JJ: This All Seems Familiar

Even now, space is STILL the final frontier….

Personal Log, May 30th, 2256

In the course of events, it has been recommended that I begin a new personal log separate from my notes during my years of training at Starfleet Academy.  Given the unusual circumstances of my new command of the USS Bowman, I find that I agree.  While I am in command, I am nonetheless not a Captain in rank, merely a Captain in command of this ship.  It is important that I remain mindful of this as I go forward.

To whom it may concern:  I am Lieutenant Jhudsui, a recent graduate of the Class of ’56 at Starfleet Academy.  I am a Mentassan, the first member of my species to thus graduate from the Academy.  My people are relative newcomers to the United Federation of Planets, but we were known to them for nearly eighty years, thanks to the efforts of Captain Jonathan Archer of the Enterprise.  We have spent a lifetime to come to a point where we could be permitted entry to the Federation, and it has been worth it.  I am the first to graduate, but I will not be the last; the dream of stars has been awakened in my people, and I do not believe we will ever go back.

My focus has been command, and I have trained in the defensive arts.  I am not the best shot, nor am I the best hand-to-hand fighter.  I am no grand strategist or tactician.  I am simply a sentient who tries to see the best in others, and in doing so, attempt to awaken the best in myself.  War is not what I sought when I joined Starfleet Academy, but if that is the path that is before me, I will walk it to its end.  And when I have done so, I will walk the path that I envisioned when I enlisted:  the path of exploration.

For the future.  End Log Entry.  Save.

It’s here at last: the latest offering from Star Trek Online, which incorporates elements from the latest Star Trek offering period.  The Age of Discovery is upon us!

Accordingly, with the new publish, with a new tutorial and set of missions (there aren’t many yet), I decided to make a new character to fit.  I went tactical, mainly because the whole premise was set around war with the Klingons (this is not the last familiar thing ahead).  The options for character species was at once limited and vast.  You could make a Human or a Vulcan.  Or, you could make an Alien.  Which is what I decided to do; I don’t really have many characters of my own alien designs, so I thought I’d do that with this character.

I’ll freely admit:  I broke down and started mashing the “random” button for the guy’s appearance.  I didn’t randomize the body, going with the default there with minor nudges; I’ve been known to play with that harder for aliens, but I figured I’d stick with the standard for that.  I was satisfied with the one I settled on.  I took the name from some old gaming article I read years and years go.  As far as the ship’s name…well, come on.  I’ve been known to make amusing nods to things before, and this one was no different.

With that, I was able to begin the tutorial!  It starts in Starfleet Academy, where one of my fellow students led me around to meet other graduating cadets who thanked me for their help, before sending me to see a captain who wanted me to take an advanced phaser test…hold on.  This all sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It should.  Take away the specific students and change the skins of the graphics, but it’s essentially identical to the regular Starfleet tutorial.  It goes on beyond what I’ve described all the way to an encounter with Klingons, a dead captain, and eventually meeting up with someone with ties to established Trek lore to help.  There is a divergence, where you don’t have to worry about the Borg showing up, but the mission beats are all there.  Don’t look for too much creativity on the missions.

The characters involved, however, are at least worth the time.  Cadet Tilly-portrayed by the same actress who plays the part in Star Trek: Discovery-is a lot more entertaining than Elisa Flores; I find that the doomed captain of your ship is a lot more interesting, too (and he actually has a sense of humor).  Your future bridge officers are a decent sort.

There are some things that kind of irritated me; while the phasers and torpedoes are portrayed as I imagine they are in Discovery (having not seen any episodes, I can’t make accurate comparisons, but they’re at least different than the TOS and 2409 era weapons), the existence of personal shields continues to be an irritation.  That’s probably not something anything can really be done away with, though-the game’s sort of built around the concept of personal shields, and they’ve already had them around for the Agents of Yesterday expansion, so this is a war that’s lost already.  The existence of holodecks, though, is a bit more annoying; I’ve done some research, and I can with effort justify the existence of the things in the Academy, but holographic communications instead of the viewscreens?  That said, it seems that this is something that’s been used on the show, so I can’t rightly gripe about it too much-it’s a sin of the show, not STO.

Post-tutorial, you wind up back at the Academy, instead of a space station like Earth Spacedock.  Looking at the episodes ahead, I suspect there’s a good reason for that.  More on that as I get there.

I suspect very strongly that I will not be putting in too many posts on this Chronicle in the near future-there just isn’t enough content.  Once I’ve completed it, it’s back to Selak.  But as stuff comes out related to AoD, I’ll revisit this character.  I’ll be interested to see just how long it takes before some temporal thing happens to throw the character to the 2409 era.

Let’s not panic. I know in the future we won’t have to worry about Klingons boarding, kidnapping the Captain, and forcing a cadet XO to take command.

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W&M: In Command

Those beacons are a lot bigger on the inside than you’d think.

Personal Log, Stardate 96352.35.

It seems that after a number of missions that seemed to involve Starfleet Intelligence in some way-or Security, too-our ship has been assigned to patrol a number of systems in the Beta Quadrant, away from Klingon space and closer to Romulan space.  Romulan space has been unsettled recently, with talk of a “Romulan Republic” forming out of the carcass of the Romulan Star Empire.  The Empire isn’t going quietly, though.  I’m having a hard time feeling a lot of sympathy.  It’s not so much their actions in the Dominion War-I wasn’t even alive when that happened, and if I was angry at the forces arrayed against Cardassia at that time, I wouldn’t be in Starfleet now.  No, it’s that they have always seemed to me to be corrupt, clandestine, self serving…reminds me of the stories of the Obsidian Order.

