Sunday, May 26, 2019

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock - Review

And the Adventure Continues.
With spoilers.

The movie posters are kickass though.

The Search For Spock is a movie entirely about Spock, without any Spock (sort of).
The Search For Spock is a movie entirely about what happens when you paint yourself in a corner, storywise, and have to get yourself out.
The Search For Spock is generally pretty well received, and I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure why.

This movie piggy-backs in its entirety of off the story from The Wrath of Khan. As such you'd easily get the impression that TSFS was already planned and ready when TWOK was released. Apparently that was not the case though. After boldly killing off the arguably most beloved character of all of TOS, the creators realized that there just was no way to make a Star Trek movie without Spock and started working on making him come alive again. Fortunately they had enough tools from TWOK to make what actually is a half-believable story. It's unfortunate that that story is very predictable and not very interesting, even though the creators tried their hardest to avoid that fate. To me, this movie should be seen as a sort of interlude, a travel time, in-between two much better movies - The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. I modern times I am certain The Search For Spock would've been reduced to a Short Trek equivalent. Even one of the taglines sums it up - And the Adventure Continues. Just continue on here people and we'll get to the good stuff soon.

The movie starts with a flashback to Spock dying from TWOK. Quite necessary since without this information the movie makes little sense or holds little purpose to the viewer. There are a few important scenes from TWOK that we need to remember because the entire plot of TSFS hinges on them. One is that just before Spock goes into the radiation chamber that kills him, he does a mindmeld of sorts with Bones. The second thing is that rather than shooting Spocks coffin randomly into space, they opt to shooting him onto the newly formed Genesis planet.

Then we get to see that the Klingons have found out about the Genesis "weapon" and want it for themselves. It's a bit unclear how much of the Klingon Empire is involved, it's really played out as if only the main antagonist - a Commander Kruge played by Christopher Lloyd - and his crew are part of the scheme. The way the Klingons are portrayed in this movie is frankly a little bit silly, and it's very difficult to see them as a serious threat. Especially after having had A) a much more epic threat in TMP and B) a much better villain in TWOK. I love Christopher Lloyd, but he just has very little to work with here. That the villain doesn't turn in to a complete snooze-fest is all thanks to him. If Kirk could outsmart the super-genius Khan, why would he have any trouble with Kruge who apparently thinks it's a good idea to start wrestling with random worms mid-mission? The Klingons might be aggressive, but they're not supposed to be idiots.

Christopher Lloyd - recognizable under any make up.

Kirk and co get the information that the Enterprise is about to be decommissioned and also Bones is starting to act weirdly. It turns out that Spock transferred his "katra" to Bones before dying and Spocks father Sarek informs Kirk that it and Spocks body needs to be returned to Vulcan or else both Bones and Spock will suffer. Kirk asks for permission from his superiors to go do so but gets turned down, which leads to a hilarious scene;

Sulu: "The word sir?
Kirk: "The word is no. I am therefore going anyway".

Of course he is.

Kirk goes to steal the Enterprise and asks Scotty if they can run it severely undermanned, which leads to another great piece of dialogue;

Scotty: "A chimpanzee and two trainees could run her"
Kirk: "Thank you, I'll try not to take that personally".

Kirks son David and Saavik from TWOK are aboard the Grissom to investigate the development of the Genesis planet created in the previous movie. They find an unexpected lifeform on the planet surface and get permission to beam down to find out what it is. Once down there they find a child Spock and also realize that the planet is quickly destroying itself because of faulty design of the Genesis. Spock is just "an empty vessel" without his "katra" and so can't speak or understand what is being said to him. It seems that the reborn Spock ages with the planet, and so is doomed to die with it in a very near future. Getting Spock off the planet will save him from this fate, for some reason that is never explained, but before they can do so Kruge destroys the Grissom and takes the three of them hostage. Kruge doesn't seem to care one bit when David tells him the Genesis doesn't work, I guess for what he wants to use it for it works just fine.

What had the worm ever done to him?

