Death of a World

I have been enjoying reading as of late. Not Visual Novels mind you, but books. I used to spend lot of time with books and used the library quite often, but nowadays I feel that I’d rather than something of my own in my hands, so I can do whatever I please with it. A creased page or cover (one of the many reasons I prefer hardcover) won’t bother when it’s fixed properly, something I couldn’t do to a loaned booked. While my bookshelf has its share of books outside comics, guides and other random assortments, I do have a wish to give something new a proper shot. This seems to be turning into a more personal post than intended, but hey, maybe that’s a good thing once in a while.

After some discussion with a book reviewer I across the pond I am familiar with, she came to a conclusion that I should go outside my field of preference, at least for a duration of few titles, and give Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books a go. I come to these things late, as usual. I can’t say I like Pratchett’s works, though the opposite is true as well. I simply have no relationship with Discworld to speak of, less anything to Pratchett himself. How I approach his works, or anyone else’s for the matter, is through neglect of the author. Pratchett doesn’t matter when it comes to his work, the works are enough on themselves. Just as I discourage idol worship with game developers, I extend this to directors, actors and writers. Though I must admit writers do gain a bit more respect from my part on how solitary their work is, but even then the best writers work with their editors or professionals in the field to build their book’s contents the best possible way. While pretty much all Pratchett fans I know have recommend to start elsewhere than from the beginning, I have always preferred to do so. The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, for better or worse, shall serve my entry to the Discworld.

World that has, for all intents and purposes, died with its author.

Pratchett’s daughter has no intention of continuing his father’s work in any way or form. Licensing existing works are another thing altogether, but no new stories are to be written. All this seems a terrible waste. Discworld has been such an influence that even someone like me, who has never opened a book in the series, knows something about the disc-shaped world through cultural osmosis. Things like the world sitting on top of four elephants (one of which has to lift his leg to allow the sun to continue its cycle due to how complex it is), which sit atop A’Tuin, a giant turtle that is swimming across the space. The world has its own rules and magic is much a thing as anything, and bananas don’t grow on trees.

It is of course understandable. A lifework like Discworld garners respect on its own and expectations for each entry were astronomical, from an outsider’s view. Sales numbers probably talk for themselves when it comes to the success and popularity of the Discworld novels, though this would where the argument that it has succeeded because the series just has been that good steps in (and would not be applied elsewhere due to dislike.) Pratchett probably had incredible load on his back with each entry to meet up with the expectations and (apparent) level of quality of his works in general, and we could assume that only he could write what many would consider a true Discworld novel. This, of course, would be bull, as the probability says there is a writer who could match his level and could deliver a proper Discworld title, perhaps even better. It would be a tall order and difficult any way you’d look at it, especially considering how harshly fans of any franchise  with singular creator treat outsiders. Pratchett as a creator will probably stay a a unique writer in the history fantasy novels, but all in all he isn’t the only one, nor he will be the last one of his caliber. It’s largely a matter of time before his niche is fulfilled, though that may not be anytime soon.

Whether or not a world should be laid to rest with its author is a debatable subject with no one true answer. Star Wars, for example, did find better stories when it was outside Lucas’ hands, though Disney’s run with the franchise has left me a cold turkey. Similarly, while the original Star Trek is still a superb show, it was other writers like D.C. Fontana who made Trek more what it became than Roddenberry himself in the end. Then again, Roddenberry and Lucas were able to create worlds, but not write in them very well. That didn’t seem to be the case with Pratchett.

To take this into direction games, just to keep things more in-line with the blog’s tone, using a game’s main director as a comparison point would do. Much like people expect writers to deliver great novels after another, a star director is expected to deliver high-quality games. The most recent example of a complete outsider beating the original creators at their own game would be Sonic Mania, which some have argued to be the best 2D Sonic to date, though I’d give it few years to set in before supporting or opposing such a claim. Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime is another example, where a third-party beat the original creators, and the latest Metroid II remake shows further how Nintendo does not understand the franchise.

Perhaps it would be better the leave Discworld at it is as a monument to its creator after all.

I may come late to popular things, but if the two first novels manage to caught my fancy, there are forty-five other books for me to read. I can understand my friend never wanting to finish the last book in the series, as then she would have to face that there is anywhere to go afterwards. She may read a page or two per year, but even that pace would slow down as she reads on. Indeed, it is a sad thing to see something you love coming to an end.

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Stuck in the past

What does Star Trek and Star Wars have in common? Both have slew of prequels to them. The idea really is solid; explore how things came to be and see what sort of stories could be made within a certain set of time. The problem with either franchise is that there are definitive elements within those worlds that dictate how certain things must be in their prequels, otherwise the stories would not make sense or even connect.

Star Trek Discovery is supposedly set ten years prior the original television series. One would expect them to follow how the series then should look, albeit updates here and there. After all, Star Trek is a pillar of modern western popular culture in many ways. However, pretty much everything was moved to the side in favour of visuals that follow more along the lines of the nuTrek movies, or the Kelvin timeline as its now called. For a common couch potato this all fine and dandy, and requires little suspension of disbelief. However, for even a light fan of the series, the visual just don’t sit right. All this is of course because the series is developed under a license intended for an alternate timeline Star Trek, not under one that’s meant for the mainline.

