Monday, February 12, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 15

Will You Take My Hand?

So we are at the season finale and they really end it in a way that can only mean they want to make absolutely sure people are going to return for season 2. But we shouldn't start at the end.

When we left off at the end of the previous episode, we'd just found out that evil-Philippa was made the captain of the Discovery and Sarek had made some deal with her that sort of hinted at the fact that he was going on a suicide mission? The reason I drew this conclusion was because Michael mentions she felt the goodbye with Sarek was very "definite" or something along those lines. Of course, like I said in my previous post we know that Sarek doesn't die until much later. And of course he didn't in this episode and what Michael mentions never seems to play any point in this episode at all. Everyone loves fake foreshadowing, right?

Few people on the ship know Philippa is from the other universe so Michael tries to out her at some occasion which doesn't really make sense. Clearly Michael has accepted Starfleet's decision, or she would've surely gone through other than petty means of trying to remove Philippa? This short transgression from Michaels side doesn't really lead anywhere either so I'm not sure what the point of it was.

There is an opening for an interesting dilemma here though, the choice between having to follow a leader who uses immoral methods or maybe losing a fight for existence. Is it ok to sink to your enemies level to stay alive? It'll turn out this is the theme for the episode as well.

And they look a lot like She-Hulk.

With the help of Tyler and his "Voq memories", they manage to find the best way to enter Kronos to drop their drone and map the cave system - the plan I mentioned was assembled in the previous episode. Turns out the place they need to drop the drone is now the Orion-ian embassy grounds. In case you've forgotten who the Orions were, they're the green slave girls from TOS. Philippa mentions they're basically pirates and slave traders in her universe and Michael says it's no different here. It seems the show creators have decided to not change the Orion species at all, so they're portrayed pretty much exactly as they are in TOS.

Philippa, Michael, Tyler and for some reason Tilly beam down to the surface to find the hole they need to drop down the drone into. Apparently a bunch of humans asking weird questions on Kronos in the middle of an all-out war between the Federation and the Klingons is no problem as long as said humans pretend to be a**holes. So humans that are not part of the Federation are such a common sight on Kronos that practically no one cares? Pretty sure that wouldn't work the other way at all. And all these humans are just A-OK with Klingons trying to wipe out their species? I have many questions here, but don't worry - there will be more.

They decide to enter a shady looking place with the mandatory stripping of Orion ladies, now also accompanied by men. We get a guy who looks just like Clint Howard as a sleezy Orionian trying (and eventually succeeding) in getting Tilly high on some sort of volcano ash (don't forget Clint Howard was a really annoying kid in TOS The Corbomite Maneuver, and also featured in other Star Trek episodes. I can't see him credited for the role in this episode though, so not sure.) . In the meantime Philippa walks off with two strippers to have some sexy-time and leaves the drone to be guarded by Tilly. Now we understand why Tilly was brought with the away-party;

Just picture this in green.

It would make more sense for Philippa to bring such an important item with her rather than leaving it in the hands of Tilly whom she knows little about except that she comes off as a klutz. Philippa mentions that she thinks Tilly is more like her evil-counterpart than Tilly thinks, but this still seems like odd reasoning from Philippa. Tilly gets high and maybe-Clint Howard tries to steal the drone that is chained to her wrist. By doing that he wakes Tilly up, she asks what they're smoking, he says volcano smoke which makes Tilly realize the volcanoes are still active and will destroy the drone, which prompts Tilly to look at the drone in the suitcase (for some reason) only to find out it's not a drone at all but a hydrogen bomb. Did any of that seem like it could casually realistically happen? I mean yeah, sure it could. But only if you decide to bring Tilly for no reason and then leave the most important part of the mission with her, alone in a bar, for no reason.

As soon as Tilly finds out that Philippa to no ones surprise has secret evil plans, she tells Michael and Tyler who have gone off to do some talking. This gives us a scene where we realize that even though Tyler isn't a Klingon anymore, he sort of seems like he wants to be.

