The Foundry: Savior of Star Trek Online?
style="width: 220px; height: 226px;" alt="ack gack uck"
style="font-style: italic;">STO gasping for air?
Since the launch of Star
Trek Online in February 2010, the game and its developer
(Cryptic Studios) have been suffering from a steady decline in overall
consumer confidence. For a game that once boasted so many concurrent
users that hardware stability and connection woes were a common
concern, we certainly don't hear much from the STO community these
days, and the press that does come out is generally short on praise for
this iconic title.
That is all about to change.
A few weeks back, Cryptic Studios opened up their player-authored
content creation engine, The Foundry, for use on their public test
server. And while players' opinions on the capabilities and ease-of-use
of this tool are split, nobody can deny the impact that this robust
mechanic is adding to a game that has otherwise been teetering on the
edge of obscurity.
The most obvious and immediate effect that the launch of this tool will
have is in the sudden increase in content available to the players.
Since the content in STO has been called a relative drought when
compared alongside top-shelf MMOGs like WoW, EQ2, DDO, LOTRO, etc., the
influx of a whole swath of new playable content for players is an
extremely important factor to consider. A single well-crafted mission
can take Cryptic's in-house content designers days or weeks of
development time to create, test and launch, but may require nothing
more than a few hours' work for a skilled Foundry user since they are
not required to submit to an excrutiating QA process or management
review before publishing the mission to their fellow players.
It's a valid concern that due to this lack of professional polish, many
of the missions created in the Foundry will end up barely meeting even
the lowest of low expectations. In fact, over the past few weeks, I've
had the displeasure of playing through approximately a dozen
cringe-worthy missions filled to the brim with atrocious plots, rampant
grammatical and spelling errors, undefeatable bugs, and groan-worthy
story concepts. However, I'm happy to report that due to the player
review system present in the Foundry system, I was able to review these
missions' scorecards (out of 4 stars) and read other players' reviews
and comments. In every case, I knew what I was getting myself into,
because I was not the first to experience the pain of these poorly
crafted missions and those that had come before me had made their
This is a system that has already been widely used in communities
across the internet. Shopping sites like Amazon and NewEgg routinely
feature the reviews and ratings of their customers on each item they
sell, allowing consumers to shop in smarter ways by tapping into a
worldwide network of other shoppers. And of course, such a rating
system is not new to user-generated content having been developed and
introduced alongside City
of Heroes' Architect system several years ago.
By utilizing a similar rating and review system in STO a self-policed
system has begun to emerge where content created by players is also
played by players, rated and critiqued by players, and ultimately
either filtered out of the system due to poor ratings or elevated to a
form of "featured" status by appearing at the top of related searches.
And the player-created episodes that earn this vaunted honor are indeed
incredible! I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a number of the
top-most rated player-generated missions currently available, and was
simply blown away by the creativity and ingenuity that some of STO's
players have already demonstrated. Some of the missions I played
through even rivaled or exceeded the quality of similar
developer-created content available elsewhere in the game.
One brilliant example is a mission by the name of "
style="font-weight: bold;">The Longing" which
at many points feels like an homage to the movie style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek: Generations.
In this mission, you're tasked with defending an apparently worthless
colony from an attack by the enigmatic and ruthless Borg, only to find
out that the true villain is a deeply grief-stricken colonist that has
lured the Borg there in order to join his wife among their ranks of
assimilated drones. Much the same as ST:G's villain sought to achieve
his ultimate bliss by re-entering the Nexus at any cost, this deranged
engineer is willing to place the entire colony at risk for the chance
to be re-united with his former love, regardless of the prices he must
pay. The pathos and depth of this character is so real that I felt the
slightest pang of regret when I was forced to destroy him after he'd
ultimately achieved his goal of joining the Collective, in order to
save the rest of his colony from a similar fate.
This mission was crafted by a single player. Not an entire development
team. Cryptic Studios didn't have to pay the players' wages, or spend
their QA time readying the mission for release. They simply made sure
the Foundry tools worked and hoped for the best. And magic
Now, I'll be honest - for every mission like " style="font-weight: bold;">The Longing" there
probably end up being a hundred eye-rollingly terrible episodes.
But that's still one more mission that amounts to about an
hour's worth of new content for every single player in STO. Even at
such a low ratio of play-worthy:groan-worthy,
you're still looking at a worst-case scenario of dozens or even
hundreds of top-notch Trek experiences rolling out to the playerbase
upon the official launch of The Foundry.
To put that even further into perspective, Cryptic Studios has only
managed to add probably fewer than 30 new missions since it's launch
almost a year ago despite having a dedicated content creation team.
This number is likely to be dwarfed at least ten-fold within the first
week of The Foundry's public launch. And that's only counting the style="font-style: italic;"> good missions.
"piece of the action" you can call your very own ...
create it in the
Content drought? Not any longer! By putting the power of creation into
the hands of the rabid Star Trek fanbase which is well-known for its
fan fiction and roleplaying efforts, any concerns over content and
replay value are being directly addressed, if not completely eliminated.
Additionally, with the launch of this versatile toolset, the community
of STO is about to get a serious boost in viability and necessity. You
see, in order for any new missions to be played and rotated into a
featured slot, they must obtain positive reviews by players willing to
take a chance on unplayed and unreviewed missions. This means that, by
extension, authors of these new player-created missions will be trying
their best to advertise their missions to fleetmates, friends, groups,
random players, and STO fans in forums all over the web, in hopes of
eventually dethroning an established well-reviewed episode and taking
their place among the pantheon of awesome missions.