There is no problem in making a prequel in itself. The problems rise if the creators want to have freedoms that are not tied too much to pre-existing stories. Especially with stories that are set between set events. Essentially, you’re boxing yourself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to creative freedoms. If you’re not willing to utilise given tools and take advantage of the existing stories, then it’d be better just find someone who can.

This isn’t a hardcore fan’s perspective either. A story of any sorts requires at least some level of respect towards it, otherwise the end product will most likely end up being schlock at best.

A good example of a story shoved in-between two other stories would the Shadows of the Empire. While it was a well made marketing decision to create a Star Wars phenomena without a movie, it did stand on rather good story that utilised elements from Empire Strikes Back that would lead into Return of the Jedi. All the while creating something new.

Say you want to write a story for Star Trek without being hampered down by existing restrictions. That’s an impossible task, but the most freedom you would have if you were to create a sequel story. This would allow you to have pretty much all the freedoms to do whatever you want, with the only restriction being the overall history and relationships between factions. Nevertheless, you could still have Klingons as enemies with a good reason despite there existing an alliance between Federation and them.

Star Wars’ prequels movies didn’t exactly suffer from being boxed between stories, like STD does, but what they suffer from is spoiling and devaluing the original trilogy. For example, Empire Strikes Back has less impact when you’ve seen Anakin becoming Darth Vader. Vader himself changes as a character if you don’t make a mental distinction between trilogies.

Under Disney’s rule, we’re getting new prequels all the time, for the better or worse. Rogue One‘s story was something we’ve seen few times over already, and due to this SW‘s Expanded Universe had to reconcile how things went down between events and who really stole the plans. That, and you couldn’t have anyone alive at the end. That didn’t stop them mucking up the storyline though, as the end of the movie contradicts the opening of A New Hope.

The question that is required to be asked if we even need to see these stories unfold. The fact that Death Star’s plans were stolen isn’t an important story in the end, but what happened afterwards is. The same thing happened with Death Star II’s plans. We didn’t need to see many Bothans die on-screen to understand how heavy their losses were. Mon Mothma does that well enough on the screen with her acting.

For Star Trek, we don’t really need to see the Earth-Romulan war, despite plans existed for it during Enterprise and fans wanting it. There really isn’t need to see what happened between the period of the Original Series and the movies. These would be best explored in supplemental materials, where the fans could enjoy these events the most. This is due to the nature of Star Trek itself; it’s not a story about wars. Deep Space Nine being an exception rather than a rule. Even then, DS9‘s war was naturally developed aftermath of finding a stable wormhole.

Hell, if STD wanted to tell a grim story about Federation warring, the staff could’ve introduced a new enemy and make heavy questions if a society like Federation can exist in its high-horse haven like state when reality does not match it. The Original Series does this to an extend, especially with Kirk, who constantly has to fight to uphold his ideals in a human way. This is the exact opposite to early The Next Generation, where the cast was completely idolised without much shred of humanity. That all came down after the Borg invaded. In retrospect, it could be even argued that Federation was taken down a peg by the Borg and made them realise how their own society had moved towards a more terrible direction.

A natural progression of a story is forwards. Episode VII made the right direction to move forwards in Star Wars‘ canon, whereas we can debate if seeing a film about younger Han Solo was ever needed. If you’ve ever read Han Solo at the Stars’ End, the answer is Yes. However, those who know the book also recognize that Solo in this book is very much a different beast from modern Star Wars’ take on him, especially if the rumours of the solo Solo movie’s original take was to make him an Ace Ventura-like. Midnight’s Edge unsurprisingly has a vids up on the whole issue.

Boxing yourself tight into a prequel takes a certain set of mind, one that has to be able to to utilise given resources, not make up whatever shit you want. Whoever owns Star Trek in the end, be it either CBS or Universal, they really need to move forwards and do a new The Next Generation rather than trying to milk with remakes, prequels or reboots.

Music of the Month; Imperial City


The music was written based on a painting of the Coruscant’s Imperial City by none other than Ralph McQuarry

If there is one thing that modern Star Wars is lacking is in the music. Both Episode VII and Rogue One had terrible music Outside John William’s previous scores, there is not a track that stuck to anyone. Prequels be damned, Duel of Fates is one of the most loved tracks in the whole franchise and has been used widely within and out the franchise. However, most people overlook, or simply don’t know, about Shadows of the Empire‘s soundtrack. No, not the game’s, but the book’s. Composed by Joel McNeely and performed by the Royal Scottish Orchestra, the soundtrack stands out if given a good listen. McNeely made sure to make the music its own rather than trying to imitate William’s style, something modern Star Wars tries and fails miserably. Worth a listen and can be purchased cheaply. Why Disney hasn’t hired McNeely to compose for them is a mystery. If you have a computer from the early 2000’s or mid-1990’s lying around somewhere, you can access enhanced content on the disc that you otherwise couldn’t on modern PCs. Technology has advanced and left things in the past.

