Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sensors and Star Trek Online


The Star Trek universe overflows with subatomic particles and energy sources of all kinds, from both natural and artificial sources. Characters who go into space (especially in Starfleet) seem to run into these wild phenomena on a regular basis.

Accordingly, part of the fun of being a Starfleet character in the Star Trek universe must, I think, be to get to interact with these phenomena. Starfleet characters should have tools allowing them to find ways to detect these various phenomena, to figure out what they signify, and to produce other effects that protect from or counteract encountered phenomena.

So I thought it might be fun to collect information on the various sorts of physical effecs that Star Trek characters have run into, and to see if I could define some of the tools and processes by which players of Star Trek Online might detect and interact with those effects. This document is the result of that research and development.

Something I realized early on was that an attempt to define all the tools that have showed up in Star Trek would take more time than even I have! So to give this review a workable focus, I've limited it to the use of sensors. In what follows, I'll list the phenomena that have been mentioned in the Star Trek universe, and I'll describe the tools and processes used to observe and affect those phenomena.

As a result, there's no department-specific emphasis here. Science, Medical and Engineering players won't find a complete list of every tool they could ever hope to use, or every game function they could ever perform. But they will find tools and a limited set of processes for using a starship's sensors to detect the many particles and energies in Star Trek.

(Note: Although most of the discussion that follows focuses on sensors as used by starships, many of the objects and ideas described will apply in a limited way to tricorders and more specialized sensor devices as well.)


The first section of this document will be a list of phenomena in the Star Trek universe, along with a detailed analysis of many of the ship-based sensors that have been seen in use in Star Trek. This is pretty dry stuff, probably of interest only to the seriously hardcore, but I suffered for my art and now you will, too. :)

The second part (starting at "Sensor Operations in Star Trek Online") is the juicy bit -- this is where I get into a set of concrete suggestions for how a player might use sensors on board a ship in Star Trek Online. It's not intended to be a hard-and-fast, This Is How It Must Be kind of thing; it's more of a collection of ideas that are meant to stimulate discussion. Feel free to chime in with comments, pro or con. If you like the ideas, feel free to say so! If not, how would you improve it? How would you make using sensors more fun?

With that, I give you what I've been working on for the past several months. Enjoy!


It took a while to track down all the references and figure out all the uses, but eventually I was able to come up with a list of most (though probably not all, which is sort of terrifying) of the phenomena encountered in the world of Star Trek.

What I've done here is to organize these phenomena into three groups:
  • matter (subatomic particles and macro-level materials)
  • radiation (of both particles and energies)
  • energy (in various field, pulse, wave, and other forms)
In each group I list the name of the phenomenon, its class and type, whether it's a naturally-occurring thing or can only be produced by artificial means, and the most frequent ways in which these phenomena are encountered (which in most cases means how they're produced and used). A complete game system would take these uses and turn them into gameplay encounters -- I don't go that far in this document or I'd still be writing it two years from now! But I thought they might be worth documenting for others to use, so here they are.

PHENOMENON                         CLASS      TYPE                PRODUCTION  USE
Anion                              matter     subatomic particle  artificial  destroys/removes chroniton particles
Antichroniton                      matter     subatomic particle  artificial  destroys/removes chroniton particles
Antigraviton                       matter     subatomic particle  natural     negates gravity; deflects transporter beams; seals subspace sinkholes
Antilepton                         matter     subatomic particle  natural     jams subspace communications
Antineutrino                       matter     subatomic particle  natural     weakens antimatter containment fields
Antineutron                        matter     subatomic particle  natural     demon planet construction material
Antiproton                         matter     subatomic particle  natural     emitted by Klingon cloaks, and by Romulan cloaks before 2400; slows mutation rate of DNA; extremely powerful when weaponized as a beam (e.g., Doomsday Machine)
Antithoron                         matter     subatomic particle  natural     weakens containment fields
Antitachyon                        matter     subatomic particle  natural     anti-time particle used to close temporal rifts
Baryon                             matter     subatomic particle  natural     deposited by subspace field of warp drives
Beta-tachyon                       matter     subatomic particle  artificial  can be used (in conjunction with antiproton beams) on remodulated shields to increase their strength by an order of magnitude
Boson                              matter     subatomic particle  natural     subspace emission (photon, Z-particle)
Chroniton                          matter     subatomic particle  artificial  carry temporal flux energy; generated by Romulan cloaks; used by Borg to maintain temporal sync in transwarp conduits; used in chroniton torpedoes which use temporal flux to bypass shields
Decyon                             matter     subatomic particle  artificial  creates rips in quantum singularity walls; trans-temporality allows them to transmit short messages across causality loops
Duderon                            matter     subatomic particle  natural     subspace emission [usage unknown]
Electron                           matter     subatomic particle  natural     negatively charged subatomic particle of normal matter
Fermion                            matter     subatomic particle  natural     (quark, lepton, proton, neutron, electron)
Gluon                              matter     subatomic particle  natural     (not used in Star Trek as far as I know, but included here for completeness) gauge boson
Graviton                           matter     subatomic particle  natural     gauge boson; source particle for artificial gravity; can be weaponized as beam or gravimetric torpedo; beam can be used for communication, tractor beam, or to open portal to fluidic space; wave form amplifies powered movement; field form opens subspace portal
Hyperon                            matter     subatomic particle  natural     baryons with a strange quark (hypothesized source particle for hyperonic radiation)
Lepton                             matter     subatomic particle  natural     (electron, muon, neutrino, tau particle) associated with wormholes
Meson                              matter     subatomic particle  natural     associated with wormhole terminus
Methogenic particle                matter     subatomic particle  artificial  volatile when condensed; can be ignited by tricorder emissions
Metreon                            matter     subatomic particle  artificial  forms volatile interstellar gas; lethal to living cells; destabilizes warp fields; damages impulse engines
Muon                               matter     subatomic particle  natural     200 times heavier version of electron; build-up in a warp core leads to core breach
Nadion                             matter     subatomic particle  artificial  phasers; disruptors; prevents opening subspace fractures
Neutrino                           matter     subatomic particle  natural     generated by cloaks; emitted by wormholes before opening; emitted by some Romulan explosives; used to calibrate sensors; warp engines have unique neutrino emission signatures
Nucleon                            matter     subatomic particle  natural     (protons, neutrons) found in polaric fields; destabilize plasma injectors; transmits memory information in a low-level beam; interferes with transporter locks; radiated by Federation replicators when they blow up
Neutron                            matter     subatomic particle  natural     used in neutron microscopes; generated by warp cores; generated by Klingon torpedo launchers just before firing
Omega (particle)                   matter     subatomic particle  natural     (not used in Star Trek as far as I know, but included here for completeness) baryon composed of three strange quarks
Omicron                            matter     subatomic particle  artificial  generated by warp engines; dangerous to humans; can be used to augment production of antimatter; emitted by some forms of holomatter
Photon                             matter     subatomic particle  natural     gauge boson; generated (along with other particles) in the matter/antimatter reaction of photon torpedoes
Polaron                            matter     subatomic particle  artificial  phased polarons used as Dominion beam weapon; disrupts tractor beam; stabilizes containment field; reveals masked ships; interferes with subatomic disruption beam; carrier for Borg scanners; forces changelings into gelatinous form
Positron                           matter     subatomic particle  natural     substrate for android computer brain; residual particle from contact between normal matter and dark matter; can be weaponized as beam of jacketed positrons; form of active object scan which returns composition information
Proton                             matter     subatomic particle  natural     disrupt deflector shields; can retard decay of antimatter in warp cores
Quark                              matter     subatomic particle  natural     subspace emission
Tachyon                            matter     subatomic particle  artificial  generated by fluctuations in spacetime continuum produced by time travel; produced by Klingon cloaks and Romulan cloaks before 2400; can briefly disrupt deflector shields; can open transwarp conduits
Tau particle                       matter     subatomic particle  natural     charged, heavy version of muon
Tetryon                            matter     subatomic particle  artificial  subspace emission; generated during incursion from subspace manifold into normal space; disable directed-energy weapons; used as particle beam weapon; used to initiate isolytic reaction in antimatter; found in atmosphere of Borg vessels; used in Klingon and early Romulan cloaks
Thoron                             matter     subatomic particle  natural     with duranium shadows, can present appearance of active weapons; can repel non-corporeal cerebral lifeforms; can be weaponized
Trianium particle                  matter     subatomic particle  natural     emitted by fusion generators
Verteron                           matter     subatomic particle  artificial  present in wormholes; interfere with sensors; can disable impulse engines, warp engines, and deflector shields; can be applied to subspace instabilities to guide wormhole opening points
Vertion                            matter     subatomic particle  artificial  present in wormholes; found in some white dwarves and neutron stars; found in high-energy subspace phenomena
W-particle                         matter     subatomic particle  natural     gauge boson (not used in Star Trek as far as I know, but included here for completeness)
Z-particle                         matter     subatomic particle  natural     gauge boson; emitted by corporeal form of evil; distorts sensor readings (especially visual-frequency EM results)
Omega (molecule)                   matter     inorganic molecule  artificial  extraordinarily energetic but unstable material; destroys subspace when it explodes
Inorganics, simple                 matter     inorganic molecule  natural     simple inorganic materials such as elemental matter (hydrogen, silicon, etc.) or basic compounds (water, rocks, salt, etc.)
Inorganics, complex                matter     inorganic molecule  natural     complex inorganic objects such as structures, vehicles, and devices
Solanagen                          matter     organic molecule    natural     component molecule of lifeforms in a tertiary subspace manifold
Virus                              matter     organic molecule    natural     viral organism
Bacterium                          matter     organic molecule    natural     bacterial organism
Plant                              matter     organic molecule    natural     characteristic of plant lifeforms
Animal                             matter     organic molecule    natural     characteristic of animal lifeforms
Antimatter                         matter     anti-               natural     matter whose fundamental particles have similar mass but opposite charge, spin, or magnetic moment
Dark matter                        matter     dark                natural     (not used in Star Trek as far as I know, but included here for completeness) non-baryonic matter pervading the universe that interacts with normal matter only through gravity
Fluidic matter                     matter     fluidic             natural     a form of matter that comprises fluidic space
Holomatter                         matter     holographic         natural     an unstable form of matter that can be manipulated by holographic emitters to mimic the properties of many forms of real matter
Protomatter                        matter     proto-              natural     an unstable and dangerous form of matter

