Starbase Horizon—Borderlands’ Enduring Icon
First in a nine-part series presented by the Devu Sun Times
with the Devu Writers Guild
Drifting above the resource-rich planet of Devu II, Starbase Horizon has, for over a decade, been pivotal in determining Starfleet’s stance in the Delta Quadrant. Tasked with protecting Devu II and the Cardea Gateway, Starbase Horizon has seen more than its share of violent encounters, including the loss of the original Starbase Horizon in 2402. But through the fights, the shakeups, and several different commanders, Starbase Horizon has endured to become one of the longest continually running RPGs ever.
Starbase Horizon has a reputation for being a prolific posting powerhouse. Indeed, they’ve logged more than 37,000 posts since switching to YahooGroups in 1998 (thousands of previous posts, sadly, were lost in the change-over). By any measure, that’s a lot of writing. And it’s been quality writing, too. With plots ranging from the small-scale development of a new weapons system to the all-encompassing negotiation of the Treaty of Horizon, there has never been a lack of topics to write about. “My all time favorite,” says Tom Bateman, longtime Horizon member, “is Marney’s trip to the future. Meeting the Evil version of Governor Bateman was fantastic. It made for some great writing.” That’s a sentiment echoed by Melissa Schomers and Marney Robinson. Not all of Horizon’s plots involve time travel, though. Some of the best happened right there on the base. “My favorite time on Horizon was probably the Romulan Invasion of 2398, there was a lot of quality writing in that plot,” says Horizon veteran Michael Lockwood, who started on Horizon in 1997. Sometimes, the best stories aren’t plots at all. “As far as best memory,” says Marney Robinson, “I think personally it would have to be my character's relationship with Lagga Mhn'lor, a Romulan character played by Anne Pillsworth.”
Horizon has always been fast-paced, even though it’s slowed some in recent years. “Back in the late 90s, it wasn’t unusual to come back from lunch and have twenty-five or thirty emails. Plots took off on their own.” Writers like Alynia Rule, Gary Martin, Stephen Faulkner, and Anne Pillsworth kept Horizon’s posting fast and its quality high. “We would get back and forth,” said Michael Lockwood, “sometimes it would only be 15 minutes between posts.”
One criticism of such a fast-paced RPG is that it’s tough to get involved at first. “Horizon is very much about interaction. If you don't post, and tag people in those posts, you get lost in the shuffle,” said former Horizon CO Melissa Schomers. But that pace is also the reason for Horizon’s success. Tom Bateman explains, “Plots rarely stall on Horizon. Sometimes they outpace their creators—which creates excitement.”
Horizon’s atmosphere is relaxed and open, although it wasn’t always that way. “Dennis Fulkner ruled with an iron fist,” says Bateman. “He knew where he wanted to go with a plot—and he made it happen.” Today, things are more flexible. “Admittedly I'm not the best at coming up with plots,” says Horizon’s current CO, “but some ideas I've had from other players have been fantastic, and I just expand upon them and make them fit with what we're doing.” He’s also runs a very free-style dutystation, and he allows his characters a great deal of freedom. “I like to keep things as realistic as possible on Horizon, and as long as a player isn't posting anything vulgar, or rude to other players, then I let people write however they like.”
Marney Robinson is a man with a tough job. As Horizon’s ninth commanding officer, he has the weight of history on his shoulders. “Maybe because I've been a part of that history for so long that it just seems natural to me,” he says. “I don't think anyone could ever compare to Dennis Faulkner, but I'm just having fun with it.”
Horizon has long been Borderland’s CO breeding ground. Five of the current Borderlands commanders cut their teeth on the decks of Starbase Horizon. “I learned how to move a story from my Horizon COs,” says Tom Bateman. “Dennis Faulkner knew how to make a story fly.” It was Faulkner who started Horizon in1996 as part of the UFPI. Other COs followed, and built on his success. After Faulkner left, Horizon went to the capable hands of Gary Martin, and then Dave Morgan. Later, Conrad Clark became the first Marine to command Horizon, followed by the current COs first turn in the big chair. In 2005, Tom Bateman finally got his chance at command when Robinson left to form the USS Discovery. “I was a stand-in,” Bateman says. “I was the only one available at the time, so I took the job. It was a great time for me—particularly when I made the junior officers take a camping trip and tell ghost stories. It was great fun for me to watch them learn about each other and interact in a way they weren’t used to.”
