E3 2011: Star Trek: Infinite Space Has Infinite Trek Nerd Cred
E3 is, as you’d expect, a mega dork fest, nothing but computers, video games and nerds chattering on and on about the things nerds like (peppered by occasional attempts by marketing types to join in, with hilarious results). But even in the middle of a nerdpocalypse like that, there is still room for people who make the extreme nerdiness inherent in a convention about video games look like a sporting event. And just like in real life, those people are almost always Star Trek fans.
Here is the part where I out myself: I am a serious trekker. I have watched every single episode of every single Trek TV series numerous times, I can rank the movies in order of quality on command, I still have a decorative Next Generation communicator pin (that I don’t wear anymore, I swear!), I have gone to conventions – as an adult! – I have the complete Deep Space Nine on DVD and I saw Patrick Stewart in Star Trek before I ever saw Excalibur.
So it shouldn’t be a shock to hear I was kind of Hell Yes about GameForge’s Star Trek: Infinite Space demo during E3 2011. I had the chance to spend half an hour with the Gameforge people and it was time well-spent. I played the game, and talked about the laborious work getting the setting exactly right. Long story short: while the game itself isn’t going to change the world, even at this early stage in development, it looks to be a hyper-faithful take on the Next Generation Trek universe, and a decent way to pass the time. Trek Fans have a lot to look forward to.
WARNING: EXTREME NERDINESS BELOW
Staying True To Trek Mythology
Star Trek: Infinite Space is still a few months from release (they couldn’t confirm the date though beta testing begins in a month or so and they’re shooting for Q4 2011 for final release), but what they had on hand was proof that they’ve done hell of research and shown their work. It’s a free to play MMO aimed at casual gamers who also happen to love Star Trek, featuring ship to ship combat, as well as social gaming aspects and is, I am happy to report, full to bursting with authentic Trek lore. Yes yes, I realize Gameforge is taking a big risk by banking on the slim hope that there are Star Trek fans on the internet who won’t mind not paying to play something and who might want to interact with one another. I sure hope it pays off for them. /snark>
It’s set during the Dominion War, the primary story arc for Deep Space Nine and, to real Trek fans*, the franchise’s single best storyline. The story in a nutshell: The Federation encounters an evil empire (The Dominion) run by shapeshifting fascists who live on the other side of the galaxy. Said evil empire decides it’s in their best interest to take over the Alpha Quadrant (the section of the galaxy where The Federation and most of the main Star Trek aliens live) and set about doing so by sowing discord and mistrust until all-out war engulfs the entire Trek universe; millions die, Captain Sisko turns out to be 50% god and the Ferengi get a feminist leader. Look dammit, I warned you this was going to get nerdy, OK?
That storyline was told via lengthy, season-spanning story arcs and it differentiated Deep Space Nine from other Trek series significantly. Emphasis was very heavy on character building, war-is-hell moralizing and a shocking amount of space combat for a series set on a Space Station. It arguably has the best resolution of any Trek series, the richest characters and the most exciting battles and thus is an excellent setting for a ship to ship combat game.
Infinite Space features two different play styles: Style one is the main focus of the game, ship to ship combat. Players can choose to serve as captain of either a Federation or Klingon ship. They’ll work their way up from command of a small vessel until they lead either a Galaxy Class warship (ala the Next Generation Enterprise) or a Klingon Heavy Warship. The Klingon Empire and Federation are allies during the game’s setting , so no Kirk-era battles. Instead, players will come up against Romulans, Cardassians and of course, the Dominion.
The second play style is the focus of Infinite Space‘s social aspect. When the player isn’t roaming the galaxy fighting baddies, they can mingle with other players in one of several of the Trek universes various pubs; think Ten Forward on the starship Enterprise, or Quark’s bar on Deep Space Nine and you get the idea. It’s important to note that Gameforge’s reps were unable to confirm, when I asked point blank, if those specific settings would be featured in the game although the suspiciously demure response I did receive hinted that yes, fans might indeed look forward to seeing them at some point.
I assume it’s a matter of getting permission to use Armin Shimerman’s and Whoopie Goldberg’s likenesses, because during my Hands-on, I encountered the starship Defiant, featuring the likeness of Avery ‘Captain Sisko’ Brooks. This proves they’ll be including actual Star Trek Characters to interact with. As you’d expect, they couldn’t say who, but it’s a good sign they led with an A-list franchise character. It would have been a shame if the first canon character they let me see turned out to be Reginald Barclay**.
Gameforge did confirm that there will be several bars around the Federation or Klingon Empire based on locales from the series. Federation Starbase bars (like the one seen in the original series episode The Trouble With Tribbles, a Ferengi bar, a Romulan Bar and of course, a Klingon bar. In these locales, you’ll be able to customize your character, join other player’s quests and talk to one another about how completely not dorky it is to spend so much time thinking a bout Star Trek. They also told me in nonspecific terms that several ‘well known’ ships from the Trek Universe at the time of the Dominion storyline would appear.
In short, while it won’t change gaming forever, Infinite Space is basically a Trek Nerd’s dream come true.
Hands-On With Star Trek: Infinite Space
I had the chance to spend about 15 minutes actually playing Infinite Space and got to experience both aspects of the game. The bulk of the game, and my hands-on, focused on combat so let’s begin there. I started out on what I believe to be a Constellation class ship. After floating through space for a few moments, as I noted above I encountered the starship Defiant and was hailed by Captain Sisko. Sisko informed me that a Dominion patrol squadron had been sighted nearby and asked if I’d assist in eliminating them. Apparently, in normal gameplay you’ll have the option of accepting or declining such offers but come on, who the hell is going to turn down the chance to fight Jem’hadarr with Captain Sisko? Not me, dammit.
When piloting your ship, the game will appear fully 3D but, due to obvious constraints that come from making Infinite Space browser-based, Gameforge opted for a simplified top-down combat system. The player looks down on their ship and directs combat in easy-to-follow 2D space. It lacks some of the cinematic thrills of the series setting, but you get to fire phasers and photon torpedoes, so who’s complaining?
With the Defiant assisting, I destroyed a couple of Jem’hadarr vessels and made it through barely scathed. It didn’t last long but the weapons – phasers and photon torpedoes – were authentic and made the right noises too, so I was, as they say, pretty happy about it. After trying out combat for a few minutes, I was able to mill about in the generic Federation bar. Here you’ll see your actual Captain character in 3rd person. Mine was quite generic, as it was for demo purposes only and they didn’t have a playable version of the game’s character customization. However, I was informed you’ll be able to change everything from their face and hair to uniform and, if you’re not playing as a Klingon, species. It’s hard to say what it will ultimately look like once the final game launches since there was no one around to socialize with, but it seemed easy enough.
A few notes; They weren’t able to confirm if interactions between players will be text only, or if voice chat will be enabled. They also weren’t able to verify whether the game will have overarching story missions or if it will be basically an open world experience unique to each player. But they did tell me that they have ‘exciting’ things planned for the game and that Trek fans will be pleased. Based on what I saw, I believe them.
As I said, Infinite Space isn’t the most amazing, original game in the world, and it’s going to turn off hardcore gamers looking for a serious challenge. But for Trek fans looking to scratch the itch in a fun way, it looks to have great potential. I’ll be doing my best to play it as soon as it becomes available either in beta or final release.
Until then, feel free to kick sand in my face. Nerd 4 life.
*Sorry, Voyager dunces, but your favorite show sucked. As for Next Generation? When it was awesome it was the best thing ever but it had some real stinkers, especially in season 1, and when Dr. Pulaski was aboard.
**Yeah, I know. NERD.