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Brains Before Bounty

Author: dixonium
Mission Code: ST-HBMXP6I8C
Date Played: April 5, 2011
Length: 20-40 minutes

Author Description:
Something is terribly wrong at the rain-soaked Ferengi mining colony known as Quintoola Quarry. High-priced shipments are missing, a dark battleship patrols the skies, and the miners are being plagued by unending headaches. Bound by Ferengi cultural tradition, it falls to a Starfleet captain to save the colony from itself.

Review

I deeply dislike the Ferengi, but dixonium’s skilled writing led me to a newfound appreciation for a race I had written off as “vile-looking comic relief.” In fact, dixonium did such a great job, that Brains Before Bounty is one of the best STO missions I’ve ever played.

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Slightly belated, but here’s to a second week of playing UGC Foundry missions! This past week, I started writing reviews on StarbaseUGC, a community of great folks devoted to publicizing all things Foundry. After a week elapses, I post the reviews I wrote there here on Scan Complete.

  • I re-reviewed¬†Darren_Kitlor’s “Drawing Proof.” Not only was I able to finish it, but the parts that I had subsequently played through had been modified for the better. Some players are going to find “Drawing Proof” to be mundane and pointless, but it’s there loss. There’s much, much more to Star Trek than killing things.
  • Also of note is Armsman’s “A Relic’s Return.” Armsman’s mission is definitely only the first half of a two-part story, but it still felt very Trek-like. I recommend it, too.

A Relic’s Return

Author: Armsman
Mission Code: ST-HRGENW9BK
Date Played: April 3, 2011
Length: 20-40 minutes

Author Description:
Kintara Prime, a newly discovered UFP applicant world that mines and supplies dilithium for the Federation war effort, has requested diplomatic assistance. The Orion Syndicate have taken a 150 year old relic of great cultural significance, and the Kintarans want it returned.

Review

Right now, A Relic’s Return has only two reviews on Holodeck. This is a crying shame, because Armsman delivers what few STO missions can: an excellent mix of combat and dialogue, all wrapped around a classic Star Trek-esque enigma.

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Drawing Proof

Author: Darren_Kitlor
Mission Code: ST-HDP5HLT39
Date Played: March 31, 2011 / Replayed: April 2, 2011
Length: 10-20 minutes

Author Description:
Vulcan separatists are vowing to leave the Federation after word spread of the P’Jem incident and the Undine infiltration of Starfleet. They see the multi-faction conflict as an affront to logic and the pacifism Vulcans are respected for. You will be contacted b Elder Sardek, representing Vulcan local authorities on the matter.

Review

Many UGC missions — and for that matter, many professionally made STO missions — are bloodbaths compared to the original source material. By no means am I stickler for pure canon, but it is difficult to dispute the fact I usually destroy more vessels in a single patrol mission that any Enterprise ever destroyed in one season.

With that in mind, Darren_Kitlor’s Drawing Proof is a refreshing return to the diplomacy that is at the heart of the Star Trek franchise.

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The first week of Scan Complete draws to a close. Here’s a look at the reviews and posts that have been made this week.

  • I reviewed Darren_Kitlor’s Drawing Proof. I really enjoyed it, but at the time the mission was unfinishable. Since then, D_K has fixed and extensively expanded the mission; read my rereview over at Starbase UGC.
  • Deadly Scan struck me as a highly flawed mission with alot of potential. I learned something about quartz from it, and now I imagine my captain has a shard of green rock in his ready room.
  • Many players really enjoy To Helna and Back; I was not one of them.
  • I published my own first Foundry mission, Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things.

To Helna and Back

Author: Havraha
Date Played: March 30, 2011

Story

To Helna and Back is currently one of the most played, most reviewed Foundry missions out there. The vast majority of review rank it as a four- or five-star experience, so my hopes were quite high.

The mission began with a pop-up from my tactical officer, who is concerned about the titular Ensign Helna. Apparently Helna, the ships cartographer, was granted shore leave on Risa, but she’s three days overdue on her return. Tactical officer K’Thegh assured me that this was completely unlike her, and so on his hunch, we decide to go to Risa.

When I arrive, I’m told that I should beam down and start asking about Helns. Here I encountered my first problem with the mission:

Yes, that’s right: a huge map, filled with bunches and bunches of people — and there’s exactly one person relevant to my mission. And of course, he’s a solid run away. So right here, I started to lose any sense of immersion I had — this didn’t feel like an investigation, it feels like a chore I was being led through.

