An ambitious free-to-play fan project to build an interactive, VR-style interface of the Next Generation-era Enterprise-D has come to an untimely end after being hit with photon torpedoes—or their 21st-century legal equivalent, a cease-and-desist letter.
On Wednesday, the Stage 9 project pulled the plug one day after speaking with a CBS lawyer on the phone. News of the project’s end was first reported by Eurogamer. Rob Bryan, the project lead, characterized his team’s phone call with the attorney, Vanessa Costantini, as being somewhat tense. "It was stern, there was no room for compromise," Bryan told Ars.
Costantini did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.
An authorized game, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, which is set in the JJ Abrams Star Trek film universe and released last year, may have had something to do with Stage 9’s demise.
“Recreate the entirety”
In a phone call with Ars earlier this week, Bryan (aka "Scragnog,") a web developer based in Birmingham, United Kingdom, explained that he and an international team of developers had been working on this project since late 2015. He claimed that Stage 9 was meant to be far more immersive than the Bridge Crew game.
The idea, simply, was to "recreate the entirety" of the famed Galaxy-class starship using the Unreal Engine 4.
As the project was described on its (now-defunct) website:
The eventual goal is to allow you to explore every part of the ship that you’ve seen on the show (and all the areas you haven’t) and interact with everything you see.
Imagine walking to Worf’s tactical station on the Bridge, pressing buttons on his control panel and firing torpedoes or sitting in Data’s chair at the helm console and taking the ship into warp! You can do all and more as we develop this walk-through to be as identical and immersive as possible to the show and the ship!
Bryan provided a copy of the app to Ars, and when I took it for a very brief test drive on a MacBook Air, it functioned, albeit slowly. (That’s likely the result of the Air's lack of horsepower.) Ultimately, the attention to detail was very impressive, and it was easy to imagine how a truly MMORPG-style game could be set on the NCC-1701-D.
"Imagine sitting in Ten-Forward at the 3D chess table with someone sitting opposite you and you’re both playing chess, while the ship is warping to a star system," Bryan explained. "There’s a lot of work that went in here and now it needs to disappear? That seems like a waste to me."
CBS, which owns the intellectual property for the Star Trek television shows, has taken a hard-line in recent years with respect to fan-related projects. Notably, CBS released "fan film" guidelines in the wake of a lawsuit stemming from a proposed film, Prelude to Axanar. (That lawsuit ultimately settled in January 2017.)
But it is unclear how those guidelines would affect a non-commercial computer game project, like Stage 9, which is clearly not making a film. In the end, it didn’t matter.
"The reference of Stage 9 was a big, big problem for CBS," Bryan said, noting that this was the stage on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles where much of Star Trek has been filmed. "[As was] the font style in our logo, and they had an issue with and the use of the Enterprise itself."
He explained that the organization, Stage 9, a loose collective of like-minded fans, were not shocked that CBS suddenly came after them. "I think what has surprised us all is being given no opportunity to find a resolution," he said.