The History of Star Trek Gaming
"There is no good Star Trek video game" -Various
I enjoy video games. From puzzle and logic games, to the action of shooters, to the intrigue and possibilities of strategy, all of it has always appealed to me. In doing so I can't tell you how many times from many sources I read the above quote. Star Trek has had an interesting experience in the medium. Long before the generation of revival, it was revisited and expanded upon many times. Eventually it found its way to another front, that of gaming.
What we're going to do in this article is take a look at all Star Trek softwares, both major and minor. Their releases and subsequent evolution. Core games of critical importance are highlighted.
The first few Star Trek games were made as early as 1971 by a group of different companies, though none are recognizable today. Primarily, they were text adventures, written in BASIC, a now long extinct genre. Text adventures present lines of text, and then present the player with a parser from which they can type in commands and instructions. The program then gives responses, based on said action.
The more sophisticated Trek text adventures incorporated more sophisticated algorithms in the programming and attempted to render starship simulation and battles. All these games however relied heavily on the player's own imagination.
Some titles in this series featured some light graphics, mostly just sector or political maps, though these are done with the characters of a standard keyboard, are hard to comprehend and are easily forgettable and it's not hard to see why a major shake-up might be in order.
Simon and Schuster created some of these games, such as The Promethean Effect and The Kobayashi Alternative, though these were never supremely popular or breakouts. They also did work for games based on some of the movies, most notably The Final Frontier, though these movie games have never been released to the public, they were cancelled, and it's assumed they were unfinished in any event.
In the end, this method wasn't for everybody, and it was probably much more palpable for most people to watch the TV show or just do other activities.
In 1988 EGA Trek was first published by Arcanum Computing. EGA Trek was a then modern update to the prior text adventures. Mostly gone was the parser interface, although there were still shades of it in having to type certain commands in. Control of the starship was adapted into many shortcuts, for example using the arrow keys to raise and lower the shields, striking "W" was enough to bring up the control station for your warp drive.
It's hard to quantify the power and effect of this game. I will argue that it changed Star Trek in gaming forever. The walls of text were eliminated, replaced with a view of the political situation, the current sector, the main viewer, status of weapons and other ship systems, and a large area dedicated to crew reports. It also included sound effects and didn't take itself overly seriously and we had some humor placed throughout.
This was Trek's first truly realized starship simulator, and really set the bar high.
EGA Trek was okay for its time, but this mind you was an unlicensed product before the gaming industry had millions of dollars in it for known franchises and before the era of big budget releases. Were it released today, every gaming magazine would cover it for months leading up to release, there would be interviews with the project members, there would be advertisements for it in all game stores, in short, it would've gotten much more attention and publicity. Instead it created a small boom all its own, though not dramatically popular, and kind of obscure, it still was shared and got around to very many people. More widespread than it was popular. That most old school gamers especially fans of DOS remember it and played it, because of limited options available, despite the fact they may not have necessarily been sci-fi or Trek fans.
This was the era before copy protection was included on most games, so with its small size it was easy to copy it to a disk and hand it off to your friend.
EGA Trek is surely still one of the best starship simulators ever released, even 30 years later.
In 1991 Paramount was doing fairly well. Especially in the syndication market, doing TNG and other popular shows, and a fledgling movie business that was doing quite well, not just Star Trek themed movies but comedies, action and many others as well.
Around this time, they were introduced to EGA Trek. The game had already been designed, developed and released for a few years. So they couldn't exactly use a cease and desist letter to stop it, especially with all the sharing going around. So a new version was released that changed the names of the copyrighted elements, but the core game and graphics remained intact. Curiously they were allowed to retain the "Trek" part of their title.
EGA Trek is perhaps how Paramount first got the idea, that there was indeed a market for well developed Star Trek themed games. Perhaps out of foresight not to put all their eggs in one basket, they split the license into chunks, for each relevant aspect of the franchise. As fans commonly now know these are TOS/TMP/TNG/DS9/VOY.
Interplay was the first to seize upon this, purchasing the rights for TOS and TMP branches. Next, Microprose acquired the TNG rights. DS9 and VOY had yet to air, were still in the planning phase during this time thus the contracts were not written to incorporate them. Simon and Schuster were not bound by any restrictions, being owned by Viacom. The Golden Age of Star Trek games had begun.
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Interplay struck first, in 1992, with the first mainstream title, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. 25th Anniversary was a game very reminiscent of Sierra 2-D side scroller adventure games of the time, except this time instead of a noble king or a swashbuckling space jockey, we were given the iconic characters of Kirk Spock and McCoy to move around, pick up objects, and solve puzzles and mysteries. There was also a mini game within the game where it allowed you to fly the ship and conduct it through battles. Though not nearly as capable a starship simulator as EGA Trek, which never was the focus of the core game, it was just an extra mini-game thrown into the mix, plain and simple.
