Interplay Computer Games

Ron Jones never worked on another Star Trek television series after leaving The Next Generation in 1991, but he did reconnect with Star Trek in 1997 when he scored the Interplay videogame Starfleet Academy, and again in 1999 for a second game, Starfleet Command. Both projects provided budgets large enough that he could combine live players with synthesizers.

Starfleet Academy (1997)

Starfleet Academy was a popular PC flight-simulator game that featured live-action segments starring William Shatner, George Takei and Walter Koenig (reprising their characters of Kirk, Sulu and Chekov from the original Star Trek series.)

“Interplay was in Orange County,” Jones recalls. “I taught a USC film scoring class off and on for seven years with Buddy Baker and those guys. [After graduation], one or two of [the students] were at Interplay and they were doing this Star Trek game, and one of the composers said, ‘You know, my teacher was Ron Jones at USC—why don’t we call him and see if he’d do it?’ So they called me and told me what kind of budget they had, they said they had Shatner and other actors and they were actually going to film them, and I thought that was interesting, because it’s usually just these little animated characters. They said they wanted to do this like a movie and they wanted it scored like a movie.”

Jones created introductory music for the live-action short that begins the game (“Starfleet Academy Theme”) as well as selections of “exploration,” “winning combat” and “losing combat” for different gaming scenarios. On one hand, Jones did not face the second-to-second requirements ever-present in scoring a film; on the other hand, his compositions had to be modular, to facilitate the gameplay segueing between cues. Stylistically, some of the action music picks up where “The Best of Both Worlds” left off, but often the tone reflects a throwback to TNG’s first-season scores in their emphasis on adventure and soaring optimism.

“I invented some new themes and I liked the Starfleet Academy theme,” Jones says of the experience. “It was fun to do it. I had access to the Alexander Courage theme, but that was it. I didn’t have access to my own themes from the TV show. I had a month to work on it—they gave me 35 days and I delivered in about 29 days, I think. I took a long time to develop all those themes and I was concerned about how to make the new themes sound as Star Trek as possible. I had a new theme for the Enterprise—it was all about going into outer space. I had the movie where Kirk’s at the Academy introducing the characters, but for everything else I just had an outline. But I had to figure out how to have a transition for whether the character was winning or losing the game. You had to do it so the changes didn’t seem too abrupt, so I used tempos and key relationships and orchestration so they would seamlessly go from piece to piece and have transitions possible at any part of the cue.”

The budget allowed Jones to use union musicians, recording at Burbank’s O’Henry Studios scoring stage. Starfleet Academy became a successful game for Interplay and the company pressed a promotional CD of the soundtrack (included with some copies of the game), combining Jones’s recordings with supplemental synthesized tracks by Brian Luzietti. Disc 14, tracks 1–10 feature the Ron Jones portion of that CD, using the titles and sequence created by Interplay. (Jones’s scoring paperwork uses functional descriptions, e.g. “Losing Combat #1,” given by FSM as parentheticals.) A handful of short, previously unreleased Jones bonus tracks appear at the end of disc 14 (tracks 47–50).

Starfleet Command (1999)

Two years later, Interplay invited Jones back to score Starfleet Command (1999), another PC flight simulator, this one allowing gameplay as one of six combatants: Starfleet, Klingon, Romulan, Gorn, Hydran or Lyran. Jones needed to create music that would chart the experience of playing as each: “Menu Screen,” “Mission Start,” “Faster,” “Mission Failure” and “Mission Success.” Again, Interplay licensed Alexander Courage’s “Theme From Star Trek (TV Series)” for brief use in the opening cue (“Intro Movie”) but, as before, Jones did not have access to his own music from The Next Generation. The composer therefore had to fashion new themes for the Klingons and Romulans.

“For the Romulan theme, I got to do what I wanted to do,” Jones says. His new theme was far more martial and filmic than the music he had created for The Next Generation—like Star Trek music filtered through a Star Wars mentality. “I got to develop ideas that never got developed on the show, so I got to write the Romulan theme I never got to write on the shows—because the Romulans are warriors, but they’re smart warriors, not like these meanies from Mongo. So we’d do Romulans failing and Romulans succeeding and the Romulans succeeding was much more fanfare-oriented.”

The videogame format provided Jones unexpected freedom to construct his music with classical architecture, and Interplay allowed him free reign to develop musical ideas for the game’s aliens. One race (the Gorn) had their own history in the franchise that Jones had never explored, while two were invented for the game (the Hydrans and Lyrans). “I had a different texture and a different vibe for all these races. There were some that were water guys…I had to grab what little I knew about them. They didn’t give me a lot, just the design sheets from the game and what little they knew that these guys did. And then I would do some just general ‘struggle’ music. But it was interesting, because it was all imaginary. You never get an easy out, really—with this I’d say, ‘Great, I don’t have to hit anything.’ But then the problem is, ‘Oh crap, I don’t have to hit anything—now what am I going to do?’ But they left me alone, that was the beauty of it. I didn’t have to lock to picture because there was no picture. I got the ‘Interactive Arts Soundtrack of the Year’ and it was fun exploring all these different races—it would have been fun to do that on the show.”

Because the music budget for Starfleet Command was smaller than for Starfleet Academy, Jones traveled to Salt Lake City to recorded the orchestral parts. Disc 14, tracks 11–42 feature the premiere release of Jones’s Starfleet Command music, with bonus cues on tracks 43–46 (the first three of which repeat early tracks with synthesized choral and percussion overlays not used in the game). — 

1992 Ron Jones Interview »