Monday, November 13, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 9

Into the Forest I Go
And as usual, spoilers.

Was this the mid-season finale? I'm not sure how those things go since I don't watch many TV-series. In either case, it was quite a good one albeit with some stupid things. But to be fair, if I were to nitpick every other episode of Star Trek I'd end up with about the same amount of stupid, in the end it's about whether it comes together as something with a Star Trek feeling or not. I think this episode did.

Where to start? Well, last episode basically left us in the middle of a shit-pickle. The Pahvo'ans had just invited the Klingons to their coordinates and Federation want Discovery nowhere near that mess. No one on the Discovery wants to leave the Pahvo'ans to their demise so Lorca decides to disobey the order and just do the opposite of what he is asked, as usual. That anyone expects him to do anything he is told anymore suprises me. And the Vulcan admiral, or whatever he is, that he talks to seems so annoyed that Lorca won't just do what he says. How absolutely un-Vulcan.

A much better Vulcan.

Lorca thinks it's a better idea to try to solve the Klingon cloaking device issue in an arbitrary three hours, which is interesting considering the entire Federation science force has presumably tried to do this since the start of the war and failed. But they don't have Michael Burnham, so of course they succeed.

It's not an easy feat though, they basically need to plant sensors on board the Klingon ship, aptly named the Ship of Death or something like it, and then perform exactly 133 spore-jumps to get enough data to crack the cloaking device. The sensors can only be planted by beaming someone over there to put them there. Sounds like a great plan that can't fail.

This is also when Lorca, and Stamets boyfriend the Doctor, find out during a medical check-up that the spore-jumps are messing up Stamets' brain. The Doctor (who actually has a name, I just forget because he's unfortunately the most underdeveloped doctor in the Star Trek universe) strongly advices against it but since "trillions of lives", as Lorca puts it, hang in the balance Stamets doesn't really have a choice. You'd think Stamets would have regular full-body check-ups anyway, considering what he is doing, but apparently not.

Why can't someone else just do the jumping? Did they establish somewhere that Stamets is uniquely qualified? Granted, it might be difficult to persuade someone else to do it given the side-effects it's had on Stamets, but considering the circumstances probably not. Speaking of side-effects, Tilly of course blabs that she knew about it all along and that makes for an awkward moment between Stamets and the Doctor.

The best Doctor.

I also wonder why Discovery is still the only ship with the spore-drive? Did I miss when they explained why this can't be copied onto other ships, especially considering how insanely, awesomely useful it is? One explanation could be that Lorca hasn't given the Federation the chance to go through the Discovery enough to replicate the spore-drive, but still.

Speaking of something else though, at this point I really like that they've established Lorca as having such dubious morale, because in every scene he is in and every conversation he has you question whether he has an ulterior motive. It really makes him a very interesting character and give some otherwise ordinary scenes an extra layer.

Michael and Tyler are sent over to the Klingon ship who has de-cloaked to be able to fire on the Discovery. Apparently they also lowered their shields because I thought you couldn't beam through shields? I think that is something that is a bit on-again off-again in the ST Universe.

Either way, Michael and Tyler make it over without any issues. Then they start planting the sensors and they are big, noisy and shiny. Really? Just about the most useless sensors ever if you want them hidden. Let's go with the explanation that they weren't designed to be hidden and there was no time to even turn off the annoying bright, blue lights or beeping they do. Of course they need to beep, or they don't work.

While on the ship they find another human life sign (don't worry, they've masked their own) and who could that be? That's right, Admiral Cornwell isn't dead. To get into the room she's in, Tyler does some nifty "removing of panel and cutting wires" that seems to work in every movie and series. Star Wars had it right, you need an R2D2 to hack into stuff, just breaking it won't work. Although they employ that as well on occasion, anyway, I digress. Tyler says he's been imprisoned long enough to know these things, but unless they're how he got out (and we know it wasn't) there is no reason he would know that.

In essence, Star Trek needs more robots.

In the room where Klingons apparently throw corpses, they find Cornwell alive but not so well, and also L'Rell who has been a bit beaten but not killed. Why was she left there exactly? If they didn't kill her, why not imprison her? They left her with the dead people because they were going to come back and kill her later?

Seeing L'Rell puts Tyler into full PTSD mode and he becomes a blabbering heap of uselessness, leaving Michael to do the rest. He has been hiding that issue pretty well! The rest involves getting onto the actual bridge and planting the last sensor there. I love how the Klingon bridge just conveniently allows someone to sneak in and sit behind a corner and plant sensors. Sounds like a pretty big design flaw to me and it would've been impossible on the Discovery. We don't actually see how Michael gets onto the bridge (unless I blinked in that moment) but she's there and that sensor is even more noisy than the rest. Not that anyone notices, maybe the Klingon are hard of hearing and that would explain why they shout so much.

