For nearly six years, Paul Weston and Brian Murray at the Canadian IT company Gambit Realm have been working on an in-depth, fully-realized interior model of the original Starship Enterprise as the setting for their new PC game - Star Trek: NCC-1701.
TrekCore caught up with Weston via e-mail this month as Gambit Realm is preparing to release the full download of this new 23rd Century game.
Paul Weston: The Gambit Realm Interview
Interviewed by Bob Stutzman for TrekCore.com
TrekCore: Paul, how did the Star Trek: NCC-1701 gaming project begin?
Paul Weston: We've been at it a while. My colleague Brian Murray started experimenting with the Torque Gaming Engine (TGE/TGEA) platform back around 2007-2008 or so... He is an avid Trekkie, and decided to use the bridge from the original Enterprise as one of his first projects to get familiar with the art pipeline.
Once he had built the bridge, brought it into the engine, and actually started walking around, this brought about thoughts of building the entire ship and having interactive elements on it. He used Franz Joseph's blueprints to lay out the decks, but also added various customizations necessary to make things work. He also would tweak things to more closely resemble how they appeared in the original show.
While Brian was building the model and getting it into Torque, I was brought in as a programmer to work on the script and engine code, adding in various resources to enable extra functionality. It just kind of grew from there.
TrekCore: There must have been a lot of work put into the project to make it as realistic as possible. How has the game evolved over the years in development?
Paul Weston: We both have day jobs, so this was slow going. We would also work together on various other projects and side jobs over the months and years that followed, which kept delaying the completion of the ship… not to mention the various engine changes that Garage Games kept releasing: TGE became TGEA, then Torque 3D 1.01, then Torque 3D 1.1 Beta 3, under which we released our Shuttle Flight Training demo of the game - which has had over 6,800 downloads.
After releasing the demo, we had some decent buzz about the game, garnering interviews and write-ups on various Trek fan sites. We once again became motivated to complete the ship and release it for free as a fan-based game.
Finally, Torque 3D 1.1 Final was released in 2011. This was a major turning point: optimization of the ‘zones’ and ‘portals’ code in this release was critical to us being able to load the entire ship at once and have the player be able to see everything.
Since then, we have been plugging away when we can, and just recently got it all together into the product we will be releasing soon, which includes all decks and should be very well received by all Trek fans, many of whom have been writing us over the course of the project, begging us to finish it.
We hope they enjoy finally being able to explore the rest of the ship, because we know it's been a long time coming!
TrekCore: Tell us a little about the user experience. What’s available to the player after they’ve downloaded and installed the game?
Paul Weston: There are a few ways to play the game. When you load up, there is a level selection screen where you can choose from many different missions:
- All Decks: An exploration mode, allowing players to go anywhere and do anything aboard the ship. Deck contents load and unload as you move about the ship, using the zones and portals code. It also allows entire ship to be loaded at once, but older computers may have performance issues, so we recommend a decent after-market video card.
- Klingon Hunt: A mission where you have to hunt down a squadron of Klingons on the lower decks of the Enterprise.
- Red Alert: Players must escort Scotty from the main bridge down to Deck 7 while protecting him from the Klingons who have boarded the saucer section.
- Shuttle Flight Training: This was in the demo we released, although it has been updated slightly for this release with a few new surprises. SFT allows you to fly a shuttle through various training exercises, including asteroid target practice, an obstacle course, and combat simulation against Klingon fighters.
- Engineering Hull: A limited-level mode, which includes just Decks 15 through 24 - in case a user's PC can’t run All Decks due to performance issues.
There are also single-deck missions available, so a user can visit just one deck at a time - which is again a good way to get around any performance issues
TrekCore: How much of the Enterprise is available to explore during gameplay?
Paul Weston: We have opened up all 24 decks - and each deck has at least one turbolift destinations, which can be reached via an interactive map system located when you click the control panel in any lift. With this setup, players can zoom around the ship very fast and get into all areas.
There are also staircases, so one can actually walk all the way from Deck 1 to Deck 24 – it was quite amazing the first time we actually did that! In the lower decks, you can even get into the turbolift shafts, where there are ladders in place to get up or down.