Enterprise shows up in orbit and has a brief fight with the Klingon Bird of Prey. They end up being evenly matched and Kirk tries to bluff his way out. He yell-asks "who are you?!" and gets the response "who I am is not important!" from Kruge which I am sure no Klingon said ever. The writers just really couldn't be bothered to give this villain an interesting backstory or context. Kruge doesn't buy Kirks bluff but realizes he has the upper hand because he has the hostages on the planet. He swiftly lets one of his underlings kill off David to make Kirk understand he is being serious about wanting the Genesis, and the Enterprise, and Kirk is very upset for a few seconds.

Then Kirk hatches a clever plan, tells Kruge he is giving up the ship but instead sets it on self-destruct and beams his crew down to the planet. The final self-destruct password is Zero Zero Zero Destruct Zero, possibly outshining ABC123 as the worst password ever. Kruge's crew beams over and get blown up with the Enterprise, Enterprise crashes into Genesis (to be reborn again in the next movie… Nah, just kidding). Kirk rescues Spock and Saavik from the two Klingon that are guarding them and lures Kruge down for a one-on-one battle with him, in the hopes of killing him and be able to get to his ship before the planet explodes. All of this of course happens and the movie ends with Spock's body and Spock's "katra" being taken to Vulcan to be reunited. Yay, mission accomplished!

The movie has potential, but almost deliberately avoids to grow into any of it. I really can't find any other way to otherwise explain how it manages to squander all the good ideas that are in here, other than that the creators themselves just wanted this over and done with.

The relationship between Kirk and his son David is revisited again and has the potential to show a completely different side of Kirk. But this is literally killed off when David is murdered before we've ever had a chance to care for him. Neither does Kirk it seems, because he's sad for about thirty movie-seconds.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

The idea of combining the two most different characters of the show - Bones and Spock - who often play on each others different personalities in the TV series, could've been really interesting. But Bones/Spock is basically just Bones who sometimes says a few things that would've ordinarily come out of Spock's mouth. There is no sub-story or even scene that explores how the combination of all-emotion and all-logic could make someone act. The idea is revisited again in the VOY episode "Tuvix" in which Tuvok and Neelix (both as different to each other as Bones and Spock) are combined into a whole new person called Tuvix. It's a great episode that explores the concept much further and I would've loved to see at least some of that in this movie.

Saavik is in this movie again but seems just as pointless as in the previous one. It's as if they're trying to make her an established character by presence alone, without any character building, development or backstory. They could've made her character be anyone else and it wouldn't have changed a thing.

Yet again it's like Enterprise and its crew is completely broken off from the rest of Starfleet. Kirk steals the Enterprise from right under the noses of his superiors, yet for the duration of the movie no one manages to find them? And even if they managed to mask their trail, how long does it take for Starfleet to notice that one of their starships (Grissom) with everyone on board has been completely destroyed?

To me this movie just ends up being pretty boring. There is literally only one thing of interest going on - will they be able to rescue Spock? - and the answer to that is just too obvious. In some movies even when the end result is obvious from the start, they manage to make the journey full of twists and turns enough to keep you guessing. A good writer will make you wonder how they could possibly manage even when you know they will. This just never happens in this movie, and the few mysteries it could linger on (like what is up with Bones? Where did Spock's katra go? What is happening to the Genesis planet? What does Kruge want?) it reveals quickly and without any oomph.

The villains don't stand a chance against the previous two, having neither the depth, epic scope or backstory to fall back on. Not only that, they're being played out as some half-crazy klutzes that don't have any backing from the Klingon Empire, which could've given their actions more weight and thus made them more interesting.

With writing so lacklustre, all the directing power (the movie was directed by Leonard Nimoy himself) and visual effects in the world couldn't save this movie from being more than mid-range interesting. Not that any of those factors are above average either, if you ask me.

Uhura gets a scene that only proves she deserved more screen time.

It has some few redeeming factors, Kirk's crew get slightly more to do and say in this movie and some dialogue is actually really good (like the abovementioned).

Fittingly enough, Spock himself manages to epitomize my feelings towards this movie. It's an empty shell waiting for its katra.

