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.

Comparing the two X-Wings

With the new Star Wars movies coming up, I’ve been waiting to see a glimpse or two of the new and old designs we’d eventually see in the movies. This is mostly because Star Wars’ designs make little to no sense when it comes to progression, as we’ve seen with the Prequel Trilogy. I hope that the upcoming Sequel Trilogy will do better in this regards, but it can be argued that it is easier to take an existing product and refine it further to meet the modern standard.

Just recently we got a full body view of the new X-Wing Starfighter, and it’s an interesting piece by all means. Let’s put it against the good ol’ Incom T-95 X-Wing Starfighter.

The newer, sleeker design fives hopes for practical effects, but only a little bit
The newer, sleeker design fives hopes for practical effects, but only a little bit
The old X-Wing is iconic and well loved everybody expect the Imps
The old X-Wing is iconic and well loved everybody expect the Imps

First of all, the overall size of the new X-Wing is smaller. The dimensions compared to the pilot and the director are more compact than what the original legends had. However, compact is not the right word to describe the overall look of the new fighter. It’s smaller, more sporty but also sleeker, and in some regards, more tactically aggressive and nimbler. It’s not as long as its predecessor and has more slopes and curves, which gives an impression of a smaller bird of prey, but just as deadly as its older brother.

The smallness also brings in some in-universe problems, as it loses space to hold more proton torpedoes and luggage as well as other things. It could be that this fighter has been made to rely on carriers more, but it’s still a good sized ship to have a hyperdrive. Of course, a lot of things could have been miniaturised further, thus leaving more space for other things. Because of the length being shorter, the proton torpedo chutes are directly under the cockpit rather than starting directly under where the original’s cockpit glass ended.

I’m glad to see the aforementioned slopes and curves, to be honest. The Original Trilogy had a very industrial feel to its designs with daily grit etched to them. This spirit is carried by the ship designs as well, where the Y-Wing is most likely the most prominent example with exposed parts everywhere. This new X-Wing carries a familiar taste, but because of the more softer shapes applied to the design, it gives off a bit more younger, fresher breath. Something like stepping outside the workshop after a long day, where you still have that smell of steel and snoot, but with the fresh air. The wingtips actually have a curved design, where they curl up to the laser cannons.

The curves have been applied to make the overall silhouette of the fighter smaller, as the aft of the fighter curves inside to the centre. The nose has that familiar X-Wing design, and you can even see the same extra tidbits alongside the fuselage. The intakes are the largest step away from the original X-Wing, but are true to Ralp McQuarrie’s concept design. You could say that the new fighter is a cross-bred between the original movie fighter and McQuarrie’s concept. The engine nozzles at the back don’t seem to be completely well thought out; they’re just sticking out in an able from the main construction. It would have been nice to see them grow from the form naturally, but they do give that slight industrial taste to an extent.

Do note the difference in the Tie-Fighter as well. The dimensions are slightly different
Do note the difference in the Tie-Fighter as well; The dimensions are slightly different

The wings are the most different from the original or the concept. At first I thought that the wings wouldn’t separate, which would have meant that this fighter would have continued to follow Z-95 Headhunter’s way of thinking. This is because the wings themselves are thin and do not hold any seam that two separate wings would make. It would have been an interesting twist, but luckily my old friend informed me that the wings do indeed open, but in a different manner. Rather than splitting alongside the wings’ length, the wings open in from the middle, splitting the wings’ depth. If you look closely to the left wing’s top, you can see a line going in the middle. Another point is the curled wingtips, as you can see the back wing going behind the front wing and leaving a distinct seam. This is the seam where the wings split. The front part of the wing turns downwards and the aft turns up.

Speaking of the laser cannons, they have a slight redesign as well. The new X-Wing share’s the same basic design with the original. In the new fighter the half-pipe shaped protectors (or something like that) are slightly thinner and have a blob design in the middle to conform with the barrel of the cannon. The overall design is the same otherwise with similar minor adjustments or additions.

I’m not all that good with colours, but the X-Wing line has always had subdued colours, from the original’s earthly red to some Expanded Universe ships. The choice of blue is a safe bet and the applied decals look as they should. The overall image of the colouring is very controlled. Giving this X-Wing a new, attacking colour scheme could make it look more eye catching as well as far more threatening. I hope this is one of the things that looks small, but packs a punch. I’m already expecting to see one in outrageous yellow with falcon design, or a royal paintjob of reds and gold.

There’s also one possibly positive side on this X-Wing; it seems to be easier to draw. This is because the design is simpler and doesn’t require the drawer to align four different spherical engines properly with each other and maintain their relation to each other and to the main body. However, when the wings open this might go out of the window depending on the geometry they introduce with it. From what we’ve seen, the changes don’t seem to mass to anything worth noting, but it wouldn’t be the first time something with variable form capability could surprise everybody.

