‘Star Trek the Video Game’: Paramount aims to stun disbelievers

March 22, 2013 | 12:24 p.m.
tmar Star Trek the Video Game: Paramount aims to stun disbelievers

A scene of T’Mar from "Star Trek: The Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

surok Star Trek the Video Game: Paramount aims to stun disbelievers

A scene of Surock from "Star Trek: The Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

The Starship Enterprise is in shambles. Flames erupt from the front of the ship as enemy spacecraft latch onto it with tentacle-like cords.  For a brief moment, the embattled Enterprise appears unrecognizable to even “Star Trek’s” most famous characters.

“What the hell is that?” asks James T. Kirk. “It appears the Enterprise has been compromised,” responds Spock.  Against the latter’s better judgment, they both don space suits and embark on a galactic free-fall, dodging debris and enemy ships as they aim to board the Enterprise and retake the beloved starship.

This is not a scene from the upcoming  May 17 J.J. Abrams film “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but is instead a pivotal moment in “Star Trek the Video Game,” which we sampled earlier this month. It’s Paramount’s three-years-in-the-making attempt to turn its famed space exploration brand into a rebooted franchise that’s respected by filmgoers and gamers.

“This had to feel cinematic. This had to feel like it was a ‘Trek’ adventure that could have been a movie but happened to fit the gaming space better,” said Brian Miller, senior vice president of Paramount Pictures and the game’s executive producer. “We would not have made the game unless we had every actor from the movie. They had to actually be in their roles, not just appear for likeness.”

Yet Miller didn’t use the word “players” or “gamers” to describe those who would experience “Star Trek the Video Game,” which will be released on April 23 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Instead, he repeatedly said “viewers.”

A scene from "Star Trek The Video Game" (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount).

A scene from “Star Trek the Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

The project’s budget hasn’t been revealed, but Miller said that it “cost more” than “many” of the films on the studio’s 2013 slate. To ensure all the credit — or blame — falls on Paramount, the studio took a rather hands-on approach with the latest “Trek” game.

Rather than license out the “Star Trek” brand, Paramount developed the premise in-house and hired Canada’s Digital Extremes (“BioShock,” “The Darkness 2”) to carry out its vision. “They were willing to do what we asked them to do,” said Miller. “It wasn’t as if they had their own money involved. It was, ‘Hey, we’re paying you, and we want this.'”

All of the core cast members of Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” and this May’s “Into Darkness” make an appearance. Chris Pine is in place as Kirk, Zachary Quinto returns as Spock and Miller said they allowed the actors to improvise some of the dialogue. Their actions are scored by original work from the composer for the two films, Michael Giacchino. He offers more than two hours of custom music for the game, all recorded with a 100-plus member orchestra.

Though there was plenty of action on display in “Star Trek the Video Game,” Miller said the game will be a failure if it doesn’t work as a stand-alone story in the “Star Trek” canon. Most movie-inspired games, said Miller, are often “just a piece of merchandise. They’re a T-shirt. They’re a hat. It’s, ‘Let’s put something out there and make $60 from the fans and go away.'”

A scene of T’Mar from "Star Trek The Video Game" (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount).

A scene of T’Mar from “Star Trek The Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

Set between 2009’s “Star Trek” and this May’s “Into Darkness,” “Star Trek the Video Game” introduces players to Vulcan scientists T’Mar and her father Surok, who have helped develop a device to help terraform planets more quickly. Their goal is to build a new home for the Vulcan race after their planet was destroyed in the 2009 film. Unbeknown to them, their planet-building invention has the nasty side-effect of opening a rift in space, allowing a lizard-like alien species known as the Gorn to venture into friendly territory and try to steal the terraforming technology.

Players in the game can step into the role of either Kirk or Spock. The game was written by “God of War” series veteran Marianne Krawczyk, with assists from film personnel such as Bob Orci, a producer/writer on “Into Darkness.”

Creating an original story, albeit one inspired by a 1967 “Star Trek” episode titled “Arena” (the Gorn in that episode were simply men in lizard suits), was an easy decision. Miller didn’t want anyone playing “Star Trek the Video Game” to feel as if they were simply completing a task they had just seen in one of the films. So no, “Star Trek the Video Game” will not offer any clues as to the identity of  Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, the mysterious villain in “Into Darkness.”