The conversation isn’t much better.

Isn’t this the sort of problem that you, I don’t know, go to Starfleet security with? “Yes, people are being kidnapped, it’s terrible — and I’ve chosen not to tell anyone in any position of power. Woe am I!” Trajan Rangar: expert of uncovering conspiracies that are out there in the open.

Some how, someone had overheard a conversation connecting Helna with the Aligress system, “which was near the Tazi system.” How Havraha handled this — a hat tip to having to go to a preset system, but still making your own — was genius, and one of the best, most unique parts of this mission.

We arrived in what must be the most gorgeous STO system I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, immersion-breaking instructions quickly followed suit: I was to search the Aligress system for anything unusual, which out-of-character yellow text informed me meant I should “examine my map for hints as to where to go.” More frustrating was the fact that the mission required I keep flying back and forth across a rather space map. Eventually, my crew uncovered a Klingon satellite, which was in the process of siphoning off geothermal energy from the system’s still forming planetoids and converting it into power for… a cloaked transwarp gate.

Typing that out certainly made the mission much more fun and interesting than I remember it being; at the time, all I could think about was how I was going to have to fly back across the map to a place I had just been.

We detect lifesigns on board, all matching the member species of the Federation. My team and I promptly beam down to investigate.

I encounter several people right off of the bat — and not only will they not tell me what is up, they treat me like trash. And not in a “this is sort of realistic” way, but more like a “kekeke let me suspend your ignorance about what is happening a little longer kekeke” way. By way of example, take the below conversation:

I mean, I assume you’re talking about my missing Helna, but maybe you’re not. And why the lip? As best I can tell, I’ve not done anything wrong. So now I’m annoyed and offended.

As I work my way through this sprawling space station, bit by bit I learn what has happened: the Klingons have been kidnapping civilians with engineering and technological expertize, hoping to use their knowledge to make operational a transwarp gate the Federation had previously abandoned. By accident, the Klingons kidnapped Ensign Helna, who promptly led a workers’ uprising and forced the Klingons off of the transwarp station. She’s been trying to lead this group of civilians, but the group’s old, self-appointed leader, Daniel Hursley, believes that if the civilians could just fix the transwarp gate and let the Klingons have it, then everyone will be allowed to go home. So he’s generally being a dick, despite the fact that it should be clear to everyone that the Klingon’s aren’t going to let anyone go home once the gate is operational.

Collecting this information got on my last nerve, mostly because it brought me into contact with a series of foolish, unbelievable characters. For instance, there is Caitian intently staring a button on the wall, promising himself that some day he’ll push it; an alien that has accidentally superglued his foot to the floor; and a Deltan who is basically keeping an injured Gorn as a pet. All are extremely juvenile, extremely grating conversations.

And then there’s the issue of the voice that my captain is speaking with.

Over at Starbaes UGC, Terrilynn has a great piece on the voice that Foundry writers assign characters. Without belaboring the point too much, I don’t appreciate conversations that make my Cardassian sound as if he is Vulcan. And, yes, using the word “logical” is more than enough to do that.

But worst, worst, worst of all is the aforementioned Daniel Hursley, who is so dense and so vindictive that I am still convinced — even after the mission is over — that he was a Klingon plant. Observe:


To recap: still operating under the extremely wrong premise that “we can all go home,” Hursley decided he would unilaterally repair the transwarp gate. Then he tells me — a Starfleet captain — to shut-up a female officer. The man is willingly committing treason, and still has enough gumption to order me around.

Helna sends me back to the other side of the space station (!), just in time for the Klingons to board and start killing people. Which means I then have to work my way back across the space station for a third time, fighting Klingons the whole time.

As I approach Helna, I discover that each of the idiotic NPCs I encountered previously is dead or dying. Maybe I should feel something, but they were written so terribly that my heart feels nothing, neither sadness nor happiness, for them. I just get angry at the Creator, for making such a hapless world.

In his last and crowning moment of idiocy, Hursley released the Gorn prisoner, who promptly killed him and gravely wounded the Deltan, then picked a fight with Ensign Helna. So I had to kill the Gorn — the Gorn, who with his anger and his limited, animalistic growls, was my favorite NPC.

But no, the mission isn’t over. A small Klingon task force was able to slip through the gate, so I have to fight them off. Three waves of two spawns each later, and my Engineer is telling me that my ship is moments away from exploding, despite the fact that my hull is at 100%. My disbelief: still not suspended.

