Monday, March 30, 2015

Star Trek: the Next Generation story arcs

I have the unusual opportunity to show Star Trek: TNG to a willing viewer who is otherwise unfamiliar with the series.  Yes, she's caught some episodes over the years, but only a handful.  Suffice it to say, I'm excited by the prospect.

Now, what we will likely do is to eventually watch the show from the beginning, but I've been given license to cherry pick some good episodes just to get a feel for the show.  I insisted on this, because the first season is just so godawful, I wouldn't want to lose her before she’s even begun.  Granted, we will be watching episodes from the first season, because there are plot points that you can’t avoid, such as the introduction of Q, Lore and the death of Tasha Yar.   But I hope to leave season 1 behind asap.

In the meantime, I’ve been having fun reviewing old episodes.  I love TNG.  So very, very much.  One thing I noticed from viewing the episodes in one big list, is that, while TNG didn’t have seasonal story arcs, as are popular in shows these days, they did have a great number of story threads working their way through the show.   And many of these stories are interconnected.  The Borg, for example, overlap with both Q and Lore.  But Lore also overlaps with the Crystalline Entity.  I’ve been having a great time stitching these episodes together.  Driven only by my initial fanaticism, I've managed to construct the following story arcs:

  • The Borg/Lore/Crystaline entity
  • Worf/Durass/Alexander/Deanna Troi
  • Tasha Yar/Sela/Spock

The Borg are an absolute must.  They're easily the biggest bad in the TNG universe.  The Tasha Yar story is the trickiest, as she was around for most of the first season, but it was a bad season.  It’s important to familiarize the viewer with her character in order to get the proper effect of her death and rebirth.  This is especially true in the episode ‘Yesterdays Enterprise’ wherein she receives another shot at life, and it is that element of the story which is so key to the episodes emotional impact.  Not to mention that the events of that episode lead to the birth of Sela.  Sela crosses over nicely with Worf’s Redemption story and with Spock’s reintroduction.  And of course, I'm looking for any excuse to include Spock.

And then there's the inclusion of the Troi/Worf romance, which may just be me being indulgent.  The writers drew those characters very slowly together, mostly through their mutual work with Worf's son Alexander.  But the growth of these two characters reached a head by the show's end, and I always loved that relationship.  

Granted, the more generous and inclusive I get with these storylines, the longer they get, and the more inclusive I'm driven to be.  This must be what it's like to invite people to a wedding.  If I include him, then I have to include her, and if I include both of them, then I have to include these other five.  

Sooo much subtle buildup to this scene

Still, in some cases, episodes aren't best shown right next to one another, so it's good to have some padding in between.  For example, QWho and Best of Both Worlds.  While they are the two episodes featuring the Borg in chronological order, there is supposed to have been an entire year between the two episodes, the time it takes for the Borg to travel from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant.  This time is important, because the Borg go from a distant, looming threat to an immediate danger of catastrophic proportions, with just enough time in between to get comfortable in the idea that maybe we aren't all going to die.   So, in order to solve this problem of padding between episodes without including a bunch of irrelevant or mediocre episodes, I would combine arcs.  

So far, I'm looking at 37 episodes, a bit more than a season's worth.  I could easily trim this down to 26 episodes, the length of a full season.  I've marked certain standalone episodes on the list below.  I chose to include these because they expand on existing themes, but aren't strictly necessary.  

So, without further ado, below are my personally constructed Star Trek the Next Generation story arcs.  Again, it is important to note that this is really just based on a fairly quick review of the episode list.  As time goes by, I may expand or pare down these arcs, in addition to adding others I haven't included (the Cardassians come to mind).  I plan to use these arcs to pick a series of stand-alone episodes outside of major story arcs.  

The season number and episode is listed to the right of each entry.  The episodes that are not strictly necessary are marked with an asterisk.  I included the first and last episodes as bookends.

  1. *Encounter at Farpoint- 1:1, 1:2
  2. *The Naked Now- 1:3
  3. Datalore- 1:13
  4. Skin of Evil- 1:23
  5. *Measure of a Man- 2:9
  6. QWho- 2:16
  7. The Emissary- 2:20
  8. Yesterday’s Enterprise- 3:15
  9. *The Offspring- 3:16
  10. Sins of the Father- 3:17
  11. *Sarek- 3:23
  12. Best of Both Worlds- 1 & 2 3:26, 4:1
  13. Family- 4:2
  14. Brothers- 4:3
  15. Reunion- 4:7
  16. Mind’s Eye- 4:24
  17. Redemption- 1&2 4:26,4:27
  18. Silicon Avatar- 5:4
  19. Unification- 1&2 5:7, 5:8
  20. *Ethics- 5:16
  21. *Cost of Living- 5:20
  22. I, Borg- 5:23
  23. *A Fistful of Datas- 6:8
  24. Birthright- 1 & 2 6:16, 6:17
  25. Descent 1&2- 6:26, 7:1
  26. *Parallels- 7:11
  27. *Eye of the Beholder- 7:18
  28. *All Good Things 1&2- 7:25, 7:26