Some random thoughts I had while watching this movie;

  • The Excelsior is set in to stop Kirk from his mission. It is a brand new starship and is said to even have transwarp, something that hilariously fails when it tries to catch the Enterprise. And transwarp turns out to not be a thing in Starfleet for almost another hundred years so it's quite miraculous how wrong the designers of the Excelsior were.
  • The design of the Bird of Prey seems pretty over-elaborate, because unless they often fly around on space bodies they wouldn't need those wings would they? I don't put it past the Klingons to build something entirely based on what looks cool rather than what is practical though.
  • Spock goes through a lot of sh*t throughout his lore in Star Trek. He meets himself from the past/future, he dies and is reborn, he loses his sister to some time travel stuff...
  • Is the Vulcan society patriarchal? It would be interesting to see the logical reasoning behind this if that is the case. When Spock is brought back to Vulcan to perform the uniting of his body and soul through the ceremony of "fal-tor-pan", everyone just speaks about the paternal lineage like no one has had any mothers (which makes it seem mothers don't matter on Vulcan). Spock's mother isn't even present or mentioned in the movie at all? Did I miss that she is dead at this point or something?
  • When Spock is himself again he starts quoting things to Kirk that he said to him while dying. But this was after he mindmelded with Bones, so how would he remember it? The body with those memories died, and Bones was out cold throughout that event.
Images from,,,, 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Director's Edition) - Review


I was pretty sure it was going to happen, but I have changed my mind about this movie. I no longer think it's not that good. In fact, even though I absolutely love the first one and will say that I think it is the better sci-fi movie out of the two, The Wrath of Khan is definitely the better Star Trek movie.

I find it difficult to write a review of this movie without referencing back to the first one, as it seems that the creators, or at least the ones with money, took notes of all the criticism directed at The Motion Picture. Not enough action? Too slow? Not enough Kirk and friends on the screen? Check, check and check - Wrath of Khan fixes all of those issues. Because of that, just as with the first one where I said I could recommend it to any sci-fi fan even if they didn't enjoy Star Trek specifically, your enjoyment of this one really comes down to how much you've been yearning for The Original Series ever since it was cancelled. If The Motion Picture was a disappointment to you mainly because it had so little to do with Uhura, Chekov, Bones and all the others then Wrath of Khan will be your thing.

From the very first couple of scenes we realize that the tone is completely different. Where The Motion Picture starts out with shots of the antagonist, setting the atmosphere of grave danger and threat immediately, The Wrath of Khan starts out with a scene of Starfleet cadets in training, being schooled by Spock. We are some ten minutes into the movie before we get the first idea of what the actual plot will be about. Before then we get reacquainted with Spock, Kirk and Bones and more relation- and character building than in all of The Motion Picture.

The man, the myth

For instance we get to find out that Kirk has a son. They really don't make much out of that revelation in this movie though and frankly it never really becomes anything that seems to matter much to Kirk as a character. They also continue the story thread that Kirk is struggling with being anything but the commander of the Enterprise, that they alluded to in The Motion Picture. Overall the movie suffers from the same problem, or should I say quirk, as the TV-series in this regard - it is very Kirk-heavy. The other characters basically only get attention or screen time because Kirk is involved in it somehow, Spock being a half-exception. It almost gets laughable when Kirk seems to always know what to do better than the presumed expert in the field. "Main power is out!" yells Scotty from the engine room. "Switch to auxiliary!" shouts Kirk, like Scotty couldn't have thought of that himself. But this is simply how the TV-series and subsequently movies based on TOS (The Original Series) were written and not necessarily a flaw (unless you ask the rest of the crew). Kirk, and Shatner as Kirk, is a very good and interesting character. If he's not your thing however, TOS and some of the TOS movies can be difficult to watch. The Motion Picture less so because of what I've already mentioned in my review of that movie, but it becomes full on apparent in The Wrath of Khan.

So to the story then - in essence Khan returns and tries to avenge himself on Kirk for exiling him on what turned out to become a hostile planet. The movie quickly turns into a game of wits, yet again, between the genetically enhanced superhuman Khan and plain old not-genetically-enhanced-but-going-to-win-anyway Kirk.

