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'Star Trek Online' teams with IDW for more dark adventures in the Mirror Universe (exclusive)

"Star Trek Online" boldly expands the Mirror Universe with new union with IDW Publishing.
"Star Trek Online" boldly expands the Mirror Universe with new union with IDW Publishing. (Image credit: Star Trek Online)

Hoping to provide a cohesive template for further ventures into the reflective realm of "Star Trek's" Mirror Universe, a new partnership between Star Trek Online (STO) and IDW Publishing was recently announced to allow for synergy and narrative material in the future. 

Created by Cryptic Studios and Gearbox Publishing, STO is the largest Free-to-Play online "Star Trek" role-playing game in existence and currently boasts a player base of over 2.5 million in its expanding galaxy of story chapters and missions. 

For STO's 12th anniversary this past February, they've released their 25th episode titled "Shadow's Advance" that features Kate Mulgrew reprising her "Voyager" role as Captain Kathryn Janeway as the voice of the Terran Empire's Mirror counterpart, Marshal Janeway.

Related: Star Trek movies in chronological order

IDW has been the vanguard for "Star Trek" comic books since acquiring the licensing rights back in 2006. Since then, writers Scott and David Tipton have orchestrated an impressive number of "Star Trek" title including this year’s ongoing event, "Star Trek: The Mirror War," with Captain Picard and the "The Next Generation" crew exposed to that sinister dimension.

This new union brings better continuity for more immersive storytelling dives for Star Trek Online by meshing plotlines with character developments unfolding in the earlier timeline of the Tiptons' "Star Trek" comic book projects at IDW, also set in the final frontier’s Mirror Universe.

Star Trek Online: Shadow's Advance will go boldly to the Mirror Universe in a new collaboration with IDW Publishing. (Image credit: Star Trek Online)

Space.com chatted with STO Associate Art Director Thomas Marrone, STO writer Paul Reed, and the Tipton Brothers to learn more about this creative marriage, and how this will affect seasons within the online game to deliver a smoother integration of Mirror Universe tales.

Space.com: How did this ambitious new creative partnership come about?

Thomas Marrone: Back in 2018 at Star Trek Las Vegas we started talking to IDW about how we’d developed many environments and ships and it would be cool to see that in the comics. IDW, especially for their Mirror arc, has done a lot of great visual development through the artist J.K Woodward and CBS to define the look of the Mirror Universe in the "TNG" era. We never saw the "TNG" characters in the show as their Mirror Universe counterparts. That was fertile ground for IDW and for us when we were exploring it in the game. 

We also talked with writer Mike Johnson about his character, J'Ula, that he created for the "Star Trek: Discovery" comics that IDW did. We actually brought J'Ula into Star Trek Online for our "Discovery" arc. So there've been a lot of these little back and forth partnerships over the years. It's exciting to work with people who love "Star Trek" as much as we do. We're all pushing at the margins and the boundaries of the universe to fill in the blanks. STO does that really well and the comics do that really well. It's great to play off each other's strengths whenever we do that.

Scott Tipton: It's great for our series. J.K. Woodward designed the Mirror Enterprise-D and to see that out in the world in the Star Trek Online game is so cool.

IDW Comics' Star Trek: The Mirror War saga revisits the iconic Mirror Universe of Star Trek lore in comics. (Image credit: IDW Publishing)

Space.com: How will fans see Mirror elements of IDW's comics crossover into STO?

Scott Tipton: We both are trying to see what strikes everyone else in the Mirror Universe. It's more about putting these thing out in the universe and inspiring each other. Once they see what we're doing with some of our characters and how they're going to be moving forward, especially with a story as big as Mirror War is, then that gives them all these new parts to play with to incorporate into their storylines. There's a lot of material to mine there.

David Tipton: One of the things that came out of the past Mirror stories that Scott and I and others worked on at IDW, and some of that work with J.K. Woodward, is what produced the Next Gen Mirror characters. We've seen those characters and ships pop up in Star Trek Online. In the same way, both IDW's comics and Star Trek Online have picked up and run with the new interest in Mirror stuff coming out of "Discovery" using the Mirror Universe. What Star Trek Online has done with their Mirror content and what we’ve done has been consistent. The way that they use Mirror stories and how characters work in that universe now has a unified canon. 

Scott Tipton: And a lot of credit has to go to CBS. They're a great licensor to work for. They're the ones who came up with the idea to create a style guide for Mirror Next Gen which never existed and recruited J.K. Woodward to design the characters. Then that's what we were given to flesh out who these characters were. That style guide got to go to everybody which is why everything feels like it's coming in step because we're all working from the same playbook.