 Listed by Arc:
*Encounter at Farpoint  1:1, 1:2

Borg/Data/Lore/Crystalline Entity  -  13 eps

Datalore  1:13
*Measure of a Man 2:9
QWho  2:16
*The Offspring 3:16
Best of Both Worlds 1 & 2 3:26, 4:1
Family 4:2
Brothers 4:3
Silicon Avatar  5:4
I, Borg  5:23
*Birthright 1  6:16
Descent 1&2  6:26, 7:1

Yar/Sela/Spock  8 eps
*The Naked Now  1:3
Skin of Evil  1:23
Yesterday’s Enterprise  3:15
*Sarek  3:23
Mind’s Eye  4:24
Redemption 2 5:1
Unification  1&2 5:7, 5:8

Worf/Duras/Troi - 12 eps
The Emissary  2:20
Sins of the Father 3:17
*Family 4:2
Reunion  4:7
Redemption  1&2 4:26,4:27
*Ethics  5:16
*Cost of Living  5:20
*A Fistful of Datas  6:8
Birthright 1 & 2  6:16, 6:17
*Parallels  7:11
*Eye of the Beholder 7:18

*All Good Things 1&2  7:25, 7:26


P.S.  I think this might be the nerdiest post I've ever posted

Friday, March 27, 2015

Game Review: RAGE (PC)

You know what, for games that have been out for a long time, I think I am just going to put out "Game Review" articles rather than the usual "Full Review."  I just find it easier to talk about how I played the game, what I liked about it than have a set form. . .although that sounds easier now that I think about it.  

Fuck it, game review it is!

The first time I booted up RAGE, I was unable to play it due to the game skipping every two or three seconds, which would make any game nigh on impossible to play.  Only after downloading an update for a number of my drivers was I able to play the game.  Prior playing though, I knew a bit of what I was getting myself into: a post apocalyptic FPS from the makers of Doom that included a driving element that received mixed reviews (the reviews that I read anyway).

Looking back at the game, there didn't really seem to be anything "breakthrough" about how the game played.  It was a basic FPS where you were supposed to kill anything when you weren't in a town and everything in the world was out to kill you.  There were a number of additions though to the standard FPS formula which included a few mini-games such as racing one of your three vehicles against computer controlled opponents and a game show where your kills earned you points resulting in monetary winnings.  The problem with the game-show portion was that you were required to use ammunition you bought and I often felt that the money I won from the show simply paid for the amount of ammunition I used.

There was a crafting system in the game that I used quite a bit and currently, that seems to be the "in" thing for adventure based video games.

There were hints of a larger story what with the Arcs (survival pod/structures designed to allow those inside to survive an near-extinction level event caused from the impact by the Apophis asteroid) that the Authority were trying to locate and who took on the roll of omnipresent antagonist who didn't really show up until the last quarter of the game.  The world however seemed to be a lot smaller and more canyon-like than I would have hoped for.  While you could travel between certain settlements and "dungeons," the paths were all very linear with not a whole lot of room for further exploration.  It was like being shown a map and told that you can only travel along the roads and the mountains are off limits.

Something that impressed me a bit was the enemy AI.  While a lot of their animations were programmed, they were still interesting to watch.  While hiding behind a crate, they would often peer over or around the box to get a better look at where you were then the would either lean out from behind the box and shoot at you, run to another source of cover, or just stick the gun out from cover and shoot in your general direction; or they might throw a grenade if they were written to have them equipped.  Even the different factions would have slightly different fighting styles.  The bandit group "The Ghosts" would often jump, roll and climb via monkey-bar-type bars around the stage while charging you making them more difficult to hit.

94.7% sure this is modeled after  Grand Central Station.
RAGE even managed to get around the disappearing bodies by having some of the enemies be mutants (due to crazy-radiation exposure I think) whose corpses would simply dissolve.  The downside to going up against mutants (who would only be in certain areas such as the game show and sewer/underground areas) was that they would never leave behind any loot.  They were fast little buggers too, but nothing a point blank shotgun blast to the face or a bladed boomerang couldn't fix.

So the driving element, I should talk about that before closing out.

