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About the Author
Dr. McCoy doppelganger, amateur philosopher, stranded space traveler, and a man ahead of his time, but only by a few minutes.

Star Trek Beyond: The Spoiler Free Review, It’s Fantastic

But I’m sure you’ve already heard that it’s good or that some reviews not liking Star Trek Beyond for its lack of depth, you know, the kinda of depth of classic episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever” or “Balance of Terror”, for example. What some people forget is that on average The Original Series was far from perfect. Depending on who you ask, only about half the episodes are really good. What brings fans like me back continually are the characters and how they interact. I’ll sit through some of the worst TOS episodes if the banter between Spock and McCoy makes me smile and if it has a theme or at least some solid message I’ll have a good time watching it. And that’s what Star Trek Beyond is, a simple character driven story with a theme. Its theme is camaraderie plain and simple. There are also much more sublet nods to ideas of globalization and provincialism and sense of wonder. Sometimes all you need is a nod if you want to focus more on the characters and you’ll have a great film.

Plot:
The plot is functional, nothing too elaborate, but it gets the job done. There are no big loop holes or dramatically illogical moments like what was found in Star Trek Into Darkness. But it does lack the freshness and charm of something like an origin story that is found Star Trek (2009). At no time was the story dull or boring, even during the moments of exposition and story setup it was fun to watch. The film moves from start to finish in a quick way that will leave you feeling like it’s going to end way too soon but the pacing never disappoints.  Interestingly enough where you could argue Into Darkness failed at plot twists and surprises, Beyond does a much better job at it. You’ll definitely want to avoid spoilers with this one.kirk-yorktown-uniform

Cast and Acting:
This film’s saving grace is its cast and acting. I know it’s been said before but if you think these actors have hit there mark before, you’ll be blown away with how they’ve improved on capturing the characters. They all feel much more visceral. Most noticeably is Karl Urban’s McCoy who is given a far greater role in the story. He’s your battle medic alright. And McCoy is gonna make you laugh, let me tell you.

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The new comers to Star Trek, Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella, are well done also. You’d think Idris Elba, being so buried in makeup would be a mistake. When I first saw the trailer, I was reminded of the Remans from Star Trek: Nemisis, shallow Nosferatu like aliens that were flat and dull, more monster than villain. But Elba pulls it off well. He has a certain speaking cadence like Bane from The Dark Knight Returns but it’s actually much closer to how Ceaser speaks in the Planet of the Apes remakes. It draws you in, eager to hear every word, it keeps you hanging on his words. The villain interestingly enough has a not too subtle character arch that when it reaches its climax is interesting and adds to both the story and characters motivation, if a little to late.

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Sofia Boutella’s female heroin character, Jaylah, has some range as well. She portrays her as a strong and cunning independent survivor. Yet Boutell gives Jaylah a much needed vulnerability at times. Something that other space fairing, sci-fi flicks didn’t do with there stick fighting female leads (cough, cough Force Awakens). It’s Jaylah’s vulnerability with her strength that makes her compelling in the opposite way of how Rey was handled in Star Wars.

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Script:
Much of the charm and fun from Star Trek Beyond comes from the clever script. Cheeky one liners and interactions between characters are what makes this film exciting during the down time between the action scenes. McCoy and Spock’s interactions are some of the best moments with the film. But every character has his or her scenes and contributions to the plot; no character is wasted and everyone has a reason to be there.

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The only draw back at the end is the problem solving felt a little too collaborative. Like cheesy 90s sitcoms where couples finish each others sentences when faced with a problem, it felt like they where kicking a ball back and forth and it felt a bit too forced.

Action:
The action is real good but perhaps not as good as something like Force Awakens. True, there are some moments where Star Trek Beyond introduces some very interesting shots and camera work that depict actions scenes in zero gravity in a new way, both in space and hand to hand combat. But these shots don’t always pay off. When they do, they’re something special.

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Oddly enough though, the infamous motorcycle scene is actually pretty darn good. When I saw it first in the trailer I was reminded of the lame dune buggy scene from Star Trek: Nemesis. But it fits with the story and is fun to watch. I actually liked it. Kirk was the action hero we always knew he was.

Lastly, the space battles where good but not overly so. Much as with the plot, the strength is with the characters not the space ships.

Special Effects:
Actually, I was slightly disappointed with the special effects. Generally most sci-fi films do a great job at this, heck even fan films can have some great stuff. But there are some moments here and there where I guess they got overly ambitious with shots and angles and didn’t have the budget to make everything look perfect. I mean don’t get me wrong, the film overall looks great but early on in the above mentioned motorcycle scene for example,  it looked sub-standard, perhaps because they wanted an interesting pan shot for the camera. It may be from lack of budget more than lack of vision though.  I got to hand it to them for trying an interesting shot though. I’m no special effects purists.

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Overall:
Star Trek Beyond is a fantastic film but if you’re an old school Trekkie that hated the previous two films then there really isn’t much here you’d like. As for everyone else, you’re going to enjoy yourself with Beyond. It feels like a love letter to The Original Series, at many times echoing it in form and function. Though not a film with intellectual depth, it stands on par with the complexity found with Star Trek: First Contact easily and in many ways surpasses it. It’s an incredible bounce back from the shortcomings of Into Darkness and though in may not have the charm of the 2009 entry, it feels much closer to the source material than many other Star Trek films. In many ways, it was much closer to Star Trek: The Motion Picture as far as look and feel to The Original Series. That’s pretty darn impressive in itself.

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What did you think of Star Trek Beyond? Do you think Justin Lin was up to the task? Comment below with your thoughts!

Live long and prosper.

Star Trek Beyond: The Spoiler Free Review, It’s Fantastic

HTC Vive Review

I recently had the chance to try the HTC Vive, the next generation virtual reality peripheral.  I spent about 4 hours taking things for a test spin, poking, prodding, and testing the hardware capabilities. Going into this I had questions about the Vive and this new VR wave in general. Is it a gimmick? Is it truly as immersive as they say? Most importantly, is it worth the money? Well I’d say sorta. Here’s what I think of it so far.

Brief History of VR

I don’t know, I’ve always been drawn to new takes or concepts and I’m always on the look out for new ways to interact with technology, but ever since VR was first touted in the 90s with films like Lawn Mower Man, I was always let down. Gimmicky devices like the failed Nintendo Virtual Boy had left me jaded as to the possibility of having anything like the Holodeck anytime soon.

Wii Comparison
That being said the Vive bares some similarities with Nintendo’s Wii. Both are creative and innovative ways of interacting with a games. They also are both great at bring otherwise non-gamers in to gaming. Interestingly, because of the unique interface, it poses both a puzzle and an opportunity to make games.

The Wii brought motion controls to the fore front and virtually every other gaming system incorporated a wiggle, wag, or a wave into there list of user controls. More Importantly, although the Wii was slightly gimmicky it opened up everyone’s eyes to a new way to play. The Vive is at a very similar crossroads. I believe it is the first VR device that is actually up to the task.

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Level of Immersion 
All of the hardware allows an unprecedented level of immersion.  Every movement and location is tracked flawlessly in real time 1-for-1, enough to fool your instincts up to the nearest millimeter. The 3D vision from the headset coupled with precise motion controls tricks your mind into thinking you are actually in the game. Proof of this to me was treating the virtual world as if it where real.

In one game, although I knew support beams and furniture wasn’t actually there, I had to fight the urge to place the real life controllers on them. I often found myself bobbing and weaving around obstacles that weren’t actually there. Not to mention the actual game mechanics. When the in-game baddies charged in to attack I flinched and backed away, much like a child would when first experiencing video games. I was having as much fun as that small kid playing games for the first time.

Games covered
I played three games and for the most part they reminded me of the Wii Sports and Wii Play games. Sure, incredibly fun to play in their own right but they were fairly simple in both look and function. They are often meant to demonstrate a concept or idea that would otherwise not even be possible on other platforms. And much like the Wii, they were meant to give both game developers and game players ideas of what the Vive can do for gaming. Let’s take a look at those three games next.

Space Pirates: takes inspiration from Tron Legacy. It’s a basic shooter with a techno feel and neon look. You hold lasers in both hands and shoot down drones in a kind of futuristic trap shoot, except the clay targets are shooting back. You fire in powerful slow moving shots or in much weaker rapid fire. To help you out you can draw a shield barrier that can protect you from one angle as your enemy tries to circle around and hit you in the flank. When this fails you can actually dodge and move out of the way in a “bullet time” style when time slows down.

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On the whole Space Pirates was a fun challenge as it gets progressively more difficult. Groups of drones hold formation in front of you to draw your attention while others flank you. After learning this trick I’d draw my shield between me and the formation and take out the flankers when they popped up over the horizon. Both your pistols and movements are tracked flawlessly 1-for-1. It felt much more like playing a sport than actually playing a game. Exactly the kind of immersion I’ve been graving.

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The Lab:  not so much a game as it is a platform for VR ideas. Many of the features of The Lab are only marginally interactive. The robot repair sequence or solar system model have you more as a passive observer. My favorite by far was the bow and arrow simulation. Holding the bow in one hand and pulling the arrow back felt incredibly realistic. It took some getting used to but it was very satisfying when I got the hang of it. But the amateur astronomer in me was giddy walking around the solar system, chucking planets that I grabbed along the way. This was obviously a great educational or professional tool. Imagine looking at a chemical molecule and walking around inspecting it. The Lab was all done in the Portal video game feel with GLADOS making appearance. As you might imagine it was incredible funny.

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Zombie Training Simulator: as an avid shooter fan I really wanted to try this one. Sure the zombies coming at you where only cardboard but everything else was realistic, especially the firearms. Besides, I wanted a more realistic shooter than Space Pirates. I was curious at just how easily you could look down real iron sights in the game. At first, my reflexes brought the gun on target, much as it would with something like what a Colt 1911. The in-game guns would shoot like I was pointing my finger at the target, very realistic. At greater ranges the Glock’s U shaped irons sights weren’t that useful but other guns like the MP5 and M4 allowed from the shoulder firing, much as you would in real life. It all felt realistic and accurate. Having to manually aim like this would make “run and gun” tactics in modern day shooters like Call of Duty obsolete, rewarding skill and reflexes, not foolhardiness.

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Final Thoughts
The HTC Vive is an incredible experience that everyone can enjoy. Sure the price tag is steep ($800, about 1 months rent) but it’s a first step in a completely new frontier of gaming that other game makers are sure to follow. And it’s true that there aren’t many 3rd party developers or in-depth games just yet. But  I imagine as time goes on prices will drop and more and more people will adopt. Developers will follow and we will be living in a new era of gaming. The Vive is more than just some gimmick but for what it’s promising and the price, I’d wait a little longer. Trust me, if I had the money to spend, I’d buy a Vive. I’m ready for VR.
Pros:

  • Immersive beyond compare
  • Clever use of motion controls simpliefies gameplay, no need of multiple buttons
  • A new way to play, making even mundane gaming chores fun
  • Cheap games

Cons:

  • Price tag reminds me of the Sega Saturn’s initially high price
  • The headset isn’t terribly comfortable and sometimes you don’t want to move around a front room just to play a simple game
  • Due to the 3D drain on the system and motion sensing there isn’t much computer resources left for pretty games
  • Not much 3rd party support just yet

Have you had a chance to try any of the new VR platforms? Comment below with your thoughts!

