How 'Star Trek Online' Brought Captain Killy to Life in 'Mirror of Discovery'

Perfect World Entertainment Inc. and Cryptic Studios today launched Mirror of Discovery for Star Trek Online on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Mirror of Discovery, which debuted last year on PC, marks the first official appearance of Captain Sylvia "Killy" Tilly of the ISS Discovery.

Star Trek: Discovery fans may remember that Captain Killy is the mirror universe doppelgänger of Sylvia of the USS Discovery. While Tilly impersonated Killy during Discovery's trip to the mirror universe, the real Killy never appeared on the show.

Having Discovery star Mary Wiseman play Killy is one of the reasons that the Star Trek Online team decided to use Killy in Mirror of Discovery.

"I think probably the biggest draw was, we all fell in love with Mary Wiseman's portrayal of not just Tilly, but Tilly as Captain Killy," Al Rivera, lead producer of Star Trek Online, tells during an over the phone interview. "And the show never really showed her, we never got to see the real Captain Killy so, we really wanted to bring that character to life.

Wiseman already reprised her role as Tilly for Star Trek Online's previous update, Age of Discovery. Mirror of Discovery presented a new challenge as she was playing Killy for the first time.

"We actually had to do the first couple lines a couple of times," Rivera says. "Within what felt like the third line she was in the character. Killy has two sides. She has this teasing kind of false diplomacy, and then she has this ruthless side that comes out more in the second episode. The first time she's kind of playing cool, a wounded dove, and then later she becomes much more vicious. A lot of credit to our writers, Paul Reed, the way he was able to capture her essence but Mary's just a real special actress who has a huge range and you could see that range. We were really blessed to have her join us."

Star Trek Online Mirror of Discovery Captain Killy
(Photo: Cryptic Studios, Perfect World)

But as any actor will tell you, delivering lines is but one part of bringing a character to life. In a video game, that's the only part that an actress like Wiseman can provide. The rest of it, the body language and presentation, falls to the game's team of animator and designers.

"With both characters [Tilly and Killy], they're very different," Bill Yeatts, Star Trek Online's art director says. "One is somewhat meek and is inconsistently confident, and the other one is calculating and confident and somewhat diabolical. So everything from the facial expressions, to the way she'd stand, and coupling that with the audio, it kind of wraps up into a nice package, to where you can kind of see, yes this is the mirror version of somebody else but they're a very different person at the same time. We had two different character artists working extensively trying to capture that likeness. And there was a lot of back and forth that we had to do."

"I like to think that we actually did a fantastic job capturing both Tilly and Killy, the flavor and feel of both," Yeatts adds. "You'll see when you play the game in the cut scenes that just the motion difference between the two characters...If you play through the Age of Discovery the beginning and then you Mirror of Discovery, you'll really see that, in the animation the difference between the two characters."

The launch of Star Trek: Discovery brought about new challenges and new opportunities for Star Trek Online. This is the first time in Star Trek Online's nine-year history that a Star Trek television series has been unfolding. Creating content from an ongoing, evolving, serialized story brings a different set of rules.

"As for all the stories that we tell in Star Trek Online, for Discovery, what we always try to do is find something to hook into that's in the existing canon, then tell more about something that maybe wasn't fully explored onscreen and give a back story to something or a sequel or prequel to something that players and viewers are already familiar with in the Star Trek world," Rivera says. "It's a good foundation and it resonates with players who say, 'Oh it's about that thing.'"

"Discovery, season one particularly, was a very serialized story as opposed to an episodic story, like older Star Trek," Rivera continues. "It was told in a very, very tight story with not a lot of dangling threads. So our job is to look through that and see what opportunities are in there that we don't see on screen or where something might lead in the future that we can tell."

Rivera says his team pitched several ideas to CBS after their first meeting about creating Discovery content. They couldn't move forward with some because Discovery may explore those ideas in the future. But they hit on something when they brought up the planet Pahvo, which is the setting of Mirror of Discovery's story.

Kirsten Beyer, who wrote the script for the episode that introduced Pahvo, had a lot of ideas for the planet that didn't find their way into the episode.

"She wanted this backstory about how the Vulcans had been researching Pahvo for a long time, maybe a hundred years, but were never able to make a connection with Pahvo because Pahvo speaks entirely in emotion and Vulcans just speak entirely in logic," Rivera explains. "So there would actually be a history that Micheal Burnham had known about Pahvo because it was researched by the Vulcans and she was aware of the research being done there. That never got to happen on the show, so although we didn't tell the story exactly the same way, we said, 'OK, what if we make this whole story with the mirror universe happen on Pahvo and we can have Vulcan scientists researching there."

Discovery's storytelling is different from any previous Star Trek and so is its visuals. Discovery's budget is reportedly one of the highest-ever for a television series and it shows in the series' production value. Star Trek Online's visual team has had to find creative ways to up their game to try to match that high production value.

"Since I've been here, one of the challenges is the fidelity," Yeatts says. "I would use that term when describing Discovery, it's very high. Everything from all of your holo-screens and computer screens to micro details on the uniforms, the little mini Federation chevrons that were on the side of the uniforms, a lot of micro details that, if you go in the past, they didn't even attempt to do any of that with the costuming. They were very classic throwaway set costumes, whereas [Discovery is] more like a movie costume in their approach."

"For us, I think it was actually probably a little bit refreshing 'cause it's like, 'Hey let's push this a little bit.' And that's presented its own challenges because the game engine wasn't made yesterday, it was made many yesterdays ago -- Al can tell you that my team has broken the game -- but the nice thing is that the engine is quite scalable," Yeatts notes. "So putting things that are higher resolution, both geometrically and texturewise, it's yielded some really great results. And it actually even drives me to want to update more aspects of the game to that. I just need a magical time machine to give myself more time to do it."

The Star Trek Online team is even willing to try to one-up Discovery itself in some places, such as with the design fo the ISS Discovery.

"The canon of ISS Discovery pretty much is a carbon copy," Yeatts explains. "There are some subtle differences, but we've we've also made some versions of it that we tried to embellish - so we actually have some other versions that are skins. But, I'll let the visuals speak for themselves. I actually like those, our version, better. But I'm biased. I like all of our versions better."

As the Star Trek: Discovery continues and the Star Trek franchise continues to expand and evolve, Star Trek Online is ready and eager to continue and to evolve as well.

"We're just getting started with these stories," Rivera says. "We're laying a lot of groundwork and a lot of little pieces of stories. We have this main thread, we know how the story is going to end. We know where this is going to go. I don't know when it's going to happen because basically what we're doing is, as we learn more from Discovery and from other possible new shows that are obviously coming out on CBS All Access, other opportunities come. This is where we're starting, this is where we're gonna end and this is how we want to get there. But oh look, there's a Section 31 ship on screen. Should we bring that into the story? Oh, there's a giant space ball thing that showed up on Discovery a couple of weeks ago. Should we bring that into the story? I'm just being a little cheeky, we have more plans than that, I'm not saying specifically those things would be in our game. But as opportunities arise we say, 'Let's go. Let's tell that story first. Let's see how this fits into the arc that we are telling."

"The storytelling that we are doing is a little bit different than we've done in the past, so we don't have every single thing laid out, but we are finding more opportunity to make things more interesting," Rivera adds. "We can then bring in all of those stories together when the time is right."


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Star Trek Online is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.