It’s the kind of paradox that Mr. Spock finds fascinating – and the type of unmet challenge that Capt. James T. Kirk can’t resist: No franchise has a longer history with video game fans than Star Trek, but to today’s Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 audiences it’s a brand that might as well be lost in space.
That may change with the April 23 release of Star Trek: The Video Game (available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well as a Microsoft Windows PC version), which seeks a new commercial frontier for a brand that is heavy on heritage but light on contemporary credibility. The project also represents a traditional Hollywood power boldly going where it has never gone before: Star Trek: The Video Game represents the first major console game ever financed and released by Paramount Pictures, a historic studio that had licensed properties out in the burgeoning marketplace.
“For us it represents a huge investment in Star Trek,” says Brian Miller, Paramount’s senior vice president of brand marketing and the executive producer of the game. “We’re all gamers and we wanted to make sure the game was a triple-A game, something Star Trek deserves and frankly may not have gotten for the last several decades.”
During a limited test session on the Paramount lot, the game (which was developed by Digital Extremes of Unreal and Bioshock fame) was dynamic and engaging and as aesthetically satisfying as the 2009 film that provides its foundation. That film, directed by J.J. Abrams, presented (for the first time on screen) a new ensemble in the classic roles introduced by the 1966-69 television series. That new crew – led by Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Lt. Nyota Uhura), Karl Urban (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), John Cho (Lt. Hikaru Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Ensign Pavel Chekov), and Simon Pegg (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott) – all lend their voices to the game.
This crew ensemble is the first Trek crew to grow up in the full-swing video game era and they were engaged in a big way by the possibilities of the project. Some, such as the irrepressible Pegg, were eager to come to recording sessions with improv and extra energy. It had been watching Abrams and the cast at work on the 2009 film, in fact, that inspired Paramount to set a new course into the video game universe.
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“The inception of this game was during the production of the last film, when we [could see] what J.J. was doing with the film, when we started realizing that the movie was going to do what it did … What J.J. did far exceeded even all of our expectations and we didn’t want to just do another quick, movie-based game that was going to disappoint a lot of fans,” Miller says. “The film crew are all big gamers, we’re big gamers, all of us, and we said, ‘Listen we should really make – finally – a great one, the ultimate Star Trek game. For us [the challenge] was: How do we make a game that is truly worthy of the new reboot and the new interest in the franchise? For us it was doing it ourselves, making sure we funded it correctly, making sure that we worked with the right people – and the right people were the creative people who worked on the movie.”
And the film’s creative team did beam in as frequent consultants on the game creation, despite having their hands full with Star Trek Into Darkness, the Abrams-directed sequel that arrives May 17 as one of the most-anticipated films of 2013. No one consulted with more vigor than Roberto Orci, a key member of the writing team for both Trek films and the most devout Trekkie among the Abrams brain trust. He says the goal was to make a sort of mind-meld between cinema and game – the game was viewed is an additional chapter, not a separate book.
“It is as close to canon as any Star Trek game will ever come because it was deliberately designed within the continuity of this new universe,” Orci says. “It’s intended to be a mission that could happen between the 2009 film and 2013 film. It’s a big universe so finding a cool story that could fit in between wasn’t too difficult, but the challenge was we didn’t want it to be just a stand-alone that felt tacked-on. We really wanted it to be relevant and to be a continuation of the events of the opening film and to track with the 2013 Trek.”
The game also reaches back to the original Trek for key moments and characters. There’s a key sequence, for instance, that pits Spock versus Kirk in mortal combat and finds its rhythms in the classic episode Amok Time, the show’s season 2 premiere and the only episode to visit Spock’s home world. That April 1968 episode celebrates its 45th anniversary just three days after the game’s release, a reminder that the show’s legacy that has already lived long and prospered to an extent that few television creations ever do.
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