After last week's look at Massively's readers poll, which named Star Trek Online the best MMO of 2010, your friendly neighborhood Cap's Log focuses this week on how to use the Foundry, STO's user-generated-content tools. I'll point out some handy online resources that explain the fundamentals of using the Foundry and then offer my thoughts on something even more vital to a successful mission: storytelling.
Getting to the Foundry
We've been through this part before, but not everyone reads Captain's Log every week (shocking, I know), so I'll go over this one more time.
The Foundry is still in open beta, which means you need access to the Tribble test server. Players who haven't used Tribble before need to sign up for and copy a character to the test server. Log in to the STO website and select "Public Test" in the dropdown menu under "Support," which you can see at the top of the front page.
Once you've done that, hit the "Tribble - Test Shard" button in the STO launcher. Patching will ensue. On Tribble, select "Create Content" at the top left of the character selection screen to start building a mission. You'll have to create a new, Foundry-only character before it lets you craft a mission. That character is what you'll use to test your missions as you design them.
After making your character, hit "Create Content" and then "New Project." Once you agree to some legalese, you reach the front page, which requires that you write a short description of your mission. You can press "Save" down in the lower-left corner.
Walking you through accessing the Foundry is about the extent of my expertise. Sure, I've played with the tools and designed a few missions, but I can't pretend that I'm any kind of expert with the system. If nothing else, other players have had access to the Foundry since its beginnings in closed beta, long before I saw the thing.
- Foundry forum -- Cryptic Studios' official STO forums expanded some months ago to accommodate the Foundry beta forum. Offering announcements, release notes and general discussion, the beta forum is often the first, best place to look for information on how to use the tools and on what to expect for the future. It's also the spot to report bugs and offer the feedback Cryptic expects from beta users.
- Official walkthrough -- The folks at Cryptic have been kind enough to offer an official guide to the basics of using the Foundry. The walkthrough walks you through most steps of the mission-creation process, from naming your file to trying out your finished product.
- Unofficial walkthrough video -- As thorough as the official guide is, it didn't answer all my questions the first time around. So whenever I hit a trouble spot during mission design, I turn to a video for help. My favorite so far comes courtesy of Kirkfat at Starbase UGC. Kirk's video presents a step-by-step look at creating a mission -- a very, very simple mission, but you can fill in the blanks.
So between the official walkthrough and Kirk's video, you should have all the technical knowledge you'll need to get crackin' in the Foundry. But that know-how won't get you very far if you have no story to tell.
STO's feature episodes have been so much fun because of the stories they tell, not because of whatever action they involve (except for the awesome Ghostbusters gun). The best storytelling involves a few key points.
- Setting -- This is where you, uh, set the story. In the Foundry, you can choose space, interior and planetside settings. Will your mission take place on a sunny planet, within an eerie derelict starship, or somewhere totally different?
- Plot -- Plot is the meat of your story; you can stretch the plot over the course of several missions or complete it in one. At the very least, you'll probably want some sort of introduction, some rising action as the story really gets going (which doesn't have to involve fighting) and a climax.
- Character -- This is so important in distinguishing your missions from everyone else's. Spacefights and mysteries are fine, but players are much more likely to remember your shamelessly flirtatious Ferengi merchant or your disturbingly sinister Cardassian assassin.
Look, we're not in kindergarten, so I don't want to get all remedial on you guys. And everyone writes differently. I'm tempted to suggest mapping out the storyline of your mission or missions before you even start using the Foundry, but the ideas often flow best once you're in the thick of it. So, I'll just offer a few helpful tips for your Foundry adventures.
- Start somewhere -- Planning out your whole mission or missions beforehand might be a bit excessive, especially if you're even half as lazy as I am. But the first time I sat down with the Foundry and a blank slate, I kind of sat there staring at the computer for an hour. So even if you just settle on designing a mission that involves, say, a mean race of aliens hoarding something for an unknown reason, that's a great starting point.
- Steal great ideas -- If you're having trouble inventing a totally new scenario, try borrowing one from other media. Maybe you could recreate Scarface in the Drozana System or pay homage to your favorite comic book.
- No useless enemies -- Action is one thing, but no one wants to find endless waves of mobs for no good reason. In my first mission, I filled two rooms of a starship interior with enemies, and fighting them would have necessitated ridiculous amounts of carnage. But they were just for show, and the player was supposed to avoid them. If fighting makes sense, throw it in. If it's there to drag out the mission, then cut it.
- Have fun with the dialogue -- I mentioned the importance of characters already, so I won't belabor the point. Just remember that players will be able to tell when you really get into your characters and when you're just phoning it in.
- Proofread -- Your writing doesn't have to be spotless or anything, but re-reading your mission can help you catch glaring omissions, silly mistakes or plot points that don't make sense.
- Make your introduction as clear as possible -- Your mission needs to tell players exactly which system to go to, for one thing. And beyond that, a little information on what the mission will involve is helpful too. Tell fellow players if it's part one of three or whether it involves a lot of fighting.
- Have fun -- Duh!
Less trustworthy than a Ferengi loan shark and more useless than a neutered Tribble, Ryan Greene beams Captain's Log straight into your mind every Thursday, filling your brainhole with news, opinions and reckless speculation about Star Trek Online. If you have comments, suggestions for the column or insults too creative for Massively's commenting policy, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org.