Driving in RAGE is a semi-big part of the game as it allows you to get from one settlement/dungeon back to wherever your home base is.  The controls were pretty easy to get used to (WASD) and later vehicles (everything after the ATV here) had some sort of machine gun or rocket launcher.  There are a number of required driving story elements that while never too difficult (some races required repeat attempts), seemed a little bit out of place, but again, it was a nice element to see in an otherwise straight forward FPS.

The only other criticism I have with RAGE was that it seemed a bit short for the story they wanted to tell.  Okay, so ~30 hours may not seem like a short game, but I felt that the ending came rather abruptly and I was left hanging.  It was like finishing the last stage, being shown that you completed your objective. . .then what?  Was all right with the world?  I wanted to know more, or at the very least see a sequel that allowed for further exploration of the world.  Even with the Scorchers and Sewers DLC, I wanted more.

One aspect of the game that I did not explore was the online multiplayer.  It wasn't my sort of thing and I can only assume that one of the racing formats was included, the other being a deathmatch setup, possibly in the game-show arena setting.  I am just making conjectures here.

In the end, RAGE was definitely worth whatever I paid for it during a past Steam sale even without having played any of the multiplayer content because as you all know, that is just not my bag of Fritos.

Something With A Bit More Of A Beat

And they all lived happily ever after.  Right?

Stage Level Start - Battletoads (NES) - Stage 3 - Speeder Level

To get in the right frame of mind for this post, I've provided this convenient animated gif.  Then please refer to the MIDI Week Singles post for the accompanying music. 

The speeder level is everybody's (least) favorite, or at the very least, most memorable Battletoads level.  That's just how it is.  For one thing - it's really, really hard.  But for another:  it's really, really fun.  It's that rare combination of impossibly, frustratingly, hair-pulling-ly difficult and yet a ton of fun and I just want to do it again.

I beat it a couple times.  I used Nintendo Power, I followed the maps to see what was ahead of me.   I even figured out that you can jump a full-sized wall, if you time it just right.

But... oh man, the first time I got to that final run, when the speed doubles;   It's like the naked at school dream.  Suddenly, the bottom drops out.  Wha?  They actually expect me to do this?  This has to be some sort of joke.

But it's not a joke.  And you can do it.  I did do it.  More than once.  All that careful timing from before boils down to rhythm.  Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up down.  Keep it consistent, if you are a fraction of a second late, you will die.  It's a rush!

Battletoads was a product of its time.  Apart from being a blatant TMNT ripoff, it suffered from some classically-shitty NES design features.  For example, at the beginning of stage 3, before you get to the speeders, you can just sort of fall to your doom executing a very simple jump.  It is maddening, because you need to save your lives for the nigh-impossible feat ahead of you.  But no, some sort of weird collision detection issue will send you into the bouncing balls of death. 

Despite these sorts of design flaws, it was a lot of fun, and very ambitious.  Who doesn't like the idea of racing an anthropomorphic frog through some sort of brain/intestine tunnel at breakneck speeds?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "John's Theme (A Sharp Miner)" - Rochard (PC)

"John's Theme (A Sharp Miner)" from Rochard on the PC (2011)
Composer: Marcus Kaarlonen
Game Developer: Recoil Games

I'm sure I've talked a bit about this, not specifically about Marcus Kaarlonen's Rochard soundtrack, but about realizing that you find a song to be amazing the first time you listen to it.  It's something special when it happens with music from video games.

For me, a fair amount of video game music is about nostalgia, that I can remember times playing those specific games based on the music.  You play a game and the songs, while they may not be the best song outside of the context of the video game, hold a special place in your heart.  With that in mind, I love that feeling I get when listening to video game music for the first time and all I can do is sit back and take in the beautifulness that is assaulting my brain.

"John's Theme (A Sharp Miner)" did that very thing to me the first time I heard the song.  I haven't even played Rochard, which says, to me at least, that the music is able to stand alone from the video game.  This piece has epic space saga written all over it.  It's a love child that John Williams and Alan Silvestri would have had in the late 80s early 90s, and what a child it is too.

The point is, "John's Theme (A Sharp Miner)" is a great song which also happens to be from a video game.  So poo-poo on all the nay-sayers of the quality of video game music.

Dig This Sound

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Fall of Club Nintendo = More Virtual Console Games

Yeah, that title is a little misleading.  Earlier in the year, Club Nintendo (Nintendo's online game registry for "coins" for free Nintendo products) announced that it was closing down, which hopefully isn't news to anyone at this point.  The point is that Nintendo has been offering  a handful of games for both the 3DS and Wii U Virtual Consoles that can be purchased using their Nintendo specific currency/coins in order to use them up before the site finalizes its shutdown of Club Nintendo on June 30th, 2015.