I’m eager to see this one the big screen, or more of its builds. Concept illustrations would be a great thing to see in the near future. Perhaps they’ll release a lot of concept illustrations before the release of the movie, like they did with Phantom Menace.

Consistency in design creates a wholesome forest

When you’re designing something fictional you’re bound to struggle to create a cohesive and consistent world. It’s even harder to keep it consistent if the factious body of work takes place during a  long span of time. It is very easy to lose track on what sort of things have been put on paper at what era of the work, and how it all builds into the logical evolution of said designs. Things get even harder when there should be present hundreds of designs per era or chapter of the work, as the designer might lose all cohesion between the designed sets. In some cases a designed object or being might resemble something from a completely different franchise altogether rather than naturally fitting to the given frame the pre-existing designs are set into.

Without consistency and the cohesion the designs bring with them in the visuals, the suspension of disbelief is easily shattered. It doesn’t matter how bullshit logic or science is behind the function and appearance of the design as long as the designs follow the organic pattern found elsewhere in the fictional world. By breaking the cohesion at a core level can be successful if it is done correctly and there’s a very good in-universe reason, like differences between cultures or differences between man-made objects and natural ones. Even then there has to exist consistency between all man-made objects and natural objects. That said, not everything needs to look the same, do not mix this cohesion with homogenous visuals.

Aiming for cohesion is not a limitation either, but a guideline for something better. Cohesion stems from understanding why something looks like it does and grows from there in an organic fashion, where everything before and after have the same core, but are their own being. It’s easy to mistakenly to abandon cohesion for something else, and it’s even easier to abandon it willingly. Willing abandonment of cohesion most often stem from the designer not understanding what has already designed, or simply abandons the pre-existing set examples and does his own thing, disregarding everything else and thus putting the balance and logic in the visuals under questioning.

Let’s take Star Wars as an example.

Since the late 70’s, we’ve seen new character, vehicle, weapon, world and species designs next to everything that is ever needed to have in a given Star Wars story, be it a new weapon of mass destruction or as simple thing as an oxygen tank. Star Wars has expanded immensely since its birth and it’ll most likely keep expanding even more as the time goes by. I’m sure we’re going to see some sort of hundred years of Star Wars thing in 2077, and I hope I’m there to see it and possibly laugh at it.

Expansion has been a mixed blessing really. For every Rogue Squadron and Heir to the Empire we have a The Crystal Star and Clone Wars movie, all of which carry new pieces of designs that more or less fit into the incredibly wide field of Star Wars’ universe. For whoever works with the upcoming Sequel trilogy, do make sure that the evolution of the designs fit what already is in the Original Trilogy, as whatever LucasFilm was smoking in during pre-productions of Prequel Saga caused them to horribly go wrong.

We’ll use few example from the movies themselves, andsome from the Expanded Universe.

Walkers are most well known machines in Star Wars overall
Walkers are most well known machines in Star Wars overall

When the AT-AT was first designed, the staff of LucasFilm and ILM used elephant to model the walk cycle. Next to this, the design called for a massive behemoth controlling the battlefield just by its presence. The AT-AT units are rugged machines of war, slowly but surely assaulting their target and decimating it. The lines of them are clean, simple and to the point; there’s very little unnecessary bits dangling anywhere.

In harsh contrast, the Prequel series got its own set of Walkers that are less inspiring. I haven’t seen Episode II in years, but there is two scenes that still strike very disappointing in my memories; the appearances of AT-TE and DSD1 dwarf spider droid. These two show that the designers didn’t even give a shit about how progression in the universe would go.

It's a damn kids toy
It’s a damn kids toy

From a design point, the Spider Droid looks like a damn baby’s toy. It looks silly with its huge red eyes and with its cannon nose. If it was supposed to be a machine of war, why the hell most of its insides are exposed and eyes are easier to hit than a CRT screen with your fist. This is something I could see designed for Star Wars version of GoBots. The same can be said of the OG-9 Homing Spider Droid just behind the Dwarf one in the shot, but it’s slightly less stupid.

There is an idea behind the designscape of a spiderwalker, but it’s realized here in a horrible fashion. You can have a spherical body with four legs without most of the innards showcasing itself. However, if you are designing a war machine rather than toy, you do not put bid red targets as eyes. What kind of progression in here anyway? The Trade Federation is all absent from the Original Trilogy, so we can assume the wardroid tech was more or less useless in the upcoming years, or that the designers and writer/s didn’t give a shit how things would look and come out in the future. The problem is, the future already existed in this case. We know how the future of these designs looks like, and it makes little sense.

But the Spider droids are a singlular thing that just doesn’t fit Star Wars as a whole. We have something that will always baffle me to no end.