At least we haven’t run into too many Romulans-although I can’t say we’ve avoided them entirely.  We did run into a pair of defectors from the Klingon Empire, who gave us some useful intelligence to pass on to Starfleet-although that almost got us in the middle of a big mess.  We also managed to assist a colony of Ferengi, who honestly extorted us.  Whoever made that deal on the behalf of Starfleet needs to be given a remedial course on how to deal with Ferengi.  Saying “we’ll pay you back later” can be interpreted as a blank check to have them call on any Starfleet vessel to bail them out.  Which is exactly what happened.

There’s good news that came out of all this.  Starfleet Command has sent over a list of approved promotions, and it seems that one of them includes someone I hadn’t expected-me!  I’m to return to Earth for assignment to a new ship as a Commander.  I’ve asked that my bridge crew be permitted to accompany me, and the initial reactions I’m seeing indicate that there won’t be any problems here.  I don’t know much about what the ship is, but I’ve been warned that it won’t be a science vessel like the Runner.  So I’ll have to adapt my command style accordingly.  A new challenge!

Computer, end log.

Before we go to the Age of Discovery in Star Trek Online, we’ll take a last look at the progress being made by my Cardassian captain in Starfleet.  Selak has finally gotten past the level 20 barrier, assisted in no small part by doing patrol missions.

A little background:  patrol missions are remnants, in a way, of the STO-that-was; usually involving going into a system and fighting five or six groups of foes, on the ground or in orbit around a planet.  These were not what you’d consider plot heavy; they’re sort of what you would expect a ship would be doing between televised episodes, like investigating strange cocoons or examining odd artifacts-or fighting off a series of Romulan ships blockading satellites.  Originally, they were a part of a set of missions assigned by Captain Sulu, but nowadays they are available if you happen to be close enough to a planet that has such a mission linked to it.  Players who have leveled via traditional means-by using the episodes-will have seen at least one or two of these associated with a planet that was the focus of an episode.  The xp from these missions isn’t bad, although not equal to the xp from episodes-but they also tend to take a lot less time than the episodes, too.  Unfortunately, to my awareness, once you’ve done a patrol, it’s done-it’s not repeatable.

In combination with duty officer work and Foundry missions, I was able to push out of the mid-teen doldrums past level 20.  I’ll keep my choices for the next ship under wraps until the next W&M post, but in the meantime, here’s some thoughts on a pair of Foundry missions I did to help me through the Lieutenant Commander levels.

Ferengi have 178 words for “rain”. I wonder which one this is.

“Beckon Me Unto Beacons” is an offering from velocitore, and it takes place while patrolling the Cernan system.  If you’ve run any missions in space at all in STO, you’ve probably seen the beacons that help with navigation at times-those blinking lights that guide you to important waypoints.  Those beacons actually become a fairly important plot point here, as they aren’t transmitting any data.  This is because of the presence of a pair of “traitors” to the Klingon Empire, which has caused a bit of a conflict between a Klingon task force and a Federation cargo transport.  It turns out, though, that these traitors have some information that could rock the Klingon Empire-and certain interests don’t want that info coming out.  The mission isn’t too long, and it has some decent character work.  Something I found interesting was the use of dialogue options that didn’t involve your character at all-sort of like a cut to a different scene during a show, where the villains get to pontificate a bit.  That’s something that’s missing from some computer games in general:  a chance to see what the other side is thinking or planning, and to help flesh out the opposition a bit instead of just making them threatening faces on a viewscreen.  If I ever design a Foundry episode (don’t get the hopes up), that’s a technique I’ll have to remember.

The next offering is “Brains Before Bounty”, a tale from dixonium, which takes place in the Hana system.  A trader contacts you to request assistance on the behalf of Quintoona Quarry, a Ferengi mining colony.  Nausicaans have taken up residence, and are causing all sorts of problems.  The Ferengi governor wants help, and he claims that you’re required to do so by contract.  Don’t remember signing a contract with Ferengi?  That won’t help you….  This is another nice one-and done mission, where you investigate the presence of the Nausicaans and find out why they’re here, and what is wrong with the Ferengi on the colony.  It’s not a complicated mission by any stretch, and like the one above, it’s not a very long mission either.  If you’re looking to just run a couple Foundry missions to fill in some gaps in your leveling, or if you just want to have a short gameplay session, you could do a lot worse than run through these missions.

With the launch of the Age of Discovery-TODAY!-Selak will be put on the back burner for a little bit.  There’s a lot coming down the pike beyond just the story, and I’ll be putting up some of my thoughts on the changes next time.

Discovering New Character(s)

Well, it looks like we have a date for the Age of Discovery patch for Star Trek Online.  Mark October 9 on the calendar, barring last minutes surprises that delay things.  (It’s possible; while I know most devs will push through regardless of game breaking bugs, they will certainly hold off if those bugs benefit the player in any meaningful way.)

With that, the “Ways & Means” chronicle will be put on hold after the next post-at least for a week or two.  A lot depends on how the content for AoD is going to be delivered.  As I recall, they had talked about releasing content along with actual episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.  So, we’ll see how things shake out.  I imagine there will need to be at least a couple of episodes (some of which have gotten their TV Guide-like synopses on the STO site) ready to go.  I’m still dubious about them being able to handle episodes on a weekly basis-I was impressed as hell when they were pulling monthlies during the Iconian War arc.  It’s possible they’ve developed a backlog of Discovery-related episodes for the game and will be able to meet that kind of schedule, or maybe they’ve already walked back their original intentions.