Best hard-of-hearing character

With the planting of the last sensor, the Discovery starts doing its 133 jumps and Stamets is not doing well at all. Long before they're done however, the Klingons decide to leave so Michael decides to reveal herself and fight Kol to stall them. It does mean the humans in the death-hold get discovered though and fighting ensues. Cornwell basically tells Tyler to get his act together, and he does enough to shoot a Klingon that dies with a sound effect that sounds ripped straight from Dungeon Keeper.

Eventually the Discovery is done jumping and Michael is saved from Kol as he goes to kill her. At the same time L'Rell jumps and grabs onto Tyler just as he is beamed out, allowing her to leave the ship with the others. Then Lorca orders them to destroy the Klingon ship and they do. Kol is presumably dead and now we don't know who will take over to lead the Klingon war-effort.

Back on the Discovery, they've been ordered to return to base. Tyler reveals to Michael that he was a sexual abuse victim to L'Rell, beside also being tortured by her for seven months. It also seems L'Rell still has some sort of Stockholm Syndrome power over Tyler, because he runs to her in her prison confinement and acts weird.

Meanwhile Stamets agrees to do "one last jump" to get everyone back to base safely. The fact that the jumps already almost fried his brain is apparently not so important. Of course this can only go one way - Stamets promises to take the Doctor to the operas if he allows him to do one last jump, because gay people like the opera-cliché - they kiss and then Stamets' fate is of course sealed, Hollywood-style. To no ones surprise Stamets fries his brain in the jump, which means the jump fails and sends Discovery into "where-the-heck-are-we?", basically doing a Voyager. The only thing they see are a load of derelict Klingon ships, which can mean basically anything. Are they in Sto-Vo-Kor?

Stamets demise would've been sadder if it hadn't been so obvious and also kind of unecessary. If he had had his brain fried during the 133 jumps that would've been more powerful, even though that is also kind of expected. But like this it is so extremely sign-posted and also feels a bit forced. Stamets deserved better.

Overall though a good episode with some nice and intense scenes. The ending is exactly what I wanted to make me look forward to the next episode. It looks again like they're moving away a bit from the war-story and at least allowing for the possibility for some mysterious episodes, the kind that make Voyager my favorite Star Trek series.

What do I think of Star Trek Discovery so far as a whole? In short, it's alright. I definitely didn't dislike it but I think I need to see how it all comes together before I can give a verdict on the first 9 episodes. On their own they swayed from mildly interesting to pretty entertaining but they have the potential to be part of a greater whole. Fingers crossed that'll happen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 8

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
I have no idea what that means.
Yes, there are spoilers.

We have yet another decent episode this week, and a return of the Klingons. This time the Klingons screen presence wasn't as boring and I am starting to like Voq's second hand L'Rell who gets some character development here.

It all starts out when the Discovery jumps into battle to save some fellow Federation ships, but fails pretty miserably when it turns out that more and more of the Klingon fleet have stealth technology. This makes Lorca angry and he demands a solution right now. As he speaks to different characters on the bridge around him, I realize that we know nothing about them except for their first names. I have never been so uninformed about a bridge crew in Star Trek ever.

Somehow they find an item that can help them on a planet somewhere. I must've missed where this information came from, but my immediate thought was that whatever it is, it can't work very well since they have no nifty anti-cloaking device in the later instalments of Star Trek. Yet again they are introducing something they will need to un-explain by the end of the show, very much like the spore-drive.


Saru, Michael and Tyler (which I swear they pronounce as Taylor) beam down to the planet which is not supposed to have any life forms. Instead it has... singing trees? Well, the trees turn out to be sentient in what can only be described as hilariously Star Trek. Honestly, this was so Star Trekky it made me smile.

Since the trees are somehow sentient Michael decides that they need their ok before they can use the anti-cloaking device, which is basically a huge crystal tree worthy of any JRPG (it is also purplish-blue like the rest of the trees). Meanwhile Saru is not feeling well from all the singing and Michael and Tyler do some more love-bonding but I just can't see those two together. But neither could I any other couple in other Star Trek series (except maybe Worf and Dax) and I know I talked a bit about this in my episode 7 post already.

Saru begins to try to learn to communicate with the sentient cloud-thing the trees emmanate, and has a scene where he tells Michael and Tyler he's barely made any progress learning their vocabulary, n the next sentence he has a long tirade of back-story on the Pahvans (or something like it) as the beings are called (named after the planet). For someone who just said he barely understood them he had already gathered a lot of information.