HTC Vive Review

Top 10 Star Trek Video Games

Star Trek’s 50th anniversary is here, so let’s take a look back at the best Star Trek video games. As with other fan service games such as Star Wars and superhero games in general, Star Trek games have been hit or miss, some good, some bad, and some really bad. The best ones do three things: they immerse you in your fandom, they make a decent quality game, and are most importantly, fun. The games at the top of the list have all three characteristics while those at the bottom may only have one or two of them. And the horrible ones have none of these. For simplicity, a game series is counted as a group and only distinguished if the games in the series are dramatically different in quality. Lastly, I’d consider the game as more or less fun if even a casual Star Trek fan would have fun playing it.

 

#10) Dominion Wars – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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Was this a good game? Probably not. Was it fun? Certainly. Often found on the $10 bargain bin at Walmart, this was a brutally simple game. Fly your choice of ships in the Dominion War. Plot was minimal, graphics only just adequate, and game play was underwhelming. But what it does have going for it is the immersion factor. From Klingon Bird of Preys to Galaxy Class Starships, you zipped around in space battles, blasting Cardasian and Jem’Hadar ships to dust. Sure it’s a bit shallow but it got the space combat down pretty well. Considering it launched at $10, it was much better than it had to be. It made no promises to greatness but still sparked some fun. Because of this it just barely squeaks at the bottom of the list.

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#9) Star Trek: Deep Space 9 – Crossroads of Time

Star Trek Deep Space 9 Crossroads of Time

Though not the best Star Trek entry in the 16-bit era, Crossroads of Time is still fairly respectable all things considered. It has a pretty decent story that isn’t just a simple rehash of what was seen on the show. It also does a decent job of immersing you in the Star Trek universe by having you control Commander Sisko on DS9 and interacting with the crew. In one particularly interesting mission you go back in time to the battle of Wolf 359 and have Sisko escape his doomed ship while fighting the Borg deck by deck. Pretty exciting stuff. The only drawback is that it isn’t terribly fun. It could be the limitations of the hardware, or even that they only had the early seasons of Deep Space 9 to work with, but it doesn’t really hold much replay value unlike other titles from the 16-bit era. Crossroads of Time squeaks in on the list but only just barely.

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#8) Star Trek: Legacy

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On the whole, it’s a decent game, not a great game but a decent one. It does great fan service by having a story narrative all the way from Enterprise to Voyager and back again. Not to mention, they got all of the actors of the Captains to reprise their roles, even Avery Brooks who doesn’t do many of these sort of things anymore.

The game is basically a starship game where you control up to four other ships, issuing orders while taking direct command of one of them. A great variety of ships are used against a variety of opponents throughout the history of the Federation. Though it plays better on the consoles than on PC it’s still a fairly respectable entry. What may hold it back is that its space combat is dumbed-down a bit, I guess a little “video gamey” as they might say. Nowhere near as complicated as Starfleet Command and even more simple than Star Trek Online, Star Trek: Legacy is just a little too flat. I’d describe it like the difference between the game series Ace Combat and something like Microsoft Flight Simulator except maybe not as fun. The game is fun to play for the fan service but its lack of originality and game play hold it back. Star Trek: Legacy is fun to play for a couple of hours just not fun to keep playing.

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#7) Star Trek Online

Star_Trek_Online_coverWhat to say about this one?  After the success of many other Multiple Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) quite a few studios tried to get the Star Trek license to make one for it. Cryptic Studios got the rights back in 2013 and the game is basically MMORPG with slight influences from Star Fleet Command. You fly your ship around for 2/3’s of the time and the remainder is on ground away missions. There are basically 3 types of vessels: tanks for Engineers (think large  lumbering Galaxy Class ships),  glass cannons (small Defiant types that hit hard and maneuver away), and the in-between classes (medium ships like the Intrepid Class) that specialize in more creative forms of space combat. Away missions have a similar model of tanks, glass cannons, and tricky science officers. But the best thing about Star Trek Online is its immersion. You can fly your ship to many places mentioned in Star Trek canon, launch your ship from Earth Spacedock, beam down to Starfleet Academy, warp to DS9, visit Quarks bar, warp to station K-7; the galaxy is yours to explore. Even visit Risa if you want. It’s just that there isn’t much to do when you get there.

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Guiding you along in this adventure is a pretty good story featuring many of the cast from the show including the late Leonard Nimoy whose voice narrates you along the way during key moments. Other actors from Voyager are there as well along with many of the ships and locations from Enterprise all the way through to the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. This is a pretty all encompassing game. There is just so much here for a fan to explore and this is what gets Star Trek Online so high on the list. That being said, the game is far from perfect. It mostly feels like a copy and paste from just about every other MMORPG out there, adding nothing of its own and often accomplishing much less game play wise.  Cooperative play is mostly nonexistent and neither is competitive for that matter. That and maxing your character out leaves next to nothing for a player to do except create a new character and do it all over again.

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The space combat is fun and exciting though not as respectable as it was in Starfleet Command. The RPG elements far over power the simulator aspects of game play. Often you’ll find yourself just mashing the space-bar instead of being thoughtful. The ground combat is downright dull and atrocious. They’ve done a lot to lessen the role of ground actions in the game but when it first launched the ratio was more like a 50/50 mix of space and ground action; now it’s more slanted towards space. But the ground is still horrible. If it wasn’t for the dull MMORPG elements and terrible ground game play this would be an incredible game. The Star Trek license is huge thing to have to make a game out of a fan base that is loyal and Trekkies are definitely the game player type.  But the flaws of Star Trek Online are too much to overcome and that’s what keeps this game out of the top spots. Then again, the game is free-to-play, so it doesn’t hurt to try it out. You just run out of things to do sooner than you may like. But you know what, at least it’s better than Star Wars Galaxies.



 

#6) Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

ST NESThis was a bit of a cross-platform game varying greatly from console to PC and mobile devices. Riding on the heels of the revival of Star Trek in 1993 with the success of The Next Generation all of the versions of the games did a superb job of fandom immersion in  The Original Series that had just turned 25 years old. On the NES you spent most of your time on away missions that were very reminiscent of classic episodes such as “Paradise Syndrome” and “A Piece of the Action.” Sure, the NES version wasn’t terribly original or innovated but it did alright as a puzzle adventure game. Spaced in between away missions there were some space battles to be had and the overall story worked well, not to mention the 8-bit take on the classic Star Trek songs is still awesome to hear. Not bad for the hardware limitations of the NES.

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The PC version though was unique in that many of the actual actors where used from The Original Series. Just as with the short lived Star Trek: Animated Series, Shatner phones in his lines and is kinda lame but Nimoy, Kelly, and the rest of the cast are as wonderful as ever. The game on PC took the form of a point and click adventure and looks great in an old school 8-bit style. The game would’ve ranked higher if wasn’t for the lack of innovation or at least being a little dull. What it lacks in other areas it makes up for by being as immersive as it could be for when it was made.

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PC version of the game



 

#5) Star Trek: The Next Generation – Future’s Past

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This one was actually pretty darn good considering when it was made. It’s a basic action adventure game with ground and space scenes, but unlike Star Trek: The Original Series for the NES, it had an original story, not some hodgepodge mixture of episodes. It was a brand new story all of its own, and that’s saying something.

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On top of that it’s actually fairly fun. For a 16-bit game, it’s pretty immersive. The helm interface is how you would expect it to be on the show, complete with LCARS style and star system layout and organization. It goes in order from;  cluster, star group, star system, planetary system. Very logical. The ship’s computer database was very thorough. I mean, in the age before the internet it was a Wikipedia in video game form. You could look up anything from crew dossiers to phaser power settings. You could learn the difference and affects of setting 1 through 16. You could even look all the planet class ratings; understanding M and Y class planets was interesting. Everything about the game was pretty darn immersive and for a Super Nintendo game it was as good as Star Trek could get for when it was made.

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The only thing that holds it back is that it’s fun but not incredibly so. Sure Star Trek fans would love it but the casual fan wouldn’t be all that much into it. The best games have even a casual Star Trek fan itching to play it. It was good fan service and ahead of its time as far as immersion but was only moderately fun to play.



 

#4) Starfleet Command II: Empires at War

Star_Trek_Starfleet_Command_II_coverBased in the Wrath of Kahn era, Starfleet Command II is basically a starship simulator game and what that meant is that there is an emphasis on realism, as absurd as that sounds for science fiction. After all, realistic science is what Star Trek is all about.  The Star Trek universe has rules. You can’t transport through shields, torpedoes damage the hull more than phasers, you don’t have limitless power, etc. With those limitations, you control your ship the best you can by clicking power to various systems to squeeze more into the phasers, for example. Should you save up for a powerful shot or use quick bursts of phasers? If your opponent can’t maneuver, divert power to forward shields from the aft and flank’em.  If your target is a fast little sports car like vessel, wait until he gets close, use your phasers to drop his shields, send a volley of torpedoes to take out his engines and then maneuver to his blind side. You are master and commander of your ship and the stars are your battlefield.

The game feels like 24th century take on 17th naval combat. Maneuvering and timing are important and using knowledge of you ships capabilities are key. This was starship combat at its finest in the world of Star Trek video games. The first Star Fleet Command is alright but it’s at its best with the second one. They also made a third that has a pretty decent story but it doesn’t really add much to the already excellent game play, but on the plus side, it’s based in the Star Trek: First Contact era modernizing the whole affair.

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Though the game is uniquely fun, innovative, and immersive, what holds it back from the top of the list is that it gets stale quick. Sure the combat is great but that’s all there is. Nothing outside of combat is relevant here. It’s all action and no deep thinking, no exploration or sense of wonder. Other Star Trek games capture it a little better.

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#3) Star Trek: Bridge Commander

Star_Trek_-_Bridge_Commander_CoverartProbably the one of the most immersive games on the list, Bridge Commander puts you in the Captain’s chair commanding first a Galaxy Class, then later a Sovereign Class Starship. Like in Starfleet Command where you pilot your ship, in Bridge Commander you do so by issuing orders to the bridge crew. Precise commands make this more of a Captain simulator than a starship one but the result is the same, immersion and some great fan service, add on to that a decent story and game play mechanics. The game also had the voice acting talents of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner reprising their roles, awesome. The only problem may be that it won’t appeal to the more casual Star Trek fan as much as the games higher on the list would.

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#2) Star Trek: Armada

Star_Trek_-_Armada_CoverartThe second best game on the list is a good one. Representing the often visited genre of real time strategy (RTS) you command fleets of often all too disposable starships. Four factions are represented; Klingons, Federation, Borg, and Romulans. If you wanted to relive the battle of Wolf 359 and see what it was like from both sides of the battle, then this was your chance. Add on top of that some interesting game mechanics such as being able to take over any ship by transporting your crew over, the Klingons and Borg excel at this, the Federation and Romulans not so much. Every ship had an unlockable special ability that changed how battles would unfold. On the whole, the game was a solid real time strategy game in its own right.