It seems likely at this point-without having gone on the test servers-that this is not replacing the 2409 tutorials, but is rather going to be treated similar to the Agent of Yesterday storyline:  you’ll make a character that has their missions/maps in the past, and then at some point some temporal action will take place that will kick the character to the present day.  All that said…the missions for AoD sound like they’ll be accessible to current captains as “historical records” to play through.  I don’t know if that means “historical for both Starfleet and Klingon factions”, though.  I get some potential amusement from the idea of using my TOS-era captain who got shot into 2409 to play historical DSC-era content.  (I’m pretty sure that, despite the amusement of the alternative abbreviations, that DSC is the preferred one for Discovery.)

This is why I hate time travel.  :)

Anyway, it’s a little over a week away, so I anticipate maybe one more W&M post, before figuring out what the heck kind of character to make for AoD.  The good news is I can at least experiment ahead of time for appearance, because I got the Discovery uniform when they were promoting Discovery’s CBS debut.  Of course, I imagine that everyone will be getting it now, which only makes sense because it’d be stupid to have episode arcs dedicated to that era without having the uniforms available.  I’ll have to hunt down some uniform coloring guides….

W&M: One-Shots

Parties are more fun when they aren’t hosted by the scum of the galaxy.

Personal Log, Stardate 96311.84.

The last of the Saurian Brandy that we swiped from Zevon Chojin’s party was served out last night.  It was good to have finally gotten rid of it.  I don’t regret taking it from a slaver, but I can’t help but think that it was probably purchased from credit gained by the slave trade.

I won’t deny, though, that it felt good to put him into Security’s hands, though.  I just wish I could have hit him a few more times in the face.  He and his “Matron” deserve everything they get from the Judiciary.  I put in my recommendation that they be tried under the Cardassian method of justice, but unsurprisingly, the Federation disagreed.  Ordinarily, I’d be right there with them, but I think they deserve no presumption of innocence in this case.

I hate slavers.  Who knew?

But at least he’ll face Romulan justice instead of the Federation’s overly lenient version.  It’ll have to do.

Shipwise, we’re still sorting out the mess at Behrens Station, after the Klingon attack.  I’m still not exactly happy with my performance on the station.  I can’t help but feel that a better captain would have found a way to keep everyone alive.  Rationally, I know better-there was no time.  We couldn’t split up-there were too many enemies that would have overwhelmed a smaller away team.  Communications were out and….

Damn.  It was too much like Kobayashi Maru.  But I think that the Maru’s the only reason I managed to keep it together at the time.  And I’ll use this as motivation to find better ways, so it doesn’t happen again.  It’s all I can do.

I hate fighting wars.

Computer, end log.

It’s been a busy week, particularly with my home computer deciding that it wanted to cause problems recently.  I suspect a new computer purchase may be happening sooner than later.  But I did manage to find some time to put Selak through a couple more adventures in Star Trek Online, courtesy of the Foundry.  I’m not sure how much longer this will go before I get sidetracked by the upcoming Age of Discovery patch, because I’ll probably develop something for that, too.  But heck, it’s not the first time I’ve put characters on hiatus for extended periods, as my chronicles for Anthrandos and Sorshan in Star Wars: The Old Republic demonstrate.

Nothing bad ever happens at a baryon sweep facility. (Hm, I’m getting a call from Captain Picard….)

So:  this time around, I grabbed a pair of missions that, for once, were not a part of an extended storyline.  After all, Star Trek made its rep on one-and-done episodes; big story arcs weren’t a big thing on most of the versions of Trek floating around.  And I certainly don’t mind-after all, they make good breathers from major storylines.

First on the list is an offering by djxprime, “A Price for Eurydice”.  This mission takes place near the Sardah system, and begins with a rescue operation:  a civilian liner had been ambushed by raiders, and two other starships were coming to assist-in addition to your own.  It turns out to be tied to a slaver operation, and after dealing with the attacks on the liner, your PC will be pursuing them to a slave auction.  This is a bit more upper class than the one seen in the Enterprise episode “Borderland”, but it’s still a slave ring.  The subject matter may be uncomfortable to some, but the episode was decently put together.  The party was a high point-lots of NPCs, some of which could be interacted with, and one of whom was more than they seemed-not to mention the major antagonists there, too.  The ground portion of the ships, on the other hand, weren’t all that impressive-but I admit, there’s not much you can do with corridors.

The second mission was “Clean Sweep”, by RogueEnterprise.  This is a spiritual successor, in some ways, to a Star Trek Next Generation episode, where the Enterprise had to undergo a “Baryon sweep” which required everyone to be offboard the ship-which led to someone trying to steal some trilithium resin from the Enterprise.  This mission ups the stakes, though:  for starters, the base here is servicing multiple ships-it’s one of the largest around, based in the Servin system.  And it’s responsible for servicing ships going to and from the Klingon front.  Gosh, that would mean it’d make a damned peachy target, wouldn’t it?  The Klingons agree:  and before you know it, you’ll find yourself trapped on the decks of a starship undergoing its own sweep-with much of its crew still on board.  So, in short, PCs will have to deal with both Klingons and whoever managed to start up the early sweeps-before the Klingons destroy all the ships and the facility.  No pressure.  I’ll give full credit for the writer here for keeping the sense that time was a factor:  you got to see the sweeps advance at certain points to give you the impression that bad things were going to happen if you didn’t keep moving.  Plus, there’s a nice little moral dilemma as alluded to in Selak’s log above.  I don’t believe it made a big difference to the mission itself in terms of objectives, but it was a nice touch to remind a captain that sometimes, there aren’t any easy answers.