At least they're not Phylosians.

Back to the Klingons and things are getting very confusing. L'Rell hates the new Klingon leader Kol but offers to interrogate the prisoner because she needs him to accept her into his ranks. What prisoner? Well, Admiral Cornwell of course. Instead of doing that though, she tell Cornwell she wants to defect and they try to sneak to L'Rells ship together. So that's why she wanted to interrogate her! On their way there, Kol sees them and L'Rell kills Cornwell. Or does she? It is not very clear. Either way she returns to Kol and swears fealty to him, he awards her the face paint that they're all wearing and the second after he tells her he knows she is trying to deceive him and arrests her.

Ok, what just happened there? Was it really necessary to go through the whole kneeling and face painting and talking if he knew she was up to no good in the first place? And why let her be alone with their most useful and valuable human prisoner? And where is Voq in all this? Last time we saw him he was stranded on the destroyed ship of Giorgiu with L'Rell, they were talking about getting some sort of revenge and how does all of the stuff that just happened in this episode tie in with that? And how does the face painting work anyway? Do Klingons never shower or do they just re-apply afterwards?

They'd better explain a lot of the things that went down in this episode or it didn't make much sense.

On the Discovery it seems like Stamets is not feeling too well from all the spore-jumping anymore. So he's basically gone from being a really grumpy hater to a cheerful loving everyone kind of dude, back to a grumpy hater again. Tilly is worried and asks him about it. He tells her to sod off, when she doesn't move he just opens up to her, so he changed his mind pretty quickly. Nothing is explained however, he just confirms that the spore jumps are starting to make him confused.
On the planet Saru has been possessed by the tree-spirits while trying to understand them. They're basically all about harmony and peace and really made me think about the Mako lifestream from Final Fantasy VII. Saru becomes a bit creepy and won't let Michael or Tyler leave the planet. Overall Saru gets some character development here. Earlier on in the episode they "casually" mention that Saru's species the Kelpiens can run really fast. Guess if that is going to play a part later in the episode?

The Pahvans actually look a lot like this.

Tyler tricks Saru so that Michael can run off and fiddle with the anti-cloaking device, which is also a transmitter somehow? Saru figures it out because he can sense that Tyler is deceiving him with his "threat-ganglia", I really hate that name by the way. Saru gets really violent, almost tries to kill Tyler and then runs really fast to get to Michael and almost kills her too. My first thought was that all that talk about peace and harmony went away pretty quickly, but this is actually something Michael points out as well and Saru basically blames Michael for forcing his hand.

The tree-spirits interfere in the end when they turn up and Michael beg them to allow them to use the transmitter-anti-cloak-device to stop the war, since that will bring peace and harmony. The tree spirits agree but it turns out they're actually just stupid and have instead sent out an invitation to the Klingon fleet to come join the Discovery by the Pavan homeworld, presumably for negotiations.

And that is where the episode ends, so it's pretty much a two-parter because this episode didn't answer any questions but only raised them. Overall it was a pretty confusing episode that often had me feel like I missed a scene somewhere, but I like the idea of the sentient trees because it's just so silly.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vanilla WoW Is Coming Back!

If you ask me, the only interesting news we got from Blizzcon, which I only know anything about since pretty much every one on my Twitter won't stop talking about it, were the news that Blizzard are launching Vanilla servers. For the uninitiated (and if you are I doubt you're much interested in this post), "vanilla" refers to WoW before expansions. They've existed all along as unofficial "pirate" servers without any kind of support from Blizzard, now they are coming legitimately with all that entails. This blew my mind. As you may or may not know, I started playing WoW around April 2005 and played it until somewhere around April 2013. That is 8 years of my life invested and some of my fondest memories, not just gaming memories, are from that game. I met my bf and we have our child thanks to WoW. I can not overstate what an impact it has had on me and I still think about it  anecdotally pretty much every day. Although I didn't start playing it seriously (as in more than 1-2 hour a day and with raiding) until Burning Crusade, Vanilla WoW is where I started out. Breaking the news to my bf we just stared at each other, memories coming rushing back.

