Last week Star Trek Online released their mission building program called Foundry to the live server. Although still leveling my main character (Commander Rank 3 ATM) my curiosity got the better of me so I took the plunge and began creating my first mission. I was instantly enthralled and frustrated at the same time.
Building your own missions and then having other players play them must seem like tedious mind numbing work for some people, but for a guy like me this is exactly the kind of fun I am looking for. Developing a story, creating new maps and new characters is a lot of fun for me and the foundry is a nice tool to do this. Whether or not my missions turn out to be entertaining or not is yet to be seen, but I am having a blast learning the system even if it does frustrate me at times.
Good Interface, just read the Q & A First
I am going to assume that most of the people who will use the Foundry are going to have limited knowledge and experience with programming. The concepts of programming logic and code progression are probably not widely known. Therefore it goes to reason that the average person will not be able to use this knowledge in crafting their missions with the understanding of how things should progress. One word of advice to those unfamiliar with programming, it is usually prudent to write out your plan before engaging in writing the code or in this case writing your mission. Having a map to follow while working on your story will help out tremendously in reaching your desired goal.
Fortunately the Foundry has a user interface that is pretty straight forward with tabs set up to make everything that you need. The look and feel of it is similar in design to Microsoft products like Visual Basic and such. However understanding how a story should progress, on a programming level, is often hard to follow unless you do some homework first.
Although very basic in its information, the official Q & A has enough to get you started in designing your mission. However where it fails is in helping someone to understand triggers and transitions. Although they are covered, the material provided is very limited and only helps you in building a very basic mission. Once you have tinkered around with it a little bit, you should be able to get the basic idea behind how to use the Foundry, but to do the more dynamic story development you should look for additional help outside of the Q & A.
There have been several videos and websites created to assist you in figuring out some of the more advanced features of the Foundry and I suggest you read up as much as you can before tackling your first mission. It is twice as hard to try and go back and fix what you have already done, instead of doing it as you go the right way. This is why mapping your plan and learning as much as possible are very important.
And then there are the bugs
As any programmer will attest to, writing code also means fixing bugs. Bugs are those pesky things that will make your screen freeze or a program to stop working. Foundry has its own bugs and writing bad story progression or map design will give you plenty of them. The system does a decent job of providing you with clues to what’s wrong, with the addition of a task pane in the bottom left of the interface, but inevitably you will come across something that will be out of place or will not work. This is where the Foundry can get frustrating as solutions to your missions problems are not given.
For instance in creating my first mission (Which should be out soon) for some reason the server stops responding when loading the first map of my mission. I pre made this map instead of using a provided one (possibly the problem) and created a spawn point and a place marker. The map will eventually load, but nothing happens when you reach the first marker. This problem only happens on the first map and not on additional maps with the same mechanic. Also in places my pop up dialogs are not engaging when they are supposed to.
At the moment I am without an answer as to why this is happening, but I will fix it eventually or just remake the map and reenter the pop ups. The point is according to the Foundry there is nothing wrong with anything I have created and it doesn’t have a problem until I test the mission. I can imagine that this could become annoying to the average user and may prevent them from using it further.
The Verdict so far
The fact that Cryptic has given its players the Foundry to use is a huge plus to me. Although not a new concept in the world of gaming, it is not normal in MMORPG games. I really, really like this feature and if nothing else it will keep me a paying subscriber for the foreseeable future. I am positive that Cryptic will make changes to improve this tool, but even in its present state the Foundry is a very nice program to play with. The fact that you can publish your missions to other players is simply a bonus.
I am sure that people will create missions that exploit certain game aspects and find ways to manipulate the Foundry to gain an advantage in the game, but that still doesn’t diminish the value of this tool. I am looking forward to many hours of creating content for my fellow gamers and I am sure that my creations will get better as I become more familiar with this tool. My first mission (Which is yet to be named) should be ready soon for public consumption and I will announce its arrival here.
If you have a question about the Foundry or if you have a mission you would like me to try and talk about you please let me know and I will do my best to help or check out your content. Until then good luck in crafting that epic episode you always wished they had made.