A Different Kind of Indie Writer

Once again, I unfortunately find myself without much time to write a second blog post this week–I really should start ‘banking’ them so they’re ready when I need them–so we’re going to go with something quick and simple today.

I am, unapologetically, a dyed in the wool Trekkie. So naturally when I found out that the MMORPG Star Trek Online had gone Free to Play, I was excited. So I downloaded it, and I have to say it’s just awesome. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ll like this game. There are tons of references to the show, the continuity is solid, and the gameplay is fun. And hey, it’s Star Trek–what’s not to love?

But to the point. STO has a feature called the Foundry, where users can create their own “episodes” for other people to play in game. Now, game modding is nothing new; there’s a veritable cottage industry of game modders who create new content for existing games, which in some cases are more popular than the original.

Now, the thing about this game is that a lot of the missions get a bit repetitive. You orbit a planet, shoot down some starships, beam down and go head to head with more bad guys until you rescue someone or download some data or whatever. Rinse, wash, repeat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, but a lot of it is the same.
Enter the Foundry. Users–and most of the players in game seem to be die hard Trekkies who know their lore–can make up whatever stories they want. The best part is the robust tools the game developers have given their users–I haven’t made a mission myself yet, but it looks pretty straight forward for someone with a bit of experience. Players can open up the Foundry through the same menu they use to access in-game missions. After you play through it, there’s a chance to give a ‘tip’ to the person who created it using the in-game currency, so you can reward them for their hard work.

What does this all have to do with Indie Writers? Beyond making a mod for a game you enjoy, this gives a particular opportunity to create original work in the Star Trek Universe. For example, one of the things that always irked me a bit in Star Trek: The Next Generation was a hanging plot thread in the first season, where a race of parasitic beings try to infiltrate Starfleet. At the end of the episode, they send a signal, presumably to reinforcements–it’s a perfect chance to pick up the story again later on. But the writers of the show never did.

In the Foundry, one could write the “sequel” to that episode, and let players run through it in game. Or maybe you want to explore what happened to Thomas Riker after the DS9 episode “Defiant.” Or allow the player to travel back in time to deal with an Original Series era starship that mysteriously disappeared. One user has even created an episode called “A Klingon Honor Carol,” based on some familiar source material. These episodes can be text heavy (like the ones I’ve played so far, because I like the story element), or all about blowing up enemy ships. It’s your choice, and from what I’ve seen there’s demand for all sorts of missions.

The people who create these missions aren’t necessarily part of the Indie Writer Community–but they’re still creating original work on their own time, and I think that qualifies. The developers of the game run a “spotlight” where they highlight really good Foundry missions each month, and some of the user created content has even found its way into the official game. It’s a great opportunity for anyone who loves Star Trek to write the episodes they always wanted to see–then live them out as the captain of your own starship.

The downside is that you have to be a subscriber to the game in order to make missions. It makes sense–the developers still need to be profitable, and this is one of the areas in a free to play game that they can exploit for profit–but it’s unfortunate. As much as I enjoy this game, I don’t want to pay a monthly fee to play it, and there’s plenty of content accessible to people who don’t subscribe. For now, I’m content to play other people’s episodes and delve even deeper in to a fan-based Star Trek Universe.

Tune in on Monday for another Indie Review, where we’ll be talking about Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series!

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