Technological predecessors my ass
Technological predecessors my ass

The AT-TE is a mess. It looks something that would spin off from AT-AT rather than be its predecessor based on its design. In reality it was a crude attempt to bring in the feeling of AT-AT from the Empire Strikes Back to the Prequels and they failed in it pretty damn well.

The first problem with the AT-TE is its outer appearance. Pretty much all of it seems to be evolved from AT-AT rather the other way around with its sleeker armouring. AT-TE for some reason was designed to have better shielding against forward and rear shots with its angled armours. Of course, in the movies it gets one-shotted by a random big laser blast. Appearance  be damned, they wanted this thing to be weaker and they’ll force it through even if it killed the series. But hell, these things can scale mountains! That’s some serious bullshit right there. Why would the Imperials NOT want their future walkers use that kind of tech? Oh, that’s right. That idea didn’t exist prior to AT-TE in real life.

There’s also the issue with the legs. AT-TE’s six legs is much, much more stable than AT-AT’s four, meaning that either they downgraded the thing or that the designers didn’t think this through. Yes, we could say that they evolved the tech, but tech goes hand in hand with the outer appearance in most cases. Just take a look at the evolution of tanks and fighter jets. As a viewer, it makes no sense to have better shaped walkers in the past.

Of course, the shield technology can be said to be more advanced in the Original Trilogy, but seeing how every single shield works exactly the same across the movies, I call bullshit on this. LucasFilm dropped the ball with these harshly.

The expanded universe is a new whole set of troubles that I’m not going to go into, but there is one thing that needs to be addressed; Tales of the Jedi and Dawn of the Jedi.

At the time, Tales of the Jedi was historically the oldest thing in Star Wars timeline, telling old stories of the Great Hyperspace War and other significant events. Tales of the Jedi had a nice depiction how the universe was prior to the “modern” era and its state of unrefined science. Even Lightsabers were depicted of having a cord to a power source. Here’s a noteworthy thing; Tales of the Jedi shows everything pretty much made by hand, like it was an era of craftsmen. George Lucas explained the designs in Prequels that all the tech was made by artisans, which is bullshit. Tales of the other hand actually feels like that, that most of tech and object these people handle are made by craftsmen rather than giant mills and factories. Things were older and that’s the key point with Tales stories.

It’s hard to design old things in very limited fashion. It takes effort and research, two things people seem to hate to do unless someone’s there to explain things step-by-step basis.

When I first saw the covers for Dawn of the Jedi, I thought it was some story set sometime after Tales of the Jedi, because they clearly had Lightsabers. And I was wrong. What they have are basically Lightsaber predecessors called Forcesabers, which basically is a Lightsaber. It is extremely disappointing to see writers and designers using this sort of bullshit explanation to get things they want in a different setting. This also goes to the outfits and suits in the early Expanded Universe, and I can’t fathom why these people don’t see it themselves.

The question is; if in this era they do not have lighsabers, why do they have something that is exactly the same thing?

I could also dip into the clothing, how Expanded Universe has more advanced clothing in certain early era stories than later on in the movies, but that’s something would take far too long.  But here’s an example; Luke wears an armour in the Shadows of the Empire that looks pretty much the same Trill wears in the first issue of Dawn of the Jedi, with certain changes, of course.

From design point of view, the Star Wars universe is a harsh discord and unbalanced by decision that have no other basis other than the artists own desires rather than what the series would need. There’s little to no cohesion in the progress of designs in-universe, but when you look at them from real world point of view, you’re able to pinpoint the era where a Star Wars product has been designed and made. Why? They carry the elements of that one era far too much. Tales of the Jedi and few others are somewhat  standalone entities here, where they were made with care. Tales looks and feels as it was an old story of time long gone. Most others feel like yet another Star Wars story set in whatever time the reader really wants it to be in.

Star Wars, as it is now, is far too inconsistent with its ideas and designs. They clash with each other far too much. You might think that this is something only core fans would care for, but it’s really an underlying issue. General consumer pays attention to things that really does seem insignificant more than a core fan would. Something like warp core misnaming is what core fans notice, but everything else noticed by general public. Core fans are the ones that inspect the forest tree by tree; the general consumer cares for the whole forest, and sees where the bad trees are.

Warring Stars

There are very few things that we can actually say about the seventh movie. We know the director and some other stuff, and I have to admit that hearing the involvement of J.J. Abrams didn’t light a spark of hope in my mind. Abrams’ style in directing and forceful inclusion of his trademarks have [both] always been very hamfisted and ultimately have done more disservice than anything else. For example, the nu-Star Trek films are far too action oriented for their namesake and they carry all the markings of Abrams from the floaty texts to the immense amounts of lensflare. I have to admit, that the action Abrams’ directs would work better in Star Wars than in Trek.