Before Michael can come and pick up the hydrogen bomb however, Philippa is back. She has forced information about the drop-hole from the two strippers and goes to drop the bomb in there. Michael and the gang beam back up to the Discovery and calculate that the effect of the bomb would devastate the entire planet. They also realize this is not just Philippa's plan, but the plan of the Federation. Michael is not ok with that.

She talks to Cornwell and tells her that the Discovery will rather go to mutiny than break their moral code, Cornwell agrees to trying a different plan. That plan is to give the hydrogen bomb, which is now firmly planted in the belly of Kronos, to L'rell so that she can unite the Klingons by threat of destroying the planet. Philippa is given her freedom, in the sense that she is allowed to walk away. And here I have some more questions.
  • Why would L'Rell ever be ok with using a weapon like that? Even for the sake of achieving her life goal, surely destroying your entire home planet could never be an option?
  • Again - is planting a bomb that destroys an entire planet really that easy? Really?! Why have they not done this before?! Did they really need a Philippa from the alternate universe to think about it? I guess if you argue that it is so unthinkable for the Federation to do something like that, yet we're shown that they're clearly eager to try it out once it has been suggested.
  • And how is any of that really going to stop the war? The episode almost literally ends with Michael saying "L'Rell united the Klingons and the war ended". But why? Why would the Klingon desire to wipe out humans now be gone? And even if that is what happens by a stroke of luck, how can Michael be so sure that is going to happen when she hands over the bomb? She has absolutely no guarantees any of this will lead to anything good.

Tyler decides to go with L'Rell and that's probably the end of a vastly underused potential, I'll get back to that. Shazad Latif who plays Tyler is very good at looking like he is about to cry and he uses it in every episode he is in. Somewhat understandable given the situation he is in, but it gets a bit tired after a while.

It needs more smiles.

Michael gets pardoned, everyone gets a medal, everything is good. Then right at the end, the Discovery is escorting Sarek to Vulcan when they receive a weird message. It's from... the Enterprise! Captained by Christopher Pike! And there it ends.

I read an article (unfortunately I can't remember where) a week ago where someone said that a good thing about Star Trek Discovery was that it was very low on the fan service so far. Well, you can't get much more fan service that throwing in some actual TOS in the mix. Although, the only crew member from TOS that also had Pike as a captain was Spock and somehow I doubt he'll make an appearance.

They even made the outro, after this Enterprise reveal, to be the original outro song from TOS. Fun touch.

Now that we're at the actual season finale, how should I wrap this all up...? What I liked about this season is that it sort of blind-sided me by pretending to be about one thing and then coming out of nowhere with another or underlying story-arch. The war against the Klingons wasn't a fake storyline by any means, and it's apparently coming back for season 2, but as the beginning of the season was sputtering along I found myself thinking where they were going with this. At the time it didn't feel overly original or interesting. Then they had me confused by suddenly throwing them into the mirror universe. Then by the end of the season it all made sense and I feel like I've gotten that wrap up and connecting of dots that was needed to bring it all together.

I'm on to you...

Rewatching this some time in the future will be even more interesting, knowing Lorca's motives and being able to read them into every scene he is in. I feel that part of the series was probably done the best, because thinking back it was made very clear that something was off about him. It was hinted in everything he said and did, but subtly enough to not make it too obvious. Or at least that is what I felt watching episode 13 and thinking that was the season finale. The extra two episodes, which move things along way too quickly for comfort makes the actual ending feel a lot less refined. We get back to the Klingon war but everything gets resolved so fast you barely have time to take it in.

My critique would be just that - the series has a couple of ideas that could almost be their own seasons or half-season story-arches and they're not given enough time to breathe or do their work. Lorca actually being from the alternate universe? Cool! Gets two episodes (albeit a lot of build-up). Tyler actually being Voq? Cool! Doesn't really amount to anything useful that couldn't have been done differently. That entire subplot almost feels like it could be removed and it wouldn't change much. Evil-Philippa now in the prime universe? Cool! Gets 1,5 episode. Although she is now lose somewhere so she could still make an interesting return.