More elaborately - First Officer Chekov and his new captain on the starship Reliant are on a mission to find a planet completely devoid of life yet in the habitable zone to test out a new invention, the Genesis developed by none other than Kirk's old girlfriend and mother of his son, Carol. The Genesis is a device that pretty much instantly can turn an area without life into a garden of Eden. It has the unfortunate side effect of completely wiping out any life that happens to already be there when it is used. When Chekov and his captain are on a planet for reconnaissance, they stumble upon Khan and his band of not so merry men (and women) who take the opportunity to leave the planet, try to steal the Genesis to use a weapon of mass destruction while also kill Kirk. The Universe sure is a small place sometimes.

The Wrath of Khan is something as interesting then as a direct continuation of one of the TV-series episodes, which at least in my book can be a dream come true. This has the benefit of letting fans, who yet again have been hungering for more Star Trek content for far too long (remember that back in these days you wouldn't have a handy DVD box to refresh your memory with at all times), revisit a fan favorite and see Kirk battle him once again. The Moby Dick and King Lear references in the movie are really completely unnecessary, it is obvious from the get go that this movie borrows heavily from those themes. Khan is totally hell-bent on destroying Kirk for what he has done to him, exiling him on Ceti Alpha V not only killed his wife but most importantly was a mortal blow to his oversized pride and ego. The lunacy of his actions are pointed out to him several times throughout the movie, but Khan can't let it go - he needs his revenge.

From hell's heart I stab at thee...

Ricardo Montalban as Khan is absolutely brilliant, again, and I very much enjoy watching the rest of the crew as well. Poor Uhura and Sulu still don't get much to do, but at least Chekov and Scotty are developed a bit more. As mentioned this is mainly a Kirk-show, but it is fun to see the cat and mouse game between Khan and Kirk unfold yet again and their on screen animosity comes out really well. It is almost a bit frustrating to see how Khan, really against all better judgement and his own superior intellect, makes what are some really bad tactical decisions just because Kirk derides him, but I guess this is why they are playing on the Moby Dick and King Lear references so heavy. Khan has become more mad than smart and his efforts to get revenge bereaves him of everything he has left - even his own life.

Stylistically this movie comes nowhere near the first movie in quality, but it also doesn't need to. It's a completely different kind of story that by necessity is told with different visuals and sound. Rather than long, slow panning and atmosphere building exterior shots (that I love) we get the indoor close up shots that a one-on-one like this requires. While it works well here, it still is far from the same epic feeling that the first movie has (there are some exceptions though, the costumes are way better in this movie and some of the interior sets, like the Enterprise bridge, are better as well). This is a different kind of fan service, maybe even for a different kind of fan. In many ways I'd almost say that this is deliberately designed to feel more like a long, high-budgeted, episode of the TV-series since clearly the style of the first movie didn't fly for enough people.

Finally it looks like they're wearing clothes.

The writing suffers from the same claustrophobic issues as much of TOS in general - you constantly get the impression that the Universe only exists exactly where Kirk and the Enterprise happen to be. In the TV-series it made sense though because they were out on a deep space mission and literally all alone out there (as in, no other Starfleet ships). But just like the first movie, even though they're supposedly not far from Earth, yet again the Enterprise happens to be the only starship close enough to deal with this extremely serious situation for the entire duration of the movie. You begin to wonder if Starfleet even has any other ships or what they're all so busy doing? They even use the words "only ship in the quadrant" which clearly has changed its meaning from here to VOY and DS9.

When I watched this movie for the first time I didn't have the context of when it was released and what it was trying to do. I'm not even sure I had seen the Khan TOS episode before it. Because of this, I must admit my first impression was pretty meh. I've seen it again since then, but the impression lasted with me until this now most recent watching for this review. Watching The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan back-to-back and also having seen TOS through several times, has allowed me to value The Wrath of Khan for what it is. It is trying to rectify the mistakes of the first movie and that it does brilliantly. If you're specifically after more of some of the best that TOS had to offer, then this movie is definitely for you.