Alpha                              radiation  particle            natural     (not used in Star Trek as far as I know, but included here for completeness)
Analeptic                          radiation  particle            artificial  confers on humans a temporary resistance to mutagenic pathogens
Antimatter                         radiation  particle            natural     emitted by antimatter; lethal to humanoids
Antithoron                         radiation  particle            natural     decontaminates planetary crust prior to polyferranide extraction
Baryon                             radiation  particle            natural     can eliminate Temecklian virus contamination
Berthold ray                       radiation  particle            natural     lethal to humans
Beta                               radiation  particle            natural     when applied in sufficient quantity to kemocite, can produce temporal translation
Chroniton                          radiation  particle            artificial  generated by chroniton torpedoes; signals and/or induces time travel
Cosmic ray                         radiation  particle            natural     particles accelerated to near-relativistic speeds; hazardous to humanoids; only defense is planetary-strength magnetic field
Delta                              radiation  particle            natural     emitted by ruptured baffle plate on J-class ships; emitted by mirror universe warp drives; harmful and eventually lethal to humanoids
E-band                             radiation  energy              natural     radio frequency energy; emitted by collapsing stars; can be used as background carrier for coded communications
Eichner                            radiation  energy?             artificial  emitted by subspace phase inverters (not typically carried aboard starships)
Electromagnetic                    radiation  energy              natural     generic radiation of electromagnetic-frequency energy; emitted with a characteristic signature by most power sources
Epsilon                            radiation  particle            natural     produced by tetryon (power generation) reactors
Gamma                              radiation  particle            natural     ionizing; dangerous to humanoids; lethal to nanites; requires thick or active shielding; generated by Borg weapons and Crystalline Entity
Geodesic                           radiation  energy?             natural     lethal to humanoids; generated by geodesic folds; passes through standard Starfleet shields
Gravimetric                        radiation  particle            natural     dangerous to humanoids; generated by large-scale graviton sources moving through subspace
Hyperonic                          radiation  particle            natural     usually lethal to humanoids; disrupts transporter beam; randomizes phaser beam
Ionizing                           radiation  particle            natural     hazardous to humans; general description of any radiation that alters the charge of the atoms of molecules of living tissue; can interfere with sensors
Kinoplasmic                        radiation  energy?             natural     hazardous to computer systems; generated by subspace anomalies
M-ray                              radiation  energy              artificial  at specific wavelengths, can open gaps in some kinds of force fields
Metaphasic                         radiation  energy              natural     beneficial to humanoids; produces anti-aging and regenerative effects
Microwave                          radiation  energy              natural     nonionizing wave radiation; used in radar; used in masers; fills the entire universe as cosmic microwave background radiation
Neutron                            radiation  particle            natural     lethal to humanoids at high concentrations; generated by warp cores
Nucleonic                          radiation  particle            natural     dangerous to humanoids at high concentrations; generated by Federation replicators
Omega                              radiation  particle            natural     (used in a possibly fictitious context)
Omicron                            radiation  particle            natural     dangerous to humans; can destroy Borg nanoprobes
Plasma                             radiation  energy              artificial  generated by the energetic plasma inside warp cores or plasma conduits
Polaric                            radiation  particle            artificial  acceptable to humanoids; generated by polaric energy sources that produce polaric ions; can disrupt sensors; persists as a residual effect
Polaron                            radiation  particle            artificial  dangerous to humanoids; causes changelings to revert to gelatinous state; produced by polaron emitter [note: polaron radiation is not the same thing as polaric radiation!]
Pyritic                            radiation  energy?             artificial  (possibly fictitious)
Subnucleonic                       radiation  energy?             natural     lethal to humanoids not held in stasis; hazardous to Borg drones; damaging to bioneural computer components; generated in some Mutara-class nebulae
Subspace                           radiation  energy?             natural     generated by detonation of Omega molecule or subspace warheads; mitigated by multiphasic shielding; impairs stability of warp fields
Temporal                           radiation  particle            artificial  generated by temporal drives; produce small-scale temporal anomalies
Tetryon                            radiation  particle            normal      lethal to humans; generated in subspace naturally or by subspace mines; can be deflected by enhanced shields
Thalaron                           radiation  energy              artificial  lethal to organic matter
Thermionic                         radiation  energy              natural     dangerous to humanoids; generated by Y-class ("demon") planets and deliberately modified EPS conduits
Theta                              radiation  energy?             artificial  dangerous to humanoids; generated by contaminated antimatter byproducts and early starship throttle assemblies; can impair sensor scans; can disrupt subspace enough to collapse nearby warp fields; can degrade deflector shields
Thoron                             radiation  particle            artificial  acceptable to humanoids; generated at low levels by medical devices and at high levels by weapons; can interfere with transporters by degrading transport sensor scan effectiveness; can distort and/or jam sensor readings of weapon-grade particles or energy sources
Ultrasonic                         radiation  energy              natural     very high audio-frequency energy; undesirable to some humanoids; generated naturally by some organisms and artificially by medical and engineering devices
Ultraviolet                        radiation  energy              natural     ionizing; hazardous to humanoids; generated by stars; mitigated by planetary ozone layers
Visible light                      radiation  energy              natural     useful to most humanoids; generated by high-temperature sources; can be used (as a laser) as an information transmission channel or weaponized when amplified and made coherent
X-ray                              radiation  energy              natural     ionizing; hazardous to humanoids; generated naturally by pulsars and quasars, and artificially by early medical imaging devices