The dark tone though, that I know has irked a lot of long time fans, doesn't bother me at all. The fact however that we haven't got to see many "standalone episodes" makes me a bit sad. This is where the series has a chance to be comedic, let loose or develop its characters and I feel Discovery has had, or chosen, to focus too much on the main story-arch. The dark tone fits for the kind of story-telling Discovery has been doing, I just wish there would be more room for side-tracking in the upcoming season. Am I actually asking for filler episodes here? I guess I am. No one does filler like Star Trek.

All in all however, I am quite pleased with this season. I thought it was an alright series somewhere halfway, nothing special but not horrible. But looking at it all together now I would actually recommend it and think it is a pretty worthy contribution to the Star Trek universe(s). It'll be interesting to see what they do with season 2.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Room (Android) - Review

When life is like a box of puzzles.

Since my bf is in somewhat in a gaming slump, and it makes me sad to see him drown his time in Dokkan (google it) instead of, you know, a real game, I am always on the lookout for something that might get him back into it. As I was listening to the Cane & Rinse podcast about The Room, a game I had heard and knew nothing about, I thought this could probably be one of those games. Described as a short but well-designed puzzle game I thought it would be right up the alley of someone who loved Safecracker and enjoyed Myst. Personally I have very little patience and thus fondness for puzzle games of all sorts, so when I decided to give The Room a go it was solely with the purpose of seeing if I could get my bf interested in it.

Turns out I was the one to complete it. Also turns out my 4 year old absolutely loved it and we had a blast finishing it. 

But before I jump too far ahead of things - I did catch my bfs interest with the game, but I found myself not wanting to relinquish control. This was a puzzle game I could actually figure out. This was a puzzle game that didn't bore me with its obtuseness and abstractness while at the same time not being so simple it was talking down to me (although that is often needed, I really do suck at puzzles).

The idea is simple - you're in a room with a box. The box has all the bells and whistles of a well-designed puzzle box that could only exist in the gaming world and it's up to you and your wits to open it up.

While there are many games about opening boxes, Safecracker is probably one of the better.

I do recommend listening to the Cane & Rinse episode on The Room if you're interested, even if you haven't played it before. They talk about The Room 2 and 3 as well, but I found there was nothing to spoil about the first one (it's not as they talk about specific solutions to puzzles anyway) since the story matters very little for the gameplay. While I agree with the episode in that The Room was a fun little game to spend some few hours with (some very few hours, but I'll get back to that) I disagreed with them on a couple of things.

For instance they praised the tactility of the mobile version of the game and definitely recommended players to play that version rather than the PC version. Since I don't own a tablet I got it for my phone. While I was worried that the screen would be too small for comfort, even though I own a 5,5 inch phone, this turned out to be no problem. The tactility however, I didn't have much enjoyment out of and would've personally preferred a mouse to click myself around rather than using my fingers. That being said, I haven't tested the PC version so I can't attest to the quality of that gameplay, only that the way I imagined a mouse working with the puzzles seemed to fit better with how I wanted to deal with them. 

There is a lot of dragging, spinning and pulling - all of which worked well enough, but I realized I am just a lot more comfortable using a mouse than my fingers for playing games. I guess experience has something to do with it since I don't really play any mobile games otherwise.

Graphically it's practical. Subtle and "hidden" drawers were just that, rather than completely hidden from view or requiring pixel perfect interaction to react. I also rarely felt that the game didn't understand what I was trying to press or do with a puzzle. Sometimes my clumsy fingers couldn't quite "grab on" to the right part of a drawer or lever to make it do its thing, but this never became an annoyance. EDIT 12/2-18: On subsequent playthroughs I have more often come across instances where an object simply would not interact in the way it needed to, most often something that needed to be pulled. At one point I even had tor restart the chapter because of it. Other things that I really liked about the game design was that you only really had one puzzle going at the time and once you were done with it, it became completely inert, so signalling that there was nothing else to do there and you could move on. That way I never got stuck with a handful of cranks, cogs and buttons that didn't fill any other purpose other than to confuse me. 

