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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Hollywood director J.J. Abrams has gone where man has gone before, with his 2009 "Star Trek" movie blasting the sci-fi franchise back into the spotlight and online, uniting new and older generation fans.
Videogame publisher Atari and developer Cryptic Studios hope to capitalize on the $385 million global box office that the Paramount Pictures movie raked in last year with the first massively multiplayer online (MMO) game set in Gene Roddenberry's science fiction universe that dates back to 1966.
"Star Trek Online" was recently released for PCs, allowing fans from the original TV series as well as the moviegoers who enjoyed Abrams' reboot, to create a virtual character and explore space, the final frontier.
"I think this game has an opportunity to unify the 'Star Trek' fans, many of whom really are serious gaming fans, with those who aren't," said Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in Abrams' movie and voices a hologram medical doctor in the game.
"I think it's great to unify these two groups and give people the opportunity to engage each other and play with each other online and have the experience of the game together."
While Quinto's character guides players through a tutorial that covers the game, the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, narrates the online game.
"There are a lot of young people who never saw 'Star Trek' before who went to see this movie who are now interested in 'Star Trek,'" said Nimoy.
"I think there will be a number of them who will be interested in a video game and a number of them who will be going back to the original episodes to take a look to see what the roots of all this is all about."
According to Michael Pachter, videogame analyst for Wedbush Securities, "Star Trek Online" should attract one million paying subscribers initially but he forecast this number could double.
"I've been so excited to see how younger generations have taken to the 'Star Trek' brand following the movie reboot," said Rod Roddenberry, CEO of Roddenberry Productions.
"'Star Trek' has always been about exploring the future of technology, so it's fitting that the next generations of games would live in the online space."
For its part, Cryptic Studios, which previously created comic book MMO games "City of Heroes" and "Champions Online," has been sculpting a huge universe set in 2409 based on the original "Star Trek" history but the story takes place well after the original crew has passed away.
To satisfy both classic and new fans, the game's character customization includes uniforms from the original show and films as well as the reboot, while the starships and weapons have been upgraded and borrow heavily from Abrams' recent movie.
"We have two distinct gameplay types, including the away team adventures on the ground, which is more fast-paced action involving fights with aliens, and there's the more strategic and tactical space combat with the starships," explained Andy Velasquez, producer of "Star Trek Online" at Cryptic Studios.
With the social emphasis of the MMO game genre, "Star Trek Online" has been designed to allow players to congregate in locations like Earth Space Dock to trade goods, meet up for a new mission, and even dance at the night club.
Velasquez said away team missions have been designed for up to five players to beam down for an adventure together on any of the game's planets.
The game includes a Genesis engine which allows stories to be created each time a group of players beam down to a planet surface for a new mission. As many as 20 players can join up as captains of starships to fight against enemies like the Borg and the Klingons in large-scale ship combat.
While Trekkers will have to wait until June 29, 2012, for "Star Trek II" to hit the big screen, Cryptic Studios is already adding new content to the online game so that fans can live long and prosper in a never-ending virtual Trek universe.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith