5 easy steps towards your FREDucation
- (Written by: Black Wolf. Taken from the original source with the following alterations: Wikifying)
There are lots of people in the FS community at the moment, new and old, who claim they can't FRED. Some have made the choice voluntarily, others simply don't know where to start, or don't think it's something they'd ever be able to learn. The truth is though, even if you've never modded or mapped a computer game in your life, you can master FRED in a relatively short time. The following five steps will hopefully help anyone aspiring to teach themselves FRED to map out their plans and ultimately come out a pro FREDder.
Step 1 - Do the Walkthrough
This is the most essential part of any FREDucation. The walkthrough can be found in the FRED help files, which you can download here ("Fred Docs") if you don't have them yet. You can, and many have, go straight from a completed walkthrough mission into a campaign staff and churn out missions with little difficulty. The walkthrough touches on everything you'll need to know to get you started in FRED, and it's a brilliant tool. However, as Volition themselves admitted, it's still only an introduction to FRED - even before the SCP, people were doing things with FRED that the original coders had never even considered implementing, let alone realized they were already possible.
Step 2 - Baby steps
This will be your first functioning mission. It seems a big jump, to go from the fully documented, completely pre-scripted mission of the walkthrough to a completely new, never before seen mission that comes straight out of your head. But it doesn't have to be. This mission can, and probably should, be very simple - have the player defending a stricken capship while the escape pods are prepared. This could, in theory, be done with no sexps beyond those that control the arrival and departure of the various ships in the mission. Of course, a mission this simple is not ideal, so perhaps having the aim of the mission to defend the same capship until a transport can dock to repair its engines? This requires a higher degree of sexping, though not by much. If you're feeling confident, add a twist - the repaired capship comes under attack from a pair of enemy capital ships, and have the player switch from taking out bombers to taking out turrets, while the home ship manoeuvres to escape. Or completely disregard this and do a totally different scenario. All you need to do is become confident replicating the steps you learned in the Walkthrough - things like messaging, mission goals, waypoints, AI commands - without a guide telling you precisely what you need to do.
-TIP - Don't skimp on this mission - make it as complete as you can. Include a briefing and debrief, mission goals, background, check the music and title all fit - often completed missions can be adapted for use later on, no matter how simple they will appear once your FREDding skill has improved.
Step 3 - Research
OK. By now, you're comfortable with what you learned in the Walkthrough, it's time to expand on your knowledge by researching what others have done. Use VPView to extract Volition missions from Root.vp and have a look at how they did certain things. There are lots of more complex things, like Knossos jumping, or having the player follow waypoints, that the walkthrough does not cover. You could also try looking at the missions from various campaigns that have been released. Things like Derelict and Warzone that had few mods often relied on inventive FREDding to add spice to their missions, and these tactics are still just as or even more valid now, despite the multitude of available mods. You'll also want to check out the various tips and tricks that were written up way back in the day for FRED1, which are hosted on Freespacewatch. These may seem dated, but much of the core information about mission continuity and ambience remains vitally important for any FREDder.
Step 4 - Linking missions together
STOP! By this point, you're probably starting to feel confident with FRED, and you've probably started to get some really good ideas for campaigns you can do. Big, bold, impressive campaigns that are going to explain Capella, sort out Bosch and cure cancer. OK, I'm going to say this bluntly - Do not do this. You are not the first to have this idea, and you will not be the first to fail if you start it. That said, I do think a campaign is a good idea here. Building a campaign forces you to think about consequences, to link your missions together, to develop characters in your wingmen, all very useful traits in a FREDder. But for god's sake, don't try to make Inferno or BWO your first project. I recommend building a campaign, no more than 4 or 5 missions long, with no staff other than yourself, and no mods that you can't make yourself or download already done. Hell, I'd recommend you use no mods at all, but I'd be the first to admit that the FS2 isn't ideal for certain types of missions - FS2 has no Vasudan or light installations, a woeful selection of civilian craft, and really skimps on certain parts of the Vasudan fleet. Stuff like the GVSc Imhoteph from the Scroll of Atankharzim team, or the GTI Archeron by Robin Varley can be indispensable for certain situations. I'm not saying you need these ships, but if your campaign calls for them, I'm not saying leave them out either.
