Greetings, this is Captain Allen of the Federation star ship Andromeda here again to continue my mission to bring technical speaking to every star ship Captain in the galaxy. Last week we saw the UGC Foundry tools really only allow a Text field for the dialog of the NPC or Bridge Officer pictured and allows only a simple sentence (possibly 5 words?) for the Captain to respond, and I gave an example of using Impulse Engines as part of technobabble dialog for a simple introduction to a mission. This week we will delve more deeply into dialog relating to technology and help bridge the gap between a mission hook or complication and making the player feel like they are a part of solving it and not simply reading it.

In writing our mission we need to consider that we are writing dialog for a video game and it needs to be playable as well as witty and entertaining. For the moment, let’s picture a diplomat’s point of view as a Captain of a starship. This diplomat may not know what a subspace inversion field is, nor would they likely be an expert on plasma manifolds, nor have a firm grasp of fractal algorithms. Let’s assume for the moment that this diplomat is actually our player character Captain who is the star of our mission, and although they are the star we really don’t know much about them. We don’t know what race they are, or their bridge officer team composition, what career they have chosen, just their level and their faction. Let’s also assume that the Captain (the character) is not an idiot, but rather a layman and we don’t want to write anything that would insult their intelligence or challenge their authority unless that is the goal of the NPC.

Side Note: I’d like to point out that I would be very annoyed if my ship’s doctor’s personality seemed to go through a dramatic change every time I do a Foundry mission, so to make the change from one author to another less jarring you will want to use a relatively neutral tone and language for the Bridge Officer’s dialog. Think about the difference between Captain Picard’s dialog with Captain Janeway’s or Captain Archer’s, presented with the same situation each Captain would speak completely differently. We can’t really do that with 5 word responses to a block of text, but we can think about that block of text’s tone that the bridge officers are using for their dialog. In summary: 1. stick to the facts, 2. use technobabble and layman terms in the same sentence, and 3. think about how the dialog would fit in a military setting and make sense for the Federation / KDF to do and say.

We need the dialog of the player character’s Bridge Officers to hook the player with an interesting plot and then give the player a way to solve the problem at hand without making the solution too hard or too easy. Let’s consider the interactions available to the player. All they can really do to interact with our mission is:

  1. Combat
  2. Dialog
  3. Click something / scan something shiny
  4. Move to a white circle (get close enough to transport down to the planet)

Combat is fairly self explanatory but I will say this, any combat will likely have to end in the NPC’s getting completely destroyed, it remains to be seen if we can write the encounter to stop at 10% health to resolve combat and allow something else to happen (like beaming over to take over the ship). Dialog at this point is simply TEXT and REPLY, there’s no way to fail the dialog, yet. Clicking something or scanning it is a common easy task that you can do to give players a break from their killing-spree, and it sounds like we can tell them to scan any doodad that we want. Moving is relatively simple, but there’s nothing stopping us from being creative about where we put these location based objectives (like putting it on the far side of a moon, or near a comet, etc).

Side Note: There are a few tricks that we may not have access to right away, such as controlling the AI of the ship the player attacks to do something it might not otherwise do (like Full Impulse to escape). If you’ve played through Star Trek Online’s patrol missions and episodes you’ve seen some of these cool little tricks the developers can do that we will not be able to do right away, so for planning our mission, we will stick to the 4 simple things above.

Now we have a framework of what the player can do, let’s build them something to play. Our dialog needs to convey the purpose of why they need to blow up the other ship, or click the shiny object, or move to the white circle on the map. Let’s look at my “search for the stolen ship” scenario from last week. First, I tell the player to scan 3 shinies (plasma exhaust trails), then tell them to move to the white circle (follow plasma exhaust trail). The dialog also hints at a possible combat (with Romulans), but no ships are on the map at this point. When they get to the white circle, I could do any one of a number of things.

  1. Tell them to go to a new white circle [Science Officer] “Sensors picked up the stolen ship in orbit around an M-class moon.” {Put us in orbit}
  2. Decloak / spawn Romulan warbirds for combat [Tactical Officer] “Captain. Romulan warbird decloaking bearing 314 Mark 25.” {Onscreen}
  3. Taunt the player with dialog from a cloaked Romulan warbird [Romulan NPC] “Greetings Starfleet, I am glad that you have no business here and were just leaving. There are cloaked Thalaron radiation mines all over this system and I would hate to have an unfortunate incident during your short uninvited stay.” {Thanks for the warning…}
  4. Spawn the shuttle as an attackable ship (for the story to make sense, the combat would need to end at 10% hull strength, so if I can’t do this I won’t plan for it) [Tactical Officer] “The Seattle is within sensor range, and on an intercept course with weapons charged. Captain I’m reading very unusual energy signatures, their weapons may be far more powerful than that class of vessel normally has.” {Shields up, red alert!”}
  5. Have another ship warp in, but not attack the players [NPC Ship] “Federation vessel, according to our treaty we have salvage rights in this system…” {We are only conducting a search…}

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. See how the technobabble is there but as the player character Captain you don’t really need to know what an unusual energy signature would look like, you just give the appropriate command to your crew for that situation. If I instead instructed the Captain to find the unusual energy signature, the player wouldn’t know the first place to look (well, they would alt-tab to Memory Alpha if they were really determined, but that doesn’t explain if they should fight something, scan something, or move somewhere).

Next week we’ll take a closer look at some common technobabble that’s easy to use in a variety of situations. See you then!

-Allen out