Before there was Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Ubisoft’s game about piloting the original Enterprise, there was Star Trek Stage 9, a fan project recreating the Enterprise-D from The Next Generation in Unreal Engine. This week the project is no more, following a cease and desist demand by CBS.
One of the leads on the project, who goes by Scragnog, posted a video on YouTube explaining why it would no longer be getting future updates and development was coming to an end.
“On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, we received a letter from the CBS legal department,” he said. “This letter was a cease and desist order. The uncertain future we always had at the back of our minds had caught up to us.”
The team immediately shut down the project’s website and began trying to reach out to the company to try and work on an alternative outcome. After nearly two weeks of not being able to get a hold of anybody, a representative from the legal depart confirmed to the Stage 9 team that CBS wasn’t going to budge and the game needed to stay down. CBS did not respond to a request by Kotaku for comment.
A video posted just a few days before the cease and desist letter was received does a good job of showing just how ambitious Stage 9 was. In it, a player goes on a tour of a nearly complete Enterprise-D.
Unlike Bridge Crew, which got a Star Trek: The Next Generation update earlier this year, players in the fan project aren’t stuck in a chair on the Enterprise-D’s bridge. Instead, they can move about the ship freely, riding turbo lifts, interacting with computer terminals, and even taking a shuttle craft out into space and get a view of the Enterprise from afar.
While it’s more of a virtual tour than anything else, Stage 9 is much larger and more detailed, and as a result does a more complete job of capturing the ambience and mood of one of science fiction’s most beloved starships.
Stage 9 was named after the studio lot where the TV show was originally filmed. It was for PC but, like Bridge Crew, was also compatible with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Based on the videos, it would be hard to distinguish from a professional game.
The project had originally been narrow in its goals — a few people trying to render a few parts of the original sets in Unreal. It soon grew into something much more ambitious.
“Why stop at replicating the spaces of the ship?” timmyJACK, one of the leads on the project, told Kotaku in an email. “Why not make it function just as it did (or, at least, appeared to) on the show?”
He went on:
So we did just that. Want to plot a course to Deneb 2? Make it so. Go to the helm controls and push some buttons and the ship will jump into warp. Fancy a drink in Ten Forward? Hop in the turbolift and you’ll be there in a few seconds. You can order yourself a Tea, Earl Grey, Hot from the replicator if that’s your thing. Feel like flying out of the Main Shuttlebay to explore a nearby asteroid field? Done. We even hid a few of our own Easter eggs along the way including a "party mode". This project was starting to turn into a real place that people could visit and share. The implications were profound.
The Stage 9 volunteers knew they were messing with fictional material owned by a corporation. They hopes that if it wasn’t being sold, CBS might spare them and their years of collective toil.
“We made it as clear as we possibly could that this was not an officially licensed project,” Scragnog said in the goodbye video, titled “All Good Things” after the Next Generation series finale (itself borrowed from a line in a Geoffrey Chaucer poem). “We were just fans creating fan art.”
The group also felt emboldened by the themes of the show itself. “When Star Trek talks about equality throughout humankind, and a world where we’ve moved beyond the need for any money, it’s fair to say this project was more about respecting those ideals than anything else,” Scragnog said.
In August, CBS announced a sequel to The Next Generation that would take place after the events of that show but still focus on its main protagonist, Captain Jean Luc-Picard (with Patrick Stewart returning to the role).
timmyJACK and others who worked on Stage 9 told Kotaku that they remained hopeful this might make CBS more inclined to collaborate with them and view their own fan project as an authentic way of reconnecting with some of the original show’s most ardent fans.
That’s why even after they received the cease and desist, many of them held out hope CBS might work with them to turn Stage 9 into something officially licensed, rather than scrapping it altogether.
“I’m just happy we got as far as we did,” said Rekkert, one of its 3D modellers. “We’re hearing from a lot of fans that say that our project helped them reconnect with relatives, or got them through a difficult period of their lives. That’s just incredible to hear. We’ll be forever grateful for having had the chance to do good for people that way, even if it’s sad that it has to end.”