There are a few things you need to think about while you build your campaign. The first is obviously the story, you need to make something that keeps the player interested, and that is believable, as well as presenting enough challenges so that it can't be completed in five minutes. If thinking up plots isn't your forte, then don't worry - in many cases V has done the work for you. There are plenty of referenced battles and combats, in the briefings, Command briefings, debriefings and messages used in the main campaign, where the player is told about events in the NTF war, but never experiences them, such as large parts of the Colossus' trek through the NTF systems, or the early days of the battle of Deneb. Creating missions from these stories not only makes things easier by eliminating the need for any mods whatsoever, but also enriches the overall FS community by providing a bit of background to the story that we all know so well.
Planning your missions beforehand can help combat all three of these, and let's be honest - it's a lot of fun. Also, keep in mind that you're probably still learning to FRED, it might be a good idea to insert an asteroid or nebula mission (nebulae can be disguised as the atmosphere of Gas Giants if your campaigns timeline puts you out of reach of the Shivan's nebula). These aren't essential, of course, but learning to use these effectively will expand your FREDding possibilities exponentially, and add just a little more buzz to your campaign. Keep in mind also that this campaign is meant as much for your learning as it is to be played. While it may not be perfectly plausible from the point of view of a single squadron, try to vary your missions a bit. A successful heavy assault mission needs to be designed very differently to, say an interceptor mission, and recon missions are a class unto themselves. You may not be able to fit all of the various mission types into your campaign structure of course, but a little bit of variation is always a good idea.
-TIP - Try to avoid subspace missions your first time out, unless you have a really, really good reason to put your player there. Subspace is very difficult to get right, and has a lot of drawbacks, outlined in another Volitionwatch article. If you can do it well, that's great, but keep in mind, it's very, very difficult to do well
-NB - making a campaign is in no way essential to learning to FRED. What's important is the experience you'd gain working with the various environments and commands in FRED, and the interesting situations campaigns often lead to. If you don't want to commit to what is a decent sized project (even three missions will probably see you sitting in front of a computer for twelve or so hours, plus time for testing.) then don't. Single missions are just as effective here as a minicampaign, and in many ways even more since you don't need to worry about linking the various missions together, nor come up with plot plausible reasons to see your player plunging into a nebula or asteroid field.
Step 5 - Test, Test, Test.
Beta testing is one of the most boring parts of FREDding, and, in some ways, one of the hardest. I hate doing it myself, especially since I test roughly every 5 or 10 changes, which means I'll generally test each mission at least a dozen times during FREDding, generally a lot more. However, there's nothing as irritating as a poorly tested mission, and almost nothing so obvious. Everything you release should be exhaustively tested, and if possible by other people. If you're doing a campaign, try to get it tested at both the mission by mission level and at the final product, if possible. Your testers will give you bug reports, but also on how the story's moving along, or how the speech is going. Most of these problems can be fixed with a few clicks of the mouse or a few word changes in your messages, but it's these that can tip a good mission over the line into a great mission.
Also keep in mind difficulty when Beta testing. You'll often hear FREDders talk about balance in a mission, that elusive point where it is just enough of a challenge to get the player involved and enjoying himself without being frustratingly difficult. Balance is affected by almost everything in a mission, in varying degrees. Seemingly small things, like the orientation of a capship, or the distance a wing of fighters arrives from the heat of battle, can alter the balance as much as the more obvious things such as the players available ship and weapon loadout (Allowing your pilot to use Helioses to take out freighters is not recommended )
Well done pilot - you now have all the expertise you'll need to become a fully fledged member of the FREDding community, with a campaign release under your belt (you were planning to release, right?) and the potential to do pretty much anything. With the possible exception of BWO, there's not a campaign out there that'd turn down applications from FREDders, or you can start your own project, large or small, and add to the FS universe that way. With the SCP and FSO there's a myriad of new concepts and abilities coming to FRED, and, despite everything you'll probably have done by this point, there'll always be a lot to learn.
Everything mentioned above, and a few other useful resources, will be listed here.
Some useful articles, which, despite their age, can still be very relevant to FREDders. Pay particular attention to:
- What Makes a Good Mission?
- Battle of Endor
- Tunnel Vision: Why Subspace Mission?
- The Problem With User-Created Levels
For any questions regarding FRED not covered by this or the other Wiki documents, try the HLP forums. You can also contact me, Black Wolf, through a Private Message on HLP, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org