Where 25th Anniversary really shined though was in the story telling, planet missions, and dialogue between the characters. The game was eventually re-released with the full TOS cast reprising their roles. Even just reading it though, the tone, the pitch, is all perfect and feels JUST like the show that inspired it.
25th Anniversary exceeded all expectations and became a number one best seller. So complete was its success, 9 months later it had a sequel, Judgment Rites. Judgment Rites featured a slightly upgraded engine, and had new missions. The graphics were better, the missions were longer, and most importantly, the expert dialogue returned.
Not to be outdone, Microprose would release Star Trek: The Next Generation, Echoes of the Past/Futures Past in 1994 for the home console market. Echoes of the Past is technically not the same level of literary genius and has weaker versions of the same mechanics to its Interplay counterparts, but it is also an honest attempt to use the previously established formula with the TNG Roster. Echoes of the Past, while not exactly a strong game, and not exactly weak, or purposely done bad, it laid down the groundwork, for a big Microprose hit a year later, Star Trek The Next Generation: A Final Unity.
A Final Unity featured the main cast of TNG doing voiceover work. A Final Unity was originally supposed to be released in 1992, then got bumped up to 1993, then finally a third time to 1995, mainly because they had to wait for the principal TNG cast to become available for recording sessions, which they had been unable to do while the television series was still in production.
The game was praised at the time for its animations and its mission flow. The storyline in A Final Unity is very similar to Echoes of the Past, and unlike 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, it was not a true sequel so much it as it was almost the same game as Echoes of the Past, upgraded and renovated in all relevant areas.
Interplay would release Starfleet Academy: Battle Simulator in late 1994 for the two biggest consoles at the time, the Super NES and the Sega 32X. The game basically took the starship minigame portion from 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, and lengthened it, giving full missions from the bridge, and foregoing the landing party/away team aspect completely. The game was mediocre at best, bad graphics, bad interface, just overall bland and wasn't anything to write home about, but its characters and concepts would be recycled to serve as inspiration for their next PC title. It is notable though for the first time, players can customize their own small skirmishes and then try fighting it out.
They then announced plans for their next Trek PC game, Starfleet Academy. Starfleet Academy was to be as the name implied, cast you in the role of a cadet and training you in the ways of a Starfleet officer, both aboard ships and otherwise. The game promised Starship Simulation and other classes, and you would live the day to day life of a cadet, preparing for your life as an officer. Between classes you would be allowed to tour the campus in and visit and explore the future city of San Francisco. You were going to be able to leave the grounds and go for a walk in FPS perspective, sight seeing in other locations such as the Bay Area or the Fleet Headquarters.
Meanwhile Simon and Schuster, being owned by Viacom, unbound by license issues, had been responsible for numerous reference works and background information for the fans. When it came to software, they had a slightly different approach, and began by presenting digitized copies of their books, with added functionality and interface. Though it wasn't quite the style of game the bulk of the mainstream gamer public would enjoy, it's incredible fan service to the many loyal fans this genre has.
They enjoyed a lot of success in the new format. Rather than just digitize them word for word, they would include some specialized features and tactile interactivity, so it was indeed a new product, although it was never much, it is still something and it should be praised the attempt to deliver new things rather then just repackage the old.
There was also a smattering of small tie-in handheld games, for the Game Boy, Game Gear, even a TIGER LCD unit, though none are particularly noteworthy and contribute little to the overall history.
In 1995, Simon and Schuster, still not focused on action or trying to make products within other game genres of the day, they instead did interactive movies, of Star Trek: Klingon and Star Trek: Borg, where the player has limited amount of interaction at key focal points. What's really cool is the videos were of great quality, featuring a full range of supporting previously minor Star Trek actors, authentic Star Trek sets, and detailed props.
I am particularly fond of Star Trek: Borg, in which the acting is all around good, and it stars John DeLancie in a major role reprising one of my favorite Star Trek characters, Q.
Star Trek Klingon was similar, it involved you playing a Klingon in the video this time, and was directed by Jonathan Frakes. I managed to play both of these a few years ago, and found them enjoyable, if a little bit limiting. I am glad that I didn't get them in 1996, because I would not be able to appreciate them for what they are.
Interplay began running into problems with their business. This adversely affected them for the development of all their titles and Starfleet Academy was no exception. They were writing a completely original code for the game, and it had arisen that they could not make the Starship Simulator function the way they wanted to. So the release got pushed back, twice, to 1996, and then to 1997 hoping the additional time would allow them to correct this, they ended up having to throw out the code and re-do it from scratch a couple of times.
They also were working on another title, Secret of Vulcan Fury, which promised to harken back to the glory days of TOS. It would feature a full claymation video; the TOS cast set to reprise their roles. They even contracted Trek alumni DC Fontana to serve as head writer. A demo preview movie for this was released on many different games Interplay had released; I have one on my copy of Descent II. When pressed for a release date for SOVF however, they simply shrugged.
