Star Trek Online’s latest new content Age of Discovery is now live, but this is more than just a major updated for the MMORPG. It also marks a major milestone for the Star Trek franchise.
Age of Discovery begins in the year 2256, just after the Battle at the Binary Stars. The new expansion pits players again J’Ula, the matriarch of House Mo’Kai and sister of T’Kuvma, the Klingon religious leader who tried to unite the Klingon Empire against the Federation in the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.
But this isn’t the first time that Star Trek: Discovery fans have met J’Ula. She was featured in IDW Publishing’s first Star Trek: Discovery comic book series The Light of Kahless, making Age of Discovery a continuation of that story and the first major crossover between Star Trek comics and Star Trek Online.
To mark this momentous occasion, ComicBook.com spoke with Light of Kahless co-author and Star Trek comics veteran Mike Johnson and Star Trek Online’s lead producer Al Rivera about how this crossover came to be, what this new, more collaborative era for Star Trek’s expanded media franchise means for creators and fans, and more.
Age of Discovery and Light of Kahless
ComicBook.com: So how long has this crossover been in the works?
Al Rivera: On Star Trek Online, we're always looking for characters and stories, and unfinished stories to hook into. That's basically the type of stories we like to tell on Star Trek Online. And Discovery is a pretty tight story. Mike and I were just chatting about it. It's challenging to find corners and places because it's such a serialized tight story. And so I was talking with John Van Citters from CBS about some of the stories we were proposing, and we wanted to introduce a new antagonist -- I won't say
And then John Van Citters at CBS suggested we should take J'Ula from Mike Johnson's Discovery comic, which was awesome and amazing. I hadn't even considered it. I was familiar with the comics, but I thought maybe their story was still gonna continue in the comics a little bit, and I didn't even consider us taking it because we were gonna do some very different things with her character.
So he said we could have that, that's great. I said OK I won't fight them about it. And so we reached out with Mike, and I talked with Mike extensively... We've known about it for three or four months or so. Is that about right, Mike?
Mike Johnson: Yeah, and my response was just amazement and excitement at seeing a character that Kirsten Beyer, and I created for the comics suddenly taking on new life in a new medium was incredible and I think kudos to Al and the Online team for being open and always looking for new avenues to explore story-wise. And I think unlike a lot of games that are really focused on the action, whether it's a first person shooter or whether it's a sports team or something, STO really emphasizes story and character. That's not to say they don't have action. They have great ship action. They have great ground combat. You're definitely going to get all the action you want. But there's a real emphasis on story and embracing the legacy of Star Trek storytelling. So when Al reached out and said, "Hey, we're thinking of using one of the characters from the comics in the games, specifically J'Ula," who is T'Kuvma's sister that we introduced in the comic, it was fantastic. It was a dream come true.
Continuing J'Ula's Story
MJ: I was just really blown away by the story they came up with for J'Ula in the game that really felt like a very cool extension of how we had introduced her in the comic. We talked about having more of a relationship between the comics and the game, where they can feed off of each other. I think overall in the structured franchise right now, there is an effort to make sure everything weaves together and that there's an opportunity to take things from one medium, be it the show or the game or the novels or the comics, and let the creators in each medium have the opportunity to tell stories in their own medium but then feed back in. So it's a really cool circle and I think definitely, speaking personally just as a fan of the game, it would be awesome to do comics based on the stories and characters that have come up in the game.
AR: I'll add to that, that when we meet with Alex Kurtzman, he's basically kind of taken this under his wing, saying that he wants to integrate all of the different mediums for Star Trek storytelling. And, so he's really been very helpful as far as making sure to ask “What is it that we need to make Star Trek Online better?” And so it's something new, something we haven't done before. We've such an opportunity, Mike and I, and Ed Schlesinger [Gallery Books editor working on the Star Trek: Discovery novels].
