Star Trek: Resurgence – Interview With Lead Writer Dan Martin

Star Trek: Resurgence Lead Writer Interview

Star Trek: Resurgence is the first new narrative Star Trek game in a long time. We quite liked it, and wanted a chance to take apart its warp core and look under the hood. Dan Martin, lead writer for Dramatic Labs pinged us on his combadge to tell us about the game’s development.

COGconnected: Dramatic Labs is made up by former Telltale Games talent. How is the Dramatic Labs development process different from Telltale?

DM: Hi and thanks for chatting with us about Resurgence. A few differences jump to mind. The first being that, very early on, we knew that we were going to release Star Trek: Resurgence as one single game, not episodes. That allowed us to complete the whole script, and revise the game at every stage of development, which makes for a more refined and compelling story and experience. Another difference is that we are a very small team, not a large studio. The production was put together specifically to make this one game, and in a lot of ways, this game is a labor of love. Our Star Trek fandom runs deep and we wear it on our sleeves.

How did a Star Trek game come about? Did Dramatic Labs approach the Star Trek team or was it the other way around?

DM: A few of us had already been working on a project that Kevin put together prior to Resurgence. He was also in discussions with Paramount to license Star Trek and produce a new game. We have all been long time fans of Star Trek, and given our collective track record of adapting other IP into our types of games, we hoped Paramount could feel comfortable that we would handle their franchise with care. Once we had the core pieces in place, we put together what would eventually became “Dramatic Labs”.

But even more important was the great fit of franchise and format. Star Trek is all about character and big, dramatic choices that could go either way. To that point, on many projects – well before we knew there might be a Star Trek game – we would talk about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as a great model for constructing tough choices that are balanced by the push and pull of Spock and McCoy on Kirk. So you could say it was a long time coming!

Of all the many eras of Star Trek, why tell a story in the time shortly after the Dominion War? Did you ever consider a story set around the Captain Pike era or far off in the 31st century?

DM: Well, part of it is that neither Discovery season 3, nor Strange New Worlds had aired when we developed the story. But more than that, it was driven by our own fandom. Speaking for myself, The Next Generation is the show that made me a Star Trek fan and still has some extra gravity. It also felt like the time shortly after the Dominion War was still somewhat “current” as the present day of Star Trek in the minds of fans. It has a look and feel of Trek that people are hungry for. And setting it right after the Dominion War gave us some uncharted territory to tell our own story before running into the Romulan Supernova event that would send Spock back in time in the J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot, and featured heavily in Picard season 1.

I certainly didn’t expect the main character to be a Kobliad! In fact, I had to look them up. What was the inspiration for Jara Rydeck and why experience the story from that perspective?

DM: A non-human character seems to be an intrinsic element of any Star Trek crew. They are often mirrors held up to the human crew as a point of comparison –  but they also serve as outsiders in the story, struggling to fit in. In the same way that Jara is coming onto the ship as a new first officer who hasn’t been through the calamities that cemented the crew together before her arrival, making her a Kobliad gives her something additional to work against. In both cases, people question her fitness to serve, and she has to prove herself. And it’s a very playable dynamic for the person with the controller in their hand. Lastly, for those who really know their Star Trek, there is an unspoken parallel between our primary threat and a plot element of “The Passenger” – the Deep Space Nine episode in which the Kobliad were introduced.

Was the story always going to explore the differences between Upper Decks and Lower Decks on a Starship?

DM: That was one of the earliest choices we made about the story we were going to tell. On the one hand, we wanted to give a broad Star Trek experience to the fans, and we thought that by putting our playable characters on opposite sides of the chain of command would give us that breadth. But also, the TNG episode “The Lower Decks” (before the show of the same name) was an inspiration for seeing another side of life on a starship. And come on, Miles O’Brien couldn’t have been the only enlisted member of Starfleet, right?

My favorite character in Resurgence is Commander Urmott, a Bolian and chief of ops. How do you go about imagining up such a dramatic and dynamic bridge crew?