Microprose released Star Trek: Generations, in 1997. It is loosely based on the movie of the same name and features a similar interface that was used in AFU. In it you play the role of Picard, and team up with Mr. Data to track Soran down, and stop him from destroying more solar systems in his insane quest to get back to the Nexus.
Do not misunderstand though, whereas AFU was very much an upgraded form of Echoes of the Past, ST:G is a bit fresher and only in interface is it similar. The game includes some interesting elements, such as trying to track down Soran in stellar cartography, and a practical, if limited space battle simulator.
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy
In 1997 Starfleet Academy was finally released, on a whopping 6 disc set. Taking inspiration from the popular Wing Commander series of games, this was the first Trek starship simulator in true 3-D, featuring 50 or so missions. Though, it wasn't the game it was built up to be, lacking many of the originally promised features. Not included were other classes, the cadet lounge, or the free roam exploration. These were supplemented and replaced with FMV sequences which allowed the player to hold conversations with both his crew and the Academy staff which had three Star Trek alumni. Chekov, Sulu, and Kirk, who each took turns giving the player the various mission briefings before each scenario, also would try to teach you about life and what Starfleet means to them.
Evidently they finally got the simulator to work, but the game was 2 years behind schedule, and so they did everything they could to push it out the door as quick as possible. It's not that the FMV is bad, we were just promised a bit more.
Unlike the earlier EGA Trek, Starfleet Academy does not include a full range of starship simulation. Sure there's all the bridge stations you'd expect, but the game is very much structured as an arcade style shooter, and feels unfinished in some areas. I did enjoy this game for what it was though, and found it to be very entertaining, but then I am a Star Trek fan, as far as the rest of the gaming community was concerned, it was just merely another Wing Commander style sim. Somewhat ironically too, as the Wing Commander series was what had popularized the short lived fad of FMV in gaming.
Still though Starfleet Academy managed to sell in good quantities for Interplay, despite not quite reaching the blockbuster status they had anticipated it being. Soon after they would be crowned the "King of Trek gaming" by many in the gaming community regardless though.
Both Star Trek: Generations and Starfleet Academy were good titles, if a bit lacking in some areas. If Microprose and Interplay's rivalry wasn't antagonistic enough, two years later they would face a new enemy, Activision.
In February 1998 Interplay came out with Star Trek: Pinball. It's no secret that Interplay was stretched to far and thin at this point, and collapsing under its own weight. They wanted the public to know that they still had the license so this was perhaps a ill thought out reminder. Star Trek: Pinball smacks of desperation, and was more a poorly executed chess move than anything else.
Microprose came out with Klingon Honor Guard in September 1998. The game was Star Trek's first foray into the genre of First Person Shooter and featured several notable Klingons, reprises by their original actors, Kurn, Gowron, Lursa and B'etor. The game featured a full assortment of Klingon weapons, various puzzles and 26 levels.
The game, again, while decent enough, was hardly a milestone or revolutionary. The fact is as most gamers know, that even in 1998, the FPS genre had been done to death, and would continue to manufacture countless more clones, all aspiring to capture the success of the much earlier FPS, Wolfenstein 3-D.
Microprose was collapsing at this point, bought out by Hasbro and merging with them. They announced they had plans to create one more Star Trek title, set for release in 1999. No one knew at the time, that this company that had brought us such classics as Master of Orion and Civilization, that this would in fact be their swan song.
In October 1998, Simon and Schuster, who had not released a Star Trek software title in two, almost three years, came out with Starship Creator. Starship Creator, as I saw in many catalogs, looked awesome. I had always wanted a game that would allow me to build my own spaceship from the ground up. Simon and Schuster were always great writers, but their take on games was always a bit different than mainstream.
It became a major disappointment to fans, that they were unable to fly their own creations directly, choices by the player were largely made irrelevant by the game's own mechanics, and that missions were fully automated, which consisted of a series of checks. Basically, if you have the room or specific system needed for the mission, it continues, if you don't, you will just fail. Since there is no way to prepare for this ahead of time, the comment most fans have made that "only a Galaxy or Excelsior can handle most missions" is sadly, justified. Still though it's a great reference source for both various starfleet personnel and ship components, if you're into that kind of thing.
Activision announced that they would be taking up Microprose's portion of the license, and was working on their first Trek game. More on that when it was released.
Interplay cancelled SOVF early in this year, the final year of the 20th century. It was assumed the game was 70% complete upon this. Why they did I'm not sure, could be any number of things, perhaps they sought to alleviate some of their ever growing woes. Part of the difficulties were that in order to handle their work load, Interplay had commissioned several subsidiaries, including 14 Degrees East, Black Isle Studios, Bioware and more, to help them handle the ever increasing demand for their talent. It was at this point it became public knowledge, that Interplay owed Bioware big for one of their hits in 1998, Baldur's Gate. Baldur's Gate is also one of my favorite games, although published by Interplay, it was developed externally in a collaborative partnership with Bioware and Black Isle Studios. I mention it because of all the various suits, the unpaid royalties to Bioware over Baldur's Gate is perhaps what doomed them the most.