But enough about a disc I found while cleaning my boxes. You might’ve noticed last month didn’t have a review or a mecha themed post. I’ve got no excuses, I couldn’t really muster a good topic and forcing one (again) felt rather tiresome. To say that I’d rather put a topic on hold before it has properly matured would be partially lying, but all that really means I’ll aim to post two mecha related posts this month. On the review, I’m still intending to do it on Huion GT-220 v2, though the first problem is with this that I need to show some results on it. My confidence on what I can do on it is very low, so whatever results I would end up showing will be basic. I’ve been using it about two months now, and I’ve gotten pretty good grasp on how it works. However, as with any tool like this, it’s highly dependent on the user’s own skill and the software used. Skill, which I completely lack, as I’ve stubbornly refused to move to digital, except for CAD work. My God how doing CAD drawings is a breeze compared to pen and paper, though I would always recommend any designer or CAD plotter to start with those to get the core basics of what’s needed down.

I’ve had my few weeks of vacation and I’ll be returning to work next week, but that barely concerns any you readers. I’m mentioning this only because this most likely affects the time I have for looking up subjects and writing, but that has been the case for the last two or three years. So, we’re returning to form.

This summer saw no larger entry as there was no topic that really stood out. If you’re looking for something longer to read, there are those Fight!! Iczer-1 and âge related posts that you should check out. Can’t say they’re definitely worth your time, but if you’re interested in them, sure why not. For what’s it worth, this also means I don’t need to put effort into a post that people might find too long. The denizens of the Internet barely read blogs nowadays as it is, and if they do, it seems that they prefer everything in shortform. Video blogs and podcasts have taken their place in a large way, as one can just put it on in the background and do something else while listening some yaps bickering about a topic. I should jump into that boat and start changing my old, longer posts (mostly the Monthly threes) into voiced blog form. I just need to get my voice into right condition and remember not to pronounce V and W as the same letter. Well, blame me being Norther European for that. I know I’ve been talking about this a lot and I just should get my ass to it. I would need a different editor for it though, I hate to listen to myself. Maybe I should give writing prose a try again, it’s been years since I’ve done that.

I’ve been wondering if there is a need for a content shift on this blog. While the core element would stay the same, I’m wondering whether or not it would be worthwhile to begin writing about other events that graze design, service or product. Like with the recent debacle with Marvel’s writing staff posting a group selfie while drinking milkshakes. Marvel and their staff haven’t been able to take much criticism as of late, and this whole thing shows how anything that opposes one’s view is seen something diabolically evil. Which of course is utter bullshit. What Marvel should concentrate is fixing their comic’s content and stop their readership bleeding to competitors. Marvel’s comics have lost the larger readership and Marvel movies have taken their place. The movies, for all the faults they have, are superior to what their comics are now. Maybe the 1990’s and early 2000’s really made too much of an impact on Marvel that they can’t recover from. First step would be to lower the comics’ price and get them back to general stores. That would require the content to be changed as well, but at this point it would only be an improvement.

Criticism is a thing that we really need to allow to be given. Even when the explanation is lacking or non-existent, any and all producers of works need to analyse their work and see what’s wrong with them. You should never assume that the consumer is in the wrong, even when they probably are, and see whether or not there is validation in their statement. Especially if your work is making you money. The people who pay for your products are the ones responsible where you may be, and these are the people who ultimately pay your bills and bring food to your table.

Digging up the past

This post will be a ramble, as it does not have one cohesive topic or a point. I had intended to do a mecha design post, but that got postponed due to headache, local celebration and other things that required most of my attention span. Thus, my concentration is largely bust for anything proper. However, one things does tie things together in a very loose manner; all the things discussed here are about old franchises.

Now that I think of it, I used to write these rants more often, so I guess this is a blast from the past for some.

All this really started few weeks back when a friend tried to convince me to watch Rogue One, a Star Wars Prequel. While I don’t intend to do a review of its design works or the like, I already covered that topic few times over regarding how modern Star Wars is all about recycling old designs and concepts. Granted, sometimes they give them a new whirl, but under this new management it really shows how lacking their department in creating new things are.

Now what pissed you off this time? I hear some of you asking. Kaiburr crystals, or as the new continuity seems to like to put it, kyber. It’s an old concept dating back to the original scripts of Star Wars and served as the item to move plot, but were rightfully dropped. It did return back in the Expanded Universe as the name of the crystal that allows lightsabers to focus energy into a blade. Now, in this new continuity, they’re what powers lightsabers and apparently the Death Star requires tons of it to run, essentially making its world destroying beam a giant version of a lightsabre. Hell, there’s a book about a Hutt taking Death Star idea and making a lightsabre-lookalike battle station named Darksaber. It’s in the book with the same name.