Again, the Foundry missions are proving to be a slow-going method of advancing a character, but I’m going to say that’s counterbalanced by the fact that it’s great to be playing missions that I haven’t played a dozen times before.  That makes this whole experiment worthwhile.  No new player queues to play with this time-there’s a Breach event rolling right now, but that’s not open to low level characters unless something changed when I wasn’t looking.

The Cast List: Introducing Victor Storm of Star Trek Online

In Star Trek Online, in the days when it was just starting out, I had created a couple of Starfleet captains.  One was a Tactical captain in an Engineering ship-a Cruiser; one was a Science captain in a Tactical ship-an Escort.  So, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that when I made up my third Starfleet captain, he would be an Engineering captain in a Science ship.  Beyond that, though, I wasn’t sure of anything except the name, which was something I’d been looking for an excuse to use for ages.

Then I realized that all my captains and their crews were fairly normal.  (This was well before my Borg Science captain got access to androids, holograms, and Borg officers.)

Some extra explanation is probably in order here.  I’ve been a reader of Star Trek novels for…well, practically since they started making Star Trek novels.  For the most part, the novels tended to be one-and-done affairs, much like the average episodes of the assorted series.  The timeline would vary wildly, from the early years of Kirk’s Enterprise to the post-Motion Picture years, and sometimes a bit beyond.  (They had to walk carefully to not step on the movies after; Wrath of Khan thru Final Frontier were pretty tight, timeline-wise.)  Later, they started alternating with Picard’s Enterprise, then came Deep Space Nine, Voyager….

And the novels evolved, too, starting to experiment.  There were storylines that crossed between the assorted series, although Kirk’s crew never interacted with the others, thanks to the time gap between them.  And eventually, the people in charge of the novels decided to green light something really experimental:  a series based on a ship that had never appeared in a show, with a crew that mixed brand new creations with bit characters from the shows; it was branded “New Frontier”, written by Peter David.  How big was this?  It introduced Mackenzie Calhoun, a character who not only got his own action figure at the time, but also is present in STO!  His crew wound up being…well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly scream decorum as far as Starfleet regs might prefer.  TV Tropes calls them a “Ragtag Bunch of Misfits“, and they aren’t wrong.  But they took off, and other writers in the Trek setting noticed this.  Not long after, we had books based on Picard’s pre-TNG days on the Stargazer, we had a ship that was cobbled together from the wrecks of a number of others in Kirk’s era, we got a space station around that same era that had its own secrets…and all of them had crews that were closer to Calhoun’s example than Kirk, Janeway, or Picard’s gangs (Neelix notwithstanding).

These are just the relatively normal members of the crew….

So, I embraced this idea with Victor Storm, a Betazoid captain.  Over his career, the character managed to get the Breen, Reman, and Jem’Hadar bridge officers from the feature episodes of the day, the Borg from my preorder, and a Mirror Universe officer thanks to picking up those uniforms as part of a pack.  If/when I pick his story up again (I’m still kicking around a Cast List Revival Party at some point), he’ll probably grab a bunch of those other ones that have become available, like the Hierarchy bridge officer in the Delta Rising expansion-and possibly make use of some other extras I’d picked up over the years.  In other words, I had my own “ragtag bunch of misfits”.

Because of this nature, I eschewed a standard uniform…mostly.  I took a Jupiter variant and applied it to the “normal” Starfleet crew, but my Mirror Universe rep got a Mirror Universe outfit to match, and my Breen, Reman, and Jem’Hadar boffs couldn’t be customized.  If I get around to messing around with his bridge crew slots, I’m going to phase out the remaining “normal” crew for the crazytown ideas; I’ve got at least a few Jem’Hadar thanks to “Victory is Life” to play with, a couple of others, maybe bring an android into the mix….

You get the idea.

The ship I chose kind of evolved over time, but settled on a Solonae Science Destroyer, the Phaethon, an oddly hi-tech choice for this sort of crew.  It was that or the Obelisk Carrier, which was around at roughly the same period of time, and I wasn’t quite ready to mess around with carriers at that point.  (I should eventually have someone go primary on that ship, but I’m not sure how I’d get it given my circumstances…although that new T6 rep could come in handy there.  That’s an awful lot of work, though, for a sub T6 ship.)

Much like my other STO characters featured here, Victor’s gotten to level 50, and not much further.  No specializations at this point, although if the Revival Party happens, he’s bound to get at least one, maybe two spec points.  And I’m dead certain the bridge crew shuffle will continue, because…well, see “ragtag bunch  of misfits” above.

W&M: The Hazards of Starfleet Security

Gorn diplomacy at its finest

Personal Log, Stardate 96295.47.

I suppose that it was inevitable that sooner or later, I would wind up having to deal with Starfleet Security.

As a concept, I have no great objection to them.  They are certainly more honest than, for example, the old Obsidian Order back on Cardassia.  They operate off of rules and regulations that are known, even if they themselves must operate in a somewhat secretive manner at times.  After the mess with this “Section 31” and the Soptillian, it was probably deemed a good idea to have me work with something other than an intelligence operation.

That said, Captain Ross is an…unusual sort of captain.  His team is an eclectic bunch, and it makes me wonder if that sort of thing is the norm for Starfleet Security.  The mission to Iffar demonstrated, though, that they were at least a competent crew.  We were all dead wrong about it being related to the Undine, though….