Star Trek: Starfleet Command
A different take on starship simulation, and very highly effective, based more on expanded literature of Starfleet Battles than canonicity. This by no means makes it inferior or weak and is very strong, and very well done.
(Developed by 14 Degrees East, 1999, published by Interplay)
They did manage to release Starfleet Command, developed by 14 Degrees East, who would later go on to help with Klingon Academy. It takes most of its inspiration from the classic table top strategy game, Starfleet Battles. Although it is one of the better Trek games out there, the mainstream gamer community had problems with it. Starfleet Command features complex controls, a large learning curve and wasn't really the kind of thing gamers at the time were into. I guess most of them weren't Trek fans, and to have to spend so much effort and time in a genre they really couldn't care about, it seemed not worth it. Still though it was strongly detailed and very good game, it was a indication that Interplay at least wanted to keep things on track for the community.
It helped alleviate some of the issues people had with their previous title, Starfleet Academy. It's not that Starfleet Academy is a horrible game, it was just released too late, and the unfinished nature of some features, the community had to scratch their heads over why the wait was so necessary.
Microprose wasn't fairing much better, having much of its resources stripped, and gutted after the Hasboro takeover. Still they were able to cobble together and create one last video game, Birth of the Federation. Influenced by Civilization and MOO series, Birth of the Federation is one of the most intellectually driven games in the entire franchise. During development they had planned an epic game, which would take you through the beginning of space travel, to the days of Kirk and Spock. You'd progress through the culture and technological waves of The Next Generation, for the game to climax in the post-TNG era. It would feature starships and elements from all incarnations of Trek.
Unfortunately this did not come to pass. Soon after beginning on this monumental idea, they were told they would breach their contract with Viacom if they did this the way they envisioned, and that it was in fact illegal for them to use any elements not labeled specifically as TNG. Therefore they obeyed the contract to the letter, and managed to loophole certain elements from other series in there, sort of as a subtle "screw you".
They would release a patch two months after release that fixed a lot of bugs, and then would officially become bankrupt and the company closed.
Activision released its first game in November 1999, almost a year to the date of the release of the 9th movie. Star Trek: Hidden Evil, a game that the box boasts is a new game for a new millennium. It was an adventure/shooter game, similar to Tomb Raider. Hidden Evil seems to have been rushed though, and has many glitches and bugs, things that should've been turned up in routine play testing or de-bugging were just left in. It's not that they actively tried to make it bad, but it came out lacking polish that gamers had become expected to.
By this point the gaming community had largely turned their backs on Trek in gaming. The meme "There is no good Trek game" began to surface in multiple sources. It unfortunately would be that thought that would remain prevalent in most of the community even to this day.
The year 2000 began disappointing for everyone. Disappointments in the lack of human progress, disappointed in the apocalypse that was supposed to occur and didn't.
Interplay commissioned Taldren, to build a sequel to their best selling Trek game to date, and so in January 2000, Starfleet Command II Empires at War came out for the PC. The game itself was decent but the biggest one of the game's selling points, the Dynaverse, didn't work upon initial release. The Dynaverse was Trek's first attempt at creating an ongoing multiplayer universe. It took several patches and fixes before the game was made playable online and Empires at War was another Interplay big hit. The delay did prove costly however as most players had either finished the game at this point and didn't want to go back, or had given up and moved on to other things.
Between SFC and SFC 2 there wasn't a huge difference. The engine was still the same but the GUI and the AI had been updated. New races and better missions, plus a more accessible product, made SFC 2 a top seller for Interplay and got them more money to bankroll their final few projects.
Then came The Fallen by Simon & Schuster, an Action/Adventure game. You play as Worf, Kira or Sisko in a story that is directly taken from The Millennium Trilogy by the husband/wife writing team of Judith Reeves-Stevens and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Not much to say about it other than that.
Interplay then came up with New Worlds, which was an early attempt to create a full 3-D real time strategy, with a free-look camera, similar as popularized by the later WarCraft III and Planetary Annhilation.
The graphics were bland, the game's strategy seemed non present, the camera was always counter productive, the controls were sloppy and nearly impossible to use and there were just way too many bugs. New Worlds really needed a fix or two from Interplay, but this was not to come to be, and New Worlds was talked about often about what "could have been".
It was however in the last half of the year 2000 that things began to really heat up, with the three best gaming products this franchise has ever produced.
Star Trek Armada
An impressive, undersold, under-appreciated title. Yet it is supremely strong, and sophisticated. In leaving so many resources unpacked, the fans have done amazing things, as the engine allows for near unlimited expansion. Even the stock game, it takes the best parts of Total Annhilation, and WarCraft rolls them into one package. Notably too, is that they went a step further, and realized space in an RTS. Most of the secondary objects fit into the foreground (yet can still be interacted with). This gives the illusion of surfing/flying everywhere, the only real impediments one might find out their are asteroid fields (which is your generic wall/block static object) and other fully solid objects like ships and stations. The game is both unique, and has the best of all the RTS's came before it, and should not be discounted. It even had multiplayer matchmaking on the World Opponent Network for close to a decade.
