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.