Have You Played… Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Harbinger?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

As a teenager I watched a lot of Star Trek, without ever really thinking myself a fan of it. TNG was more miss than hit, Voyager was mostly dreadful, and Deep Space Nine felt like the poor man’s Babylon 5. It turns out that I can remember absolutely every bloody detail about the shows, while absolutely none of my concurrent chemistry A level, without ever noticing I cared. But what I did know at the time was that whenever a computer game replicated the Star Trek computer design on my PC, I nerded out. Harbinger did that, in its own way.

This was a first-person adventure with occasionally ill-advised action sequences. Very conveniently, DS9 has been mostly evacuated due to mumble plasma mumble, leaving a few recognisable faces from the show and a lot of empty rooms. You, a newbie character, team up with Mira to investigate the murder of an ambassador from a Beta Quadrant race with whom you’d recently been negotiating, and investigate some naughty drones that are causing all sorts of mischief.

It was 1995, so of course it had to be in ghastly pre-rendered graphics, but then Star Trek itself was haunted by the pastel-deadened textureless aesthetic that the era brought to gaming. Very realistic graphics, then. The casts of these shows must have had dreadful contracts, as they always seemed to show up to voice these games, as is the case here.

It was a strange old game, Myst-ish but without being complete shite, a ridiculous amount of voice work, and the first time this show had had a PC outing. I cannot imagine it’s on sale anywhere other than eBay today.

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  1. HefHughner says:

    Deep Space Nine a Babylon 5 ripoff??????? You might want raise your shields, Mr. Walker.

    • rocketman71 says:

      Indeed. It is, by now, the best of the Treks, and has zero to do with B5 other than it being set on a space station.

      • gunny1993 says:

        Yes the best of the Star TREKS is about being stuck on a space station.


        • dsch says:

          Can’t tell if serious or a very good deadpan.

          • gunny1993 says:

            Sort of serious, I really couldn’t get into DS9, saw about 4 or 5 episodes I think, and what I saw really got away from what I loved about TNG.

          • P.Funk says:

            If you remember TNG you should recollect that the final few seasons were pretty hit and miss and that they’d pretty much run the course they could with the show’s potential.

            Meanwhile DS9 used the static position to its best by instead of making every week a new but relatively shallow exploration of an idea it was an ongoing concurrent story about characters, politics, religion, and eventually delicious delicious warfare.

            Where in TNG most species were caricatures DS9 managed to take something like the Ferengi and make it into a fantastic platform for discussing matters of greed, family, taboo, and kinds of commerce that really never featured in the stiff utopianism of TNG’s Trek.

            All the while it still gave us some of the best qualities of TNG’s ideas, constantly revisiting a much more fleshed out Klingon empire, seeing the bajorans, the Cardassians, and even the Romulans given more depth all the while introducing the Dominian that had a multi-faceted multi-species thing going on where all three angles featured something different and unique.

            It was the best.

          • Apologised says:

            I’m not sure that’s the best scene from DS9, I think this is:

            link to youtube.com

            Note: Both scenes have Garak. Coincidence? Nope.

      • ReV_VAdAUL says:

        DS9 stole wholesale from the pitch the creator of Babylon 5 that they passed on. It had arcs just like B5 (a rare thing at the time), it had alien races so advanced as to be akin to Gods making the commander of the space station their chosen one and it had the protagonists having to compromise their ideals in order to navigate the difficulties of interstellar diplomacy.

        DS9 was a really good show and stands up in its’ own right (nothing B5 did matched “In the Pale Moonlight”) but it diverged heavily from standard Star Trek in ways that were consistently very similar to B5.

        • Diogenes5 says:

          I was sorry I got involved in fanboy wars over the shows. I was a diehard lurker back then and refused to watch DS9 which is ironic because I still rewatch DS9 every few years now while I generally ignore Babylon 5 today. B5 has aged terribly because the dialogue is very cheesy and JMS would often beat the main thesis of an episode over a viewer’s head. I appreciate his vision, but he simply wrote too many episodes on his own (he wrote 92 out of like 110 episodes).

          As for the convergent evolution of the show, I’d chalk it up more to happenstance rather than actual copying. Why DS9, the top syndicated show on television its entire run would bother to copy Babylon 5 (which was always in danger of being cancelled and on at odd times on little-seen channels) is beyond me.

