It’s been a long wait for the Star Trek sequel, especially as time appears to drag as we approach the May 17th release date. To help us out, Paramount and Bandai Namco are filling some of that gap with Star Trek The Video Game.
Digital Extremes, the team behind Bioshock 2 and Darkness 2, have developed an action packed, third person shooter that lets you play as Kirk and Spock in the rebooted timeline. But don’t confuse this with your standard movie tie-in schlock. In development for three years, this is being sold as a AAA title that aims to break the curse of rubbish games based on movie licences.
WhatCulture was invited to play and preview the game in the stunning surroundings of the Future Hall in the Science Museum in London. It all hammered home that Star Trek The Video Game was to be taken seriously and fitted in the canon of the J.J Abrams reboot.
We also had time for a quick chat with Senior Vice President of Paramount, Brian Miller who has been very hands-on overseeing the development of the game. Star Trek and video game fan himself, Brian Miller is not your usual corporate type. He is a person who knows the franchise and is passionate on what was needed to make an exciting Star Trek video game.
Before we share what we learnt from our hands-on preview, Brian Miller tells about what we can expect from Star Trek The Video Game.
WC: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about the game.
BM: No problem
When did the idea of developing a new Star Trek Video Game surface? Was it before the 2009 movie or did you see the film and think ”hey…that will make a great game!”
We had conversations during the development of the film. We are all huge gamers and when we saw what JJ was doing with the movie and well frankly we started getting offers from developers and companies saying ”Hey we take a licence and make a game for you” but we passed on those opportunities because we felt it couldn’t be done the way we wanted it to be done. So we had discussions over four years ago but active development has been a good three years. We have been literally in the business of making this thing for three years.
That’s quite a long development time for a movie tie-in game.
Yeah and I think hopefully from what you saw, it shows. I think what happens with a lot of movie based games is that it turns int a way for us to…well there have been some great movie based games and there have been some that are sub-par but it’s just a way for us to get something out to the market to support the movie. They almost become like a t-shirt or a button, where it’s ”OK, let’s just get a piece of product out there,” I think that care isn’t given to make it what it should be.
For us, it was that we had one chance to do this. I think if we blew this opportunity and put out a piece of material that was sub-par, then we would just become just another movie based game and they would never let us do it again.
What JJ and the team and us at Paramount did with the movie was sort of change perception. Star Trek was not just what it was before. As much as we loved it, we had to bring it [back] in a much bigger way and we need to do the same thing with Star Trek The Video Game and that is why we have been working on it for so long.
Star Trek games in the past have been hit-or-miss so to speak, especially when they have tried to be more action orientated. With J.J Abrams moving the franchise more towards the action side of the scale, I’m assuming it made designing the game a bit easier?
Well, you know it wasn’t because if you look at what Star Trek has been over the years, its had some of the most memorable action scenes of all time. Particularly with what JJ did with the movie he made, it had amazing action set pieces. But we very conscious of the fact that Star Trek has never been about ”let’s go shoot a bunch of things” or ”let’s go shoot a bunch of lizards” and we made sure we were making a game that was true to that.
With that said, there are some concessions you have to make when designing a game. You have a lot of hours to fill and you want to make sure people playing feel like they are having a fun adventure so we break up the gameplay. Not only do you have your shooting moments but you have space dives, you have exploration and discovery and you get to play as the Enterprise. These moments are true to what Star Trek is but in a much bigger way.
But still some people are going to have the perception that this is another action Star Trek game and compare it to the action focused Star Trek games of the past, was that a concern during development?
We looked back at all of them. A lot of our guys and the writer Bob Orci who worked on the film has gone on record and said that he’s been a fan of all those games, he’s played every single one of them. Some of them are great, some of them have moments that are good but might not live up to what everyone wants but it was a very conscious decision by us to make a game that could work in this environment We have a big community to make happy.
A very vocal community.
Yeah, a very vocal community and they are the first to say ”this isn’t right, this isn’t what Star Trek is about” so we had a tonne of conversation about how do we make a game and honor what Star Trek is. But we also couldn’t make a game where people sat on the Bridge and talked for two hours, frankly we made a couple of movies that were like that and we wanted to make sure it was an experience that took in the whole scope of what Star Trek is.
What games did you turn to for inspiration? The resemblance to Mass Effect has been mentioned by some who saw gameplay footage on the internet.
You know it’s funny, I get asked about Mass Effect all the time and it’s a difficult question to answer. We are huge fans of Mass Effect and what they done but we have made a completely different game than them, I wouldn’t want to make what they made because they done as well as anybody could do it. But [BioWare] have said that they have been influenced by Star Trek over the years and they were thrilled what Star Trek did so that they could make their game, well we feel the same way.