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Sound was suburb and graphics are great for their time and was later ported over to Star Trek fan mods of other games. A.I. was pretty good too, so much so that they copied some of the code for Star Trek: Legacy. All of these come together for a game that not only die hard Star Trek fans would love but even a fan of real time strategy games can play and have some fun playing. It’s not perfect as the races aren’t terribly well balanced in player vs player maps. Romulans are way over powered oddly enough, but aside from that its an excellent game.

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The game is fun and does great service but the final criteria of a great Star Trek game, immersion, is very much a part of it. Both the user interface and game controls look and feel like something that would be in the 24th century. Perhaps the most enticing part for the fans the Star Trek alumni reprise their roles from the show; Picard, Worf, Martok, and Selia all play prominent roles in the story that isn’t half bad for it being just a game and not an actual episode. It isn’t just a simple repaste of prior episodes but continues the story where Insurrection left off in epic scale, across time and space. If it wasn’t for the imbalanced multiplayer with the Romulans being overpowered this may have ranked higher.



 

#1) Star Trek: Elite Force I and II
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Does Star Trek work as an action based game? Even as a first person shooter? You better believe it does. Elite Force I was set on Voyager and Elite Force II was more of the TNG film era but both were spectacular.  Based on the Quake game engine, Elite Force was a blast to play, boasting a great single-player story and exciting multiplayer system. How many modern shooters can make that claim? Because of its solidly enjoyable game play, fans kept playing this one years after it released and kept modding it. This is because the game makers realized one thing, add a balanced multiplayer in and you add some replay value to the game.

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Making the game a first person shooter naturally lent itself to some real immersion like no other genre could. In one multiplayer map you had a Klingon ship and a Federation ship battling it out using the ships transporters to go between. From the bridges to the corridors fans could phaser it out to see who was left standing.

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Aside from the action parts there was a lot of subtle detail. You could walk around freely on the decks of Voyager clicking on controls and interacting with the crew who where voiced by the actual actors from the show. You could even click the auto-destruct or even start attacking the crew. Sure you’d end up in the brig or worse but the amount of free will added to the immersion factor.

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The three factors of a good fandom are exemplified by the Elite Force games. They are some of the most immersive and do some great fan service but perhaps most importantly they are the most fun. To have all three of these factors in a fan game is why it is on the top of so many peoples favorite Star Trek games list. Hopefully with the new DOOM game maybe some love will be sent Star Trek’s way and a Elite Force III will be made. Hopefully we’ll all be walking aboard a deck of a starship soon.

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Did your favorite game make the list? Where would you rank these games? Comment below with your thoughts!

Top 10 Star Trek Video Games

Bastion, Should He Be Nerfed?

Should Bastion be nerfed in Blizzard’s Overwatch? Perhaps, but before we tackle this we got to ask ourselves if there is a problem. I’d say yes.

Turtling

 

Turtling

I’ve seen teams on defense get crushed and pushed back on payload missions just to get to the very end of the map and then the losing team “turtles up” and gets several players using Bastion. Bastion is a fine character but with their backs to the wall and near spawn points, Bastion is much more overpowered than normal. It’s not uncommon to see not only one or two players go as Bastion but I’ve seen 3 or 4 players do this, taking turtling to a whole new level.

 

Teams Stacked With Bastions

During most parts of the map teams full of Bastions can be dealt with easily enough, usually by flanking or with characters that can infiltrate such as Reaper with his teleport ability. But the problem is that at the end of the map the terrain favors defense, this makes sense as it makes games exciting to have that final push be all that much harder.  But having teams full of Bastions is way more difficult than it should be.

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Backs to the Wall

What makes this so hard is you can’t get behind the team that is stacked with Bastions at the end of a payload, their backs are literal against the wall. The map doesn’t go on, there is no path behind them. Also there are limited alternate routes to approach the target. There may be only one or two routes to the objective and they can easily have two Bastion characters watching both of these paths. With the amount of fire power Bastion brings to bear, two players can do most of the defense for a team, freeing up other players to go on the offensive.

 

The Expected Method

The usual method of countering them, aside from getting behind them, would be sniping them with Widowmaker  or Hanzo, or even a ranged attack from Pharah. The problem is that many of the end points of final maps don’t have lines of site for these sorts of tactics. The only way to get lined up with a turtling team of Bastions it to put yourself way too close to them. If you can see a Bastion in sentry mode, then he can see you and it’s a lot easier for him to spray bullets your way than you’d like.

350px-Pharah-portrait

 

Spray and Pray

The problem is worsened by having no damage fall off with distance such as with Team Fortress 2. Bastion can fire down a long corridor spraying bullets at a suspected sniper spot and all it takes is one or two lucky bullets to kill a squishy sniper. All a Bastion needs to do is “spray and pray” with his 200 round magazine. But it takes a lot more skill for a sniper to get a one shot kill. Skill should be rewarded not blind firing.

 

Skill vs Luck

The same with another skill based character Genji. Sure, Genji could reflect the fire back at the Bastion but that takes some good timing. All Bastion has to do is see Genji and stop firing for a couple of seconds, wait for the cool down timer for Genji’s reflect to start again and then Bastion resumes fire. It takes a real dumb Bastion to fall for it and it takes a skilled Genji to pull it off. Not to mention if the team has Bastion placements with fields of fire protecting each other this is an all but impossible tactic, not to mention if the Bastion has only the slightest bit of help.

genji overwatch

 

Bastion With Few Limitations

Compounding all of this is the short setup time with no limitations of resources. In Team Fortress 2 an equivalent sentry takes some time to build up, not to mention ammo. But Bastion can plant himself down very quickly and be ready to fire immediately after spawn. This is especially difficult at the end of the map where the defense doesn’t have to travel far to defend the point. Just spawn and plop down Bastion and you have the point covered, way too easy to defend.

TF2 Sentry

 

Squad Ratios

It’s true there are more advanced ways of handling a Bastion stacked team. I imagine as players get more experienced at team work then cooperation will happen naturally, but it’s not a good equation when you have something like Mercy and Pharah teaming up to take down one Bastion, a 2:1 ratio favoring defense. This is even worse with six-player teams where this unfavorable ratio gets more one-sided. Imagine a team that is half Bastions. Besides the high damage output of Bastion easily out paces both Mercy and Lucio’s ability to heal. Bastion just deals out way too much raw firepower. Defense is way too easy with Bastion.

 

No Adversary for Bastion

You never see this kinda problem in Team Fortress 2, as a class heavy team will have problems. For one thing, team size in Team Fortress 2 makes team staking harder, at about 20 players. Overwatch only has but 6 players per team. but more importantly both Heavys and Engineers and their sentry’s aren’t perfect; they have major weaknesses.  In some ways Bastion is similar to both of these TF2 classes. So why not consider some of the drawbacks of both the Heavy and the Engineers’ sentry?  The Heavy doesn’t really do all that great of damage at greater ranges and has limited ammo. His damage drop over range is considerable. So you have to get close to be effective, similar to D. Va in Overwatch. As for the Engineers’ sentry, it has a limited targeting range but more importantly there is always an angle to attack a sentry. There is no such thing as a perfect spot for a sentry because of how the maps are designed, that and natural counters to the Engineers’ sentry are Spies and Demomen. These adversarial classes are usually something the Engineer always has to worry about. Bastion on the other hand doesn’t really have a dedicated class that opposes him. Genji isn’t nearly as threatening as a Spy or Demoman.

junkrat overwatch

The equivalent class in Overwatch of the Demoman would be Junkrat and he does specialize in indirect fire like the Demoman, but because of current map layouts, it’s hard for him to get the job done all by himself. Where the map limits his options as far as angles to bounce explosive, the enemy team can way too easily harass him. There is no good angle for him to attack the point on most maps. I don’t know how many times I’d take out one or two Bastions just to have them re-spawn and turtle up before we even have a chance to move in and capitalize on the kills.

 

Bringing Down the Nerf Hammer

It’s never a good idea to bring down the “Nerf Hammer” too soon, especially with everyone is still getting used to the game, but I’m getting tired of easily pushing back an entire team and having half of the team suddenly go all Bastion when the going gets tough. Just as when the offense is about to win they turn it around because they have their backs to the wall with limited approaches angles to be attacked. A simple thing may be to increase Bastion’s reload times or his clip size, or limiting the damage over range to Bastion would eliminate the “spray and pray” tactic that people use. This has been done before with McCree, adjusting his damage over range so he doesn’t just spam out the shots at clusters of people from across the map. I believe the best way of correcting this is altering the maps to give more approaches to final points. Sure, the defense should have the advantage at the end of a map but Bastion heavy teams are nailing down limited paths way too easily. Another option, though very blunt, is to limit how many people can go Bastion. Maybe even having one Bastion per team but this may be a little to harsh but seeing teams go 3 or 4 Bastions at the end and having losing teams become unbeatable makes the game significantly less enjoyable.

Nerf

What are your thoughts on the Bastion Overwatch character? Should he be nerfed? Sound off below!

Bastion, Should He Be Nerfed?

The Errors in Yakko’s Nation Song

Lately I’ve had way too many Animaniacs songs stuck in my head, thanks to the recent addition of the 90s hit cartoon to Netfilx. All of the songs are sharp and catchy and that’s why Animaniacs won both Emmys and Peabody awards. But the “Nations of the World” song is still the most popular, most remembered. And in my case the one that is still stuck in my head. Aside from cartoons I was always fascinated with geography so this song stuck with me over the years but I’ve wondered about the accuracy. Some nations were left off while some other small mistakes were made here and there. Lets give this song a closer look.



 

Facts and Trivia:

The Nations of the World was sung by the voice actor for Yakko Warner, Rob Paulsen, who would later go on to voice Pinky from Pinky and the Brain. Interestingly later on in a nod to this song Brain derides Pinky’s stupidity and asks him if there is in fact anything that he does know, Pinky replies, “I know all the words to ‘Yakko’s World’ as they are both voiced by the same actor.

Rob Paulsen

Rob Paulsen and his work

 

Paulsen’s rendition has been so popular that he often sings the entire song at conventions without missing a beat or dropping a country. But few people realize that the song was written by a person from another one of the WB’s other hit shows of the 90s, Batman the Animated series. Randy Rogel had wanted to work on the more whimsical and musical Animaniacs but no one at Warner Bros thought he could do it, he didn’t much experience with comedy. But at the time Rogel’s son was studying geography for school and Rogel was struck by how easily the North American countries rhymed with each other. Despite Rogel’s writing talents and enthusiasm for the song there were a few omissions and errors that creeped in to it. It’s still an amazing little song but lets take a closer look at those mistakes.

Batman Animated Series



 

Omissions:

Soviet Bloc

The most glaring omissions are the absence of all of the Soviet Bloc countries; Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, to name a few. The reason for this was simple. The song was written just before the fall of the USSR. And though Animaniacs aired nearly two years after these nations came to be, animation has a long lead time, much longer than a live action show. You write it, draw it, voice it, do the music and so on. All of this has to be done in sequence, one after the other. Commonly it can take a year or so from start to finish. So when the song aired there was just Russia.

