Star Trek: Resurgence Developers Aim To Build a "Playable Star Trek Film"

Revealed at The Game Awards in 2021, Star Trek: Resurgence is the upcoming adventure game set in the Star Trek universe. It's the first project from Dramatic Labs, the new studio founded by 20+ former Telltale Games employees. With hit licensed adventures games under their collective belts including Telltale's Batman, The Walking Dead, and A Wolf Among Us, the team is comprised of experts at turning familiar properties into interactive stories. But with that prestigious lineage comes high expectations, not to mention the passion of Star Trek fans everywhere, both of which will come to bear on the game when released.

The Dramatic Labs team seems confident that their game will not disappoint. The trailer from The Game Awards got fans excited and, based on the interview we conducted with two of the game's key team members via email, Dramatic Labs is equally thrilled to see the game that they describe as "a playable Star Trek film" in players' hands. You can read that conversation below.

I know you want to keep plot details under wraps, but can you offer a sense of the themes you're playing in this story? What kind of ethical dilemmas might await players?

Dan Martin, lead writer: The decisions the player gets to make are at the heart of an interactive narrative game, and some of the best and most beloved Star Trek stories feature tough choices with no "right" answer. With our two POV characters – First Officer Jara Rydek on the bridge, and enlisted engineer Carter Diaz down on the lower decks – we'll get to explore some different types of dilemmas. For example, when it comes to questions of justice, do you lean into clemency or punishment? In a tense negotiation, do you favor safety and security, or a realpolitik pragmatism? When the chips are down and your back is up against the wall, what's more important to you: duty or friendship? 

Some of the best Star Trek games are adventure games like Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and Judgement Rites. For more than a decade, Star Trek Online has done an impressive job of bringing the storytelling style of the franchise to episodic online gaming. Did you look towards any of those past Star Trek games for ideas or inspiration in adapting the franchise in Resurgence, or were you more reliant on your own considerable experience?

DM: It's certainly important to know what else is out there. We did a lot of research before beginning development on Star Trek: Resurgence – it's a critical part of the process of making a good licensed game. You need to understand what makes a franchise special, so you don't just end up with something that superficially looks like the IP, but doesn't feel like it. But we also put a lot of stock in our experience making this very specific type of game, and knowing what it takes "under the hood" (or down in engineering, if you will) to craft a compelling interactive story. And ultimately, that experience has a greater impact on this game than something else that came before.

Kent Mudle, cinematic director: We did our research of course, but the kind of game we're making is based on the unique strengths of our team. We've made many story-focused games together, and have a lot of experience adapting different IPs into an interactive medium. We want to make a Star Trek game that only we can make.

Star Trek has told lots of different kinds of stories, from character-focused drama to save-the-galaxy space opera, to comedic bottle episodes, and that continues to evolve in this new streaming era. What storytelling style are you going for in Resurgence?

DM: Our goal from the outset was to deliver on a broad Star Trek experience – from the camaraderie and conflict among the crew to encounters with aliens to exploring mysteries to big action set-pieces with big stakes. The game is set shortly after the TNG era of shows and movies, so stylistically, that's our jumping-off point. But this game is not episodic – we're telling one epic story from start to finish, putting the player at the heart of a grand adventure, where they're the star of one of the feature films. 

KM: We're essentially making a playable Star Trek film, one big story that unfolds with the player as the hero(s) of the narrative. Many different scenes and events will occur, but all in service of a larger central plot. 

What do you consider the essential elements of Star Trek that you have to include for it to be a Star Trek story?

DM: Since it first went on the air about 55 years ago, the Star Trek universe has grown into an incredibly vast and rich tapestry. It's a big tent, in which you can tell a lot of different kinds of stories. The possibilities are almost endless. You could tell a Star Trek story without Starfleet. You could tell a Star Trek story without a ship! And while there is often some kind of adventure, or some kind of mystery – and Star Trek: Resurgence does lean into those elements – your earlier question pointing to moral and ethical dilemmas was right on target. It's about people with a sense of duty and honor trying to make the right decision in a complex, changing world. That's the foundation. At the same time, we DO have a ship, Starfleet, and strange new worlds to visit, and I like to think Star Trek: Resurgence has a little bit of everything that makes this franchise great.

From a presentation standpoint, have there been any unique or especially tricky challenges in terms of adapting Star Trek's distinctive visual and storytelling aesthetics?

DM: The key is getting it right! Star Trek fans are an incredibly passionate group, and I've already seen thorough examination of every little facet of the trailer. It helps that we're fans and we're passionate about Trek too. There are somewhere around 600 hours of Star Trek across the films and TV shows and I've personally watched them all (many of them twice… plenty of them more than that). I'm certainly not the only member of the development team who has, either. So we know where to look for reference when we need it. Moreover, various Star Trek productions over the years have been well-documented and there are great resources out there detailing any aspect you might see on screen. And we have great partners in ViacomCBS, who can answer any Star Trek question we could throw at them.

In a broader sense, while the game is set in a very specific fictional time-frame – which comes with its own visual expectations – we've drawn inspiration from across the many iterations of Star Trek. We've also tried to carve out some space in the universe for ourselves. For example, we wanted the bridge of our ship, the U.S.S. Resolute, to feel like it was definitely designed by Starfleet, but to also have a distinctive, recognizable look of its own that would stand alongside the Enterprise-D or Voyager without duplicating either.

KM: Star Trek has always been an evolving beast as far as their visual storytelling. From the classics restrained by budget and the technology of the time to the cutting-edge newer series, there's a vast amount of amazing cinematic work to pull from when making a Star Trek adaptation. For me, the benchmark for Resurgence's cinematic presentation is Star Trek: First Contact, which feels like a great mix of the classic style of the TV series and the Hollywood sparkle from being a big-screen project. Keeping restraint and bombast in balance so as to evoke the classics while still making something fresh has been the biggest challenge in coming up with our own visual style, but one I think we've more than overcome.  

You've handled plenty of big licenses in the past. Sometimes the stories focus on new characters in established worlds, and other times it's working on eponymous characters like Batman. You're going with the former model in Resurgence. What kind of opportunities and challenges do you face going that route that you might not face with the other?

DM: In a choice-driven narrative, the players get to help shape the characters through their decisions and roleplay. The POV characters that the player inhabits are still fully realized, with their own history and motivations. But it's much easier for a player to take ownership over a new character, define them, and say this is MY Jara Rydek and MY Carter Diaz than it would be to take over for Kirk or Sisko, where the boundaries of the character are already well established. Additionally, we already know what happens to Captain Picard in years that follow, but with new characters, it lets us keep you guessing on what's going to happen next.

KM: An original character offers the player far more role-playing freedom. If their path is not dictated by canon, they get to wonder where they're going, and how they might be able to change their own story. There's no pressure to act like a 'canon' version of the character, or being limited by what an existing character would consider the limits of their morality.

(Photo: Dramatic Labs)

We saw Spock in the trailer. I assume you're unlikely to want to say what other established Star Trek characters might appear in Star Trek: Resurgence, but can you tell me a bit about how those characters are used in the story, and about the kinds of conversations you had when it came to choosing which characters to include and how to use them?

DM: It's a combination of what makes sense for the story – and that's always our primary driving force – along with who we think fans would want to interact with. Who would be fun to spar with in conversation or otherwise? Again, being fans ourselves, there's a level of gut instinct we could rely on when making those decisions. And respecting the events of canon is a consideration too. In a franchise like Star Trek, it can feel like you're writing historical fiction for a fictional world, making sure you don't violate previously established circumstances.

What's something in Star Trek: Resurgence that you're excited for players to experience that hasn't been in your past games?

DM: All the trappings of Star Trek – phasers, tricorders, shuttles, and more – are a welcome addition to our toolkit, and they lend themselves to evolutions in our gameplay. We're also building the game in Epic's Unreal Engine, which allows us to bring a higher level of visual polish and fidelity to the game. And because Star Trek: Resurgence tells a single story, released all at once, players won't have to wait weeks or months to reach the conclusion. We hope that once they start, they won't be able to put the controller down.

KM: More non-dialog choice gameplay. You will still be chatting and making crucial decisions a lot of the time, but we've made a world to explore and exciting new ways to interact with it. Also as Dan says, a higher level of presentation and graphical quality due to the Unreal Engine. 

Again, I know you likely don't want to tip your hand, but would you recommend any particular Star Trek episodes to fans to get ready for Resurgence?

DM: Starfleet's Section 31 would throw me in the brig if I gave away too much, but given the time period the game is set in, it wouldn't hurt to go back to Star Trek: The Next Generation and its films. And while these won't give anything away, I'll recommend some of my personal favorites: "The Drumhead" – a tense "bottle episode"; "Lower Decks" – a view of life outside the inner circle on the bridge; "The Pegasus" – where following orders conflict with doing what's right; and "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "The Best of Both Worlds" Parts I and II – both of which have high stakes action and creative problem-solving. From the TNG-era films, I'll highlight Star Trek: First Contact. Honestly, I could go on and on, so I'll just leave it with those few.

Lastly, are there any final thoughts or teases you'd like to leave with fans?

DM: The trailer only shows a sliver of the game, and while we're thrilled to have shown the world what we've been working on, there's much more to come. It's been a lot of fun spending every day in the Star Trek universe, and we hope players enjoy going on this journey as much as we have!

KM: As Dan says, there is so much more to be seen. We can't wait for players to experience the universe we're building.

Star Trek: Resurgence is expected to release this spring.