“We’ve all played the game where the sensation is, ‘Great, I’ve seen that. I get to play the Tatooine level.’ I know where that goes. Some of those games can be fantastic, but ‘Trek’ has to have a story component to it,” said Miller. “Even the best of the worst episodes were unbelievably well written. We wanted to take the viewer — and I use the term ‘viewer’ deliberately  — on this journey. We wanted you to play a Kirk and Spock quest. We had to give the viewer some things they didn’t expect rather than them just doing the same things you saw them do in the movies.”

Where “Star Trek the Video Game” will need to innovate in order to work is in character development. Built as a single or two-player experience — allowing users to play together locally or online — “Star Trek the Video Game” thrives on interaction between Kirk and Spock. The two bicker throughout, and in one scene, in which an injured Kirk needs Spock to carry him, the Enterprise captain is constantly barking contradictory orders to speed up and slow down.

What’s more, those playing as Kirk or Spock will have different views of the action. When Kirk can’t walk, for instance, Spock will need to get him to a medical bay while Kirk fires away at Velociraptor-like Gorns. Other times, Kirk will have to clear a path in order for Spock to climb a wall to safety, or Spock will have to perform emergency medical procedures on Kirk while the captain keeps enemies at a distance.

A scene of the Gorn from "Star Trek The Video Game" (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount).

A scene with the Gorn from “Star Trek the Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

There’s even one point late in the game where Kirk and Spock come to blows in a scene inspired by the 1967 “Star Trek” episode “Amok Time.” “The casual gamer will have no idea, but the fan will know where we’re pulling from,” said Miller.

Although that scene wasn’t shown at the Paramount lot when we sampled the game, it’s not hard to envision it here. No doubt some players will want to sock it to Kirk or Spock far earlier. If Spock, for instance, so much as sits in Kirk’s captain’s chair, Kirk turns and snaps, “Don’t get too comfy, Spock.”

Fans will be delighted to know there is a scene in which players can take control of the Enterprise, and while any action game today is loaded with weapon upgrade after weapon upgrade, “Star Trek the Video Game” allows gamers to enhance their Tricorders. Those hand-held devices are integral to the game, allowing players to heal each other, learn about the universe, interact with the Enterprise or simply gift experience points to a partner.

Lessons learned from “Trek” failures were taken into account. One mistake, conceded Miller, was “Star Trek D-A-C,” a downloadable game released as a tie-in to the 2009 film.

“It was a very small little endeavor,” Miller said. “The guys at [Abrams’ production company] Bad Robot had an idea and creatively drove some of that, but there wasn’t the time to do things right. They wanted to do a space simulator with the new ships. Whatever that game was, it wasn’t the greatest game in the world. ”

A scene from "Star Trek The Video Game" (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount).

A scene from “Star Trek The Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

Universally hailed as one of the “Trek” games that worked, however, was the 1992 PC/Mac game “Star Trek 25th Anniversary,” which emphasized story and dialogue, and pulled from old-fashioned point-and-click game mechanics. It was also evidence that narrative can drive a game as much as action.

“That’s a great game,” said Miller. “It was discoverable. It was exploration. It was learning. That game worked. Trust me, we looked at that game.

“To make this authentic to what ‘Trek’ is,” Miller continued, “we wanted it to be something other than running around and shooting lizards for 15 hours.”

– Todd Martens


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5 Responses to ‘Star Trek the Video Game’: Paramount aims to stun disbelievers

  1. Kirk says:

    Hey, you know what got no mention here? Gameplay. Just a same issue I know, but I feel like potential "viewers" might be interested in, ya know, the "game" aspect of the "video game"

  2. Eddie says:

    Kirk – What is it you want to know? The LA Times is not a game publication, it's not the appropriate place to talk about the specifics of game play. But if you do a very fast Google search for "Star Trek the video game" you're gonna find out just about everything you could possibly want to know. I think "gameplay" in the "game" is pretty self-evident. What makes so many games fail is that they have nothing to offer beyond the core game, certainly nothing that makes ME want to use the family's Xbox as anything more than a way to get Netflix.

  3. Dom says:

    I know the Star Trek ongoing comic writer, Mike Johnson, worked on this game, too. So fans of the comic may feel a familiar tone in the game. Maybe…I'm not sure how much Johnson got to add to the actual game story, I just know he was involved.

  4. NYJ says:

    Great. Give us some Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley skins and I may even buy it

  5. @elwyn5150 says:

    Although the developers have explicitly stated they don't want to produce a train wreck as bad as Aliens: Colonial Marines, I sense that's where they are heading. They have expressed their love of their source material but the graphics look pretty hideous. They will need to put in a lot of effort to make any single player game cooperating with a Spock AI bearable. The graphics look like they belong on a PS2.

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