Some random notes from when watching this movie;
  • Why does Scotty bring his hurt nephew to the bridge rather than immediately to sick bay?
  • How could they not know that Ceti Alpha VI had blown up? Wouldn't there be enough tell tale debris? And how does a planet just spontaneously explode (that would have to be a pretty massive meteor)?
  • The interior shots of the Regula I space station gave me some serious System Shock 2 vibes.
  • There are some really impressive stunts in this movie, there is a scene of a guy literally falling into fire and several scenes where stuntmen look like they're way too close to explosive devices. I hope no one was hurt.
  • Why is the best and most advanced ship in Starfleet being used for training missions? There must really be a lull in space exploration funding.
  • When Regula I seems to be in trouble and the Enterprise is sent in as the only starship close enough to investigate, the Reliant which is in fact working for Regula I is also close enough.
Pictures from,,,

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Director's Cut) - Review

"The human adventure is just beginning".

Spoiler Alert!

Let me get one thing out of the way right from the start - I think this movie is absolutely epic and anyone who thinks otherwise can go hug a cactus.

I've spent the last half hour reading through reviews of this movie, trying to figure out why it only has a 42% Rotten Tomato score and a 6,4 average on IMDB. While none of those scores are awful, I don't feel they reflect the quality of this movie. It is clear that viewers seem to fall somewhere on either side of the fence - either you enjoy the slow pacing of the movie, or you don't. Yes, 2001 - A Space Odyssey had already presented us to this ponderous style of slowly floating around in each scene over a decade before, but does that mean we never want to see it again? Does it mean that this movie doesn't also do it well? No and no!

At the time when the movie was made, the final episode of The Original Series was also a decade old. The creators of the show had an opportunity not only to revisit the beloved series, but finally with a budget and apparently free hands to truly bring the vision of Star Trek to life. This doesn't feel like a long episode of the Tv series, this definitely feels like a Motion Picture with a scope and craftsmanship that single episodes just didn't have back then. Some people say this doesn't feel like Star Trek. I say this feels exactly like Star Trek. To me it is clear that this is the core of the series, without the need to throw in things that explode or die in fancy ways to keep a TV audience interested and returning. This is about the mystery, vastness, emptiness and sheer marvel of space in all its magnitude. And dang if this movie does not capture all of those concepts brilliantly.

"She's a beauty" - Steve Irwin

The movie starts out by introducing the enemy - a massive cloud of epic proportions, literally, as it spans over 2 AU. It quickly and effortlessly destroys three Klingon Birds of Prey before it continues on its course towards Earth. Enterprise, which has just been almost completely refitted and is commandeered by its new captain Decker, turns out to be the only starship close enough to intercept the cloud before it reaches its presumed goal. What it wants, is or comes from no one knows. It is up to the crew of the Enterprise to solve all of these riddles before it is too late. While both Kirk and Spock have departed the Enterprise since the ending of TOS, the plot gets them back on the ship before long, where they both resume their old positions as captain and science officer respectively.

What follows is a movie that revels in its exterior shots and space models and gives each scene exactly the amount of time it needs to allow for the full impact of the atmosphere and setting it is trying to sell. Yes, the scenes are long, but we want to see this. For every long shot of some model or part of space I am as awestruck and gleeful as Kirk when he first sets eyes on the Enterprise again, it is all so beautiful. Each scene feels carefully and lovingly crafted, you see people doing things in the background that you might not even notice but that you know must've taken them a lot of effort to prepare. The soundscapes are just spot on. The music and especially the sound effect used for the cloud are great. They are really trying to sell this world, and they are succeeding. The editing is so careful that in the end you have the feeling the entire movie was just one long scene from beginning to end. This is as far from the modern day Hollywood style of giving you sixteen scene cuts over ten seconds as you can come. And I love it all the more for it.

Cloudy weather in space.

One of the first things I thought when I finished watching is that this movie would've made an absolutely amazing science-fiction novel. The story is similar to that of Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke or Nemesis by Isaac Asimov. While you could argue that it's just borrowing ideas, I instead find that it gives these ideas one of the best movie representations there are out there. The initial looming threat of the cloud, with its immense power and incomprehensible existence would have made HP Lovecraft proud. The movie builds up the tension very much in the way of the old horror author. But then, before things go into the weird, it shows itself as the science fiction story it is. We start getting clues as to how the cloud functions and what it might be after. In the end, in true Star Trek fashion, humanity turns out to be the key to saving Earth yet again.