Is it over yet? Again, no. The Klingons have beamed all of the humans that were on the transwarp gate up to a cargo ship (why didn’t they do this sooner?) and are holding them hostage. But apparently the Klingons don’t believe in shielding or working transporter inhibitors, because my team and I beam over and fight our way through yet another unnecessarily long ground mission.

Finally, finally, finally, I kill the Klingon’s Commander Dron — who was, coincidentally, a good fight — save the civilians, recover Helna, and leave the Aligress system, never to return.

Content, Spelling and Grammar

The spelling and grammar of this mission were generally good, but another proofing would have been beneficial. The mission was rather lengthy, with multiple ground and space combat sequences, not to mention several information-gathering ground tours. Unfortunately, I never lost myself in the mission — each step of the way, I was reminded that I was fighting in a Star Trek Online mission, taking inane and repetitive actions to complete random quest goals. Adding to my displeasure were the mission’s silly characters, which I can only assume were a poor attempt at humor.

TL;DR

Many, many players like this mission. I, however, found it to be long and repetitive, with few redeeming qualities.

Deadly Scan

Author: kennanneilpgf
Date Played: March 29, 2011

Story

The opening hail was a sign of the troubles to come.

Though parsing my science officer’s statement was difficult, I gleaned enough from the exchange to lay in a course to the infamous Briar Patch. To be fair, this isn’t always the case — the in-game Foundry mission reviews are replete with complaints of “I can’t find where this mission starts.”

Unfortunately for me, Lieutenant Tek’s speaking ability didn’t improve upon entering the Gillion system.

Anyways — no matter about the language, I tell myself. I’m certain that whatever language-destroying illness Tek has fallen sick with will work itself out of her system by the next mission. She and I were cleared for the away mission, and beamed down we went…

I have only visited this crystalline setting once before, during a star cluster exploration mission, and I was glad to see it employed in a player-made mission. Of all the locations I’ve visited in game, I find this one particularly breath-taking. And as is fitting for such a crystal-centric planet, we were asked to collect rock samples.

And then a strange thing happened — I began to learn something.

Deadly Scan‘s failings aside, the above dialogue made this mission totally worth doing. Thanks to this mission, I went out and looked up what aventurine is — and what do you know? Kennanneilpgf is spot on: aventurine quartz is absolutely the best description of what my crew and I were looking at.

But strange things were afoot in the Gillion system, and the geology lesson wrapped up just in time for my away team to escape from the moon’s increasingly dangerous tectonic behavior. Apparently, in the space of a few minutes the moon’s core had destabilized, and we were to leave the Gillion system with all due haste.

Unfortunately, the U.S.S. Pillnape, also conducting a scientific mission in the Gillion system, didn’t get the memo. The range of subspace transmissions was reduced thanks to the moon’s volatile nature, and we were tasked with closing the distance and hailing the Pillanpe again.

And here was where Deadly Scan delivered its second positive surprise: I was genuinely terrified for my starship’s safety. Thanks to the mission’s terrible spelling and grammar, I had subconsciously begun to question the competency of the mission’s creator — and once you begin to do that, all bets concerning safety are off. The explosions occurring around the Pillnape were almost certainly there for just the effect, but I couldn’t trust the mission on that. Even if kennanneilpgf hadn’t intended my starship to get damaged, what if the happenstance placement of these special effects resulted a deadly starship accident?

And as the story would have it, the mission did turn deadly — for the Pillnape. Unable to raise them before the moon went critical, we were forced to warp out, leaving them to their fate.

But only for a moment. Once the blast subsided, we returned. In a nice touch, the moon was now fragmented…

We found the Pillnape a floating hulk. Life signs were detected, but I had to go over in person to stop the Pillnape‘s warp core from breaching. The handling of the warp core assignment was well done — one of the panels I had to interact with exploded in my face and threw me to the ground, only reaffirming my need for caution. Eventually, though, we brought the core back into normal parameters.

But the mission’s main question went unanswered: at the end of the day, was this scientific mission really worth the loss of the Pillnape and most of her crew?

Content, Spelling and Grammar

Deadly Scan‘s spelling and grammar were absolutely atrocious, so much so that it very negatively impacted my enjoyment of the mission. I was always able to figure out what I needed to do, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to get me lost on the mission’s part. Also, it was a little difficult to originally find the Pillnape. In order to have a more cinematic space experience, I’ve modified what items in my GUI appear with reticles around them; I’ve never had a problem in finding an objective in a mission before, but there’s a first time for everything.