Activision released Star Trek Armada in July 2000.
Featuring a system where all objects are smoothly integrated and fit together like puzzle pieces with colorful graphics and a fluid engine it is all around great. It also had out of the box multiplayer matchmaking and functionality, over the World Opponent Network, a first for a Star Trek game. It also had easy modability, another first. True, these functions had been seen in previous titles but this was the first to do both extremely well, and be extremely user friendly to boot.
It even inspired and spawned two imitator spin-off custom scenario maps within the programming language syntax of the popular RTS titles by Blizzard, StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft III.
An impressive follow up to Starfleet Academy, totally unexpected. Rather than repeat the COMMAND model of ship simulation, this one went the Academy route, and finished off. The game that SFA wanted to be but just wasn't able to.
(Developed by 14 Degrees East, 2000, published by Interplay)
A few weeks after the release of Armada, came another now classic. Klingon Academy was the final culmination of all the would be Trek battle simulators that had come before. Featuring a fully reactive starship carnage damage model, an unprecedented attention to detail, it is certainly the best starship simulator since EGA Trek.
KA also had a strong multiplayer community and a strong modding community. Though both lack the user friendliness of Armada there regardless still was a large boom in these areas.
If there is only one complaint I could marshal against it, it is the supreme lack of TNG ships and objects. The license issue would have prohibited this in any event, and it's not something this game needed to succeed, I just really would've loved to seen the carnage model applied to a Galaxy class or a Borg Cube.
Still though, succeed it did, what really draws me to KA even after all these years, is it is both unique, full of both action and strategy, it seems as it was done by the fans themselves. It is a really well put together video game and a superb effort in every area.
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
Not Trek's first FPS but it is its most successful. It is still being played online to this day and the out of box matchmaking client still works.
(Developed by Raven Software, 2000, published by Activision)
Activision would go on to release one more title before the year ended, Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. Developed by Raven who was well known in the community for producing quality shooters and who had previously brought the world amazing FPS franchises of Heretic, and Hexen, this is debatably the most mainstream of any Star Trek gaming title. Lacking most of the gore but none of the firepower or sophistication of contemporary shooters, this thrust players into the first hand view of the away team. Featuring a full arsenal, many different game modes and features it is a strong piece. Its story wasn't to bad either, taking place between "30 Days" and "Unimatrix Zero" in season 6 of Voyager television series.
Elite Force, like Armada before it, featured out of the box multiplayer, and running along the outside of the ship playing capture the flag in zero-G is a favorite past time.
All three of these titles are of an exceptional quality all around that has yet to be surpassed. Unfortunately the timing on them was not as kind. Armada although had a year head start before WarCraft III finally hit shelves, no publicity or marketing campaign could have hoped to equal the gamer public's anticipation for WarCraft III. When War3 was finally released in September 2001, nearly a year after Armada, it was quickly recognized as the next generation of RTS's, and so hardcore RTS fans seemed uninterested in a simpler, seemingly more primitive engine that was at the core of Armada, not stopping long enough to realize its true strengths.
They also became victims, ironically, of their own strengths and success. Because they were released so close together, players usually chose to invest in one or the other, but few of us actually sought to acquire all of them in such a short time frame. As a gamer, I can understand, you just bought a new video game, and got involved with it, you weren't necessarily ready to go get another new game a few weeks later. Especially with one as good as these, as they are hard to put down, and I myself in fact cycle back to them every now and then.
Not just that, but the gaming landscape was much different then it had once been. Had these come out during the early 90s renaissance, they would've eclipsed everything out there. Players had much fewer choices in those days, so well done Star Trek games would've been THE game to own for any space fan. Instead, they were but a few in sea of many choices. There's nothing really wrong with any of them and they are in fact the best out there of what they do, and as much success as they have had, it just wasn't as much as one would've expected for.
Not to mention that by this time, the gamer public had gotten used to hating Star Trek games, so when these came out, the reaction suffered heavily even from Trek fans from those who said "Who cares?".
The industry does not stop for one title. Let alone three, no matter how amazingly put together and well polished they may be.
Sadly, we must be moving on.
The first release in 2001 was Away Team. Away Team was a turn based shooter similar to command and conquer. It was just way to short and most gamers finished it in a few weeks. It lacked lasting power and it seemed like Activision was beginning to loose touch with the community which it had provided Elite Force and Armada to just one year prior.
Armada II was released November 2001, about 16 months after the first one. Armada II split the fan base, roughly 50% of people seem to think A2 is the better game, the other 50% are loyal to A1.
It uses the same engine as its immediate predecessor with a few new tweaks to add some new features. It also adds two new factions to be used in multiplayer and custom scenarios.
I don't think Armada II is a bad game in any sort of way, though you can count me in the camp that is loyal to A1.