Anionic energy                     energy     field               natural     residual neural patterns; can be contained behind a neutrino field
Bio-neural energy                  energy     flow                natural     electrical activity generated by an organic nervous system
Bio-supressor field                energy     field               artificial  inhibits cellular mitosis in living organisms
Bioelectric field                  energy     field               natural     generated by some lifeforms; renders lifeform impervious to sensors and greatly degrades accuracy of transporter locks; when generated by Borg nanoprobes, can allow organism to bypass most force fields
Biogenic field                     energy     field               natural     biological energy expressed as a field
Bioregenerative field              energy     field               artificial  radiant energy shaped into a field; accelerates cellular growth
Chromoelectric force field         energy     field               artificial  type of shield based on the chromoelectic energy bound in some components of the field-strength tensor of the strong nuclear force
Chromoelectric pulse               energy     pulse               artificial  discharge of chromoelectric energy as a packet; can disrupt the polaric modulator of a coaxial warp drive
Cloak, Suliban                     energy     field               artificial  energy burst applied as a field; alters the molecular structure of matter contained within the field to allow EM energy and particles to pass through that matter, rendering it "invisible"; visibility can be restored by a quantum energy burst from a quantum beacon
Cloak, Interphasing                energy     field               artificial  energy burst applied as a field; inverts the phase of molecular matter, shifting it out of the normal space-time continuum; generates chroniton particles; disrupted by anyon particles
Cloak, Klingon                     energy     field               artificial  constant-effect scattering field produced by bombarding tetryon concentrations with protons within a massive magnetic field produced by a ship's deflector shield emitter grid (preventing their use as shields); requires enormous energy; generates tachyons and antiprotons; generates chronitons over short ranges; cloak interference (from multiple ships) also generates tetryons
Cloak, Romulan, early              energy     field               artificial  constant-effect scattering field produced by bombarding tetryon concentrations with protons within a massive magnetic field produced by a ship's deflector shield emitter grid (preventing their use as shields); requires enormous energy; generates tachyons and antiprotons; generates chronitons over short ranges; cloak interference (from multiple ships) also generates tetryons
Cloak, Romulan, late               energy     field               artificial  constant-effect scattering field produced by bombarding tetryon concentrations with protons within a massive broadband EM field produced by a ship's secondary deflector shield emitter grid; requires enormous energy
Dampening field                    energy     field               artificial  broadband EM field actively generated at inverse frequencies to all local EM emissions; can drain power, block sensors and communications (including transporter locks), and inhibit the firing of high-energy weapons (phasers, disruptors)
Dark energy                        energy     field               natural     (not used in Star Trek as far as I know, but included here for completeness) form of energy affecting only gravity that pervades the entire universe
Dielectric field                   energy     field               artificial  generated by actively tuning warp coils; used to protect spacecraft from electrodynamic turbulence that can interfere with impulse engines, as well as sensors and transporters
Dispersal field                    energy     field               artificial  form of cloaking barrier generated by Borg field emitters; blocks sensors, transporters, and communications
Displacement wave                  energy     wave                artificial  a polarized magnetic variation in subspace capable of transferring matter over galactic distances in minutes
Distortion field                   energy     field               artificial  area containing an unusually high frequency of spatial anomalies
Duonetic field                     energy     field               artificial  artificially generated form of EM jamming signal that disrupts EM activity; interferes with communications, sensors and phasers and other local electronic technology (but not, apparently, transporter signals from an orbiting ship)
E-band                             energy     pulse               natural     generated naturally by collapsing protostars; delta-compressed signal can be imposed on artificially generated E-band energy pulses
Electricity                        energy     flow                natural     movement of electrons from high resistance to low resistance
Electro-plasma                     energy     flow                artificial  extremely high levels of energy (e.g., warp power) conducted or stored as plasma
Electromagnetic field              energy     field               natural     a magnetic flow created by electricity, such as to regulate the flow of antimatter
Electromagnetic storm              energy     field               natural     an especially intense electromagnetic field (usually naturally-occurring) over a large area of space
Electrophoretic field              energy     field               artificial  a biological energy field
Electrostatic energy               energy     flow                artificial  electrical energy generated by friction among many dust-sized particles
Energy barrier                     energy     field               artificial  an energy-based field impeding the motion of objects or energy through it
Ethorin pulse                      energy     pulse               artificial  energy applied to cortical motor neurons to stabilize them
Force field, containment           energy     field               artificial  type of force field normally used to constrict the movement of matter
Force field, grid                  energy     field               artificial  generated by Q; a field of energy capable of blocking the passage of matter
Force field, inertial dampening    energy     field               artificial  computer-controlled rapidly adaptive force field that compensates for inertial variations related to interstellar travel
Force field, multi-spatial         energy     field               artificial  advanced force field spanning multiple spatial dimensions
Force field, standard              energy     field               artificial  energy field generated by field emitters; capable of blocking the movement of matter or transmission of energy; Starfleet force fields rated from Level 1 to Level 10
Force field, subspace containment  energy     field               artificial  type of force field used to contain subspace anomalies (such as spatial ruptures)
Force field, subspace isolation    energy     field               artificial  type of force field enclosing a pocket of subspace around the field emitter; blocks the effects of temporal fragments
Force pulse                        energy     pulse               artificial  energy supplied as a large pulse, typically for providing power to a device to be emitted as a burst or brief beam
Fusion energy                      energy     flow                natural     produced by fusion reactors to supply energy to impulse engines and auxiliary systems
Genesis wave                       energy     wave                artificial  energy wave which carries the preprogrammed matrix used to realign subatomic particles into a new form (the Genesis Effect)
Geodesic pulse                     energy     pulse               artificial  pulse of energy supplied to power a verteron beam used to create a geodesic fold capable of producing lethal geodesic radiation
Gravimetric field                  energy     field               artificial  energy applied over an area which exerts a force resembling gravity on nearby material objects
Hexi-prismatic field               energy     field               artificial  suspension field which exerts a minor but detectable shear in the direction of a nearby sporocystian lifeform
Interferometric pulse              energy     pulse               artificial  energy which, when produced repeatedly in conjunction with other such sources, can invert the direction of motion of directed energy weapons
Inverted magnetic pulse            energy     pulse               artificial  magnetic pulse inverted 90 degrees; used to coax space-dwelling lifeforms away from starships
Inversion field                    energy     field               artificial  broadband EM energy which blocks subspace communications and short-range sensors
Ionic disruption field             energy     field               artificial  energy field generated by matter-antimatter reactor that can be used to block transporter signals
Isokinetic containment field       energy     field               artificial  type of force field optimized for the containment of warp drive matter
Isolytic burst                     energy     pulse               artificial  explosion of subspace energy which tears subspace by inducing an isolytic reaction in a targeted starship's warp core
Kedion pulse                       energy     pulse               artificial  generated by modified Borg interlink transceiver; interferes with operation of positronic nets
Krieger wave                       energy     wave                artificial  disrupts matter at planetary ranges
Laser, beam                        energy     beam                artificial  beam form of directed energy produced by stimulating coherent light