The final plot twist in the end had my mind absolutely blown the first time I watched this movie. Not only is it impossible to guess, the idea that one of our own space probes could come back after having encountered alien life is actually a really cool one that I would love to see further explored. In the movie they find out that the cloud, V'ger as it is called, turns out to be the Voyager 6 (which doesn't actually exist), sent from Earth over 300 years ago. Somewhere out in space it encounters a life form entirely made up of machines, which rebuilds the probe and sends it back to allow for it to complete its programming - to send its collected data back to Earth. Voyager, or V'ger as it eventually calls itself, forgets what it is or where it's from however and initially thinks the humans are "infesting" the planet Earth, preventing it from interacting with its original creators. Kirk et al manages to convince it otherwise by allowing a human (Decker) to merge with the machine, before it destroys life on Earth.

Sailor Moon has a new member.

While I think this movie is a pure joy to watch, I do have a few issues with it. My biggest one is probably with the costume design, because whatever they're all supposed to be wearing both looks ugly and uncomfortable (Nichelle Nichols apparently also had issues with it). What even is that thing they have on their stomachs? Is that a belt buckle or some sort of fanny pack? My second issue is with the plot point that the Enterprise is the only starship within interception range, which sounds forced and implausible to me.

And, here is one where I can see where the "haters" are coming from - most of the characters feel grossly underutilized. Except for Kirk getting to shortly explore what it feels like to possibly be "too old" for the captain's chair that he still covets, most of the other characters barely get any limelight. Interestingly enough, the ones that the story seems to focus the most on are the two new characters of Ilia and Decker, who (spoiler alert again) also die at the end. I can understand why fans get the feeling that this wasn't written as a Star Trek story with the old Enterprise crew in mind. While we get to see some of Spock trying to do the Kolinahr (hilarous scene also where Bones calls it "the culinary course"); an underexplored bit of the reunion of Kirk, Spock and Bones; and Scotty tinkering with the Enterprise warp drive, the interactions between the core group are basically gone. Spock almost seems like he's a bit confused at the whole thing and doesn't know what to do. He says he is there to "get an answer", but to what? No one asks him, for some reason, and it is barely developed. Kirk is clearly the one having the most fun with the movie and is as usual acting the heck out of each scene he is in. Characters like Chekov, Sulu and Uhura are almost completely replacable with non-descript ones. This is apparently an issue that many of the main actors pointed out, but few changes were made.

In this sense I can understand why fans feel like they've peeled away too much of what made the TV-series Star Trek, but to me the end result is still so exceedingly beautiful and awe-inspiring, I can't help but love it all the same.

Their Starfleet Insignias don't do anything either.

The ending is also the sort of non-committing that I know can annoy some people. While we get to see Decker merge with V'Ger, we know nothing of the end result or what becomes of it. I don't have an issue with it though, since this is how many science fiction writers end their stories. They might be great at coming up with concepts, but notoriously bad at wrapping them up into a satisfying ending. Even more hilariously, right after Earth seems to be saved, Kirk literally just waves his hand at the "viewer" and tells Sulu to fly "out there, somewhere". The ending is probably meant to come off as sentimental and adventurous but feels more stupid. Surely he can't just take the Enterprise out into space without any mission or orders like that? He is basically kidnapping the entire crew and ship.

I guess Walter Koenig said it best when he described it as "a Star Trek movie, but not the old Star Trek". Maybe whether you're going to enjoy this comes down to if you're after more Kirk + Spock & gang or you're ok with "just" a really well crafted, interestingly told science fiction story that happens to take place in the Star Trek universe. Even if you don't normally enjoy Star Trek, you'll enjoy this as a movie that will give you a whole lot of great sci-fi ideas in some really cool visuals. Personally, although I am a fan of the Original Series, I am not overly sentimental about it and was perfectly ok with the secondary role most of the characters got in this movie, when the rest of it is so enticing. It just looks and sounds so good, with a story that really captures your imagination, I definitely recommend it whole-heartedly to any sci-fi fan out there. I'd rewatch this over 2001 - A Space Odyssey any day.

