My Digital Companions

Since Memory Alpha didn't exist ten years ago -- and neither, for that matter, did its "father", Wikipedia -- this pair of digital volumes were quite a nifty and useful resource for us Trek geeks when they were released in 1999. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion and The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion CD-Roms contain roughly the same episode summaries, guest cast lists, and season overview essays that their trade paperback book counterparts do (which I have and also highly recommend), but these discs take things to a whole new level.

Not only do they have an assortment of color images as well as every episode's original shooting script (which, it should be noted, don't take into account the on-the-fly dialogue changes made by the director during filming -- but can include scenes that were never filmed, or filmed but cut from the final edit of the episode), but also QuickTime movies of the trailers from every episode! As a special treat, here are the trailers from the TNG episode and the DS9 episode I watched just last night.

As fun as they are, though, these pieces of software are showing their age ten years later ... a rarity amongst Star Trek products, but probably inevitable when it comes to the sort used with a computer. The fixed-size interface was made for smaller displays with a lower resolution, so on my 21" LCD it takes up the space of about a 7" diagonal display, and might make you lean in and/or squint in order to read the text. Also, the scrolling is very mouse-sensitive, so even a quick click can scroll five or six lines, they scroll at such a fast rate (apparently, the standard Windows mouse settings don't apply within the program).

Most inconveniently, the document files containing the scripts, although they seem to display like plain text files, are actually saved on the CD-Rom as "*.cxt" files -- and more aggravatingly, Windows doesn't know how to open the files, and neither do I. (Any ideas out there?) Curiously, though, the video files are in the conventional "*.mov" QuickTime format (as evidenced by the links above), and can be viewed outside of the interface. Granted, they're in an early QuickTime codec and as such don't have the smoothness or resolution that more recent codecs provide, but they're fun to watch regardless.

All that leads me to think about how amazing they could do this same sort of software program if they rewrote it for today's computers. Think about it: a single DVD-Rom disc could probably carry a similar program, but encompassing all five Star Trek television series ... greater screen resolutions would provide for easier-to-read text, and dynamic programming language would allow for resizing the interface to fit one's screen ... newer QuickTime codecs would give sharper, bigger pictures, and probably in even smaller file sizes than are on these discs ... not to mention the multitude of other advances in programming that would make for a smoother interactive experience overall.

And why not take it a step further? They could do the same thing with the Star Trek Omnipedia (the software inspired by the Star Trek Encyclopedia), which I now regret having gotten rid of. How about it, Simon & Schuster? What better time to cash in on the fresh wave of Star Trek nostalgia? You'd have one guaranteed sale right here.


Frederick said...


Last year I took out the same dsic and tried to play some of the video clips, and none would play on my computer, which was a newer one than what I had when I first bought the disc. Hmmm, I need to take out my "Captain's Chair" disc and try it; I'd be real upset if it were too outdated to play now, as it was an awesome CD-ROM!

Tom Q Public said...

Hmm, very odd, Christopher. Have you made sure your QuickTime software is up-to-date? Even though those videos are made with an older codec, you never know if an update might actually make them playable.

I never did get the "Captain's Chair" title, but I do have the "TNG Interactive Technical Manual" which I haven't played in ages, and I also have "Star Trek: The Game Show" (hosted by -- who else? -- Q!), which you should try picking up if you never did before. Too much fun!!