If games like Mass Effect, Halo, Uncharted and Arkham didn’t set the stage for what you can do with property like this and a Sci-Fi world or with something based on a property like Arkham that we all know and love, how do we use those for inspiration, what about those games? We looked at everything from Metroid Prime which was a great game as inspiration for us. It wans’t just a case of ”let’s pick Mass Effect.” Uncharted has some of the best storytelling from any game of late and we are huge fans of what Naughty Dog and that team does.
Uncharted is a brilliant series.
They are brilliant games and what they managed to do with character and putting you in situations. They tell a complete story which is something a lot of games don’t do, sometimes the story isn’t there and it’s all about great gameplay. You know the Original Series episode Arena? That episode is one of the greatest written TV episodes of all time, it’s a credit to what they’ve done. So for us it was about how do we tell a story and tell a narrative that when you’re done you felt ”Oh my god, I’ve played through a movie.”
With a game like Uncharted, you want to get to the next cut scene to find out what happens. You start playing and you have exciting action but it’s all about what happens next. You aren’t just waiting for the option to skip the cut scene. So, Star Trek The Video Game is going to be like that?
Yeah definitely, we were careful about that. We wanted to make sure the gameplay drove the narrative. A lot of games are ”Bunch of shooting, Bunch of shooting, Cut scene story, Bunch of shooting, Bunch of shooting, Cut scene story.” We wanted to make sure our storytelling was happening in the game. The back and forward banter between Kirk and Spock isn’t ”Hey, you shot that guy” or ”Hey, I need help,” we wanted to tell the story as you were playing. And as great as some cinematics are, they can take you out of the experience and you end up either skipping them or the other end of that is rushing through the gameplay to find out what happens next. We tried to walk that fine line that you want to play through the eyes of both characters to get the full experience.
Were the Gorn always in the frame to be the bad guys?
It was the Gorn from day one. We all sat in a meeting to think about who we want the enemy to be and everybody was ”Oh, the Gorn are kinda cool” and credit to the writing on that show. An episode written 40-something years ago, the fact that people still remember it, people still love it. It might not have the best production value ever see but it doesn’t matter. When you play the game, our friend Mr Gorn comes back in a fun way.
They were brought back in Star Trek Enterprise, you looked at that when designing them?
Yes, they were brought back in Enterprise, back in some of the books that were written and there was a version of them in one of the other Star Trek games. We looked at everything people had done with them but were surprised that nobody had taken the Gorn to the level we have. We created a whole culture for them, we created a whole range of Gorn, we have 15 different ones in the game.
C0-op is also something that is a big part of the game. For people who like to play on their own,will the game experience differ much? Is it better played in co-op mode?
As with most co-op games, it’s better if you play with somebody, you have that companionship there. But it was very important for us to make a game that you could play single player, that’s how I’ve played it mostly. I want to be able to take this home and sit down by myself and play through it, first as Kirk and then as Spock. That way you get to see things from each character’s perspective, thing’s you wouldn’t have seen.
We pushed the developer to the limit in terms of what they could do with your co-op AI. So you really get that experience that it’s cool to play with a friend but it’s equally cool to play on your own.
And the Gorn are going to have decent AI? They won’t just be cannon fodder?
Yes, we wanted the Gorn to have great AI and great AI in your co-op partner. So if you are playing as Kirk, we didn’t want you to be irritated with Spock because he’s not healing you when you need him to or he’s not where you want him to be. Things like that can be so frustrating and we wanted to avoid that.
Is there an advantage to playing the game before you see Star Trek Into Darkness? Are there spoilers in the game?
We we very careful not to step on the film and make sure this is an experience that could really live and breath on it’s own. I would be lying to you if I said there aren’t a couple of Easter eggs in there that you might pick up on; but we wanted this to be an authentic and original Star Trek experience.
I have to ask, being Vice President of Paramount, I’m assuming you have seen bits of the new film. Any hints on who the villain is?
Sure, I’m going to give you an exclusive right now who the villain is. It’s…oh sorry time’s up, I have to go. [Laughs]
Before we you go. Were you excited to see Captain Kirk at the Oscars?
YES! We LOVE Mr Shatner! He did a great job at the Oscars and was very funny, probably the highlight for me.
Me too, he was the best part of the night I thought. Thank you Mr Miller for telling us about the Star Trek The Video Game.
All sounds like Star Trek The Video Game had the right thinking behind it but how well have those intentions translated into the actual gameplay. We played a few levels of it, click next for more juicy details and a run down of what we thought.
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