I generally don’t provide a blow-by-blow of a mission’s development; mostly because it turns out that the stuff you want to talk about falls either in the spoilers or “look at me, am I not smart?” categories. (Especially, when I do the second one, I tend to deserve all the blowback I get
But to make it perfectly clear that this campaign is alive and well, let’s talk about:Mission 11, “This is the way the world ends” or The Sinking of the NTD Vasa
Let’s start off with the non-spoiler material, this mission has been a big problem since almost the inception of the campaign. After I started work on TLG – Ashcroft way back when, I quickly started working on the campaign from both ends – in no small part because it was prequel but also because the end went through so many iterations. And if you are working a story from both ends, the stuff in between get hard to work out.
Another issue was that because I was working on a parallel track to the main FS2 story I had to fit a number of events in there that strictly I did not need to show. Or I had to attach some significance to events that were just tossed up into the air during the relevant FS2 Command Briefings. That was the case with the destruction of the NTD Vasa, which is just there in Command Briefing for “King’s Gambit”.
In a version of the TLG – Ashcroft
story that was now entirely on the (metaphorical) cutting room floor, I simply used the destruction of the Vasa as an event in which our protagonists loses all her material possessions. It was an earlier version of the script which had Sam holding on to a memento of “obvious plot significance“ and losing it was her “okay, all the bridges are burned now”-moment.
However as I picked the campaign back up, iterated on the story, and further developed the characters and relationships that give TLG – Ashcroft
its soul, so to speak, I found that the entire memento-plot point was not fitting anymore. Not just was its existence a serious drag that weakened Sam’s character but also wound up a big point that was defeating the way the campaign ends.
So I wound up with scene without content, and any attempt to move another plot point into that empty space didn’t work … yet. Spoilers coming up – so blinds on if you want to go in unspoiled.
So I did what seemed best at the time and started up the Freespace 2 Main campaign again. And during that I noticed two things that were significant in giving the mission its current shape:
a) Only once, in “Fog of War”, the rotation of the Aquitaine from and to the Nebula is made an issue. The rest of campaign just glosses over this point and trusts that the most recent emergency is grounds enough to suspend to disbelieve in that everyone of your fellow pilots is just okay with fighting NTF one day and Shivans the next.
b) While there are a number of missions, “Argonautica” for example, which deal with the desperate rescue of GTVA capital ships from danger, there isn’t that much between fully functional and blows up in the most 1990s fashion imaginable.
And just like that I had my plot point
The Vasa would not explode like so many other capital ships in the FS-universe but “slowly sink” while you are charged with the usual escort mission objectives, such as intercepting bombers and taking on cruisers. And the assistance you would receive to get her crew off the sinking ship would be provided by ships from the GTVA 3rd Fleet, while the opposition are other GTVA units – with experience of combat with the Shivans drawing the battle lines.
Now there were a number of technical issues to work out with that.
One, I wanted to simulate a real “rules of engagement”-situation that took its cues from the real-life rules for medical combat personnel, i.e. the protected status of clearly marked medics in the field and the limitations they have on their participation in combat, especially the idea that medical personnel in combat zone is often held to standard of using their weapons in self-defence only. Thanks to xenocartographer I quickly had a script that was supposed to sort this out by limiting the ability of ships with a special “Medical” IFF to fire their turrets to a special “Warhead” IFF. But due to an error that kept popping up at my end (perhaps an assets related issue), it didn’t work out. Even Axem’s help was not enough to fix it.
Two, there was a big issue with how the wreckage of the Vasa would perform in gameplay terms. She could not have that many hit points but I wanted to avoid a repeat of an older mission involving the wreckage of a capital ship, where the derelict would blow up once a single shivan bomb hit. Worse still, was when beam cannons came into the mix. The problem here was that there was no functional way to direct the combat between the GTVA cruisers involved, so that they would still be a credible threat to the Vasa AND each other. Just swapping out the weapons didn’t help and micromanaging every beam shot in that situation just makes the work disproportionate to the pay-off.
Eventually I just took the easiest way I could think of to remedy both problems:
For the first one, I just scrapped the idea and changed the orientation of the ships involved so that the medical ships would have no opportunity to fire at any bombs – with the option to change it all back in a future patch.
For the second one, I did what worked in Blue Planet 2’s “Delenda Est” and made a relevant armor.tbl that makes sure the Vasa gets a significant damage reduction once she is a wreck for all gameplay purposes. I was really reluctant to make that change, despite armor.tbl being such a convenient tool in theory, simply because of the potential for unintended side effects.
Now all that is left to do is finalize the new balancing, re-write some of the dialogue (some of the lines really did not survive last year without picking up bad associations), and implement a checkpoint system – because as it stands this mission is going to be 17+ minutes long (Ups…).
And after that, there is only Mission 10 ... currently in the running for "the most unnecessarily complicated mission I ever made" - why that is, I hope to show in video format soon'ish.