Laser, pulse                       energy     pulse               artificial  pulse form of directed energy produced by stimulating coherent light
Magnetic field                     energy     field               natural     generated by planets and by the flow of electricity through coils; can divert some forms of matter (charged particles) and energy (active sensor scans)
Magnetic field, containment        energy     field               artificial  generated by magnetic constrictors in a warp core, as well as power transfer conduits; restrict flow of antimatter and propel it into the M/ARA intermix chamber
Magnetic flux                      energy     flux                natural     regular variation in the strength and/or extent of a magnetic field
Magneton field                     energy     field               artificial  carrier field for most energy-based scans; high-efficiency degaussing properties
Magneton pulse                     energy     pulse               artificial  polarized magnetic energy generated by a malfunctioning warp core; can disperse ion trails; can produce artificial wormholes
Memory beam                        energy     beam                artificial  disrupts memory engrams of sentient organisms
Metagenic pulse                    energy     pulse               artificial  biological energy that stimulates Borg implants
Metaphasic field                   energy     field               artificial  non-propulsive subspace field that acts as an energy/particle shield
Molecular reversion field          energy     field               artificial  interferes with transporter beams, removing or altering molecular-level information
Negative energy                    energy     field               natural     exotic/toxic form of energy that destroys regular energy
Neurogenic energy                  energy     field               natural     biological energy produced by nervous systems; stored in transporter buffers
Neurogenic field                   energy     field               artificial  low-intensity field produced by active organic brains, typically unique per individual mind
Neurogenic pulse                   energy     pulse               artificial  burst of neurogenic energy, typically to increase engrammatic activity in the brain
Neurostatic pulse                  energy     pulse               artificial  modified form of neurogenic energy used stimulate and stabilize the nervous system
Neutrino beam, coherent            energy     beam                artificial  active scanning beam that can be used to construct a polythermal image of the interiors of objects
Nucleogenic energy                 energy     flow                natural     energy stored in the cellular structures of nucleogenic lifeforms; can be used to enhance warp power
Particle beam                      energy     beam                artificial  particles energized into the form of a continuous and straight stream
Particle field                     energy     field               natural     general term for any energized field of particles
Photonic energy                    energy     flow                natural     binding energy for photonic lifeforms
Photonic lattice                   energy     grid                artificial  energy structure used to provide support and protection for photonic lifeforms and objects (similar to a holodeck)
Plasma field                       energy     field               artificial  area of charged plasma; interfere with sensors (incl. navigational sensors); can be ignited with impulse engine exhaust
Plasma stream                      energy     flow                artificial  stream of warp plasma within a starship's warp nacelle
Plasmatic energy                   energy     field               natural     a form of subspace plasma associated with sporocystian lifeforms or astral eddies
Polaric field                      energy     field               natural     area of polaric radiation and nucleonic particles; associated with temporally active subspace fractures; can lead to core breach when particles flood a ship's plasma injectors; can be created by a tricorder
Polaric ion energy                 energy     flow                artificial  energy source; too susceptible to planet-destroying subspace chain reactions
Polaron grid                       energy     grid                artificial  energy structure used to block the movement of normal or nucleogenic matter
Psionic energy                     energy     flow                natural     form of energy associated with the use of telepathy and other mental powers
Psionic field                      energy     field               artificial  area of bioelectric energy; able to induce hallucinations in humanoid lifeforms when modulated via delta waves; can be disrupted by a resonance burst from a starship's warp drive
Radio                              energy     wave                natural     radiant electromagnetic energy whose frequency is between 30 Hz and 300 GHz; also used in subspace radio
Radion beam                        energy     beam                artificial  confined beam of coherent low-frequency electromagnetic energy; can penetrate some kinds of shields; can be modulated with transporter signal
Resonance burst                    energy     pulse               artificial  a discharge of energy (from a warp drive or navigational deflector) that can be modulated to disrupt local gravimetric distortions or psionic field emitters
Resonance pulse                    energy     pulse               artificial  a discharge of warp or tractor beam energy that can be modulated to depolarize or stabilize energy fields
Scattering field                   energy     field               artificial  energy field created by hyperionizing particles; used to block tranporter, communication, sensors, or visual signals
Shock pulse                        energy     pulse               artificial  massive discharge of pulse-modulated energy from a starship's warp core
Shock wave                         energy     wave                natural     compressional wave of energy or matter, in normal space or subspace, produced by massive explosions
Spatial distortion wave            energy     wave                natural     also called "distortion ring"; spatial anomaly in which the organization of space-time flexes and folds, distorting matter and rendering matter-based technology ineffective
Sporocystian energy                energy     flow                natural     form of energy associated with sporocystian lifeforms
Stasis field, quantum              energy     field               artificial  area of quantum-level energy modulated to prevent Changelings from altering their current biomolecular structure
Stasis field, standard             energy     field               artificial  area of temporal energy modulated to greatly slow chemical reactions; in particular, can slow respiration, decay, and the movement of matter almost completely
Steri-field                        energy     field               artificial  area of low-level non-ionizing radiation inimical to bacteriological or viral pathogens; used to create sterile area for invasive medical procedures
Structural integrity field         energy     field               artificial  form of force field used to actively compensate for mechanical stresses on starship structural components
Tantalus field                     energy     field               artificial  short-range temporal dislocation field which can be used to shift an individual to a different time
Temporal energy                    energy     flow                natural     [not described in Star Trek but necessary to explain other phenomena] form of energy vibrating on one of the subspace dimensions associated with the expression of time (as opposed to dimensions of space)
Temporal field                     energy     field               artificial  area of modulated temporal energy which alters the time in which a designated volume of normal space exists
Temporal flux                      energy     flux                natural     area of unmodulated temporal energy in which contiguous locations in normal space exist at different moments in time; can be induced on normal matter by travel through subspace fractures
Tetryon beam, coherent             energy     beam                artificial  active scanning beam used by the Nacene, a sporocystian lifeform
Transport inhibitor field          energy     field               artificial  energy field generated by transport inhibitor to block lock-on of transporter signal
Transport scrambler field          energy     field               artificial  energy field generated by transport scrambler device to disrupt annular confinement beam of transport signal
Trianic energy                     energy     flow                natural     organizing force for non-corporeal beings found in dark-matter nebulae
Triolic wave                       energy     wave                artificial  byproduct of exotic energy production process; harmful to humanoids
Triquantum wave                    energy     wave                artificial  wave-modulated radiant energy on a triquantum spectral band associated with the opening of Borg transwarp conduits
Warp energy                        energy     flow                artificial  subspace field energy produced by a starship's warp drive
Warp field, broad-spectrum         energy     field               artificial  asymmetrical subspace displacement field produced by the field coils of a warp drive which allow matter to move at superluminal velocities
Warp field, quantum                energy     field               artificial  focused quantum-level warp field produced by a deflector dish that creates a tunnel through subspace for quantum slipstream propulsion
Warp shell, static                 energy     field               artificial  symmetrical subspace displacement field produced by the field coils of a warp drive which has no propulsive effect