    • Jay Load says:

      I dearly love DS9 but it DID steal shamelessly from B5.

      Babylon 5 gets a funky spaceship at the start of season 3…DS9 did practically the same damn thing, and so on.

      • Werthead says:

        Er, DS9 introduced the Defiant a year before Babylon 5 introduced the White Star. When CG director Ron Thornton got the script for the episode in question, he even said “Seriously, we’re getting a spaceship like the White Star?” Apparently JMS was not amused at the implication.

  2. Sandepande says:

    JMS has been claiming hhat he pitched B5 to Viacom/Paramount a year or two before DS9 came along.

    Besides, I’d call DS9 a rich man’s B5, the budget discrepancy was something like a 100%.

    • Werthead says:

      As with much of what JMS has to say, you have to take it with a pinch of salt (and wait until he does the much-less-publicised u-turn and caveat a couple of years later).

      He proposed Babylon 5 to Paramount in 1989 and they turned him down. Then DS9 was announced in 1991. JMS assumed they were ripping off his idea and said so, very loudly. Years later he admitted it was very implausible that they had, because the people involved all had pretty strong reputations and if you’re not going to set your space SF show on a ship, then a space station is the next, very logical place to set it. The only thing he maintained was that maybe someone at Paramount remembered the pitch and might have suggested doing a show on a space station but that was about it. I think the big blow was that, although DS9 was announced after B5 was, internal Paramount documents showed it was in development from quite some time earlier.

      • Sandepande says:

        Makes sense…

        I remember JMS complaining about it, but he did indeed complain about a lot of things.

        • Diogenes5 says:

          You have to realize ST: TNG was a smash ratings success. It was one of the top shows on television and depended completely on on syndication to make money; an absolute rarity in the business when every other top show was generally owned by one of the major networks.

          They were planning a spinoff almost immediately after TNG premiered because of this. From the DS9 companion, the creators of DS9 were envisioning basically a western where instead of a small town, you have a space station. It’s a big reason why Quark has such a big role on the show as a morally ambiguous bartender and Odo represents the strong arm of the law. The rest of the show comports with this which lends more credence to the idea DS9 was it’s own thing.

          As for the show being more serialized, DS9 did it to it’s own detriment; not because they wanted to copy B5. Steven Ira Behr wanted to tell a more convincing story and have more character development. The guys at the top were unhappy about the decision as DS9 was still a syndicated show where viewing times would jump around all the time. Episodic is better for syndication.

          However, once ST: TNG ended, and because Voyager was off in another corner of the galaxy; Behr wanted to really take off and have the storyline finally take a more grand scale. Which coincidentally was when B5 was getting to a grand scale as well. And to this day, a lot of B5 fans claim that DS9 was copying B5 because of it.

  3. melnificent says:

    Those faces make it look like a Star-trek crossover with POB.

  4. Heretic7 says:

    Babylon 5 was waaaay better than DS9 in every conceivable way. The only thing DS9 had on B5 was perhaps a bigger budget that didn’t really translate on the screen.

    • Sandepande says:

      To me they were rather different beasts; DS9 was Trek with all the baggage that entails, but claiming the production values didn’t show is just silly. B5, however, made the best of what they had and the story was most of the time quite nice. The CGI needs a lot of forgiveness, though…

    • Werthead says:

      Babylon 5 was much stronger conceptually than DS9, it had several amazing actors (Katsulas, Jurasik, Furlan) and the much dirtier, grimmer future it set up was more convincing than Star Trek’s whilst not going total grimdark on us. It also used better, real science (for a while, anyway) and the CGI allowed it to do better action sequences.

      However, DS9 was vastly more consistent than B5 in quality: it was never quite as good as B5 at its best (although it came damn close at times) but it was also as never as bad as B5 was at its worst, and most of the time was very watchable (which is more than can be said for Voyager, Enterprise or a good third of TNG). DS9 also had the ability to take 30 years (up until then) of Trek history and subvert and challenge it to do some more interesting things. DS9 was also not so closely defined by the story arc as B5 was: the stand-alones in B5, with a few exceptions, were mostly terrible, whilst DS9 had a lot of splendid ones. Babylon 5 was really set up to tell one story, and it did that well, but attempts to do other things in that universe have foundered badly.

