The Legacy Of Star Trek Gaming: Part Two
In my last entry I covered the start of the 1990’s era of Star Trek Gaming and had a surprisingly great time checking out and revisiting those titles. As adventure titles released amidst the high point for the genre, I felt the ‘Star Trek’ entries held up suprisingly well, particularly ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation — A Final Unity’ which, to me at least, is the one game that captures the feel of the show almost perfectly. But the genre games of this era were not all space simulations and puzzle adventures. In an age where interactive media was attempting to set a new trend of media, some were altogether different.
Just as a note, these articles are not chronological entries through every Star Trek game. I want to cover certain eras that connect together and hope to cover all aspects of Star Trek gaming. The lack of pre-90s Star Trek games was noted on my last article and I will address this in future articles, once I find some way of playing those old titles of course.
The Ultimate Interactive Klingon Adventure
Simon & Schuster, already a publisher of Star Trek novelizations under their Pocket Book label, had previously worked on some lesser known Star Trek games and interactive titles such as the previously mentioned ‘Star Trek: The Rebel Universe’, and the very detailed and impressive ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual’. But producer Keith Halper wanted to expand on that idea, set in the Klingon domain.
“We thought that in an interactive product, we could again allow users to do something analogous to wandering around the rooms, that we could allow users to wander around in their culture, to understand books that are on cultural shelves, and to understand who they are in a profound way.”— Keith Halper
So the idea for Star Trek: Klingon was born. An interactive adventure with full motion video players could take the role of a Klingon officer aboard a Klingon vessel and interact with a profound cast of Star Trek veteran actors, such as Robert O’Reilly, J.G. Hertzler and Martha Hackett. The filming sections were directed by Jonathan Frakes who was convinced to take part right from the start of pre-production.
Star Trek: Klingon wasn’t just a side game in the history of Star Trek. Music composed for the game would be added to later episodes of ‘Deep Space Nine’, and it featured revolutionary technology to encourage the player to speak and learn Klingon. Included in the package was a Klingon Language lab, which used voice recognition technology to help the users learn Klingon itself. This was a remarkable feat in 1995! The whole production of the game was centred around both the full motion video sequences, and how the player interacted with the content on screen.
“I was showing the beta version off at the Paramount lot, and a lot of people were very surprised that we were able to do something like this on a computer. I am really appreciative of the work that Duck [Corporation] did. They have something truly revolutionary.” — Keith Halper
The success of Star Trek Klingon lead to the production of a follow up title, Star Trek Borg. In the same vein as the previous title this was another full motion video adventure, but without the language or speech recognition tools of the former. It did however feature the return of John de Lancie reprising his iconic character of Q. This was the idea of director James Conway who had previously worked with the actor on the Star Trek Voyager episode ‘Death Wish’ and was considered to direct the feature film ‘First Contact’.
“That was my first time with John de Lancie, and he’s a delight,” he said. “John is a wonderful raconteur and a wonderful actor, and he had that character down. Q was such a wonderful character. A year or two later I did the video game with John, Star Trek: Borg, which was shot at the same time as the movie Jonathan [Frakes] was directing, which was another irony of that whole thing.”
The game was not as well received as its counterpart. Whilst many fans admired the setting and interactions with established cast, reviewers were dismayed by the lack of game-play and challenge, drawing attention to the game’s pacing issues and poor response to inputs made by the user. Personally I think both games are fantastic additions to the Star Trek universe and worth a watch, you can find both Klingon and Borg on Youtube. No re-release has been put forward as Simon and Schuster have not put out any game release since 2006, let alone anything in the Star Trek universe.
Enter Deep Space Nine
There were not many games focused on this spin-off, four in total, two of which were also published by Simon and Schuster. They were never the most successful or well acclaimed entries in the series, but are worth mentioning due to the reputation of the show itself and the direction the show’s story line took over the course of its lifetime.
The first DS9 title ‘Crossroads Of Time’ hit the Super Nintendo and Genesis in 1994 by developers Novotrade. It was an action platformer which resembled many other titles on the two 16 bit consoles of the time, yet development of the title was troubled from the start. Designer Maurice Molyneaux struggled initially dealing with licensing issues between the developers and Paramount.
“The biggest design challenge in this product was how to make an action game that didn’t rely on violence. This was back in the days before Star Trek featured a weekly phaser battle. I distinctly remember being told that I could not use a phaser as an explosive device. I wrote back and named six Star Trek episodes where that very thing had occurred.” — Maurice Molyneaux
Elements from the episode ‘Captive Pursuit’ were meant to be included with a cameo from the character ‘Tosk’, however due to the lack of memory on both consoles it was cut from the final version. At one point Maurice walked away from production but was asked to return and found that most of his original concepts for game-play had been changed entirely.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the work that had been done in the intervening months had wandered away from the structure I established, with the result that far too much of the game happened off the station in environments that were not really related to the show, and the developers had worked a bunch of extra play mechanics into the game which made it far too difficult to play. Unfortunately, so much work had been done that it was impossible to get back to what the game should have been.” — Maurice Molyneaux
What ended up being released was a strange hybrid of puzzle action adventure with sluggish dialogue. The developers only had the show bible to work from as the game was produced before the first season had aired. ‘Crossroads Of Time’ ended up being lauded for its accurate tone to the show but criticized for its ambiguous puzzles and confusing controls.
