Star Trek Monthly #68, August 2000         


Virtual Vulcan


As the U.S.S. Voyager’s chief of security, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok’s authority is unquestionable. So obviously he’s the perfect choice to lead the special security unit Hazard Team in Activision’s debut Star Trek: Voyager PC adventure Elite Force. Jim Swallow meets Tuvok’s real life counterpart Tim Russ and quizzes the actor about his extensive contribution to the game.


“Tuvok leads the player through the entire game. He’s the Hazard Team leader, giving you your orders and telling you the situation. If you mess up, you have to report back to him!”


In their continuing adventures across the distant Delta Quadrant, the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager have explored all manner of new realms and challenging environments. Now, for the first time, they enter the unique world of PC gaming, with the launch of STAR TREK: VOYAGER – Elite Force, a first person perspective action game from Activision, Inc. and the first computer game ever to use Star Trek: Voyager as its basis.


Developed by Raven Software, the programmers and designers responsible for Heretic II and Hexen II, Elite Force is an action-packed experience. As part of the Hazard Team, a special security unit aboard Voyager, players can take on the role of a junior Starfleet Ensign serving under the Vulcan tactical officer, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok.


For actor Tim Russ – Tuvok’s real life alter ego – bringing his Star Trek: Voyager character to the virtual universe of Elite Force has been both rewarding and demanding.


“Tuvok leads the player  through the entire game,” says Russ, “He’s the Hazard Team leader, giving you your orders and telling you the situation. If you mess up, you have to report back to him! Basically, Tuvok tries to give you all the information and the tools to complete the game.”


Typically, the script for a television episode of ST:VOY runs to around 65 pages in length, but with a game like Elite Force, with its potential for hours of play, the page count is much, much higher. “The script is 365 pages long,” Russ reveals, “which is way over feature film length [around 120]. This is huge! You have to do all the possible endings, all the possible mistakes for every different sequence and all the lines for both Miss and Mister, because you can have a male or a female player character in the game. There’s a lot of different paths and branches that the game can go down, based on how you make your decisions, and if you don’t do anything you get scolded!”


“There’s a lot of different paths and branches that the game can go down, based on how you make your decisions, and if you don’t do anything you get scolded!”


As well as Tuvok, the game features the rest of the regular ST:VOY cast and 11 guest stars. “There’s a whole lot of dialogue going on,” offers Russ. “The game has some 46 levels, so there’s a lot that you can do in there. It’s really a very busy game.”


He compares the voice acting on Elite Force to that of working on a more traditional animated project. “This was two days’ worth of work and it was my character, so I didn’t have to start from scratch. If it was an animated movie with that much dialogue, I would have been working on it for a couple of months. I worked by myself, just me and a microphone and the director.”


However, Russ notes that acting using only his voice is more difficult than appearing ‘in person’ on screen or stage. “Doing voice-overs is very, very difficult in essence. In this game, there are places where the dialogue pacing has to be specific so that the player gets the information, and sometimes an emphasis, like a hint, for what you should do. Plus, there’s a lot of action moments where things get really heated, so the dialogue has to match that… But doing a character and only doing voices for any kind of animation is extremely difficult. It’s not a cake-walk, because you do not have the luxury of facial expressions or physical movements. There’s such an emphasis on nuance, it is entirely up to your voice to carry the moment and the intent.”


STAR TREK: VOYAGER – Elite Force uses the popular Quake III Arena software engine to drive it carefully rendering locations throughout the ‘real’ U.S.S. Voyager based on the actual sets used in the series, as well as the interiors of alien starships, Borg labyrinths, derelict space vessels and even a holodeck castle. As the adventure begins, Voyager and her crew find themselves under siege from alien marauders, trapped in an interstellar junkyard of derelict vessels with easy escape impossible.


As Tuvok gives orders and sets mission objectives, players are pitted against numerous adversaries such as the Borg, Hirogen hunters, the Malon and a cadre of alien scavengers who invade the starship. The game provides not only a strongly plotted solo storyline for single players, but also a variety of play options for multiple gamers across Internet or Local Area Network (LAN) connections.


“You’ll find yourself on a Borg Cube as well as meeting an alien species we’ve never seen before,” explains Russ. “So the situation that Voyager find itself in is pretty tense…” In addition, a non-linear mission structure means that player choices can alter the outcome of events and affect the entire game story. “The game is great,” says Russ. “It can be very fast and furious, but it can also be very introspective, stealthy and methodical. It can be kind of funny as well as more of a mystery. There’s investigation and puzzle solving to some degree… it’s amazing.”


The actor adds that the combination of game-play elements in Elite Force is its most outstanding feature. “At the same time, you have to make tough decisions. There’s appoint where you have to make a choice and neither action that you take is a desirable one… You don’t see that kind of thing in most games.”


“It can be very fast and furious, but it can also be very introspective, stealthy and methodical.”


The actor feels the ‘virtual’ Tuvok of the game is much closer to his on-screen persona than some of his other incarnations. “The character looks pretty good, compared to the action figure form – it’s an alter ego, after all, just a character I play – but in the game he’s pretty interesting; the eyes are very detailed, even down to blinking. It’s very cool to see your character moving around and talking like this.”


After six years of playing the role of Voyager’s resident Vulcan, Russ is perfectly comfortable in the part. “right from the very beginning [of the show], he wasn’t a tremendous challenge to play – the fact of the matter is that most of the casting you see [on ST:VOY] is because the individual’s personality fits so much into the character in some shape or form. It makes it easier to make it honest.”


“The character looks pretty good… the eyes are very detailed, even down to the blinking. It’s very cool to see your character moving around and talking like this.”


The actor notes that Tuvok has grown greatly since his first appearance. “The episodes that involve him are the ones that fold back the pages of his past, the essence of his beliefs and culture, what lies beneath the surface. We’ve challenged these things on numerous occasion; his relationships with other characters have been explored and stretched. Each Tuvok show we have done has been very different from the others – that’s what makes him evolve.


“There’s no specific direction I’d like to see him go [in the last season],” he continues. “Whatever circumstance they can put me in that’s unique and different is always desirable; anything that is counter-intuitive to Tuvok’s obvious strengths is better. We’ve started to explore things like his reaction to the human condition, and his dealings with human eccentricities – those are interesting and fun.”


As well as his work on ST:VOY and the Elite Force game, Tim Russ is also involved in the emerging world of web television, in a wry comedy called The Art Police. “It’s an internet show on the Galaxy Online web site, which you can download to your computer,” he reveals. “They’re five minute comedy sketches based on police dramas of the past, but we’re dealing with all forms of art, from performing art to sculptures and painting.”


Russ is producing the satires along with two associates, Bruce Young and Dan Chase. “It’s pretty wacky – there’s a lot of subtle, tongue-in-cheek stuff going on in there about censorship in art.” He adds that the development of web television may also lead him to a possible feature-length science fiction project for Galaxy in the near future.


Russ also recently released an eponymous solo album with Neil Norman’s Cosmic Orchestra, on the Crescendo label. “I’ve been touring Europe, playing a lot of pop R&B, rock R&B, adult contemporary music – it’s been going very well.” The CD will be available in the UK this summer, and with a career diverging across so many different media, the human face of Star Trek: Voyager’s Tuvok is proving himself even more capable than his logical alter ego.