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In Soviet Russia Song Makes You an Error

South Africa

There really is no good reason to have left South Africa off the list of nations, especially when the smaller nation of Lesotho was in the song. Interestingly Lesotho is land locked by South Africa. The same with Swaziland, both of who’s history’s are closely tied to South Africa. Its something similar to Indian reservations in North America except Lesotho and Swaziland have complete autonomy despite being surrounded on all sides by South Africa. These two little nuggets of state hood curiosity are hard to examine without first looking to South Africa history. This by far the most damning omission, very inconsistent of Yakko. Yakko is going to have to take an F for is geography grade.

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United Arab Emirates

Another lesser known country was left out, United Arab Emirates. U.A.E. It’s considered to be the business center of the Gulf States. Its capitol, Abu Dhabi, is considered to be at the heart of commerce and is often referred to as the Venice of the Middle East. Many of its buildings and business tend to be state of the art and look way ahead of its time. So much so that many movies choose to shoot there including the up and coming Star Trek Beyond. It’s a slight omission, I hope Yakko didn’t mean anything by it, the little rascal.

 

 

The Vatican
The Holy See is technically its own nation, it maintains diplomatic ties with many nations. All despite only occupying a small part of Rome itself that is in fact a part of the nation of Italy. There are a few reasons for this but mainly it’s a clever way of having a separation of church and state, one that isn’t exactly duplicated elsewhere. It’s so tiny and not many people know it is its own nation so I can’t blame Yakko too much.

Holy See

Oceanic Nations

The song also leaves off many of the small Oceanic countries, ones with small land masses and tiny populations. Leaving micro nations like Samoa or Tonga off but this is understandable as many people can’t find these on the map. But they could’ve been easy to rhyme in the song. Sorry tiny micro nations

 

Wales and Scotland
Oddly enough the Yakko highlights the United Kingdom in the song but sings out Britain. Lumping Scotland, Wales, and Britain together. Interestingly Yakko does have Scotland by itself though to be consistent he should have used the United Kingdom. Hey let’s face the U.K. is complicated for some people, especially monkey dog like cartoon creatures. It’s a minor error that a lot of Americans would make I’m sure. I guess we can forgive Yakko for this to and it makes William Wallace happy I’m sure.

wallace scotland



 

Territorial Errors:

Yakko’s nation song repeatedly makes mistakes in regard to territories. San Juan is mentioned twice , presumably to represent Puerto Rico when in fact it’s a territory of the United States. Puerto Rico is  rather happy to be one I might add as they continually vote to decline independence. The same for Guam in the pacific. Transylvania is mentioned twice but is actually apart of Romania, though this is understandable as Bram Stroker’s Dracula made this region famous. However the largest error by square mileage would be Greenland which belongs to small nation of Denmark, mainly because no one else wants it I guess. Lots of snow and cold, no thanks, Denmark can just keep Greenland. Hong Kong is also sung but it was actually a territory of the United Kingdom at the time and hadn’t been returned to China until 1999. It was never its own nation.

2000px-Flag_of_Puerto_Rico.svg



 

Redundancies:

For naming purposes several nations were used twice, Benin, Algeria, and Romania. The territory of Puerto Rico is mentioned twice as well when San Juan is called. Well I suppose its better than making up fictional countries, Yakko would try to sneak over something like this on us if we let him. Nothing wrong with this Yakko, no demerits for him technically.



 

Final Grade:
I’d still have to give Yakko an A+ if anything but for tenacity. Setting out to sing all the nations in the world is an epic undertaking. Making it all fun and catchy is the quite the accomplishment. Most importantly it helped to make geography fun and interesting to children, and I was one of those kids. When so many other cartoons where silly and immature Animaniacs occasionally could show that nerdy stuff was okay and it was even a little fun to. For that I’m willing to overlook a lot, even the occasionally error and omissions. Sorry South Africa and U.A.E., maybe you’ll make the updated version of the song if there is one. (fingers crossed)

Yakko F

Its okay, in my heart you get an A+

 

With the Animaniacs now on Netflix, are you looking to do a rewatch of the classic cartoon? Comment below with your thoughts!

The Errors in Yakko’s Nation Song

Is the Modern Superman worthy of Mjolnir

This is a thing I often ask myself, certainly Superman could right? Sure, if any character is worthy to wield Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir , then its certainly comic book’s greatest hero Superman? Many other great heroes fall short of this, though because it tests a person’s virtue, how heroic the character is. Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, all of them are great heroes and are some favorites but are they worthy? Only a select few of characters have ever wielded it.

In fact its a very short list of people who have wielded the hammer. The Vision as shown in the Age of Ultron and on one very special occasion Captain America have even wielded it in the comics. We even see Cap nudge it a bit in the movie. But what makes those few who have wielded Mjolnir worthy exactly? It’s selflessness and compassion, plain and simple. These are the two traits that make you a hero, not your powers. That is the lesson that the egotistical Thor learned while he was exiled to Earth in the first Thor movie. His purpose was to serve those weaker than himself, to be selfless and to have compassion for others. Being King isn’t about having people serve under you, it’s about serving your subjects. After coming to this realization Thor regained the right to wield Mjolnir. Story ends, credits role, we have ourselves a bona-fide hero.

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Not many other characters could wield Mjolnir even if they wanted to. Brute force doesn’t work with it. The Hulk with all his might was unable to use the hammer. Sure in comics he could lift it but not wield it. The Hulk couldn’t swing it at a person like Thor does. Like putting Mjolnir in an elevator and taking it up to the next floor above. The elevator is lifting it up, not using it as a weapon. Neither Hulk nor the elevator is actually wielding it. In the seemingly paradoxical joke situation, the elevator is not worthy, you can’t cheat Mjolnir . Either you’re worthy or you’re not. It sees into your soul.

 

What If?
But as a nerd I like to often stretch my imagination, picture in my head Superman picking up Mjolnir . He is often considered the most heroic character ever imagined. No one is more selfless than he is, or even as compassionate. But what of this modern iteration of Superman? The one from the films Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. He has been reinvented for the modern era and is no longer your Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

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Henry Cavill has done a respectable job in the role, as far as acting is concerned, but the character has played a much more different role in modern movies. He has been portrayed totally different than what came before him, for better or worse. Grant me this small consideration, I’d believe the older versions of Superman could definitely wield Mjoneir but is Henry Cavill’s Superman worthy to wield Mjolnir ? I’d say no, he is not.

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The Modern Superman
It’s not so much how Henry Cavill acts. True, he plays Superman as cold and distant, one could say even say it’s alien. I’m fine with that. But I’d bet this is what Cavill has been asked to do or in other words directed to. It’s more of the situations Superman is put in and how he deals with them than anything else that speaks to his character. It’s how he reacts to the situations. It’s the plot and dialogue that troubles me.

Man of Steel
Take for example a scene from Man of Steel where Zod takes Superman aboard his main ship. Superman passes out from the stress of adjusting to the Kryptonian atmosphere and the two of them share a telepathic vision. Zod shares his plans of rebuilding Krypton here on Earth and in a very visually stunning way shows the pain and suffering terra-forming Earth would be like. (Or I guess Kryptoforming). Billions of people will die. In a metaphor imagery, Superman is seen in a pile of human human skulls that he slowly starts to sinking into it, like some macabre quick sand. It’s a great scene but it’s Superman’s response that is a let down. It hints at the kind of person he is.

Sman Skull Zod 2

Superman Knee Deep in the Dead

 

At first all he has to say is “Zod, your plan, I can take no part in this.” Not anything like “I’ll stop you” Or “you’ll never get away with this.” A normal person would be revolted by the idea of so many people dying. Even if you took an ordinary person off the street and put them in this situation they would be appalled and scream out in protest or defiance at least. Imagine if Spider-Man were drowning in skulls, he may call Zod a monster. Even a villain like Lex Luthor would be disgusted by such a vision if not for the wanton destruction. Genius after all has more finesse than Zod’s brute force approach to domination. Instead Superman is cold and distant, aloof as so many other viewers have described him. He does eventually cry out in protest but it comes as too late.  As with many of the other scenes, it’s Superman’s cold distant reaction to the tragedy around him that defines him, it speaks to his virtue and worthiness of wielding Mjolnir.  He shows no compassion at all, if he does it’s too late. He has no compassion to compel to act quickly and suddenly.

Sman Skulls Zod

Errr aaa I can’t take part in this … …

 

Batman vs Superman
In the much more recent Batman v Superman, things haven’t changed. Superman is still cold and distant. In one scene Superman is called to testify to the government. He walks through the halls ignoring everyone in a very robotic alien manner, perhaps in an almost stuck up attitude. He is god like after all. After Superman arrives, tragedy strikes and innocent people die. Afterward he just stands there, being invulnerable. He doesn’t assist in the rescue efforts or mitigate the pain and suffering in anyway. He could’ve used x-ray vision to help search for victims or used his super breath to put out the flames. Not even an angry shout or furled brow can be found on his face. Just a cold distant stare.

Superman-Batman-v-Superman

I just saw Superman but he didn’t see me …

I don’t know, but if I just saw something like a car wreck, I’d at least pull over and see if everyone was okay, maybe give some first aid. My capabilities pale in comparison to Superman’s. Even compared to a doctor or just some ordinary medic, I don’t have much to offer. But it’s not the capabilities that matter it’s the willingness to act that matters, it’s the willingness that makes you heroic. Compassion making you forget any hesitation.

In some respects the modern Superman is shown doing acts of good. Rescuing people and saving the day. In Batman v Superman he is shown pulling a stranded boat, rescuing a space launch, and saving flood victims to name a few. But its his reactions and his emotional connections that are telling. He is cold and distant, alien. I can understand this approach as he isn’t human after all, he’s the orphan immigrant from Krypton. But there is more to it than that.

Superman-Batman-v-Superman-F

And then I just flew away

The Cold Distant Alien
He still has some emotional ties to Earth, people he cares about. He grew up in the Midwest after all and has adoptive parents that he obviously loves. You can take the boy out of Kansas but not the Kansas out of the boy right? Not to mention his connection with Lois Lane and his mother. When these select few people are threatened he does indeed have an emotional response, usually just flat anger. The love and compassion is hard to see if it really is  ever there. Maybe Superman is just faking it all? Even his romantic scenes with Lois Lane are hard to swallow and come off as being more physical than emotional. What often is described as a lack of chemistry by viewers is more to blame on Superman’s aloofness than on the acting. It’s hard for a cold and distant character to fall in love.

Henry_Cavill_Batman_v_Superman

Superman is mopey

 

I could understand the argument that this new Superman is an outsider, an alien. He has trouble connecting to ordinary people who are not his girlfriend or family, I guess. He is invincible after all. In many ways the new Superman is like Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen. Cold, distant, and aloof from the pain and suffering of ordinary people not so much because the center of his brain was removed or anything ridiculous like that. It’s because Dr. Manhattan just can’t relate to humans, he can’t sympathize with the fragility of human life because he is invincible. He is above us. He couldn’t anymore relate to humanity than we could relate to termites.

