Exploring Inner Space - Character Development Missions
Exploration, not of space, but of the background, personality, and relationships of the Captain and the other bridge officers is something that we often saw in the shows.
Kirk is famous, or perhaps infamous, for the number of "new" characters who were old flames of his and for the number of new flames that he fanned during his missions. Even though she died before the series started, a number of DS9 episodes revolved around Sisko's relationship with his wife. And even stick-in-the-mud Picard had a few relationships during his run.
Other episodes that focused on old friends, or events, coming back to help or haunt the stars were some of the best Trek ever. One of TNG's best episodes, "The Pegasus", focused on Riker's relationship with his first Captain, and what really happened when he was a young Ensign. "The Conscience of the King" and "Amok Time" are two examples from TOS that didn't involve seeking out new life or new civilizations, focusing instead on exploring the background of Kirk and Spock, and how incidents in their pasts affect decisions they have to make in the present.
I've played a number of Foundry missions that touched briefly on some of these themes, with mixed results, but I have yet to see a Foundry mission that has this as its central theme. So the question is: Is this kind of character development or "inner exploration" something that can be made into an entertaining mission in the Foundry?
How can an author address the problems of writing a mission that's meant to explore a character's background and personality, when the author doesn't even know the character that he's writing for?
Given the current limitations of the Foundry, and the lack of knowledge about the character's background, would the author have to just come right out and state the assumptions for the player? Such as: "This mission assumes that your Captain will become involved in a relationship with an Andorian science officer, so you'll have bring that officer with you on each away mission." Or in the case of the character's background: "This mission assumes that your Captain has a friend that's a Vulcan archeologist."
As a Foundry author, how would you go about creating this kind of mission?
As a player, would you like to play these kinds of missions?
As a creator, I would be interested in doing something like this in theory, but I must admit it is very difficult to actually do this.
One thing would like to do first is experimenting more with "subtle "approaches to do this - giving the player different responses to select for his character so he can at least express the personality of his character - without necessarily affecting the plot in a major way. The existing branching is not really strong enough to do more, but it would be interesting to introduce a character as a potential "old flame" or a rival, this way for example. (The player either chooses the "Old Flame/"Rival" response line or he chooses a neutral one).
I am also tempted to make a kind of "Risa" story where the Captain gets his chance for an "affair". It is thinkable to do similar things with the BOs, but it is so easy for this to not make much sense with all the BO options that exist.
As a player, I might like such kind of missions, but there is always the danger that it just doesn't fit what I envision with my player. Or it doesn't fit with my player character and bridge officer choices.
I don't think a true character exploration of the player's captain, or bridge officers, in terms of their history and background can be done without making the statement
"I've written this mission to fill in character background that will more than likely not match up with the backgrounds you've fashioned."
A mission can still be designed to be an exploration of character background, it would have to be something further down the chain of command on the player's ship.TNG's "Lower Decks" would be the sort of level you'd have to put it on and explore who these other crew are on the player's ship and see where they came from, what their life has been like.
We as Foundry authors are functioning more like Dungeon Masters. There are encounters to be had in this thing we've crafted, and it's up to the players to bring their character sheets with their various skills, motivations, and experiences to fill in the other parts of the story.
In order to avoid the problem of interfering with the captain's background, perhaps a storyline that takes place entirely in the present?
An interesting mission, or series of missions, could involve the captain and an NPC. While the situation would play a large part, the primary focus would actually be the friendship that develops between the captain and the NPC.
This almost happens with the captain and Obisek in the Romulan Featured Episodes.
Would it be better if the NPC friend was stationed on the captain's ship? Or if they were an equal? Say another ship captain, a station commander, or the governor of a colony world? Which option do you think would work best for making the player care about the welfare of the NPC friend and the development of the friendship?
