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Cast members add realism to ‘Star Trek’ game

But production takes as much work as film epic

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LOS ANGELES — Making a computer game may once have been the exclusive domain of techno-geeks. But today's games, especially ones based on television shows or films, take as much work as any Hollywood epic.

The upcoming "Star Trek: Voyager — Elite Force," for instance, required a casting director, voice-over director and most of the cast of the Paramount TV series, from Captain Janeway to Officer Tuvok. The script alone ran more than 700 pages — five times the length of a typical feature film script.

As technology has made computer games more lifelike, players are demanding a more rewarding experience, including the participation of original cast members for games drawn from other media. It can take up to two years to produce a computer game at a cost of millions. Most of that money goes to the three-dimensional graphics and shoot-em-up special effects.

About 10 percent of the budget for new Star Trek: Voyager game, developed by Raven Software, based in Madison, Wis., and being published later this summer by Santa Monica-based Activision Inc., went to paying actors Kate Mulgrew, Robert Picardo and the other actors who appear on Paramount's syndicated show.

"The dedicated fans do have a desire to hear the characters as they appear on the show and in the movies," said Laird Malamed, executive producer at Activision. "All of the fans of gaming in general appreciate well-recorded, well-performed material and the best way to get that is to get the characters who have done this over and over again."

The attention to detail extends to foreign language versions of the game as well. For the German and French versions of the game, Activision employs the same actors who dub the television show.

The wrinkle in producing a game is that, unlike a film or television show, the plot is not linear. There are dozens and perhaps hundreds of twists in a plot, which is controlled by the player. Actors may record lines that never get heard. Or a character may appear only if a complex series of conditions are first met.

For instance, in the Voyager game, a player, who assumes the role of an ensign, may be faced with the choice of saving a character's life. If the player fails, the character disappears and hours of recorded dialogue are never heard.

For one pivotal scene, three actors were required to record the same lines. Choices made earlier in the game by the player determine which character appears in the scene.

Unlike voice-over sessions of animated programs such as "The Simpsons," cast members recording for a game do not read scenes together. Instead, actors must deliver lines in isolation, without the verbal and visual cues normally provided by fellow cast members.

"I'm able to remember what the actor before did so when it's cut it sounds like conversation," said Kris Zimmerman, a free-lance director who worked on the Voyager game.

"I had watched the show, but not regularly," said Zimmerman. "When I was directing Kate Mulgrew, there's a situation where she had to ask for lifelines and I asked her to read it again with more concern, and she said, 'My character has been saying it this way for six years.' "

Robert Duncan McNeil, who plays Ensign Tom Paris on the show, had a similar experience.

"We rewrote some lines," he said. "There was dialogue I could just tell as we spoke it that it wasn't something we would do."

McNeil said recording lines for the game was a bit disorienting, but rewarding in the end.

"I was impressed at how close it felt to what we actually do," he said. "I was impressed with the lifelike quality of the game and how it involves the person playing. The set looks like our sets."