All of this said, I can’t overstate how surprising and fun it was to actually learn something about the real world in this mission. Furthermore, the tension of not knowing what would happen next was a very new experience, even if by discussing it, I have deprived my readers of feeling the same way.

TL;DR

Underneath its many errors, Deadly Scan feels very much like a Star Trek episode. The question is whether or not players will try hard enough to see it that way.

Drawing Proof

Author: Darren_Kitlor
Date Played: March 29, 2011

Story

Do you know how almost every episode of any Star Trek series begins? With the receiving of a hail. With that in mind, Drawing Proof opens in fine form.

Dismayed at the events at the P’Jem Monastery and angered at the incompetence Starfleet has shown in dealing with the Undine threat, a group of Vulcan separatists have begun to agitate against the Federations’ war with the Klingons. Concerned, the Vulcan diplomat Elder Sardek has requested my crew meet him at Vulcan.

When we arrive, we rendezvous with the Vurak for an additional briefing…

Unhappy civilians, negotiation before violence, the tacit assumption that these separatists have a valid reason for their discontent — that right there is a Star Trek episode.

Beaming down, I was initially perturbed that I’d have to run all over Vulcan’s Forge — the sand looked inhospitable (if well done), and on the minimap, the objective circle appeared quite large.

Fortunately, Sur’el was waiting for me underneath the building you see on the left-hand side of the above screenshot. When I finally meet this so-called rebel, he has this to say:

And admit it — the unhappy Vulcan is right. The Federation knows it’s being played. Even if we accept that the Dominion’s changelings aren’t involved, both the Undine and the Iconians have repeatedly used deception to pit the Federation against every Alpha and Beta Quadrant power.

But valid concerns don’t immediately make a completely sane and rational separatist. After talking with some of Sur’el’s fellow Vulcans, it’s clear that Sur’el is growing increasingly emotional and distant. That said, his daughter is equally compelling in her criticism of the Federation:

As a sign of good faith, my captain cuts his hand and offered up a blood sample for testing — the environment interaction that brought this about was pretty unique and entertaining. However, I’m a little uncertain about how canon an Undine-revealing blood test is — though terribly, terribly written, Michael A. Martin’s The Needs of the Many did paint a very vivid picture of the Undine threat: they’re so terrifying because they become exact doppelgangers, completely indistinguishable from the source material they are replacing. I don’t know if a simple blood test would be conclusive — but hey, it’s the thought that counts, and it buys enough good will with Sur’el that he agrees to face-to-face negotiations onboard the Vurak.

Unfortunately, this was as far as I was able to get; once my team and I beamed up to the Vurak, we couldn’t continue the mission — we were suppose to talk with the ship’s security chief, but our progress was stopped by an uncooperative door.

I did get to snap the above screenshot, though. My team looks great.

Content, Spelling and Grammar

There were a few, extremely small typos here and there, but I only saw them because I was actively hunting for them. Even mentioning them does a disservice to the top-notch quality of this mission’s dialogue. Thanks to Darren_Kitlor’s writing skills, I really felt invested in the plight of the separatist movement, and more than that, I felt that the Vulcans were correct. The author has a very good handle on the events occurring in the STO universe, and how these events might be interpreted by every day, run-of-the-mill individuals. To top it all off, the mission’s maps were small but well-employed, the characters extremely well designed, and Darren_Kitlor employed text bolding in a strategic, useful way.

TL;DR

Drawing Proof was an auspicious first Foundry mission, and despite its game-stopping bug, it has set a high bar for subsequent user-generated missions. I’ll gladly rereview it once it’s fixed.

My internet name is “Adventurer Historian,” or — more commonly these days — the abbreviated “AyAitch.” For over a year now, I’ve blogged about my adventurers in Star Trek Online over at Combat-Archaeology.net.

Just yesterday, Cryptic Studios released “The Foundry” on the main Holodeck server. Players have been looking forward to the Foundry for quite a while — as its webpage claims, it promises to allow players to “forge their own strange new worlds.” Already, we’re seeing dozens of new and exciting missions being added to the game.

I like STO, and the Star Trek franchise in general, because I love feeling like I’m really some sort of intergalactic explorer. The Enterprise‘s original five-year mission — “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before” — is exactly the sort of fantasy that I like to indulge. And thanks to the Foundry, I now have the opportunity to, quite literally, explore a new world that no one has seen before.

So join me as I delve into the multiplying missions of the Foundry, sending communiques back about the brave new worlds being created daily…