Except for computers and vehicles, most of the tools in Star Trek are either emitters or detectors. (But note that an active sensor system which includes a detector must also include some kind of emitter, since it sends out energy or particles whose reflections it then detects to reveal information about the object being studied.)


Note: Although particle and energy emissions have their place in scientific, engineering, and medical applications in Star Trek, in a gameplay-heavy Star Trek MMORPG it's likely that emissions will generally be a Tactical function. So I won't go into too much detail on how these might work -- this document will focus more on how sensors might be used to collect information.

In particular, one of the most powerful and versatile of all emitters is a starship's main deflector dish.

A highly sophisticated instrument capable of emitting an extremely wide array of both energies and particles, the main deflector is normally used to project a subspace force field around a starship. This serves both to deflect small particles that would destroy a ship at high speeds, as well as to provide a basic level of protection from various forms of radiated and projected energies and particles.

An additional use for the deflector is to emit energies and particles of various types and forms for scientific or tactical purposes.

Energy may be sent through the deflector dish in pulses or as a collimated beam, both of which may be directed toward a position forward of the ship. For energy field effects, the deflector dish can operate as a field emitter capable of surrounding the entire ship in radiative energies of various kinds. Energy emitted by the deflector dish may be modified by power level or frequency modulation. The dish is also capable of emitting energies of multiple types and frequencies simultaneously to achieve harmonic effects.

Special short-lived, high-energy particles generated by a superluminal accelerator coil integrated into the deflector system may also be emitted by the deflector dish, typically as either a pulse or a beam directed at a position near the front of the ship.

Some examples of the energies and particles emitted by devices seen in various episodes of Star Trek might be instructive. I'll list some uses of the main deflector dish first, then a few of the other devices we've seen employed.


antimatter resonance burst  energy   field (ST: Generations)
decyon                      particle beam  (VOY: "Parallax")
fluidic space portal        energy   beam  (VOY: "Scorpion, Part 2")
graviton                    particle beam  (DS9: "In Purgatory's Shadow")
graviton                    particle pulse (TNG: "Schisms", DS9: "Once More Unto the Breach")
high-power visible light    energy   beam  (TNG: "A Matter of Time")
holographic carrier         energy   beam  (VOY: "Prototype")
interplexing beacon carrier energy   beam  (ST: First Contact)
inverse tachyon             particle beam  (TNG: "All Good Things...")
inverse tetryon             particle pulse (TNG: "Schisms")
multi-frequency warp        energy   beam  (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds", DS9: "The Visitor")
rapid nadion (phaser)       particle beam  (DS9: "Starship Down")
subspace                    energy   field (TNG: "The Loss")
transporter carrier         energy   beam  (VOY: "Non Sequitur")
warp signature              energy   beam  (DS9: "Tears of the Prophets")
Other devices which detect or emit energies and/or particles have also been used in Star Trek. Some of these are:

Anion emitter               particle beam  (TNG: "The Next Phase")
Antigraviton emitter        particle beam  (DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels")
Gamma pulse generator       energy   pulse (TNG: "Evolution")
Graviton emitter, handheld  particle beam  (DS9: "A Simple Investigation")
Holoemitter                 particle field (many TNG+ episodes)
Sensor relay emitter        energy   beam  (TNG: "Schisms")
Tetryon emitter             particle beam  (DS9, "Blood Oath", VOY: "Favorite Son")
There have also been lots of energies/particles emitted by weapons in Star Trek -- too many, really, to get into here. Perhaps some day in another essay....


Detectors come in two main types: sensors and scanners. There's no real difference between a "sensor" and a "scanner," but a working distinction is that a sensor is treated as a device that operates once (but which may be used repeatedly), while a scanner is a device that typically operates constantly until turned off.

Modes: The key difference between an active and a passive sensor is that a passive sensor can observe objects or energy sources by detecting reflected or emitted radiation, while an active sensor observes objects by detecting artificially generated radiation directed at and reflected from an object.


