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Captain's Log: Interview with Star Trek Online lead writer Christine Thompson, part two


This week brings to an end my series of interview with Cryptic Studios representatives. We conclude with the second half of my interview with Christine Thompson, lead writer for Star Trek Online.

Thompson confirmed that she essentially writes everything in STO. She admits that she gets some help, sometimes from developers who prefer to write their own work, but she says she writes 90% of everything in the game.

The conversation picked back up with a focus on The Foundry, the user-generated content tool available to players in STO. I asked her if she had any direct advice for authors who use the Foundry to create missions and maps and social zones in the game. She said, "Authors "shouldn't be afraid to tell the stories they want to tell. That's one of the joys of The Foundry. And they should also know not every story is going to work for everybody. Some things people will love, and some things people won't. Use Of Bajor for example. I really enjoyed that episode. We took a chance and did something completely different with that episode, and I liked telling a Bajoran story. But for every person who liked that episode, there was somebody saying" -- and here she dropped her voice to a hoarse whisper -- "oh dear god, why can't I just shoot something?!"

We stuck with the subject of Of Bajor, and I didn't hide my admiration for the mission. While I can sympathize with players who loathed the text- and mythology-heavy mission, personally I reveled in the details Thompson was able to bring to the Bajoran species, a species I never really cared for.

I asked her how much research she was forced to undertake to develop such a rich background and texture to a species that has so much missing. She told me, "I've always been a very big fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I've re-watched the series multiple times and read a little bit of the DS9 relaunch novels, so I had a little bit of basis in Bajorans there. Then I just started looking at all the little fragments of Bajoran prophecy interwoven throughout the series and the books."

She recalled fondly an episode of the series that involves the character of Rom, who learns about Bajoran society in order to prepare for his nuptials with Leeta, his Bajoran fiancée. His character mentions a certain prophecy was his favorite because it was so pretty. Thompson also wanted to write a text from Gul Dukat's point of view and pulled from the darker references of Pah Wraith texts that his character made. It was these simple, short mentions of Bajoran history and prophecies that inspired her to write the significant amount of textsposition a player will find if he bothers to read it in the Of Bajor mission.

Thompson admitted that a majority of the texts were written when many of her co-workers were away for the Christmas holidays. She stated it was quiet enough for her to put on her headphones and concentrate on writing for the episode.

I asked her a question I ask of many writers: Can she write while listening to music that contains lyrics, or does she find herself inspired by instrumentals while writing? Thompson said, "I have a whole stack of Star Trek soundtracks that I listen to a lot. Strangely enough, when I have to get something really cranked out, or if I'm really in a rush, then I listed to pop. Like Britney Spears/Katy Perry kind of pop because it's peppy and fun, and when it's done, I get to take my headphones off."

She said she also listens to dark music when she's trying to write something dark, and she loves "old school" music like Stevie Wonder and Fleetwood Mac, but she also had to clarify that she used to working so much in newsrooms with ringing phones, blaring televisions, and people yelling at one another that she's taught herself to tune out most distractions.

A wonderful break in the conversation took place at this time when Perfect World Community Manager Brandon Felczer interrupted the conversation and mentioned a Tweet from a Massively reader reminding me to ask Thompson about the "Bortas Captain."

Recently, Thompson had been granted the opportunity to create and write short backgrounds for the newly revealed crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F. As most players will know by now, the new Enterprise is commanded by an Andorian male by the name of Va'Kel Shon.

The Tweet referenced the noticeable lack of story and named crew for the new Klingon flagship the I.K.S. Bortasqu'. Thompson confirmed that the commander of the Klingon vessel "remains undetermined at this time." She was then informed there is a small grass-roots effort to sway her into writing the CO of the ship as a female Klingon. Thompson's response? "I would love to see a female Klingon be the CO of the flagship. We don't get to see too many strong female characters. I would like to see more of them in Star Trek."

The conversation then turned to female characters in Star Trek and which characters Thompson enjoys watching and reading. She said, "I love Kira, but Jadzia Dax is my favorite. I'm a Janeway fan, particularly when she gets that wild look in her eyes right when you know she's about to do something crazy. I call it out-Kirking Kirk." She also mentioned her favorite non-Trek female characters were Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5.

I asked her whom she'd most like to see in STO. "A Dax," she answered. She would also like to revisit Kira Nerys and see what happened to B'ellana Torres. I broadened the question to include any character, not just female. Without hesitation, Thompson sat up in her seat to say that she wants the chance to bring The Doctor (the Emergency Medical Hologram from Star Trek: Voyager) into the game.

I offered her the chance to explain to the readership what her job entails beyond writing character dialogue and story for STO. She stated that she also is responsible for helping with research for the artists, crafting text for the C-Store, reviewing plot lines, and putting in "safety valves." Essentially, anything in the game that needs words will eventually cross her desk.

What does Thompson mean by "safety valves"? She explained that she, not unlike J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote for Bablyon 5, needs to write her STO stories with safety valves that will allow her to write out any character or tweak any plot line in the future. "Straczynski said that he wrote every character with a safety valve in case he or she couldn't return. I need to do something similar with the game. Every one of my plots has a safety valve. Everyone talks about wanting to do a playable Romulan faction someday, but we don't know when that's going to be or what that's going to entail, so I have to have my little safety valves that will allow me to make that happen."

She admits that this tactic isn't the best way of doing things from a story-telling standpoint because it leaves a lot of hanging plot lines, but it's the nature of the gaming beast. "For Season Six, it looks like we'll be adding a new race in, and I'm really excited about it because it's a race that hasn't been seen (in Star Trek) very often, but I need to find out where they fit in the world because it's not a race that we had thought about for a while. They don't appear in The Path to 2409, and now I get to go into this established world two years later and try to figure out how they'll fit."

Thompson admits that being the only writer for STO is a huge job, but she seems to think that she's the lucky one. She said, "We're lucky to have a full-time writer. Some games don't have them. Sure, others have more than one, but it's because Cryptic has been so efficient that we've been able to make do with one. Star Trek needs a writer because at its heart it's always about the stories."

I would like to thank Christine and all of the other Cryptic employees and executives who took time from their very busy days to make themselves available for interviews during my visit.

Next week I will be refocusing on the new events that have occurred with STO since my interview segments began six weeks ago, and let me assure you -- there's been a lot going on! Until next week, live long and prosper!

Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to

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