Star Trek Online (STO) offers dozens of Starfleet ships for players to captain as part of the popular online role-playing game. But until now, nothing that originated in STO had made it into the movies or TV shows. That changed with season two of Star Trek: Picard. Production designer Dave Blass went looking for cool new ships to showcase in the new season. He connected with STO‘s associate art director Thomas Marrone on Twitter. Then they started working together back in July 2020. Marrone kept the secret but now answers some questions from Nerdist about the behind the scenes journey. “Only recently did I even tell most people on the STO team,” he says. “It is such a relief and a delight to be able to share this with everyone now!”
What’s in a Name?
Dozens of Federation ships gather in the first episode of season two of Picard. Amongst the crowd are the four STO ships: the Sutherland-class scientific research vessel, Ross-class exploration cruiser, Gagarian-class battle cruiser, and Reliant-class light cruiser. “Since STO takes place in the 25th century, we want to create a new design appropriate to that time period but inspired by the fan-favorite starships from the 23rd or 24th centuries,” says Marrone.
He continues, “The names Reliant, Sutherland, and Gagarin all appeared previously in Star Trek as other ships. When choosing names for these new iterations, we often look to examples of the original class of ship we are modernizing. For example, the original U.S.S. Sutherland was a Nebula-class starship featured in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ‘Redemption Part II.’ There were many Nebula-class ships to chose from, and I landed on the Sutherland specifically as it was originally a reference to the classic Horatio Hornblower novels, which are some of my favorites.”
The U.S.S. Ross is a tribute to Mary G. Ross. She was the first female Native American engineer hired in the US aerospace industry. Ross worked at Lockheed during World War II. She was one of the few women to keep her job after the war ended. Ross explored the idea of interplanetary space travel as one of the founding engineers on the Skunk Works project.
The episode honored another woman of color. Blass posted a Twitter thread explaining the origins of all the Federation ships. That included a shuttle craft named after Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space.
Star Trek Online released a short documentary about Marrone’s journey from franchise fan to canon creator. “My Life At Warp Speed” takes its name from an autobiography he wrote in grade school. It had a Federation starship drawn on the cover. Marrone signed up to play Star Trek Online during its beta testing period. He became active on the forums and created original mini games that caught the eye of the game’s developers at Cryptic Studios. STO bought a few of his projects and integrated them into the game. They added character Commander Thomas Marrone in honor of his contributions.
Marrone later applied to a graphic design job and started working at Cryptic Studios. A year later, he started designing for Star Trek Online. Ship design was his true passion. He taught himself how to use 3D software and qualified to join the team. Marrone later led the team. Now, he’s associate art director. From drawing ships in crayon as a kid to 3D computer graphics as a career, it’s been a long road.
Star Trek Online‘s Legacy
Star Trek Online begins in the year 2409, 30 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Season two of Picard takes place in 2401. While STO includes storylines that aren’t accepted as canon, it does often include familiar voices: Leonard Nimoy, LeVar Burton, Alexander Siddig, Jeri Ryan, and Sonequa Martin-Green to name a few. Most recently, Kate Mulgrew provided the voice for Admiral Kathryn Janeway and her evil Mirror Universe equivalent.
Star Trek Online was there for the fans in the lean years between Enterprise and Discovery and the game remains relevant even in this blessed time of Star Trek abundance.
Featured Image: Star Trek Online/Cryptic Studios