Star Trek Online's Writer and Content Designer on Bringing Wil Wheaton as Emperor Crusher to the Game in Ascension

The next chapter of Star Trek Online's Mirror Universe saga is here and, as revealed on Star Trek Day, Wil Wheaton joins the game as Terran Emperor Wesley Crusher in Star Trek Online: Ascension. The update goes live on PC today (and on consoles at a date not too far into the future), bringing cast members from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Discovery together.  The update reveals that of the Terran Emperor the Mirror Universe version of Wesley Crusher, voiced by Wheaton as he reprises the role he originated over 35 years ago in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's joined in the episode by Captain Killy (Mary Wiseman from Star Trek: Discovery) and Admiral Leeta (Chase Masterson from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), who are featured in a new mission.

You can check out the Star Trek Online launch trailer below. ComicBook.com had the opportunity to speak to Star Trek Online's content designer, John Hegner, and writer, Paul Reed about bringing Wil Wheaton to Star Trek Online and the big reveal of the emperor's identity. Here's what they had to say:

Let's start with the basics. What can you tell me about what Star Trek Online: Ascension is, and how it works Wil Wheaton into it as the Mirror Universe's Wesley Crusher?

Paul Reed: When we first started this story arc, the Terran Gambit story arc, the identity of the Terran Emperor was a mystery. People were putting together clues here and there, breadcrumbs. We mentioned that the emperor was a he, so they're like, "Oh, which he could it be? Picard? Is it Riker? Who is it?" So there's been a lot of speculation, but they've never referred to him in-game by name, and that's the big reveal of this episode. To find out that it is, in fact, the Mirror Universe version of Wesley Crusher is going to be a big reveal here.

But throughout the story arc, the player has been trying to put an end to his schemes, stopping his ambition, stopping his operations, with limited to no success in certain areas. So they've been fighting this almost shadow war between the Terran Emperor and themselves, and that all basically comes to a head in this episode.

Along the way, we've had clues. We've had the return of Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, discussing V'ger, and we find out that the entity that people have been struggling with up to this point in the Mirror Universe, which is referred to as The Other, is in fact, the Mirror Universe version of V'ger, who the emperor is trying to take control of for his own sinister purposes. This is the episode where that all just basically explodes and we start finding out the reasons and the goals of that operation.

John Hegner: In some ways, your efforts have been stymied by your mirror self as well, who is working of course, with the Terran Emperor.

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios Gearbox Publishing)

Was the plan always for Wesley Crusher to be the Terran Emperor? Or was that contingent on Wil Wheaton's willingness to reprise the role as a voice actor? When did that idea come up?

Paul Reed: Pretty early on. I mean, the big thing that you always have with any working actors is you have to be mindful of their schedule, their shooting schedules, what projects they're working on, their availability, all of that. That's a lot of moving parts to keep track of.

John Hegner: I remember sitting in a conference room, before the end times, on a whiteboard and writing down, "Emperor Crusher."

Paul Reed: Yeah, we were planning. We were just basically putting bullet points up there of things we wanted -- Ilia was a bullet point, Mirror V'ger was a bullet point -- and we were just in story planning meetings, but "Emperor Crusher" in big capital letters was on that whiteboard. 

Working with Wil was always our top priority. But as I said before, sometimes the scheduling gods are not kind, people are not available. They're in the middle of shooting, they're in the middle of a project or something, so we were prepared to shift gears and change who the emperor was if we absolutely had to. But really, we always were hoping that it was going to be Wesley Crusher.

John Hegner: It's also one of the reasons why we kept the identity secret because, for all we knew, something could have come up. So it's like, we got to keep that close to the vest until the last possible minute, and then once things were locked in, okay, now we're safe to do it, because if we had to switch gears and had revealed some clue that only applied to Wesley, that would've gotten weird. We'd have to retcon stuff, and we never want to do that if we can avoid it.

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Gearbox Publishing)

So are we dealing with scientific wunderkind Wesley Crusher? Or are we dealing with all-powerful Traveler Wesley Crusher?

Paul Reed: I think the answer to those questions is yes.

John Hegner: And play the episode.

Paul Reed: But to be a little more serious about it, not be coy about it, I mean, Mirror Universe folks have a tendency to be, pun intended, dark reflections of their Prime Universe selves. Prime Universe Wesley Crusher was a super genius and had traveler powers, and you can take that for what you will as to what the Mirror Crusher is like. But as John said, to get a real solid, full appreciation of what that character is, definitely check out the episode.

John Hegner: In our story discussions, it's very easy, when you think about mirror stuff, to have a butterfly effect. Well, if this one thing changed, then this and this domino falls, et cetera, et cetera. But in all of the media that we see the Mirror Universe, it's always one or two degrees off, regardless of what domino effect probably should have happened. So we always have to remind ourselves, "Okay, hold on, let's reign it back a little bit. They're not that different. They're just the dark reflection version."