It doesn’t make any sense for a crystal to be powering something. It is now known that we could make hi.-temperature photonic crystals into batteries to power electronics and machinery, at least if we’re to believe MIT. Rogue One does not only rewrite story of Epsiode IV (Vader claims the Rebel blockade runner had received multiple transmissions from the rebels and that they were not on a peaceful mission, while in Rogue One we clearly see there was only one transmission from, which was given to Leia through a disc of sorts, and they were docked with a revel ship Vader himself saw escaping), but it also just throws everything in the face of common sense.

While we can argue whether or not the old Expanded Universe was good or not, it had loads of things that made sense. One of these things that made some sense was that the Death Star was powered up by a SFS-CR27200 hypermatter reactor that was lined up by stellar fuel bottles that powered up the whole station. How do I know this? I got the goddamn Owner’s Workshop Manual in my hand for reference material. But Aalt, the movie says It’s the fuel for the weapon, not for the station. Considering the rebels keep referring to Death Star as the weapon throughout the film, and not station or anything else, they do mean the Death Star itself. Hair splitting, I know. Of course they might retcon this the second time in other materials, but the movie makes it clear what the crystals are for. You’re using secondary material, notice that. Yes, and if we were to ignore all that, powering a space station able to blow up planets with crystals would still be retarded. Not to mention Episode IV mentions a reactor powering the thin, not bunch of crystals.

Enough of that. Rogue One was terribly boring and mediocre, no better than Episode VII for different reasons. Personally, the franchise is beyond my interests at this point and I’ve got no plans to support what I consider an inferior iteration of Star Wars as a whole.

But just as the kaiburr crystal was dug out from its grave to pander fans, so is Netlix’s upcoming Castlevania. I never had objections about turning Castlevania or any other game into a series, but when Netflix announced they’d be making one based on the classic game franchise, I didn’t expect them to go the anime route. Furthermore, I’ll nitpick that this isn’t Castlevania, this is Dracula’s Curse/Demon Castle Legend. There is a very damn good reason why Lords of Shadow was so popular in the end, and it’s because Castlevania had become anime-fied far too much. The franchise was filled with pretty boys and didn’t even try to hit the classic horror movie notes Universal and especially Hammer had laid down. That’s the atmosphere the original three/four Castlevania games carried on them and despite Lords of Shadow being removed from them as well, the fact is that Castlevania is very much Western fantasy through and through. Making it too anime, too pretty, turns the common consumers away and panders only to the core fans. Nothing bad in itself in that, but when your franchise is essentially one of the golden pillars of the NES library and it ends up as a franchise that keeps repeating the exact same console action-adventure for almost two solid decades, something’s gone horribly wrong.

The show won’t revive Castlevania as a game franchise, but it might open up a small market where there is overlap with anime and Castlevania fans, and there is quite a lot of that nowadays thanks to the aforementioned. It’ll probably be bloody, gory and all the run of the mill stuff anime is nowadays and lacks any punch behind it, because everything’s played safe nowadays. There seems to be genuine love behind the piece, I wouldn’t hold my breath over it, just like I wouldn’t hold my breath over the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery.

The third thing that managed to tick me off is Nintendo’s and UbiSoft’s love child that is Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. The first thing that, and pretty much the only thing I need to say about this, is that it’s terrible. Only very few cared for Rabbids in the first place and saw a detriment on Rayman franchise, and despite the critters getting a game almost annually, the latest ones have been very low-key or on mobile devices. I guess they still sell despite them having zero impact overall, but I guess people like small retarded creatures like the Minions. Perhaps Rabbids are popular in central Europe, as nobody gives a flying fuck about them elsewhere, and somebody paid loads of money to get the Mario franchise in.

However, the one thing that spells that the developers and publishers know that they are having an up-hill battle can be seen on the linked Nintendo World Report’s third picture about the timeline. E3 was supposed to be a surprise announcement that they teased,(people were expecting a new Metroid game) but at least now they can expect people to be disappointed beforehand. In July they would have had the time for convincing the media and gamers, showcasing the lack of trust they have in their own product. The choice of word here is blatantly sad. If your product is good, you don’t really have to convince anyone with anything, you can simply allow the product to do the talking. PR always helps, and this title sure does require some.

Also note how the game’s genre is Crazy combat adventure, further solidifying this blog’s take that most genre names that gets used are utter bullshit. Why is Luigi also in the sniper class with a fucking vacuum cleaner? Yoshi’s clearly the Demoman of the group.

If I was a cynic, I’d almost say all these three above items I’ve ranted about have been made under some sort of committee that aims high sales. While Star Wars is the only one that has universal appeal, anime Castlevania already puts people off by being anime. Should’ve been a high budget live-action show. Mario and Rabbids in the same game, a role-playing game no less, just won’t hit with the audience. Quit wasting people’s time and money Nintendo, and start doing proper high-end 2D Mario games again.

