In this week’s “Founder Spotlight,” we sat down with the (in)famous Havraha. Grab a drink for this interview and enjoy!
Q: You are the author of To Helna and Back, Rema Donna, Time the Enemy, Time the Ally, and Animations With Helna. What inspired you to create these missions? Is there one that you are most proud of? Will we see any more sequels?
What inspired me to do each mission varied wildly from one to the other. “To Helna and Back” was my first Foundry mission and I suppose the one I’m most proud of simply because I consider it a flagship mission. I wanted to reintroduce a tried and true Star Trek episode plot, the classic “a bridge officer has been abducted!” episode, into STO for no other reason than “it hasn’t been done yet”. And the reason why was painfully clear: because Kestrel had no way of knowing anything personal about the player’s bridge officers, it’s pretty much impossible to write a story focused around them. My solution to the problem was an obvious one: invent an officer that belongs to the player. That way, they could take ownership of the character but you could control the background and actions without the player feeling encroached upon. This officer ended up being “Helna”, a Rigelian stellar cartographer. Of course, since then, Cryptic has gotten more bold in their willingness to invent new characters and make them leading drivers of episode plots (Obisek, Eraun, Loriss, what have you), but at the time To Helna and Back was written, I believe it was not only unique in the Foundry but also unique to the game. Nowadays its probably lost its luster, since not only has Cryptic made episodes that were character focused, but Helna is just one of dozens upon dozens of Foundry-created characters, recurring, that are driving the plots of missions. One of my favorites is Tat, from many of Nagorak’s missions. That Ferengi is going to get herself killed one of these days!
Of course I’m really proud of “Rema Donna” too, which so far has a higher rating than To Helna and Back, probably because it addresses a mission that many players took offense to, which was called “Divide Et Impera”. I think players might find it interesting that the original inspiration for the mission was “I like Romulans. I like Gorn. Hmm. You don’t see Romulans and Gorn fight very much …” and so I made it. But it just goes to show how missions can evolve as you work on them and find a bigger meaning. Don’t be afraid to retcon (retroactive-continuity) what you’ve already written! It’s almost always better for it.
Q: Those of us who follow you on twitter know that you are passionate about politics. Do you feel like your missions reflect that passion? Will we see more of that in future missions, or will you try to separate the two?
I really don’t get into politics in my missions. My politics define my views on Star Trek, certainly, which I guess some people may claim that I end up having a bias in some sense with how I approach those Star Trekkian situations. But Star Trek to me is just as much fantasy as any other space opera. Gene Roddenberry had a vision for the future: he believed whole heartedly that marxist ideals and values under socialism would work in a future society. Quite correctly, he predicted that humanity would have to change, vastly, on a global scale for that to occur, and we see that sentiment in Star Trek episodes all the time. Countless dialogues of Picard explaining to some antiquated relic of capitalist past that humans don’t work for money anymore, but work to better themselves and to the benefit of each other. It’s a very idealistic viewpoint. I also believe its NEVER going to happen because a work/reward mentality is literally hardwired into us as human beings genetically, and if you venture into socialistic territory with your government, which provides for all its citizens everything they want, you breed a nanny state government and nanny state society that will eventually collapse under the weight of its unaddressable expenditures and entitlement mentality (ala Greece right now). But, in the fantasy world of Star Trek, this ideal DOES work. Somehow, however magically, humans CAN pull off Marxism without any repercussions whatsoever. And that’s how I approach my stories. Some Star Trek fans may believe Roddenberry to be prophetic about the future, and eagerly await its arrival. I believe he was a political idealist who created a very smart and intelligent science fiction story, and I simply run with that.
What I would LOVE to work into a Foundry mission is some of my thoughts on International Relations Theory, which is a bit different from politics. The particular breed of IR Theory I prescribe to focuses very much on the cause of international conflict and cooperation being the result of societal and cultural differences. This is the kind of exploration of idea that Star Trek players could really sink their teeth into, I think.
Q: Can you tell us more about Helna, what inspired her creation, and how the community and Cryptic adopted her? Are you happy that she went viral? How do you see her evolving as a character in STO?
Oh god. Helna. As Gettysburg7 would say, “you little minx!” Helna, again, arose out of the need to give the player an officer that I could invent and have complete control over so they wouldn’t feel ran-over while playing my misson. I wanted the player to go to Hell and back for this character, so she was literally named after the word “Hell” so I could stick her name into the phrase for a title to the mission (because I love cheesey titles, if “Rema Donna” wasn’t another hint). “Helna” was born in that sense, but other elements of the character had their roots in other interests. One species I had loved ever since I first saw them in Enterprise was the Rigelians, because they looked cool. I was surprised to find how many people did NOT share my sentiment with the species. In fact, many people’s opinions, even my cohost Altexist’s, was that Rigelians were “ugly”. I found this very non-Star Trekkian, in a way: that they wouldn’t see value in a Rigelian because it looked so different. How do they know? Helna could be a super model in the opinion of other Rigelians! In this way, I found great irony in making “the damsel in distress”, a role filled in video games by attractive characters like Princess Peach, filled by something that so many people held the opinion was just plain ugly. My hope was that by forcing the character to perceive value in a Rigelian, that their judgment might be swayed towards the species as a whole. It seems to have worked, because I hear very little comments now on how ugly Helna is these days. Instead … well … lets just say Gettysburg7 and Helna have a very … special … relationship.