Dr. Manhattan
Take one scene from the Watchmen in particular, the one where victory is declared in Vietnam and the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan are at a bar, celebrating. The Comedian is confronted by a spurned lover and the Comedian kills her and her unborn child in an exaggerated act of self defense. But Dr. Manhattan does nothing. He could have intervened and saved her life but he hesitates. That ability to empathize has left him indecisive. Where real heroes would’ve acted out of compassion without thinking, Dr. Manhattan hesitates because it doesn’t compute.

comedian kills

A caring super hero would act without thinking. Dr. Manhattan had no such emotional compass to guide him so he hesitated and just let her die. Much like the modern Superman, he can’t relate to people, he can’t empathize with anyone. He doesn’t jump at the chance to save people from an emotional source, he does so out of some obligation. Manhattan doesn’t do it because he cares, he does it because it’s his job. In many ways the modern Superman behaves like Dr. Manhattan.

sup manhattan

Looking more and more alike

The Vision
Although a being can’t empathize with humanity it can still react with compassion for life. Take for example The Vision from Marvel. Though he is artificial, aloof, cold, and logical, he still can feel compassion for suffering people. He has sympathy for life. When something evil around him happens he doesn’t sit and ponder it. If you showed him a pile of human skulls he wouldn’t say something lame, he would be compelled to act immediately. He wouldn’t just say he couldn’t participate like what Superman said to Zod. The Vision would fight without hesitation. The Vision would be a hero. Because of his empathy and selflessness the Vision is able to wield Mjolnir but I’m not so sure about the modern Superman.

vision hammer

Sure the modern Superman is selfless but he is far from caring. He is cold and aloof, alien after all. The only humans he cares about are those the ones he knows personally. Nothing wrong with this, a lot of people in real life are like this and it doesn’t make them evil exactly. But it’s this combination of selflessness and compassion that defines heroism and the modern Superman is only half of this equation. He is incapable of empathy and is far less heroic for it. They took one of the best parts of Superman out. Left it discarded on the movie making floor, a relic of a bygone era.

 

christopher-reeve-superman_0

Outdated, perhaps

It has been said that the Modern Superman is a product of our times. The old Superman as portrayed by Christopher Reeves could never be accepted by people today. Maybe this is true but he was far more heroic. He never hesitated, and his compassion was as formidable as his strength. The classic Superman could probably wield Mjolnir but not this cold modern one we are left with.

Captain America
True, a character sometimes has to evolve with the times, to represent society. But sometimes it more fun to buck the trend. To be a rebel, to be different. Just take Captain America as an example. He is such a fish out of water, a product of the nationalistic times of World War II. But after the culture shock of the Vietnam War, a much more gritty and realistic kind of character started to take hold on the American conscious. Just think of characters like the X-men and the Punisher. Heroes like Captain America lost their relevance. It wasn’t until much later that he was revived and reincorporated in to the comics and later on into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that people started to love him again. Sure he’s outdated and old fashioned but he still has character with out losing what makes him a great hero. There isn’t a moment of cold hesitation or alien aloofness in Captain America. He charges in with out hesitation because he cares for people and the fans love him for it. Even if he just some fossil, he’s a loved for having some character.

Cap and Supes

Now just who is more heroic?

 

In the films Captain America is portrayed as the most heroic of all the Avengers. Often he puts the safety of innocents above the current objective. Like when he instructed the police to evacuate people during the Centauri invasion. Or when in the sequel he put safety of people in the path of the out of control train as the team’s top priority . He still had compassion for innocent people during hectic battles. When danger happens, he charges in because he is both selfless and compassionate. The modern Superman, not so much.

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Even when the modern Superman gives up on the patriotism of his”Truth, Justice, and the American Way” Captain america holds true. During the Marvel Civil War, when his government enacts laws that are against the country’s principles he still holds true to his ideals of liberty and freedom of the individual. He becomes a patriot with out a nation, a Ronin with out a master. Because of this he is far more heroic than the modern Superman who has sacrificed his virtues for the sake of being just as popular as Batman. And you know what, Captain America has wielded Mjolnir.

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Is it 7 Eleven or America he stands for?

 

Kingdom Come and the rejection of Modernization
Superman’s whole shift of his character away from compassion and consequently heroism reminds me of the Alex Ross story, Kingdom Come. The story alludes to Superman doing something wrong and stops being a superhero. In the end it is revealed that a new hero arises, one who kills a criminal. This new hero doesn’t have the compassion to “take him in alive” in the way the good old heroes used to. There is a court hearing and this new violent superhero is acquitted. But more, the people accept the idea of a hero killing a criminal. This heartless hero is accepted by the people. Superman gives up and leaves in disgust but I believe the real moral of the story of Kingdom Come isn’t that Superman failed to evolve, to become more stern and gritty. But instead that society failed Superman, they chose the wrong hero and things got worse because of it. This new hero they chose was neither selfless nor compassionate, he certainly could never have used Thor’s Hammer.

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Superman and his fellows

And that’s the sadistic part of the modern portrayal of Superman, he is less heroic. He lacks compassion and sympathy. D.C. Comics, trying to modernize itself in Marvel’s gritty realistic image isn’t without a price. Superman has become less heroic and in no way do I think he could ever wield Mjolnir. It doesn’t make Superman more interesting, it makes him a hero with less character; it diminishes him. It was Superman’s heroism that defined him, it’s what made him special, not is powers. This was why so many people loved him, they didn’t care how strong he was. Superman was the most heroic character ever, now he’s just another over powered being.

I want to hate the modern portrayal of Superman, his coldness and aloofness, his lack of compassion and humanity, but it’s not his fault. This is what society wants, a more realistic character that they can relate to I suppose. But I can’t stand him. It’s not the powers that make someone heroic, its the willingness to do good and the new Superman just isn’t that man. He has no compassion. He isn’t worthy Mjolnir, he isn’t worthy of being the greatest hero any more. They took that from him, we took that from him by modernizing him. We are to blame for Superman’s failure.

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Superman after the trial

Superman as a Friend
To put things another way, having super powers is like being wealthy. Powers and money both give you a lot of ability to do good or evil in this world. Superman, occasionally saving people in the films, comes off as him just contributing the minimum amount to a charity. Like withdrawing funds from his pay automatically or donating at the office, just because he has to. It’s expected of him. Like a moral tithe. But when it comes to Superman going the extra mile, having compassion for innocents around him, he does so reluctantly if at all. Like some rich guy paying a bill at the restaurant and not leaving a good tip. With all of that power he should do more than the minimum, or else he looks like a jerk. He has to do more.

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Superman, You decide

In the end I don’t think I like Superman these days. I don’t mean like being a fan of his or anything. I mean if I was to hang around him I don’t think I’d like him. He’s too much of a jerk. I know it’s real popular these days for characters to be gruff and all but when someone is incredibly powerful and has nothing to lose from having compassion and sympathy he runs the risk of being a jerk if he doesn’t at least try to care. It was that combination of incredible power and compassion that won over people’s hearts. I don’t think I’d count Superman as being a friend and I certainly wouldn’t think he could ever wield Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.

 

Is the Modern Superman worthy of Mjolnir

The Walking Dead and All The Fake Deaths

It’s about time The Walking Dead stops with the fake deaths already. Setting it up to have a character look like they died just before a long break to keep viewers interested. It’s like crying wolf and starts to lose its emotional impact after awhile. Worse is that the viewers start to second guess everything you show them. If you’re not up to date on The Walking Dead and insist everything must be a surprise to you, then you may want stop reading now as there are some spoilers. Not that some big spoilers are to be had here but it may detract from some of the things that are revealed in the show. Not that I think any of the fake deaths are that great anyways. But here lately The Walking Dead has been trending more and more towards the soap opera variety of entertainment of suggesting a character has died towards the end of a mid or regular season final and then bringing them back. It’s lame story telling.


 

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The Walking Dead: Fake Deaths

First Fake Death, Merle
I guess it could be argued that it all began in season one, with Merle being chained to the roof of a building in downtown Atlanta for being too much of a prick. Though he probably deserved being left to die, it set up his return with the Governor a couple seasons later. His toughness and determination are what allowed him to make it out of this dire situation and it added to the character and it added depth to every scene he was in when he came back. It was actually pretty good. The tension later on between Rick and others because of it was excellent, it made watching it exciting. Not to mention we never really saw him die on the roof and it’s believable that he could’ve chopped his hand off to escape, people have actually done this before. Ever hear of a wolf caught in a bare trap? Merle is the same kinda animal. This is an example of some good story telling.

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2nd Fake Death, Judith
It wasn’t until season 3 when Rick and the others were routed from the prison that another fake death happened, this time with Rick’s daughter Judith. In the chaos she was left unguarded. Tragic yes but in the chaos this is understandable. I mean in a world of constantly fighting off the undead and contending with rival groups of survivors, anyone who can’t take care of themselves doesn’t have good chances. I imagine there wouldn’t be many elderly, injured, or slow people left after the zombies took over. This is a very difficult world to live in after all.

Rule Number 1

Babies suck at cardio

And when I saw the empty baby carrier, bloodied and abandoned, I was like wow. They actually stuck to the brutality of the comic books. I was impressed, sure they didn’t actually show it on camera but I don’t think anyone wanted to see a baby get mauled by walkers. It was a necessary touchstone in Rick’s development from the comics and was glad it made it into the show.

Baby Carrier

Hardly a snack

When Rick’s daughter looked like she died it really hit home with viewers. The thing that drew audiences in was Rick’s loss, he was crushed. In the comics the rout from the prison is what broke him, changed him. It was a watershed event in the story and for the character. Rick became a lot more harsh, a stone cold stare was often apart of his character.

Walking Dead Gif

Unfortunately, it was just another fake death. She made it out of the prison after all. Even a helpless baby is apparently capable of faking its own death in the way that both Elvis and Hitler would be envious, at least if any of those tabloids are to believed. Sure, it was a bit of a let down. I mean I’m not rooting for baby killing or anything like that, I’m definitely pro-baby. Now there’s a political bumper sticker for ya, I’m not pro-choice or pro-life, just pro-zombies not eating babies. It’s just that the scene set it up to make the viewers think that the baby died. I mean come on, absent baby, bloodied carrier, satiated walkers nearby, I guess the babies gone and they just didn’t want to show the gore. What were we supposed to think? I was cool with that.

hitler-is-alive

Instead when the new season starts the baby is fine. Nothing was gained from it, no character growth, no development. Nothing was learned, it was flat. It may have not been the best death on television but it made sense that in the difficult post-apocalyptic zombie world in which they lived in. There probably isn’t many babies left because life is hard, tragedies happen. Babies are tasty, Jonathan Swift jokes not withstanding

Jonathan Swift

3rd Fake Death, Glenn
This ended up not being a tragedy after all. So later on when Glenn, one of the show favorites, falls off dumpster with one of his dead weight companions into a crowd of zombies, he looks to be a goner. From a trick angle the scene is shot from above looking down on the horde, who are apparently tearing into a Glenn. Who has a very sad look on his face, not to be confused with the “Ahhhh, walkers are tearing into my guts” kinda faces, it was one of those sad faces 🙁 It’s revealed several episodes later that his friend fell on top of him, buying him time by distracting the walkers. Glenn makes is way under an nearby dumpster, kills the scant few dedicated walkers who try to chase him and just calls it a day. He decides to wait the walkers out. I mean that works with zombies right?

