You may want to don equipment that has a +INT attribute, because we are cranking up the Nerd Level to maximum warp and diverting shield power to thrusters in order to investigate a premise hairier than the indigenous population of Kashyyyk. We will boldly go where no gaming article has gone before, but be careful: It’s a trap! We will attempt a metaphorical ‘Blue Harvest’ of whatever Roddenberry and Lucas can teach us about our own gaming tastes through the differences in their respective iconic science fiction series, Star Trek and Star Wars.
Spock is almost certainly one of the Storm Troopers, laughing his ass off.
Star Wars promotes a grand universe from which to tell extravagant stories about characters, one where you always feel like so many other stories are happening and not just the one you are seeing at the moment. It is also a world where almost anything is possible...so long as a Jedi or Sith is around. Star Wars always has The Force to use as a shiny plot device for every escape and defeat in the series in order to continue its haphazard plot that really only has one or two things you couldn’t have guessed. Imagine Star Wars without the force, and if you come up with anything cooler than Wing Commander let me know.
Star Trek is a little more focused, providing us with a usually desolate version of space with which to tell an isolated story and compel us to utilize what we already know about the universe and story to appreciate the intelligence behind the plot. The major turning points in the plot are not stumbled upon, but are the specifically designed reason for everything else in that particular episode of the show. A lot of the answers to the intellectual riddle of each episode, it often seemed to the show’s discredit, was created for the individual purpose of that episode. How could they possibly escape the <insert looming threat here> without the <insert previously unannounced or discovered use of technology here>? They couldn’t have, really, but that usually didn’t detract from the intelligence and entertainment value of the show. Usually.
Aren’t differences between video games much the same? You have several games whose basic premise is not unlike a model similar to Star Wars such as Bioshock, where the pretty mutations you can cause your character are both part of the story and a propellant of it. Throughout the game you feel as if there is always more going on, like the main character is a stranger in an already existent world and that world is reacting to his presence. I really felt like Rapture had a history before I crash-landed there and killed everything inside. When you put it that way, I kind of feel like a douche. A kid-killing douche who was intolerant of people just because they were plagued with the disposition of insanity and/or a thirst for a mutagenic substance known as Adam. Okay, maybe not that much of a douche because those little girls were CREEPY.
Anyone think it weird that Bioshock is all about the decision of whether or not to "Harvest" little girls? I tried to not think about it.
Then you have games like God of War that, in relation to our current metaphor, resemble Star Trek a little bit more. This game felt like everything that was happening was only there for the purpose of Kratos to deal with, and every character only existed so Kratos could beat them up or have sex with them (Decisions, decisions...). Not unlike Star Trek, resolutions to problems are conjured through manipulation of existing conditions unbeknownst to the player. Every time you come across a door that needs a special key conspicuously hidden in a room inhabited by either a new enemy or a previously unmatched combination and number of old enemies you can’t help but wonder “Did they put that there just for me?”. Kind of ruins the immersion, honestly, though the challenge to my badass skills as Kratos was usually welcome. Usually.
Star Wars has this underlying religious tone in regards to its content, though not in the sense of the Christian religion. It just always has you thinking about the many mysteries of an invisible, all-present and constantly unbalanced force known as...the...Force...and how powerful an individual can become whilst using it. As the movies and games have showed us, the powers of the force can be very powerful indeed. This goes to further nurture ideas that one could be even more powerful than what we have seen up to this point, though we may never see those ideas come to fruition. The picture from The Force Unleashed where Starkiller brings down an entire Starship to me was an amazing one, and a great example of not really being surprised by an image so much as being satisfied by it.
Pedestrians have the right of way...or else.
Star Trek, on the other hand, has the fault of always using these decidedly God-Like characters to test the puny mortals aboard the Enterprise. The creators of these episodes probably wanted to state clearly that simply overpowering the situation was not an option for the Enterprise crew, forcing them into outsmarting their predicament while the looming threat of being one-shotted was upon them. As earlier stated, the turning points in the plot were sometimes so much the focus of that particular episode that the substance ended up rather absolute(read: dull). I sometimes wonder if Gene Roddenberry ever did acid, honestly.
Video games sometimes take the same roads; the main draw for some RPG fans is seeing how powerful the game was designed to let you become. It usually isn’t as extravagant as your wildest imagining, as is the case with Star Wars(Unless someone can destroy a planet using just the Force), but still you yearn for every level. Kingdoms of Amalur made a critical mistake, in my opinion, of showing off every move you could eventually get in the game via the help menu. I was a dagger and chakra wielding character, and after perusing the help menu and watching all the animations for the other weapons I decided I would stay with that choice. There was no drive to level up, which would have kept me from playing if it wasn’t for the story. The game, like Star Wars, was set in a world that felt alive; Salvatore had written probably his best non-D&D universe in Kingdoms of Amalur, and my character’s story had to do with what changes I made within that world using a previously unmastered “force”.
