Captain's Log: Interview with Star Trek Online's Christine Thompson, part one

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The past couple of weeks, I took a bit of time to head to Las Vegas to moderate and cover the Star Trek Online panels at the official Star Trek Convention, but I'm happy to say I'm back in the saddle and picking up where I left off with my series of interviews with the people responsible for making Star Trek Online and conducted when I visited Cryptic Studios in late June.

This week I begin my summaries of my interview with STO's lead writer, Christine Thompson. Many of you may know her as Cryptic Kestrel. Read on to see what she had to say about writing for the Romulan Republic!

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I spoke with Thompson almost immediately after the Legacy of Romulus expansion had been released, and my first question to her was about how she had fared since the launch. Thompson joked that she was very ready to undergo her scheduled nervous breakdown. She then said happily that she had been extremely satisfied with the results of everyone's hard work.

She admitted that the entire team had been working very long hours and extra days for months prior to the launch and she was ready to be able to breathe a little bit. She also joked that the breather would be a short one because Cryptic was already moving forward with new content (which was later revealed to be a new featured episode as well as the Season Eight update).

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We discussed how the Legacy of Romulus expansion contained what is considered by many to be the best storytelling the game has seen to date. When I asked her if she had a favorite part of the new material, Thompson told me that she was simply just thrilled to have the opportunity to tell a tight, interconnected tale. However, she said that she had a particular love for the Khitomer mission; she felt it turned out exactly how she wanted to see it. In regards to the Romulan first officer, Tovan Khev, Thompson admitted that there were aspects to his tale that didn't translate as well as she had hoped, but she still likes the idea of his character being a "voice" for the player.

Thompson told me that when the Romulan faction was greenlit, there was a bit of a conundrum regarding how to begin the Romulan Republic's tale. As far as players knew at that point, the Romulan Republic was in its infancy and had already established a capital on a new home planet. She didn't recall exactly which one of the team members had suggested a prequel tale as opposed to a continuation of the story already present in the game; the climate at Cryptic is "super collaborative," and creative meetings consist of a lot of pitching of ideas back and forth. In that way, she explained, writing for STO is very different from writing a prose tale like a book or a short story.

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Thompson told me that while much of what was good in LoR -- namely, the extensive voice over material and layered story work -- were, in hindsight, a bit too much. One of the things she is looking to do with future content releases of the same nature is to find a more balanced way for an in-depth story to be told to players who want it, without having to bog down those players who do not.

We jumped backed to talk about the (comparatively) enormous amount of voice work that was done for LoR. Thompson admitted that because of the focus on audio in the expansion, a majority of her work became script-writing for the actors who portrayed the various roles. She credits Cryptic's audio team and contractors who provide the voice actors and direction with helping the project. As the LoR launch date approached, it wasn't uncommon for her to be in the audio booth during the day as lines were being recorded and then at her desk until late at night while she wrote the scripts for the following day's sessions.

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I asked Thompson the following question, which was sent in by multiple readers: There seems to be quite few references to Diane Duane's Rihannsu novels in the Legacy of Romulus material -- did Thompson write those into LoR intentionally? Thompson unabashedly admitted that the Rihannsu tales are her favorite Star Trek novels and that she had always wanted to incorporate several of Duane's ideas about Romulan culture into the game. She was thrilled to be able to do so when she was informed that the team would be working on Romulan-focused material.

In fact, the idea to move forward with making the Romulan Republic the new faction in the game came from long discussions the team had at the onset of the LoR creative meetings. Since most players tend to want to play a hero as opposed to a villain, the decision was made to focus on the Romulan Republic. However, Thompson doesn't feel that the Romulans have lost their wily ways by any means.


We discussed briefly a mission called Mind Games, in which (I'm not giving away too many spoilers for those who haven't yet played the new Romulan content) the player's character is forced to undergo brain-washing procedures. Thompson informed me that the new Lead Content Designer, Charles Gray, was responsible for its creation; she called the mission one of the "master-craft works" in the game.

What about the Federation content? Did the success of the LoR expansion, along with the new Klingon and Romulan tutorials, give rise a revamp of the tutorial for the Federation faction? While at the time Thompson was hesitant to admit that she was working on such a project, we have since been informed that work on a new Federation tutorial is currently underway!

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With that in mind, I asked Thompson -- under the pretense that a revamped Federation tutorial was in the works -- whether she thought she would have a difficult time incorporating a more personal tale into a Federation tale than she did with the Romulans and even the Klingons. She reminded me that she has often received complaints about bridge officer dialogue, but as to what will or won't appear in any future Federation tutorial revamp, she simply wasn't sure.

Join me next week as I will finish up the summary of my great conversation with Christine Thompson as she answers a few reader questions! Until next week, live long and prosper!

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