      Both shows, however, are generally excellent and I would argue are better space operas than what came after, particularly Battlestar Galactica (which was comfortably stronger than both for about two-and-a-bit seasons and then fell straight off a cliff). In fact, it’s only in the last few months with The Expanse that we’ve had a space opera show that looks like it could bat on the same level as DS9 and B5.

      • crowleyhammer says:

        Never heard of the Expanse i will now check this out, thank you.

        • LionsPhil says:

          The Expanse is amazing, if you can get over the fact half the dialogue is mumbled and drowning in ambient background noise.

        • dsch says:

          I would say The Expanse is the best scifi show since the new BSG. The 4th episode is breathtaking.

        • bill says:

          I thought The Expanse started great, but after that it became a bit dull and not much really happens. And then it ends just before it looks like something might happen.

          It has a few nice speculative sci-fi ideas about the future, and a lot of the science is pretty realistic… but it’s ultimately kinda dull and is mostly about 5 guys in a small metal room.

          I was so excited when people hyped it as a great new sci-fi epic, but it’s not really.

      • GWOP says:

        Also, B5 had better ship designs – from the utilitarian thrust-vectoring Starfuries and O’Neil Cylinders to the fantastical tentacled Vorlon ships.

        • Werthead says:

          That is certainly true. Foundation Imaging did a fantastic job on the show. Their successors after they got the boot in Season 3, not so much. But those ship designs by Steve Burg and Ron Thornton are incredible.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        Killjoys has quite a bit of potential too, if we’re talking about newer space operas. I’m not sure it’s found its footing yet with regards to the larger themes in its series arc, but it’s snappy, entertaining, and delightfully bizarre at times. Personally, I feel it’s a better show than The Expanse, though of course it’s a matter of opinion.

      • malkav11 says:

        I think what makes B5 an all-time great is that it set out to tell that single story and actually did. It’s not perfect by any means. There are definitely rough patches, especially early on. But I don’t know of a single other television show where there was even a general outline of the complete story arc from the beginning that was then executed on. At the time, most everyone else was virtually completely episodic with minimal episode-to-episode continuity, much less long term arcs. (The shift away from this was one reason I like DS9 so much better than the prior Treks, and while there was more continuity in the later ones, they weren’t nearly as well executed.) But even now, when arcs are pretty much the default, they’re nearly always one season long at the most, and there’s little sense that they’re building towards a known and planned destination the way B5 did. Because, frankly, that is a bloody crazy thing to expect to be able to do given how easily shows can get cancelled. Hell, even B5 barely managed because they got booted from their network as of the end of season 4. Only the intervention of TNT got season 5 to happen.

        You’re right that the followups were pretty awful, though. :(

    • bill says:

      B5 suffered at the end because of lack of budget, key actors leaving, and the fact that the studio said they weren’t going to do a final season. So they had to cut down their planned 5 season arc to 4 seasons, which felt rushed.

      Then the studio decided to give them a fifth season after all, so they had to come up with the whole telepath war thing to fill in a season at the last minute.

      At the time, the idea of a series with 5 whole seasons plotted out in advance was really rather novel, and they didn’t quite manage to pull it off. Which is a shame because, when it was going well it was awesome.

      So, yeah, DS9 was more consistent because it was more conservative and had a bigger budget and smaller goals. But B5 was the one I loved.
      Plus DS9 always DID come across as copying B5, even if that wasn’t the reality. So many things it did were so similar to B5.

  5. causticnl says:

    oh hey look, another Walker article, with another “controversial” opinion, so he can complain about the backlash on his twitter feed.

    • dsch says:

      I don’t usually click things with his byline, but I thought to myself, there’s surely no way he could turn a short retrospective on an obscure game into anything controversial. Lesson learnt: never underestimate the shit-stirring capacity of John Walker.

    • John Walker says:

      Hehe! Saying that I watched all of Star Trek but never really loved it is a controversial opinion?!

      Oddly enough my Twitter feed has been entirely empty of comment, since, um, it was me writing my experience of a TV show from 20 years ago.

      • bill says:

        The entire first paragraph absolutely sums up my life and a lot of my friends in the UK’s life at the time, so I don’t think it says anything controversial.