"Personal" = 0 - 99m            (face-to-face to local range)           passive or active
"Short"    = 100m - 499,999km   (ship-to-ship to lunar orbit range)     passive or active (in vacuum)
"Medium"   = 500,000km - 99mkm  (lunar to interplanetary range)         passive only
"Long"     = 100mkm +           (interplanetary to interstellar range)  passive only
Sensor packages (for use in probes and other spacecraft):

Passive sensor packages
      DETECTOR                        TYPE      SUBTYPE      MODE     RANGE (MIN/MAX)      USE          FUNCTIONS
      Electromagnetic scanner         EM        Broadband    Passive  Short    - Long      Science      detect energy sources
Proximity sensor                Gravitic               Passive  Personal - Short     Tactical     detect nearby objects
RF receiver                     EM        Radio        Passive  Personal - Short     Tactical     receive radio frequency communications
Visual image sensor             EM        Visual       Passive  Short    - Long      Science      visual band energy detector/recorder

Standard = Basic passive sensors +
Gamma ray scanner               Nuclear   Gamma        Passive  Short    - Long      Science      detect gamma particles
Myographic scanner              EM        Bioelectric  Passive  Short                Science      detect individual bio-electric signatures
Neutron densitometer            Gravitic               Passive  Short                Science      detect object structure detail
Particle sensor                 Nuclear                Passive  Short    - Medium    Science      detects particles [I invented this one as a catch-all particle detector]
Subspace flux sensor            EM        Subspace     Passive  Short                Science      detect variation in local subspace field (as produced by warp engines) [I had to invent this one, too]
Subspace receiver               EM        Subspace     Passive  Medium   - Long      Tactical     receive subspace frequency communications

Enhanced = Standard passive sensors +
Gravimetric sensor              Gravitic  Neutrino     Passive  Short    - Medium    Science      finds wormholes
Interphasic scanner             EM        Subspace     Passive  Personal - Short     Science      detect objects out of phase
Ionic trace sensor              Chemical  Atomic       Passive  Short                Science      detect presence of ionized elements (as produced by impulse engines) [I invented this one to explain following an ion trail]
Pheromonic sensor               Chemical  Molecular    Passive  Personal             Tactical     individual or species identification
Tachyon scanner                 Nuclear   Tachyon      Passive  Short    - Medium    Tactical     detect operational cloaking device
Active sensor packages
      DETECTOR                        TYPE      SUBTYPE      MODE     RANGE (MIN/MAX)      USE          FUNCTIONS
Flux coordinating sensor        EM        Magnetic     Active   Personal             Engineering  modify/monitor magnetic flux strength
Parametric scanner              EM        Visual       Active   Personal             Science      image parameter recorder
RF transceiver                  EM        Radio        Active   Personal - Short     Tactical     transmit and receive radio frequency communications

Standard = Basic active sensors +
Chemical identity sensor        Chemical  Atomic       Active   Personal - Short     Science      determine chemical composition
Holographic imager              EM        Visual       Active   Personal             Science      holoimage parameter recorder
Magneton scanner, large         EM        Subspace     Active   Short                Science      detect subspace fractures
Molecular imaging scanner       Nuclear                Active   Personal             Engineering  used by transporter
Submicron scanner               Nuclear                Active   Personal             Engineering  reveal internal atomic structure
Subspace transceiver            EM        Subspace     Active   Medium   - Long      Tactical     transmit and receive subspace frequency communications
Targeting scanner, transporter  Nuclear                Active   Personal - Short     Engineering  detect objects for transport
Targeting scanner, weapons      Nuclear                Active   Short                Tactical     detect objects for weapons lock
Transpectral sensor             Multi                  Active   Short                Tactical     detects objects, penetrates plasma interference

Enhanced = Standard active sensors +
Micro-tunneling sensor          Nuclear                Active   Short                Tactical     penetrating, scans one molecule at a time
Neutrino beam, coherent         Nuclear   Neutrino     Active   Short                Science      scanning beam, constructs polythermal image of object interiors
Tomographic imaging scanner     Multi                  Active   Short                Science      multiphasic particle detection

Medical sensors
      Detronal scanner                Chemical  Genetic      Active   Personal             Medical      scans living DNA
Electron resonance scanner      Chemical  Genetic      Active   Personal             Medical      examine DNA
Psychotricorder                 EM        Bioelectric  Passive  Personal             Medical      detect mental states
Pulmonary scanner               Nuclear                Active   Personal             Medical      observe respiratory system
Resonance tissue scanner        Nuclear                Active   Personal             Medical      detect viral/bacterial infection

Special-purpose sensors
      Gravimetric scanner             Gravitic  Graviton     Passive  Personal             Science      rapid predictor of kinetic probabilities (like dabo results)
Graviton telescope              Gravitic  Graviton     Passive  Long                 Science      astronomy
Magneton scanner                EM        Subspace     Active   Personal             Science      degauss transporter room
MK-7 retinal scanner            EM        Visual       Active   Personal             Security     retinal identity verification
MK-12 retinal scanner           EM        Visual       Active   Personal             Security     retinal identity verification
Targeting sensor, exographic    Nuclear                Active   Personal             Tactical     see through walls for weapons lock
Tetryon beam, coherent          Nuclear   Tetryon      Active   Long                 Science      scanning beam used by the Nacene, a sporocystian lifeform
Weapons scanner                 Multi                  Active   Personal             Security     detects objects identifiable as weapons

Sensor grids/nets:
  • Gravitic sensor net
  • Tachyon detection grid
Other Detectors:
  • Tricorder
    • Science Tricorder
    • Medical Tricorder
  • Trident scanner
Probes: Probes are automated spacecraft typically carried aboard larger starships to support exploratory, reconnaissance, or covert study objectives. The type and number of probes carried are dictated by the ship's size and mission profile.

  • Class I Sensor Probe
  • Class II Extended Sensor Probe
  • Class III Planetary Probe
  • Class IV Stellar Encounter Probe
  • Class V Planetary Reconnaissance Probe
  • Class VI Comm Relay/Emergency Beacon
  • Class VII Remote Culture Study Probe
  • Class VIII Medium-Range Multimission Warp Probe
  • Class IX Long-Range Multimission Warp Probe
  • Interface Probe
  • Microprobe
  • Multispatial Probe


Now that I've described many of the phenomena and sensors available in Star Trek in excruciatingly painful detail, let's consider how these things might be usable in Star Trek Online.

Sensor Modes

The most common references to shipboard sensors in Star Trek come in three forms: long-range scans, short-range scans, and internal scans.

1. Long-range: scan for elementary particles and electromagnetic energy over long (interstellar) distances
2. Short-range: scan for life-forms and complex technological systems over short (planetary) distances
3. Internal: scan the interior of the vessel for anomalous energies and lifeforms
Long-range scans are usually performed in order to see what's ahead of the ship for the next few light-years: stars, major interstellar phenomena, and any anomalous high-energy sources that might indicate the presence of space-based structures or starships. Because of the great distances involved, long-range scans use only the ship's passive sensors, which detect very energetic particles and emitted or reflected energy sources.

Short-range scans, in addition to using passive sensors, can also use active sensors to emit some kind of particle or energy, then observe something about objects by the way that those objects reflect the emitted particles or energies back to the sensor. As a rough guideline, I've assumed that the upper distance limit on active sensors -- and therefore on short-range scans -- is about 500,000 kilometers. (Since the average distance from the Earth to the Moon is about 385,000 kilometers, and a signal from the Earth to the Moon and back traveling at the speed of light -- about 300,000 kilometers per second -- has a round-trip travel time of about 2.6 seconds, I think a roughly 3.3-second delay for active scans of objects 500,000 kilometers away from a starship is a reasonable maximum, even for 24th-century sensors and computers.)