Armada II reminds me of an old Peanuts gag. Charlie Brown and his friend Shermy are eating hotdogs. Shermy says "Good Hotdogs ehey?" and Charlie Brown responds with "Fair I guess. It just doesn't feel right eating these without being in front of a ball game".
There's many different interpretations to the above quip. The most prominent one and that most scholars agree, is it's about enjoying what you have going for you, and not worrying about what you don't. This is the Armada 1 vs Armada 2 controversy in a nutshell.
This translates into Armada II in the following ways. For instance resource collection in the first Armada was basically streaming, extracting what you needed at the present time for the ship or station you were building, but otherwise pretty much you set it up, don't worry about it. If you're streaming to slow to meet your quota, then you can take steps to increase the amount of returns you get from the streams. It's all very simple and combining that with the single layer 2-D plane, it allows players to fit things together smoothly and fluidly. Starship movement is also very elegant and natural.
In Armada II resources are more stockpiled then streaming, that there are new types each gathered in a different way, meaning it's infinitely harder to set it up, and then stop worrying about it. It also introduces colonizing planets, upgrade stations which help boost specific sub-system effectiveness, and a score of new objects.
Also in Armada II the dog fighting abilities of units were removed, to make room for "fleet customization". Still though it means objects fly to minimum range, shoot until their target is destroyed or they themselves are.
Got to wonder why, as the old adage goes, if it's not broken, don't fix it.
Two more irksome points for me was the new depth level and warp drive. The depth level is a horizontal X-Y axis which allows objects to be layered. You could have objects occupy the same hex in Armada 1, but never the precise exact same spatial coordinate, if the objects poles touched it generally crashed the game, thus if two objects ever occupied the same coordinate, they often would bounce off like bumper cars as a fail-safe to prevent the poles from coming into contact. They are also programmed to resist touching their poles, though it still can happen thanks to the fluidity of how the game handles movement and object orientation. Sure it's slightly unrealistic but I much rather take this then what we ended up getting. The problem with the horizontal axis is that it makes it harder to control; objects don't seem to move around as smoothly, with a simple move command, which is bad, especially for a strategy game that involves you having to move many different objects around at once. Not to mention if it's to low, then it's very hard to see what's going on, even the largest of objects seem insignificant from how far they are.
The warp drive is intended for larger maps, to get units around quicker then impulse. There are a few glitches with this though that were never corrected or addressed. The first is, it allows players to warp past their enemies fixed defenses making them very irrelevant unless placed directly next to another object their defending, forget making border defenses or walling yourself in. The second is, objects in warp have a hard time being targeted. They can also travel to any location on the map in very short periods, and so-called "skilled" players are able to drop out of warp, fly around blast the stuffing out of your base, and then leave very quickly, without ever taking a single hit or any damage. Players claim it's "skill" but I found it to be cheap.
There are many that like the new features, and argue it increases the strategic possibilities. My impression is though that it unfortunately did a few things that seemed to have hurt it, and fundamentally altered what the first Armada was so significantly that it almost feels like an entirely different game. It's not that it's a terrible game in its own right, it just doesn't feel like a proper sequel to me.
Thus it was not as successful as the first Armada. It's not that it was badly received either, it was just another unfulfilled expectation for the Trek Gamer fans.
Interplay and Simon and Schuster it was widely known they would be surrendering their licenses to Activision by the end of the year. They would each release their last few Trek games.
Interplay came out with Orion Pirates, which was a stand alone expansion pack for Starfleet Command II. It was more of a parting gift to its fans more then it was a step to create one last legacy. The major problem was that Orion Pirates was nothing really new, that players already were able to select the vessels featured as part of quick battle skirmishes in previous games, and just felt like a tired retread.
Speaking of retreads, Simon and Schuster would come out with Starship Creator II, a follow on to their previous Creator game. It was mostly done to promote their last title, Dominion Wars, and they were often packaged together as a result. Creator II was essentially the same as the first, with some better graphics and a few new missions. None of the flaws with automation or limited choices were corrected however. One interesting aspect of it however it allowed players to import their creation into Dominion Wars.
Dominion Wars is a tactical based shooter game. It is a blend between RTS and Simulator. Unfortunately it didn't do either very well, the main complaint of which seemed to be that it did not contain enough controls to effectively play the game. In other words, you could adjust the graphics settings, but you couldn't fly your ship with much intuition.
All of the original license holders were now gone, giving Activision full control of the franchise's gaming front. There were only two new Star Trek game released in 2002, Bridge Commander and Starfleet Command III.
Bridge Commander as the name suggests puts players directly in the command chair of a starship. It even allowed people who had microphones on their computers to verbally issue orders. It's a pretty good game in its on its own measures, with only some small failings but there wasn't really anything monumental or unique other than the verbal orders. The market already had seen many starship simulators at this point as well, so despite the novelty of verbally issuing commands, it just wasn't enough to carry the game on its own which had very few objects when the older titles had many more.