Censorship is not transformative

While it may seem at times that this blog is against art in some ways, the reality is that I am against the wild use of the term. Not everything needs or deserves to be art to be a highly valued cultural commodity. This blog largely defends the rights of creative industries and their aims to create works. However, I also come from the consumer perspective, where the creator often needs to take into account the market’s wants and needs in order to succeed. Needless to say, this entry is going to differ from the usual writer’s persona a bit.

Censorship is not that.

If an author intends his work to be in a certain way and releases said piece in its intended state, it is not the job of others to come and change that product to fit themselves afterwards. If we are to determine art as a way to express oneself, no one else should have a word how or what the creator wishes to express. Censoring or changing one’s work, but not transforming it, is essentially infringing a core element of art itself.

A product is transformative when an original piece is taken and given a new form. For example, Youtube is filled with videos that fall under transformative label, as they take existing videos and sounds, creating something new based on them. MADs fall under this same category. They do not infringe on the original author’s intent since the original is still there, unaltered. Hollywood seems to have hard time grasping this thing.

To argue that censorship would be transformative is nothing short of incorrect, as it is intentional suppression of any element of a work as seen by any faction or person for whatever reason, be it political or due to supposedly objectionable content. Censorship does not transform elements of a work into a new one, it simply removes pieces it doesn’t like. It doesn’t transform the work; it doesn’t derive anything new from a work.

While human history is short in the cosmic scale, we’ve still had numerous works that are significant to our world and cultural heritage. Many of these are under the gun of censorship, especially nowadays when bikini clad women in games are seen as worst sort of offending material there is. Some even argue that Shakespeare should be censored to be more timely.  What a terrible waste that would be. Even when we would remove the Immortal Bard from the equation, the fact is that his works are significant both culturally and historically. Understanding them is to understand the time they came from as well as modern English as a language.

Censoring the likes of Shakespeare for whatever reasons, or Mark Twain for the matter, is showing every sense of lack of belief and confidence in the people. Essentially, removing nigger from Twain’s books shows that the factions doing the censorship has no faith in the people to make the distinction between the era when the book was written in and now, or that the term is used in form that offers no offence. It is unfunny irony that Huckleberry Finn would see censorship in this way. Often the intent of censorship in cases like this is for a more positive and “fitting” release of the work for a given era, but as it always is, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

If one were to argue that Shakespeare’s King Lear is a copy of the legend of Leir of Britain with elements from the Holinshed’s Chronicles, I would argue back that it is not. To use something like Star Wars as an example, using existing works as a template to create your own work is not plagiarism, or in Star Wars‘ case, even transformative. The fact that George Lucas used classical literature, especially the concept of hero’s journey combined with elements inspired by Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, to create something that was essentially new and needed in the later 1970’s speaks volumes on itself. Creativity feeds back on itself, just like any field feeds back to itself. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that all creative fields derive from each other and from themselves, but that doesn’t keep anyone from to taking elements, rearrange them and give them new approaches to create something original. Sure, some resort to blatant ripping off, but that’s another issue.

Of course, it is well known that Shakespeare’s works are inspired by existing tales, but we don’t exactly celebrate the plots of his works. They are celebrated because Shakespeare’s works broke down existing boundaries both socially and in language. Hamlet‘s plot is not why it’s so highly regarded, but because Hamlet himself is so well written as a character and how Shakespeare conveys his growth and anguish through and through. Act III, Scene I of Hamlet is not great because To be or not to be has become recognized as almost universal anguish, but how the whole line bears Hamlet to the audience. There is no actor who would not want to tackle this famous line and breathe his own life into it.

We do not have reverence for Shakespeare’s works because of him; it’s the opposite.

The question whether or not we should separate the creator from his work is something we all should consider. I would argue that as often as possible we need to separate the work from its author simply because our view on the piece would be coloured and become biased if we have strong opinions on the creator. It is very easy to veer into identity politics if we have something against a creator, as it is the case with Dana Schutz’s Open Casket. The case shows how anyone can interpret a painting how they see fit and disregard the author’s intent. While we can debate which one is more important, we should always remind ourselves that freedom of expression is a supposed tent pole with art, and as such should be respected over personal views. Calling for her painting to be burned is very reminiscent of book burnings from various eras, e.g. German Nazi party’s book burnings. While we can argue obout the painting itself, no subject should be banned from anyone within the proper limits of law.

If we were to ban certain people from subjects to create works based on, the opposite should the true as well. Otherwise we’d be discriminating a group and favouring another. However, such limitation would kill the change of thoughts and ideas as well as the discussion between and in these groups. Creativity would stifle to a standstill when nobody is allowed to wonder outside their own region, creating a sort of echo chamber. No outside aspects would be brought in to give new and fresh ideas. Some would certainly welcome this sort of approach, as long as it would be aligned with their own views.

The world already has a history with this sort of approach, at least a one sided example. The Socialist Realism was practices in the nations of Soviet Union, which essentially prescribed a canon in art and other creative fields. While creative fields are not political by their core nature, politics can be applied to them. Socialist Realism was nothing short of political propaganda and its core intent can’t be separated from politics, but we can sideline it.  However, not before it fell from favour around the 1960’s, no other idea or thought was allowed; it governed the creators.

