Ever wish you could step into the world of Star Trek and visit strange new worlds on an away mission? Sandbox VR is giving fans the opportunity to join the crew of the USS Discovery with the game Star Trek: Discovery - Away Mission, a virtual reality experience that is now open in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and will roll out to locations like New York, Chicago, and more in 2020.
As part of the game, you’ll be able to use a tricorder, fire a phaser, be beamed to an unknown planet, and even go to warp as a crewmember of the Discovery, plus encounter some familiar faces and voices. If this sounds as exciting to you as it does to us, it’ll be a must visit for all Trek fans. We sat down with Michael Hampden to talk about the game and working with Star Trek to get your hype levels even higher.
StarTrek.com: Michael, you hail from game developers like EA, Sony, and Ubisoft. Why did you join Sandbox VR?
Michael Hampden: As a game designer, I’ve been interested in tackling the design challenges that come with VR since its rebirth in 2013. There’s also so many unique opportunities to provide a whole new level of immersion to users when we compare VR to traditional games.
So, after shipping two projects with Sony’s VR Studio in London, I spoke with Steve Zhao, Sandbox VR’s CEO to learn more about the company. When Steve pitched me on his vision for Sandbox VR and his ideas for the future of LBVR, I was all-in. It’s really the same story for the other folks we have recruited from AAA developers, Sandbox VR is really a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build something which is totally new. It’s been an incredible experience working with the talented team we have assembled at Sandbox VR thus far, and we’re all super excited to launch Star Trek: Discovery - Away Mission this week!
Can you tell us what the Star Trek: Discovery - Away Mission experience is all about?
MH: It’s all about giving Star Trek fans the chance to live out the fantasy of being part of an Away Team tasked with completing an important mission. In Away Mission, you’ll be beamed down to explore an unexplored alien planet and work with your friends to uncover clues and solve the mystery of a missing Federation Ship. You get to use iconic Starfleet equipment like the phaser and tricorder and encounter exciting challenges along the way. During the experience, you’ll be guided by fan favorite Sylvia Tilly of the U.S.S. Discovery (with Mary Wiseman reprising her role on the show).
Speaking of Tilly, what was it like to write for that character?
MH: Tilly is such an unforgettable character from the TV series that we knew she would be the perfect character to guide the away team in Away Mission. I started by re-watching every episode of Discovery and taking a lot of notes. Honestly, she’s such a fun character to write for, and I knew Tilly has a huge number of fans so I wanted to ensure we got her dialogue to feel just right. Recording the dialogue with Mary Wiseman was a terrific experience, she did a wonderful job and working with her was a pleasure. In fact, all of the voice-actors on Away Mission (Mary Wiseman, Jake Hart, Bill Lobley, and Amy Raudenbush) gave terrific performances, we were really blessed to work with such talented people.
Video game adaptations of big movie and TV titles are often disasters. How can fans feel reassured that your experience is a genuine and accurate representation of Star Trek?
MH: When we started to design Away Mission, we wanted to be sure we created an authentic Star Trek experience. Throughout the design, writing, and development process, we worked very closely with the team from CBS to ensure the experience feels quintessentially Star Trek. We were also able to use assets from the TV Series which makes everything feel that much more authentic. As one example, the sound effects you will hear throughout Away Mission are the same authentic sounds that you hear on the TV Series. Finally, many of us on the development team are lifelong Star Trek fans and so the chance to bring this world to life inside VR was a dream come true for many of us. Early feedback we’ve had from some lucky fans who have had an early sneak peek at the experience tells us that we’ve managed to nail the feeling of being part of a Star Trek Away Team.
What's the story behind getting to work on this official Star Trek collaboration?
MH: It’s a funny story actually. Siqi Chen, Sandbox VR’s President is a life-long Star Trek fan. The kind of fan who for example, reads through all of the Star Trek technical manuals. Siqi reached out to the team at CBS and the rest is history.
Why Star Trek and not any of the other large franchises you've been offered to create an experience for?
MH: As a company, we’ve been inspired by Star Trek ever since our very inception. Our ultimate goal as Sandbox VR is to create a ‘holodeck’ experience in real life. On a personal level, this has also been the driving force for why I moved into VR from console games five years ago. The holodeck experience in Star Trek is such an inspiring concept that motivates myself and the rest of the team on a daily basis. So when we had the chance to create an experience based on Star Trek: Discovery, it was a natural move for us. The world of Star Trek: Discovery is so rich with so many intriguing possibilities to explore in VR. We know how passionate Star Trek fans are and so it was a great opportunity for us to make an experience we think they’ll love.
Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and OTT service Crave.