In late November 2002, Activision would come out with Starfleet Command III to a mixed lukewarm reaction. It was attempt by Activision to capture the hearts and minds of the now defunct Interplay audience. Among many other decisions, Activision wanted to make this its own entity, while at the same time cash in on all the loyal Interplay fan base. So SFC III was set in the TNG era, and there were many significant changes to the formula. Most notable is it allows full customization of your ship, previous COMMAND games had only allowed you to customize accessories. Then again previous games in the series also had about 50 different ships per faction; this reduced the number to about 11. Many of the controls were simplified, and some of the previous staples such as fighters or specialty weapons were just dropped completely. In the end, it was all to obvious that SFC III was intended to cash in on the fact that people were missing Interplay, and diluted the mechanics to make the game more accessible, but in diluting it, it eliminated many other things that the COMMAND series was great at.
There were no new Trek titles in 2003. This seems to have hurt, as there was an influx of titles from all other developers. You have to keep hitting things while the iron is hot; otherwise your fan base finds other things to do with their time, and you can get buried very quickly.
The PC titles that were released in this year though were suffering quite a bit from growth in the home console market, thanks to breakout hits like Grand Theft Auto III and Halo. Consoles such as the first Xbox, Playstation 2 and Game Cube were finally surpassing PCs in terms of both the sales of the consoles themselves and the quality of games that were released. This coupled with the fact that many newer PC games were requiring users to invest heavily to upgrade or purchase a new PC, when console games worked out of the box, was also detrimental to the PC games genre.
Activision would come out with Elite Force II in 2004. As the Armada sequel before it, it tended to split the community in two. Many Elite Force players and principal mappers flocked to the new game, especially those on the strongest server, R3ACTOR. For whatever reason, those who went to Elite Force II never came back.
It was powered by the same engine as the first Elite Force, however where as Elite Force I used the vanilla copy of the engine, in the intervening years the engine had been modified extensively, and it was the modified version that was used for Elite Force II. This allowed more complex outdoor environments and more complicated missions. The problem was the modified version had difficulty running on most peoples computers, even if they could run the first Elite Force with all the settings turned up to maximum. It was a time of transition for the FPS genre as well, FPS was getting away the traditional dungeon crawl/maze like indoor levels and now because of titles like San Andreas and Metroid Prime, it was featuring becoming known to feature expansive outdoor environments. In other shooters there had been outdoor scenes now and then, but it was always obviously just a room decorated to look like it was outside, but always had four walls and a ceiling like any standard room. Also the weapons were made more standardized, and this time around there's very few alien weapons, most are Federation standard military.
There's nothing truly wrong with this, things will go how they will go, but again it's just another thing that helps polarize the two games when they should have greater synergy.
Another problem was it was done by Ritual Entertainment instead of Raven. I have nothing against Ritual, but Raven had a long history of doing well made shooters and started several franchises in the area, where Ritual was mostly known for over the shoulder/camera style shooters. I'm not saying they don't have it in them to produce a quality FPS but, it all comes down to how it's handled.
48 hours after release of this game, however though Activision filed a lawsuit. Without verbatim transposing the whole "he said she said" I will simply paraphrase the most important parts in the interests of edification.
The lawsuit alleges that Paramount had not effectively supported the Star Trek franchise since entering into the agreement with Activision. That they had allowed DS9 and Voyager to end their successful TV runs, released one single movie, and the remaining show, Enterprise, suffered from poor ratings and poor fan approval. These events would curtail any future gaming effort made by them, and they wanted out.
The lawsuit effectively ended the golden age of Star Trek gaming, plunging it into the dark age of Star Trek gaming. Retailers across the world were made to destroy all remaining copies of any Activision Trek title they had on their shelves. I remember going into the one store, asking for Starfleet Command III and I was told although they did have it, they were prohibited from selling it to me.
It would seem Activision just wanted to spend their resources elsewhere, and freeing themselves of their Trek commitment meant no new patches or support for their last few titles, which the last couple definitely needed it. Furthermore in 2008 Activision would discontinue the WON servers, effectively bringing an end to 9 years of Armada and Armada II online matchmaking. This was quite a blow. True WON was never as popular as the sister product, Battle.Net by Blizzard, but it was still sustainable and people do in fact miss it.
It would seem Star Trek had become stagnant and now reached a void. No TV shows, movies, or even games were being talked about. It would seem as though its time had passed.
Star Trek Legacy came out in 2006. It was developed by MadDoc and Bethesda. People will remember that MadDoc had previously helped Activision handle Armada II. Legacy is a huge collaborative effort and saw releases on both the original Xbox and PC. On Xbox it's said to be one of the better games, with great graphics, great interface and it's a lot of fun. On PC however the graphics are stale and the controls are worthless. I don't understand why it forbids people from changing their controls. Unlike many other gamers, I never got into using WSAD method to move around; I always preferred the arrow keys. Something about using my non dominant hand to use tiny letter buttons to steer feels very uncomfortable. Then this awkward juxtaposition is made worse by having to use the mouse to accelerate. I just feel if it had better controls or allowed me to set my own, rather than force a "one size fits all" approach, then I might actually like it.
