“Orders, Captain?”
Published 5 years ago
Taking Command of the Story in Star Trek Timelines
Every Trekkie has been asked the question: Kirk or Picard?
For some, the answer is simple. Are you a man of action, or diplomacy? For others, it’s more complicated. Both men had their moments of decisive victory and reasoned debate, depending on the situation. Some aren’t a Kirk or a Picard at all—they prefer Sisko, Janeway, Archer, or a hybrid of them all. Who is right?
Star Trek Timelines takes this eternal debate and puts the answer literally into your hands. Players can build their dream crew, selecting not just the standard versions of Kirk or Picard, but many others: younger, older, from alternate universes, during situations of great stress or great joy. Players can then send them out on missions together and find out who really holds the Federation together.
How did we make this fantasy a reality for players? It all starts with the story.
Beyond Space and Into Time
Every Star Trek series so far has depicted a different time period in humanity’s future: Kirk’s Enterprise was launched in the twenty-third century, Picard’s in the twenty-fourth; they are not contemporaries. When we set out to make a game where not just Kirk and Picard but every character from every episode of Star Trek could interact, we first had to determine how that could happen.
Sure, we could simply toss a bunch of character art in the game, give them stats and generic missions to complete without any explanation as to why they were together, but that would go against Disruptor Beam’s mission of “beaming you into the worlds that you love”. To explain this sudden merging of the timelines, we went back to a Star Trek staple: the anomaly.
When the game begins, you are just another Starfleet captain on a mission of scientific research when you encounter—what else?—a temporal anomaly on the edge of Romulan space. The people and ships brought forth into the present quickly create a dangerous situation as your Romulan escorts assume all the wrong things and attack you. But one anomaly alone couldn’t believably alter the entire universe. You soon discover that countless temporal anomalies have appeared all over Federation space, bringing past, present, and future together and generally creating a huge mess. Luckily, you now have legendary Starfleet officers, alien allies, and questionable villains at your disposal to help deal with all the chaos.
Generosity has always been my... weakness.
Obviously, this is a lot for a player to take in, even if he or she is a Star Trek fan. How could we explain to the player what was going on when the temporal anomaly crisis was a surprise even to our own NPCs? Who could guide the Player through time and space, helping to unravel cosmic mysteries our own scientists could only dream of?
Any Trekkie worth his or her weight in gold-pressed latinum knows the answer: Q, the mercurial, omnipotent being who has both helped and hindered humanity on several occasions beginning with the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But we weren’t merely satisfied to have Q act as a passive narrator, fairy godfather, or comic relief (though he occasionally serves all of those roles, when the mood strikes him). Instead, we went to the man who brought Q to life, actor John de Lancie himself.
Through his experience not only working on three different Star Trek series but as an accomplished actor, director, and writer himself, de Lancie helped us better develop the character of Q and his role in the world of Star Trek Timelines, as well as flesh out the grand mystery behind the merging of the Timelines.
The best episodes of Star Trek featuring Q involve the grand questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our role in the universe? Together, Disruptor Beam and de Lancie crafted an epic science fiction adventure that not only answers some of these questions, but expands the Star Trek universe in bold and exciting ways.
The Power of Choice
So, players have entered the world of Star Trek Timelines. They know the challenges they face. They have unlimited tools at their disposal. What are they going to do with them?
When designing our mission system, we didn’t simply want it to be a numbers game or a timesink. We wanted to set up classic Star Trek scenarios and let our players choose how to react. Don’t want to negotiate with the hostile alien ship? Fine, beam over a boarding party and see if you can take it by force. Don’t want to fight either? Fine, have your engineers and scientists see if they can hack into their systems and control the ship remotely.
Star Trek has never been a shoot-em-up IP, though Starfleet officers can certainly hold their own in combat situations if necessary. Rather, Star Trek is one of the few franchises left where diplomacy and technological acumen are as valuable as brute strength, and we wanted to make sure our players could captain their ships their way, in the spirit of whatever captain (or captains) they idolized.
We also wanted to have fun with the idea of time. Everyone has a situation in which they wish they could go back in time and do things differently, or a future circumstance they wish they could jump ahead to see how things will turn out. The temporal anomaly crisis of Star Trek Timelines resurrects many characters, factions, and storylines Star Trek had closed the book on and allows players to shape the universe as they see fit.
For instance, did you think the Cardassians deserved to subjugate the zealous Bajorans, and were sorry to see them so decimated after the Dominion War? Choose to help them rebuild, and they may get a second chance at glory. Upset that Khan Noonien Singh and his genetically-enhanced brethren are gone? Help them rise to power again, and overturn the laws against genetic enhancement in the Federation.
The unique setting of Star Trek Timelines allows players to live out their fantasies for the future of Starfleet—as long as they can live with the consequences.
We’ve been thrilled with the response to Star Trek Timelines since launch, and we hope to continue to receive praise for both our narrative design and our stunning graphics. Players who stick with our game can expect many more exciting adventures and eye-popping destinations to come!
Jessica Sliwinski has been Lead Narrative Designer at Disruptor Beam since 2012, and previously worked at Zynga and Bioware. Star Trek Timelines is available on iOS and Android now, and coming soon to web and other platforms.
Alex Engel