After a tremendous show of feedback and support for my thread "Bridge Officer Character Arcs: System Proposal", I decided to go back and look at making the skeleton of a functional systems proposal, incorporating feedback.
This is a system which allows you to both select and transform a variety of traits for Bridge Officers which influence their behavior and effectiveness in story conscious ways, allowing you to experience firsthand the kind of character quirks and character-driven storytelling that the Star Trek IP is famous for within the confines of Star Trek Online, building on the existing system infrastructure. In this system, you tailor your crew's personalities, interests and biases in ways that actually influence the outcome and variety of stories at your disposal while adding much needed quirks and a humanizing element ("We're all human", as Kirk put it) to the 25th century world of Star Trek Online.
These traits have a madlibs-type quality which selects dialogue pertinent to the appropriate bridge officer in exploration content. This allows them to use their knowledge and interests to create the appearance of solving problems while adding much needed variety to exploration content. For example, a Bridge Officer who is knowledgeable about music may use that knowledge to open communication with a culture which values music.
Additionally, some of these traits may influence the types of enemies you fight and defend in exploration content, as the missions reinforce or challenge the biases of the crew.
Some traits also have light mechanical effects on gameplay as well as the opportunity to reshape your Bridge Officers' traits through experiences you undergo in their development, including the ability to revise and upgrade Ground and Space traits.
However, at the heart of this proposal is the Story Arc System, which exists to reinforce and simulate the rising action of classical drama while keeping you on the edge of your seat. Taking part in Story Arcs is optional -- however if you choose to take part, it will test your crew's ability to function and sometimes (with advanced warning) take a crew member temporarily out of commission, encouraging you to think more about better utilizing your full compliment of Bridge Officers rather than simply relying on five with the perfect skills. If you manage to get your entire crew into hopeless binds, you may find yourself relying on the redshirt security personnel for the first time since the very early levels of the game.
Every story has, at its heart, a problem, rising action and a conclusion and this system will guide your Bridge Officers through that path.
On the supplied Story Arc Screen, you'll notice three buttons beneath the portrait of your Bridge Officer: Subplot, Cliffhanger and Conclusion. These are the three acts of a story which you can unfold with your Bridge Officer, each unlocking the next one and building upon it. You begin each phase by clicking on the appropriate button on a Bridge Officer's Story Arc tab when it is available.
A SUBPLOT is a mild debuff which, when activated, will be placed on the selected Bridge Officer. It is random but somehow tied to the story arc you will be taking part in. Examples are "Lovesick", "Acting Suspiciously", "Distracted" and "Fatigued". This is the first indication that there is a problem relating to your bridge officer and paying close attention to the change in your BO's effectiveness will give you clues and insight regarding the story you are about to take part in. Subplots are active for 3-6 missions and, upon completion of the appropriate number of missions with the debuff active, you will be notified that the next phase of the Bridge Officer Story Arc has been unlocked...
A CLIFFHANGER is an honest-to-goodness, full-featured episode (in roughly five parts) that highlights your Bridge Officer's problem and puts them in a state of jeopardy. Upon launching the Cliffhanger phase, the Bridge Officer will cease to be a usable member of your crew but will instead manifest in game as an NPC whose actions are tied to the mission. They may continue to fight at your side as a mission NPC or they may be struggling for life in sickbay or you may discover that they have been replaced by a shapeshifting Founder or Undine but they are (temporarily) out of your control, converted into a pivotal character in the plotline you are experiencing. At the end of the Cliffhanger, your Bridge Officer will remain disabled from use as they are (falsely) presumed dead, assimilated by the Borg, held in a prison camp or simply taking a contemplative shore leave trying to determine if they should remain in Starfleet. In keeping with the "Edge of your Seat" feeling that classic Trek cliffhangers have employed, there is a cooldown of approximately 20 hours between completion of the Cliffhanger and the system unlocking the beginning of the final phase of the Story Arc.
A CONCLUSION is the culmination of the Arc. This addresses the problem your Bridge Officer was experiencing in another full-featured episode which unlocks them back into a fully usable member of your crew. As a reward for completing the Arc, your Bridge Officer is given Plot Points which you can spend to modify or upgrade their various options on the Story Arc tab, including their Ground and Space Traits (however you do remain locked into any mandatory traits for a member of their race; these can be upgraded in quality to Superior Traits but they cannot be otherwise changed). This reflects the character growth and transformation that the experience has brought about, with more desirable and mechanically relevant changes costing more and more flavor oriented changes costing less.
