Previews// Star Trek: Where No Movie Studio Has Gone Before

Posted 29 Aug 2012 20:00 by
“Movie games generally aren’t very good.” This isn’t the sort of admission you’d expect to hear from a Senior Vice President of a TV and film behemoth like Paramount. But the man behind the production of the upcoming Star Trek game, Brian Miller, is a self-professed gamer at heart - and knows that movie tie-ins have had a bad run. He hopes to change that.

Following in the footsteps of JJ Abrams’ 2009 silver screen reboot, Star Trek is a co-operative third person action game that hinges on the relationship and diverse abilities of Kirk and Spock. The planet Vulcan has been destroyed, and the Vulcans are working with Starfleet on a relocation programme. It involves a powerful device called the Helios machine - but when it begins to malfunction and strange occurrences happen across the galaxy, the Enterprise is sent to investigate.

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
That’s the setup. But before we continue, a post-mortem on movie games, and why Paramount feels that it has learned a lesson in the development of Star Trek. So, why aren’t movie games good? “There are a few reasons. Disappointing reasons on our end, because it should be a great thing to be able to play as superheroes or characters from big action films, and relive the moments you see on screen. But they don’t seem to work.

“We tried to really figure out why this is the case. We broke it down to a couple of different things. One was that, we never gave a developer enough time to actually make the game. By the time you have all the assets to coincide with the shooting of a movie, you have about a year [to make the game]. That’s not enough time to get great quality.”

Star Trek, on the other hand, has been in development for three years, and Miller added that “we could have turned a product out for the last movie [in 2009], but we decided not to because it wasn’t right for the brand, and we knew the fans would believe that we were trying to sell out and cash in. We didn’t want to do that.”

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
If Paramount was to charge ahead with making a Star Trek game, Miller said, they had to “make the most authentic version of Trek” possible. To do that, the studio leveraged its movie and TV crew and used every single resource it had to contribute to the game. “Every department involved with Star Trek that touched the movie, touched the game,” Miller exclaimed.

Costume designers, special effects and sound effects personnel, creature designers... even Industrial Light and Magic turned over assets to the Enterprise for use in the game for authenticity. Developers have been advocating a closer relationship between Hollywood and the games industry throughout this entire console generation - but the result has more often than not involved cheesy Michael Bay-esque storylines tacked on to run-and-gunners. Here, we see a real benefit in terms of production.

And a lot of effort has gone in to ensure that this isn’t just your average run-of-the-mill third-person shooter. I was shown a segment of gameplay where Kirk and Spock investigate a distress call from a nearby space station. To enter the powerless structure, Kirk needs to approach it on foot by walking along its surface. There’s some beautiful graphical effects at work here - starbursts, nearby planets and solar flares combine with the familiar Star Trek soundtrack to build an atmosphere.

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
Most notable, though, was the lack of enemies in this particular section. Miller stressed that the team at Paramount and developer Digital Extremes did not want the game to be a simple, constant shooter. That, he said, would be something of a dumbing down of the brand and an insult to fans. Instead, levels are peppered with areas built for exploration and puzzle-solving. Such elements remind me more of Uncharted than your typical third-person shooter.

It’s no coincidence, Miller confirms. “We’d be lying to say we didn’t look at Uncharted and say, ‘Oh my God, what a great game. How can we make a game that can compare to that? Or Gears of War? Or Arkham Asylum?’ We’re all inspired by the best games out there. And it’s a circular thing - Mass Effect is a good example. The guys at Bioware have gone on record to say they’ve been heavily influenced by Star Trek. And I’d be lying to say this game isn’t heavily influenced by what they’ve done on Mass Effect.”

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
It’s a noble admission, but the team has done its best to make Star Trek its own, instead of just ‘Uncharted in Space’. Tricorders can be used in levels to provide hints and spot hidden items within the vicinity, and there’s some great co-op play where Kirk must destroy some space debris for Spock to move forward. “I don’t think we’d be able to make a game like this, unless some of those games - the Dead Spaces, the Halos - were already on the market and made science fiction gaming fun to play again.”

But, you will be engaging in combat some of the time - phaser shootouts can sometimes be the best form of diplomacy. And Paramount is re-introducing a classic enemy from the original Star Trek universe as a main threat in this game - the Gorn. While this creature only appeared in one episode of the original TV series, Miller notes that it remains one of the most popular enemies in Star Trek history. Not only does the Gorn appear as a race here, but you also get to face off against female Gorn. And the ladies don’t mess about - they are tougher than the blokes and can beam in behind you for a flanking win.

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
So, a movie tie-in that aims to be a game first and foremost, rather than a cheap cash-in. Does Miller believe this to be a statement of intent from Paramount? A message for other studios to take heed of? “I think so. It’s really important for us that we did this the right way. Star Trek has been one of our biggest franchises for over 40 years - having to reboot it and get it up to speed with a new generation was a huge task.

“[Our involvement] clearly shows how importantly we treat our properties. We don’t want to fall into the trap of a typical movie game. I do think that if we’re going to do it right, we really need to invest in it the right way... if more [studios] did that you’d see a quality spike upwards [for game tie-ins]. We’re making this game because we’re huge gamers and we love gaming. If we didn’t, we’d do the standard way about it, and we don’t want to do that.”


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