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Bringing Star Trek: Discovery To Life in Star Trek Online

Go behind the scenes with Design Director Al Rivera and Staff Writer Paul Reed

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Four years ago, the first Star Trek television show to air in twelve years came to our screens. Around the world, fans waited with bated breath to see what this new vision of the Final Frontier would bring. None more so than the developers of Star Trek Online. A narrative, free to play online roleplaying game, STO had been one of many Star Trek creators filling in the gaps those past shows had left behind. For almost a decade, folks like Design Director Al Rivera and Staff Writer Paul Reed had been picking up threads that were left dangling and weaving them into a larger picture of the Star Trek universe. And now, for the first time, they were going to get new content to play with.

“I think my initial reaction, my fanboy reaction, was, 'That's fantastic,' because I'm really, really excited to see a whole bunch of new Star Trek,” Rivera said, “My professional reaction, I guess was a little bit of relief, because we had been creating content for eight years, and having fresh stuff to draw upon really was going to be very helpful. It really charged us to be able to have access to new stories, new characters…to be able to leverage the IP where we had already looked so deeply into TNG and DS9 and Voyager and TOS.”

STO launched into that world almost immediately, adding a brand new tutorial in the Discovery era and enlisting the talents of actors like Mary Wiseman, Rekha Sharma, and Anthony Rapp to bring the world to life. As the game’s writer, it fell on Paul Reed to capture those characters’ essences. “I would go back to watch episodes of the show, especially ones that featured whichever characters we were working on.” Reed said. “So when we were working on the content with Paul Stamets I went back and watched a lot of shows that he was featured strongly in to get an idea of his voice, his speaking style mannerisms and stuff like that.

It'll sound kind of funny, but a lot of times I will imagine them saying it to me in my mind. I was like... I'll read the dialogue on the screen and especially if it's someone we've worked with before then I will be able to kind of hear their voice on my head. And again, just double back to watch the show again and see does this sound legit? Does this sound like a line that this person would actually say in the show? And iterate on that until it feels good.”

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The actors for the show even get involved in the process of crafting their storylines. They’ll often have input on how their characters should talk and act, based on their own experiences embodying those character. Reed continued, “They know their voice a lot better than we. So if they have suggestions, we are cool to work with them on that. And sometimes it's even in the studio, there have been times where someone has said, "Do you mind if I try it like this? Do you mind if I do a bit of an ad-lib here?" And, "I think this would feel better for the character." I think that their performances from the people from the show have been great in the game. And so it's good to have that level of trust when we work with them.”

Of course, getting involved with storylines from a show that’s still on the air isn’t without its pitfalls. Rivera explained, “With the older content, they're done. So we know where characters and stories have ended or started. I mean, for instance if we were to, when Discovery first came out, if we were to make a story about Lorca, (spoilers if you haven't seen Discovery season one yet) and then we find out later that he's actually a murderous Terran, that would've not really worked really well for us. So the answer is we work really closely with CBS to make sure it's okay for us to do something.

We've done many things where the characters that we bring, say, from Discovery are actually time traveling clones and all kinds of weird... What did we do? Paul Stamets was an echo in the mycelial network and we had an Excalbian construct of Michael Burnham. And we have Mary Chieffo as L'Rell but this is 200 years in the future or something, and now she's dead. And we resurrect her. So she's kind of a clone, like they did with Kahless. We take their stories, their characters, but in specific ways that won’t affect what might happen in a future show. “

The most exciting part of the process is the opportunities to mix the over a decade of lore from Star Trek Online into the brand new lore that’s coming out of the show. Captains in the game have gone to all four quadrants, made peace with the Founders, saved time itself, and even won, barely, a war against the ancient Iconians. Reed already has an interesting idea for how to tie that lore into the far future setting of Discovery’s third and fourth seasons. “Say for example, are the Iconians still around in that time era? And if so, what are they doing? Have they evolved? Have they changed? Are they still mad? It's been a long time, but I'd like to go into some pockets of our lore in that far future and then tie in with the Discovery team in some way. So, seeing how the Iconians handled The Burn for example would be pretty cool.”

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We got a good look at what happens in an STO story meeting, because Rivera jumped on that idea immediately. “Iconians is a good example. If we wanted to continue a story of Iconians, they lived hundreds of thousands of years, effectively immortal they effectively would be around. The ones that we created would be around technically in the Discovery era. So that could be something that we could explore and see theoretically where they're at, and in that time era.”

When it comes to the future of the franchise, and the future of STO, Reed explained, “I look forward to when they put new stuff out, each new show that's came out just to see when I watch it. I kind of... There's a little part of me in the back of my mind that goes, ‘Hey, maybe we could work something with this.’ When we made a story about the Tzenkethi, they were like kind of almost an off the cuff line mentioned about a past thing. It was probably maybe two sentences of dialogue. And we got a lot of mileage out of those two sentences. So theoretically, in the new season of Discovery, someone could make a similar line about how X hundred years ago something happened, and that was the distant past. We're in the distant past, so they could make a comment about something that happened not far ahead of our timeline, that we might be able to talk to CBS and the Discovery team and go, ‘Hey, you know that thing you talked about? Can we play with that? Can we add that to our sandbox?’”

But most of all, Reed and Rivera are Trekkies, first. Just having this conversation kicked off a whole discussion about the upcoming season of Star Trek: Discovery. “I want to know what happened to the Klingons,” Reed said. “I want to know what the Klingons are up to. I mean, Klingons to me are such a big part of the lore and over all of the shows really. I think that because the earlier seasons of Discovery involved the Klingons quite a lot. I mean, they were a very big part of that,, but I feel like that's a well they need to go back to, and I hope that we find out what's going on with the Klingons.”

Rivera had his own ideas for stories to tap into. “And they got all the sphere data, what was that about? That's a perfect example of a story where we can jump off of and talk about what that was, or what's a gormagander? Let's talk about that. So there are opportunities there.”

After twelve years, and counting, Star Trek Online is still going strong, and still finding ways to tell stories in the Final Frontier. And in the new era of Trek television, it seems like they have even more ideas to draw from.

Star Trek: Discovery currently streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. Internationally, the series is available on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America and the Nordics, and on Pluto TV in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave. Star Trek: Discovery is distributed by ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group.