This is Captain Allen of the federation star ship Andromeda with an important message for all User Generated Content authors, you are the future of Star Trek Online. The quality of your work will contribute to the success or failure of the last best hope for the future we’ve spent our lives dreaming about. For the first time you will have access to a large audience for your Star Trek stories, but you have a lot of work to do if you want to design something that reads like Star Trek, plays like Star Trek and ultimately feels like Star Trek. The goal of this column is to help you with one of the most challenging aspects of writing science fiction while staying true to the rich, detailed universe; to help you speak technically.
“What if we’ve been looking in the wrong place? What if the nacelles aren’t being torn from the ship; what if the ship is being torn from the nacelles?”
“The hull of the shuttle is made from a tritanium alloy. At the speeds we’re talking about, that alloy could depolarize…”
“And create a velocity differential! The fuselage would be traveling at a different rate of speed than the nacelles!”
“That means all we have to do is create a depolarization matrix around the fuselage!”
“That’s it! Neelix, you’re a genius!”
Now that’s a good example of technobabble, although none of it appears contradictory it just doesn’t make any sense, and that’s okay for a TV show. In the context of a video game, some readers are going to either ignore all the text and just click “Next” or will scrutinize every word for violations of ‘canon’, but most are going to read and enjoy the story you provide because the entire reason they would play UGC is that they are looking for something new. Cryptic developers have confirmed that there will be a rating system, so to be a successful author you will need to consider that most of your audience will want something more than “Captain, there are 5 ships. We need to kill them.” The correct use of technobabble will turn a good story into a good Star Trek story.
I would like to examine the conversation between Tom Paris and Harry Kim above and point out the differences between real words and technobabble so you can avoid common pit falls.
- The word “nacelle” refers to the device that creates a warp field, you will notice all human constructed federation star ship vessels have these (most have 2 or 4 nacelles and a few rare ships have 1 or 3). Not all warp capable ships need a nacelle or a pair of nacelles, Klingon dialog options should reflect that they do not use nacelles to generate a warp field (or warp bubble).
- The word “tritanium” refers to a type of metal found in federation star ships, it is not real.
- The word “depolarize” would imply that the metal’s electric field is no longer uniform and somehow affect the acceleration of some parts of the ship (and not others) and apparently tear the nacelles and the hull apart.
- The phrase “velocity differential” is a fancy mathematical term that means “acceleration” or “change in velocity”. The phrase “different rate of speed” would make any physics professor cringe, although most of Star Trek terminology already does that. Just say “acceleration”.
- · The phrase “depolarization matrix” doesn’t seem to make sense here, since the problem is the depolarization of the hull and/or nacelles. A matrix is a mathematical term in Linear Algebra (math rules applied to collections of numbers rather than just numbers), and this phrase implies a technical device (not specified) would create a field (described by a matrix) that would depolarize (or perhaps re-polarize) the hull in a controlled fashion, which would hopefully prevent the “velocity differential” that would tear the ship apart.
Okay, that may or may not have made any sense to you and don’t worry if it doesn’t, the beauty of Star Trek is that the technobabble really doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be arranged in a way that implies there is some technology that solves a problem (real problems like Newton’s first law or made up problems like depolarization). So this is the whole point of this article, is to show you how to arrange it in a way that makes as much sense as possible and helps maintain or enhance the player’s suspension of disbelief. Here are a set of rules that should help with that goal in mind:
- Do your research on Memory Alpha‘s wonderful Science portal
- Whenever possible, change your rough draft laymen speak into technical speak and then clarify the meaning of the phrase afterwards. ”And create a velocity differential! The fuselage would be traveling at a different rate of speed than the nacelles!” See that? Technical speak followed by laymen (oversimplified) explanation.
- Never cause a mission’s progress to stall because a player doesn’t know a technical term. Make sure every mission critical term is explained thoroughly in some fashion (I thought the Bajor non-combat mission with the Cardassian’s did a fantastic job of this with the research you did at a computer terminal).
- Multiple bridge officers should be involved with dialogs and provide lots of information, even if it may seem extraneous, just make sure it isn’t overly redundant (don’t specify a planet is class M if you are following someone who beamed down to the surface, the context of the situation should affect the dialog). Note that this example conversation occurs between two bridge officers with a 3rd person observing.
- Make the player characters think they are the ones solving the problem and not their bridge officers, give them choices that matter and give them the necessary information to make informed decisions. Above all else, avoid the Deus Ex Machina solution and avoid characters who are a Mary Sue. In the example dialog above, the player could be the one asking their bridge officers the question ”What if we’ve been looking in the wrong place? What if the nacelles aren’t being torn from the ship; what if the ship is being torn from the nacelles?” Make the player central to the solution, they are the star!
It sounds like we won’t see any hard data on how to create dialog until the Foundry system goes beta in the first couple weeks of November, so start your research now to make sure your first mission’s dialog is a colorful technically as it is witty. Speaking of witty, I am the wrong guy to ask, I never took college level writing courses. Tune in next week for more specific tips for dialog involving the topic with which I am more familiar: Physics.