Modding, Mission Design, and Coding > FRED Contest 2005

Review: BlueFlames' "Waiting Game"


Blaise Russel:
'Waiting Game'

Description: The 121st Shadow Daggers of the GTD Nereid engage in one of their famed five-minute raids.  Things start to get hairy when the Nereid doesn't make contact at the designated time.

Storyline: 5

For a single mission, 'Waiting Game' introduces several new concepts surprisingly well. The command briefing sets the scene - Sirius during the fall of the NTF - and details the background behind the 121st squadron, the GTD Nereid, the five-minute raids and the mixed-race situation without difficulty, making good use of appropriate animations from the main campaign. The briefing is also of a high standard, using colours and camera movements effectively. The mission itself - help clear the way for the advance of the Vasudans from Deneb and Alpha Centauri into Sirius - slots neatly into the established timeline, providing a view from a front we never really saw in FS2. Mission chatter, meanwhile, is full of character and accurately expresses the player's own thoughts.

However, there are some (potential) holes, depending on how willing the player is to buy into the mission. It seems odd, for example, that this fully-functional destroyer, playing an instrumental part in the NTF Civil War, will not soon after be sacrificed to collapse the Vega-Capella node. NTF wings are given unconventional names, mixed-race squadrons are not known to exist and there is an unfortunate reference to 'headz', which can potentially jar with the suspension of disbelief. These things are more or less minor matters, however.

Balance: 3.5

There's a good loadout, appropriate to a bomber mission, with a choice as to how heavy a ship you want to fly. With a nice Prometheus S cannon and all the Cyclops bombs you could ever need, the player is well-armed, but not overly so. The friendly:hostile ratio is well balanced as well. The player has plenty of wingmen and cruiser support, but still not enough to make taking down several corvettes and cruisers a walk in the park. Furthermore, the change in ratio numbers is well-managed as the player's isolated situation becomes all the more precarious.

Again, however, there is a dark side. Although the player can survive without too much difficulty, assuming he doesn't overstretch himself, it is hard to fully accomplish all mission objectives and complete the mission with a better than 'moderate' outcome. It is very tough to destroy a corvette, two Leviathans and fend off fighter attack when said capital ships jump in almost at the same time and depart not too long after, especially since most of your wingmen have already been destroyed. Taking out a majority of ships and leaving the last two untouched still nets you a 'mediocre' debriefing, which seems unfair, given that it's hard to attack three ships simultaneously.

Design: 4

The design is generally very good and FRED technique is correct. Events, messages and objectives are named properly and even the notes in the Mission Specs editor are filled in. The scripting is good - send-message-list is used, for example, as are correctly chained directives and such. The ships arrive independent of one another - no waiting for one ship to be destroyed so that the other can conveniently pop in a few seconds afterwards - which is appropriate for the mission concept. Respite is provided at certain junctures as well, most notably the end, which prevents the frustration of dying as you almost jump out.

There are flaws (as always!), of course. Gamma has no available player orders, which makes FRED complain unnecessarily - this could have been avoided by changing Gamma's name to Epsilon. More seriously, the issue with the Mordenkainen and the Leviathans could have been done better. If the idea is to have the player merely damage all three ships, instead of destroy one and leave the others (as hinted at in the briefing), then messages and directives should be deployed to reinforce that idea. At the very least, 'Heavily Damage the Mordenkainen' should complete when the Mordenkainen is heavily damaged, suggesting to the player that they should break off their attack and chase after the Asmodeus and Mephistopheles cruisers. Certainly, the directive to attack the Leviathans should not come up only after the Mordenkainen has been destroyed or departed, considering that the cruisers leave before the corvette does!

Also, break-warp is used instead of never-warp to stop the player jumping out before he should. Break-warp can be fixed by a support ship, meaning that the player could re-arm his bomber (a common potential occurence, surely) and regain the ability to jump out, which could break the debriefing. That said, the debriefing is already broken, but in a minor way: debrief stages for one result can be very incompatible with another. The player can 'fail' overall and get the worst debriefing result, where the commander is extremely sarcastic and mean, but successfully accomplish the secondary objective and be told that he flew an "ace defensive screen" and shouldn't let "anyone understate [his] abilities." I mean, what? It's good that the debriefing accurately reflects individual aspects of the mission, but it must remain consistent in itself, and extreme responses need to be toned down so that they aren't jarringly incompatible.

Gameplay: 4.5

The mission is basically fun. Attacking and destroying the NTF capital ships is enjoyable, as is the interesting task of flying intercept in a Medusa bomber. Although the mission is a linear set of events, always ending in fleeing the counterattack to join the Nereid, the different outcomes of those events combine to form different results for the entire mission, which is good. The intro is also very nice, clearing the deck of an Orion shortly before it jumps out, and hits the player with the reality of the time limit before it's even started.