After I had gone past the initial amaze-balls feeling of just hearing about it, my first thoughts were - which kind of Vanilla? Vanilla was around for about two years before we got Burning Crusade and a lot happened during that time alone. Will we get early-Vanilla or late-Vanilla? Which patch are they going from? And are they going to do it hardcore, no Quality-Of-Life-Changes from later patches/expansions added whatsoever? It made me and the bf reminisce about what all that could mean. What was Vanilla all about? Here are some completely random memories from back then;

  • Horde didn't have paladins and alliance didn't have shamans.
  • Shamans had totem quests! I wrote about them several times on this blog, and I particularly hated the Water Totem Quest.
  • Shamans had several talents and skills as if they were meant to be able to tank, which I wrote about here. I even wrote a guide on how to do it!
  • Most classes required consumables to be able to do their best buffs and/or certain skills. Symbol of Kings of 30 min Blessings for Paladins, Candles for 30 min Prayer of Fortitude for Priests. Rogues still needed ingredients to do different poisons and had to carry around those poisons. Warlocks needed a ton of Soul Shards for Healthstones which had to be summoned one by one. Imagine that when you want to give your raid of 40 people a Healthstone each. Mages also had to summon their food one by one, although they required no ingredient to do it. Instead they needed materials to open portals and to teleport.
  • Spellpower was based off Intellect and mana regen off Spirit. This means most classes had a spellpower gear for when being in combat and a spirit gear to swap into when out of combat, to regen mana in.
  • Every skill had ranks and they all scaled about equally with spellpower, but had a very different cost in mana. This means Paladin rank 1 Flash of Light cost basically no mana but could heal for a lot anyway if you had enough intellect.
  • You couldn't have dual-specs. You had to pay to swap and you had to buy all your ranks back. I forgot to do this several times and ended up tanking end-game instances with rank 1 skills.
  • Tanking as a warrior was pretty damn difficult and required a lot of cooperation from your team or quick reflexes. As a warrior you started each fight without any resource which meant you either needed initial rage or needed to keep the pace up so that your rage never went down to zero. I wrote a lot of guides on warrior tanking, they are from later points in the game but warrior tanking regarding this point hadn't changed much then. Things that annoy me when tanking. Tanking heroics nice and smooth.
  • Classes had class quests, some of the best ways to see if someone knew their class or not because they were genuinely some of the most difficult ways to obtain a certain item. I did the Anathema/Benediction quest on my Priest, but I think that didn't hold a candle in difficulty compared for instance to the Rok'Delar/Lok'Delar Hunter quest.
  • Obviously Blood Elves, Draenei, Worgen and Goblins didn't exist yet. Introducing Blood Elves and Draenei in Burning Crusade was how Blizzard explained Alliance getting shamans and Horde getting Paladins.
  • No flying mounts!
  • You didn't get your first mount until level 40 and getting enough money to afford it was not easy. I think it cost some 90g.
  • There were no Looking For Groups or Looking For Raids. Originally there weren't even Summon Stones or game-wide channels that allowed you to find people, but you had to stand around in a major city to collect enough people for an instance. Then get everyone there. And if anyone left mid-instance, someone had to travel/hearthstone back to a major city to find a new player and get that new player to the instance. This meant just making any old instance could take hours. HOURS!
  • Some instances were hell just to get to let alone get through. Maraudon was infamous for having people lost and confused long before they even entered the instance. If you died you had to corpse-run from outside the instance back in if no one could resurrect you. My brother was known as "Luzi the lost" in his guild because he could never find his way back into Maraudon.
  • There was no roll for "Need", "Greed" or "Disenchant" system. You could only roll to either take an item or not. Initially this was one system I wish they didn't bring back, but my bf pointed out that this was the best way to find out who was worth grouping with again or not. You could find some really nice people based on how they treated the rolls, although it also meant a lot of frustration from people treating everything as a potential weapon for them, even when it clearly wasn't *cough*Hunters*cough*.
  • Some instances that are now instances were initially raids. Scholomance and Stratholme come to mind. They were first 10-man raids and then 5-man raids if I remember correctly. I recall priests being the go to healer for those instances because we could remove both magic and disease debuffs, had Shackle Undead and that buff that protected from fear.
  • Paladins had Judgements and Seals, they only lasted a few seconds. I remember having a macro where I would rebuff my Seal every time I used Judgement.
  • Rogues could still open Lockboxes, that was a big thing actually. I loved leveling up my lockpicking skill and offering up my services to people in big cities.
  • There were still chests around the world. I really miss those, although they were pretty heavily exploited.
These are just off the top of my head and as soon as I post this I am going to think of a ton of more ones. But I could do this all day and both me and the bf realized that we would love to go back to an unaltered experience of Vanilla WoW. It was harsh, but absolutely amazing. My personal favorite expansion was Wrath of the Lich King, but maybe Blizzard intend to make it slowly through the old expansions again? That would be so, so cool.