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 got up to speed on our Chief of Medicines’ commonly used phrases, medical conditions, medicine and technology.  This week I have a very amibitious goal, to show you how to make your technobabble a solid part of the mission and not just an afterthought.  Technobabble must be carefully used, you don’t want to confuse or frustrate your player character Captain, but at the same time technobabble provides a wonderful way to tie your mission to the episodes of Star Trek and provide mystery, intrigue and wonder that captured our hearts when we saw our first episode (or movie) of Star Trek.

Before we get started we need to take a look at our competition, Cryptic’s missions.  Let’s consider the average Patrol, Genesis or repeatable Daily mission, Featured Episodes and various Enemy Front Episodes that are played by every star ship Captain in the galaxy.

  1. The patrol missions frequently start with a very simple 1 sentence dialog box from your tactical officer explaining you are about to get attacked, then you get attacked, then you kill everything on the map and leave.
  2. Genesis missions are either a space combat mission, ground combat mission, scan 5 things while there are enemies around, Aid the Planet, or the rare but beloved walk around and collect 10 DXP.
  3. Repeatable Daily missions are a little better, the dialog is dramatically improved, but players only read them once.
  4. Featured Episodes do a fantastic job of slowly building plot, such as a mysterious ship decloaking and then warping out, or otherwise giving you a non-combat interactive cut-scene where player is happy to read what’s going on because they know the story is going to be good.
  5. Enemy Front episodes (in Season 3 see your Ready Room computer for the reason I use this term ‘Enemy Front’), such as the ones delivered at launch and in Season 1, are themed around a region of the galaxy populated by the bad-guys of the episodes.  These episodes aren’t quite as polished as the Featured Episodes and don’t employ as many cool tricks, but they are really fun the first time you play through the game.

I know what you’re thinking, ‘get to the point, Allen’.  Well here it is: We can do better than 1, 2, 3 but not 4 or 5, at Foundry’s launch.  Why do I say this?  Cryptic’s well thought out episodes employ tricks we don’t have access to, but that’s okay because we have one advantage over them that they will never have: Time.  We can write, rewrite and ponder and wait to release a mission when we feel like it is ready, and Cryptic does not have that luxury.  This is why I am so passionate about technobabble and dialog and presentation of the mission, because we can slow down and take our time and not have t0 resort to abbreviations like we see in Genesis.  I could do a fantastic mission surrounding a ‘kill 5 things’ objective if I just add a little mystery, a little story, and a little believability with the help of technobabble.

I’m so confident that I can create a compelling ‘kill 5 things’ mission, that I’m going to do it, right now.  That’s right, I’m going to take my least favorite mission and make it shine like never before.  And here it is:

Mission to be provided by going to the Cardassia system.  Here’s the mission’s abbreviated instructions from Starfleet.

{Player_rank} {player name} we’ve received a distress call from a Cardassian freighter in orbit around Cardassia saying that they are under attack from Dominion forces.  The {Ship’s name} is the closest vessel to Cardassia, head over there and see what’s going on.  Innocent lives may be hanging in the balance.

The player, if they chose to accept my mission, would warp into Cardassian orbit, and see a battle underway.  Cardassian freighters would be under attack by Dominion forces as promised in the mission’s description, but something very unusual is going on.

Tactical Officer: Captain, there are several groups of Dominion forces attacking Cardassian freighters, something is very odd about their attack pattern, it appears… inefficient.  Perhaps they are trying not to destroy the cargo.  {player responds} Engage the Dominion forces.

At this point, the player commands their ship and destroys one of the groups.  The Engineering Officer then checks in.

Engineering Officer: Captain, the Cardassian ship is badly damaged, if we stabilize their impulse drive they should be fine to wait for rescue.  I need to scan their EPS flow regulator and relay the necessary information to their Engineering team.  {player responds} Make it so.

The player then gets the objective to scan the ship.  Presumably they do so.

Engineering Officer: Captain, they took damage to their primary stabilizers, we need to tell them to reroute power around that section, using the secondary couplings and bypassing the control relay.  {player responds} Hail them.

Science Officer: Captain, I’m trying, but there is some kind of subspace interference.  I’ll try a narrow band radio signal the Cardassian freighter should be able to use. … Ready. {player responds} Open a channel.

The Cardassian freighter captain responds.

Cardassian Captain: Thank you Starfleet, you saved us all.  Our internal sensors are offline and we’re running out of time, can you help us? {player responds} We’re sending you data….

If that’s all it takes we can take it from here, go help the others!  They are all defenseless. {player responds} We’re on it.

The player then goes to save another ship, and a similar set of interactions occur.

Engineering Officer: This ship has all primary systems offline.  Their backup systems are handling life support and comms, but they have an uncontained hull breach and I can’t scan their ship to see what the problem is. {player responds} Hail them.

Cardassian captain #2: Starfleet, you came just in time, we need to get out of here, our life support system doesn’t have enough power and we’re losing atmosphere.  You’ve got to beam us out of here! {player responds} Stand by.

Science Officer: Captain, there’s a similar high energy subspace field in place here too, but I think we can fix their hull breach quickly by initiating a power transfer to the structural integrity field. {player responds} Do it.

Engineering Officer: That did it, Captain.  The grid is stabilizing and should be fine until repair crews arrive. {player responds} Let’s keep moving.

And so on.  Each of the 5 combats ends with a quick repair of the Cardassian freighters to ensure they are out of danger until repair teams can finish the job.  Each encounter has dialog to bring the scene to life and give a sense of urgency and emergency to each location, with a living crew of Cardassians whose lives depend on the quick thinking of player character Captain and their crew.

All that, just to kill 5 groups of Dominion warships.  So, did I succeed?  Are you curious about those subspace dampening fields and what the Dominion is trying to accomplish?

The ongoing goal of this column is to present situations where technobabble fills a hole in plot or gap in the suspension of disbelief of the situation.  Here in this scenario, we don’t have the ability to realign the Cardassian’s structural integrity field, but as Captain we can order our bridge officer to do that.  That’s the beauty of it, that’s exactly what they do in the shows.  Sometimes it takes more effort or an unforeseen complication arises, but in general the Captain says “make it so” and a few beeps and boops later it is done.  No branching dialog needed, no complicated dialog options needed at all, just let the player Captain read it off like it were lines on the TV shows.  Sure we want our missions to allow these complicated dialog options, but we’ll get by just fine without them.  And there’s nothing stopping us from hitting the player with multiple dialog boxes in succession, right?  (Currently the Genesis system can do this.)

Next week’s topic is a little bit in limbo at this point, I’m going to hold off committing to the content of next week’s Technically Speaking until I see Foundry in action.  I will also be posting guides outside of the Technically Speaking series, as I see fit to do so.  I’m in an excellent roleplaying fleet and the Foundry’s impact on our weekly get togethers are going to be interesting, I think I’ll explore the Foundry and report on it using another suitably cheesily titled column name, probably “Acting Captain’s Log”.  See what I did there?  Joking aside, no one else on this site has mentioned the roleplaying potential of the Foundry, so I might take a shot at it.

Until next time, stay safe.

-Allen out