One of my favorite things to do when I test performance is to run from all the way from Deck 1 to Deck 24 using the staircases, and then get into the turbolift shafts and use them to climb my way stealthily back to up to deck 15, where the shaft ends. Though you can still travel via turbolift to anywhere on the ship through the magic of the map system, the turbolift shaft in the neck and the one in the saucer are not actually connected yet - we will complete the saucer shafts and connect them up in a future release.
Almost every room, closet and bathroom can be accessed now, which is really something to see.
TrekCore: Do users need to create their own characters when play, or can they choose to explore the ship as one of the classic television characters?
Paul Weston: When you load up the game and are choosing which level to play, you can also select your character. You start as a generic yellow-shirt Command officer by default, but you can also choose to play as either an old-school Klingon, or as member of the Enterprise crew: Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Sulu and Chekov are all available to pick from.
To play as a random character, you can simply choose one of the division classes - Command (yellow shirt), Security (red shirt), Science (blue shirt) – and after you choose a class, you will automatically spawn as one of several available characters in that class. If you chose Command, for example, you would spawn as Kirk, Sulu, or Chekov.
All players come equipped with a phaser, phaser rifle, tricorder, and communicator.
TrekCore: In the Shuttle Flight Training mission, are players limited to piloting a shuttlecraft? Are there other ships available to fly?
Paul Weston: No, there are other craft as well - if you choose to play as a Klingon, you will spawn on the D7 cruiser that is hovering off the port bow of the Enterprise, and you can then select a fighter from the Klingon shuttlebay garage and take it out for a spin.
The Klingon fighter's flight mechanics are slightly different from the Enterprise shuttles - the fighters are faster and more maneuverable, but the controls are also more sensitive, so it can be trickier to fly. One advantage is that its speed makes flying to the moon and back a little quicker… for those who really want to explore and find a cool Easter egg in the Shuttle Flight mission!
TrekCore: What about multiplayer support? Is that option built in to the current release?
Paul Weston: Yes – by design, Torque 3D is a multiplayer client/server. Even when you play a local, single-player game you are actually running a server and connecting to it – all taking place behind the scenes.
We have the game enabled to "Allow other players to connect" by default, which is a switch a user can disable if they want. But when enabled, other users on the same LAN will see it, and the game will also broadcast to our master server, which tracks all other running games out in the wild that have that switch on. The master server acts as a broker to connect players to games.
From the main screen, you just click the "Join" button and either "Query LAN" or "Query Master" – once the list of games appears, you just choose one to join and you will be connected and dropped in.
When we released the demo, we got a note from one reviewer who told us he had seven colleagues connected up in a massive shuttle battle… which sounds like a good time!
TrekCore: It certainly sounds like it’s been worth the long wait.
Paul Weston: We’re very proud to finally be releasing this to the masses. It has been a labor of love for over five years now – wow, has it actually been that long? - and we know many fans have been waiting patiently with baited breath, wondering if we'd ever get it done. Sometimes we wondered ourselves, but the day has finally come!
Ultimately, we would love it if after this is released, people took notice and Paramount considered negotiating some sort of license. We have many ideas of where we could take this, and there really is no other Star Trek game like it…. with proper licensing and funding support, we could really up the ante!
We also have a few other gaming projects in various stages, all using Torque 3D. These include a walkable RMS Titanic which is about 50% complete, and also an accurate model of the Roman Coliseum which can be fully explored (this one makes a great deathmatch arena with various weapons to choose from). But really our first love will always be the Enterprise. We always come back to it, and it never gets old.
TrekCore: Paul, thank you for taking the time to share this with our readers.
Paul Weston: Thank you - it was great to share this happy news with the Trek community. I hope Trek fans enjoy playing the game and exploring the Enterprise as much as we do. It really is a fantastic design and there is so much to see and do inside, with more still to come. Trek fans should really enjoy being able to finally see and walk the ship in its entirety.
Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.
Fans interested in trying out Star Trek: NCC-1701 can download a demo version of the game at Gambit Realm's website (available for PCs running Windows XP or higher).