Star Trek: Discovery’s Visuals (and why its lesson is important for sci-fi video games)
There has been a whole ton of criticism over the latest iteration of Star Trek and its visual + set designs. Is Star Trek: Discovery really Star Trek if it doesn’t have PADs and has technologies that we don’t see in TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series) such as holograms?
Well, according to the show’s set designers & writers, the reason Discovery’s technologies are more advanced than anything we’ve seen before on a Starfleet ship (bar those in the far future, like those from the 2800s) is simply that our own technological advancement in real-life has reached that seen in TOS (bar starship-related technologies and propulsion, such as transporters, tractor beams, etc.):
- PADs -> tablet computers (iPads, Surface, etc.)
- Flat Screens -> pretty much any screen found on modern devices
- AI (ship functions, not full AI such as Data [Star Trek: The Next Generation]) -> smart assistants
- Computational Power -> Data’s stated computational power is laughable compared to the computers we have around today (60 teraflops)
- Holograms -> okay, we don’t have ‘proper’ holograms yet. We do however have imitations that call themselves ‘holograms’ that create a holographic-type effect. Personally I don’t think actual holographic technology is too far off.
- Replication -> as above, we don’t have ‘proper’ replication technologies yet. We do have 3D printing (which in itself is replication), and 3D printing is becoming more and more advanced (we can 3D print simple foods now, as well as build housing using an automated 3D printing process).
- Space Food -> as of the 4th of January 2019 we’ve officially been able to grow plants on another celestial body (being the Moon), and that’s right now.
The writers have said that they made this decision so that viewers do not become bored- the critical thing about sci-fi is that it’s fiction and not reality (aka fictional science). Could we call a science-fiction show such as Star Trek ‘sci-fi’ if its technologies/events were not the work of fiction? The only thing the writers and set designers can do at this point is to create new fictional technologies.
What does this have to do with game design?
Imagine that you’re creating a sci-fi game set in space, say the year is 2100 (22nd century) and your character has to escape the starship that they’re on. In the GDD (Game Design Documentation) you’re going to have to come up with ways to keep the player interested- sure you can have a tablet that the player reads from, but it needs to be different to what we have in real life (the Fallout series does this really nicely via the Pip Boy- an interface that is a critical part of the game, but also serves as a stats interface).
If a game is going to look like real life but is supposed to be a sci-fi game, it really wouldn’t do very well at all.