Thursday, January 2, 2014

Temporary Hiatus.

Okay folks, seems as if I was a bit too ambitious right out of the gate. I am going to be taking a temporary hiatus for about two months, so I can finish some of my other projects before starting up this one again. My webseries, Drone9, comes out in March and I really need to focus on finishing up Post-Production on that. I will come back full force after that has launched when I have a bit more sanity to focus on the big projects I have lined up for Trek Is Not a Dirty Word. Thanks for reading and Ill be back in March!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Retrospective on Star Trek Video Games! Part TWO.


The next game in our series is Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy which was released by Simon and Schuster Software in 1986, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of TOS. A text based game in the vein of Zork, the game was created by TRANS Fiction Systems, AKA Ron Martinez and Jim Gasperini who also developed Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Transinium Challenge. The game was the second text game released by Simon and Schuster Software in the 80's of a total of three, preceded by Star Trek: The Kobayashi Alternative, and succeded by Star Trek: The Rebel Universe, with Promethean Prophecy from what I've been able to understand, being the more popular entry. I managed to find a working web version of the Apple II edition of the game here. I will say, it's a bit difficult to understand what the larger cultural commentary on the various games was a good 27 years out, but I've read a lot of great things about this specific game.

Screenshot from the MS-DOS version.

The Promethean Prophecy has a story that may sound familiar: The Enterprise is attacked by Romulans, who are defeated. During the attack however the ships food supplies are contaminated with a MacGuffin. Since the MacGuffin, can't be handwaved away, they need to go down to Prometheus Four, the closest M Class Planet around. Realizing that they are not yet a Warp Capable species, the problem now becomes one of not just survival, but of the Prime Directive. What follows is an interesting look into an alien culture with a lot of not so subtle callbacks to episodes like "Errand of Mercy," "The Cloud Minders," and "A Private Little War." Unfortunately I did not have quite enough time to finish the game, but I intend to sometime later this week.

Operation and Reference Card.

Text games for those who have not played them, are a sublime experience. The closest thing I can describe it to is reading a book in which occasionally you have to figure out what the story is trying to tell you, and then describe that, at which the story continues. You can at times, if you would like to know more about a certain subject, ask more about that subject, and it will be described! On the other hand, sometimes I would like to talk to a character or examine an item that the programmers and writers never thought about in which the game will respond: "I don't recognize the word 'analyse'." or something else to that effect. The game starts off with an attack by a Romulan ship in which a sort of phantom image is being projected, with a vague description of a visual anomaly off the starboard bow. The Ensign at the con fumbles and fails to be able to scan the anomaly and the phantom ship so you must find someone who can: "Kirk to Spock" the command calls Lt. Commander Spock (The game makes reference to the death of a Romulan Captain at the hands of Kirk, which I believe is a nod to Mark Lenard's character in "Balance of Terror." He says it happened very recently, within a few months, so that puts the game somewhere between Season 1 and Season 2, as Chekov is aboard the ship. I bring this up because Spock's rank as the XO is very slippery. It is believed that at some point offscreen between Season 1 and 2, he was promoted from Lt. Commander, to a full Commander. I'm going with Lt. Cmder now arbitrarily.)  The game is not hard, but sometimes, I got lost and needed to check a tutorial. Despite the difficulty and some logically mind twisting bugs of the typical adventure game ideology, it's a fun game. Because of the strong writing and well drawn characters, Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy has aged QUITE WELL. Not having what is now considered graphical features has prevented the game from looking dated, and even just being played in a Chrome App, is a very satisfying experience. Track it down, you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Retrospective on Star Trek Video Games! Part ONE.

