'Insurrection' Game DesignerBy Jeff 'Koganuts' Koga
Posted at June 7, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT
As part of my continuing coverage of Star Trek games at E3, I spoke with Aaron Gray, Jonathan Knight, and Eric Dallaire about Activision's Star Trek: Insurrection. Gray and Knight work at Activision as production tester and executive producer, respectively, while Dallaire works at Presto Studios as the lead writer.
TrekToday: "How much of the game, percentage-wise, has been completed?"
Aaron Gray: "It's been under development for about eight months or so. If I were to give a percentage, I would say this is around 30 to 40 right now. We're looking for a Christmas release. The game hasn't even hit alpha yet."
Eric Dallaire: "We've been working on this for, I believe, nine months? And we're shipping in Christmas, so it's actually a very short production cycle compared to other games. It'll be a year and a couple of months. And the game will be shipping in Christmas to coincide with the video release of Insurrection."
Trek Nation: "How many people are on the development team?"
Eric Dallaire: "I believe we have 20."
Trek Nation: "But Presto Studios is the developer, correct?"
Eric Dallaire: "It's being developed internally, completely by Presto Studios, from writing all the way to sound, to programming."
Aaron Gray: "But Activision's publishing it. And... I'll be... checking out the code as it gets updated."
Trek Nation: "How has Presto Studios and Activision's relationship with Paramount been?"
Jonathan Knight: "They've been great. This game in particular... we're doing it as a sequel to the movie. It picks up nine months after the movie left off. And so... they've been really willing to let us... answer some questions that... the movie left open, take it in a new direction, introduce a new race. When it comes to approving art and scripts and things like that, they're really good, very timely. And... the best thing is when you've got a talented team like I do, and they're writing scripts that... sound like Star Trek, then everything is just perfect. And so for us, it's been really really smooth."
Eric Dallaire: "We've been working with Paramount very closely. They've allowed us... a lot of flexibility. We've basically taken the story of the movie nine months later, so it's a completely new novel story. And for me, as a writer, I enjoyed the movie but there's a lot of unanswered questions. And so we're really trying to explore and answer a lot of those and Paramount's been really good about allowing us to explore new areas and invent new aliens and new cultures."
Jonathan Knight: "Yeah, I mean, this game in particular is very... authentic. All the actors are actors that we cast from Paramount. So you'll find even the smallest bit part is played an actor from some episode of some show. All the artwork has been taken from, we scanned in photographs of the sets and the props. Even down to the pattern on the carpet of the Enterprise, we got that photographed and we put it in the game. And all the sound effects, they gave us the sound effects track from the movie. They just separated out the movie track and gave it to us and we digitized all that. So, everywhere possible, we're going for the utmost realism and professionalism and we want people to really feel like it's got that production value that you expect from a Star Trek show."
Trek Nation: "So who did you go through for approvals? Paramount Licensing?"
Eric Dallaire: "It was licensing, exactly. Juliet Dutton from Paramount Licensing and also Harry Lange, two people that worked extensively with their products. Harry Lange works with Voyager. We've been very good about getting back and forth between Paramount and they've been excellent about approvals and they're really excited about the story."
Trek Nation: "How long will it take for someone to finish the game?"
Aaron Gray: "We're thinking it could be about 15 hours of gameplay for someone who just wants to complete the game in a night or something. But for a casual gamer... it'll take about 40 hours or so."
TrekToday: "So tell me about Insurrection."
Aaron Gray: "This is Star Trek: Insurrection. It is based nine months after the movie. Your character is Ensign Sovok. He's a young character out of Starfleet, and so we kind of want to get the players to... grow with the guy. You don't get promoted or anything, but you do run into different characters."