Here are some off the cuff thoughts that were spurred while watching this movie;
When they realize V'ger is in fact Voyager 6, Decker mentions that the Voyager 6 was lost to "what they used to call a black hole". "Used to call" implies that they think that black holes will eventually (in the future that is Star Trek) turn out to be something else, but as far as I know this isn't something that has been explored further within the Star Trek Universe? Please correct me if I am wrong!
V'ger has supposedly encountered a machine life form that seems to have immense technological abilities. Wouldn't it have been cool to make a throwback episode referencing this movie in one of the series that take place in the future of the Original Series, like Voyager or Next Generation? I would've loved for them to further explore this civilization of machines, but yet again I don't think this is ever done (there is a Voyager episode of robots at war that are the only surviving ones of that species, but I can't think of any other similar ones).

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Field Report #24 - In The Swamp of RPGness

RPG Fatigue
With two little kids in the home I am usually looking at about 2-2,5 hours of game time per day, at the very best. This is assuming I'm not doing anything else, like writing a blog post, reading, watching Star Trek and then writing a blog post about that, or giving my SO some attention. Apparently he needs that on occasion (which, to be fair, often amounts to us playing a game together so I guess it still counts towards game time). Long gone are the days of my kid-free-ness where I could easily spend 8-12 hours on gaming in a day if I felt like it. Which I often did.

This means I often have to give some extra thought to what games I choose to play. Some shorter games like Gone Home, World of Goo and Four Last Things I can hope to dish out within a couple of weeks. But if I feel like trying some sort of RPG, I am often looking at what could end up being a months long project. Because of this I try to mix up what kind of games I play, so that I don't get stuck with several long-term games and that being the only thing I play for several months. Maybe I will play something like South Park: The Stick of Truth or Dishonored, while also digging into a longer project like Mount & Blade and throw a shorter game like Return of The Obra Dinn in there.

How is it then, that I've gone and found myself having done the exact opposite of that this year? I've ended up playing not one, not two, but five long-term games at the same time. Without even realizing it I discovered that I was actually playing Divinity: Original Sin, Geneforge 3, Secret of Mana, Let's Go Eevee and Monster Hunter Ultimate 3 simultaneously. Dividing my game time between them meant I was probably looking at spending all of 2019 with these games. Something had to be done. While playing the same game for a long period of time isn't a problem in itself, and a necessity if I want to experience a longer game like an RPG, I do need the shorter games to give me a sense of accomplishment every now and then. I just need to actually complete something to feel like I've done something. Also, I am staring down a "To Play" games list that is already over a hundred games long and not getting any shorter. I can't afford to get myself stuck in only long games like this or something inside me will start to panic.

Geneforge 3 - Don't judge a book by its cover.

So, unfortunately, something had to go. Monster Hunter Ultimate 3 was the first thing to be cut, because even though I enjoyed it, it was the game with the least sense of direction of the lot. I can definitely see what pulls people in and there is just so much to do. But in the end that is what made me ditch it, because it felt overwhelming. Let's Go Eevee is put a bit on the backburner, mainly because it is a retelling of a game I have already completed several times before and so doesn't offer much in terms of new experiences. Secret of Mana is the one of the three left I have decided to put the least time into simply because it, so far, is the least fun.

But that still leaves Divinity: Original Sin and Geneforge 3. I have so far spent almost 70 hours with the former and around 35 hours with the latter. Out of those two I am enjoying Geneforge 3 the most and would've probably felt like I was done with DOS now if it wasn't for the fact that I am sure I am quite close to the end (read: maybe only about 20 hours left?) and it feels like it would be silly to abandon the story now after having already invested that much time. Although, in all honesty, the story is not what has kept me around for DOS.

I'm hoping I can finish one of these long runners soon so I can get started on The Witcher 3 this century.

My son is now 5,5 years old and absolutely loves video games with a passion. I am happy he does because I think there can be some great fun to be had when sharing a video gaming experience. So I have been writing before about a couple of games that we have played together, games that I in most cases wouldn't have played on my own but had a lot of fun with when playing it with him. The best kind of video games spur a lot of fun ideas and dialogue, and in a lot of cases we can take inspiration with us outside of the game and turn them into things like arts and crafts projects or ideas for things to do with Lego and whatnot.