This game features the first and more then likely the only time, which all 5 Star Trek captains, would participate, doing voice over work for missions. Thus it is a story that spans the various franchises, and every era gets a chance to shine in a few missions.
Naturally, this game features a large amount of objects as well, every titular starship, and then there's more, from early warp ships in 2063 to the end of 24th century with super battleships such as the Akira or the Sovereign. If that's not enough, PC users have a large number of mods to choose from.
This game was very successful and is still being modded to this day, however it seems to have failed in the desired goal, which was to restart the public's interest in Trek gaming. A lot of that might do to the controls or just the bad graphics for the PC version. I just feel it's very pedestrian to handle a 3-D starship flight in this manner, the worst part of the game, like why would I play that way when I already have Klingon Academy and Starfleet Command?
After Legacy, it was all to clear that world was now a very different place. The next game to come out would be a tie in for much hyped reboot, Star Trek: 2009.
Star Trek: D.A.C. was released on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on May 13th 2009, and the PC library software STEAM on November 13th 2009. It was made exclusively to promote the new movie. It's got arcade style concepts and is a top down space adventure/shooter, similar to many old DOS space games. No one really liked it, but I've got to say, I really enjoy DAC, I just wish it had caught on. there is allot of potential in the idea, but everyone else just sees it as a stupid little game that served its purpose, promotion of the movie and it has since become defunct and is no longer available for purchase or playable online.
The next title to come out, came out in 2010. Star Trek: Online had a problematic development cycle. First being made by Perpetual, then Perpetual went bankrupt and their work was transferred over to Cryptic Studios It was finally released in summer 2010 and charged people $14.95 per month, or you could pay $249.99 during the beta for a life time subscription. The price rose to $299.99 when the game finally launched.
On ground it is stiff, characters move around quite akwardly. I'm told it's no different in any other MMORPG but that jut raises questions that shouldn't be answered here. You can only shoot in designated shootouts, you will often bang into walls just trying to find your way around.
In space, the game fairs a bit better and seems to have better graphics. Yet, most of my ship systems are unavailable during regular flight. So I cant even cloak or take potshots as I slowly warp around. This just blows the realism factor for me.
Star Trek Online has many fans and people love it. I don't however. I find it to complex, and I don't appreciate the constant pressure to buy things. Still it's one of the few Trek games as of this writing to still have a large online player base, which only keeps expanding.
It's since gone free to play. Don't think for a second that means it's all open to you though, as mentioned, it will charge you, even for just a new digital shirt. I find that to be ridiculous.
Star Trek Shooter was apparently made and completed in 2011. It was held back to coincide with the theatrical release of Star Trek: Into Darkness. The game is just okay, buggy and glitchy. Enemies fail to be eliminated after being shot, you'll run through tables and other solid objects. It's very unsatisfying. The one thing it does have going for it is it has some unique mission flows, single player journey is different for either Spock or Kirk depending on who your controlling, or if your playing it multiplayer, the mission flow is again different. This is a neat feature but the rest is just pedestrian.
This was the last Star Trek game released, and doesn't entice much optimism.
The creating of a new Star Trek game would be an uphill battle for anyone at this point. I myself am working on several and if anyone would like to help they are welcome to contact me. The industry itself seems to have little interest in Star Trek for the time being, as it's no longer a hot topic, such as it were.
I know if I don't say it someone else will. There were a few games that have gone unmentioned in this article up to this point (Conquest, Shattered Universes, etc). It's not that they're not worthy games, it's just they really didn't shape the direction things were going or have an impact on the industry so they were just games for the sake of games.
We as fans have been blessed that there is just so very many titles from which to choose from.
We have had educational games which help the casual fan learn more, or take even the most hardcore fan deeper into the experience.
Predominately the games released have been starship simulators, putting us in direct command of a vessel, with or without additional wing-men. If the vessel selection is to lacking for you, there's many mods and third party objects to be added and play around with.
We have had games that insert us into the roles of iconic characters spanning both The Original Series and The Next Generation.
We have gotten to go on awesome adventures and been hands on shooting it out in fierce firefights from the first hand perspective of away teams.
We even have had a few strategies that allow fans to take their hand at city building, controlling massive amounts of objects and fleet administration.
This is nothing to scoff at and it's been a hell of a ride. My hope for the next Trek game is something that's different, something that has not been done before. To boldly go, such as it were.
One should not rule out that we might get some very good games in the future. Or perhaps we will continue in stagnation, I suppose we'll see what happens after the 50th anniversary and the Star Trek: 2016 movie wraps to be sure.
"Until then, see you, out there." -Q-
"Listen to Learn, Speak to Teach" -TTP-
Various Video Games - Reviews of Star Trek games of various genres