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 looked at some technology related technobabble that should give your science and engineering bridge officers something to talk about. This week we’re going to get you up to speed on your Chief of Medicine’s commonly used phrases. Medical technobabble is a very strange animal indeed and very difficult to master because you really can’t do surgery or bio scans or tricorder scans in the same way that you can shoot bad guys with a phaser. Hopefully this will give you a good starting point for a hook or complication for the player of your mission to solve.
There are a lot of things to keep in mind when writing medical hooks, complications and plot points, and I need to bring them into the spotlight before we move on to the terminology because we take a lot of these things for granted. The first is that most alien civilizations look a lot like humans, but their insides may vary wildly. You will want to research the Biology portal on Memory Alpha to see if the NPC’s race has any physiology that works or doesn’t work with the plot line you have in mind. The second thing to keep in mind is that the player will often wonder “Shouldn’t I be concerned about exposing myself to unknown possibly deadly pathogens?” The answer is somewhat complicated, but generally “no.” While the Enterprise series required gel and a short quarantine of away team members before re-integration with the crew, in The Next Generation the transporter was regularly used as a Deus Ex Machina that would cure almost anything. The third thing to keep in mind is that pathogens, poisons, and injuries are relatively easy to fix in most situations but surgery, diseases and healing after a lost limb is not always guaranteed. Simply getting rid of a pathogen or treating a genetic disease is only the first step, often times a patient will need a lot more help to get their body functioning normally again, and that’s where a player character Captain or a doctor or an Emergency Medical Hologram’s purpose becomes clear: to diagnose the problem, apply the treatment, and balance side effects and symptoms until the patient is healthy again.
Star Trek Online is an action game, so there will probably not be enough time for the player character Captain to do every single step from interviewing the patient to discharging them from the hospital in a single episode. The Captain should really only come in to save the day and move on rather than wait around for to see if there are any complications. Medical breakthroughs are really common story points on House, Bones, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and every other medical show out there, and we need to keep this kind of ‘action’ in mind. The exciting part is figuring out what it is that is causing the patient the problem and announcing the solution in some dramatic fashion. The patient thanks you and then the nurse applies the treatment while you go on to save someone else. So how exactly do we accomplish this in the scope of a Foundry mission?
More new terminology side discussion: I hate to do this again, but we need to start getting a little more in depth for this medical discussion to work. A ‘set’ is a map that is created using the Foundry tool and edited to the author’s heart’s content. An ‘actor’ is the player character(s), bridge officers and non-player characters (or NPC’s for short). A ‘prop’ is something that the player can click as part of completing an objective (confirmed by TauNeutrino). A ‘doodad’ is a type of prop that the player can’t interact with as part of an objective, such as fire, smoke, lights, inactive consoles, tables, chairs and panels.
Well, this Captain is not a beta tester (yet) and wouldn’t be able to tell you anything even if I was, but I’m pretty sure that we can make almost any object (like a med kit or a computer console) place-able and clickable as an objective of the mission (I like to abbreviate this as ‘go here and click this’ or a ‘prop’). One of the basic ideas I have for a complication is to have an NPC need medical attention and have the Captain involved with helping them. The set would be a sick-bay map and the actors would be an Emergency Medical Hologram NPC who will do most of the talking and the NPC patient who will be the subject we’re interested in saving (or at least giving it our best shot). For some plot ideas, here are a few examples of things that would actually be life threatening in Star Trek:
- Andorian Shingles: They make your eyes bleed.
- Aphasia virus: Makes you unable to articulate what you are thinking, though you can still understand others you can only speak gibberish. Cured by Dr Bashir and Surmak
- Bendii Syndrome: Affects elder Vulcans only, no known cure, though there is ongoing research.
- Cytotoxic shock: Your body will exhibit Cytotoxic shock if your autonomic nervous system is taken over by a Cytoplasmic lifeform, recommended treatment of Inaprovaline.
- Levodian flu: Similar to Earth’s flu, except that it lasts only 29 hours.