As you might’ve gathered, this post will be more about what I personally think of the current state of Star Wars films than looking from any other point of view.

What we know is that Lucas is not completely out from the picture, as he is a creative consultant on the new trilogy, which basically means that they’re asking if the whole things fits into the mythos, but Lucas doesn’t have any power. Basically he is there to get his name on the credits and be a  part of the films somehow. I find this good, as Lucas’ prequel trilogy was somewhat disappointing. It’s been ages since I saw Episodes I-III, and I think the last time I saw Episode III was at a theater. It was actually the last film I saw in my all-time favourite theater Aallotar, which went down due to many reasons surrounding the building and the owners’ age. Hmm, I need to get a female blogger on this site, who would be willing to take on that name. 

Comparing Star Wars (IV) to the original drafts of Lucas, there’s a huge change between their tone, emphasize, style and story. I read it some ten years ago or so, and I read it again just to see how different it was. I had forgotten how much stuff that was cut out from it appeared in Episode I, stuff like Imperial Hovertanks and pretty much everything being chrome. Annikin’s father, Kane Starkiller, is also a cyborg and at one point has a line about how he is just a head and an arm or something along those lines. There’s a lot of silly stuff like that, but I can’t really recommend to read any of the earlier drafts. As mentioned, a lot of these parts appeared in Episode I, and were something that pretty much everybody called stupid or problematic.

At my younger age I regarded Episode VI as the best one. There was something about it that kept me more entertained, but I’ve found myself appreciating Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope a lot more nowadays, especially Empire… which is very funny when you remember than Lucas had very little to do with that movie at all in the end.

We’ve seen with Lucas that the more freedom he had, the worse product he put out. Irving Kershner on the other hand had a huge responsibility to make a better movie than Star Wars IV. That’s the key in any business; to make something that could replace the previous one in every possible way.  Empire did just that. Return of the Jedi on the other hand didn’t try to outdo Empire, and neither did Episodes I-III.

In this sense, we can be very hopeful with Episode VII. The staff that works on Episode VII will be having an extremely heavy burden to deal with. Episode I was the biggest damn fiasco ever, and the hype for it was immense. The hype we see for Episode VII is nothing compared to it, and that’s good. I’m sure that the first time we hear the title or see concept art and all that, the hype will go up exponentially.

And through all this, Abrams is like Lucas; he doesn’t care what the audience wants and expects. He just does his own thing and that troubles me. I’m dreadfully expecting Episode VII to look like another Apple store with sleek surfaces with clean cuts and computer controlled curves with humongous amounts of unnecessary lensflare and shaky cams everywhere. Episode I’s design basis was to have Naboo’s ships to be more handcrafted, and we all can say that they were far away from looking handcrafted; they looked like a damn 3DCG models. There’s also the issue how CGI is outdated faster than good actual physical models. Imagine if Lucas had actual artisans designing and crafting models for him. The largest difference between the models and CGI is that the stuff we saw in Episode I-III looked newer and more modern than what Episodes IV-VI had. That’s a natural progression when you don’t give a damn how things look. There have been a lot of explanations and retcons why things look like they do, but it all ends in the fashion of the current moment. 70’s naturally was more low-tech than 00’s, but that’s why it would have been good for the Lucasfilm staff to take a look at the earlier styles, which were not sleek and clean cut. The only things that have always been sleek and clean cut in the human history are diamonds and blades. At least now they have a proper reason to make the new trilogy look technically superior with the 00’s inspired crap Abrams loves so much. I’d hate to think that the upcoming trilogy would lay groundwork to which the 2010’s design would take cues from, at least when it comes to films. That, and Kaplan, the costume designer for the nu-Trek, is going to work on Episode VII, which is a complete mixed bags. On other hand some of the nu-Trek’s costume designs were good, but on the other hand they were just bad and very damn generic. Star Wars needs something more than simple bodycondom.

The thing that makes me worry the most is is Michael Arndt, the screenwriter for Episode VII. His track record is very short and doesn’t give enough clues if he will be able to write a screenplay that follows in the lead of Episodes IV-VI rather than I-III. But he can write a plot, that much is true. Now we have to see if he is able to create a story for Star Wars, and that takes some work and research. Then again, he is working with Abrams, and he didn’t even know what Star Trek was about. Sometimes I wish I could punch these people just as much people wish they could punch me.

Whatever first proper piece of illustration or leaked photos we’re going to see about Episode VII will give some insight. If it’s going to be anything like with the new Robocop movie, I will need a storeful of booze. Episode VII is a large questionmark of which there is no real reason to guess what it will be like, but seeing the people involved, we can make these slight assumptions on the visual direction it will go.