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The Star Trek Game That Never Was, Secret of Vulcan Fury September 4, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the incredible Star Trek Franchise.  Created by the late Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek started as a television series that took place in the 23rd Century where an international crew of explorers solved modern day problems during their trek through the stars.

While the initial series only lasted three seasons, it was a cult hit, especially among young people.  In the fifty years that followed, five television series (with a sixth on its way), thirteen feature films, numerous books and countless video games have been released under the Star Trek name.  I’ve already talked about my first experience playing a Star Trek video game, but I thought that in honor of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary I would tell you all about a Star Trek game that never was, a game called Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury.

In the late 90s I was quickly becoming obsessed with the Star Trek brand after watching the film Star Trek: First Contact. This was a great time for Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation had ended its run but the entire series was being actively rerun in syndication. Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were airing some of their finest episodes, and companies like Interplay and Simon and Schuster were releasing  all new Star Trek games for the PC.  Heck, I even visited Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton twice. After enjoying the CD-ROM FMV game Star Trek: Borg I decided the next Star Trek game I would play would be the PC flight-sim Starfleet Academy.

I got a copy of Starfleet Academy for my birthday and quickly installed the game on my Windows 95 PC.  After the game finished installing, this trailer immediatly autoplayed.  Enjoy this first look at Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury.

What you just saw was a trailer for a fully CGI-rendered Star Trek game based on the original series. Not only did the game’s art style perfectly match the look and feel of the original Star Trek tv series, veteran Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana was penning the script and the cast of the original show was preparing to donate their likenesses and voice work to the game.  Interplay was essentially making an all-new interactive episode of Star Trek in time for Christmas 1998. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?  In a way, it was.

As I’m sure you all know by now, the game was never released and that trailer was the only thing most gamers have seen of the game in twenty years. So what went wrong?  A few years ago someone asked about the cancelled project on Interplay’s official forums.  That’s when I discovered there had actually been a second trailer produced for the game, which premiered what would have been the game’s opening. I think this trailer was included with copies of Fallout 2, but I’m not totally sure about that.  Take a look.

That brief scene would have made a great opening for the game.  The CGI was top of the line at the time, James Doohan and William Shatner sounded great back in their iconic roles, and the trailer ended with some amazing teases including a promise to give players an interactive tour of the planet Vulcan.  How could this game fail?

Essentially Interplay had bit off more than they could chew with this game and you could see some of that when you look at all the features the trailers promised. Interplay was experimenting with fully pre-rendered CGI at a time when the technology for fully-CGI movies like Toy Story was only in its infancy. In fact the game was expected to feature even more CG footage than Toy Story, making it the most ambitious project to use prerendered CGI of its day.  While the technology was available to them, time was just not on their side.  Other development issues were mentioned including incomplete actor performances due to poor health.  This all spelled out bad news for not only the developers trying to complete the game but also for gamers who wanted to play it.

Christmas 1998 came and went without the game’s release.  Eventually information about the game was removed from Interplay’s website. Several reports have stated the game was only 5% complete when it was cancelled.  The publisher eventually lost the rights to the Star Trek license and would go on to weather financial turmoil during development of a new Fallout game.  Interplay bounced back and they currently license their properties for outside development while rereleasing their back catalog on modern distribution networks. 

With all that development turmoil happening I had no expectations anyone would ever see any more from Secret of Vulcan Fury. Then, YouTube user Ken Allen published this footage online.  It was originally shown behind closed doors at E3 1997 in Atlanta, but thankfully it is now available for the public to see!

I’m just going to say right now this footage is incredible.  It looks like it takes place right after the events depicted in the second trailer, and while the animation is still a little rough the art style matches the original sets perfectly.  He even posted up a closer look at the game’s interactive interface.

This looks like a pretty intuitive interface, and this is coming from someone who remembers the oversimplified scan and decision interface from Star Trek: Borg.

It’s a shame we never got to play this game back in the day but I want to thank Ken Allen for giving us this look at it.  Ken did mention on one of his YouTube videos he was considering releasing the game’s original design document online. Please do, Ken, we would be more than happy to report on it here.  It’s a shame this game never came out, but I would love the chance to read what is essentially a lost Star Trek episode.

As for my thoughts about how I liked the game Starfleet Academy, well that is a story for next time.