In other words, it won't matter how good the missions are, if nobody
plays them. And while this may sound like a negative statement on the
surface, it is actually a boon to a community that has otherwise become
highly insular, cliquish and isolated from one another due primarily to
the heavily-instanced nature of the game's server architecture. These
social boundaries are going to have to come crashing down, as authors
of new Star Trek epics will seek the means to get their stories heard
and experienced by as many people as possible.
And new communities will spring into existence, as well! With any
robust modding tool, experts will emerge from the rabble that are
willing and anxious to share their knowledge with others and bring more
users into their fold. We've seen it happen in every game that's ever
offered user-friendly content creation tools: style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter Nights, City
of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies, Quake, Half-Life, Oblivion, Fallout 3
and so many more. Each of these titles have developed long-term
dedicated players and content creators simply by offering the tools
that put the power of creation into the hands of the users.
It's not always just about creating, either. Sometimes it's as simple
as a random player experiencing a mission that they particularly
enjoyed or disliked, and contacting the author to share their
commentary. From there, acquaintances can blossom into friendships, and
sometimes even more.
Any tool that encourages the interaction of one
player with another is a tool that encourages the growth and strength
of the community those players belong to.
But I suppose many of you haven't read this article merely for the
rhetorical theories and projections I've been sharing up until this
point. More to the point, is
the Foundry worth the hype?
In a word, "Yes!"
But in many words, "Yes,
if you are willing to work for it."
The many various functions available at a glance in the Foundry's user
interface can seem a bit overwhelming to a user not well-versed with
other content creation tools available in the gaming industry. And the
fact that much of the UI is actually hidden from you until you need it
should give you an idea of just how many options are actually at your
fingertips. It is daunting at first glance.
Foundry offers an overwhelming amount of power and complexity all at
Fortunately, the many options available to you are for the most part
clearly labeled and obvious in their function. For example, XYZ
coordinates are clearly laid out for all items placed in the world and
can be edited by hand by changing their numeric values, but are also
easily changed using a simple click & drag interface to move
the objects in a real spacial representation of the zone.
And the simplicity of a click & drag interface doesn't end at
environment design, but also extends to the writing and crafting of
mission dialogues, story functions, quest objectives, zone transfers
and all those other little triggers and tricks that really bring a
mission instance to life.
To learn how to use the myriad of tools at your disposal is a learning
curve that may turn many off of the process entirely. In fact, I'm one
of them. I'll be brutally honest when I say that inserting complicated
triggers and story mechanics into a script I've prewritten offline is a
chore that I'm not prepared for, or willing to invest my time in
learning. And yet, even for me, there is still a chance that my stories
can come to life in STO, since collaborative efforts are already
springing up out of the woodwork as authors finish their primary
projects and begin to seek out new stories to tell and new audiences to
Although I am unwilling to submit myself to this learning curve, I have
to respect the fact that it exists. Because if the tools were easy
enough to learn and master in a single session, then they wouldn't be
worth the code they were written with. The simple fact that this
learning curve exists proves that the tool itself is robust and
full-featured enough to live up to the hopes (and fears) of the STO
players that have been eagerly anticipating getting their hands on it
since its announcement several months ago.
For those of you that may be willing to invest the time and effort
required to learn to effectively use these tools - and it style="font-style: italic;">will take time -
there are already a few great assets available online to get you
started on your journey to becomming the next great storyteller of Star
-- Created as a central depository for all things "UGC" (that's User
Generated Content). This indispensible site features video tutorials,
tips and tricks, as well as publicity for authors to have their
projects played and reviewed. It is quickly becoming the defacto
sub-community for all serious users of the Foundry.
Foundry Guide -- Wiki articles have always been my go-to for
instructions, since they are theoretically maintained by numerous
knowledgeable experts on any given subject. STOWiki is no exception in
this case, and offers one of the most comprehensive guides I've found
on getting started with the Foundry.
target="_top">Star Trek Online's Official Foundry Sub-forums
-- You can't truly call yourself a die-hard member of the STO community
without being willing to face the trolls and sneers of the game's
official forums. Fortunately, the sub-section dedicated to the Foundry
has a relatively supportive atmosphere and many great guides, as well
as a userbase willing to answer just about any question you might have
about your pet project. (Must
have an active subscription to post.)
The bottom line is that the Foundry is about to single-handedly
overhaul what is currently considered a mediocre offering in the MMOG
industry, into a community and content generation powerhouse that will
finally stand on its own merits as a unique and rewarding experience.
At the same time, by reaching out to the numerous storytellers that
populate the established Star Trek communities around the world, this
feature also presents the opportunity to bring forth a whole new wave
of interest and involvement to the game.
I suppose the public beta of this feature couldn't have come at a
better time of year, really. It's the ultimate Christmas present to
both the players and developers of STO. And a new lease on life for a
title that many have been saying was circling the drain.
So trim the tree and bake the fruitcake, for STO's savior has been
born this day.
question or comment about the Foundry? Or a favorite link for tips and
tricks on using this powerful tool? Leave a comment below and let your
User Generated Comment join the conversation!