Hello fellow Trekkies! After taking a little break, I'm back in the command chair and ready to move ahead! Starting off the next feature article set, will be Star Trek Video Games! Over the next few weeks I will be revisiting select Star Trek computer and video games, covering as far back as 1971 all the way until today, up to the behemoth, Star Trek Online. This will not be comprehensive. I won't be playing every single game, as many are long out of print, and some of them I don't have the technical know how to be able to emulate. (Though I will try.) But I will try to cover all of the major titles from every era. The story of Star Trek Video Games is almost the story of video games themselves, having had iterations on almost every computer and home console available, and covering almost every single genre (thankfully there was never a Star Trek fighting game, which is more than can be said of Star Wars.)
Star Trek (1971)
The first title, "Star Trek", is from 1971. The series had just started airing in syndication and it was a hit. Picking up new fans left and right, this is really when the era of Star Trek Fandom began, in the 70's. Obviously I was not around to see it, but it was an interesting time in our nation's history: Technology was taking off quickly. Computers, if huge and complex, were finally starting to exist, not just in some Sci-Fi authors thoughts, but on college campuses and in corporations. It was created by Mike Mayfield who has said it was thought up during geeky garage sessions with then-high school friends, and then developed on an SDS Sigma-7 with a friend's computer lab account. The game is text only, as the computer systems it was developed on didn't even have a screen! The game would print out on reams of computer paper! Mayfield than got a chance to port his game to the HP 2000C in exchange for access to the computer. HP then gained access to the game and started distributing it as "STTR1" via the contributed program library. This led to the game being seen by David H. Ahl, who distributed the game in a newsletter that he wrote about DEC BASIC programs, which led to the game being widely distributed through out that community. David later published a book containing many of those programs in 101 Basic Computer Games which saw "Star Trek" widely distributed amongst virtually every major computer platform. Hell, back in the early 90's I found a box with my mom's old Apple II and opened it up. There was a 8 inch floppy that said Star Trek. Being the young inquisitive nerd I was, I set up the computer (thank god I knew how to run DOS games!) loaded up the files, and saw this game, imagine my utter shock when the game was just numbers and letters, I think I got bored and went read comic books... The look of the game is stark, to say the least. With text characters representing a grid, you fly around the galaxy looking to blow up Klingons. There are photon torpedos and phasers. Phasers are weak but plentiful, and torpedos kill with one shot, but are limited. For the time, the complexity is rather impressive, with complex shooting mechanics and different strategies used for play. It almost resembles something like a digital board game, which given the era and the types of games available for reference at the time, seems reasonable. The game was procedurally generated, and had repair stations where you could patch up your wounds. Having different sectors, you would use the warp drive on the Enterprise, represented by -E-, to go to each sector looking for Klingons, +K+, or Starbases <*>, winning when all of the Klingons were defeated. The success of this game led Ahl to create Super Star Trek with Bob Leedom in 1978, at which time he acquired the official rights from Paramount Pictures to use the name and IP of the series, thus making it one of the very first licensed video games.

"Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator" is an arcade cabinet produced by Sega in 1982. From the get go, it is rather impressive. It utilizes digitzed speech and vector graphics, looking and playing sort of like a mashup of Asteroids and Battlezone. The game has a unique 3 panel layout, with the forward viewer providing a first person view on the bottom half,  with the top down sensors display and the supplies readout taking up the top half. The point of the game is to shoot down all of the Klingon K′Tinga class, making a return from Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, and save the Starbases which will in turn provide you with all important shields, after which you will warp to a new sector to protect the next Starbase. Having a fast paced, action approach, the game is rather fun. The fantastic graphics, for the time, make the game really feel like playing a simulation ala The Kobayashi Maru. I actually have played this cabinet before, when I was young lad. Having grown up in the late 80s, Early 90s, there were places like Wunderland that spotted the country that had a paid entry but once you had entered the neon palace, were a mere nickel a piece (some games sat defiantly at 10 cents) and this was a popular addition in the various Wunderland's I attended. Especially as a young Star Trek fan, with a fair amount of Star Trek movies under my belt, (8 years old in 1994, I had seen WoK, SFS, The One With The Whales, UC in the theaters in 91, and Generations, but not Motion Picture or The Shatner Effect.) I was hooked by the look and feel of this retro game that played better than a lot of games from that era (remember graphics and the first person thing were big for an 8 year old.) The digitized voices are really fun, even recreating the accents of the characters.
Captain's Chair Variant of Star Trek: Starship Operations Simulator (1982)