I made her a stellar cartographer because I figured A.) Every ship probably has one, and B.) I’m sure the player hasn’t thought about who their ship’s stellar cartographer is. As far as personality is concerned, I originally made her a very fiesty fighting character. After giving it more thought, especially on how spiritual Rigelians are supposed to be, I realized that “really nice!” was the personality she should have instead. Branching off of this, I realized that we don’t see many … GIRLY characters in Trek. Their either hard nosed female officers ready to snap someone’s neck, or horribly written ditz’s. I wanted to write a character that liked the things that girls like, but wasn’t stupid or naive because of it. She’s still a starfleet officer and does her job well. She just has a tendency to get in trouble. Getty calls her the Lucille Ball of Star Trek for a reason.
So yes, I’m very happy she went viral and I’m super happy she was added to the game as a duty officer (you can collect her by completing the colonial chain in the Arucanis Arm). A lot of people are under the impression that was a complete and utter gift on the part of Cryptic. Confession time: I drove some of the devs CRAZY trying to get her into the game. It was kinda all my idea and I’m just very fortunate that I have certain dev friends that didn’t go “pff SHOVE OFF HAV!” after the umpteenth time of me begging. But big shout outs and thanks to ThomasTheCat and Heretic! If I could have anything else? I have dreams of Helna being an NPC standing around in the game that people can get Foundry missions from. That would be so amazing. Heheh.
Before I move on from the topic, I need to talk about the popularity of the character. Some of this was by design. Any author that says they don’t want plays and positive reviews is basically lying. Of course everyone makes a mission because its a story they want to tell, but there’s little to no point in making the mission if no one will ever play it. I knew when I made “To Helna and Back” that the quicker it was published, the more plays I would have (because of lack of other content). Secondly, I knew promotion was important to that, so I did little things like the fact that I made a Twitter account for the character to become alive and roleplay with others.
Beyond that, Helna’s popular on her own accord and I believe the reason she has taken off is because so many people KNOW her. Foundry authors desperately want to use Captain Kirk and Spock and Picard in their missions, moreso than anything because recognition is fun for a player. Helna is available for inclusion in missions for cameos easily, and her storyline says she can be on anyone’s ship at any time (because she’s everyone’s stellar cartographer), and she can be as serious or as goofy of a character as the player and author want to interact with. I think that formula has contributed to her popularity among Foundry authors. And besides, who doesn’t love Lucy?
Q: You are also one of the main hosts of Podcast UGC. Can you tell us what keeps you guys and gal going? Do you see anything changing or evolving? And, do you feel like folks at Cryptic recognize the hosts as important voices of the Foundry community?
What keeps us going is people who listen, I think. We literally don’t have a clue how many listeners we have, because all the hit counts and download specs go straight to the Starbase UGC website, and isn’t a metric that we can separate out. We just hope that there are people who want to hear us, and the ones that come and listen live definitely reinforce our belief that we are, in fact, listened to. I think when the show first started it was all about Foundry ‘theory’, what we could or might be able to do and not do. As the show went on and we exhausted all that information, I think the format gradually evolved to our own opinions as personalities commentating on things Cryptic is doing. A big difference between our show and other podcasts is opposing viewpoints: we has lotz of thems. Many shows like to have a unified view on a topic, and I’ve always said that we as hosts can say whatever we want to say about any bevy of topics. People that know me on Twitter know that I’m OBSESSED with ideas in general and I think when those ideas collide and combat, the crappy ones can die and the good ones can float to the top, so its important to me personally that everyone gets to have their own opinion. I think listening to those opinions and listening to us even argue might be a draw for listeners. At least I hope it is!
As far as changes are concerned, I’m constantly trying to improve the quality of the mp3 (I’ve made recent progress in those regards), and we added rjc_foxtrot aka Bob to our show recently as well.
I definitely think the devs take us into consideration. We’ve been told that the entire Foundry team listens to the show. I’ve gotten lots of tweets from Captain Geko both praising certain episodes, and going “Come on, guys!” to ones he doesn’t like. The biggest dev nod recently was PWE_Branflakes who has recruited us to help him pick Foundry missions for the community spotlight. So as far as podcasts go, we may not be the most loved, but we’re certainly not the most ignored. I’m just personally pleased that other Starbase UGC shows like Broadcast UGC, Primetime UGC, and Bitesized UGC are getting just as much dev attention as Podcast UGC has received. It bodes well for Starbase UGC as a website where the community can be heard.
Q: Lastly, are you optimistic about season 6 and the future of the Foundry? What are your hopes and what are your fears?
Always optimistic. Probably moreso than my fellow cohosts. I believe one of which predicted the Foundry would be dead in 6 months, might I add! Muwahaha! Glad I didn’t bet on that one myself, personally.
Anything the developers add to the Foundry has to be an improvement from the barebones utensil that it is now. Everyone’s biggest concern is whether or not we’ll have a repeat of Season 4 and have the whole Foundry break again. I think those fears are misplaced for one simple reason — if that happens again someone’s getting fired and everybody knows it! They’ll make sure everything works right from the get go this time around.
My biggest hope is that everything they’ve promised will be implemented. However, I know from experience now that you should really hope for the best, but gamble on maybe a fourth of what Cryptic’s grander plans on. Historically they’ve worked slower on everything than they would like to do, and for that reason I’m not expecting full featured author pages and arc-compatibility in the Foundry by Season 6. BUT, I’m hoping.