When I first reviewed Star Trek Online a little over a year ago, I was very impressed with the space combat, could take or leave the ground combat and was hoping for more variety in the missions as most fell into the MMO stance of fly here, kill that, come back for a reward, rinse repeat. After getting a variety of quests from Dungeons and Dragons Online, the formula felt stale and a bit tired. Cryptic has tried to make changes, introducing new contact that doesn’t involve killing everything on site and so on. They’ve also introduced weekly missions that helped to keep those of us that blew through the initial content interested, but my overall interest in playing Star Trek Online had waned considerably. While the missions had gotten better, this just didn’t feel like the Trek I grew up on.
Then I started hearing rumblings about some UGC (User Generated Content) coming our way. Now, while this isn’t the first MMO to have content created by the players for the players, City of Heroes has done that already after NCSoft took it over. This is still a pretty big step to introducing something like this in a fairly new MMO. Usually you see this in PC titles as people make mods for them games extending their life and so on, but STO has a pretty strong following in and out of game right now. I took some time to play with it a bit to see what The Foundry could and couldn’t do and see if it’s something that will keep me playing the game, or just passing it over altogether to wait for more new content from the devs.
So after mucking about a bit and playing some missions, I thought I’d put together a few quick thoughts. Now I learned about it late and did play with it some on Tribble, Star Trek Online’s test server which had quite a few really well done missions, that sadly will have to be manually ported over to the live server, Holodeck. There are already several that have made the transition and I can’t recommend them enough. Starbase UGC is already doing an amazing job covering these missions in their podcast and you can find them on their site as well so I won’t go into the individual missions all that much. I’m more interested in the tools having been a big RPG Maker fan before I got to involved with playing games and GMing for a local group to try and create a full blown RPG for other people to play.
What I really like about The Foundry, is that it really is what you make of it. Want a mission where you just decimate a fleet of enemies, you can make one of those. Want to make something on an Epic scale that might take a player hours to complete? You can make that as well, but don’t expect too many people to play it right away and review it. Alot of people I know only play for about an hour and a half at most a night. The Foundry tools are actually pretty decent and fairly easy to use. Some of the interface is a bit counter-intuitive at times and you’ll want to read a tutorial or two before starting, which really I should have done before mucking about, but hey, I never published my dreck, so it’s all good.
Being a fan of the original FASA Star Trek RPG, oh yeah, I played this table-top, I decided to try and re-create one of the modules that I really enjoyed playing awhile back (an actual no-no through the terms of service and EULA but I wasn’t going to publish it and it was from memory, which for me is shady at the best of times), and set out to do a Doomsday Machine mission. I made a map with a destroyed planet, lots of space debris, then started creating the crew of a ship being attacked by it using the costume editor, created the transport ship trying to outrun the massive ship that nearly wiped out the Enterprise in the Original Series, and then hit a roadblock when I tried to pop the Doomsday Machine on the map. It’s not there as a standard enemy.
Now while I could drop it in as an NPC contact, which meant it was listed as a friendly, I would have to disguise one of the other enemy ships I did have available in the costume of the Machine. Of course this gives the machine all sorts of attacks it never had before, and the most jarring thing was when my test ship swooped in and blew it up not only did the guts of the Machine come spilling into space, but it also popped up the husk of the Borg Sphere I’d costumed as well. I was a bit displeased, but again I wasn’t posting this mission so I’ve since moved on to making my own kind of mission.
I’d obviously hit some limitations with this editor. Of course Cryptic isn’t going to give the players their exact tools to create missions with and while this is an initial start and they are planning on adding resources and more space and ground set-ups so you don’t have to start from scratch if you want something totally new, you will end up being limited by what’s available. One of the things I think is great though, is that the Star Trek Online community has already found several work-arounds to the various limitations of the Foundry and there are some really amazing missions being released. Being brand new though, you’re also going to see a ton of people posting missions for missions sake which doesn’t help you to find the gems.
Personally, I love the idea of being able to go in and create my own episode of Star Trek using the game engine. It’s a bit rough on the execution, but Cryptic is working on it. I think this will spark many people who’ve been slacking in their STO play-time, myself included. It’ll also be a nice break so you can find something to do if you’re tired of dealing with the Dominion and Deep Space Nine and you can just find something else to blow up for awhile, or have a great mystery to solve depending on your mood. I also think this sets the bar a little higher for Cryptic as well as I’ve already come across several UGC missions that rival over half the actual missions in game. I know not every mission can be a winner, but variety is a good thing as well and this certainly gives players the opportunity for that. Since I started playing around with The Foundry it has gone live on Holodeck, and if you’re a Star Trek Online player already or if you let your subscription lapse, it might be time to fire it up and give it another look.