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Gearbox Publishing)

Considering his work in voice acting and his relatively close proximity to the franchise after Star Trek: The Next Generation ended, especially in recent years, I'm almost surprised that it took this long for Wheaton to show up in Star Trek Online. Why did it take until now?

Paul Reed: I think it was almost like a perfect storm situation. For example, recently when we worked with Kate Mulgrew, we wanted to make sure that there was going to be a story for not only for Janeway, but also for her, and that it wasn't going to be just a cameo. We didn't want to waste anybody's time, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be a good story. And I think we definitely hit that one, because she not only got to reprise Admiral Janeway, she also got to play Marshall Janeway, the Mirror Universe version of the character. So she got to explore quite a few aspects of Janeway and people really responded.

I remember going onto forums and seeing people putting up fan art and the character getting nicknamed "Painway" and stuff like that. People really liked seeing a Mirror Universe version of Janeway in action and that she wasn't just some curtain-chewing, B-movie serial villain. She actually had some pretty interesting aspects and surprises to her character that people really liked.

So we were looking for something similar. We're always looking for something similar when we work with people from the shows, and that was the same case when we started thinking about Emperor Crusher.

There were some times in the previous content where bringing Wesley in would've made a lot of sense. Before this, we had the big Klingon Civil War, and Wesley was certainly, as part of the TNG cast, around for a lot of Klingon stuff. But we have more value in bringing in Martok and Gowron and other Klingon performers, like Mary Chieffo, for that arc because it was so Klingon-centric. So it was waiting for the opportunity to get in and have a story that not only would give Wil things to do and cool things to work with but also that made sense for Wesley.

John Hegner: And that perfect storm being hand-in-hand with, what content can we actually produce? Because we can come up with a story arc, but go on Traveler adventures? Okay, we're basically playing Doctor Who at that point. Do we have the art budget to do all of the distant edges of the galaxy that Traveler Wesley might go to? Okay, maybe we shouldn't do that.

But mirror version of Wesley being the emperor, that is something that we definitely have stuff in the bank to do with. Terran ships, the whole doppelganger mirror tech for setting up your mirror counterpart as the inquisitor, all of it just came to a head and it was like, "Okay, we have to do this arc." It was literally just a Venn diagram of cool stuff that was all Mirror-verse and it was like, "This is awesome. Let's do this."

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Gearbox Publishing)

Were you aware that he'd be showing up in Picard when you started making plans for this? Or was it a happy accident that he happened to pop up again just as you were preparing for this to happen?

John Hegner: I was unaware.

Paul Reed: I had heard any number of rumors like anybody else, but while we definitely work with CBS and all of the writers' rooms that are involved with the shows, like with Discovery, with Picard, we're not involved in their day-to-day operations, and they do like to keep certain things under wraps for any number of reasons. As it got closer to the big reveal that everybody found out at the end of the recent season of Picard, I think that we started getting more of an inkling. But they have us all sworn to secrecy on stuff like that. When we do find out about anything early, we have to keep our traps shut upon being put in an agonizer booth, I'm sure.

John Hegner: I'm certain there are people higher up the chain than me that were aware of it and just didn't share it because it wasn't relevant at the time. So just because I was unaware, doesn't mean anything. I'm just in the trenches doing my thing.

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Gearbox Publishing)

You mentioned that Kate Mulgrew got to play both Prime and Mirror Janeway during her time in Star Trek Online. Is that a possibility with Wil Wheaton as well, that we could also see original flavor Wesley in addition to his dark counterpart?

Paul Reed: When we do the mirror characters, we have a tendency to actually keep them apart from their Prime Universe counterpart. With Janeway and Marshall Janeway, that was a more notable exception because of where the story was going. For example, we use Admiral Leeta, the Mirror Universe version of Leeta from DS9, and we don't have her meeting her Prime Universe self, who is back on Ferenginar with the Nagus. They have referred to one another in interesting side conversations before, but they've never actually physically met.

We usually tend to keep them separated so we can focus on which version we're telling a story about. So in the "Quark's Lucky Seven" episode, where Leeta was a part of that, Prime Universe Leeta, she may make a comment about the Mirror Universe version of herself but they don't meet because we want to keep the spotlight on Prime Leeta. 

The same thing is, in general, happening with most of our Mirror Universe characters. The potential is certainly there, we did it with Janeway, but that is our unwritten rule is to try to keep it on whichever version is with us currently for the episode.

John Hegner: I think the reason that we did it with Janeway was because it was also the same episode where you're seeing the aftermath of what your mirror counterpart has also done. There's some parity there, where Janeway's working with her mirror self, you're working with Mirror Janeway against your mirror self, which was fun.