The Chinese communist party did even worse by almost erasing their old culture and destroyed much of the Chinese heritage. Jump here to read a bit more on that. It’s interesting to notice both of these are communist and marxist examples.

In order for discussion and exchange of ideas to move forwards, we need to allow the creation of things we may object and view them outside our own selves. Nothing good comes from silencing the one we disagree and push him underground, when we can lift him up to the stage of ideas and allow all to see and wage these ideas ourselves.

The will and skill to express oneself has been around longer than the written word. If we’re to value art as we like to see it, it’d be great of we could stop fucking around with it and let people show their stuff. If one is ready to censor or ban someone’s freedom of expression, he’d better be ready to face censorship himself.

 

The Force was woken up, but it asked for fifteen more minutes

I’ve commended Disney for pushing out new Star Wars movies each year. That’s what people seem to want and consume. I can’t fault that. However, there is a downside in all this, and that is that Star Wars will become mundane and yet another franchise that will be run to the ground by a big corporation if Disney intends to keep this pace up. This post, in the end, is more about personal view rather than the blogger view I aim to employ otherwise. Why? Because Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a boring disappointment to yours truly.

I recommend reading my initial reactions to the movie here, as I that should give you a base on things. It’s essentially a post on its own right.

Star Wars as a franchise could be described to have four distinct eras. The Classic era, which lasts from Episode IV to Episode VI, the 1990’s Resurgence Era starting with The Trawn Trilogy, the 2000’s Prequel-era and all the side materials that brought with it, and the current Disney-era. I would argue, from a personal point of view, that the two first eras were the best of times for Star Wars. The franchise’s birth was a massive popular cultural shift that we still and see to this day in franchising and how Hollywood changed, and the Resurgence era expanded the lore immensely and took advantages of all the existing ideas and properties, which Timothy Zahn engineered, sort of.

The Prequel era on the other hand brought in people who couldn’t be critical of Star Wars, and it shows. Stories suffered from ideas that didn’t hold much water. Prequels themselves too suffer from this. Lore expansions saw further retcons in favour of these new ideas, like how The Force Unleashed games changed things as well as saw the use of some discarded concepts of the original Star Wars. You may be thinking that I’m harping on this using unused concepts too much, but it tells you how little anything truly new modern Star Wars has to it. Recycling the same story frames has become a common thing, not to mention the aforementioned concepts. Can Star Wars really exist just by doing this? If the money has to anything to say, yes.

This is why I have no interest in the new canon to any extent any more. Episode VII was recycled trash that made no sense and had numerous glaring faults. People who grew up adoring Star Wars are now running it, and it shows. To say that the new stories read out like expensive fanfiction that got an official status would be correct to an extent, as often in fanfiction the writer doesn’t realize what made the original piece tick. To use an example from Episode VII, no character has an arc of sorts. Kylo Ren barely has one, but we only see the end of it. Finn turns into a sidekick after the first few minutes, Poe has no arc to speak of and neither does Rey. Poe’s sold like a new Han Solo or Wedge Antilles, but lacks everything that made those characters interesting. Hell, Wedge had less screen time than Poe and still had more character to him.

Essentially, people who run Star Wars, but don’t exactly get why the original trilogy is so admired. They’re no better than George Lucas, and it shows. The fact is that Lucas experienced how Star Wars fans are absolutely impossible to please, but they also think how things should be. I don’t claim that, but as an observer I can see that people writing these new movies and shows does seem to think that. I doubt we will ever see a Star Wars product that will have a brand new story that is able to stand on its own two legs with its concepts and ideas before Star Wars becomes mundane with nothing but forgettable trite, like it did during the Prequel-era. Rogue One is yet another telling of how they stole the plans for the Death Star. We’ve seen, read and played it already, the story itself is not important for Episode IV. If fans want it, then by all means do it. It’ll make you some money, like always. Big Star Wars titles will always sell, no matter what the quality is.

Disney has all the chances to make Star Wars something better, but as it stands now, it’s simply cashing in. Then again, perhaps that’s what the franchise needs to do, as there are those who seem to enjoy the Disney-era products. Each to their own, I can afford to miss all movies’ theatrical runs and wager them on their own later down the line, just like how I did with Episode VII.

Monthly Review; Star Wars Episode I RACER (Dreamcast)

I’m far from being a person who enjoys racing games from the bottom of hits heart. On the contrary, I tend to stay away from racing games. All the ones I’ve enjoyed in the genre without any reservations and continue to return to them time after time can be count with one hand. These games are F-Zero GX, OutRun, Super Hang-On! Burnout 3 and Star Wars Episode I Racer.

While I was intending to do a review on Holy Diver on the Famicom, I decided to push it back due to the Star Wars The Force Awakens teaser (where the hell is the moniker Episode VII?) and review Episode I Racer now that I managed to fix my Dreamcast on its 16th anniversary. That, and I need to spend some more quality time with Holy Diver.