Eric Dallaire: "You play the role of Ensign Sovok, and Sovok's a pretty interesting character. He's a human, he graduated from Starfleet Academy, but his parents were scientists on Vulcan, and he was raised there. And when they died, when he was in [an] early age, he was actually raised by a Vulcan master. So he attempted to achieve kolinahr and the Vulcan rites but he was too human, he couldn't do it. But he did learn the Vulcan nerve pinch. And so at the beginning of the game, it starts off on a Holodeck experience where he's practicing and the Vulcan master S'Tann is trying to teach him the nerve pinch. So he finally grasps it when the player grasps it. No pun intended. So he's very excited and now he's got it as a weapon that he can use. And it's a nonviolent way of incapacitating guards. But it's also a way for stealth, it comes into play later in gameplay, we have to sneak in and infiltrate a Romulan starbase."
Trek Nation: "So it's not a first-person perspective game, but more like a third-person?"
Aaron Gray: "This is not a first-person, it's more like an adventure type."
Trek Nation: "Can you tell me more about the backstory of the game itself?"
Eric Dallaire: "Nine months after the movie, alien ruins have been found in the colony. Because the Son'a have been invited back, and they're creating their own peaceful colony, during the construction, these alien ruins are found. Picard is invited to lead the excavation. So you've been assigned to help Picard out with day-to-day duties, and archeology, etc. etc. So the first few missions are related to kind of piercing this strange alien antechamber to get in deeper. So you're helping Picard and helping to solve the puzzles and it's a tandem experience. And very soon, he's attacked. When you arrive just in time to try to save him he's gone. And you have to figure out this alien device and it turns out to be a transporter and you use it, you're transported to this underground complex beneath the Ba'ku planet. And so you start unraveling the mystery of who lived on this planet before. Because one of my biggest questions was if this planet was truly the fountain of youth, why wasn't there an alien race before, and how could they have passed on?"
Trek Nation: "Absolutely. I had wondered about that as well."
Eric Dallaire: "You find the Ba'ku have only been there 300 years. Well this planet, obviously, has been around for millions of years. No one's found it before? No one had lived on it previously? So I... talked to Paramount and they allowed me to create a whole new alien race. They manipulated their own genetic genome, and something happened. They created something terrible that basically wiped them out. But their legacy lived on in these seeds."
Trek Nation: "So will most of the action take place on the Ba'ku planet?"
Aaron Gray: "For the most part, yes. But you will [go] out, [and have] missions in the Med Lab. This is the [interior] of the Son'a's ship. [And] all through the Enterprise... [such as the] Engine Room."
Trek Nation: "Will all of the main cast on Insurrection be in the game?"
Eric Dallaire: "Patrick Stewart [and Brent Spiner]. Actually, we don't have [Jonathan Frakes] or [Michael Dorn]. What happens in the beginning of the story is that Data and Picard are on this planet, and you're assigned to help them. So it's you three on the planet and the Enterprise leaves. So... you're stranded. If you have an adventure game and you have the Enterprise, there are... many things that can be taken out of your hands. We kind of want the player to have to go through the rites of passage and to [focus on the] ensign and Picard. He treats him informally. And over the course of the game, he gets to know him and he respects him more. And actually at the end he can become a member of the crew and gain a rank, like lieutenant, depending on how well you do. So we don't have the other characters, but we feel that Picard's presence and Data's presence, because they're a major portion of the game, kind of make up for that. And the Enterprise does come into play later. That's a large environment, you get to explore several decks. So it really does feel like a Star Trek game in that respect. There's a lot of environments you'll recognize. The Romulan environment for instance. There's a lot of new characters. And there's characters [in] the game, from the movie. There'll be background characters that you can talk to."
Trek Nation: "Anyone specific you can name?"
Eric Dallaire: "Gregg Henry is Galna. And we have Anij. And obviously, Picard and Data. And other new people. The ensign's played by Christian Gorham. He's a long-time actor that's been working with Paramount. All the characters actually were cast with Paramount. It was actually really cool to have had all these people with a different caliber of acting and people I've seen in episodes."
Trek Nation: "Are there cutscenes in the game?"
