FutureFleets

BETA TESTING
Development Blog - Week Four
Posted September 23rd, 2012 by Raemet
This weekend marked the completion of one of the most complex new features on the Future Fleets site - the Character Creator.

In the last iteration of the game, the Character Creator was remarkably low-tech and bland. To make matters worse, our attemp to give players control over the genetic makeup of their characters was a complete disaster because nobody could figure out how to use it properly.

In the new version of the Character Creator, things operate a bit more smoothly. Players start by selecting an Alliance. Right now, only the Federation is available, but other alliances and the "Neutral" option will be available after launch.

Once an Alliance has been selected, the player can select their character's genetic composition based on their four grandparents. This may seem a little odd, but it's actually pretty crucial. Some characters are only 1/4 Vulcan or Klingon, and that means their stats, abilities, and attributes need to reflect that. This feature also leaves room for the random "mutt" - a character who does happen to contain three or four different species.

Once the player approves their choices, the next screen allows them to enter the character's name, gender, and picture. They can also review the character's statistics based off of their genetics - hit points, intelligence, agility, strength, accuracy, abilities, and attributes. While the first few are self-explanatory, you are probably wondering what the last two entail.

Essentially, we have given characters two additional layers:

Abilities - These encompass things the character can do like Mind Melding, Telepathy, and Shrouding.

Attributes - These encompass personality and sometimes physical traits of a character like Focused, Hostile, Intuitive, and Mechanical.

Abilities will open up unique interaction opportunities for characters in-game. For example, the Shrouding ability will make it difficult to see a character that is hiding in a room when you look at the "Social" pane (which shows any characters who are currently in the room with you).

Attributes will give you sporadic bonuses or penalties when interacting with other characters or performing tasks. An example of this is that characters with the Focused attribute will finish tasks faster, but characters with the Determined attribute are more likely to succeed at a difficult task.

Back to the Character Creator, the next step in the process is for the player to review their character's image, name, and stats. If everything looks good, they can create the character (up to 5 total) and then begin playing the game.

By default, all Federation characters will start the game in San Francisco on Earth, and from there they can decide, for example, whether or not they want to join Starfleet or serve as a civilian. After that, the possibilities are endless.

But this is not all. We are planning to add some more depth to the Character creator in a number of ways once the game is closer to launch. For example, our next "must have" feature is an Account Reward system which, among other things, allows players with existing characters - whether on Star Trek Online or an online role-playing simulation - to receive vouchers which grant them some additional stats, skill points, or access to a species that is not ordinarily available in our game or in their desired Alliance. We will also be adding some flexibility in the stats system so characters can specialize in one or two stats by taking a hit in others.

All of those exciting additions will be added sooner rather than later, but one of the next big things on our list is to make a huge update to the Edit Character feature. Aside from making cosmetic changes, we are hoping to implement the first fully-functional WYSIWYG editor on our site so that players can design and customize their character bios however they want. This will obviously mean adding some extra filtering for security, but we strongly believe this is something players will insist upon if we don't add it prior to launch.

Additionally, an old, abandoned feature will be returning soon in the form of our Simm and Character Search functions. Originally, the Future Fleets site was intended to be an interactive database of simulations and characters that players could search through. Once work on the game began, the search aspect of the site was pretty much left to die, so we will be correcting that injustice by devoting about a week to the restoration and revision of that part of the site.

Ideally, we would like Future Fleets to become a resource, not just for people who play our game, but also for people who want to reserve the names of their favorite characters or simulations. The search functionality will go a long way toward giving players a place to look if they want to find, for instance, a quality RPG simulation, a fun STO fleet to join, or a few new crew members for their ship.

Now, I briefly touched upon a new Account Rewards system above, and I want to devote at least one more entry to discussing that. In addition to its integration with the Character Creation system, the Account Rewards system will give us the ability to reward players for things like following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, referring players/simms/fleets to our site, et cetera. We will be adding this feature within the next few weeks, ideally, but it will likely not start getting full use until the Beta Testing period begins later this year.

Finally, I wanted to wrap up this week's Dev Blog with some insight into where we are going from here. Thus far, we have completed a great deal of work to get the public site revised and the Account Overview section of the site up and running, but once everything mentioned above is done and any necessary changes are also made to the public site, what comes next?

The bulk of the next three months will be spent rebuilding the Future Fleets game, itself, from the ground up. Every single previously-built function will be rewritten for efficiency and extra security, and every page will be redesigned to match the new theme (and make them compatible with any new themes we add down the road).

Fortunately, there is a very strong foundation in place for us to work with. At the end of Beta testing last year, the site was almost done, and it still is, technically. All of the logic has been coded, all of the basic functionality has been mapped out, etc., but it will all just need a close inspection and, potentially, a quick rewrite to make sure it all fits in with our new design and standards.

We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to finish work on the Account Overview section by mid-October at the latest, and then we will spend about a month cleaning things up with the game and making improvements. We would like to begin Beta Testing in December, and we are currently aiming for a launch in January. Of course, this is always subject to change, but we are, at the very least, setting goals for ourselves and doing whatever we can to hit them.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to keep checking back for our next installment!
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