Sunday, July 03, 2011

Build the Enterprise

As a rule I very rarely talk about work here, but I've decided to make an exception to that rule with this post. Basically, as anyone who's been reading this blog for a while (god help you) will know, for the last 12 years I've been working on Star Trek partworks. Partworks, for those of you who don't know, are collectable magazine series that build up week by week to form a comprehensive reference work on a particular subject - something like real-life crimes, wildlife, or aeroplanes, for example. Think of it as something like buying an encyclopedia in weekly instalments.

When I joined the company it was to work on The Official Star Trek Fact Files - a partwork that built up to create a definitive reference guide to (as the title might've given away) the Star Trek universe. I think the Fact Files was originally scheduled to last around 90 issues; I joined at issue 150 or thereabouts, became editor of the thing at 200 or so, and saw it through to its conclusion at issue 304 in, I think 2002 or 2003 (I forget exactly when it ended). I think it still ranks as the world's most successful partwork.

Incidentally, while the Fact Files was never sold in the U.S. (partworks don't work in America because it's such a big market), much of the material created for it did turn up in Star Trek: The Magazine, which ran for 48 issues from around 1999 to 2003.

Following the enormous success of the Fact Files we produced a number of spin-off products; some, such as Star Trek: The Collector's Edition - a DVD and magazine series collecting the Star Trek movies and episodes of TNG and TOS - proved very successful in their own right, while others didn't and failed at test (we tested all our partworks prior to committing to a national launch to get an idea of how they would do).

What all these other products had in common, however, was that they were essentially made up of material taken from the Fact Files, albeit revised where necessary (such as if an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise added something to canon - first contact with an alien species or something like that that would make a nice trivia point).

Running in parallel with these spin-off projects, we also started producing Star Trek stuff for Japan. They got their own edition of the Fact Files, which covered several topics the original UK version missed out on such as the entire run of Enterprise and the movie Star Trek Nemesis, and as a consequence ran 10 issues longer than the UK edition, eventually stopping at issue 314. We also produced a DVD magazine series for the Japanese market called Best Episode Collection, which essentially plucked the very best episodes of all the different series, tied them together under various headings such as 'Captains,' 'Klingons,' 'Space Battles,' etc, and popped them on sale along with a magazine covering behind the scenes stuff, interviews with the cast and crew, and trivia pages. That too was a great success; originally scheduled to run 70 issues, it ultimately went on for 135. I occasionally joked that it wasn't merely Best Episode Collection, but was in fact coming perilously close to being Every Episode Collection.

So, what you can gather from all this, then, is that Star Trek has enjoyed fantastic success as a variety of different partworks.

About 18 months ago the Japanese team who I worked closely with to produce the Japanese Fact Files and Best Episode Collection came to me with an idea they'd had for a new Star Trek partwork. The project was called Build the Enterprise, and as you might guess, the idea was that you would get to build a model of the Enterprise (the TNG version) week by week. Bearing in mind I'd been working on these sorts of things for a decade by this point, I was surprised to find that my fanboy side completely and utterly pushed to the fore; I thought the idea was amazing, and I was very keen to get going on it.

What I should say here is that the Japanese team don't do things by halves. They literally threw everything bar the kitchen sink at this project. In addition to building an incredibly-detailed, highly accurate, whopping great model of the Enterprise, if you bought this thing you'd also get a magazine that would grow with every issues to form a massive 500 page reference work on the ship (think of it as a massively expanded TNG Technical Manual), with another 100 pages covering behind the scenes stuff - interviews, concept art, that kind of thing. And you'd also get a huge blueprint sheet covering the exterior of the ship from various angles, every single deck, and key rooms (many of which had never been seen on the show).

To accomplish this they'd recruited Rick Sternbach, who if you don't know (SHAME ON YOU!) was a key figure in designing a load of the technology that appeared on everything from TNG through to Voyager. He designed the U.S.S. Voyager, for crying out loud.

And rather than just pull text, images, and artwork from the Fact Files (which by this point had only just finished its run in Japan), they asked that everything to be used in this new project be newly generated.

As you can imagine, it was a MASSIVE undertaking, but an incredible one, because under Rick's guidance and watchful eye, we had the opportunity to actually add to Star Trek canon for the first time, rather than just reporting on what had been seen in the various different episodes and movies. We did this by planning out a load of previously unseen elements - lifeboats, rooms, hardware, components used in familiar items such as communicators, all that sort of stuff. It was basically all your Christmasses come at once if you were a Star Trek fan who wanted to know everything about how the Enterprise worked, and what technology (no I'm not going to say Treknology; oh, wait, I just did. *tut*) was to be found aboard a Galaxy-class starship.