So at [the Star Trek Las Vegas convention] and afterward, the three of us got to talking about how can we share our stories, our ideas or even just as much as little Easter eggs across the different mediums to really leverage each other. So, it's going to be a really, really exciting time for Star Trek and Star Trek: Discovery and hopefully for all other Star Treks that are rumored coming down over the next few years. I'm looking forward to seeing also what might happen with Picard and where we both can leverage those stories. Because that actually takes place very close to Star Trek Online's timeline.
MJ: For me as a fan it's one of the most exciting times for Star Trek. I feel like the franchise is in great hands with Alex Kurtzman and CBS is eager to see Star Trek grow and expand beyond what we're familiar with, what we've had in the past. I just feel like there's so much cool stuff even that hasn't been announced. It's coming. And again, to Al's point, Alex is very inclusive where he wants to see all the other avenues of storytelling, be it comics, novels or games, create this cohesive universe. So great opportunity and a great time to be a Star Trek fan.
AR: Yeah, it's very collaborative. As a matter of fact, CBS was just here yesterday sharing some information for us and opportunities for us, what we could leverage in us pitching our stories to them and then seeing opportunities for us. So the fact that we got to all meet at Star Trek Las Vegas and I had read all the comics, and I had met Mike previously at a previous CBS meeting and had read all the comics that he had written about J'Ula and the Discovery Klingons, T'Kuvma's prequel storyline.
But then I got to chat with him afterward, and so I got to pitch him “This is what we're thinking of doing," and he told me some background which is exactly what I wanted, some of who J'Ula really is and what her motivations are, her feelings towards her brother, just generally what her character motivations were and said "Oh, hey. Okay, that's great. I can change our story this way so it's more true to her character in this way."
We were working on Star Trek Online coming on nine years, and this is the first time we've really been able to do something like this. So yes, Mike's right. Great time to be a Star Trek fan.
Picking Up Where J'Ula Left Off
What can you say about where J'Ula is in terms of mindset when we meet her in Age of Discovery? When we left off in Light of Kahless, she had that last meeting with T'Kuvma and they did not part on great terms.
MJ: So just a real brief recap that J'Ula was T'Kuvma's older sister, and she was really the one who at the beginning was inspired to follow the ways of Kahless and reunite the Klingon empire. But as she grew older the realities of politics and society led her down a different path, and she ends up being not as idealistic as T'Kuvma. He comes back and doesn't recognize the sister he knew. So, yes, they ended on bad terms, but I think in the same way that she lit a spark in him when he was younger, I think in a way, him coming back as the new leader of the Klingons, lit a little bit of a spark in her. So one of the things that makes her a cool character is that she's not just a villain, but she's a living, breathing character with a little bit of a complex going on inside about her own role in the Klingon empire.
AR: So, the Star Trek Online: Age of Discovery storyline, when you start a new character in the Discovery era, it takes place just after the Battle of the Binary Stars, between the Battle of the Binary Stars and when Michael Burnham ends up on Discovery with a six-month gap. So our story kind of starts in there.
And so, T'Kuvma's dead and the Klingon Houses are kind of divided. It's mixed on who wants to unite, but the individual houses are still trying to carve up pieces of the Federation. We see House D'Gor takes over Starbase 1 and that's kinda the thing that Cornwell tells L'Rell, says "They're not really uniting." So we're kind of in that timeline where it's scattered.
J'Ula has taken control of House of Mo'Kai, so we're working a little bit from the comics at this point. She's taken control of House of Mo'Kai. She has her fleet and House Mo'Kai is a clandestine house. They're kind of a little...I don't know if you wanna call them spies, a little sneaky, a little stealthy. They're a little clandestine, I guess is the best word. And they know something that the Federation is up to as many of the Klingon do. They know a little bit about that the Glenn and the Discovery are working on something. And they wanna know what it is, and so basically they're trying to get that knowledge. They're trying to get that information. And a couple fresh, young captains in the federation are prime picking to take on, to try to see if they can get that. So that's basically your introduction. They lay the trap for you to try and get the information she needs and that's where we meet her.