DM: I love hearing that about Urmott! As for putting together a bridge crew, first and foremost, just have fun. This has been a dream project for so many of us, and picking a ship off the line and collecting our crew was a damn good time. Then put all of that aside and get to work, because it’s a tough a needle to thread. Conflict is at the heart of drama, but we want our Starfleet crew to be a group of dedicated professionals who may disagree with each other but ultimately have good motivations. That’s where this balancing act of personalities, backstories, and pecking order come into play.

How challenging was it to include characters from existing Trek canon, such as Ambassador Spock?

DM: It’s a big responsibility to write for these characters we love and respect. And, while part of the appeal of writing for a franchise like Star Trek is getting to include these fantastic characters, we didn’t want to feel like we were shoehorning Spock, or the others into our story. These legacy characters had to have an organic place, and the TNG episode from which we spun out a major part of our story gave us that natural connection to some old favorites.

This game features some unique action scenes (such as using a phaser to disrupt electrical currents, or piloting a shuttle without guidance). How difficult is it to plan those scenes in a mostly dialogue-driven adventure? Did you have any ideas for action set pieces that got left on the cutting room floor?

DM: There are always things that you dream up and want to include, but for whatever reason – pacing, production realities, etc. – don’t make it into the final product. And a lot of times, that reason is a good one. It slowed down the experience. It would have taken resources away from something else that is actually more important. That said, I wouldn’t want to tip my hand on the specifics of what was cut because… maybe these setpieces will have a place in another story.

The real kernel for these action sequences starts with our ethos that we wanted to put that broad Star Trek experience in the players hands. Rather than make a game that is ALL shooting, or ALL fleet maneuvers, we were going to give a bit of science, a bit of technobabble, a bit of action, and of course a lot of dialogue-driven drama. We often would ask ourselves, how would the show confront this moment? And what tools do we have in our game-design toolbox? That often led us down the path to what ended up on the controller.

I’d love to hear about your Star Trek influences. Does the team have a few collective favorite episodes or characters or storylines? Which parts of the Trek canon was Dramatic Labs’ guiding star?

DM: For me, it starts with TNG. It was my first appointment viewing: Channel 56 at 7pm in the Boston TV market. Running concurrently, of course, were the final films of the original cast. I also watched Voyager in its first run after TNG concluded. But we drew influences from all eras of Star Trek, with references to The Original Series (one of our characters can choose to say “Risk is our business!”) through The Motion Picture, all the way up through the 2009 reboot and the look of modern Trek. (Yes, we have a bridge window. Let’s debate it.) First Contact is one of the primary touchstones, both in terms of production design, and as the peak representation of a big budget Hollywood treatment of the TNG era – not to mention it features those great uniforms our crew sports as well.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to write a branching narrative game like this. What advice would you give someone trying to plan out a story like that? What are some pitfalls to avoid?

DM: There is a lot of art and science that goes into it, but one pithy aphorism that applies is “more is not always better.” When looking at creating a branch, you first need to assess if the choice is compelling in the moment… but you’re not done there. You also need to figure out if the downstream effects are also compelling enough to make it worth building out all of those consequences. Because writing those alternate paths is hard enough, to say nothing of the production efforts it takes to get them on screen and in players’ hands.

Similarly, people often want to know how many endings there are in one of these branching narratives – but they should really be asking how many good endings there are. There’s a screenwriting saying that “third act problems are really first act problems” and there are only so many threads you can set up at the start of a branching narrative that will come to a satisfying conclusion at the end.

What new creative ideas did Dramatic Labs try out that never would have happened at Telltale Games?

DM: We knew what our strengths were, but we gave a look at just about every aspect of these games. We asked ourselves, “What do we keep, what do we toss, and what do we evolve?” As mentioned before, telling the story in one complete release is definitely a new approach that runs against the way things were done before. We also pushed the scale of our explorable spaces and action sequences.

Even some of the smaller evolutions likely would have hit resistance, such as getting rid of the silent option (which hardly anyone ever actually chose) and in turn changing the way choices would progress – or not – when the timer runs out. But we’re not done yet! We always want to innovate and improve on what we’ve built. We find new ways to put players at the center of great stories, and we’re sure there are more adventures ahead of us.