As with all our other partworks, Build the Enterprise would be tested prior to a national launch later in the year. Testing almost seemed like a formality, though; there was an almost palpable buzz around this product - everyone who saw what we were doing was amazed. Jaws dropped. Even non-Trekkies wanted it. It was just - excuse my slightly fruity language - effing awesome.

And then we tested it in May and … well, it failed.

Didn't. Expect. That…

What's really upsetting about this is that there's little - nothing, really - wrong with the product; what was mainly responsible for the product failing was that we launched it in the wake of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan back in March. After experiencing something like that, people understandably just weren't in the mood to start buying into a collectible magazine/model series. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In total seven issues of Build the Enterprise went on sale, and we'd completed work on a further four before it was shut down. Going back to that buzz I mentioned earlier, Rick had mentioned to me that a few Star Trek fans in the States had somehow heard about the project and were eager to know more so, despite the fact it's no longer in production, I thought I'd try to give Build the Enterprise its own little moment in the limelight and do a video run through of the first issue. Because, y'know, I'm extremely proud of what we did.

So, below you'll find four videos. In total, they'll take you about an hour or so to get through, so maybe skip 'em if you don't like Star Trek (seriously, though, you read this far and you DON'T like Star Trek?! What's wrong with you?). Apologies in advance for the reasonably crappy quality - these were shot very late (very, VERY late) at night on my iPhone, and I'm not, sadly, quite as talented behind the camera as JJ Abrams. Apologies also for the fact that I don't have the most interesting voice to listen to; maybe if over 1000 people watch these we could get Patrick Stewart to re-dub them. That would be cool.

Speaking of cool, watching these back it became apparent to me that I say "cool" and "um" rather a lot, so sorry also for that. Maybe you could turn it into a drinking game or something? Y'know, every time I say "cool" you have to down a shot of tequila. That would be cool awesome.

Anyway, enjoy the videos (no I'm not being sarcastic), and if anyone has any questions or wants to know more about the project leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer them for you.


Anonymous said...

Tim, thanks for sharing info about this product line. To butcher a line from Commander Kor, "It would have been... glorious."

Anonymous said...

this kit looks so faithful to the filming model, just because it failed in Japan doesn't mean it would fail in the US or Europe, it's a shame to see it wasted

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the TV advert!!!!

This gives a brilliant view of the finished model illuminated in all its glory :)

Inexplicable DeVice said...

I want to watch these now, but I also want to go to sleep - Soooo tired and a 6:30 start in the morning.
Perhaps I'll watch them tomorrow after work?

P.S. I find your voice to be rather endearing! Sorry. I meant: Cool.

CyberPete said...

First of all, aeroplanes? Haha, now I know what those twitter comments were all about. Did you also do a partwork about loo rolls?

This is complete nerdgasm! I'm loving how enthusiastic you are about it, and the product looks amazing. I'm not a Trekkie but I think I'd even buy it if it were available here and in English.

CyberPete said...

I'm on the second video, and yes I am paying attention.

deraven said...

Wow. Just... wow! Any possibility of working with the rights-holder for this kit and offering it on Kickstarter? That could be a way to get it going again, with guaranteed funds from interested people. The pledge levels could be the number of weeks they'd be pre-paying for, for instance. Might have to tweak it some to fit in with the Kickstarter rules, but I'm sure it could work... and I'm sure there's a ton of people in the States that would go for it in a heartbeat!

Tim said...

Cool wasn't it? Kickstarter is a great idea, but I think there's a whole load of issues surrounding the project that would it a bit problematic - licensing stuff, etc.

The reaction around the web has been awesome though, so I will be passing all these comments on to the company we worked with to create it - maybe that would give them reason to think again about it, even if it's just to sell the model on its own.

Anonymous said...

I really love this ship! This would have been so great. Hopefully we´ll see more of this project!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting about this amazing project. If you're passing things along to the publisher, please add my voice of support for the project. Seeing this amazing project come to life would make me happier than i can say :)

Tim said...

Cheers guys! Would be awesome to see it given another chance, and I live in hope that the material will get to see the light of day at some point!

deraven said...

Hey, look at that - it's been a year since this was posted! I don't suppose there've been any new developments with getting this resurrected in some form, eh? :)

Tim said...

Aaaaah, I'm out of the loop with such things these days so I've got no idea - sorry mate!!