IN MY NEXT POST: I will be discussing the individual sections of the Story Arc tab, what they do and what they mean and how they serve to shape and define your characters, creating a more immersive storytelling experience.
Previously on the Star Trek Online Forums... I discussed and gave an overview for the Story Arc System. In the course of this, I alluded to the individual traits and elements which allow you to customize your Bridge Officers in story-relevant ways while also suggesting at some functionality changes you may notice with your Bridge Officers. Here, I plan to outline the elements of the Story Arc character tab and what they would mean for you. And now... the conclusion.
These are the core Ground and Space Traits you select at character creation. Currently (as of 5/13/2010), there is no system to modify or upgrade those traits, despite much support for the idea. These are traits which may be logically modified in the course of character intense story developments and so this is one feature of this system which I expect would prove quite popular.
Because these are so intrinsic to your character, the essential element of their design here is that they can be expensive to replace and it may take the complete rewards earned in a Story Arc to change one trait and it may take multiple Story Arcs worth of Plot Points (the currency awarded for Story Arcs), to upgrade one trait to a Superior form.
You remain limited to the traits available at character creation and any mandatory traits for your Bridge Officer's species may only be upgraded or exchanged for their Superior form. (Although the possibility exists for ranks of traits beyond Superior down the road.)
These reflect your Bridge Officer's personality, their disposition, their outlook on life and way of interacting with the world. These may result in slight modifications to their standard dialogues but the primary purpose they serve here is to determine the list of Story Arcs which may be applied to your Bridge Officer. For example, a Vengeful Bridge Officer may go on a near-fatal mission of retribution against a faction they have a Vendetta against whereas an Amorous Bridge Officer may find themselves under the thrall of a seductive alien telepath and a Parental Bridge Officer may be driven to extremes in the defense of innocents. You are given two for each Bridge Officer to give them a fairly wide selection of Story Arcs they can encounter.
I use this in place of homeworld because not every Bridge Officer's homeworld may be represented in game or may be unavailable due to faction restrictions. This determines one place you are likely to travel to and have an adventure at in the course of a Bridge Officer Story Arc. It may also be useful for implimenting NPC chatter and other uses elsewhere in the game. (For example, a daily or weekly mission to take shore leave on a planet of your choice may provide a buff or benefit to Bridge Officers whose Favorite Planet is that world.)
Again, a good source for NPC chatter, this helps give your Bridge Officer personality. If your BO is falsely presumed dead, perhaps a shipboard funeral will have a crew member reflect on sharing this dish or beverage with the Bridge Officer. Or perhaps, after being held captive and interrogated, the Bridge Officer will request their favorite dish.
As a functional element, a Bridge Officer's Favorite Food will be twice as effective on them as any other food, encouraging you to remember and stock your Bridge Officer's favorites, adding to the sense of personality.
Given the possibility that your Bridge Officer may have a taste of love, whether it's a manipulative telepath or a doomed romance like the one between Jim Kirk and Edith Keeler and also given that gender preference may be especially unpredictable in a 25th century where some races have multiple genders, this is where you indicate your Bridge Officer's preference of gender. The default will be the apparent opposite gender but you can adjust this trait if you prefer.
Divided loyalties are a recurring theme in Star Trek. The DS9 crew helped the Mirror Universe Terrans. Worf was frequently conflicted between his duty to Starfleet and his birthright as a Klingon. Many in Starfleet sympathize with the Marquis.
Here, you select a faction your Bridge Officer shows extra sympathy towards, who on some level they feel like they know and understand better. This may result in you defending the faction in some exploration space and ground missions where they are being hunted by a better armed aggressor. This may result in some missions where you fight this faction to the regret of your Bridge Officer. This can also play a pivotal role and filling in some of the "madlibs" elements of Bridge Officer Story Arcs.
There is a mechanical effect to reinforce the asset and the liability that these sympathies can represent. Superior understanding can lead to superior tactics but it can also cause your Bridge Officer to experience hesitation in the heat of combat against such a foe.
Reduces the Bridge Officer's damage dealt against members of this faction by 10%. Grants the Bridge Officer a 2% additional chance of Exposing a member of this faction with any Expose attack.
As with Sympathies, a Vendetta can help shape your Bridge Officer's character arc by filling in details needed, while also helping to skew Exploration content in ways that can make it personal.
As we saw with Picard and the Borg, a deeply held grudge against a faction can both increase the ferocity with which a Bridge Officer fights to kill that enemy while also blinding them and making them more vulnerable.
