Mission variety matters

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Part of a Series on Campaign Design by Nuclear1

Original post by Nuclear1, here.

Alright, so you're starting to FRED your campaign. You've written out your ideas for a plot, you've got some dynamic characters, and some of the best custom ships FSMods has to offer.

You've got FRED open, and you're starting to lay down your ships. Or, even better, you've already created a few missions and you're starting to pick up the pace so you can get your campaign out to the community as quickly as you can without sacrificing quality.

But there's one problem. You review all of your mission objectives, your directives, your messages...and you realize there's something disturbingly present.

"Destroy X wing" "Disable GTC Y" "Secure the area" "Escort Z to the jump node"

Yep, you've noticed that most of your missions are centred around either destroying all enemy ships present, disabling and capturing an enemy ship, or escorting vessels to certain points!

While missions like these aren't bad things at all--they certainly have their uses and their place in Freespace--you notice that most of your missions conform to one or more of these formulas. Again, the FS community doesn't hate convoy escort missions, and we certainly love getting the chance to have a cathartic blow-up-everything moment, but we do appreciate a good, original mission design every now and then.

This is an aspect that, sadly, gets overlooked and neglected by many FREDers and writers. If ignored, it turns potentially interesting campaigns into repetitive laser spam.

This is called Mission Variety.

Mission Variety Makes Your Campaign Memorable

Take a moment and think about your favourite campaigns. Try to remember the missions you enjoyed the most, or the ones you simply can't stop talking about here on HLP. You remember the ones that presented you the greatest challenge, or the ones that presented some new feature, or the ones that forced you to utilize some new tactic or strategy beyond the basic "point-and-shoot" that dominates so many campaign missions.

Let's take a moment and review some of the most popular and memorable missions in both canonical and fan Freespace campaign history.

#5 -- Bearbaiting (Main Freespace 2 campaign)

AKA: The One With the Sathanas Beams

The Ridiculously Simple Premise

Destroy the forward beams on the SJ Sathanas to give the Colossus a fighting chance in Capella. Destroy targets of opportunity in Gamma Draconis. You get to do this in a bomber with extremely long-range Trebuchet missiles and the Helios torpedo, the most powerful bomber-carried warhead in the game.

How It's Much, Much Different Than That

You have to disarm four very well-armoured beam turrets with weapons that weren't specifically designed for taking down subsystems, while the Sathanas is moving at full speed, while being hounded by escort wings, while facing down the Sathanas' lethal forward flak turrets, while having to rearm periodically, while having only fairly-competent wingmen to help you...

Oh, and did I mention you have only a few moments to take those turrets down before the Sathanas jumps and potentially turns you into Vasudan bomber roadkill?

Oh, and also afterwards, after you've been withered down by fighters and flak, you have a limited time to take down the beam turrets on a Demon-class destroyer before IT jumps or annihilates your capital ship support.

Why You Remember This Mission

Because it forced you to plan. You had to micromanage your wingmen, telling some to cover you from those fighters, some to focus their attacks on the forward flak guns, some to disarm the beam turrets you're too busy to handle. You had to decide how to handle the Demon when it warps in, which wingmen you wanted handling beam cannons, which ones you needed to disable it...

You had to use strategy. And because there's no one right way to do this mission, it was fun to debate mission strategy with other HLPers. Hell, entire threads have been dedicated simply to trying different strategies, and there's been more speed runs done on this mission alone than any other mission in Freespace history.

#4 -- As (Goddamn) Lightning Fall (Main Freespace 2 campaign)

AKA: The One With All The Goddamn Lightning

The Ridiculously Simple Premise

Locate a transport containing Snipes and extract him. Simple search-and-rescue mission.

How It's Much, Much Different Than That

Goddamn lightning. Not just the annoying, noisy, bright lightning that gets in your way and is nothing more than a minor irritance in the grand scheme of things, but goddamn EMP-causing lightning.

The kind of lightning that makes it extremely easy to become disoriented and lose your place, making it extremely, EXTREMELY difficult to follow those nav buoys, and extremely difficult for you to dogfight those thousands of Shivans.

Why You Remember This Mission

See above. The goddamn lightning. And the feeling of accomplishment and success you get from when you finally locate the transport and can end the mission. And finally be rid of the goddamn lightning.

#3 -- Aristeia (Blue Planet: War in Heaven)

AKA: The One With The Reinforcements Menu Thing

The Ridiculously Simple Premise

Escort two powerful UEF warships, a newly-captured vessel, and an AWACS ship to a jump gate while fending off the GTVA.