Now we need to consider the actors in this scene and try to think about what might happen and build our storyboard from there. The Emergency Medical Hologram will do most of the ‘grunt’ work of stabilizing the patient (since making the Captain walk up and hit ‘F’ isn’t very exciting). Then the EMH reports that he/she doesn’t really know what’s wrong with the patient and needs the players help to find out what it is. The EMH would ask a series of medical technobabble questions and the player would respond, then the EMH asks for help. The EMH is ‘limited’ to their programming and the entirety of the medical database of the Federation, but for every patient they would need additional information like medical history and treatment plans. The player could assist by retrieving medical history from the ship’s computer, the patient’s family, or the home planet’s medical database. The player could also give their opinion on a treatment plan or consult another doctor who might know the answer but hasn’t finished the research and published it yet. The player Captain would move over to a console and click it, and then a dialog box would appear and make it look like the player was initiating a subspace message to that person, carry on the conversation, and when the dialog closes the objective changes to report back to the EMH with the answer.
Okay that isn’t as exciting as it is on TV shows because all we really do is let the Captain click the dialog button for Next. Let me elaborate a little on the technology you have access to and why you would use it in a medical application, and perhaps allow the Captain to alternate between dialogs (with the patient, their family, the computer, bridge officers and the EMH) and interacting with various devices within sickbay, such as:
- Cardiostimulator: Restarts a stopped heart, works on humans and Vulcans, perhaps other species.
- Delta Wave Inducer: Keeps a patient asleep, also enhances bodies endorphin production to accelerate healing.
- Dermal regenerator: The most common skin healing medical tool in the galaxy, can even remove scars or otherwise heal skin to undamaged form.
- Myelin regenerator: Regenerates myelin sheath of a nerve.
- Neurogenic stimulator: Like a cardiostimulator except used to stimulate neuron activity in the brain.
- Phoretic analyzer: Separates and analyzes molecules of complex substances.
- Vascular regenerator: Regenerates blood vessels and will stop bleeding.
None of this is going to be as cool as the scenes in “Quarantined” or “Cold Comfort” or “Everything Old is New Again” but if the dialog is really good or the drama plays out well then people won’t notice the railroad story, they will just enjoy the ride. If your technobabble matches the consoles or equipment props around sick bay and the Captain actually has to walk up to them and interact with them as well as read dialog and give a command then you’ll get high praise for an interesting mission, even if the player can just click through the scene fairly quickly. Up until now we’ve been assuming the bridge officers do all the work of scanning or adjusting frequencies or whatever technobabble, so let’s talk about how we can get the player Captain involved directly in the action.
Let us assume for the moment that you can place a clickable objective that I call a ‘prop’. Imagine clicking on a flashing computer console and seeing a dialog box with the computer reporting “Input command”, and the player’s response as “Computer, display the patient’s immune response,” and then the computer responds in the dialog box “Immune response within normal parameters,” and then another dialog where the Captain would respond “Scan neural activity and compare to patient’s baseline,” and so on. What we are really doing is making the player move around the set, click a prop, read dialog, and then see something happen related to what they are doing. It makes a simple “this is what happened” dialog that we typically see in patrol missions and expands it into an emotional and exciting scene acted out by the player and seemingly pulled straight from the show. Perhaps you can spice it up by one of the following plot twist suggestions:
- You need to capture and analyze an enemy carrying some contagion and one of them pleads with you to cure them.
- Something goes wrong and you have to stabilize the patient (dialog with computer?) when the EMH shuts down due to a power outage (you stabilize the patient, then restore power by rerouting power away from EMH system).
- The ship gets attacked or hit with some natural phenomenon (bridge officer checks in with you) at the worst possible moment (during a series of clicking and reading steps) and it threatens the life of the patient (forcing you to deal with the disaster before dealing with the patient).
- The patient goes wild and shoots a console, and you have to repair it (walk up to it, click it to see what’s wrong, then go get spare parts or reroute power) then continue treatment.
- The ship gets boarded by a group of Romulans trying to kill the patient (and presumably you try to stop them).
Any of these things can be slipped in between otherwise normal ‘go here and click this’ objectives, and they themselves are really just disguised ‘go here and click this’ objectives. Keep the drama high, keep believability in mind (stick to canon), make sure it is actually fun and not busy work (remember the Captain is the hero of the story, not the EMH), and keep the players guessing as to what happens next.
That brings the end of a 3 part series in using Science, Technology and Medicine technobabble to your Foundry missions. Next week we will be taking a big step forward and start integrating dialog and objectives in a way that will change how you storyboard your missions, and I think we may all see Open Beta before the Thanksgiving holiday, so I have a feeling this site will explode with details.