So during this pseudo-sale of sorts (as in it's not really a sale on the games front, just offering more than their usual three per month), I managed to spend my remaining coins and picked up two Game Boy games: Baseball and Golf.  Two somewhat odd choices if you are just joining us since we started writing here, but if you know anything about me, not too strange of a choice.

I played baseball in Little League from 1988 and one season in the Babe Ruth League in 1992.  The onlybaseball game I owned throughout the years was Major League Baseball on the NES that I bought after having rented it from Placer TV/Video.  Baseball was released on the Game Boy in 1989 and looks a lot like a dated port of Nintendos self released Baseball from 1983, but without the license and contains only two teams to choose from: American or Japanese.  It's a fun no frills baseball game that isn't as computer cheat-heavy as the baseball game that came with Wii Sports, but as I've mentioned a few times before, it's good to have some level of paranoia. 

Some time around the end of Jr. High (I think) I started playing golf, the last time being about five years ago or there abouts.  I had never owned a golf video game although I played a lot of Golf on the Intellivision while on vacation at my grandparent's house.  I also played a bit of Mario Golf on the N64, but on the whole, golf games never really held my interest.  Now that I think about it, it might have something to do with the fact that the golf games that I like are not realistic in their design.  I mean sure, there is a certain high mechanic such as the level and power of the swing, the specific club and even the green (in the Game Boy version) has grades to you have to plan that out too while putting.

So the Game Boy port of the 1984 NES game Golf is a fantastic version of a lo-fi golf game that has everything that I ever look for in a golf game.  You have a full set of clubs, there are water hazards, bunkers, out of bounds areas, fairways and rough areas.  There is a wind arrow and you can even put a top or back spin on the ball.  As mentioned three sentences ago, the green is even graded with the hole often placed in a spot that makes you want to beat the groundskeeper with a frozen sock.  Between the two courses (USA or Japanese), I tend to favor the Japanese course as it seems to have been designed in a less dickish manner with the green not surrounded by a moat of water and sand traps and the hole doesn't look like it was created with Mt. Fuji in mind.  Plus!, the game keeps track of your best scores, so it's nice to see improvement (exceedingly slow improvement, but improvement nonetheless).

The last game I picked up was the 1988 Sunsoft Metroidvania/Legend of Zelda mashup masterpiece Blaster Master.  I played this game a few times after borrowing it from Delaños although I never made any real progress through the thing.  I don't even recall how far I often made it through, but I know that it wasn't so far that after currently playing for an hour, I became lost and on the verge of dying for the last time.  I don't even know what happens when you lose all of your lives.  But hey, the game is a "classic," the soundtrack (composed by Naoki Kodaka) is one that is often covered by video game music cover bands because of how so damn catchy the tunes are and it's a game that I've always wanted to give a serious go at beating.

So I am very happy with my recent (as in a month ago) acquisitions in the Virtual Console department on my 3DS.  I am interested to see what happens with the skeletons of Club Nintendo.  Will Nintendo keep their database of names, email addresses and registered games or will those go into the proverbial recycle bin in the ether?  Will some other Nintendo organization presence take its place in the coming days/weeks/fortnights/months?  I guess we will just have to wait at see, but in the meantime, play some officially licensed (and developed?) mobile games from Nintendo.

Tell Me Why

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Miscellaneous Mid-Month Update

Hello hello, my adoring public.  Pause for the sound of crickets.

I'm just hopping on a borrowed internet connection to comment on my recent absence.  I've had a few recent changes that have hampered my ability to post.  I went from a slow job with plenty of time to use the internet, to a new, fast paced position with virtually zero internet time.  In addition, I moved, and I haven't gotten my internet  connection worked out at the new place.  AT&T sent me a broken modem, so now I need to find time to have a technician come out and check everything before replacing the modem.  On top of all of that, I have a new girlfriend companion - party member, and we are keeping our weekends busy.  In our downtime, I've unpacked my nintendo 64 and played some Star Fox, Turok and Mario Kart.  It's good times, and my gal-pal has great nostalgia for that system.  

In addition, I'd like to share some links regarding the newly late Terry Pratchett and Leonard Nimoy.  These are important and rad creative people, and I would be remiss if I didn't say a little something on this blog.

But these will have to wait.  For another near-future sample sized internet connection.  Until then,


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Dreams of the Shore Bordering Another World" - Chrono Cross (PSX)

"Dreams of the Shore Bordering Another World" from Chrono Cross on the Playstation (1999)
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
Record Label: Digicube SSCX-10040
Game Developer: Squaresoft

This song came up earlier while procrastinating from doing my homework and I thought, "Why have I not written a post about this song yet?"  I had no good answer, you y'all're getting to listen to this today!