        I think the fact that there was always a Star Trek of some type on BBC2 at 6pm meant that a lot of people, including me, picked up huge amounts of trek knowledge without even really considering themselves fans. I did.

        On the other hand, i WAS a babylon 5 fan, at least for the first 3 seasons.

  6. hurrakan says:

    Yeah, I’ve played it to completion. I quite enjoyed it. I don’t remember much about it, or the story. It had some quite nice puzzles, especially the last one I think.

    Still got it, with the box, lying around somewhere.

  7. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Not that much in this case as Babylon 5 is clearly better and inspired the whole Mass Effect series, while maybe not DS9.
    The CGI was worse, granted, story and characters were better.
    People claim DS9 got better with the war arc but still the ever-returning Dax, the absurd relationships, the weak characters despite great personal like Avery Brooks on the front. Interesting concept: worm hole, war, relgion, politics but plenty of boredom in execution.
    Best part were the away “enterprise-like” missions.

  8. left1000 says:

    babylon5 had a better premise maybe. ds9 had the budget and the writers and the cast.
    5 sounds hackneyed at points and plots are often trite. however the universe is far far more exciting

  9. Ahkey says:

    It’s “Kira”.

    I always confuse this with “The Fallen”, which is a far better game. Still not a patch on Elite Force, though.

    • Booker says:

      Yeah, Star Trek Deep Space Nine The Fallen was totally awesome. There’s even this free expansion from the devs, called Convergence: link to fusioncreativedesign.com

    • Chaz says:

      I was going to chime in myself and say that I also enjoyed DS9 The Fallen. Which you could play through with 3 of the show’s different characters if I remember rightly. Although most of the areas were the same there were some differences to the different play throughs.

      The best bit was running across the top of that crashed Enterprise style saucer section, as the scale of it was most impressive.

      • bill says:

        Heh. That’s the only bit I remember from the Fallen.

        I vaguely remember the game being ok, but not a classic or anything.

    • Nucas says:

      Elite Force 2 was a legitimately great game, star trek or no. too bad it’s so hard to find nowadays.

      well no, it’s really too bad ritual entertainment went under. they were top notch game designers.

  10. shadow9d9 says:

    B5 had abysmal acting, atrociously bad writing/plotlines/plot conclusions, and laughable production values. It is the poor man’s everything. Deus Ex Machina ending to every story.

    • Jay Load says:

      Best Sci-fi show ever made.

    • TheSplund says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who thought it was laughable – guess it was more of a thing for the younger generation.

    • bill says:

      It was pretty inconsistent in terms of quality, and the acting varied from very good to very bad.
      At the time a lot of the CGi was pretty impressive.

      But either way, it was trying to do a lot of things that were pretty new and ambitious at the time. Using CGi instead of models. Having a full arc plotted out in advance. Etc..
      Plus it generally went to a fair few darker and more mature places than Trek was doing at the time.
      Eg, the episode where all the marines come to the station on their way off somewhere… and then all get sent off to die.

  11. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Damn, who put Sisko’s head on Bashir’s body? Those proportions are totally out of whack.

  12. trjp says:

    and where did the Hitler moustache come from?

    Must be great making a game out of a TV series virtually no-one likes tho – you can’t upset anyone ;0

  13. Koozer says:

    I liked Voyager!

    Well, some of it. Far too much holodeck ruminating as I recall, but I always thought that was inherited from TNG.

  14. 9of9 says:

    Man, I remember picking this game up from the library when I was a kid. It was all going well until at one point one of their invisible enemies goddamn decloaked right in front of me and shot me dead. Twelve year-old me just about had a heart attack and promptly returned the disk.

  15. P.Funk says:

    Its rare that a click baity title on youtube is correct, but in this case it absolutely is.

    I link it again after seeing how badly cropped it was in my post well above.

    link to youtube.com

    I think its beautiful how it uses a human beverage as a way to discuss not only the nature of the political situation in the story has worked out but also as a commentary on the nature of the ideals found in Star Trek and in a way comments on the stiffness of the writing in TNG.

    DS9 seemed to be so good at speaking on so many levels at once. Very often fantastic sub text. Honestly the worst episodes of DS9 are better than most episodes of Voyager and I don’t find any of them unwatchable which is astonishing by Star Trek standards.