Delta Rising has been a long time coming to Star Trek Online. Players who have been following the game could probably expect where the story was headed. Delta Rising will now take players to the Delta Quadrant and prepare them for what may lie ahead in the years to come.
Some of you have asked what the story process is for Star Trek Online. Like all the stories in Star Trek Online, we start with the Star Trek IP. The leads, with our writer, Christine Thompson, begin working on an update by creating a very broad outline. This plan includes where we have been and a review of what we have told the players so far. Next, we look at where we want the storyline to eventually go. What are the main story beats we want to hit in an update? Where do we ultimately want to go? A whiteboard brainstorm might look something like this.
Where have we been?
The Undine have been infiltrating the Alpha Quadrant. In the midst of the Romulans rebuilding their world, they found an Iconian Gateway on New Romulus. We encountered Worf, the Solanea’s Dyson Sphere, and the Elachi! We then met up with the Voth, leading us to the edge of the Delta Quadrant. Suddenly, we faced off against an Undine invasion! Tuvok, along with an alliance of the Federation and Klingons joined forces to stop them. However, this earned the attention of the Iconians.
Where did we want to go?
We wanted to go to the Delta Quadrant. We could see the Voyager crew reunite, meeting up with old friends and enemies. We could tell stories about the Voyager crew and what happened in the Delta Quadrant since Voyager returned home. What effect did Voyager have on the Delta Quadrant? What menace has surfaced in the wake of Delta Rising? We know we want to raise the level cap to empower players to face this foe. However, what surprises will Captains find along the way? Most importantly, how will this end and what do we want to do next?
For Delta Rising, we took a good, long look at Voyager. We all watched and re-watched as much of the show as we could, focusing on key episodes. That brought up more questions. What species did we want to include? What ones did we not want to include and perhaps save for later? What can we do? What makes an interesting enemy or ally? What interesting stories were left untold? What can art and design pull off? What makes sense for our game? At this point in the story planning, we start thinking about the Trek actors. Who do we want for this update? Who can we get? Who makes sense considering its 32 years later? What stories are personal to those characters that translate well into Star Trek Online?
After all that, we make an outline – a map from A to Z. For Delta Rising, this gave us an idea of the story we want to tell. But now we have to fit that story into a production schedule as well as a game cadence. We have to determine how many missions we need to tell this story. How many do we want? Do we want adventure or battlezones? Ground or space? What about patrols, queues and STFs? Does our story work for the type of content we need to create? If not, what do we need to change?
Next we need to take other scheduling considerations into account. We all want every Delta Quadrant species, but art and design can’t make them all. Which ones do we need, which ones should we invest more in, and which ones do we cut and save for a future update?
So we rinse and repeat this with many, many brainstorm meetings over several weeks until we have a plan – X alien critters, Y story missions, Z zone, etc. We break up the story beats into the different types of content (we can tell this in a patrol, this makes good backstory for a queue, these are great small patrol mission, and these are our key mission story points) and we plan the flow from one beat to the next. This helps start form a solid story plan.
Once we have an outline of the content, each content designer and environment artist gets an assignment. They are given the key story moments they need to tell, and we outline the lead-in and how it needs to end. Each designer and environment artist works with Christine to plan his or her piece of content – how it plays, how the story unfolds, who the characters are, and where we will use cutscenes. Around this stage, the individual designer and artist begin work on actually creating the mission and the maps. There are lots of checkpoints and an approval process along the way, but at this point, it’s up the team to deliver the actual experience.
As the whole thing comes together, cutscenes are blocked out, dialogue is written and scripts are finalized. Finally, the last thing to come online is the voiceover work. When it is recorded, it’s time to finalize the cut scenes and contact dialogs. Then we hold our breath and send it out into the world for you to enjoy.
Al ‘CaptainGeko’ Rivera
Star Trek Online