VOOB VOOB VOOB VOOB
VOOB VOOB VOOB VOOB

First of all, for transparency I will say that playing Episode I Racer has been somewhat nostalgic experience, despite my first try at it being on the N64. It was a snowy day in sometime very early 2000’s, and I was visiting some family friends with my mother, and they had a spanking new N64, which of course we played. They didn’t have much on the game department, but I can vividly remember the sense of speed it gave me.

Forward some years later to mid-2000’s, and I found Star Wars Racer Arcade machine in an amusement park. The controls were rather insane, but something I would love to play again and again; you had two levers of control, just like from the movie and by moving them back and forth you controlled the craft on-screen. The one I played the game on was a single player cabinet with part of Skywalker’s pod as the seat, the Deluxe model. The game both looked, sounded and played extremely well, but alas I only the chance to play it for one whole day. Playing arcade games like this have certain excitement in there, a feeling and experience no home game could ever wish to replicate without special controls. My memories of it are rather strong. Later on I would learn that Racer Arcade was no a version of Episode I Racer, but a separate arcade game developed by SEGA with the Star Wars license.

At the time, it felt a lot bigger than what it looks
At the time, it felt a lot bigger than what it looks like

Having experienced what was essentially the original version and the SEGA’s pumped arcade version, I initially went into the Dreamcast version of Episode I Racer in somewhat high hopes. See, I never played the Dreamcast version and for some form of mis/luck I completely had missed any sort of info on it.

So yes, I hate to admit it, but the Dreamcast version of Episode I Racer disappointed me. I had no real expectations for it, but somehow the game feels a bit hollow in the end.

Well, let’s get to the controls.

For all intents and purposes, the controls do their job just fine. A accelerates and X brakes, no surprises here. However, I can but shake the feeling that the Dremcast controller’s triggers could’ve been utilised in this a bit better, but that’s a moot point now. I automatically tend to use the triggers as I would in F-Zero GX due to muscle memory, but only the R Trigger is used to make the pod skid. B and Y are used to flip the repulsorlift engine upwards from either side, a thing barely has any use outside few key moments. However, while you’re skidding without acceleration, I do like how the pod just continues with its direction and how satisfying it is to feel the pull from the engines when you begin to accelerate again. It’s not an instant change where the pod is heading, but fast enough to make it feel more alive. This may be dependent on the pod’s acceleration, and if it is, then its implemented pretty damn well.

The game likes to abuse the thumb stick, as Boost Mode is entered by pressing it forwards, until the speed-o-meter hits max speed, which after releasing and quickly re-pressing the accelerator engages the mode. In this mode, the temperature of the engines keeps rising and the mode needs to be disengaged before they explode. Even without entering the Boost Mode, keeping the thumb stick forwards allows you to reach a bit higher max speed. Pressing the thumb stick back allows you to turn easier.

This is pretty involved method of controls, to be honest. It requires the player to think through where he wants to relinquish better steering in order to enter Boost Mode. However, despite this the Boost Mode is not the most intuitive method of super acceleration. Certainly its different from other games that often give you a button to do it, but being all too different is not necessarily a better option. There could have been a good compromise between more friendlier way of control and the risk/reward of keeping the thumb stick forwards in order to enter the mode. The thumb stick sees a lot of back and forth moving action in this game, and I’m afraid I may need to buy a separate, dedicated controller for this game just to be safe. I may be a bit paranoid, but you never know.

The pods don’t have too much difference in how they act and control, to a large extent. Their largest differences come from their repulorsolift engine sizes and different max speeds. Some of the pods in the game have incredibly high maximum speed compared e.g. Skywalker’s own junkyard built machine and I’m afraid sometimes that simply unbalances the game quite a bit. Then again, racing games and balance have rarely joined together in harmony.

The game does have an edge over the N64 in that I greatly prefer the Dreamcast controller over the N64’s spaceship one. It’s a subjective thing, and I simply find better comfort in control of the thumb stick on Dreamcast than I do on N64. This is in comparison to F-Zero X, mind you. Whether or not I will get N64 version for comparisons sake sometime in the future is an open question. Copies are cheap, especially the US ones.

From controls we get to track design, which more or less divides opinions. Generally speaking, they’re decent. Some are extremely good and have an excellent flow to it, rewarding both highly technical and bold racing, while others just are sort of bullshit turns that will make you crash unless you just learn the track first. I should say that I value flowing tracks in a racing game, and by that I mean the elements the track has have a some sort of logic behind them that allows a smooth, non-stop speed. Of course, after knowing any track by heart in any game will allow the player to have a constant flow in any of the racing games, but I digress.

