Beam Me Up, Scotty

Beam Me Up, Scotty
Elite Force: The Essence of Trek

Russ Pitts | 1 Sep 2009 12:03
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And then there's Star Trek.

We keep saying gaming is taking its rightful place as an entertainment medium, that it's eclipsing movies and television combined, that the best creative minds of our generation are now working in games and that the best stories are being told there. All of this is true, of course. And then there's Star Trek.

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To date, 66 videogames officially based on the Star Trek license have been published, most of which suck. This shouldn't be news. After all, licensed games in general are largely immune to what makes gaming fun. "Based on a movie" is the linguistic equivalent to "will probably suck" in the same way that "La Quinta" stands for "next to Denny's." But there's something uniquely depressing about sucky Star Trek games, and something uniquely omnipresent about the level of suck in the franchise's game offerings as a whole. This is why it's all the more exciting when a Star Trek game comes along that's not only "not bad" but also "good."

In 2000, Raven Software released Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. It was an ambitious project to say the least. Not only was the veteran developer attempting to mine gold in the long-barren wasteland of the Star Trek franchise, they were doing it with a first-person shooter, at that point as-yet unexplored territory in Trek games. The result was an instant hit. Review scores averaged 86 percent, and one critic called it "simply one of the finest first-person shooters to come out this year."

The Escapist recently spoke with the developers at Raven about what makes Trek Trek and why their version of it has fared better than most.

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"To me, Star Trek was always about the characters and the concepts," says Raven Software's Michael Chang Gummelt, who wrote and programmed Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, the first game to successfully bridge the gap between Trek and first-person shooters and arguably one of the best Star Trek games ever made.

"The original Star Trek had a great sort of 'triumvirate' of primary characters with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Each represented a different sort of philosophy or personality. ... The Next Generation continued this trend ... that and the whole idea of an organized, well-developed and well-funded space exploration effort. It was like something out of the complete fantasy of pulp sci-fi from the decades before combined with more modern characterization and cutting-edge science-fiction concepts."

Brian Pelletier, the Project Lead for Elite Force, adds another layer. He says that, in addition to the character dynamics, the essence of Trek is about "the thrill of discovering new alien races and the adventures and dilemmas that arise from the interaction with different cultures."

"Initially, I was very nervous at the thought of doing an FPS based on a Star Trek license," says Gummelt. "To me, the two just weren't compatible. ... But as we developed the idea and came up with the idea of the Hazard Team and put the ship in an extremely dangerous situation, it started to gel."

"We were all so passionate about Trek that creating interesting game ideas that were faithful to the Star Trek Universe wasn't the challenge," says Les Dorscheid, Art Lead. "Choosing a right direction that would allow everything to flow together in the story was more difficult."

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