Eric Dallaire: "Yes, there are prerendered cutscenes. There are also in-game realtime cutscenes. Those happen in periodic instances when you've finished missions. Captain Picard or Data will come in and instruct you and give you new information to the story, and often give you mission goals. And that's what's kind of different about this game is that it's broken up into ten missions. Rather than kind of wandering around and wondering what you have to do next, Captain Picard will give you a mission, and you can always check on your tricorder what that mission is and that updates periodically. So it gives you a sense of purpose, it gives you a sense of what you have to accomplish. And the tricorder is also heavily used in gameplay, for puzzles. Anything you want to do, and you can think of in a Star Trek episode, you can do. You can tricorder almost anything in the screen. You can communicate anytime you want, you adjust the phaser settings. The nerve pinch. It's kind of like, if you're a Star Trek fan, and you can think of something you've always wanted to do, network a tricorder, whatever, it's in this game."
Trek Nation: "You sound like you're really proud of the work done thus far."
Aaron Gray: "The game is highly interactive. That's what we've been trying to stress with this game. You want to be able to walk up to anybody, talk to them, you know, or consoles, all the consoles can be interacted with, you know."
Jonathan Knight: "Yeah, we're pretty excited about it. I think this is the one Star Trek game that... finally truly captures the fantasy of... being in a Star Trek episode or a Star Trek movie. You know, you take the role of this young ensign and you get to do stuff that you would want to do if you suddenly found yourself in a Star Trek episode."
Trek Nation: "What else is there?"
Aaron Gray: "We have navigation puzzles all around. They will get much more difficult as you get further in the game. You [also] have the ability to change phaser settings. Heavy stun, to overload. Set it down, and run. You've got your tricorder which you can scan everything. It'll tell you if an enemy's dead. Com badge allows you to keep in contact with anybody and you'll get new characters to talk to once you meet them."
Trek Nation: "Are those items hotkeyed?"
Aaron Gray: "Actually they are hotkeyed. You just push... '1' and it pulls your phaser out. And '2' will bring out your tricorder."
Trek Nation: "I see in this demonstration that you have Patrick Stewart's voice already."
Eric Dallaire: "We haven't recorded Spiner yet, [but] we're going to. We've [already] recorded Patrick Stewart."
Trek Nation: "You don't want to just target Star Trek fans, but also non Star Trek fans as well, correct?"
Eric Dallaire: "I personally want to bridge the hardcore gamer, the Star Trek gamer, and the casual gamer into one game. So what we've done is we've put story elements from other episodes that can be recognized by hardcore gamers, but you don't necessarily need to know them. Like when you start with learning about this alien race, we present all the information to you, hardcore gamers will be like, 'Oh this is a new alien race.' Eventually they'll discover, 'Oh my god, it's from '[such and such episode],' I remember those guys.' It's one of those things where we teach the player. There's a learning curve that we have the player go through. So casual gamers and hardcore gamers alike can get into it and enjoy it. So it's not necessarily all, you know, specific to hardcore gamers or Star Trek fans. But all can enjoy it, we think. That's the goal, anyway."
Trek Nation: "Are you a big Star Trek fan?"
Aaron Gray: "I used to be a real big one. My girlfriend doesn't let me watch the shows. She... put the shutdown on that. 'No, I'm not watching this!' And she turns the TV off."
Trek Nation: "But that's what a VCR is for. :)"
Aaron Gray: "I know, I know. But she has control of that for all her NBC shows. But I've seen all the movies and everything, and I started watching The Next Generation when it first started. I didn't think it was going to be that good and I was actually amazed, and I just like the technical side of it. That's my favorite part. I just love how they're just reading their books and, 'Oh, you need the dilithium crystals.' I just love the whole universe."
Special thanks to Aaron Gray, Jonathan Knight, and Eric Dallaire for participating in this interview.
Jeff 'Koganuts' Koga is a regular contributor to the Trek Nation, as well as webmaster of unofficial fan sites for John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, and Garrett Wang.