And she'll be basically your foil for quite a while for many stories for the foreseeable future for a while. She's not a one time character. We're going to see a lot about her and see her grow, and to be at first kind of rejecting T'Kuvma like she did in the comics, but there's a spark, there's an ideology there that's in her that she can't really ignore. And it's about watching that grow. All our Star Trek adversaries in Star Trek Online, we don't like to make two-dimensional villains that you just blow up at the end, right? This is a character with a lot of depth, and we'll see where her character goes.
Entering the Age of Discovery
Could you expand a bit on how Age of Discovery fits into the overall story, and game path, of Star Trek Online? As you kind of hinted at there, this is not a one-shot episode. It will be multiple parts, but then it also takes place more than a century ahead of the main story of Star Trek Online. So is there a time travel component? Will this be something separate from the main storyline? Can you shed any light on that?
AR: Well, I do know Star Trek Online is coming up on nine years old, and we've got a lot of content and our prime content takes place in the years 2409 and 2410, so we're not gonna be building a whole new game that takes place just in the Discovery era. Currently, right now, you can play it starting off in The Original Series era, and have that experience. Star Trek Online represents all eras and all of the multiverse, and all of Star Trek. So this is another starting experiencing opportunity for players to start in the Discovery era.
At some point, you will be merged with the modern 2409 timeline within the story. And effectively what we'll have is two story arcs currently planned for Star Trek Online that are Discovery-based story arcs. You'll have one that takes place in 2256 during basically the whole year that takes place with Discovery. And then the story will continue in 2409 with the separate arc that will kind of happen in parallel. So, yeah, there's some sort of time travel opportunities here. Also, people who are not Discovery characters can play in simulation, like they need to look at the historical records, we'll say. Kind of hand-wave a little bit so that way they can understand the threat that's happening in 2409 for them.
And yes, we will continue. For the foreseeable future, we will be bringing Discovery to the forefront of Star Trek Online so many of our stories and the direction it will be taking will be reflective of Discovery in our current era.
Working With an Ongoing Star Trek Series
Star Trek Discovery marks the first time for both Star Trek Online and IDW’s comics line that there has actually been a Star Trek television show currently ongoing to build from. How has that affected the creative process and the storytelling process for you as you come up with new comic book stories and new content for Star Trek Online?
MJ: The real hero of the whole process is Kirsten Beyer, who is writing on the show and is really at the core. She was the one that really shaped the Picard series and made it a reality. Kirsten is not just an amazing writer herself but she has been a Star Trek novelist so she understands how different mediums can work in conjunction with the larger franchise. So given the fact that she's on the show right now, and also because Alex Kurtzman is very enthusiastic about what we're doing, it gives it a very close relationship with the show.
For a lot of licensed properties if you don't have that connection to the main show, you can get things that don't quite line up, or don't feel like they're written in the same voice or spirit of the main show, but since Kirsten and I write the comics together it's a very finely woven partnership and storytelling style. So I know what's coming up in the show so we do our best not to contradict anything. And on the other hand, Kirsten will know when you come up with an idea for the comics that contradict the show, or that the show actually wants to do itself which has happened a couple of times where it was, "Well, we can't do that with the comics because we might be seeing it in the show, but here's another story we can tell in the comics."
So it's just a really great working relationship and I think that the fact that we knew we were going to be doing the comics and the novels before the show even aired, while we develop it even, that really helped to give you the runway to be able to create stories that are going to tie-in. And I should give a shoutout here to the novels by David Mack and James Swallow which are fantastic and fans of the show should definitely seek those out. As well as the comics. Don't forget the comics. Yeah, it's been a great process.
AR: For us, it's been a really very, very different experience than we've had in the past. We've had 50 years of Star Trek to draw upon. Myself and many of the developers here have seen all of Star Trek multiple, multiple times. We know it in and out. And there are tons of resources online of people who've dissected things and taken really close screenshots and evaluated different things. There are lots of resources to leverage. CBS has checked in on us from time to time but they've kind of learned that we really know what we're doing and they check in on our storyline and basically have said, “Yeah, that sounds great, just keep going with that.” And we've been very successful and they've been very happy with that.
