Star Trek Timelines Helps Ring in Show’s 50th Anniversary
It’s an exciting time for Star Trek fans as the iconic sci-fi series turns 50, celebrating its Golden Anniversary. From humble beginnings stemming from the mind of creator Gene Roddenberry, to charging its way through the 21st century while inspiring fans old and new, the series has much to commemorate.
One of the many wonderful things that has come out of the Star Trek universe is Disruptor Beam’s mobile app Star Trek Timelines. The open world game is marking the occasion with some great perks for players, such as the adding the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 from The Original Series to the game.
We caught up with lead designer David Heron from Disruptor Beam and talked the games inception, reception and future at the 50th anniversary convention Star Trek Missions New York event. Star Trek Timelines is a game allowing players to join Starfleet, create their own crew and make decisions based on their own moral grounds. The game is available for download on iTunes and Google Play.
How did you start with the development of the game?
David: I wasn’t working at the company, but I know in the beginning of 2014, Disruptor Beam had a Game of Thrones game. John, who is the CEO, founded the company with the idea that we were going to make games about big worlds that we love. So, Game of Thrones is one that he really loves, and the other one that he wanted was Star Trek. There were pretty long negotiations and also just figuring out what the game was going to be, that took a long time to decide. We asked ourselves what kind of Star Trek game did we want to make, because there is so much of it. Once that ball got started, once we started moving, it ended up just taking care of itself. We are all huge Star Trek fans and so it really is just a passion project. When you have such a rich history as 50 years of Star Trek and you also have a bunch of teammates that have legitimate love for what you are building, everything just kind of falls into place.
What are the challenges to making such a massive open-world mobile game?
David: We can talk about a few things. One, there’s a big technical issue. We really wanted to make sure Star Trek Timelines was a beautiful game. The goal was to have the best looking game on mobile. That started with planets and all of a sudden with space effects with the dust and the ships and art. Then you go and get all these things and have on a computer this really beautiful game. Then you start putting it on these devices, and it’s huge, for as big as our world is, as big as Star Trek is, we started putting them on Android devices and devices that are three years old, and so creating that world and figuring out the technical hurdle was our first big step.
The second sort of problem with the open world, or whatever the case may be, is that Star Trek is about exploration. When you have an open world and you have a game with a world about exploration, you have to start filling it with stuff. That was something we attempted a few different ways and what we quickly realized is we needed to start telling stories in a different way. So, with exploration we’re not always going to let you go everywhere and there always be something interesting. But what we need to do is start creating a community that will create interesting stuff, and that wherever you are there’s a reason for you to be there because of the community. And over the last nine months we’ve started building out a lot of these systems and content that will allow users to work together. So even though it will be a big giant open-world we want to make it feel like it’s filled with people. And that’s how we are dealing with it rather than there being exciting adventures everywhere.
How do you choose which characters and stories you are going to follow through with?
David: One of the challenges with Star Trek, if we look around this convention you can see Enterprise, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and if we dig down we see very specific aliens that have only appeared in a couple episodes and very specific costumes that are references to things, and then you realize Star Trek is so many different things to so many different people. The first thing we have to say is, okay, we’re not going to be able to get all of it, but we what we want is to hit all the high notes and then start going in a little deeper to the things that players have a connection with. A good example may be Ensign Ro, a Bajorn. She was on about nine episodes of TNG, but you see a lot of people cosplay her. That’s actually a really good way of looking around and seeing who people are dressed up as or who are people talking about or other ways people engage with Star Trek. We want to pick up that ball and run with that, and that’s one way it starts. The other place it starts is just we have our own favorites and we put in those.
For better or worse an example: I’m Canadian, and our executive producer is a hockey player. There may have been three minutes in one episode where Tom Paris and Harry Kim come out of a holodeck with their hockey equipment, and we may have put a bit more hockey stuff in there. Not really the biggest part of Star Trek but a lot of fun.
I’m very interested in the prime directive, how do you implement that into the game?
David: One of the things someone new to prime directive may not know, each captain kind of has their own take on it. We’re trying to lean in to that. Picard is very much letter of the law with a few exceptions. Janeway, when she gets to the Delta Quadrant, she very much wants to uphold it, but by the end of it she just wants to get home, and it kind of goes out the window. Star Trek is about a utopia, and I think it’s really easy to be a good person in a utopia, everyone has food, everyone doesn’t need money and everyone’s happy. That’s real easy. Star Trek’s stories becomes interesting when you take those people and you remove their comfort and utopia and then you challenge their morality – their prime directive. And I think there are some really great stories that follow that. We’re trying to follow in that footstep. We present the players some dilemma early on in the game and there are places when there’s not a clear right answer. So we sort of ask the players to find some moral ambiguity to do what they think is best.
What is the biggest thing you want fans to be aware of coming of Star Trek: Mission New York’s 50th Anniversary show?
David: We talked about the storytelling and one of the things I found really interesting is telling new Star Trek stories but I’m not particularly interested in telling my own story. When I talked about the people, like a gentleman that just walked up to us in a general Cardassian outfit, there’s no specific character for that – I don’t know what that is, but that is a thing he loves and is embodying. In the same way, we have these stories and novels that aren’t a part of the official Star Trek but people have taken this on and they have created extended stories of their favorite characters. What I think we have the opportunity to do moving on is a collaborative storytelling system. Right now, we have am event going on called the Battle for New York which is a play on an existing Enterprise episode and the idea is the players can pick one of three factions in the game to support. All these factions are trying to accomplish the same overall goal, they are all trying to save Captain Archer and make sure the Federation is formed. But each of the three factions if given the opportunity might change things a little bit. We want players to look forward to do that, engage in the story, and fill in the blanks. We set up the problem, they resolve it. We take how they play, who they chose to use, and the other ways they answer questions to conclude the story.
Similar to an algorithm?
David: We’re not at that point. It’s literally watching them play, sending out emails, polls and asking things like ‘what would you do in this scenario?’ They put that out there, we write that into the story, the content, the characters and it basically feeds into itself. The more that we work on these systems; the more we can create an algorithm and put that into the game. The goal a year from now to have players come into the game not only for the nostalgia but also for the other Star Trek stories that they hear people care about. I would love for the community to create a new version of an existing character, and see a cosplayer. That would be incredible.
What makes the game unique and really itself?
David: I think the very premise of the game, collapsing 50 years of Star Trek, the players can create these unique crews from their own shows. It’s a thing people love here at the convention. They love seeing the original actors next to the later series actors. We’re just creating a game where people can interact together.
Is there a Star Trek moment that stands out to you that’s in the game or you want to put in the game?
David: Yes, there’s a pretty famous episode of Deep Space 9 called ‘In the Pale Moonlight,’ and it goes back to that moral gray area. In that series there’s a big galactic war going on, the Captain, Captain Sisko is tasked with defending everyone. That weighs heavy on him. He has the opportunity have a pretty big victory, to bring in the Romulans, who sort of stay out. The way that he does it, he goes to a former spy, who may be duplicitous and they actually orchestrate an assassination. This is a Starfleet captain, who turns a blind eye, he makes a bunch of comprises, and the end result is a foreign diplomat is assassinated. There is a great moment in that episode where he looks right at the camera and questions himself. He’s doing his diary and he keeps repeating something along the lines of ‘I can live with that.’ That was a pretty different moment in Star Trek and I’d like to capture a very strong man at his worst, that was making a pretty big self-sacrifice.