Not like some other games I know...

While I barely noticed the music, I found it definitely needed the sound effects as some of them signalled functions to a puzzle that would otherwise have been difficult to figure out. One of those puzzles in fact was the only one I got stuck on long enough to feel the need to use the hint system. That should say a lot since, as I have already stated several times, I am completely useless at puzzles.

I wouldn't say that that necessarily means that The Room is too easy though. Rather that the puzzles are quite logical in their design, and like I mentioned before you do them consecutively, further removing any confusion as to what to do next. Because of this I sort of disagree with the podcast saying the game can be quite difficult - while I realize it's very subjective and I should probably be the last person to complain about someone finding a puzzle difficult, I found that these were some of the most step-by-step logical puzzles I had come across. Even when the next step is a hidden button the box is only so large and scouring the surface doesn't take long or much effort. Which is fortunate, because other than the puzzles themselves there is little to entice you to move on.

The story, if it can be called that, is about as fleshed out as in a Mario-game i.e virtually nothing. You find notes lying around the puzzle box and they speak about elements and especially the null element although I can't say I paid much attention to any of it. From the podcast I gathered that later instalments put more time into the story aspect, but not necessarily with good results. You need the story in this game about as much as you need a story to play Mario Kart, if it hadn't been there at all it wouldn't have made the game any less fun to play. The puzzles kept me interested throughout without any trouble and it was perfect to pick up for a 5-10 minute session while commuting or waiting for something, just as a good mobile game should be.

Even shorter than this.

The game is short though. Even knowing it was short, I was shocked by how short it was. I didn't exactly time myself but it can't have taken more than three hours at the very most to complete the game. Still, for the 2-3 hours it lasted it was quite fun to tinker around with the box and actually feel like this was something I could wrap my head around. Like I said it was extra fun to be able to play it together with my 4 yo and see how he tried to solve the puzzles and he thought it was a blast (so much in fact he wanted to replay it instantly after finishing it).

This game now comes with an Epilogue part, which as far as I know was added later to the game but is now a standard feature. It simply elongates the game for about 30 minutes with more of the same and was no more or less fun than the rest.

I've used 1 euro a lot worse than this so I can only recommend The Room, even if you usually really don't like puzzles.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 14

The War Without, the War Within
And spoilers

This episode turned things down a couple of notches, but after last weeks episode it was difficult to go any other direction. I'll be honest, I really thought last weeks episode was a season finale. I even wrote a wrap up of the season which I removed before publishing because I double-checked and realized it wasn't the finale yet. But I am glad they're going a little bit longer, because a lot of interesting things happened in this episode.

Getting back to Tyler was not one of those things however. I never really thought Tyler was an interesting character until he turned out to be Voq. But then he didn't manage to accomplish anything as Voq and was quickly cleansed (or was he? I'm still not sure) of any klingon attitudes and now it's all about the damage control of all the things he managed to ruin. Which was quite a lot and still it really didn't feel like that whole idea got to live long enough. Either way, Michael doesn't want to meet him and who can blame her? He did try to kill her, even if he was being controlled by someone else, and seeing past that is probably not an easy thing to do (fortunately not a situation I've been in). We'll get back to the two love birds before long though.

Also, L'Rell looks more like one of those human-alien crossbreeds from Alien.

Let's talk about some interesting things instead. They manage to find some other Federation people, but these turn out to be less than friendly. At first at least, because I guess in these times every precaution is needed. The federation ship turns out to carry Sarek and Admiral Cornwell and they both board the Discovery where Sarek uses a mindmeld on Saru to make sure he's who he claims to be. Once that's done everyone is friends again.