Horde one

I mean come on walkers are busy people, they have things to do, people to eat. They can’t just wait around for someone to come out of hiding and they do get distracted easily. That’s the problem with the undead, short attention spans. I mean think of all the time walkers surround a prison or something else like or tank and just give up and left. That’s what they do, right?

the_walking_dead_rick_tank_scene

The real kicker of it is that in the comics Glenn does die. And a sign of any good zombie show is that everyone’s survivability eventually drops to zero, no one lives for ever. It’s what the genre is about. So when they showed Glenn apparently dying I was like, it sucks but I understand it. It was a good death after all, he did his best, fought to keep his friend alive, never once showing cowardice and selfishness. He looked death in the eye and didn’t blink. It was a good death, it was a shame it was fake though. It rang hollow.

3rd Death, Daryl??

Aside from the cheapness of it, pretending a character dies just to bring characters back ends up biting you in the end. And that’s where we are, about to enter the finale for season six, with Daryl and friends at the mercy of some real nasty baddies. Just at the end of the episode you see Daryl apparently get shot. Well it’s suggested, but not shown explicitly. This will be the forth time an apparent death has happened and it’s starting to lose all impact. They’ve cried wolf too much. We’re not buying it anymore.

Darryl Death 2

Over the span of the show The Walking Dead has overused this fake death plot device way too much, it has become tired. They need to move on to better story telling. It may be interesting to see them kill off a big character that the fan girls love ( cough, cough, Daryl) and have them do it in an undeniable way. Point blank shot to the head. No cheat angles, no deus ex machina dumpsters, just plain dead. Seeing the forum board light up in the anger would be worth it alone. But more importantly it would be good story telling, something The Walking Dead needs to get back to.

The show can’t go on forever and they are starting to catch up with the comics. They’ll have decide how the show will end eventually. Just as with the zombie classic model, no one lives forever, all things must come to an end. It’s not saying that a lot of people have to die but faking out the audience into thinking that characters die in a finale before a break and bringing them back is a amateurish way to do it.

the-walking-dead-alexandria-safe-zone-image

What are your thoughts? Have the fake deaths helped or hurt The Walking Dead in your eye? Do you think Daryl is really dead? Sound off the in the comments below and don’t forget to catch The Walking Dead Season 6 finale tomorrow night on AMC!

The Walking Dead and All The Fake Deaths

Dead Drift: The Indie Spotlight

Today we turn our indie spotlight to web show Dead Drift. You should give it a watch by clicking here. It’s a short little five minute episode kinda thing that shouldn’t take too much of your time.  Dead Drift is a futuristic sci-fi take on The Office style of comedy that pits three crew members in a interstellar mission where things, well … uhmmm, they get a little weird.

The show consist of short 5 minute episodes with interactions between Captain Ryland Banks and Technician Maurice Morris. In between the conversations or short little asides, the characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the viewer, much in the way that is seen on The Office.

Described as a screwball buddy comedy Dead Drift is pretty darn funny. Having Technician Morris squaring off with Captain Morris is hilariously done and well acted. I couldn’t help but to chuckle at Star Trek references but what is so funny is that the two man crew is so incompetent. We all have a picture in our head of NASA sending the best and brightest out there but these two are not it. Morris is a insubordinate and a malcontent who has contempt for his Captain. Captain Morris on the other almost graduated West Point and can’t help but to be anything but inspire leadership, Captain Picard he is not.

Banks

Almost Graduated West Point

Morris

Sending Sass Your Way

HANNAH

The Only Competent Crew Member

One scene in particular has the Captain trying to get a replicator to make him, tea, earl grey, hot, and is too incompetent to figure out the device. When he called Morris to correct the problem the technician gives him sass and says holding up a induction clamp voltmeter “I’ll just use my tricorder and run a level 3 diagnostic.” Just about any Trekkie would recognize a level 3 diagnostic. In another scene, Morris runs out of toilet paper and decides to use a technical manual to finish his business and some how manages to use it despite it actually being a tablet. Who says eBooks will replace paper print anyways?

The screwball crew is eventual joined by a sexy and competent AI named H.A.N.N.A.H. Playing the role of the comedic “straight man”, her character does a great job of punting joke set ups to Morris and Banks. And as you might imagine Hannah’s perfect capabilities make these two slobs look even worse.

 

Dead Drift Clones

Attack Of The Clones

There short mission takes them to their first port of call to visit a Mars station where a German Commander named Schneider has is dead wife cloned, multiple times… things get weird for Morris and Banks.

Schneider

You Better Believe German Accents Can Be Funny !!

On the whole, this is great little show, funny, crisp, and sharp in its unique sci-fi brand of comedy. Every episode comes in at just under 5 minuets so it makes it easy to watch either on the go or in that short break between tasks. Dead Drift is a great sci-fi show that deserves to be given a chance to entertain you, if even for a few minutes. Check out there website and check out what they accomplished here.

Have you watched any of Dead Drift yet? Comment below with your thoughts on the series!

Dead Drift: The Indie Spotlight

Star Trek Horizon: The Review

Star Trek Horizon is a fan film set in the era of Star Trek: Enterprise. Work on the project took about 3 years and has been described as a love letter to the Enterprise show that went before her time. Back in November we got a chance to chat with Tommy Kraft from Star Trek Horizon and you can find the interview here. Now that the film has been released and after having a chance to watch it I was really impressed with it. And you can watch it to on youtube here. I mean it’s not that it’s flawless, but as far as fan films go, Star Trek Horizon is a shining example of what a fan film ought to be. I was particularly impressed with the story and the acting. Special effects were also very excellent.

Star Trek Horizon: Trailer #1

-Story Outline-

I really enjoyed the plot and it was a far better send off to the show than the Enterprise final “These Are the Voyages…” It starts with a battle scene between the out matched NX-04 Discovery and several Romulan Bird of Preys in the Earth solar system. Discovery has information about a Romulan secret weapon of devastating power being built just outside of the solar system. With this information a task force is put together to remove this threat on Starfleet’s doorstep consisting of Enterprise, Discovery, and some Vulcan vessels. In the desperate battle that ensues, Discovery lands the final death blow on the Romulan station but there is more to it. The station was just the tip of the iceberg.

Star Trek Horizon - Romulan Base

It is eventually discovered that the station was relaying power from another location. Disturbingly it is discovered that an agent from the future has been manipulating events, giving the Romulans access to awesome powers that are centuries beyond them to help them in the war with Starfleet. Despite temporal tampering, the crew of Discovery finds a way to set things right, destroying the weapon and taking care of the temporal interloper for good.

-Plot Reaction-

The plot with Horizon is what sets it apart from most fan films out there as it’s really good and flows from one part to another. Horizon actually makes you forget you’re watching a fan film, and that’s how you know its good. There have been a lot of Star Trek fan films out there, even some with veteran Star Trek actors but they never really pulled this off (cough cough, Star Trek Renegades) . It was Horizon’s superior storytelling and how all the pieces fit together that pulled this immersion off and it’s what makes it so enjoyable to watch.

Star Trek Horizon - Discovery

The only complaints I’d lodge against the plot are ones that can be found with the Enterprise show in general: the frequent use of transporters, too much being known about the Romulans, to name a few. But since this was the mood of the show I can’t say I really blame Horizon for it. Hey it works for the era they’re in, I guess. Despite these cannon problems Horizon actually did an excellent job of having face-to-face time between the Discovery crew and a Romulan antagonist. Due to his “Balance of Terror” style helmet, his Vulcan like features were hidden. The crew had conversations with him and never knew his people shared common ancestry with another founding member of the federation, the Vulcans. This was a really clever way of having the characters share a scene together and I have to give the makers of Horizon props for it. As an Original Series fan this means a lot.

Star Trek Horizon - Captain Hawk

Some more solid critiques of the film are only slightly more severe. I don’t think the story was helped by the idea of having a Romulan defector deliver the intelligence about the weapon. I also didn’t care for the plot point of having her surgically altered to appear human just to avoid anyone in Starfleet seeing a Romulan and breaking canon. She could’ve have just have easily been a third party alien as proir collaborator or something like that. It’s just a little too hard to swallow considering the no contact precedent already established between Starfleet and Romulas. I also found it a little odd that Discovery was calling the shots in the battle to destroy the Romulan weapon when Enterprise was with her, especially when it is established that Archer is still in command and he has seniority. It just doesn’t make sense and falls in to the trope of having a fan film stars out shinning the show that they making a film for. Having another NX class ship instead of Enterprise or having Archer otherwise disposed would’ve been cool; promotion would’ve been a nice idea. Besides, I think after building four of those NX class ships they ain’t prototypes anymore, but I digress. Maybe a little more progression from the Enterprise show was missing. These are only small nitpicks of an otherwise excellent story but as being a plot-Nazi, I had to get those little nuggets out there.

Star Trek Horizon - Discovery

-Acting-

As far as acting is concerned it’s actually pretty good. At times the film struggles to grasp the characters’ personalities and they don’t really come off as distinct as they should but acting isn’t the blame. It’s more due to the writing of the lines than the actors themselves. But this shouldn’t be surprising as this is one of the hardest things to pull off for any show, not just fan films (cough cough Star Wars prequels). Often times you’ll have characters saying exactly what happen instead of their lines injecting a characters personality of their own on it.

 

One scene in particular exemplifies this is where the Romulan villain disappears via a transporter and the Captain just say “where did he go?” Instead of him literally saying what happened it may have been better for him to say something a little more specific to what a character might say. Imagine for example putting Archer, Tucker, or T’Pol in the same situation and they would’ve reacted differently with what they said. It’s in the lines and the dialogue that characters are defined and this is throwing the ball to the actors. If it’s a good pitch, they can hit it out of park. What worries me is that viewers often confuse acting with writing. I’m afraid they may reject the performances expecting it to be something like what they see on television. The scenes and character interactions aren’t quite ready for the big leagues yet but are still far better than a lot of other fan films. There is no shame in this though, as just about every other show in their first season struggles with this problem. But in the case of Star Trek Horizon, the acting is pretty good when you take this into consideration.

Actor 1 St Horizon

Now that I think of it, I actually liked the acting, especially when compared with fan films or even indie films in general. Ignoring some of the dialogue, the actors did a great job. Paul Lang as Captain Harrison Hawk has some real charisma that hints at some grit just underneath the surface, perfect for an action film. I would’ve loved to have seen Captain Hawk as a little more martial though. And his chemistry with costar Jeannine Thompson is nice to see; I love their interactions. Marc Bowers as the XO has some real stage presence in his own right. I also had some fondness for Tom McClure as the Security Chief. He seemed to have some personality on his own, it just came naturally. Lastly, all of the Romulans were done excellently. Coming off with just the right amount of smugness and over confidence. The final villain in particular was especially well done. You could just sense the bile and hatred for Starfleet oozing out of him, loved it.

Star Trek Horizon - Romulan

-Special Effects-

Lets just say Star Trek Horizon looks awesome. The outer space battles look fantastic and getting to see the NX-01 in action one last time is wonderful. Even getting a few close in shots of the name Discovery being painted on the hull is a nice treat. The other Vulcan and Romulan ships are done nicely and their maneuvers are what you’d expect to find in action scenes. When you’re watching the space battles you have to remind yourself that this isn’t a professional show because its hard to tell as it looks that good.

