Writeup about Elite Force on Gizmodo

Gizmodo has a great writeup on Elite Force, Have a read… Also be sure to check out the comments.  Here is one of those comments in case you miss it.

I was the writer for Elite Force and one of the main game programmers (I worked on the AI, the scripting system and the cinematics system).

I’m a huge Star Trek fan (I’ve written a bunch of Star Trek stuff as a hobby – one of which was a new series idea called “Star Trek: Uncharted” that I pitched to Paramount last year), so when we first got this game, I thought to myself “Star Trek is about characters and science and diplomacy, it’s not a first person shooter – how are we going to make this work?!”

Something I pushed for right away was to *not* play as the main characters. I knew we were going to be doing a lot of shooting and blowing shit up and that would just be out of character for many of the main cast. So we came up with the idea of the Hazard Team – a security force that would handle the more dangerous situations – with the explanation being that Voyager was alone and couldn’t easily get replacement crew. So they couldn’t risk the officers on every dangerous situation. Tuvok insisted they train up specialists to send into the dangerous situations. No more “redshirt” fodder!

We felt like that resolved a lot of the issues: we could have a shooter, but not violate the spirit of the show or compromise the characterizations of the main crew members as displayed on the show. (Oh, BTW, the game was originally supposed to be a Star Trek: Insurrection game that took place on the Enterprise-E, so Worf would have been in charge of the Hazard Team, not Tuvok, but otherwise the story was the same).

What this also freed me up to do, as a writer, is create a cast of characters of my own. Being a Star Trek fan, this was a dream come true. It was like being able to create my own little Star Trek show inside of Voyager, then have them interact with the main crew. I wanted to make the characters as diverse and interesting as the main crew, with distinct personalities, strengths & weaknesses and backstories (you can read their histories in the LCARS-style menus). This also let us make it so you could play as a man or a woman (something not too common in games at the time, especially shooters) and we intentionally left the romantic interest the same character for both genders.

It was really important to us to have the in-between moments of the game, the “downtime” be interesting, narrative, immersive story and character development periods. This is a huge part of making it feel like Star Trek and not just another sci-fi shooter. We wanted people to get the know the characters and hopefully become attached to them. I’m really pleased that our studio, Activision and Paramount were all behind this approach. It was a lot of work and could have been seen as an unnecessary risk, but I think it was worth it.

Another smart part that I wanted to make sure felt like Star Trek was the cinematic direction. I went to film school before becoming a game developer and so I wanted to make a cinematic scripting system that a director could use. Instead of scripting specific positions and FOVs and move times, I made it so you could say “put the camera on this track and follow these 2 characters in a medium shot” or “give me a close-up of this character from a 3/4 low angle” or “track left and follow this character”, etc. I also storyboarded most of the cinematics and scripted the first several cinematic (everything until right after the main titles). Looking back on it, now, it’s super-crude compared to the cinematic quality games have now, but it was pretty good for its time, I think…

Good times… 🙂

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About Shafe

Brian Shaffer is a veteran programmer, programming professionally since 1991. His first gaming computer was a Commodore Vic-20 in the 80s. Shafe founded The Beer Garden on October 23, 2004 and continues to run and maintain it along with several members of the gaming community.

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