Perhaps the goal of the mission(s) should be giving you the option of liking or disliking the NPC instead of forcing the player to be friends with them through the various conversations you'll have with the NPC in question, regardless of who the NPC is. I can't say I've tested the limits of branching dialogue, but it would be quite the flow chart to see in the story window in the editor. The various dialogue options can be labelled similar to what we see in Mass Effect with the Paragon, Neutral, and Renegade options.
I'd want to enable the player to make their own social choices that will dictate if this NPC will be their friend or not by mission's end.
I think maybe you can do the "history" thing, by having multiple dialogue options when you first encounter the character.
For example, you speak to a contact and your first choices are:
1) Nice to meet you, Lieutenant.
2) Have we met before?
3) Carl, is that you? It's so good to see you!
Possibly even: 4) Don't you recognize your own brother/sister? (but this may be pushing it)
Depending on what you choose, a different flavor of dialogue would become available. If you choose option 1, then you're treated as never having met the individual before.
If you choose option 2, you're treated as an acquaintance, perhaps someone who met the individual at a conference or a sporting event. In fact, the next dialogue choices could be to establish where you met them. The dialogue would be a bit more than a complete stranger, but not as familiar as a friend. You could even have a not entirely friendly history with the NPC depending on what choices you make.
Now, with option 3 the person is an old friend. You'll have options to ask about his family, etc, and he will ask the same of you. With option 3, the other character can make statements like "It's been a long time, how's your..." and then in the dialogue choices would be [husband], [wife], [brother], [family], allowing the player to select whatever is appropriate.
All of this requires the player to choose to play along, but the beauty of it is if they don't want to they just choose option 1 and get the default, generic NPC interaction. If they do play along, you give them the ability to help choose how this relationship formed, and on what terms it is, rather than forcing an entire identity on them. Obviously there are practical limits to how far you can go with this, but you can give a few varied choices, and also leave the out of "I can't remember where we met." or "Sorry, I mistook you for someone else."
For someone who wants to play along, I think it could add a cool element to the mission, and if someone doesn't want to, it shouldn't detract since they have the "I've never met you" option. I think I'll try it and see how it turns out.
Amazing that Trekkers are so socially progressive that the very notion of writing a love story in the second person for a character whose gender is unknown is not an obstacle worth mentioning.
As far as disclaimers and worrying about ruining someone's rp back story... whatever. Write the story you want, guys. Dare to push boundaries. Break rules. Challenge preconceptions. It will either be a spectacular success or failure depending on your skill and ability to pull it off.
And btw, this is sci-fi. There are limitless possibilities of a non-technical but, instead, creative solution. If you want to write this kind of story yet keep the player's self made background intact, there are plenty of ways to do it and you don't need to look far for examples. I must go now and practice my flute.
I try to create some relationships (friendship, mostly) in my missions. But that is, in opinion, as far as you should go.
I agree that one of the best aspects of Star trek always was character development and personal growth but it is something that, sadly, doesn't work in STO.
The problem is, for the most part, that those people who would be interested in these kind of stories - roleplayer - usually have such a detailed background that, in 99%, you will fail miserably.
One thing I personally don't like is when in a mission it is hinted that I did something my past - which I clearly didn't and probably even wouldn't do.
That's also why, in my opinion, "flashback"-missions don't work in STO. Because I control my character all the time and nothing in those flashbacks has happened to me before. It's not like in a Star Trek episode.
I try to reserve any character development for the present. The fact is, you just don't know who you are writing for. I have had people love the personalities, relationships, and the dialogue I've written for BO's and the very next person knocks a star off because I've invented a crewman for their ship that isn't wearing the right uniform. There will never be a perfect mission. Every player goes in with their unique character and expectations. The best an author can hope for is that he/she will develop a following of players who enjoy the author's particular style. Not only is there no accounting for taste, but there is no accounting for everyone's taste. My advice, as an author, is to write the stories that you like, the way you like them and there will be players who like the same thing. As for reviews, well, utilize the ones that offer constructive criticism on technical things that can improve the telling of your story and make the mission better. Anything having to do with preference, disregard. An author is only capable of reading his own mind.
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