Star Trek Online Season 3 – The Foundry

With all my previous posts on Star Trek Online season 3, you might be surprised to discover that one of its largest parts is still to come. But it is available for beta testing on the Tribble test server.

I am, of course, talking about the new user generated content toolset, dubbed The Foundry.

To be honest I still am, to an extent, surprised that UGC is coming to Star Trek Online so quickly. However having played with the beta, I’ve been impressed with the tools as they are and look forward to their live release. One of the complaints levelled against the game (rightly or wrongly) is about the lack of content (and in fairness its true of the Klingons) and these tools are obviously going to help resolve that in a major way.

The obvious comparison, for me, is with the Mission Architect in City of Heroes. That was a superb, easy-to-use toolset that also came with its own downside in the form of the farming missions that all surfaced after its release.  The Foundry is a very different toolset to the Mission Architect. I would definitely argue that its not as easy to use, but this has advantages to my eyes.

Mission Architect was great for quickly throwing together a mission or series of missions, whereas the Foundry definitely requires a bit more patience and practice. In both you select the map you want the mission to take place in, however the Foundry then lets you go in to that map to customize it with extra scenery. You also define enemy groups in greater detail, and while Mission Architect definitely (currently) has the edge in customizing the look of the enemy mobs, the ability to define exactly what and how many enemy groups are in a map, and their locations within that map strikes me as a great tool for building a distinct feel for a mission, whether you want it to be combat-heavy or more dialogue driven.  Whether you want swarms of easy-to-kill enemies or just a couple that are hard-as-nails, that level of customisation, and the ability to tailor each individual member of a mob’s appearance is very nice indeed.  Likewise the ability to drop items onto maps.  Going by some of the missions currently available on Tribble, some people have clearly spent many hours designing their maps, placing NPCs and scenery and plot-specific items quite carefully.  Indeed, my only complaint about this aspect of the current build, is that placing items on a map requires a lot of patience and testing, as its not always completely clear from the design view the exact position of an object and its orientation, so when crafting your missions, there’s a lot of switching between playing the map to see how items look, switching back to edit mode to tweak them, and then testing again.  This part of the toolset could do with some streamlining I think.

One aspect I really love about the Foundry though is the way the missions integrate into the main game universe.  In City of Heroes, all the Mission Architect stuff took place within a single building.  From in there you could access consoles to run the mission editor, or enter a holodeck-style version of your mission.  In City of Heroes all the missions that people designed were just presented as simulations.  With the Foundry, missions are selected from a separate tab on the main “Hail Starfleet” screen, but once you’ve selected the mission, it then plays out in the main game area, with you flying to systems, talking to contacts in Earth Space Dock and the like, just as you would for any other in-game mission.   To me, this is a great aspect of the system.  It really allows you to feel like you’re adding content to the game as a whole, rather than just a special section that’s tucked away from the larger world.

The rewards for running these user-generated missions still remain to be announced, but it seems likely that running user missions will generate skill points the same as any “official” mission (although I’d be surprised if some kind of modifier wasn’t implemented).  The idea that you’ll be able to run these missions rather than getting stuck in some patrol/exploration cluster grind is hugely appealing (again, especially for the Klingon players).  I’m currently levelling up a Science character, and the idea of having proper (user generated) storylines to help that late-Commander part of the game tick along is very appealing.

I mentioned before that the tools require a degree of patience and familiarisation and, strange as it may seem, this is something I definitely see as a plus.  City of Heroes suffered from a deluge of simple missions with large groups of mobs designed for farming.  The fact that the Foundry requires an element of learning the toolset to me encourages more quality content.  And from what we’ve already seen, there’s some great missions being designed by players.  So much so, a selection of them are being ported over to the live Holodeck server, as a teaser for the Foundry, and to show those players who haven’t tested it, the kind of thing that will be possible once the tools go live.

That live release is coming up fast now, but before it does, there’s one final update to be made to the test version, which promises to bring in more options for the structure of missions, with branching dialogue one of the main additions.   I’m very excited to see what kind of new Foundry options are opened up in this update, as the current iteration of the Foundry is a brilliant start, with some obvious downsides that can sometimes force you to compromise the mission you intended in order to work around the tools.  The fact that the developers have listened to that feedback from the testers and are now adding this extra functionality before it goes live I find hugely encouraging that they’re trying to ensure the release of the Foundry is the best it can be.

Hopefully sometime in February (testing all going well on the update) we’ll see the Foundry finally make it out onto the live server.  And once its there I really can’t wait to see what kinds of missions get added to the game.  I think its going to be a huge moment for the game.

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