We've waited four long years for our next installment in J.J. Abrams' movie series, and Star Trek Into Darkness is almost here. But meanwhile, you can catch up with the rebooted Trek with Star Trek: The Video Game, which comes out today. We've got tons of concept art, and an exclusive interview with Paramount's Brian Miller.
Star Trek: The Video Game is a canonical part of J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek universe, and it tells the story of New Vulcan, where the Vulcans are attempting to create a new homeworld quickly using the Helios device. Unfortunately, this device creates a rift in space, out of which come the Gorn, those reptilian crushers who fought Kirk in the Original Series episode "Arena."
We spoke to Brian Miller, Senior Vice President and Game Producer with Paramount Pictures, about the game and how it fits in with the movie continuity. Plus check out a buttload of concept art!
Why the Gorn? The Gorn were kind of a goofy one-off in the original series. Was this a chance to give them a new spin and make them more badass, or was there something cool about the Gorn's original conception that you guys wanted to explore?
The decision to make the Gorn the game’s main enemy came very quickly. Most people know the Gorn from the original series episode “Arena” and in the decades since, the character has remained one of the most beloved and iconic alien species in all of science fiction. We felt that a video game was the perfect platform to do the Gorn justice. Not only do you have a significantly longer amount of time to develop their character, but we had the opportunity to create 15 different classes and species of Gorn that players interact with.
Is this the first time we're seeing New Vulcan? Did you guys have to coordinate a lot with the movie people, to make sure you didn't establish stuff about New Vulcan that would contradict things they might roll out in the films at some point?
We worked with everyone from the filmmaking team to make sure our story fit in the new Trek universe canon. So after the Romulan, Nero, destroyed the planet Vulcan, the species has now begun to rebuild their race on New Vulcan. The events that happen on New Vulcan in our game are now part of that new Trek universe.
In general, how much freedom did you guys have to flesh out the J.J. Abrams version of the Star Trek universe? Were there things you wanted to do, which they said didn't jibe with their version, or which were too close to movie topics?
From the very beginning we collaborated with the entire Star Trek creative team. As a developer, you want to make sure you stay true to the brand you are working with. There have been many movie-based games that have been heavily criticized for not being true to the source materials. And when you play them, you can tell immediately that something is wrong. It just doesn't feel right. Luckily we were able to collaborate with all of the teams that worked on the films. When you have the right people and the right process in place, you can wind up with something truly special. Everyone wanted the game to fit perfectly in the new canon created by their film reboot and every creative idea was on the table for discussion.
It seems like Kirk and Spock are doing a lot of stuff together in this game — do you help to develop the friendship between the two, which is such an important part of the series but doesn't really get built that much in the first movie?
The game takes place only a short time after the events of the 2009 film, so Kirk and Spock are still working out the kinks of their new friendship. It was very important to us that we get the spirit of this new relationship just right and I think that comes through in the banter between the two characters throughout the game. This would not have been possible if not for the amazing performances by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.
Are people going to get a very different story if they play as Spock, versus if they play as Kirk?
There are definitely moments that are different for Kirk and Spock, but our goal was to tell a complete story that was grand enough to be a film on its own. There are several differences between playing as Kirk or Spock. For example, each have different weapons: Kirk has a Captain's Phaser which is modeled after an Old West 6 shooter, while Spock has a more elegant Vulcan Repeater. The two characters' fighting styles also vary as Kirk is the more brash cowboy type, while Spock is more logical and stealthy. In our story, Kirk has the ability to call for air strikes from the Enterprise and Shuttles at times, while Spock has the unique Vulcan abilities to use his nerve pinch and mind meld.
You're introducing two new Vulcan characters, T'Mar and Surock — are these characters who might be in the movies at some point? IsT'Mar a rival to Uhura for Spock's affections? Are you following the Star Trek: Enterprise canon that Vulcans are all basically jerks?
Our game is 100% canon to the new Trek universe, therefore our new characters T’Mar and Surok could absolutely exist in future games, films or other media. T’mar is a really beautiful, intelligent Vulcan captain and while she does have a history with Spock, it’s Kirk who’s truly interested in her. We did make sure to have some fun with Uhura’s reaction to this attractive Vulcan friend of Spock’s. The grouchy Vulcans of Star Trek: Enterprise did not necessarily inspire any of our new characters here. They are definitely ones that you want on your side against a ruthless enemy like the Gorn.
There have been a million Star Trek games, going back to ASCII starship battle games and combat simulators. Besides the thing of letting people play with Pine and Quinto in the Abrams-verse, why do we need another Star Trek game? What's the thing that no Trek game has done before that you guys really wanted to do?
While we have great affection for many of the Star Trek games done in the past, we realized that this was our opportunity to really bring Trek into the AAA gaming space. Our goal was to create a great game. PERIOD. The fact that it was Star Trek was always a bonus for us. We wanted to make the Star Trek game that WE always wanted to play. We wanted to play as Kirk and Spock (which we were surprised had never been done before,) we wanted an original story that would be considered canon, we wanted great co-operative game play, and we wanted an authentic game based on the rebooted 2009 film. We think that these things are what is going to set our game apart from anything done in the past.
Why are so many movie tie-in games kind of terrible? What are the pitfalls of trying to turn a finite movie into a game? How do you guys feel like you got around those pitfalls with this one? Does it help that this isn't really a "game of the movie" but a standalone adventure?
There were three main lessons we learned by studying previous movie-licensed games. Lesson one is to make sure you have enough time for development — most movie-based games have extremely short development timelines which then dictate the overall quality of the game. Usually, this means a very rushed and substandard product. We avoided those pitfalls by spending over 3 years in development. The second lesson is to devote the right resources. Star Trek has always been one of the most important brands at Paramount Pictures. After the amazing success of the 2009 film, we knew that we had one chance to get the game right. To do justice to this property, we knew that we had to develop the game ourselves. That meant overseeing all levels of production (story, creature design, casting, voice recording, music.) We were only going to make this game if we could do it at a AAA level.
And finally, Lesson No. 3 is working with the right people. We had the great luxury of picking all of the people to work with ourselves. We were able to pick a developer that really had the same level of passion as we did. We picked a co-publisher who believed in what we were doing and had the right resources to support us properly. We also collaborated with the same creative geniuses that worked on the 2009 film: the writers, the sound department, the special effects team, the creature designers, the cast from the film, the composer. We are so fortunate that Michael Giacchino and his team wrote over 2 hours of original music for our game. We knew that if we stuck to these three principles we would wind up with a great game.
And finally, classic Star Trek is really known for bringing up philosophical issues about the nature of existence and the ethical use of power. Were there philosophical questions you really wanted to raise or address in this game, in particular?
We knew that in order to honor the legacy of Star Trek, we couldn’t be just a third person shooter. We needed exploration, discovery, puzzle solving and morality – all of these elements are definitely apparent in our game. For example, the Gorn in our game use infection drones to poison Vulcans and Starfleet personnel with a toxin that turns them into uncontrollable killing machines. These humanoids are very much conscious of their actions, but are unable to control them. The player must dispatch these new enemy types and are encouraged to take them out in non-lethal ways and players are rewarded for doing so.
Here's some more concept art from Star Trek: The Video Game, which is out today.