Star Trek Bridge Commander Q&A

Larry Holland gives us a development update on this impressive capital ship combat sim.

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Just a few short years ago, the Star Trek license was considered to be a curse, as numerous games carrying the Star Trek name fell well short of expectations. But the trend has slowly started to change with some of the more recent Star Trek games such as Starfleet Command, Star Trek Armada, and Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. Hoping to capitalize on the recent success of the license, Totally Games--famous for its work on the Star Wars X-Wing series--is currently developing its own Star Trek game, aptly named Star Trek: Bridge Commander. Bridge Commander gives you an opportunity to take the captain's chair of various Federation ships from which you dispense orders to other members of your crew while traveling through the vast depths of space and engaging enemy craft. We had a chance to speak with Totally Games' Larry Holland to find out what kind of experience Star Trek fans can expect from this latest game.

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GameSpot: With its history firmly behind Star Wars games, why did Totally Games decide to produce a Star Trek game?

Larry Holland: Activision approached Totally Games near the end of X-Wing Alliance stating [that] they wanted a top-notch developer of space sims to create a game based on the Star Trek license they had acquired. We looked at the sales figures of past games, read all the existing reviews, and then we played all the existing Star Trek games released over the years. The X-Wing team members were looking for a new challenge, and after eight great years working on the same license, most seemed to be wanting to try something a little different. When looking at the very big picture, we saw a good opportunity and had a motivated core group of people who had a vision for a truly unique Trek game. We pitched our idea, and a few months later we signed to do the title.

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GS: How similar is Bridge Commander to previous games in the Star Trek series, particularly Starfleet Academy?

LH: Not that similar actually...Star Trek Bridge Commander is closer to the Harpoon (Submarine) series of games than it is to any previous Star Trek or Star Wars titles. The vision for Bridge Commander is, "You have the conn." You are seated in the captain's chair on the most powerful starship in the galaxy. From this chair, you will command and control your ship via a crew, by issuing orders in a point-and-click interface (hard-core gamers have the option of taking direct control of the tactical station). As far as gameplay itself: We have slowed things down, made combat much more strategic, and made the crew your main interface to the ship.

GS: What are the benefits to using the NetImmerse engine for this type of game?

LH: It allowed us to leave our past legacy X-Wing game engine behind and start fresh, while not losing six months of production time. People should know that buying a graphics rendering engine is very different from buying a full-fledged game engine. A rendering engine is basically a plug-in that you build around--below are the game systems and game logic (different for every title) and layered on top are innovative features like our new dynamic damage modeling system.

GS: It appears that the focus of the game is placed more on the starship itself rather than on the actual combat. Which systems do players have control over, and what general actions can they perform as the captain of the ship?

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LH: The focus of the game is squarely on Star Trek, and the story and players should be able to play through the entire game by simply issuing orders to the bridge crew. When the action heats up, players can take over the tactical station for direct control. We've got bridge crew staffing the helm, tactical, science, and engineering to whom you can issue the familiar orders much like you saw in every Star Trek episode. They'll generally follow your orders, but they may disagree with your call and can even let you know in not-so-subtle ways. Through the point-and-click interface of your crew, you can set a course, go to warp, raise shields, prioritize repair teams, scan areas of space, go to red alert, and a lot more. When taking direct control, you will get more visual feedback--seeing which phaser bank is in line with a given target, what their shield status is, and a system map.

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GS: How is combat handled in Bridge Commander?

LH: In one of two modes. If you just want to coach the tactical officer and issue orders similar to plays in football, then you've got that option for the first time in a space combat game. If you want to take direct control, you can use the keyboard and mouse to maneuver the ship and view in 3D space, while targeting at a vessel or even subcomponents, while also choosing and firing your weapons. The pace of combat is definitely suited to the large capital ships, and your goal, much like in Star Trek, is seldom to completely destroy your opponent.

GS: We recently learned that veteran Star Trek writers like DC Fontana are currently involved in the project. Can you give an overview of Bridge Commander's story and what DC Fontana's role will be in the development process?

LH: The story has essentially been set since early on in the project. Recently, we were offered the opportunity to have legendary Trek writer DC Fontana and Derek Chester come on board to help us polish up the story, round out the crew, and finalize the dialogue before we went into the studio to record the voice actors including Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard) and Brent Spiner (Commander Data). The story begins with an explosion of a large star in a nearby system, killing your captain and damaging your ship. You quickly join the race to find out what happened and why, to prevent it from happening again.

GS: What kind of multiplayer modes will be included in Bridge Commander?

LH: We will have deathmatch mode, which is generally the most popular style of multiplayer [mode]. We have chosen to implement a very solid multiplayer system with all new code that uses more of a Quake-style model, and we will be encouraging fans to create custom multiplayer levels of their own. Those interested should begin learning python, a free and open-source scripting language that the game uses. Plus players should be able to rejoice as we have not hard coded any ship limits into the game, meaning more complex missions should be able to be created by fans not bound (like we are) to our minimum spec.

GS: Thanks for your time, Larry.

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