CBS Shuts Down Ambitious Fan Effort To Make A Virtual Starship Enterprise

Screenshot: Kotaku, Stage-9

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.”


Comments

    It doesn't matter how much a property means to you, how much you love it, or even if you would do a better job than any official product. You don't have the rights to use that IP, not selling anything is meaningless.

    You need to ask and get permission before hand otherwise you will spend years working on a project before you end up being spanked by a lawyer.

      Yup this was totally going to take revenue from the official version CBS was hard at work on....

      Great example of an early 2000's approach audience engagement.

        It does not matter if it was going to generate revenue or not. CBS owns the intellectual rights to it. They get to decided what can and cant be done within the law. Not you.

          My point was that engaging with fan creators who are working clearly high quality passion projects can be mutually beneficial. Where did i question their legal rights Mr Negative Nancy?

            it would of been mutually beneficial. IF they had chosen to actually contact them and get permission.

            Don't forget they have had years to get around to asking if they could make it and were shocked when they they got spanked by a lawyer

      There are fair use doctrines. They may actually have more to do with trademarks.

        Fair Use covers copyright, but there's no fair use doctrine that covers a faithful digital recreation of someone else's IP. The work would need to be transformative but this tries it's hardest to be authentic.

        On top of that there's a fairly strong argument that this could hurt sales of the Officially Licensed games.

          One could make an argument that creating an interactive 3D experience is transformative. It certainly is recontextualising the material into a new expression of it.

            One could, though no court would entertain the argument.
            The laws are already very clear, it's not about defining the meaning of transformative work but proving that your work is no longer representative of the original IP.
            To put it simply, the law exists to stop this exact kind of infringement so there is no wriggle room.

            I get what your saying and its shitty when ambitious fan projects like this one, that aren't really chasing money, get caught up in the legal bullshit.
            The problem isn't even the money, its about how the laws works.
            If you allow your IP to be used without permission, it can weaken your rights and open the door for more serious infringements.

            but an official 3D interactive experience exists, so that alone isn't a defense... and this interactive experience doesn't change the context or the meaning, nor is it a parody or a review.

            I also disagree that's it's re-contextualizing the material, it's a faithful recreation which is what makes it so good.. but is also what causes it to fall foul of CBS.

    CBS: "We want to do to your fun what we nearly did to the Stratocaster in the 1970s".

      Holy cow. I'm a massive guitar history nerd and i didn't draw the link here at all. Thanks!

    It was made for free as digital art, now if they used studio assets then there could be a argument made, but basically this is just another example of CORPORATE greed stomping on freedom of speech and nobody giving a toss... just another example of slippery slope...

    Leave free fanart alone you douche bags!

    Last edited 30/09/18 3:43 pm

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