Despite the fact that I don't feel that Chrono Cross was a particularly good sequel to Chrono Trigger, it was a good game that had a great soundtrack.  This track is used as the overworld theme once Serge crosses over to the "Other Aruni."  It's beautiful as a stand alone piece, yet has that special something that allows it to be played over-and-over as theme while your characters traverse the world.  I also really enjoy the simplicity of track, that it is performed by five voices: violin, piano, guitar, bass and a voice; especially during a time when I felt a lot of music from video games were trying to layer too many voice because the hardware at the time allowed more than limited number previously on the 8 and 16 bit consoles.

In the end, if you ended up having a negative view of Chrono Cross, at least give the soundtrack a try, great tracks like "Dreams of the Shore Bordering Another World" fill the entirety of the album.  You might be missing out otherwise.

I Reached The Shore And Saw It Come

Friday, March 13, 2015

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

Jesus.  The third in memoriam type-thing in just over a month.

Yesterday morning, Emilie told me that Sir Terry Pratchett had passed away.  From the article she was reading, she said that he had passed away with his cat on his bed and with his family present.  Then she read the first part of a triptych of tweets that came out posthumously.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn't emotionally moved.  "Knowing" the character of DEATH from his Discworld series, a flood of memories of the various circumstances that involved DEATH throughout the books that I have read came back to me and it was like I could see/hear the passage being read in DEATH'S voice and that the sentence was something that was in one of his books.  (Unlike that previous sentence which was poorly written and rewritten and yet somehow remains in existence).  There were two additional tweets that read, "Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night" and "The End."

I haven't read all of the books in the series although I recently finished The Last Continent.  I was introduced to Terry Pratchett and Discworld through a friend back in 2003 with Mort and I immediately fell in love with the world, the writing style with it being similar to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and yet how serious the overall stories could be.  To date (with only having read 22 of the 41, soon to be 42 books in the series and I know that these are books that I will (and have) read over and over again.  Nanny Ogg, DEATH, and Rincewind are a few of my favorite characters and I know that everyone will have their own list and there is no point claiming one list over another, but it's not always just the characters themselves, but how they react and how real they feel despite the fantasy whole of the world.

I've never read any of his Free Wee Men and with the exception of his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on Good Omens, I have not read anything else that he as written, Discworld or otherwise.  I also do not put his young adult novels out of reach, my current reading is not above anything that Sir Pratchett has written.

What impressed me the most about Sir Pratchett's writing was that he was able to be consistently funny.  I found his humor similar to Douglas Adams and Monty Python (maybe because they are all British), but every book of his that I have read has been humorous and meaningful without ever reaching the level of preachiness that a lot of moralistic stories fall to.  Sure, not all of the stories of his that I have read have garnered the "Oh wow that was an amazing story!" reaction but I have enjoyed them nonetheless.  Some of the humor, especially dealing with the Wizards is lost on me, but not all of it as I have plenty of experience in dealing with seniors who are convinced that they are right, you are wrong and that black man in the white house needs to go.

I recall reading back in either 2010 or 2011 (four years after his initial announcement) that Sir Pratchett had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease or what I loved that he referred to it as an "embuggerance."  I saw him/his representative make a number of posts via the Facebook over the last couple of years, but already working in an assisted living facility and dealt with residents with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, I shamefully did not follow through with reading the articles as I selfishly needed to be outside that world while not at work.

This is the extent of my knowledge and experience with the late Sir Terry Pratchett.

Sir Terry Pratchett will be missed, but at least we all still have the Discworld to remember him by.  I feel that this is all that I am capable of saying in a woefully inadequate manor.

Tell My Wife I Am Trawling Atlantis

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: 'Speeder Level' - Battletoads (NES)

"Speeder Stage" from Battletoads on the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)
Composer: David Wise
Record Label: unknown
Game Developer: Rare


Battletoads: a blatant TMNT ripoff that was still a lot of fun.  Arguably it's the better game.  It does feature some catchy tunes, and none more so than the Speeder Bike theme from the third level.  This level is infamous for its difficulty, and for many gamers, the fun stopped here.  But despite it's incredible difficulty, the speeder stage was a ton of fun.  And who doesn't love a good, upbeat racing theme, perfectly crafted for endless looping?

It is worth Noting that this track was composed by David Wise, previously featured here for his work on Donkey Kong Country 2, another game from developer: Rare.