Things were less certain with the Conclave incident.  I still don’t know how they managed to get a working [REDACTED] to use against [REDACTED]; I can’t imagine the scale of death that would have caused.  Given the nature of the mission, I find that I can’t blame Ross too much for keeping me in the dark.  I hope he doesn’t blame me for my own small act of insubordination when it was all over; as my Academy classmates would have said, he sort of deserved it.

Computer, end log.

Something is becoming apparent with my use of the Foundry missions in Star Trek Online; namely, advancing a character solely through this means is going to be a far slower affair than it has been in the past.  I may have to start supplementing the missioning with use of the Duty Officer system if I want to get out of the teens in Selak’s levels.  On the other hand, hey, it’s giving me far less repetitive posts because the Foundry means I’m putting up stuff I haven’t done with other characters a dozen times before.

I also did a quick run of another of the queues that became available:  the Starbase 24 action.  Once upon a time, Starbase 24 was a fleet action sort of deal, where you could fly to the base on the sector map, auto-join with other characters to fight off an attack on the Starbase, then board the Starbase and repel the attackers there.  That was a long, long time ago, though.  Now, it’s just a queue, and completely space-based as well.  As a result, it’s not much more than your standard “go in, blow up Klingons, blow up more Klingons, game over.”  Maybe it’s intended to be that way since it is a lower level queue, but still….

This is as good a time as any to remark on some queue related news, as well.  Last week, Cryptic/PWE announced that they’re renaming the queue system to “Task Force Operations”.  Because that’ll totally make a difference.  I guess I can at least save on keystrokes typing TFO, but that’ll just confuse people if I don’t type the whole name early in a post.  So don’t expect me to call it other than what it still is:  a queue.  That said:  another thing being introduced in the Age of Discovery publish will be the idea of random TFOs (damn it, I’m actually doing it…well, I already defined it above…).  It’s exactly what it says on the tin:  you can click for a queue and get assigned to a random queue mission, ground or space-you have as much chance as ending up in a Breach scenario as you do an Infected-Space run.  And there will, of course, be rewards for doing so in the form of your choice of marks and Dilithium.  This is in addition what you’d get from a “normal” run.  Whether this will be enough incentive is an open question:  I know some people (like me) tend to stay away from ground queues.  That may be a turn-off.  On the other hand, there’s no cooldown for using the random button; you can hit it again immediately after exiting.  This sounds like a terrific way to grind up marks and Dilithium, and that alone may be the best incentive to do this stuff.

Not all of the queues will be available in this; the 10-man missions are out, the PvPvE queues are out, the shuttle queues are out, and so forth.  There’s a post on the official site that has details along with more specific reward details.  I’ll leave it to the reader to go check that out.

There’s also news about “streamlining the mission journal”.  Which, shockingly, includes references to “removing content until we can improve it”.  So, if you’re a fan of the current missions in the Klingon War arc, better do ’em now, because you’ll likely never see them again.  My thoughts on content removal are well documented at this point, so I won’t belabor it here.

In defense of a colony world with the most dangerous weapon in the galaxy on it.

Onto the good stuff.  This time, I’ll put up some thoughts on a pair of missions that focus on Starfleet Security:  “Gemini” and “Polarity” by Gorgonops.  And there is a lot to like about these missions.

Firstly, the dialogue.  You tend to interact with an interesting group of Security officers; if you’re a fan of the deadly serious, you probably will cringe a bit, but most of the quirkiness is optional dialogue, so you can ignore most of it to your heart’s content.  And there IS plenty of optional dialogue that you don’t have to go through if you don’t want to-say, if you want to speed run the missions.  (I didn’t speed-run.  Obviously.)  Even more impressive was the fact that the author put time into having dialogue windows that fit your captain’s situation:  if you were in 2409 prior to the Iconian War, or after the Iconians revealed themselves; if you were a Federation captain or a Romulan captain aligned with the Federation; and if you’d done the “Gemini” mission before running “Polarity” or not.  These are touches I appreciate and give the impression that yes, things happen in the galaxy, and various captains will be doing them.  (There’s even a couple that you can select if you are Andorian or Vulcan!)  That said:  it’s not like the Foundry offers these JUST to captains who qualify; the Foundry isn’t that good-you could chose any of those options even if you don’t qualify.  It’s a limit of the tool.

Some of the maps here are terrific too.  I don’t know if they’re prebuilt from the Foundry tool or if the author built them all from scratch, but they look great.  There’s one instance where a waypoint doesn’t show up correctly, and the author acknowledges that literally at that point in the mission; bugs happen.  If I were to make a single recommendation, it would be for a note when you beam into that map that you take note of where you are, because you’ll need to get to it again later.  Pity those with poor memory.  Could go running around that map for a long time….

The storylines are mostly independent of each other; it’s not a requirement to play “Gemini” before “Polarity”, and they are self-contained stories, which means you don’t have to worry about cliffhangers.  There are certainly references to “Gemini” in “Polarity”, but they don’t require you to know them.  The first storyline involves a mystery that points to Undine infiltration, while the other storyline…well, Captain Ross is dead set on not telling you anything helpful as you go along-and it gets justified hard when the truth comes out.  I won’t spoil it further here; it’s a great “oh crap” moment.

Highly recommend both missions.  There are also two other missions in this arc of stories, but they’re level-gated to level 51 or higher, so it will be a while before I can get to them.  That’s okay-there are other Foundry missions waiting, with other authors, and it wouldn’t be fair to monopolize, would it?