The AI is decent, so to say. Episode I Racer doesn’t seem to be a rubberband AI, as you can go far in front of the pack or be left behind by the leader. However, the AI seems to be know the best possible lanes and will abuse them. This is balanced somewhat that the AI doesn’t use the Boost Mode all that often, or not that the player would see. Later races it’s not too uncommon to see you going in front of the pack, and with one slight loss of speed with some sort of collision, you AI will catch you outright and often pass you. Then it’s a fight to get to the pole position again, as the sizes of the vehicles can fill the whole track at times. At times it also feels like the AI knows which engine has gone to red and rams it to explode it. If so, then the computer is a cheating bastard. The player has no way of knowing at what level the computers’ engines are. Ramming in the game is awkward, awful and seems to only damage the player, thus not worth it at all. AI is also generic in that sense that no other pod racer is no more aggressive than the other, thou you’d expect Sebulba to use his flamethrowers and fellow racers as much as possible.

The tracks allow some variety of paths taken and I welcome this sort of additions every time. These changes may not be speedier in most cases, but it keeps the same track from becoming all too boring and sometimes they have elements that other players find more suitable to their play style than what the other route could’ve been. There’s some somewhat interesting bits thrown in there as well, like Oovo IV’s Vengeance, where a part of the track is done in zero G, but avoiding huge lumps of rocks floating in there is absolutely horrible. Some of the tracks are remixed in later races, and while this is just using the existing map with some routes locked and unlocked, it still makes it feel fresh.

There is a problem with the rehashed tracks that the multiple paths can’t really help, and that’s when the tracks are just lousy in the visual department. Malastare 100 comes right to my mind as a failure in terms of visuals with its bland as hell visuals, especially where there’s supposed to be something like a bog with green vapours rising from it. Nothing really stands out in a positive way, even thou the intent they had was somewhat nice. However, far too many planets suffers from having industrials as part of their theme somehow in form of vehicles or machines. It’s Star Wars racing, and you could create far more illustrious worlds with the same hardware than this.

That’s the crux in this game; it is painfully obvious how the Dreamcast version is a direct, fast port of the N64 version. There’s nothing to take use of the more powerful hardware, as the game is rather ugly even by 2000 Dreamcast standards. Every asset has been ported from the N64 version, which means textures and polygons are rather ugly in comparison other Dreamcast game of the time. The HUD simply looks awful. The PC version seems to have the edge over the Dreamcast version by a mile in this regard, as the games has vector graphics over whatever piece of garbage they ported from the N64 assets.

Now, despite all that, the game looks sharp via VGA, which I tend to use as a standard with my Dreamcast. As such, the game does look sharp and every positive and negative tidbit on the screen gets a boost. Comparing to PC version via Youtube, there’s not much difference between the two outside PC version having far sharper HUD and slight touches here and there. Music quality may be better, but you really want to put something more fitting in the background. It can be argued whether or not it’s good to make this game look sharp on either PC or Dreamcast, as it mainly shows the flaws one couldn’t really see on N64.

The sounds department suffers from the exact same problem as the visuals, so the same applies here. Everything sounds exactly like you’d expect the N64 sound like. It doesn’t help there’s no really any fitting music. Sure, it’s Star Wars and you have to have that John Williams styled orchestral score in there, but reusing essentially one and the same song in each race is jarring the moment you leave the training course on Tatooine. The yelling the characters have in the game add absolutely nothing of worth, and I’m afraid most of them just sound badly acted. Doing this would keep you from hearing the beeping of the engines, which would force you to keep an eye on the speed-o-meter due to the lack of audio cues.

In the end, because the Dreamcast version of Episode I Racer is a lazy port of the N64 game, there’s no really a reason to call it bad. Sure, the GD format adds standard lenght loading times in there, but a lazy port doesn’t mean this one is a bad port. On the contrary, the game does run well and I have met not a single problem while playing through the game during. If soundless Youtube comparison is to be believed, the Dreamcast versions seems to run smoother, but that should be of not surprise.

That’s from the hollow feeling comes from. It’s a game that’s by all means a good one, perhaps even great, and by license game standards even stellar, but knowing this is a port of a game released earlier on both N64, Windows PC and on the damn Macintosh and then finally released on the Dreamcast without any considerations of the better hardware, it just feels like the game is neglected. I assume the Windows, N64 and Mac versions were developed around the same time and Dreamcast was mostly an afterthought, but I’m not too eager to find this out.

If we were to take the Racer Arcade into notion, I can’t help but with that SEGA had the rights to port their own game to Dreamcast. From all of the versions that used Episode I as its basis, SEGA’s Racer Arcade is without a doubt the best one. This may be because SEGA has a long history as an arcade game provider, or because they just know how to handle racing games that well. I am in the crowd who regards F-Zero GX as the best in the series. Nevertheless, I implore you to give Racer Arcade a try. As it is an arcade only game, you may never be able to play it, and even if MAME would be able to perfectly emulate the Hikaru hardware, you would never have the true way of playing the game with the levers.


Oh the memories! I wish we had one of those still around here. And no, that’s not me.

In short, Episode I Racer is a fun game that is held back on the Dreamcast due to its roots on N64. It could have been so much more than its earlier versions.