Pictured above is the "Captain's Chair Variant" which had I seen at 8 would have blown my head wide open, it even has the controls in the arm chair (though it seems that would make it more difficult than less.) The gameplay was impressive. The faster Battlezone-esque action had surprising tactical depth, with my personal favorite move being to warp past the enemy and turn around quickly before they set their sights on you. It was hard, but not impossible to save the Starbases to get the shields for the next round. If you are killed once, you are dead, but before you go the shields, photons, and warp will go down, which is actually fairly canonical, if even by accident. All in all it was a pretty fun game, and I remember sinking quite a few nickels into it back in the day. Now I know some people might have played something similar to this game, with less than stellar memories as it was ported to 9 different consoles throughout the 80's with some less than stellar results. Yikes. Along with this and the fantastic Star Wars cabinets of the early 80′s, I have many fond memories of arcades and older arcade cabinets as a young sci-fi nerd. I actually think gameplay wise this was a golden era as newer late 80′s and early 90′s cabinets relied more on cheap gimmicks and beat em ups with better graphics (I′m looking at you Konami and X-Men arcade!) 

Well, thats it for now folks, come on back on Friday for my first post in the Chronological Rewatch Project starting with Enterprise Season 1 Episode 1: Broken Bow, and then next Tuesday for my second entry in the Retrospective on Star Trek Games, covering the famous Simon And Schuster produced text game  "Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy," and then the rest of the best of Star Trek games from the 1980's.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Star Trek Renegades Teaser Trailer Released.

Star Trek Renegades just posted their first teaser trailer, and it's well done! It's a very different cinematic style than most Star Trek, but it's fresh. The Generic TV Direction was getting a bit stale. With some dark action, a glimpse of Tuvok and Chekov, it'll be an interesting corner of the Star Trek Universe. I can't wait to see it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Announcing Two New Feature Article Series

Welcome back folks! My first feature series about Fan Films and series is over and it went very well. I learned a lot about how much work goes into a large project like that and how much time I will need to devote to each post going forward. With that said I think I did a pretty good job for having just rebooted. Moving on.
I know I want to have regular features that bring people back, so they know that I am consistent, and until I have another writer providing an extra voice I'm going to need to be as realistic as possible towards my release schedule, so for the time being I will be sticking two feature articles a week. I'm not entirely sure know but most likely that schedule will be Tuesday, and Friday with some little posts to pepper through the week as well as some activity on the @TrekINADW twitter.
The first project, the smaller month long feature, will be a four part series on Star Trek Video Games through-out time. Now, as I learned with my last feature, this series will not be comprehensive. I will be focusing on major releases and fan favorites, with some examinations of projects that may have been well regarded failures. For this I will be going back to talk about classics of the 1970's but mostly as curiosities. I will devote most of my time playing games that defined the era for games. So for example, 25th Anniversary, Bridge Commander, The Fallen, Star Trek Armada. If the project gets too big I may expand it to a two month long series, but I'll cross that road when I come to it. If any one has so!e suggestions or other ideas feel free to send them my way.
The second, but no less important project is my long running feature set, The Chronological Rewatch and Review. This rewatch method has gained some popularity over the years, though not quite as popular as the Production Order Rewatch which I still respect. I will be watching every episode in chronological order of the in-universe timeline according to this guide: The Star Trek Chronology Project. This method achieves two things for my own purposes: Firstly it allows me to revisit the two series I have spent the least time with first, Enterprise and TOS, in a way that both contextualizes both and informs the other. Second, it allows me to combine this rewatch with the IRL airing of all of Star Trek. The shows in the 90's did not air in a vacuum, and to best recall the true nature of the series, especially the last two seasons of TNG and the first two of DS9, they must be be contextualized with each other. It will also give me a chance to revisit the end of Voyager the same way I did as a teenager, with it as the last bastion of the 24th century. I plan to watch between one and two episodes a week with a corresponding article each week. I will admit there is also a practical element to this: my budget. I want to watch all these shows in the absolute highest quality possible. Currently there are streaming HD seasons of ENT and TOS. With TNG almost done with the blu-ray sets and I hope to god DS9 coming soon with VOY finishing out the run this project will literally give the blurays years to catch up. With 705 different titles not including the animated series, at two titles a week this project won't be done for 7 years... Woah. I know it's quite a bit, and I plan to do quite a bit of research on the tidbits and ideas and between the lines, looking for trivia and other interesting anecdotes to add to the discussion. I'm doing this for my own sanity as I've always wanted to revisit the magic of the 90's when these episodes were waiting constantly. And week by week will give me a nice way to have a regular writing schedule. 
Well, that's it folks, my totally insane and completely nutty plan to start a 7 year project on a whim... Though, if there's one constant in my life, Star Trek is it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Voyage Continues - Part Five of a Five Part Series on Star Trek Fan Films and Series

