It’s happened to just about every Star Trek fan young and old: the inescapable fantasy to step onto the bridge of our favorite starships, to walk through the corridors, and stare out at a brilliant starfield as the ship whisks you – and your imagination – into the… Final Frontier.
Stage 9 developer Rob Bryan steps into this fantasy every day. And now, so can you.
A Virtual Enterprise-D Recreation
This is all thanks to virtual reality, both in the conceptual sense of a 3D image on a 2D display, like most video games, and in the sense of the still nascent but inherently Star Trek-esque VR technology like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Indeed, our first glimpses of this kind of technology were seen first on The Next Generation, so what better place to replicate in virtual reality than the legendary Enterprise-D herself?
Bryan, along with a dedicated and enthusiastic team of developers at Stage 9, is recreating the entirety of the Enterprise using Unreal Engine 4, a game engine known for its level of detail and relative ease of use. And while their work-in-progress is steadily advancing toward Trekkie perfection, the results so far are still, in a word, amazing.
Building the Enterprise, One Room At A Time
“Star Trek has been important to me as long as I can remember, and throughout every episode of TNG specifically, I thought about how great it would be to actually walk around that ship myself,” Bryan told TrekNews.net. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to do that.”
Players have the freedom to roam the Enterprise, traversing decks, entering rooms, and interacting with objects in the world. Stage 9 is designed using sets seen on the show, and lesser-known sources like production plans that designer Rick Sternbach released in the 1990s. And for those parts of the ship that have no reference material at all, Bryan and his team sometimes indulge in their own inspiration to faithfully recreate these never-before-seen parts of the ship. The result is a massive, explorable environment that isn’t so much a game, as a simulation.
The technology to accomplish this goal has only recently become available, but attempts have been made before. Consider, for example, the secret room in the 1991 game Duke Nukam. A neat little easter egg, but far from a fully realized recreation. Or consider the excellent Star Trek: Elite Force and its “virtual Voyager” mode, where the player could walk the corridors and rooms of Voyager. Pretty neat and surprisingly immersive, but the technical limitations of 2001 still held the mode back from the realistic feel many were yearning for. Now, the power of modern video game technology allows Bryan and his team to faithfully recreate intricate details on the Enterprise. And with the release of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-Rays, more detail than ever is available for reference.
The Method Behind the Madness
So why the Enterprise-D? Well, that comes down to creator preference. Bryan says he grew a stronger connection to TNG than the other Star Trek shows, thanks to that show’s “sense of wonderment” which accompanied the adventures of Captain Picard and his crew. But more than that, Bryan found a “comforting” aesthetic to the Enterprise set he felt was missing from other shows. But as Bryan notes, recreating that set isn’t as easy as mimicking design. This is where the project’s greatest challenge presents itself.
“The fact that making this an actual 3D space that made sense was great fun for everyone involved, but definitely challenging,” explains Bryan. “How do we make this area ‘feel’ like something you’d see on the show? How would we approach the decor? What purpose would this particular room serve?”
It’s questions like these the developers ask themselves when recreating parts of the ship, especially parts viewers have only caught glimpses of. Take for example Shuttlebay 1, the biggest shuttle bay on the ship, but one we’ve only seen a part of in the episode “Cause and Effect.” There’s not a lot of reference material, even with Sternbach’s designs, so the Stage 9 team had to take great care in maintaining the aesthetic of the show, while making this mostly-new space interesting for the player to walk around in.
It may surprise people that this labor of love is completely free to use, especially since Bryan and others work hours upon hours every day to push out frequent updates and improvements to the stimulation.
“Star Trek is something that means a lot to many people, including all of us involved in Stage 9. This is something Patrick Stewart himself said when announcing his return to Picard, and it resonated significantly with the Stage 9 team: ‘The Next Generation brought people comfort, saw them through difficult periods in their lives or how the example of Jean-Luc inspired so many to follow in his footsteps, pursuing science, exploration, and leadership.’ Stage 9 itself is our way of paying respect to something we all love.”
Beam Me Up
Those who wish to step onto the Enterprise with or without a VR headset can do so simply by going to the Stage 9 website. Just check to make sure your computer meets the required specifications. You can also join the team’s Discord to contribute your feedback and help make the stimulation better.
The future is bright for the Stage 9 team. While they still have plenty of work on the Enterprise-D ahead of them – including (at some point in the future) implementing the most requested feature: multiplayer – recreations of other ships are viable down the line. For now, players can be treated to an increasingly immersive recreation of the ship seen most in Star Trek. While players will have to deal with some bugs and performance issues, the trade-off is an opportunity to indulge in our imaginations. Indeed, what better way is there to describe Star Trek?
Check out the gallery below to view more images from Stage 9’s impressive recreation.
Kyle Hadyniak has been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and isn’t ashamed to admit that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is his favorite Star Trek movie. When he isn’t reviewing Discovery episodes, he is pouring through Star Trek novels, most recently the Titan series and the Shatnerverse.
You can follow Kyle on Twitter @khady93.