On the other side of the coin, you have games that forego story in favor of testing a player’s skill in any given situation. If I had to categorize Call of Duty in our Star Trek/Wars metaphor, MW3 would definitely be in the Star Trek category. As with most shooter games, the story is used solely as a reason to present you with different situations to overcome. In the single-player mode, you can’t just run-and-gun through many of the missions. The game displays a linearity that ushers you between set pieces and forces your hand in using a myriad of suggested(read: the only way to stay alive) weapons and tactics in order to provide a varied, albeit symmetrical, gameplay experience. The multiplayer has a progressive leveling component to it, but this system is really just a backdrop alongside the medals and other things you can display next to your gamertag to instill a need in all players to keep up with the camouflaged Joneses. If you reach General level, you’ve pretty much got all the weapons and upgrades you need for battle. All along, the game relies heavily on the player’s skill on that map with that weapon compared to another player’s skill on that map with their own weapon. This game is always less about an immersive experience and more about skill, as is Star Trek compared to Star Wars.
"Captain Picard is not gay, he's British!" -Seth Rogen's Trekee character from "Fan Boys"
Star Wars gives you a maximum of three movies to know and love most characters in the series. With the exception of Yoda, of course. This means that they have essentially seven hours of time to tell their story and perform some memorable character development, while at the same time convincing you of their universe and finding time to move along that pesky plot. Lucas had his hands full, you can imagine. There are advantages to this approach: How much more complex could Han Solo have really been? I think he’s just fine with the biggest argument about his character being whether he shot Greedo first. How much time could you have really spent with Luke Skywalker before his informative, audience-assisting “What is that? Why is this that way?” mentality became stale? The answer is two-and-a-half movies, or until his transformation on Dagobah just in time for the finale. Without expanding on the character too much, you only have to dive so far into their psyche and that allows for a more broad-stroked, generalized persona that the audience can generally identify with in place of a persona you will have to deal with the antics of for another six seasons.
Star Trek: The Next Generation had 178 Episodes and four Feature-Length movies. I’m not going to insult you with math, but it’s pretty safe to say that Star Trek had a lot more time to develop their characters and gradually introduce concepts. In the series, for example, we see young Wesley Crusher (dubbed the worst Star Trek character of all time, despite being named after the creator) go from early teens to a lightly seasoned Starfleet Officer. Every episode is another chance to touch on Wharf’s Klingon sensibilities, the relationship between Will Riker and Deanna Troi, or the android Data’s quest to become more human (which gets pretty good when they install an “emotion chip” in his CPU); over the span of several years, Star Wars fans have had the same two sets of three movies to watch the story of their favorite characters while Star Trek has had several weeks worth of material...and it shows. The extra time allotted to Star Trek allows for refinement of characters, and gives the audience time to soak up what is currently available before bludgeoning them with anything more complicated.
To relate this point to video games, I’m going to use a game I previously related to Star Wars and now relate it to Star Trek. Freaky, right? Well, again, I am going to mention Kingdoms of Amalur, but this time I’m seasoning it with Roddenberries. The length of this game allows you to become more accustomed to the supporting characters before anything is ever changed about them. Characters such as Agarth and Alyn Shir are wonderfully scripted beyond what they could have been if this game only took 9 hours to complete. I wanted more from them, but also wanted to avoid the perils of cutscenes and conversations that outlasted their welcomes. A culprit of this tedious crime is a game that caused me more pain than a Vulcan neck pinch to purposefully not being complete: XenoSaga. It was ambitiously planned as a six-part series, but I don’t believe it ever made it past the third installment due to...everything. I became enthralled with this weird anime RPG, mainly because the premise and character development were so damn intriguing. The sometimes 30-minute long cutscenes did bother me, but I was somehow okay with that so long as the story maintained its awesomeness. The 60+ hours spent actually playing the game and the character/story development that accompanied it was like RPG heaven. The downside: The end of the first game teased at something greater, and then the story took a turn for the stupid in the beginning of the second game. I could no longer find the desire to sit through long cut-scenes because the story was no longer one I enjoyed. I mention this because it serves as a lesson for future game developers that intend on telling long, detailed and character-based stories instead of letting the player determine some of these elements for him/herself: Be sure about major plot shifts before you make them, or your plans for a six-game series might be force choked. Look at the reception of fans to the change of zombies in Resident Evil 4 and 5, and notice how RE6 is shifting back to the fan-pleasing flesheaters we all know and love. I guess Capcom thought the iconic zombie wasn’t going to keep our attention; I find their lack of faith disturbing.
Zombie Wookie scares me more than Zombie Vulcan, but scares me less than zombie Ewoks.
Throughout this metaphorical analysis of video games in relation to the essential differences between Star Trek and Star Wars, we find that neither series represents the perfect model for any form of media. Additionally, we can deduce that games which embrace attributes from both examples are more likely to be better games those that do not; while maintaining the same basic control scheme, look at the differences between God of War and Kingdoms of Amalur. KoA is a deeper, more extensive experience that in my opinion exceeds past God of War in every fashion other than a few style points here and there. Lacking a more in-depth story does not necessarily mean less fun, however, especially in the case of games that are deliberately not story-driven a la Call of Duty. Without devolving my entire thesis into a statement of “To each his/her own”, I will say that no single concept for a game is going to please every taste and far too many games sacrifice polish and further greatness by attempting to ‘do it all’. I will simply maintain the optimistic hopefulness that we as gamers continue to receive imperfect games that thrill and entertain us in a variety of ways. In other words, I desire gaming to “Live long, and prosper.”