September 21, 2009 4:00 PM | Eric Caoili
Developed by Interplay's Tribal Dreams group from 1997 to 1999 before it was cancelled, Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury was a Trekkie's dream, promising to deliver an animated, FMV adventure game exploring the conflict between the Romulans and Vulcans, with voice acting from the original show's cast and a script penned by series writer D.C. Fontana.
The way former lead engineer Thom Robertsons described production on the game, however, Secret of Vulcan Fury was a nightmare and likely wasn't as far along as many had hoped, despite rumors of playable builds unearthed from the company's auctioned-off materials.
Speaking with 1UP podcast Retronauts, Robertsons detailed the challenges that his team faced developing the game, and why the company's idea of producing a Star Trek game of this scale with computer-generated, Pixar-style 3D graphics wasn't feasible:
"Just one of the many reasons why that project was doomed to failure was because the team and the management had really no concept of exactly how expensive a proposition they were imagining when they set out to do it," the programmer explained. "I saw the plans. They were looking at four to six hours of created video, and they were planning on doing it at maybe a 1/20th of the budget of a Toy Story movie. Something did not connect."
He points out other roadblocks to development, such as Christmas party planning distractions, Interplay's producer-centric structure, and the game's incomplete script. According to Robertsons, Secret of Vulcan Fury was still very early into development when he left the company:
"They had a working demo of the bridge and Scotty cutting through the door, you know, five minutes of play, and pretty much nothing else. There was a large scale plan for about the first half of the entire game, at which point the script itself had petered out. They admitted from the beginning to me that they didn't have the full script. ...
At the time I left, I didn't see any indication that the producer had resolved the issues with getting the rest of the script worked out. This is so close to Hollywood that, you know, when you don't have the script, you don't have anything. You have to start with the script.
If I'm sounding like the project was doomed to failure from the beginning, I'd say that's quite accurate, but it was doomed to failure for a lot of little reasons, not one big -- somebody left -- reason."
At least we have this Secret of Vulcan Fury CG test of Spock with NSFW audio from the Goodfellas film to enjoy:
Robertsons also aired out Interplay's dirty laundry on another Star Trek game the company actually managed to ship, though not without its own major problems. If you remember Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, the game's primary selling point was its interactive live action scenes featuring the original show's cast as guest instructors.
The programmer says that filming those scenes was a disaster, as the team neglected to re-paint the green screen to prevent fading throughout the three-day shoot, and tried to jury-rig a system for matching the real camera's movements with the digital in-game camera's:
"The lead artist on that project had this brilliant idea that he would paint red dots on the green stage, and as the red dots moved left, that meant that the camera was moving right, and it would magically all work out. So, this badly painted green screen stage with red dots all over it was what they shot very expensive footage of over a three day period. And then they brought it all back to the studio and said, 'Oh my god. What did we do?'
They basically took a lot of expensive art time having artists very carefully try to hand-manage the synchronization between the real camera and the digital camera. But the faded green screen was a much bigger problem. It was a huge mess. The solution [the producer] came up with was to freak out and steal as many artists from other teams as he could possibly get to take every single frame of video and scrub green in the places where the green was supposed to be."
Wow! You can hear more of Thom Robertsons' account on what went wrong with Interplay's Star Trek games on Retronauts' latest podcast episode (starting around 42:07). You can also catch up on what he's been up to since he left the company and check out his iPhone game GunRazor on his personal blog.