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Why the 'PixelTrek' Creator Boldly Brought 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Fans to the Undiscovered Bathrooms

By Jordan Hoffman | Indiewire June 23, 2014 at 3:12PM

Is this homebrewed and unlicensed 8-bit style game, based on the layout of "Star Trek: The Next Generation"'s Enterprise-D, really a game?
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A screenshot from Daniel Saaba's "PixelTrek"
A screenshot from Daniel Saaba's "PixelTrek"

Oh, so that's where Captain Picard goes to the bathroom!

Interstellar micturation (after all, all that "tea, Earl Grey, hot" builds up) is just one of the puzzles solved in "PixelTrek," a home-brewed and unlicensed 8-bit style game based on the layout of "Star Trek: The Next Generation"'s Enterprise-D. But is it really a game? 

As "PixelTrek" currently stands (it is still being developed), there's no one to shoot, no missions to accomplish, no one to talk to. For now, there's just exploration, walking a blocky little Lt. Data in and out of rooms -- and how can merely guiding an intentionally low-rez figure along a few corridors be considered much of anything, especially a game?

However, to hardcore fans of "Star Trek" (and as the author of the "One Trek Mind" column on StarTrek.com for the last 3 years and frequent moderator at "Star Trek" conventions, I consider myself part of that group), "PixelTrek" is compelling in an oddly perfect way. While there have long been "Star Trek" video games -- indeed, plenty of folks devote all their spare hours playing the MMORPG "Star Trek Online" -- the basic gameplay in "PixtelTrek" of just snooping around the ship evokes a long sought-after fantasy.

I hope I don't embarrass myself too much to confess that I've had numerous dreams set on the Enterprise. Oddly, they weren't all high tension space adventures: Sometimes I'd just be with my wife or someone, doing our thing, but, you know, at the long obsidian table in the Observation Lounge. 

Now, thanks to "PixelTrek," I know exactly how to get there from the bridge. There's a door I've always seen behind Lt. Worf's tactical station, but I've never actually seen anyone walk through it. (Because, no, I'm not too far gone to forget that these were sets built on Paramount Stage 9.) You go through that door, up a little ramp, hang a right, open another door and, voila – that's the spot where we've watched so many great and tense scenes.

There exists, of course, a plethora of officially licensed blueprints, detailing every corner of the Enterprise. I'm not sure whether or not "PixelTrek" sticks to these or goes off on its own. Either way, it's the movement offered by this deceptively rinky-dink game that's a delight.

To actually see -- to actually move -- from the Captain's seat over and back around to the Observation Lounge hit me with a flood of emotions like a shot from one of Dr. Crusher's hyposprays.

I've read my share of tie-in "Star Trek" novels (some I confess are a joke, but others are quite good -- it all depends on the author), and these volumes love to perambulate all over parts of the ship we never see on the show. But to actually see -- to actually move -- from the Captain's seat over and back around to the Observation Lounge hit me with a flood of emotions like a shot from one of Dr. Crusher's hyposprays. I actually gasped.

This "movement" through the physicality of the space was a very visceral thing for me -- and what's so odd is that "PixelTrek" is nothing but cheap, blocky graphics. You don't even use a game controller: You poke your up, side and down arrows on your computer keyboard. Perhaps it's due to my familiarity with my laptop, where my fingers spend the bulk of their waking hours hovering, mixed with the "yes I feel I've been here" environment of the Enterprise-D, that gives "PixelTrek" such a vitality.

Even though there are only a few completed levels so far (connected by turbolifts), a great percentage of the game's space is taken from locations that are only hinted at on the filmed sets. Put bluntly, it's a lot less interesting to be in the sections of Data and LaForge's quarters that we already know from the show, but to poke around side rooms that have only been hinted at is a thrill.

To this point: the bathrooms. While you hear about them in all of the post-Original Series "Trek" shows, you never actually see a sonic shower until the 5th season Voyager episode "Juggernaut." In "PixelTrek" you can walk right into Worf's sonic shower. (Yes, he'd rather bathe in the blood of his enemies in the River Skral, but you can't have everything.) In Picard's ready room, there's a toilet stashed in a corner the TV cameras never show, and off to the side of the bridge itself is a jakes with three stalls. Three stalls? You'd think there'd be more privacy for bridge crew, but I guess it can be a high traffic area.