A look at some of the ships of Star Trek Online's Shadows Advance update. (Image credit: Star Trek Online)

Space.com: AS STO salutes its 12th anniversary, how do you stay inspired and keep the game engaging for players old and new?

Paul Reed: One of the things we've done over the years is revisit moments or events or the after-effect of events that happen in the canon shows and the films. It's a pretty big universe. We've done content in previous eras, but we'll think about whatever happened to those people that showed up in one episode of "Voyager" or what are some of the cast members up to in the show. We did a large "Deep Space Nine" Dominion arc and got to catch up with Kira and Odo and people on the other side of the wormhole and delving into things that happened in that quadrant. I think that's how we keep things fresh and giving people answers to questions and new ideas and going in new directions.

Thomas Marrone: We've been really lucky to have all the new "Star Trek" that's been airing in the last few years. When "Discovery" started in 2018, that put a lot of wind back in our sails. We'd been mining the past 40 years of "Star Trek" between "TOS," "TNG," "DS9," "Voyager" and "Enterprise" but now we have brand new stuff to work on. We built a "Discovery"-themed starting experience pretty much immediately so that people coming in new to "Star Trek: Discovery," when they got into Star Trek Online, they'd have something relevant to them. That helped breathe a lot of life into the game.  

Then we had this opportunity recently with "Picard" where they actually reached out to us and so we got to provide ship design from Star Trek Online to "Picard" and that canonized an aspect of the game, which is an incredible opportunity. To be running concurrently with new "Star Trek" TV and even influence it has been an amazing development for us as a game that is over 12 years old. And between 2009 and 2018, we were one of the only multi-media ways you could experience "Star Trek." We took that responsibility seriously, and now to be passing that torch on to the new shows is a great way to evolve and come to the next step of the game's lifespan.

A still from gameplay in  Star Trek Online Shadow's Advance. (Image credit: Star Trek Online)

Space.com: What is the most fun or rewarding about playing in the "Star Trek" sandbox?

Thomas Marrone: I'm a big starship guy and I think that "Star Trek" has the most iconic, most graceful, most beautiful starships in all of science fiction and I love working with that. I was recently promoted to STO's Associate Art Director but the job I had before that was Lead Ship Artist, so I spent a lot of time building "Star Trek" ships for Star Trek Online. I'm really proud  of the fact that our models and designs were adopted by the "Picard" team to show up in the shows. We worked with their effects crew and they did some work on them due to the detail requirements for TV. STO has a certain expertise that we've been building our last 12 years that nobody else has and CBS recognized that and wanted to work with us on it.

Scott Tipton: For me, it's the characters, especially with "The Next Generation." I was in on the ground floor with that show so as it progressed I learned about them as they were being written. I feel invested in those characters so when I sit down to write Picard or Riker I can hear that voice in my head in a way I can't with the classic show because I feel like I know them so well. "Star Trek" is unique in sci-fi in that it’s kind of an anthology. You can have humor episodes or epic episodes. The flexibility you have with storytelling combined with those characters that everyone knows so well, and I feel I have a facility for, that's the real joy for me.

David Tipton: It's that character aspect for me too. Comics are sort of a dialogue-oriented media and if you do a "Star Trek" comic right and if the words coming out of those word bubbles sound like the character, then people resonate with it. But if Jordy doesn't sound like Jordy, you're going to have readers not satisfied with the comic. Getting those voices right for the comics is so important for us and something we continually strive for. We want it to sound like it was a real episode and that's the real trick in some ways too.

Paul Reed: I started watching "Star Trek" when I was a little kid. "Day of the Dove" was the first episode I ever watched. My mom came in the middle of it and said that she'd watched "Star Trek" back when she was in high school. So she sat down with me and explained that was Captain Kirk and that was Spock and why he had pointed ears. I got the whole primer. I grew up with "Star Trek" and was there when the first movie came out. Getting the opportunity to tell "Star Trek" stories and feature characters from the shows I watched growing up is incredible.  

Another big part of my job is working with our audio team when actors come in to do the voice-overs. If they have questions about what's going on in a scene I'm there to help give stage direction so they can do their job. Hearing the actors take this stuff we've worked on and add that extra dose of "Star Trek" reality is a major part of what makes my job so fun.

The "Shadow's Advance" expansion story launched in January on PC and March 16 for consoles. Star Trek Online is free-to-play and downloadable on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.