Star Trek Horizon - Space Dock

The interior shots may not be for everyone, but the look actually grew on me. It looks like a hybrid approach was used for the set, partially building objects in the foreground while doing the rest of the back ground with special effects (i.e. green screen). This has two effects; it kinda makes for static shots of scenes, and makes it all look a little off or weird. Wel, at least if you expect television level of set pieces that is but it isn’t all that bad in my opinion. To lessen this, everything as a soft glow or fuzz to it that actually grew on me, gave it a nostalgic look. It kinda stylizes the look of the film and unifies it all together.

Despite the limitations of static shots from background replacement, Horizon counters this by striving very hard at having movement in its scenes. Though much of the film is zoomed very close or shot statically to minimize the special effects work needed. There are still quite a few scenes of movement and panning shots, people walking down corridors and across scenes to help this along. This really makes Horizon stand out among other fan films who had back grounds that were done by a programmer instead of a carpenter to save money. Horizon looks much better doing it because of the resourcefulness of their team. I have to give a nod of respect to the technique and ambition to the special effects.

Star Trek Horizon - Behind the Scenes

Sound and music are often the unsung heroes of television and Horizon has these in spades as well. Everything sounds great from doors opening to mysterious alien tech sounding the way it should. Music feels appropriate for the scenes and sounds a lot like season 4 of Enterprise. The subtle component of audio is in attendance for Horizon and feels perfect.

-Conclusion-

Star Trek Horizon is an excellent fan film and should stand as an example of how a fan film should be made. It hits way above its weight class because of its story, acting, special effects, and sound. If their where awards for fan film, they’d be walking away with arm loads of them. Though at times the dialogue leaves the characters a little too bland and poorly defined, this is understandable. It’s one of the hardest things of making a show. Despite this, enough of the core elements of the characters remain to make you forget this is just a fan film at times. The story more than makes up for it and moves you along from start to finish with little down time between. At the end of the day this stands as worthy tribute to abruptly ended Star Trek Enterprise, one that fans of the show would enjoy and should give a look. Star Trek Horizon easily ranks as one of the better fan films out there, keeping deserved company with Star Trek Continues and the Prelude to Axanar short. If you like Star Trek Enterprise or Star Trek fan films in general, give this one a try.

Have you watched Horizon yet? What did you think? Sound off below.

Star Trek Horizon: The Review

Starship Troopers, Forever War Compared

Military science fiction is a fairly popular sub-genre but often it swings between two extremes, from ideas that are found usually between liberal and conservative camps. Liberal views of military science fiction often focus on how technology has changed combat and that this change speaks to truths about war that have always been there. While conservative military science fiction deals more with showing that despite how much society has changed, simple virtues that a person, or even a society needs remain unchanged. But both use science fiction as a way of removing the reader from the world that we live in to try to argue for a world that we ought to live instead, for one reason or the other.

Consider two classics of sci fi; Joe Hadleman’s Forever War and Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. These are both polar extremes of views of future warfare with entirely different and contradictory messages despite both depicting futuristic interstellar war. The name Starship Troopers is fairly well known as it was made in to a successful film. Though the film only loosely bears resemblance to the novel it still holds hints as to the views of the conservative thinking found in the book. However Forever War, by comparison, is far less well known and it represents more of the thought from the liberal side of things . Despite such apparent difference both works are considered sci fi classics and both won the Hugo award for science fiction. But it’s a mistake to approach these works looking to reinforce what you already believe about politics or life in general. I mean the whole point of sci fi is to change your perspective, to shake things up. If you wanted more of the same you’d be reading non-fiction, right? So lets get to the two books.

Starship Troopers Preamble
Priority goes to Heinlein, as his work precedes Haldeman by about 15 years. Starship Troopers was written shortly after the Korean War and reflects Robert A. Heinleinmany of the feelings and moods of the country during the 1950s. Its origin lies in a culture of a nation that had just finished fighting the ideologically successful World Wars against fascism and then went on to fight to a frustrating stalemate on the Korean peninsula with another ideological foe, but this time it was communism.

In the early days of the Cold War the crux of the argument is that we were fighting a set of ideals against a nebulous foe. Where in World War II the enemy was a monolithic state ran from high up by some generalissimo or some self-proclaimed fuhrer. Communism was different, at least on the surface. What frightened people about communism though was how different it was, it was much more of a grassroots movement from the bottom up. To counter this, you had to first win the battle in people’s hearts and minds.

Starship Trooper’s Novel’s Message
The general plot of the film follows the novel but differs significantly with its message. It makes it easier to the whole idea of the novel to consider this. Fascism, like found in Nazi Germany, was all about the individual giving up rights for the sake of the state. A strong state meant the individual sacrificed. Communism, at least on paper, sacrificed the state for the sake of the individual. In a communistic state people were free because the government was weak. A compromise between these two ideologies would be the American society, people have some rights but give up others so that the state is somewhat strong. It is this balance that makes America’s brand of democracy strong and adaptable. But what usually happens with both fascism and communism is that a handful of people wrestle control of the government and both drift towards totalitarianism. Democracy is able to flex and change so we are saved from the worse aspects of fascism and communism. We have balance.

Conser and Liv compaired

But it is with this almost knee jerk reaction to the threat of communism that Starship Troopers finds itself in, the Cold War communist scare. Individualism is at the heart of American culture so some worried that communism was thought to have posed a uniquely insidious threat. So Heinlein, like many others of his era, sought to show a futuristic world where people gave even more to the state. It is in the protagonist’s military training and early schooling where these ideas are espoused and the voice of the novel is realized. It is seen as even natural as with the quote:

“Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination– devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues — which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out.”

And even the film it is echoed by the main characters teacher:

“Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part…and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.”

Michael Ironside

This could be seen as threatening to liberties of the individual, to give up freedom for a greater good. Though  in Starship Troopers Heinlein argues that this natural and although it can be thought of as being violent to say; lose life, liberty, and wellbeing, it was worth it to Heinlein. As he wrote any kind of government is force as it compels an individual to obey. You can’t have authority without it;

“When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force, my friends, is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.”

And one could argue that warfare is force of government continued on as a mere extension. And that warfare speaks to essential truths of societies. That

“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms”

Starship Trooper’s Film Adaptation
Interestingly, all of these ideas can still be found lurking in the background of the film, though stretched and skewed. But the devil is in the subtle nuances after all. The director, Paul Verhoeven, admitted to never actually reading the book and the film only really pays lips service to it. Verhoeven probably was appalled by the message of the book. Having lived under a Nazi occupied this undoubtedly left him with a negative disposition with anything drifting towards fascism and I can’t say I blame him for is treatment of the adaptation.

starship trooper
I mean I love Verhoeven’s other works (Robocop, Total Recall). They are counted as sci fi classics in their own right but it’s a little sad that the message was twisted around. In an interview Verhoeven admitted to changing the vibe of the film. When asked why he was making what appeared to be such a fascist adaptation he said:

“If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it’s only good for killing fucking bugs!”paul-verhoeven-remakes

The film ignores that nagging voice in your head that tells you’re a nationalistic state is ultimately self-defeating, that it can never amount to greatness. It exaggerates the elements of fascism, taking Heinlein’s vision of a more neutral message found in the novel and pokes a little fun at it. By obnoxiously exaggerating its fascist or more accurately, nationalistic leanings. The film feels cheesy and goofy in a very cyberpunk, or more accurate, “military sci fi punk” way but it’s all done on purpose. It’s meant to poke fun at the idea of fascism. It’s an exercise in satire.

st loss arm

Another stark difference between the film and the book is the violence. Not only the pervasiveness of it, people dying left and right not only in battle but in simple training, but the acceptance of it. Young soldiers die from the giant bugs and people shrug it off and move on. Violence is even done during basic training repeatedly, both in the film and the novel. Corporal punishment, or whipping, is used to correct behavior but the film takes it a bit further. Extreme violence is used to teach simple things. Such as when a soldier questions why knife combat training is needed in a modern military. To this is drill sergeant answers by throwing the blade, pinning his hand painfully to a wall and saying “what good are your hands if you’re deprived of using them.” Immediately calling out “medic” in a routine way hinting that he has casually injured many others before, just business as usual for him. But this really doesn’t make sense, even for a fascist state. To waste time and resources in injuring a valuable asset such as a soldier makes no sense but in the movie this exaggeration drives home the fascist feel. People are mere resources for the state. The book isn’t about wanton violence though, but as with other his other films Verhoeven uses violence as a set piece so this is understandable.

st punishment
It could be argued that physical violence is an extension of being dominated by a fascist government but the novel never truly embraces this level of sadisim. At times, Heinlein’s work favors the popular the “Poor Bloody Infantry concept.” One where a difficult job has to be done and sacrifices must be made but one doesn’t relish it. It sucks but if we don’t do it then someone else will have to. It’s seen as a necessary price that must be paid for freedom as Heinlein paraphrases the Star Spangled Banner:

“the noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war’s desolation”
What is a little more subtle difference is the general look of the film. It’s too “white washed” for lack of a better term. All of the characters are only one race, despite representing the entire planet. Even the main character in the book, where the novel has John Rico as a Filipino in the film he is played by a Caucasian and no other minorities have big roles in the film. The book was much more multi-ethnic. But this could’ve been done on purpose by Verhoeven to emphasis the fascist, or Nazi feel of the forces. Even the uniforms that everyone is wearing bear a strong resemblance to the ones worn by Nazis. None of this was in the novel, they took creative license with it I suppose. But I wonder how Heinlein took the film when it was released? It had to hurt a little to see is message twisted and turned around to serve a totally different message.

st uniforms

Forever War and the Counter Argument
Joe Haldeman’s Forever War is far different than Starship Troopers, yet it’s still military sci-fi. For one, it’s much more obscure; no film as been made for Forever War - Joe Haldemanit. However, there is talk of Ridly Scott taking it on with Warner Brothers backing him. But the more significant difference is the more liberal approach to military science fiction and an almost disdain for warfare culture. It isn’t so much that it disdains violence; it does in some ways. It still evokes the ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’ idea at times. It instead rejects the idea of a culture that seeks out war and violence with others. That’s not to say that the
world of Forever War is perfect, far from it. In fact, much of it is rather wretched and in many ways the book’s realistic world view will make it much more palatable than Starship Troopers. Nobody is perfect in Forever War, especially not the government running the military.

 

Forever War’s Plot in Brief
Starship Trooper’s plot was far simpler; space travel has made encounters with hostile life a possibility and war is the result. Society must be strong or it will be defeated. Forever War builds on the much more complicated changes in society, near light speed travel, and the resultant time dilation. To put it simply, the faster you go, the more time slows down for you. Meanwhile, time travels at normal speeds for people back at Earth as per rules of relativity.

time dialation

A soldier traveling in space may leave Earth, rocket off for two years to a distant star, and then consequently have society radically change because 50 years have passed back on Earth. When the main character, William Mandella returns to Earth after his first tour of duty, life on Earth has changed so much that he is alien, an outsider. He doesn’t belong. People speak differently, using strange inflections and slang. Life is much harder and it has become more dangerous with violent crime at every turn. Making a living and feeding yourself has totally changed. Even getting a job and earning a living is hard for Mandella to adapt to.

dystopian future
Mandella’s military service has alienated him from the society who he was sent to protect; he has become an outsider, very reminiscent of the 1970’s post-Vietnam War American culture that the book is very much a product of. The consequence of this alienation is Mandella questioning why it is he is fighting and he really doesn’t have a good answer for it. The whole war seems pointless. Even the leadership seems to have lost track of why it is being fought. The message of the book is that wars of aggression are wrong.