Sometimes, CBS and Paramount confuse the hell out of me. While doing my research over the last two weeks, and while immersing myself in Star Trek culture for the reboot of the blog, I have come to realize that Star Trek fandom is not just alive, it is SURGING. I have been paying attention to the fandom for quite some time, sometimes more actively than other times. I hate to admit I still have never been to an Official Star Trek Convention (That will change sometime next year,) but what I have witnessed in the last two weeks tells me something that should not be very hard to guess: Star Trek is more popular that it ever has been. Okay, Star Trek may not be the massive, absurdly huge monster it was in the 90's, with two shows on the air at the same time and five movies coming out in ten years, but it is popular in a different way; fans are involved! Fans are making video games, Star Trek: Excalibur, Sacrifice of Angels 2, and comics, LarpTrek, the best Star Trek webcomic ever made, and Boldly Gone, a great parody of TOS. What I've found is that the culture of Star Trek is healthier than I have ever seen it, or at least since the dark days of the early Aughts. Fans have the context, they have the desire, they have the tools and they have the audience. Star Trek is finally bigger than CBS or Paramount. We can make our own TV series, and they have quality and craftsmanship that rivals some of the best from official sources, and you know what? That's EXCITING! My whole purpose and idea behind this blog, even since its inception was to cover the culture of Star Trek, not just what the suits and the powers that be (which are arbitrary, and rotating!) at CBS and Paramount want from us, but what we want from ourselves and from each other. It also speaks to why I want to write this blog, now. I feel like Star Trek culture is so varied and pervasive, it deserves to be documented. The community is so intelligent, with ebbs and flows, and the people who make these things possible, from the actors, writers, and filmmakers that love and continue to work on fan projects, to the mod community that set out to make a retail worthy game from scratch just so they can unite the fan community around an engine designed to be modded, unlike the creaky Bridge Commander engine kept back the possibilities of brilliant mods like Kobayashi Maru, deserve recognition. I want to do that. I may start out a bit shallow, as I try to wrangle my ideas and desires with my time and monetary investment, but I will try my best to deliver interesting, substantive content on a regular basis, without missing too many deadlines. I am also not against having other voices join mine. I want to talk about Star Trek, because Trek is Not a Dirty Word.

Star Trek Renegades and Star Trek Continues exemplify everything about the fan community that I find so intriguing. Two fan productions filled with all sorts of Star Trek alums and professionals, trying to make the finest Star Trek Production they can. Star Trek Renegades first popped up on the radar last year, with a Kickstarter Video.

In the Kickstarter Admiral Pavel Chekov and Captain Tuvok, told the viewer that something was not right in Starfleet. In the description we were told this was to be a darker, more complex, post-ds9 Star Trek. As a fan of DS9, and of Tuvok, I was interested if a bit confused. In the promotional materials there was talk of a pilot for a Star Trek series. Surely the people involved did not believe that a fan made Pilot would ever lead to a CBS funded series? The Kickstarter was successful, but then Radio Silence... until earlier this year an announcement of pre-production, with now regular updates. The Of Gods and Men team is returning, and it is now a little bit clearer that the show will most likely be a fan-supported non-profit Fan Series, with a five year story arc. It is exciting to have a Star Trek show With a Budget again, if a little disappointing to see the people involved will most likely be let down when CBS laughs in their faces. It has become clear in the last few years, witnessing every major player in the Star Trek Industry as a whole, pitch their Star Trek TV series idea, just to see it dashed against the rocks. It makes one cynical towards the very idea, and come to the conclusion I have regarding all chances for future Star Trek shows: Make it a fan show, or wait until CBS is ready. CBS will not make a show until they have milked every last drop from the existing franchises. Until every Blu-Ray of TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT has sold the last box set. Anyways, Renegades is what I believe is the future of Star Trek, along with Star Trek Continues, fan made projects with high profile actors and guest stars, revisiting the franchise they love while being supported by industry fans that can build the sets, shoot the video, and do the VFX for free, or as close to free as you can get. With an exciting list of alums including Walter Koenig, Tim Russ (also directing, like he did with Of Gods and Men), Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips, Garret Wang, J.G. Hertzler (Qapla to his run for City Council!), Gary Graham and Richard Head, amongst others, it really shows how willing people are to be involved in this legendary franchise. There have been a lot of updates to the set, including screenshots of the bridge, (with mandatory fan backlash) and production videos.