The only thing that mars the gameplay is the difficulty of getting a better than 'average' result on Medium. Which is just as well, really.

Other Thoughts: While it seems like a Strike mission, don't be fooled: it's Assault. I liked that bait-and-switch.

Bottom Line: An enjoyable mission with a lot of explosions and, barring some balancing, really only a few minor issues. What more could you possibly ask for?

Highs: Good concepts, rollicking bomber fun, nicely polished.

Lows: Objective balancing.

Rating: 4.5

Storyline: 4.5
The author spends a fair amount of text to get the player up to speed, providing a comprehensive introduction to the Nereid, the player's squadron, and the mission's setting.  I've always liked "crossover" missions that tell a different side of a story I've already experienced -- Shrouding the Light, for example, when the Vasudans arrive just before the Bastion's fighters leave to follow the Lucifer, or that multiplayer mission where you escort the Aquitaine out of Capella -- and this mission slots neatly in with what we already know from the main campaign.  The plot twist at the end of the mission also makes the mission a bit more interesting.

I noted a few potential plot holes, though.  If the Nereid is such an integral part of the NTF war effort, why does it get chucked away at the end of the main FS2 campaign?  Granted, FS2 never says that the Nereid is decommissioned, but we're led to believe so based on the treatment of the Bastion.  Secondly, it strains credibility to hear that SOC operatives are so deeply infiltrated into the NTF that they have partial control over the Sirius fleet -- it's not impossible, but it seems highly unlikely.  Finally, as a nitpick, it's impossible for Sirius II to be a gas giant, since we know from canon that Sirius III is a terrestrial planet.

Balance: 1
The balance on this mission is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  Between beams, flak guns, and enemy fighters, I spent approximately eight attempts trying to beat this mission the way it stated in the briefing, only to get killed either immediately or around the time that the Mordenkainen showed up.  The enemy capital ships appear so close together than their fields of fire overlap, making a short range attack suicidal.  Unfortunately, there are no Maxims or Trebuchets available to try a long range de-fanging first.  Ironically, the player isn't even needed in the first part of the mission, since your fellow wingmen can to take out the first two capships all by themselves.  Unfortunately, they all die in the process.

The only way I was able to live through the entire mission was to disengage and fly some distance away while watching the action.  During one playthrough, I tried to take out the Mordenkainen myself by flying around to the far side of it, but I was only able to get it down to 16% before it departed.  Unfortunately, due to a bug in the directive, this merely counted as "moderate" damage.

The briefing is also completely out of proportion to the player's performance.  During my best attempt, when my wingmen destroyed the Bale and Dauntless, I got the Mordenkainen down to 16%, and we all protected the Serenity, I was lambasted for "dereliction of duty" and informed that invading Vasudan forces would be facing a "brick wall".

Design: 3
The design is reasonably proficient, but it suffers from the lack of balance and some assorted bugs:
[*] There is, first of all, the over-the-top task of attacking three Leviathans and two Deimoses in the space of less than five minutes, which -- even if they arrived separately, instead of all together as they do here -- would be tough.
[*] There is an error in the directive to "heavily damage" the Mordenkainen, preventing it from being satisfied unless the Mordenkainen is actually destroyed.  (There is a "hull checker" sexp that solves this problem, but it's not used here.)
[*] The debriefing contradicts itself by chewing out the player for his performance while at the same time congratulating him on his "ace defense" of the Serenity.
[*] Ship-invulnerable is used to protect the pilots who engage in conversation, but ship-guardian isn't used to ensure that they aren't destroyed by a sudden missile salvo.
[*] Break-warp, which can be repaired by a support ship, is used instead of never-warp.

There are a few unusual features, such as the use of "respites" to protect the player when he's attacking the cruisers and when he's allowed to jump out.  The second "respite" was welcome, but the first didn't seem to make a difference from a practical standpoint.  The WAV files for the empty messages and the squadron logo were also good additions.  And the readme was very well done, if that has any bearing on things.

Gameplay: 2
The gameplay started out fun, but quickly deteriorated into one frustration after another.  By the time I looked at the mission in FRED and figured out the avenues I could have exploited to improve the outcome (which still may not have helped very much) I was too annoyed to make another attempt.

The most fun part of the entire mission was actually the defense of the Serenity, which was surprisingly easy.  On the one attempt that I survived long enough to see what happened next, I had a comparatively relaxing time fending off all the bombers, since the Serenity did most of the work.

Overall: 2.5
The story is really the best thing this mission has going for it.  The idea is good, but the execution is compromised by one serious bug and several balance issues.  Considering the number of hacks that the mission designer added to get the mission to work as much as it does, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to take the mission apart and re-organize it a bit -- reduce the number of enemy capships, space them out more, change their classes, etc.


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