Increases the Bridge Officer's damage taken against members of this faction by 10%. Grants the Bridge Officer a 2% additional chance of Exploiting a member of this faction with any Exploit attack.
Kirk gave the eulogy at Spock's funeral. Garak and Bashir had a friendship which proved pivotal when Bashir's Secret Agent program ran amock. Paris and Kim were always getting into trouble together.
Simply put, identifying a crew member's closest friend among the crew can really help with auto-generated content. This is the first person to notice when something is wrong with that crew member. This is the person that can help snap them out of the influences of mind control or the person to talk them back from the edge.
Increases the effectiveness of the Bridge Officer's healing and buffing abilities by 5% when used on their Best Friend. Also makes the Bridge Officer slightly more likely to assist the Best Friend than other officers and focus fire on the same target.
Academic, Artistic and Athletic Interests:
These serve to further round out your Bridge Officers and personalize the missions they cneounter, both in Story Arcs and in Exploration missions (as well as random NPC chatter). It may be as simple as them talking about coming back from a sporting event or it may be as pivotal as making a First Contact mission read so that your BO's knowledge of some cultural practice or element was essential in learning to communicate with them. As these are flavor elements. they are relatively cheap to modify.
Academic Knowledge refers not strictly to classical topics but simple something which a Bridge Officer may have knowledge of the arcane details of. This is something which a person can study.
Artistic interests are forms of expression, something you can appreciate in performance or exhibition and take part in an exhibition of.
Athletic interests are sports and physical activities which tend to be team or group oriented and competitive, whether against an opponent or a person's own best record.
I'm supplying a tentative list here, with canon examples of people who participated in each in parenthesis:
My biggest issue at this point is that I can see some hints of ways to streamline this but:
A) Not without a glimpse at a developer toolkit or conversation with somebody who has access. I put together a rough system that's too large because I don't have access to the specific information or people it would take to streamline it.
B) I'm busy lately. Lost my mouse. It was a week before I got a new one. I've been acting as a marketing consultant, designing a coffee shop concept. So my time and procedural thought has been elsewhere. I'd love to be able to pour my brain and time into content design systems and content design but I recognize it can be a VERY full time job. I've applied at a few places before but if anyone does hire me for that, I wouldn't be putting the effort here on the forums. And I'd be surprised if Cryptic hires me even with the open position since they have an out of date resume from me and there doesn't appear to be a way to update a resume on file with them.
I would also like to add, this is one way you can have content writers bring in additional funding via the C-Store.
Selling missions is a no-no that will draw the ire of the community. Expansions can only be released so frequently.
However, you could sell additional cosmetic packs of Interests and even Personality Traits. I think if the system was as full as what I describe here, the core system would be content rich enough that people would pay simply for the text variation that a few extra options would provide.
The idea of selling text on the C-Store is probably something that very few developers would ever imagine being possible but I think this system is actually ripe for such possibilities IF THE CONTENT IS GOOD AND THE CORE CONTENT OF THE SYSTEM IS RICH AND VERSATILE.
The turnaround on this can be much faster than time consuming art assets and this would possibly enable a bigger and richer team of story writers and content writers in the game, possibly up to and including "celebrity guest writers" like JMS or Peter David, something that I suspect would ordinarily be unthinkable. (And as I've said before, I know talented and recognized genre industry professionals who might be interested in writing content on a guest basis with a defined system like this in place -- and I certainly would be up for it, even with the long move it would entail.)
All in all, what I'm suggesting is a system which I think will enable richer and more IP accurate random content that gives the feeling of Star Trek without having to namedrop Trek characters every mission. It would enable more and better content writers and create a new wealth of life using the same assets and bigger staff of content writers with a more versatile funding and development model that takes a game subscription and turns it into a true interactive entertainment service.
I would also add: I know you eliminated the existing recorded voices because they didn't feel right or authentic. But with some version of this system in place, I can walk you through the process of integrating it with voice in a way that will generate organic, quality performances that will put to the shame the simple dialogue trees and repetitive content of The Old Republic and do it on a reasonable budget. This is not only a writer's system but, potentially, an actor's system unlike what any MMO to date has attempted.
I only have a time for a quick reply, but this is great. STO needs more character stories and this would be a really fun way to go about it. It also lets players get creative with their BOs, which improves the connection we feel for them as well.
Great thread! I've never posted on the forums before because I find it to be mostly people complaining, but this is a really well thought out, positive idea. I hope one of the devs takes a long look at this.