Vietnam_War
After hundreds of years being lost because of his near light speed travels and many battles where luck seems to be the only thing that determines life or death, the war is suddenly over without much warning. It just stops abruptly. No reason is given, territory lost, or prizes won. It was all because of leadership, who saw a simple difference between two species as hostile and they went to war. They thought this was just like the last ones and we just had to fight. It was one big mistake. Mandella’s feelings in his gut where true. The war was pointless. The death and sacrifices where for nothing, same as the alienation and no real logical purpose.

Contrast and Compare, Conclusions
Forever War is very much a story of the post-Vietnam War era, but people can still identify with it as it speaks to the innate human objections to violence and war. Though it’s diametrically opposed to the ideas found in Starship Troopers, they have too much in common to ignore. Beside being futuristic, they are both coming of age stories. Both speak truths about war and combat but use sci-fi to offer a new perspective. Most interestingly they are like little time capsules that represent the moods and feeling of their era and most importantly, speak to the truths of combat and war that anyone who has studied it or experienced it will understand. They actually have much more in common than at first glance.

 

Forever War - Cover
It is these common traits that are interesting. So when Haldeman won the Nebula award for Forever War back in 1976 he received a congratulatory letter from Heinlein that “meant more than the award itself” to Haldeman. And though he felt that Heinlein’s Starship Tooper’s message was something he didn’t agree with, he still saw some truth in it, the honesty of the message. Despite their differences the two authors still admired and respected each other because they spoke to some simple truths. It was just that society had changed.

In the end the message of both Starship Troopers and Forever War are totally different, about being pro-war or not, to put things simply. But there is merit in both stories, not only in the method of telling the story but the message that they bring. And although each novel is perfect for its time they can both equally apply to the present because truth is a fluid thing, always moving and reshaping and one has to adapt with it. Reaching down, back in to the sci-fi classics like these, contrasting and comparing is a great mental exercise in objectivity. Not only that, but studying and enjoying such works brings us closer to the truth of warfare, all the while looking at it with a much different lens, one of science fiction.

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Have you read Forever War or Starship Troopers? Comment below with your thoughts on how they analyze war and its effects.

Starship Troopers, Forever War Compared

Radiation Day, the Comic Book – Review

Radiation Day is a post apocalyptic story, nicely drawn, and is a respectful nod to the Mad Max sub-genre. Set in the not-to-distant future, it follows the two main characters: an optimistic young man named Six, who often has a smart quip on his tongue, and the older more experienced man named Osa. The jaded and erasable Osa has first hand knowledge of the world before the rock hit and he has been in too many tight spots to let his guard down. On a seemingly simple errand run Osa, Six, and some others are ambushed. As for the core aspects of Radiation Day … …

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Art

It’s actually much better than I expected; I mean there is some stunning stuff here. Radiation Day does an excellent job of portraying the characters consistent with what you’d expect the characters to act. A person that is a weasel, looks and acts the part. Action is really nicely done and there some really epic scenes. The only drawback may be the lack luster backgrounds, its not so much lacking detail as the backdrops are a little lacking of character of their own. Frames and transitions are also a little dull but I’d chalk that up more to the resources at hand. That being said the art work has some snap to it.

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Writing
The story flows nicely and draws you in, thanks in part to Osa and Six who jump of the page with personality. Where so many stories fall short, Radiation Day does this very well.  When Osa is grouchy and apprehensive it makes sense. And it is naturally complemented by Six’s youthful innocence and smart aleck comments.

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Bottom Line

For those of us who like Mad Max style story then Radiation Day is for you. It has laid a good foundation for an adventure story where life is on the line and survivors have to work together to overpower the chaotic world that they live in. I look forward to seeing some gritty style story’s from Radiation Day.

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Radiation Day is a new series published by our friends at Project-Nerd who have recently started PN Publishing. You can get Radiation Day #1 now, digitally.

 

Radiation Day, the Comic Book – Review

Why we Should be Excited for the Punisher

Punisher is set to debut on Netflix’s Daredevil season 2 in March but the character isn’t terribly well known. In this age of jaded heroes that are flawed he is absent in public conscious. But the Punisher stands as quintessential anti-hero and he deserves a better place in the public mind. He has no powers or exceptional abilities except one, his willingness to use lethal force. This sets him head and shoulders above all other heroes in ruthlessness. Because of his brutal methods he is consistently rated highly as a fan favorite, IGN ranked the Punisher #27 out of 100 of comic book heroes. But he hasn’t fared all too well in a life outside of the comic books.

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His portrayal in movies hasn’t been that great. Sometimes his films capture the mood and the character but drop the ball when it comes to plot. While at others times only paying lip service to what he is as a vigilante super hero. His guest appearances in other media such as video games and animated TV series has been closer to the comics but despite how brutally simple the character is, they have never quite got Frank Castle right. Netflix’s Marvel lineup has been impressive and with The Punisher announced as a future spinoff it could be that Netflix has given the Punisher the justice he deserves in the up and coming appearances. This is an incredible opportunity to bring a character to life that always been bungled in films.

The Punisher in Brief

Frank Castle is a simple character. He was a Marine Special Forces commando in Vietnam where he picked up many deadly skills. He enjoyed combat so much that he changed his name from Castiglione to Castle to sneak past the military’s rule of 3 tours of duty in Vietnam. Later, during a family trip to a park his family witnessed a mob killing and the mob, not wanting any witnesses, killed Frank’s family. As if by sheer will the Punisher refused to die and sets about his war on the mob and crime in general. This has left him emotionally scarred and twisted. He is a man without a family or any connections. Maybe his only power is that he has nothing to lose.

Punish Origin

But this doesn’t really make the character special, I mean heaven is full of dead super hero families, and even some characters that are somewhat ruthless. But not as nearly so as the punisher. What makes the Punisher so unique is that he is waging a one man war. Frank Castle sees the world in simple terms, in the black and white. If a person is guilty of severe crimes then he declares war on them, everything is fair game; Psychological warfare, torture, and executions to name a few. Where a warrant declares a criminal as “wanted dead or alive” the Punisher always ops for killing. In fact he never sets out to capture or persuade, if you’re in his sites he’s coming to kill you, its as simple as that. Not many heroes can claim that. Where a character like Spiderman may rush in, relying on his abilities to capture the criminal, the Punisher stalks his prey and when the time is right unleashes lethal firepower, anywhere from a long range sniper shot to a car bomb. Or if its in is favor he’ll go in guns blazing, All’s fair in war.

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Punisher Compared to Others

He may come off has being too simple and boring, as a character who just runs around killing people but there is something more to the Punisher. Its his willingness to go all the way that liberates him. He doesn’t have to worry about morality, society or the law, punishment he is beyond that. The Punisher is free to go 100%, to let loose. Criminals may fear being captured by other heroes but they know they can wiggle out in courts with lawyers, or they can even escape from prison if it come to it. As seen with the revolving door that is Arkham. But the Punisher is different and in his own words
They laugh at the law. The rich ones who buy it and twist it to their whims. The other ones, who have nothing to lose, who don’t care about themselves, or other people. All the ones who think they’re above the law, or outside it, or beyond it. They know all the law is good for is to keep good people in line. And they all laugh. They laugh at the law. But they don’t laugh at me.” -Return to Big Nothing Vol 1 1

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When you compare the Punisher to other super heroes this is where he stands out most. In this modern age of the popularity of the “anti-hero” Frank Castle out does them all. No other hero is as much of an anti-hero as Castle. Take for example the premier anti-hero Batman. He has a strict no kill policy, sure he may say “I’m not going to kill you but I don’t have to save you” but despite all of the mind games and intimidation he never intends to kill anyone. A much more modern conception of anti-hero, Wolverine, kills people left and right. But its usually not his agenda. Sure hill kill ya if you get in the way or if you really irritate him. But usually his agenda is with the X-men, and they are about protecting mutant rights. It’s the Punisher who stands at the far end of the spectrum of being the anti-hero. From the outset he is planning to kill his target, never capture them. Torture and interrogation notwithstanding. Not many other heroes can claim this. They are always tip toeing around it, but the Punisher is never held back it and this is what gives him the edge. This is what makes a pycho with some guns capable of competing in the superhero big leagues.

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It has been said that the Punisher is a modern take on Captain America, a perfect soldier sent to war. Except when he went to Vietnam it twisted and changed him inside. In many ways he’s America reaction to the post Vietnam era. Castle did every thing right in war but came home to tragedy. If Captain America would’ve gone to Vietnam he and lost his family he may have turned out the same. A powerful parable of about characters being a product of their enviroment, and by extension, fate.

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How Netflix Needs To Do It

Netflix as already done an excellent job of capturing action in its shows but Netflix has some advantages over the films. For the most part the films failed to show the suffering of victims. Its that one two punch that gives Punisher stories value. And this is why I’m excited for Netflix’s interpretation of the Punisher. They’ve shown an ability to humanize characters of their stories, both villains and victims. Sure its been said that a hero is defined by his villains but I don’t think this is so much the case with the Punisher, the villains are just fodder to him. The Punisher doesn’t have many great villains because he kills them. Sure there are some reoccurring ones but they don’t have the same epic feel as some other mainstream villains.

 

Casting Jon Bernthal as the Punisher is brilliant. What was lacking from a lot of versions of the Punisher in films was the grim, almost veteran soldier feel. All twisted and turned by tragedy. That and atleast having a soft side to show towards innocent people. Bernthal has already proving all of these aspects on his other hit success, The Walking Dead. That and he looks like depictions of him in the comics.

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Its showing the suffering of the victims and the Punishers connection with that that is needed. At best they may show that Castle lost his family but they never really have him connecting with anyone. Despite his ruthlessness in comics he is warm and kind towards the innocent. Its as almost has if he has some empathy for victims and this is the key to showing the character’s depth. Showing this would accomplish two things that have always being missing from the films, it would humanize him and make the punishment much more meaningful, much more satisfying. If Netflix’s track record of both Jessica Jones and Daredevil show they can do just that.

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What makes the Punisher such a good opportunity has that how poorly he has been done so far in film. The public at large just sees him as a “guy who runs around shooting people.” But he is more than that. In a world where anti-heros are the norm he makes them all look like boy scouts. He’s known as a maniac and crazy man, he even shot wolverine in the balls. You don’t get much more anti-hero than that. And we are about to see him on Netflix, a company that has consistently hit its mark with super hero shows with great plots. Its about time the Punisher is done properly.balls 2

Dirty Laundry

Take for an example this little nugget of an homage below. Called Dirty Laundry it does all of these things that the any Punisher story needs to do. Described as a love letter to the character from the fans and having some great actors. It premiered at the 2012 San Diego Comicon and at the moment, it’s the best depiction of Frank Castle outside the comics so far. Hopefully Netflix will improve on it.

Why we Should be Excited for the Punisher