When I tell people that I'm the writer for Star Trek Online, one of the responses I get is "Cool! So you write fanfic all day?"
… Not exactly. I get to play in the toybox that is the Star Trek Universe, and that's fabulous. It's one of the deepest and most detailed and most fun sci-fi settings ever, and I'm thrilled to be able to write Trek stories. But writing for STO isn't like writing a Trek novel or a script. There are a completely different set of questions to consider.
One of the big differences is characterization. Star Trek, at its heart, is its characters. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Picard, Data, Sisko, Quark, Dax, Worf, Janeway … they're iconic. And what makes so many of the episodes great is not the basic plot, but how these great characters respond to a particular situation.
When you're writing for an MMORPG, to some extent you're writing a story without knowing who the main characters are. The most important characters in STO will be the ones the players create. The players are the ones who get to shape the universe, make the big moves, win the battle, save the world. They have to be the heart of the story.
So how do we do that? First, we make the player characters the turning point of every story. Other characters may respond to them, ask things of them, attempt to stop them, or even try to blow their ship into space junk. But in the end, it is the actions that the characters take in the course of an Episode that are what's important.
Also, we have to be very careful not to limit the player's choices when it comes to creating his or her character, ship and crew. Our Bridge Crew is a prime example of that. A lot of information in the Episodes comes from your Bridge Crew. Just like in an episode of one of the shows, it is your crew that informs you of a situation, provides more information, or offers options for action.
When I'm writing dialogue for a member of the Bridge Crew, I have to be very careful not to do anything that would block the player from creating the crew that he or she wants. If I write a speech from the point of view of a sassy, overconfident young officer from Cestus III, it's going to sound pretty ridiculous coming out of the mouth of a Vulcan, Tellarite or Klingon. I've got to be careful not to break the illusion.
But "doing no harm" to characterization isn't enough. Because we're leaving the door open for players to create the characters and Bridge Crew they want, we've got to make sure that everything else is as Trek as possible. The situations, the ships, the look of space, the bat'leth moves … we do a ton of research and work to make it all authentic.
So no, I don't write fanfic all day. I'd say I help create a place where the players can tell their own stories. And I can't wait to see what the players do with it.