proportional to threat level. That means the closer the target is to the NPC, the higher the threat level of that target. In City of Heroes (Cryptic first MMORPG) this was a big factor. I don't think distance is as big a factor in STO, but it still is a contributing factor.
The other big factor is damage done to the NPC. The more damage an target does to the NPC, the larger the amount of threat that is generated by the source of damage. If you get off an exploit attack on an NPC, you are definitely going to be in its sights. A non-obvious factor is non-damage attacks on NPC (holds, roots, stuns, debuffs, etc.) These can be classified as an amount of damage in the threat level determination. For example, if you using an abilities which does nothing but root (immobilize) an NPC, that will be consider an attack. And healing can also be considered as damage as well. If you are getting lots of attention as a team Healer, you now know why.
The lesser factors can be things such as an NPC hatred of the species of the target. For example, (totally made up) Klingons really hate Humans. So a human target gets an extra amount of threat. So all other thing being equal, a human would be targeted above anything else. As I said there a lots of factors that make up the threat equation. I don't have a clue as to what they (if any) could be. But maybe a dev will give us some insight to it someday. And there is a bit of randomness to threat level as well. This is to ensure that the all of the NPC's in a group don't pick the exactly game target with other other thing being the same.
There are some abilities which will reduce reduce threat. In the vernacular of MMORPG game, this is known as a placate ability. Basically what it does is to give the affected target a huge negative amount of threat. The target essential drop off the radar of the NPC for the duration of the placate. In STO there are are few abilities which can placate. On the ground there is Science ability Neural Neutralizer. And in space there is the Jam Sensors Science Bridge Officers ability.
And lastly, threat level doesn't totally determine the targets of NPC or Bridge Officer actions. NPCs and Bridge Officers have abilities which can affect affect friendly and enemy targets. NPCs and Bridge Officers will use those abilities on targets of opportunity when they pop up. For example, healing isn't away needed, but when a friendly unit has taken enough damage, an NPC with healing abilities will heal the injured target. Likewise, the ability Stasis Field is a hold. A Bridge Officers will tend to hold a specific target with Status Field even if they are focused on another target. Which leads me to Captain Quirk of the...er...
Another quirk of the game AI is off-target targeting. That is a tendency for the game AI to keep picking on a specific target with an ability. Even if that specific target isn't the highest threat. The one specific ability type I've seen this behavior is the single target holds in the game. For Bridge Officers is the Science ability Stasis Beam. The Science Bridger Officers will pick on the same target is possible to keep it locked down.
And you can override the game AI's behavior in regards to target selection. You can select a target and force one or more of the your Bridge Officers to say this is your primary target. That target may be an enemy NPC or a friendly. That target can even be yourself. More on this in the "Make it so!" section.
Perception Distance is something I need to touch on as well. Perception for you the player is quite simple. If a target is out of perception range due to range, being obscured or by stealth. You won't see it on your game screen. Perception range for the game AI is something of a misnomer.
The game AI cheats in that it knows exactly where every target is. The perception range of an NPC is actually maximum range at which they will 'aggro' onto a target outside of combat mode. If a target come within that radius, the game AI could go into combat mode and the aggro /perception range shoots sky high. That means you have to get a loooong way away fron the NPC before the game AI will normally give up.
And the game AI doesn't instantly go into combat more upon "perceiving" a target. It will go into an alert stance for several seconds. You can tell this by the NPC actions. They stop their normal non-combat action and movement. And then they standing upright as though they "heard" something. In space, you'll see ships come to a complete stop. If the "perceived" target moves out of perception/aggro range before times up, the NPCs will resume there out of combat actions. But if the target is still there at the end of those few seconds, they shift into combat mode.
And the game engine has a great deal of reality built into it in regards to perception. On the ground, the NPCs facing actually does matter and affects their perception range. NPCs have a broad front facing in which they can see out to their normal perception range. And they have a narrower rear facing in which their perception range is greatly reduced. So it's possible to sneak up on NPCs from behind. And here you through the game spawns running around in different directions didn't matter. Well now you know they actually do it for a reason. It's so you sneaky players can't run up behind and surprise them.