Michael tells Cornwell that she brought Terran Philippa back and Cornwell tells everyone that no one must speak a word about the alternate universe. She says the information is to be classified and destroyed (although if it's going to be destroyed anyway, why classify it? Maybe to prevent the people on the ship from talking as well) which can explain why it's not a widely known thing in TOS. Nice one.

Cornwell and Sarek explains the current situation of the Federation, which quite frankly is beyond bad at this point. The Federation is losing big time against the Klingons, although the Klingons are not united under one house but still in factions. This is also a nice way to explain the intense hatred for Klingons that most people show in TOS. Although it is established in TOS that the Federation had been at war with the Klingons, ST Discovery really makes the reactions and actions of characters in TOS a lot more understandable and established.

Did they even have water and vegetation on Vulcan?

Not only is the Federation on its knees, they quickly find out that the Klingons are closing in on Earth, which of course always is the end-game scenario in any Star Trek series. Why Earth holds such a massively prominent role in a union of a vast amount of aliens, some of which are presumably way ahead of humans in technology and civilization (Vulcans for instance) I've never really understood. Somehow it's always assumed that humans is the core foundation for the Federation, but I must've missed where they explained why this is so. And even if that was the case, wouldn't you spread your eggs into more baskets once you've scattered yourself across that much space? I understand Earth can have immense sentimental value to humans so I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume all the humans in the Federation would all the starships to protect it, but wouldn't every other species in the Federation think the same about their home planets? Why are all the non-humans so keen to send the entire remaining fleet to protect Earth specifically?

Instead of doing that however, they decide to launch a massive counter-attack on Kronos (as I am going to spell it, rather than the updated Klingon Discovery way of Qo'noS). This idea is based on intelligence from Philippa, whom Michael turned to, to get more insight into how to destroy (or at least retaliate against) the Klingons, seeing as Philippa basically conquered them in her universe. Philippa tells Michael to strike at the heart of the Klingons, and the plan is to jump the Discovery into the planet to gather enough surveillance to be able to launch a coordinated attack.

To be able to jump they need more spores though, since they used up everything in the previous episode. Queue lazy writing as Stamets proposes to simply terraform some random moon somewhere, apparently not affected by the war, into a huge mycelial farm. This takes them literally ten minutes to accomplish so I don't know what to say about that... "Oh yeah they need more spores, but we don't have time to gather any before the Klingons take over Earth? Guess they can just make spores out of nothing in ten minutes? Yeah ok".

Philippa is of course not done making some sort of evil plans however. She invites Sarek to a little tête-à-tête where she tells him that the information she gave Michael was not enough to destroy the Klingons. We don't get to find out exactly what she tells Sarek but he is off on what is hinted at a suicide mission - so that will definitely, hopefully, be interesting to see.

Michael finally goes to see Tyler, who greets her by being a complete d*ck. When she says that she can't just forgive him, he accuses her of using the situation to try to get out of a relationship that she never wanted to be in to begin with and "just because it's a bit complicated you want to leave". Eh dude, things have gone way beyond a bit complicated in your relationship. You were a Klingon-Human who tried to kill her. Honestly, I don't know where they are going with Tyler at this point, but unless he is still somehow Voq I am not particularly interested.

The episode ends with Philippa being instated as the captain of the Discovery, part of her deal for giving more information to Sarek about the Klingons. So now Discovery has had two alternate universe captains, unlikely as it is. Philippa is presented to the rest of the crew, who don't know the truth, as the prime-Philippa who actually made it out alive from that fight with the Klingons way back when. I can't see this ending well for anyone either, because evil-Philippa is balancing that exact same fine line of "is she sort of good or actually really evil?" that Lorca did. Which is good, this series still needs more characters with some depth and layers to them.

I doubt they'll be able to launch much of an attack in the next episode, or maybe they do and let the season end there - with the Klingons in even more disarray, the Federation at their first real comeback, Sarek doing his important mission and dying (no wait, he won't do that because he is in TOS) and Philippa showing her real ulterior motives (which is probably nothing more than trying to become emperor of this universe as well).