Deep Space Myst: Harbinger
Released in 1996 by developers Stormfront Studios, ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — Harbinger’ was the last trek game to be released for Microsoft DOS and Macintosh. An interactive adventure set at the end of DS9's third season, it portrayed the player as an envoy travelling to the station whilst it is under siege by an unknown enemy. Invoking a similar style of interaction as ‘25th Anniversary’ but not quite the depth of ‘A Final Unity’ this game took the players throughout the station to solve puzzles, battle aliens and save Deep Space Nine.
Harbinger was fantastic to me, actually walking around and exploring Deep Space Nine in the same vein as the Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual and Myst (which was also a favourite of mine), yet without the complex breakdown of every system on the station. By this point, twelve year old me was a solid Star Trek fan and any game released for the genre gave me joy, ‘Harbinger’ certainly helped to replicate the feel of the show itself as accurately as a DOS game could.
The full cast from the show returned for the game, and everything from the shows introduction to the ambient noise of the station, was accurately portrayed in a very immersive way. Attention had been paid towards replicating the small details such as the layout of the station and how to navigate around it, something the developers knew that Star Trek fans would be quick to point out if it was wrong.
The game does have some issues however. I noted was the lack of people and interaction on the station and promenade which is explained away with an evacuation notice at the start, however I believe this to be a performance and development problem as hard disk and memory concerns were a common problem in that era. The small action sections of shooting over full motion video backdrops are very lackluster and were only added for an element of challenge to break up what would essentially be an interactive slideshow.
Despite its problems I really enjoyed Harbinger, well for the first half an hour or so. Once you get over the novelty of moving around the station, listening to Captain Sisko’s dulcet tones informing you of station dramatics and clicking erratically around quite vague (yet thematically accurate) puzzles, it can be fairly tedious and probably not worth sticking around for.
By 1996 with the release of Harbinger, ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ had entered its fifth season which began to setup a multi-series event popularly known as the ‘Dominion War’. The ethos of the show began to change the way we looked at Star Trek and opened up the doors for more combat oriented games, rather than the interactive adventures that preceded it. Simon and Schuster, in a departure from their normal style of Star Trek games, developed two more action focused titles.
‘Deep Space Nine: The Fallen’ was released in 2000 utilizing the popular ‘Unreal’ engine and featured three characters to choose from. The story was written by Judith And Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and was an adaptation of their already popular Star Trek novel series, ‘Millennium’. Released to relative acclaim, reviewers commented on the good use of the ‘Unreal’ engine and well thought out game-play. Amidst other titles released that year, such as ‘Deus Ex’ and ‘Perfect Dark’, ‘The Fallen’ manages to stand out and not just be a lackluster ‘they will buy it for the name’ Star Trek title.
“DS9 die-hards are sure to love its strong story and very interactive environments, both of which enthusiastically adhere to the Star Trek universe. Everyone else will discover that even if The Fallen is not the greatest game of the year, it’s still an involving, good-looking and generally very well done sci-fi outing.”— Gamesradar 75/100
However a lack of voice acting from Avery Brooks and Colm Meaney didn’t blend well with the other voice actors reprising their roles, and the badly rendered polygon models give the game a very dated look. This was near the dawn of three dimensional gaming, sprites were being replaced by low polygon representations which, combined with old lighting modes, make the cut scenes look flat and uninspired.
‘The Fallen’ has some innovative movement schemes, grabbing ledges and climbing mechanics which feel similar to well known titles of the future, such as ‘Batman: Arkham’ and the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ series. Other features such as using your Tricorder to find objects hidden in the environment, and re-modulating your phasers frequency help bring some Star Trek to this action themed game.
Finally, in 2001 Simon and Schuster published the last Deep Space Nine title ‘Dominion Wars’, a tactical strategy game similar to the Starfleet Command series. This was purely a tactical game with little story other than various missions that the player had to complete in order to earn credits. The player could command a variety of vessels from all sides of the conflict.
However the game was fraught with problems. Many graphics cards required were not compatible and refused to run the game. Players reported many bugs in the game including one which revoked the ability to save the game. Reviewers similarly were not impressed, calling the game out on its dull game-play and shallow attempt to create a space tactical game.
“Dominion Wars does a nice job of capturing the feel of the Deep Space Nine universe, and the show’s fans will find a lot to like about it as a result. But gamers who are interested in a general space strategy game might find the strategy elements a bit thin. If you’re a big fan of Deep Space Nine and just want to fight for the future of Alpha Quadrant, and you also have some patience with potential technical problems, Dominion Wars is worthwhile. But if you want a comprehensive space combat strategy game, you should look elsewhere.” — Gamespot 6/10
Not only was this the last Deep Space Nine title to be released, it was also the last Star Trek program that Simon and Schuster would publish, ending a five year series of releases from the publisher. It’s a shame we don’t have a modern version of ‘Star Trek: Klingon’ considering today’s innovations such a virtual reality, and digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa. In my opinion Simon and Schuster were amongst the best publishers of Star Trek content, taking risks on development such as voice recognition work and not replicating the same sequels over and over.
The Next Legacy
Whilst the Deep Space Nine games didn’t add much to the overall blend of Star Trek games release, it did show that publishers were interested in the series and how the critical acclaim that it had received shaped the development and setting of the games. ‘The Dominion War’ as well as ‘First Contact’ set off a chain reaction of action based games that would define some of the more popular Star Trek titles.
One game in development that got cancelled was ‘The Hunt’, again developed by Simon and Schuster. Not much has been discovered about the title other than some early design footage, and the knowledge that it would have been released on DOS and Macintosh in the mid 1990s. All existing design footage can be watched here.
In the next part I’ll look at the battle between Interplay and Microprose, a Starfleet Command retrospective and a game show hosted by none other than Q!