How It's Much, Much Different Than That

Those GTVA forces consist of a Hecate-class destroyer, another AWACS ship, and an elite corvette team. As well as an unexpected attack from a corvette on your flank. An attack that renders your powerful UEF warships useless due to EM magic.

Why You Remember This Mission

Because of the new and interesting tools you utilize to compensate for the UEF warships being out of the equation. Through some neat FRED tricks, General Battuta allowed you to actually call for strike packages on the surprise attacking corvette. Not just reinforcement wings, but *strike packages*. Anti-turret strikes, saturation strikes, a medium bomber attack...

But you had a limited point system to deal with, and each package was worth a certain amount of points. So you had to make a choice between turrets/interceptors, bombers/interceptors, turrets/saturation, etc. Whichever combination was necessary to your strategy of dealing with this challenge.

#2 -- Memory of Shadows (Transcend)

AKA: The One Where You **** Yourself

The Ridiculously Simple Premise

Sit around, do absolutely nothing.

How It's Much, Much Different Than That

In the grand scheme of things, it's not really any different. The mission's barely three minutes long, and not once do you fire your weapons.

Why You Remember This Mission

Because, if you're like me and a bunch of other HLPers, you were playing this mission in the dark, already creeped out by some unusual happenings. You were wondering when you were finally going to see anybody other than your wingmen and the ship you had accompanied into the nebula, and you were wond--HOLY **** WHAT WAS THAT THING AND WHAT WAS IT DOING IN FRONT OF ME

Through clever use of the cutscene and position manipulation SEXPs, mission designer Ransom Arceihn turned a barely three minute long mission with zero combat into a moment that will haunt you for a long time. In a period of barely more than fifteen seconds, he probably made you jump, sweat, or **** yourself because of a Pegasus.

Transcend isn't a campaign of extreme mission variety--indeed, the premise of most missions is "go from Point A to Point B, jump at node, maybe blow some stuff up". But it's moments like these resulting from some basic FRED tricks that made this campaign one of the most memorable in Freespace campaign history.

#1 -- Playing Judas (Main Freespace Campaign)

AKA: The One Where You Fly A Dragon

The Ridiculously Simple Premise

Scan cargo containers, scan freighters, scan warships. All while flying one of the most lethal and feared fighters in the Shivan armada.

How It's Much, Much Different Than That

An entire wing of patrolling Dragons that will fire on you if you get too close, sentry guns at the jump node that will do the same, and a barely-functioning fighter that has been stripped of its lethal Shivan weapons.

Why You Remember This Mission

Because, again, you had to plan. You had to analyse the Dragons' patrol path so you could avoid getting found out, all while trying to scan incoming vessels moving at full speed.

This mission was the predecessor to all scouting missions ever made. If you ever had to play a mission where you had to avoid patrols, infiltrate an enemy force, or scan warships up close, you have this mission to thank for that.

So what did we learn from that? We learned that it's not necessary to *abandon* those basic formulas, and sometimes it's necessary to use some basic mission design. However, the missions we remember and that make campaigns memorable are the ones that take this formula and add their own twists and features.

So What Do I Do Now?

There's the saying "there's nothing new under the sun". Fortunately for you, that's completely untrue to the FRED universe. New SEXPs are being created on a regular basis, and new features are being added to Freespace Open almost as frequently.

Yes, I know it's a lot easier to just create a mission where a lot of stuff blows up and some people talk. Yes, it's a lot easier to FRED. But it's also boring. No one's going to remember "that one mission where you blew stuff up" from your campaign.

It takes a lot of work to get familiar with the new SEXPs, I know, but in the end, you'll be a better FREDer for it, and you'll create missions that will be remembered.

So how can you learn how to use the new SEXPs and all the new features in Freespace Open?

#3 -- Ask For Help

You're reading this, so I can assume you have access to Hard Light Productions. If you're lurking, register. If you're already registered, head over to the FRED Discussion forum. It's easy to find; it's one above the one you're reading right now.

There's a lot of really talented FREDers here, and most of them are more than willing to give advice or tips on the new features. All you have to do is ask.

If you don't want to wait for an answer on the forums, download an IRC client and join us on #hard-light, #freespace, #scp, etc.

#2 -- See How Someone Else Did It

Easiest way to see how someone else already made something work is to simply open that mission in FRED and peek through the Events Editor. Don't worry about "ripping somebody off"--imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Most people will be thrilled to see you using their FRED techniques.

#1 -- Trial and Error

Of course, you could always just try plugging in SEXPs and finding out how they work yourself. This, of course, is much more time-consuming than the other two suggestions, but it does allow you a lot of practice in FRED.

So there you go! Remember: a new trick or your own personal spin on the basic mission formula can make the difference between being "just another campaign" and a campaign that the Freespace community remembers.