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Gearbox Publishing)

You mentioned how a big part of bringing a character from the shows into Star Trek Online is crafting the right content. You didn't want Doctor Who with Traveler Wesley. Can you tell me about the content that you did end up crafting around Mirror Wesley?

John Hegner: The short answer is, I probably shouldn't say anything. The longer answer is it will be something that you haven't seen before.

Paul Reed: Something that I think is probably safe to say, regardless, without giving away any sort of spoilers, is we've now established in this arc that one of the things a player gets to look forward to is not only what their Prime Universe character is doing, but also what their Mirror Universe character is doing because that character isn't just there for giggles. They're on a story arc of their own. Apart from the fact of just sitting down, looking at each other, going, "Wouldn't it be cool if you could play the Mirror Universe version of yourself in this?" and everyone just going, "Yeah, that would be pretty cool," we also wanted to make it something that had some story weight to it. When you're playing that character, we don't want you to be going, "Oh look, I'm being evil." We want you to actually get a story that you can follow and go, "Oh, that's what I'm up to."

One of these side stories for this character is their long-simmering animosity towards the Mirror Universe version of Captain Tilly. They do not get along at all. They are forced to play nice by the emperor, but they would really like to just step behind the woodshed and pull out the long knives. That's been something that's been simmering and growing and developing with lots of cool Terran universe twists and turns. And we're going to keep that going.

John Hegner: And that by far, as content designer, was one of the things that made this arc so fascinating to me, was being able to finally have some dialogue between yourself and the other characters that you're running around with that isn't just responses, giving a voice to the mirror counterpart, which we had to jump through some hoops in order to get to happen. But it really allows us to be like, "No, no, your mirror counterpart absolutely hates this person." And we're allowed to do that because it's your mirror character, not your actual character, which is always fun to do.

Paul Reed: The Inquisitor mirror player was actually a real gift because the Prime Universe character, just because of any number of technical and logistical reasons, doesn't have a voice, and doesn't speak. They have text responses to things, but they don't actually have an audible voice. So with the mirror player, because of their conflict with Tilly and having their voice box damaged, they have this mechanical voice box, so we were able to give the mirror player an actual audible voice. For the first time in STO history, you actually get to hear yourself talk, even though you're playing the evil version of yourself. So getting that opportunity as a storytelling mechanism, when the voice talent is in the studio, now we have somebody who is an actor who is speaking as your character. That helps tell the Mirror Universe's character's story, in a way, a lot quicker. Because I mean, if you've been playing STO from the beginning as a Prime player, you've been playing for over 10 years, you had a lot of time to get to know your character, but we had a shorter period of time to get to know the mirror player. Adding voice to that just made that another tool that we could use to let players get into their head.

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(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Gearbox Publishing)

Speaking of voice performances, can you tell me anything about what Wil Wheaton brings as the voice of the emperor? Are people going to be surprised by his performance?

Paul Reed: Wil has recorded and it was a pretty awesome session. One thing that was cool about it was that we had a camera running while he was recording so we could see him and speak back and forth to him and go over any questions about lines, or if we wanted to do a new take, or what was happening to his character because we were still working on a lot of the games. There are parts of things that he was recording for that we had to describe to him verbally and say, "Okay, here's where you are. This is what you're doing here. Here's who you're with," so he was able to get a better understanding of what the scene required.

But I think it was a great session. It was really cool to work with Wil. He was very enthusiastic and we had a good session. I can't say that enough. I think that people are going to like what he did with the character. I'm not going to go into what makes the character totally different, but I would encourage people to play the episode and see the experience that he gave us.

John Hegner: On the content side, when audio finishes processing and hooking the lines up and everything, I'll be going through doing my normal workday and suddenly voices are hooked up, and hearing Wesley, it was so good. It was so satisfying.

Paul Reed: Because we work on this stuff for months and up until almost the end, it's all text. It's like playing an old text adventure from the '80s. And then the magic happens and we get the audio in from the studio bit by bit. And all of a sudden, boom, there's Wil Wheaton or boom, there's Kate Mulgrew. Boom, there's Chase Masterson. So that is always a treat for us to finally hear the voices at last.

Any last teases or hints about what players can expect? Or should they just expect the unexpected?

Paul Reed: We actually got ahold of the people who made the custom instrument that makes the V'ger sound and then we were able to get actual access to that. So when you hear it in the game, you're hearing the real deal. It's made with the official technology.

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John Hegner: And shout out to our audio team, because it's like, all of a sudden, just all the magic starts pouring into the game. I dropped into the map to play test some stuff and all of a sudden there's custom music and it's using that instrument, fluttered throughout it, and I'm just like, "This is so rad. Yes."

Star Trek Online: Ascension launches today on PC. It will come to Star Trek Online on Xbox and PlayStation consoles at a later date.