That’s given us a lot of opportunity in 50 years of Trek. It’s like, "Hey, we can take this storyline, these characters from Enterprise, maybe we can connect them to these characters in TNG, and both of them were threads that never completely finished. A lot of Star Trek has been episodic and not serialized. But now with Discovery, it's completely different. The process has been completely different and it's been a great challenge to try to find the places where we can kind of fit in.
But it's also been a huge opportunity because now we're working directly with the showrunners and they can say, "Yeah, this is what we're going to do." You can ask, "Can we have this?" "No, you can't have this because we're doing something else." "Oh darn, wish we had this," right? "Oh, OK, great. What's the story behind that?" "Well, we're not going to touch this anymore, but this is the backstory behind this. You can take that."
We've never had that kind of collaboration before, but at the same time, it's also really challenging because it's like laying down the tracks while the train's still coming because this show is still being written, still being developed, and so there are some things, like "Well, we're not quite sure what we're gonna do with this ship." So we have to kind of stay hands off of that for a little bit, or "Oh, this is going to change and so you'll have to change that." "OK."
We've had to be a lot more vigilant, but we're getting so much more support and collaboration. It's been very exciting. We signed Mary Wiseman to voice Tilly in our game, and this is the first time that they asked to review the script. We said, "Oh! OK!" And we sent them the script and I was really, really happy that they only asked to change one line. But I was really proud of our writer, really capturing her. That was fantastic.
Kirsten Beyer reviewed the script for Tilly for Star Trek Online. That's amazing. That's amazing. That's never happened before. And that really makes us feel very special and very validated, and also very proud that only one line needed to be changed and that's something we didn't even know about -- "Oh, don't do this line because it contradicts something coming up with Season Two.” The part with Kirsten, It's really surreal.
Age of Picard
You’ve both mentioned the upcoming show that will bring back Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. It is also going to be the first new Star Trek canon to take place after Star Trek: Nemesis in the prime timeline, besides what we know about Romulus being destroyed from the 2009 Star Trek movie. Have you started considering what that could mean for your respective work in the future? I imagine its something different for each of you since the comics have been mostly set during the eras of the television series while Star Trek Online already takes place post-Nemesis.
MJ: On the comics side, all I can say is if there are comics that tie into the Picard show, I call dibs on writing that. That's all I can say.
AR: Like I said, CBS just came here yesterday and John Van Citters who's kind of the coordinator of all Star Trek third party. And I don't know if you've gotten to talk to him lately, Mike, but he told us a little bit about when he met with Kirsten and a little bit about Picard, which is very, very early. It's like just getting started, right? About exactly what they're going to do. He did mention that there would possibly be a lot of opportunities for Star Trek Online for us to leverage that show, a couple more so that was even in Discovery just for us in particular.
MJ: I get nervous even saying the word "Picard" right now. CBS will come after me.
AR: It's so early in the process but it's so far away that it's not even something that we can plan for in the slightest or anything. It's early. And, yeah, we might be able to leverage some opportunities there. The whole thing could change, I don't know. But I'm confident that we will be working very closely with them, but right now we're just really focused on Discovery. I don't even know when the Picard series is gonna be coming out. I don't think they even know.
Supposedly, from what Patrick Stewart said at Star Trek Las Vegas, Picard takes place 20 years after Nemesis, and that's very close to Star Trek Online timeline, so that's very exciting that we could have some opportunities for crossovers there if that's possible. It certainly does offer some challenges that they might do things differently than we have done, but we'll just have to see how that goes. And we'll be scrappy. We can adjust.
Recruiting Ellen Landry
In addition to Mary Wiseman voicing Tilly, Rekha Sharma will also be voicing Ellen Landry in a future episode of Age of Discovery. Can you say anything about what her role in the story will be?