There are other little hidden treasures: Data's cat Spot, his Mondrian reprint, some Tribbles (which border on non-canonical) and the three-armed Edosian Lt. Arex from the Animated Series in the Atmospheric Controls lab. Well, maybe it isn't Arex, but another Edosian, because if that were the case he'd be pretty old. The original Enterprise's 4th year of their 5 year mission was 2270 and the Enterprise-D's first voyage to Farpoint Station was in 2364. I mean, it's not impossible. There's still so much we don't know about Edosian physiology. So much. 

At least we know a lot more about the Enterprise than we used to. We reached out to Daniel Saaba, the German designer/artist who created “PixelTrek,” to answer a few questions. Despite the language barrier, we were able to speak the common tongue of Nerd.

Did you base your designs off any of the "official" blueprints, or just kinda go from memory and your own imagination?

Yes, it is based on the official blue prints by Rick Sternbach. Unfortunately it's not possible to translate it 1:1 because "PixelTrek" is placed in an isometric universe. There are no curves. So you will find rooms on the blue print that you can't find on "PixelTrek."The most important things are the details. Many details in the show -- you only get to see them once. I had to watch the show over and over again to find the correct place, color and size. Some books are helpful, but plenty of the details come from my own imagination. 

I love that there are toilets on the Enterprise.  It's about time we saw them.  But right off the bridge?  And a group of three side-by-side?  I would imagine they would have more privacy.

When you take a look into the blueprints you will notice that Mr. Sternbach placed a lot of toilets on the ship. Despite some fans saying that Miles O'Brien beams waste into space!But you are right. Next to the bridge, there is just one toilet shown on the official blueprint. For me, it doesn't make much sense. All those visitors that travel with the crew, the crew members themselves. I can't believe that there is just one toilet for all these guys. 

Do you have any larger intentions, other than to let fans delight in merely exploring?  Do you intend to have more interaction in future?  Small conversations perhaps?  I know this is still a work in progress.

Imagine if "PixelTrek" had a goal or a mission. When you played it to the end, would you come back and play it again just to see changes to the graphics?

At this point I don't intend to add any activities to the game. It's more a sandbox game, to explore rooms that are never shown in the show. Imagine if "PixelTrek" had a goal or a mission. When you played it to the end, would you come back and play it again just to see changes to the graphics? Also, I'm doing it all alone in my spare time. I guess thinking about puzzles to solve and dialogue that fit the characters would be too big for me. Maybe when I'm done -- or someone will help me out. 

What was the one episode that turned you into a major “Star Trek” fan?

I grew up with "Star Trek: The Next Generation." I can't remember one special episode that led me to become a fan. I remember that I was reading in a magazine about the new "Star Trek" show. Some older guys told me that this will be totally crap. They loved the original series -- it was an "untouchable good" they said. Time goes by and they have to have realized now that TOS and TNG fit pretty good together.

Today I take a look at myself and hear me saying "What the heck is J.J. Abrams doing? Why is he destroying the whole 'Star Trek' universe?" That makes me laugh and I turn into "okay, say nothing and wait." Unfortunately he does that second movie and it's still bad, no intelligent story, just "Star Wars" action. Maybe the third movie will be smarter. 

What are some of the really obscure things you snuck in here?  I noticed Lt. Arex.  He was never on "Next Generation"!

Yes! Lt. Arex appears on "The Animated Series" only. "TAS" was not that popular. But Lt. Arex is not the only thing that was never shown on the Enterprise-D. Did you find the ETs? Or have you found the guy who played "Pong" or "Monkey Island"? These little easter-eggs show that I'm not too obsessed with keeping this strict canon. "Star Trek" fans are very in love with all the details. It's great, but it is also a curse. You can't do anything without someone who say "this is not canon!" At the end, I'm doing this just for my own leisure, and for people to explore the Enterprise-D. 

This article is related to: Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Video Games, Video games, Video Game