Late in 2005, Melissa Schomers became Horizon’s first female CO. “It was a lesson in patience. For the first year I was CO I saw the departure of nearly every veteran/senior player…” Still, she persevered, and was able to develop new talent, as well as a taste for more developed plots. “I was able to cultivate a new crop of veterans as well as bring a new emphasis to long, drawn out plots and slowly building stories that allowed for insightful character development and writing.”
Being CO of a large group of fast-paced writers is tough. “I used to spend at least as much time massaging egos or refereeing fights as I did posting,” recalls Tom Bateman. “Sometimes, I just wanted to fire them all. Now I know how my COs felt.” Melissa Schomers agrees. “It can be very rewarding, but it is also very taxing. With all the time I'd spend responding to OOC questions or concerns, coming up with plotlines, responding to the every day tags that a CO has to deal with, I found that over time I was writing less and facilitating more.”
Robinson knows the challenges. He’s done it in the past. Returning from the Discovery to lead Horizon again, Robinson knows he has some big shoes to fill, including his own. One tough job is finding new and interesting stories to keep his crew involved. Marney’s technique is to “get everyone doing something, even if it's something small. From there, I let things play out however the players choose.” As for his job, he says “My job is to keep it steered in the right direction, and keep it moving. It's the crew's job to come up with a solution. If things start to stall, I can either push it forward myself, or throw in the always fun monkey wrench.”
“Horizon's theme has always been to portray what life is like in the volatile frontier of the Delta Quadrant, and in the most realistic way possible. Not everyone is a hero, and not everyone is good. And perhaps most importantly, the good guys don't always win.” – Marney Robinson
“The good guys don’t always win.” Starbase Horizon will never be mistaken for the Next Generation. Closer, perhaps, to Deep Space Nine. “The most important element of Horizon's story is its realism. The best of our ability, we portray how characters would react realistically to any given situation,” says Robinson. Horizon has suffered greatly from this realism, at times losing key characters and even destroying the original Starbase Horizon. “That was heartbreaking,” recalls Tom Bateman. “But it showed that nothing—nothing—was safe.”
The quest for realism is given help by Horizon’s setting. “Its proximity to Devu II has really played a very important role in shaping Horizon into what it has become.” Marney Robinson adds, “Many of our plots involve Devu in some capacity. Over the years it has become an integral part of Horizon's history.”
And what a history. From it’s founding to date, Horizon has endured destruction, invasion, sabotage, pathogens, kidnappings, murders, and really bad food. It’s been home to Humans, Klingons, Borg, and any number of other species—including dogs, talking cats, and man-eating tribbles. It has hosted an all-UFPI security conference, an all-Borderlands CO conference, and some of the greatest Christmas parties ever thrown. It saw the signing of the Treaty of Horizon and the formation of the Delta Freedom Alliance. Horizon’s place in Borderlands history is secure.
Robinson has plans for Horizon. “We've rarely touched the political side of the station since the departure of Alyn's character Bren Chanur. I'd love to develop the embassies and see what kind of political intrigue that would create. And we've never really fleshed out the civilian side of the station. There are characters who have become civilians, but there's never really been a civilian presence on Horizon.”
Horizon’s veterans are known for their fierce loyalty. “Horizon is my virtual home,” claims Tom Bateman, who loves Horizon so much he wrote an autobiography for his character. “I went away for a while, but I always come back.” They’re NOT known for their modesty. “I'm biased, for sure,” says Captain Robinson, “but Horizon is the best dutystation in Borderlands and its future is very bright.” Bright indeed—like the sun over the Horizon.
Stay tuned for the next article in our feature: Starbase Phoenix—Borderlands’ Steadfast Survivor.