AR: Very little. That's future release that I don't even really wanna focus on. I really want to focus on our upcoming fall release of Age of Discovery, and we still even have an anniversary after that, but some time after that Rekha Sharma will be joining us as Landry, and what I can say is simply that we wanted to just give her a little history. Landry is a very hardened and not your typical Starfleet Officer. She's kind of a jerk, and that's not really what you'd expect from a senior Starfleet Officer. even at war time. She's not kind at all. And so we just want to explore that. What led her to become so hardened? We wanted to explain a little bit of what brought her to be this kind of person that she is. And I'm really excited about that story. It's going be a two-part, possibly multi-part story that will continue later in the future.
Star Trek Online Remastered
It was also announced that the story content in Star Trek Online going back to its oldest missions is being reworked for when Age of Discovery releases. Can you tell me a bit about that process and what it means for players?
AR: Well basically Star Trek Online's coming up on being nine years old and has a lot of old content in it. And our newer content is just way better, right? It’s just that we've spent more time on it, we've invested more in the stories, invested more in the cutscenes, we've invested more in the actors. And I got tired of saying, whenever someone played Star Trek Online new for the first time, I said, "Oh, what are you playing?" "Oh, I'm playing this episode now." "OK," and I was like, "Just wait until you get to this. Just wait until you get to the endgame." And I was like you know what, we can't just keep saying, "New players, wait until you get to the good stuff." So we just want to just kind of bring the quality bar up.
We have a lot of content in Star Trek Online. We pulled out a lot of old stuff. We pulled out stuff that didn't look good or didn't play well, wasn't up to par. But I still tried to keep the integrity of our story arc. A lot of it is still available if you can find it. Some of it is just not going to be available while we, we call it, remaster it, to erase the whole bit and bring it back up to quality. And so that stuff will come back but won't be available for a while.
There's a whole arc that actually has Leonard Nimoy in it, and the Devidian arc, we go back into The Original Series era. It just doesn't hold up. Some of that stuff that we launched nine years ago, it's just old. The quality's not there, but it's a really good story arc. So we're just going to make that better. We pulled it out for now.
We recently revamped all of Deep Space 9, and it's really show-accurate. There's lots of good new stuff in Star Trek Online. We want to get our new players to see our new stuff as quickly as possible because they deserve a really good Star Trek experience. And that's the great thing about an online game is that you can keep improving it, right? We're not done. We're never done. That's basically the motivation, making sure that new players can come in in this Discovery experience and see this brand new, amazing Discovery content. We don’t want afterward to dump them off to nine-year-old content. We want to have them always see high fidelity stuff.
Looking Towards the Future of Star Trek Comics
Mike, all of the currently ongoing Star Trek comic book stories are coming to their natural conclusions in December. Can you offer any hints or teases about what’s to come in 2019?
MJ: We're definitely planning to do more Star Trek: Discovery books. In fact, I'm about ready to start scripting the next one in the next week. The plan is for it to be another 40-page annual like the Stamets story that we did, which got a great response. So it's nice to be able to tell a single story with double the page length of the average issue.
And I can tell you that the plan right now is to tell the story that involves the whole Discovery crew as we know and love them, and it will be more of a contemporary story in terms of the present time of Discovery and not so much a flashback like our other ones have been. So that's sort of the teaser for the next one.
And then, since they're making season two right now, we're figuring out what the next four-issue miniseries could be after that. So, I think we're probably gonna stick to the plan of doing four-issue miniseries and annuals rather than just an ongoing monthly because that would be very hard to tie into the show in a way that would make the comic worth it. So what we'll do is we'll do the annuals and four-issue miniseries and then we'll collect them into trade paperbacks. So, very excited to keep going. It's a big galaxy and I don't think Discovery's going away any time soon.
Star Trek Online: Age of Discovery Is Now Available.
Star Trek Online: Age of Discovery launches today on PC, with console launches soon to follow.
Star Trek: Discovery - Age of Kahless, featuring the first appearance of J'Ula, is now on sale as a graphic novel.1comments
The first season of Star Trek: Discovery can be streamed now on CBS All Access.
Star Trek: Discovery Season Two is currently in production and will premiere on CBS All Access on January 17, 2019.