In other words, what distinguishes a long-range scan from a short-range scan is that the latter is capable of collecting considerably more information about objects, but those objects must be relatively nearby. A long-range scan, on the other hand, can collect information at greater distances, but returns less specific information about the nature of any objects detected. (A passive long-range scan may be able to return useful information about powerful energy sources, however. For example, using only passive sensors we've already detected over 100 extrasolar planets without ever leaving our own solar system.)

Finally, there is the special case of performing an internal scan of a ship. This is normally a tactical usage, so I won't go into detail on how it might work. But it's another key usage of a ship's sensors, and needs to be represented as an available option.

I'll discuss short-range and internal scans in slightly more detail later. For now, to get a sense of how sensors might be used in Star Trek Online let's consider how a player might operate long-range sensors.

Sensor Display Features

For the discussion that follows, I've created a diagram that shows a very bare-bones example of a typical use of long-range sensors. Note that this diagram doesn't include many of the controls that would be necessary for an actual game. It's not intended to be a complete set of visual requirements; it's just an attempt to represent visually the basic features of a sensor system in a Star Trek MMORPG.

Take a look at this diagram. On the left side you'll see the basic controls, of which the key controls are the three scan settings (long-range, short-range, and internal) and an option for turning active sensors on or off. (Since using active sensors tells everyone where and who you are, if you want to be a little more stealthy you'll need to be able to turn off anything that blares your presence.)

As this diagram shows, we're currently performing a long-range scan with active sensors on to pick up additional information on any nearby objects.

(In short-range mode, the display would zoom in to show only those objects within 500,000 kilometers of the ship, and the right-hand and lower portions of the display would change to provide detailed information on the structures and lifeforms within the range of the ship's active sensors. Similarly, if the player selected an "Internal" scan the display would change to show a plan view and profile view of the ship's Master Systems Display, with options available on the right side of the display to allow the player to select which kinds of things they want to scan the interior of the ship for -- unknown lifeforms, subspace anomalies, and so on.)

The long-range scan display is composed of four sections:

1. sensor schematic: a visual representation of the ship, the sensed areas, and detected objects
2. particle detector/selector: an area which shows which particles are currently sensed and may be selected for sensing
3. electromagnetic energy detector/selector: like the particle detector/selector, but for electromagnetic energies
4. text output area for computer analysis of detected particles or energies
In normal mode, sensors scan an area around and in front of the ship. This area of sensor detection is represented visually in the sensor schematic area as a "sensor cone" -- it's the large dark gray triangle in front of the stylized image of the ship. (Note that passive sensors would really collect information in a roughly spherical area around a starship, but my feeling is that it's more in line with Star Trek usage to simplify this to a cone. Also note that although this really would be a cone, existing in three dimensions, it can only be represented in a flattened form on our computer monitors. This might have some gameplay impact unless the developers decide to keep things relatively simple by using a mostly 2D system.)

If active sensors are on, they are represented in the sensor schematic area by a smaller medium-gray cone extending in front of the image of the player's ship.

In both the passive and active sensor cones, the intensity of all received information is averaged, showing "hotspots" where energy sources or objects are detected. If the ship's computer is working, and if it has data on that area of space, and if the information returned is sufficiently detailed (this might be conditioned by both the player character's skill level with sensor operations and the number, power, and quality level of the ship's sensors), then the ship's computer may be able to provide specific information about what it detects. This information will be provided in the text output area as a description of the object or energy source.

Detailed sensor information can also be represented graphically in the sensor schematic area in two ways: first, the area from which detected particles or energies seem to emanate is shown as a large circle overlaid on the schematic display, where the size of the circle indicates the relative intensity of all information detected from that location. (Active scans from other ships might make them light up like a bonfire!) Second, the source of the sensory input is represented with an icon whose shape and color provide additional information about what the computer guesses might be emitting those particles or energies.

For example, a star might be represented as a small circle, where the color of the circle indicates the spectral class of the star. (Note that unless a ship's computer is malfunctioning or its stellar cartography database has been damaged, all ships traveling in known space should always know the location and type of all stars. This is information that is readily available to today's ground-based telescopes.) Similarly, nebulae might be shown as small squares; starships as points-up triangles, starbases as points-down triangles; and so on.

To the right of and immediately below the sensor schematic are the "sensor detail" sections. To the right is the particle detection detail area, which shows particles grouped by the major types (there are a few radiation-type particles I ran out of room to show). If a particle is detected at some rate significantly higher than random background radiation, the text showing the name of the particle changes color. (Actually, what I'd rather see is the box containing the text slowly filling up with a background color to indicate the relative rate at which those particles are being detected -- I just wasn't able to achieve this effect with my sample image.)

In addition to telling the player which particles are currently detected, this area also lets the player control which specific particles he or she wants to focus on detecting. (Trying to detect everything might lead to an overly-busy schematic area.) By clicking on a particular particle type, the sensor schematic area will display only sources of that particle.

Below the sensor schematic area is the electromagnetic detection detail area, which shows the expanded EM spectrum and a constantly-updated frequency line that indicates the strength of energies detected in each EM band. (Note that the names and relative frequencies for each of the major EM frequency bands are realistic. The exceptions to this are subspace and temporal energy, which -- since I had to put them somewhere -- I assume are both at a shorter frequency than even hard gamma radiation.)

Similar to the particle display area, the EM display area also allows the player to select which EM bands to display in the sensor schematic area. In this case, the player should be able to click and drag a box around any part or parts of the EM detection area, and the sensor schematic area will then show only those EM bands that are currently boxed. (To keep things simple, the developers might instead only let the player select or deselect EM sources to be displayed by clicking on the name of a particular band, such as "Microwave.")

Finally, at the bottom of the long-range sensor display is the text output area. This is where the computer (if it's working!) will place its textual interpretation of the sensor information received. As shown in the Excessively Complete List of Star Trek Phenomena above, the computer will "know" for example that if verteron particles are detected near a star, there's probably some kind of technologically advanced civilization there because verteron particles can only be produced artificially. A good computer would then provide a text cue to the player that maybe there's someone interesting enough to visit there.

I've put some examples of this kind of interpretive text into my sample display output, but don't take it too seriously as a suggestion for what you might actually see in the game. It's just intended to give you some ideas of what the game might provide -- for example, stars could be hotlinks, which when you click on them bring up any available library data about that star system and its component worlds and lifeforms.

(Note that this business of "interpretation" by the computer might be an area where the ST:O's developers don't want to go too far -- perhaps it should be left up to the player to become competent at taking "raw" sensor information and using the computer to analyze that data. In other words, maybe interpreting sensor data should be something that the player can do. Alternately, maybe the player's character has skills that, if you improve those skills, your character gets better at turning raw sensor data into usable information.)

