'Star Trek' Games: The Playable Fun of Gene Roddenberry's Sci-Fi Universe
Space, The Gaming Frontier....
"My people pride themselves on being the greatest, most successful gamblers in the universe. We compete for everything: power, fame, women, everything we desire, and it is our nature... to win."
- Captain Kirk in 'The Gamesters of Triskelion' - Star Trek (1968)
Today, in the 21st century on good old planet Earth, we call those who love playing video games, gamers. Gamesters or Gamers? The fact is humans love to play all sorts of games. Winners shout in victorious ecstasy, as the losers cry in utter agony. In outer space, can anyone hear you scream defeat? Captain Kirk is a starship commander who always loves to win, and somehow, he usually does. It’s a trait shared by fans who love him and the foundation of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi universe. Right from the start, during the original broadcast of the first incarnation of Star Trek, a board game was released to the viewing public.
These days Star Trek - and so many other media properties - are all about engaging gamers by utilizing VR technology - as in virtual reality game playing. This tech may still not be as dramatic and memorable as a valiant Princess Leia giving R2D2 that nifty hologram of herself, pleading, “Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope!” and though immersive, it still can’t be confused with Captain Picard’s Holodeck on starship Enterprise, but VR is getting better, cheaper and much more convincing with each passing year. With the upcoming release of the new co-op video game, Star Trek Bridge Crew (2017), it’s certainly a more than appropriate time to look back at the playable galaxy of Trek games which have come and gone over the years.
Mainframe computers are those large tech forefathers and cousins to supercomputers. They aren’t just about crunching numbers for banks or the airlines. Even in the early days of their existence, they knew how to program the fun.
Two years after Trek's aborted five year mission on NBC first run broadcast television ended, and Captain Kirk’s Enterprise crew joined their iconic starship in drydock, the first Trek oriented game was embraced by gamesters. The title was straight forward and simple - ‘Star Trek’. The text only game was released in 1971 and the landmark game, written in BASIC, ran on mainframes and minicomputers. It was both a milestone of computer programming and the taking of a beloved media entity and significantly expanding its sphere of influence. This milestone interactive game went through many incarnations and in 1980, it was even lauded as one of the best computer games around - period.
Enterprise On A Table - Starships Warp To Board Games
Chess, checkers and even monopoly preoccupy players with down to earth and routine tasks. They may perfectly fun, playable and even classic board games, but for a science fiction franchise like Star Trek, board games must convey a lot more. Players wish to live their TV dream. They want to simulate surfing the galactic highways like their beloved Enterprise.
These games were released by companies such as Ideal, Hasbro and Milton Bradley. Although containing the various visual trappings, characters and aliens seen on the show, these were simple board games and not exactly challenging for players. They were based around the original television series itself, and also the first feature film released in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, directed by Robert Wise.
Spock and his Captain played Tri-Dimensional chess in the 2nd pilot, episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before. A variant on the three dimensional chess seen being played on the show was even released. Created by Pacific Game Co in 1965, Space Checkers, is a variation on the famed Enterprise game. It was even featured in the time tripping Deep Space Nine episode, Trials And Tribble-ations, when Ben Sisko and Jadzia Dax engaged in play.
Trivial Pursuit - Star Trek 50th Anniversary Edition
Several variations and playable incarnations of our noble Starfleet crew battling dreaded Klingons and other worldly alien beasties - not least of which was a big rubber spider included in one of the early board games - meant Roddenberry’s 'Wagon Train To The Stars' remained infinitely intriguing enough to base still more complex games on it. In 1995, Trivial Pursuit even got into the science fiction act by releasing a “Sci-Fi Master Game” supplement edition for its Trivial Pursuit: Star Trek Edition VCR Game, made by Telstar Video Entertainment. For its 50th Anniversary, Trivial Pursuit honored Trek with a new tribute - complete in a nifty shuttlecraft box.
Perhaps of all the many grounded versions of gameplay which took intrepid gamesters and gamers into the fictional universe of Roddenberry’s United Federation of Planets, one involving a mystery impresses as the most original. Judging from its many incarnations, Trek is no stranger to hosting its own mysteries - including the TOS episode, Wolf In The Fold or TNG’s Elementary, Dear Data, so when Decipher released its How To Host A Mystery - Star Trek: The Next Generation (1992), there was definite precedence to connect the game. Here’s the summary of game play on the box description:
"It is stardate 47729.75 aboard the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise. Eight members of an Enterprise Away Team have returned from the remote planet Delphi 4 with a remarkable discovery - the legendary Orb of Knowledge. At a celebration banquet excitement turns to dismay when the Orb is stolen and the Away Team must decide who among them has committed the crime."
Trek fans and high tech fans usually go together hand in hand. So it’s no surprise that when video games took hold of the playing public's vivid imagination, the two groups came together nicely. When the video game market finally matured and blasted off into the gaming stratosphere, Star Trek was right there warping along for the historic ride.
Engage! The Video Games From The Final Frontier
The number, variation and pop culture history of Trek video games - on both PC's and consoles - is a vast one. Titles such as Star Trek: Judgement Rites (1993) and Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity (1995) sit along side console classics such as Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force (2000). Gamers find many of these classic titles so engaging, they’re still played after many years.
What contributes to the realism and fan fun of these games is the inclusion of many of the actual actors who played roles in the TV shows and films, including John De Lancie as the super powered entity known as Q - in Star Trek: Borg (1996) and Robert O’Reilly starring as Klingon Gowron in Star Trek: Klingon (1995) - both PC games available for Windows and Macintosh. With Starship Creator (1998) from publishers Imergy and Simon and Schuster, one can dabble with the design and capabilities of various Starfleet vessels to whip up an original one of your very own.
All these titles, though competitively engaging and fun, are still designed with a player simply watching and playing on a monitor or TV screen. But as any loyal Trekkie or Trekker knows, the way to properly play a game is by taking up some quality time in the Holodeck.
The Holodeck Beckons - VR & The Final Frontier
"Program Complete. Enter When Ready."
The familiar Enterprise D computer voice announces when a selected Holodeck program has been installed and is ready to be used. Captain Picard and his crew ran innumerable programs such as equestrian challenges, martial arts competitions - while others, like those created by the ever romantic Lt. Barclay, are better left for more mature and adult audiences.
With the coming hardware and software of affordable VR - Virtual Reality equipment - a promise and potential of Starfleet’s massive Holodecks may finally come to a kind of reality in your own home. Tech gear like Google’s VR headsets - even ones made of cheap cardboard - and more complex and expensive systems such as the high powered Oculus Rift, owned by Facebook, are bringing the feel and experience of things in and out of this world to hardcore gamers. One title which Trekkers are yearning to play is Star Trek: Bridge Crew - from Ubisoft.
This long anticipated title - to be released in 2017 - promises to place gamers squarely onto a warp capable vessel plucked from the far flung future. Players won’t get to command the Enterprise, but instead they’ll be calling the shots on the USS Aegis NX-1787, a long range surveillance vessel whose mission charter is to keep an eye on early stage civilizations. Sure, many other games have placed us on a Starship before, but none like navigating a playing field quite like in this VR set-up.
Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi mashing up of hard scientific fact and the imaginative fuel of visionary fictional tech has touched so many aspects of our daily lives. Star Trek has influenced academia and the teaching in the classroom to the exploits of real life NASA scientists to now how we play games in our leisure. As Captain Kirk said in the Gamesters of Triskelion, we play to win - and with the growing of vastly more powerful gaming systems, it’s ultimately a win for all of us.