Reputation Matters

In Star Trek Online, the upcoming Age of Discovery episode release will be including an update to the existing Reputation system.  Think World of Warcraft’s faction grinding and put a sci-fi spin on it.  That’s sort of what the Rep system in STO is.  There are five tiers, with each giving access to equipment and special abilities.  There are a LOT of Reputations available, which makes life mildly horrific for altoholics; that’s the price of doing business.  Well, we’ve got a new tier coming up-and it’s not going to be just for any new Reputation revealed for AoD.  It’s going to be applied to all the reputations.  (Well, except maybe the Event Reputation, which plays by somewhat different rules anyway.)

A post on STO’s site goes into details, but here are some of the highlights that caught my attention.

  • Reaching Tier 5-the current max, remember-will automatically grant sponsorship account-wide.  Sponsorship was the means to help those aforementioned altoholics by means of purchasing a sponsorship token you could give to your other characters on the account with rep marks, and it effectively halved the time and resources to advance that character in that reputation.  Now, it’ll happen automatically; no grinding required, no single token purchases-it’s automatic.  I’m a big fan of this one.  Doesn’t guarantee I’m going to actually push a heap of characters down the Reputation path, but I approve simply on principle.
  • Reaching Tier 6, among other things, will grant a character a Fleet Module and a Retrain Token.  This will be once per character-because these are things purchasable on the C-Store, and I’m dubious Cryptic/PWE are interested in killing another revenue stream.  I’ve not seen any clarification on that at this time.  Still, that could be a big thing.  Fleet Modules are the only way to get Fleet Ships (well, in combination with a Fleet Shipyard capable of building them, I think), and you usually need about four plus whatever other resources are involved to purchase them.  The Fleet Ships tend to be fancier/better versions of existing ships.  Given the sheer number of Reputations, it’s not unreasonable to presume that you could get a pair of Fleet Ships from advancing to Tier 6 in a bunch of reputations.  I’m pretty sure that the goodies here will be character bound, not account bound-and I’m almost certain they won’t be sellable on the exchange…but I’ve been wrong before.
  • Account-wide Rep Gear discounts-well, at least as far as energy credits and Dilithium.  You’ll still need to grind off the Reputation’s Elite Marks though, but I think the regular marks will still be discounted.  This is at Tier 6, but you can’t argue with an account-wide benefit.  Well, you could, but I won’t.

Now, there are other benefits, but I’m not going to go through their post and just regurgitate it here-I just wanted to hit the things that got my attention.  There’s no indicator as to the requirements to advance to Tier 6, either-but it’s logical to assume that it may take as long as it did for you to reach Tier 5 for a given Reputation, with the corresponding amount of resources spent.  I don’t THINK Elite Marks will be used to advance…but I can’t rule that out either.

Regardless of how one might feel about the Age of Discovery coming up, the change to Reputations should at least shake things up and possibly get people back onto some of those lesser-used queues and Battlezones.

W&M: Ice, Ice, Baby

U.S.S. Runner, ready for duty

Personal Log, Stardate 96256.50.

It’s been a while since I updated this log.  Where to start?

Should I start with the fact that my first round as a first officer wound up with me taking over after Klingons killed the Captain and winding up in a running battle with the Borg?  That seems like it should be the first thing I start with.  My ship’s logs can tell that tale better than I can.  So even though I was a raw cadet, I was in command of a ship-and, in the parlance of the humans, it has “stuck”.  In fact, it has been an absurdly short time and I have been promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and put in command of a Rhode Island-class ship, the Runner.

It’s a testament to the ferocity of the war against the Klingons that people are being promoted at a rate far faster than is normal.  We are in an odd situation where we have too many ships, and not enough crews.  The war is forcing the best officers to take command far sooner than they should-and I hope that it doesn’t end badly for them.  Us.

The first action in the Runner got us involved with what appeared to be a rogue agency called “Section 31”.  We found out, though, that things weren’t necessarily as they seemed.

To start with

Alert:  the remainder of this entry has been redacted by Starfleet Intelligence.

Computer, end log.

Time to look in on my new Starfleet Cardassian, Selak, in Star Trek Online.  He’s broken the level 10 barrier; during that time, I went though the early missions again, and I’ve noted a number of updates since the last time I went through-for example, a very early encounter with Quark from DS9, and Captain La Forge being heavily involved with the early missions as well.  But once I got to level 10, and grabbed a new Science ship, I decided to go off the rails right off the bat.

The first thing I did was take advantage of a current queue being featured, the Romulan Minefield.  This is a pretty straightforward mission, where the gathered captains go to rescue freighters from the Romulans-and blow up the Romulans at the same time.  It eventually culminates in a fight with a Scimitar-class warbird, complete with thalaron weapon.  There’s a number of hints that are given out on how to deal with the queue at this level-I don’t know if that persists with later level brackets-and I didn’t really need them, but I think they’d be very helpful to new players.  So, props to the devs on that one.

That silhouette does not fill me with confidence….

The next step was fulfilling my promise to myself that I’d make heavy use the the Foundry for my leveling.  This means that it tends to be very slow-I mean, I can knock down regular episodes fairly quickly, but some of the Foundry missions are significantly longer.  But that’s okay with me; I mean, I’m at the point where I enjoy the experience.  If I were a power-gamer, I’d hardly be going through so many alt characters, I’d think.  So, I’m only running into the teens with my level, but I’m playing stuff that I’d be willing to bet most of the playerbase hasn’t.