Star Trek Continues and Star Trek Renegades also illuminate a very interesting phenomenon, that is not unique to Star Trek; it has happeened with Doctor Who, Star Wars, and other famous franchises, that the fan community is if not divided, interested in different things. On one hand Star Trek Renegades is a descendant of the 24th Century, a Star Trek show influenced more by the Dominion War than the Federation-Klingon War of 2267. On the contrary, Star Trek Continues is very much of the 23rd Century, seemingly more interested in the Tholians, and of Trickster Gods, than of war AT ALL. We see a lot of, (not all) of Star Trek fandom ending up somewhere near these lines; the retro-chic of TOS has come back very strongly, espcially with JJTRek, but with younger fans growing up, (like myself) loving the 80s drenched PC-drama and Utopian/Dsytopian dichotomy of the Next Gen Era. It really is interesting seeing the Star Trek Fandom come in waves. The O.G. fans like Bjo Trimble, giving way to the James Cawley's, and Vic Mignogna's of the world.

Star Trek Continues V01 "Turnabout Intruder" Vignette from Star Trek Continues on Vimeo.

Star Trek Continues is working in conjunction with Farragut Films, the Starship Farragut production crew, to do their own completion of the original Starship Enterprise's Five Year Mission. Right out of the gate, Star Trek continues is impressive, currently with three vignettes and one episode out, including an epilogue to the last episode of TOS "The Turnabout Intruder" they have shockingly high production values. The look and feel is the closest to TOS I have ever seen. The acting as well, is fantastic, with Vic Mignogna doing a spot on Shatner, but doesnt feel tied down by it. Interesting casting also led to Grant Imahara as Lt. Hikaru Sulu, which, some what do to my absolute love of MythBusters, I think is awessome. Also of note is Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott and Larry Nemecek, famed Star Trek archivist as Dr. Leonard McCoy. One of the most impressive elements also comes from the participation of Doug Drexler. Doug Drexler has contributed his version of the CGI U.S.S. Enterlrprise, and this alone gives the show an epic, professional feel. Doug, for anyone not in the know, is a HUGE proponent of Star Trek, one of the very many fan/professionals that have kept the franchise alive. His DrexFiles blog was invaluable source of BOTS information. Sadly, that blog has discontinued, but I will be hopping up and down the moment it returns.

Fan Drama aside, I am very excited to see what else the Star Trek Continues team does, as well as what Star Trek: Renegades eventually morphs into. There has been a lot of pessimism in the community recently, some saying that Star Trek, once again, is dead, and what I have to say to those people is, LOOK AROUND! I've never seen so much Star Trek around me! Memes, comics, books, fan series left and right, (with so many I couldn't even cover all of them in this blog!)

So this brings to an end my first extended feature article. It is the first of many epic, substantive looks at Star Trek culture. I will be announcing my next projects in a few days, so stay tuned. I think it's a great time for Star Trek, and I have a very good feeling good times are ahead for this franchise. Things are cooking. The suits see it too. I can't wait for what this blog and Star Trek has in store for me over the next few years. Ex Atris Scientia!

Rom, The Fool, The Hero, The Grand Nagus.

Over at Wired, they're celebrating Max Grodenchik's 61st birthday with a tribute to the best character in Star Trek history, ROM! I've always loved the snaggle toothed little git. I remember my true love for him began after watching the now legendary episode of Deep Space 9, "Bar Association," from the 4th season. In this episode Rom, fed up with his brother Quark's continuing methods of dehumanizing the Quark's bar staff finally puts his foot down and does the unspeakable, (at least on Ferenginar) starts a Union! A great little ethical take about the rights of the worker , Rom ends up becoming the almost- tragic folk hero he always seemed, and paved the way for his character to make remarkable growth throughout the show. The episode does end subverting the idea of the union, but not before winning a major deal for Rom, Leeta, the Dabo Girls and the rest of the Quark's staff. The episode also has great little moments with Word, O'Brien, and the always welcome guest appearance by Jeffrey Combs as The Ferengi Commerce Authority Injector Brunt.
[Bar Association]