Sensor Display Operations

The sensor schematic area can be zoomed in or out using the "+" and "-" buttons to the left of the sensor schematic area. When this action is taken, the sensor cones shrink or grow appropriately, and the green range bands will move to indicate to the player the changing relative distances of sensor information. (I've also indicated that there might be a text field in the schematic area to indicate the actual zoom amount, but it might be better placed elsewhere.) Between the "+" and "-" buttons is a "=" button, which immediately zooms the long-range scan display to the "1.000" zoom factor, showing the entire scan area.

While long-range scanning is being performed, there are four scan modes:

1. Normal: passive scans of local and forward area for normal particles and broad-spectrum energy sources
2. Target: passive and/or active scan of specific location for normal particles and broad-spectrum energy sources
3. Detail: passive and/or active scan of general area for normal and exotic particles and narrowband energy sources
4. Pinpoint: passive and/or active scan of specific location for normal and exotic particles and narrowband energy sources
Players will be able to shift back and forth between these scan modes. When a player switches to long-range scans, the sensor schematic begins in Normal mode. If the player clicks and drags the mouse in the sensor schematic area, this creates a highlighted "sensor box" and places the display in Target mode wherein more detailed information about any object in the sensor box area is displayed.

Alternately, while in Normal mode the player may choose to click on various particles in the particle selector area. (Note that the diagram is incomplete; there should also be ways to select and deselect all particles from being sensed.) The player may also click and drag a box around any portion of the electromagnetic selector area. Either of these actions will cause the long-range display to enter Detail mode, in which the entire scanning area is watched for specific types of particles or electromagnetic energies. (But note that information from this selected area may still be incomplete if it is not within the range of the ship's active sensors, as shown by the medium-gray sensor cone.)

From either Target mode or Detail mode, the player may enter Pinpoint mode by performing the other kind of selection. If in Target mode (i.e., a sensor box has been drawn in the sensor schematic area), selecting a particle or EM band to watch for will shift the long-range scan into Pinpoint mode. The same is true if some particles or EM bands are being watched in Detail mode and a sensor box is drawn in the sensor schematic area.

Finally, the player may have the option of selecting, configuring (possibly), and launching a probe to obtain detailed sensor data on a detected object. As I imply in my diagram, the player would press the "Probe" button, enter any config changes, select a target object, then confirm the probe launch. It might be fun to watch the sensor data change in real-time as the probe streaks toward its destination. Once there (assuming it's not destroyed en route), all sections of the long-range sensor display would be updated as though the ship itself, with all its sensors, was at the targeted location.

Short-range and Internal Scans

In Pinpoint mode, it may be possible to obtain detailed long-range scan information. However, to obtain the most detailed and completely analyzed information, the player will need to switch to short-range scanning.

This can be done in several ways:

1. Click on the "Short-range" button on the left-hand control panel.
2. Right-click on an object in the long-range schematic area and select "Short-range detail".
3. Double-left-click on an object in the long-range schematic area.
I haven't put together a diagram of what the short-range display might look like. (I might do that eventually, or not.) I would expect, though, that it would show the area near the ship in a schematic way (not a photo-realistic way -- that's what viewscreens are for!) in one area, and have a large text area for showing detailed high-level information about any objects selected.

For example, the short-range scan is probably how Data was able to quickly determine how the Earth in Star Trek: First Contact was populated: "Approximately nine billion... all Borg." Short-range scanning would also be useful for studying newly encountered starships to determine something about the species operating them, as well as their technology level and their weapons and defenses, although this last would typically be a scan performed by a ship's Tactical officer.

Lastly, there is the internal scan. This is another type of scan that would normally be performed by a ship's Tactical officer, but it's something that an Ops officer might need or want to do as well under certain circumstances.

Internal scans are typically performed to locate intruders, or to isolate the location and/or type of some kind of anomalous energy or particle reading coming from somewhere inside the ship. Probably the best way to represent this (as noted earlier) would be to display a top-down (plan) and side (profile) view of the ship's Master Systems Display (MSD) diagram in a schematic area, along with the particle and EM detector/selector tools from the long-range scan display plus some kind of lifeform analysis tool. These would allow the player to pinpoint the location and type of pretty much any person or thing on board one's ship, such as an intruder or a subspace microfracture or other bit of treknobabble. Again, the game might let the ship's computer perform the analysis of returned sensor data, or it might let that be something that players or player characters are enabled to do.


The point behind all of this was not to try to create an absolutely complete working gameplay system for how players will use sensors in Star Trek Online.

Instead, I had two goals:

1. Collect all the known Star Trek phenomena (and some of the tools) in one place.
2. Suggest a visual mechanic for selecting and displaying information on many of these phenomena.
More than anything, what I'm hoping is that putting all this information in one place will inspire some of you to come up with more specific ideas for gameplay. How could a system like this be used for exploration? for diplomacy? for combat? What kinds of missions could be written that take advantage of such a system?

How should this system allow players to do science? How should Science or Medical character abilities affect the kinds or qualities of scans that can be performed? What about Engineers and Tactical officers? What are some ways that they might be able to use a ship's sensors?

I hope that someone out there will enjoy the information and ideas I've put together here, and will carry on with your own ideas.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Heey,

    Alright, I haven't read all of this, but I can see the work you put in here and I can't BELIEVE that there is not a single comment. I'm probably going to read this if I have the time, because dammit, it's awesome and I like it! I've always tried to imagine the perfect Star Trek game which is ACTUALLY scientifically correct(ish) and true to the show in how it SHOULD function.

    In any case, mostly just so that at least someone says it, but AWESOME work :p


  2. Thanks, Doug!

    Creating this was a lot of fun -- I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I built this while the Star Trek Online MMORPG was in development, first by Perpetual, then by Cryptic. If you've seen what Cryptic actually created, it's obvious that their view of what an online Star Trek game should be is radically different from the design thinking behind my Sensors notions presented here.

    I don't say they were wrong, exactly. We know now (as some suspected when we saw the beta) that STO was adapted from the code for Cryptic's Champions Online superhero game. This explains why characters in Star Trek Online are built around magic-like "powers," as well as the emphasis on ground-based combat. Time and money are always hard to come by, so perhaps Cryptic's approach is understandable as a practical necessity.

    Still, I never thought the idea of implementing complex, powerful starships as basically horses has ever properly represented an important element of what makes Star Trek fun, which is the connection of a crew to their complex ship as basically a character itself. In part, this detailed exploration of how sensors might work in an online Star Trek game was intended as a rebuttal to those who claimed that this kind of cooperative, tool-using, discovery-oriented gameplay couldn't be fun.

    The most vocal proponents of that position liked to say, "It's not going to be a starship simulator!" Sensors and Star Trek Online was my way of saying, "Why not?"

    Maybe someday someone will make that game. Until then, I really appreciate your taking the time to let me know you enjoyed this essay.

    If you really liked it, you might also enjoy some of the many other Star Trek game design pieces scattered around this site. :) I put a couple of my favorites on the sidebar here, or you can click on the Star Trek and Star Trek Online keywords for a full list of related pieces.

    Thanks again!