Instead of selecting a mission through the Foundry interface, I decided to go a different route.  Popular missions that are “hooked” to a star system often come up as options to play when you are close enough to enter the system in sector space.  So, I stayed close to home and went to the Wolf 359 system-infamous for the first major fleet battle against the Borg (final score:  Borg: 39.  Starfleet: 0), and chose a mission.  And to make it more interesting, I chose the one that was “part one” of a multi-mission story arc.  Thus, Selak’s redacted log above, and thus, my following comments on “The Ice Cube”, written by TechieTrekie.

The mission opens with a seemingly routine mission-albeit a top secret one-by Admiral Quinn near Wolf 359.  It didn’t take long to get jumped by Klingons near a class-L ice planet.  It wasn’t long before a cloaked Starfleet ship revealed itself, captained by an operative claiming to be a member of the mysterious Section 31.  Okay, it’s not that mysterious, but figure this is a new captain with no previous exposure to that group.  Still, he had the codewords that Quinn used to verify that he was our contact there, and things ramp up from there.  While it seems at first to be a fairly innocuous “clean up the Klingon mess” sort of mission, it soon develops into a mission that involves a first contact-at a location that shouldn’t be there (but the arc does eventually explain how that something that shouldn’t be there IS).

These are pretty long missions, especially if you pride yourself on reading the material.  Additionally, the third mission doesn’t offer the standard Foundry rewards-which is acknowledged by the developer in the mission description as well-I recommend playing it through, though, since it’s very much story related, and heck, it’s the shortest of the four missions.  Why deprive yourself of the full story, right?  Folks out for mission rewards above all can skip it, though, without losing a whole lot.  Really, though, if one is only out for mission rewards, there are easier ways to do that than using the Foundry.

The plot manages to hold together pretty well, and inconsistencies that crop up turn out to actually have reasons behind them.  The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, though-while it resolves the plot of the arc, it’s obvious that it was intended to lead into another story arc.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the sole arc related to this story.  It’s a pity-it did a pretty good job on showcasing what the Foundry is capable of.  But having looked at the Foundry editor myself and fiddled with it once or twice, I can appreciate the time it takes to put something like this together-and this was done for four missions!  Much respect to Foundry authors-it’s why I always make sure to donate dilithium at the end in appreciation.

The only regret I have is that, due to availability recently, and to the time taken by a Foundry mission (plus the time to take notes so I can figure out what to write about coherently) which leads to fewer rewards gained, I haven’t gained a lot in the way of levels.  Only midway through the character teens right now, so it’s slow going.  When I can free up more time, I expect things to go smoother and faster.

The Cast List: Introducing Jennifer Rodgers of Star Trek Online

When a new faction in Star Trek Online rolls around, I tend to try to make two or three characters in the faction, one representing each career:  Tactical, Engineering, or Science.  When the “Agents of Yesterday” expansion landed, my main character there-Rick Masters-was an Engineering guy.  So that gave me two other branches to play with.  Additionally, I had managed to acquire a temporal ship due to buying one of the cheaper packs on sale, so I had motivation to get at least another character up to level 50.

I chose to go with a Tactical captain for this one:  Jennifer Rodgers, another temporal refugee.  She’s a product of her time:  shoot first and ask questions later.  I usually try to go for a consistent look for each of my Starfleet characters and bridge officers (barring the “outsider” boffs), and I chose to go an unusual route-at least for me.  I kept the general color scheme of the current Starfleet “generic” outfits (the Odyssey outfits, for those wondering), but went with one of the Jupiter style of uniform.  I think it worked out great (check the picture to the left).  One of the bridge crew members has a visually different look to indicate her status as a medic.  There’s a style guide floating out there somewhere that had been released by the dev team as far as uniform colors for the Odyssey uniforms go, and I stayed with it for the most part even though I applied them to the Jupiter look.

The “final” starship for Captain Rodgers-the U.S.S. Champion-was indeed a Temporal vessel.  Specifically, a Paladin-class temporal battlecruiser.  In a bit of amusement, I named it for the tier-1 ship that Rick Masters had used prior to jumping to the “present” day.  I do things like that to amuse myself sometimes, even if it’s a bit of a paradox (after all, the storylines assume that your part in the story is unique-or maybe Agent Daniels really screwed up the timeline…).

As with most of the Cast List STO Captains, Jennifer has cracked into level 50+, but not much further.  High enough to be flying a T6 ship, but not enough to get a lot of use out of it.  One of these days, I should consider doing some kind of personal event where I break out all of my Cast List Captains and have them do something that’d tie them together somehow.  Maybe a bunch of Foundry missions in an arc, with a captain doing a separate mission and passing it on to the next?  I’ll have to think about that.  It just seems a shame to have so many characters lying fallow, and it’d be neat to give some of them an additional push for more levels.  Come to think of it, it’s an issue with most of the MMOs I play.  I’ll have to think about this some more.  Surely, I can find something to do with all these alts to freshen things up.

W&M: The Chronicle of Selak Kayal

Toasting with a class doomed to die…

Personal Log, Stardate 96196.53.

Today is Graduation Day.  Today, I can look back on the previous four years and marvel at the direction of my life.

If things had gone a little differently, I would still be on Cardassia, likely working as a clerk for the Detapa Council.  Or perhaps I’d be on one of the agricultural colonies.  I would’ve been a disappointment, to my family and to myself, squandering my potential.  But when the United Federation of Planets reached out to worlds other than theirs and offered a chance to join their Starfleet, I took a chance.  I’d be an alien, among other aliens.  I knew that many still hold grudges for the actions of my people during the Dominion War, decades ago.  Despite this, I felt that I had a chance to do something meaningful with my life-as a scientist, and perhaps as a Cardassian.

It is foolish to think that I can be an example to the Federation of a Cardassian uninterested in control.  I just want to do the best I can; being a representative of a people is too much.  That is more pressure than any Cardassian-any individual-should have to shoulder.

But maybe I don’t have to.  Despite the reputation of my species, I’ve made friends as well as rivals.  I’ve earned the respect of my peers.  I’ve honed my mind with as much as I could learn from my teachers, from biology, geology, astrometrics, temporal theory, xenochemistry and more.  I may not be a leading expert in any of these fields, but I’ve learned a lot about many-hoping that this would allow me a better shot at an assignment on a science vessel.

I’ve heard rumors that I may get my wish.  I’m cautiously optimistic.  I’m concerned that I might end up on the front lines of the Klingon War.  If that’s the case, I’ll go-I just think I’d be wasted there.  But I’m hoping for better.

From the banging on my door, it sounds like Flores is trying to get me to come out.  In a few hours, I’ll know where I’ll be assigned, and what my assignment will be.  I’d best go now.

Computer, end log.

Welcome to my next character chronicle.  (Hm, I should consider making an official category/tag called Character Chronicle….)

Since I had no real preference as to what game I wanted to mess around with again, I let Fate decide by rolling dice.  Star Trek Online became the winner on this one.  And of course, that set up everything that came after it-but I still had some room to do random determinations.

So, the next step was determining which faction to play.  I knew I was looking for one of the factions I hadn’t really done a chronicle with before, so that narrowed it down to Romulans or Starfleet (the current one, not the 23rd century one).  So flipping a coin got me in Starfleet’s shoes.  The next step was character species-and this one wasn’t one I’d be doing randomly.  Since the release of the “Victory is Life” expansion, players have been able to roll up Cardassian characters, with the caveat that they weren’t their own faction, but rather, available for either Starfleet or the Klingons.  I had planned to do the Cardassian experience next, particularly in light of the fact that I’d picked up their ships (but those are high-tier ships, so we’ll be flying strictly Starfleet issue for now).  So thus, Selak Kayal.  The random determination came into play again with the career he’d follow-which came up as Sciences.  I was pretty happy about that-I have mentioned in the past a predilection for playing Tactical captains, so I’m pleased to have another captain who isn’t in that mold.

With the decision to play a Starfleet character comes a difficulty.  See, while I haven’t done the Starfleet experience in one of these chronicles, I have done the 23rd century faction with it.  And the problem there is that…well…it means I’ve already done all the missions for Starfleet in the course of that chronicle, with the exception of the tutorial missions-which is covered in this post.  So what do I do to avoid repeating myself again?

The answer to that comes with what I’d planned on filling my KDF experience with:  the Foundry and queues.  Now, as readers may recall, I had a hard time leveling via just those to fill the time, so why would I think this would be any different?  The answer shouldn’t be surprising, and is saddening in many ways.

First command and already hitting the Borg. This is probably a bad career omen.

The simple truth is that there are a lot more Federation aligned characters being played than there are KDF characters.  I bet if I peeked at the Romulans closely, there would prove to be more Federation aligned Romulans than Klingon aligned ones.  Same with the new Jem’Hadar subfaction.  And of course, the TOS-era captains are Starfleeters with a different tutorial.  Everything in the game leans harder towards the Federation characters in missions designed for all factions; after all, most of them were designed for Starfleet first.  Even newer missions tend to assume that.  And it feeds on itself:  more content is designed with Starfleet in mind, thus more players gravitate toward Starfleet, which means more content is developed for Starfleet, from uniforms to ship selection to mission dialogue-which leads to people preferring Starfleet, which…and so on, and so on, and so on.

This also means that the bulk of the players inclined to develop Foundry missions are also Starfleet players first.  So there are a heap more missions available for Starfleet than for the Klingons.  I feel that this should give me a solid leveling experience-as long as the Foundry is up, that is.  The Foundry spends as much time down as it does up, it feels, thanks to content releases usually taking it down for a period of time.  Here’s to hoping things are good for a little while (the “Age of Discovery” shouldn’t be landing for at least another month or two, right?).

This also means that there are more people available to run the lower level queues.  But here’s the thing:  not everyone is an altoholic like me.  Which means a lot of people are usually running their high-level characters through high-level queues, which means that I may not be seeing a lot of activity in the lower queues.  That may not stop me from trying, though.

Despite everything I’ve just typed in, though, I think I may hold off on the Foundry experience until I get Selak to level 10 and into a non-starter ship.  I recently acquired the Oberth science ship, the only bottom-tier ship I hadn’t picked up over the years, so I can mess around with a ship type that I generally don’t fly often.  My plan is to stick with Sci-ships the whole way through, and I’ll likely use the T6 Intel-Sci Cardassian ship when the time comes.  But that’s looking far ahead.

Oh, and the “Ways and Means” chronicle name?  Well, I do want to explore a Cardassian outlook, and I was looking for a way to cleverly refer to the “True Way” faction of Cardassians.  Expect that to crop up in the log posts.  I’d hate to miss an opportunity to explore why this captain is different than all my other ones….

(Oh, and yes, I do know that the first pic above with the whole “doomed to die” thing doesn’t actually kill those bridge officers; but considering that I’m going to throw them all out the airlock and grab some blue quality boffs or better, depending on cost, off the exchange using my account bank for a change, they’re as good as dead.  I wanted to have a crew that was unique to the character from the very start.)