So far, the games we have been playing together have been chosen by my son but curated by me. This means I have selected a list of games I thought would be fun to play together and have let him pick something from that list. I haven't struck a dud yet, we have enjoyed every game we've played together. But now something has changed. A month or so ago, for the first time, he asked me to join him in one of the games he usually plays on his own.

Roblox - You can even adopt people.

It started with Minecraft, a game I had never had any interest in playing myself. After seeing on Youtube that you could play Minecraft with other people he asked me if I could join him. Yeah, why not? And it's actually a lot of fun playing it together. I was also amazed at how proficient my son was at the game, because even though we've got him playing where we can always see what he is doing I had clearly still missed the finer details of his Minecraft skills. Since I had absolutely no knowledge of the game he could not only build a lot faster than me, but also often gave me helpful hints and pointers. He also spent a whole lot of time breaking and changing the things I tried to build up, but that's just the way a 5 year old is.

At the moment his interest has shifted from Minecraft to Roblox, a game he discovered completely on his own through Youtube. I had never heard of it, but after checking out what it seemed to be about I helped getting him sorted and it didn't take long before he asked me to play it with him. And wow, it's a pretty neat thing. It provides players with an easy tool to create their own content and because of this there is a lot of content. There is a Roblox game about just about anything. We've played a Cops & Robber style game, Pizza maker game, a game that allows you to be a bird and I even found a Roblox game that is trying to replicate Pokémon (and it really doesn't look like something Nintendo would allow).

While Roblox is pretty cool and all, I am still mostly looking forward to when we can experience some more intricate games together, like Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (while they might be single player games, that doesn't mean you can't share the experience). I realize those games are still many years away and he might not even have an interest once the time comes, but there is hope!

Finally A Resident
Speaking of Resident Evil, I go way back and share many good gaming experiences with that particular series. It's interesting then, and I've probably mentioned before, that I've never actually played any of the games myself. I've always just been a, albeit enthusiastic, spectator. The only game I've played somewhat is Resident Evil 5 in co-op, which was fun, but I never got around to completing it. My favorite in the series is probably the Resident Evil Remake on Gamecube, coincidentally (but probably not) also the first Resident Evil game I experienced. I am a big fan especially of the first four (RE, RE2, RE Nemesis and RE Code Veronica). Resident Evil 4, while definitely a good game, is not really to my liking and RE7 was definitely not to my liking (very fun to watch a Let's Play of though, but not a Resident Evil game if you ask me).

I realize what I enjoy is the zombie lore, the weird settings and even weirder puzzles. The mansion of the first game is just so atmospheric as you make your way through it, slowly unravelling the chaos that has taken place there just days before. I love trying to imagine what it must've been like there just before the zombie-shit hit the fan and I find the world-building superb even in all its absurdness.

And then came Resident Evil 2 Remake, which I have been looking forward to ever since it was promised inside the booklet of my Resident Evil Remake copy on Gamecube. I really didn't think that it would ever happen, the same way Final Fantasy VII remake will never happen (I've given up hope to be honest). But it did! And it's good!

Resident Evil 2 - Didn't like her then, don't like her now.

After RE7 I was so worried they would go with another Outlast-copy style game, but fortunately they have not. I haven't gotten far into the game yet, but so far it seems like they've really kept the spirit of the original but enhanced it to keep it fresh, just like they managed to do with the original RE Remake (which in my book still stands as the best game remake ever). And that's right, I am the one playing it this time. My very first Resident Evil game, so to speak. It's not like I've never played a horror game before, I've got proof of getting through both System Shock 2 and Dead Space without screaming too much like a baby. And it's going pretty well so far, nothing has scared me brown yet but then I haven't come across Mr X yet so that'll probably change very soon.

It is unbelievably dark, even after I realized I had put my brightness setting way too low so that I could literally barely see anything, and fixing that. While I don't mind so much, I definitely prefer the older style of limiting your visibility through "bad" camera angles rather than making you run through vast areas with just a flashlight. Not because one is scarier than the other, but because I want to see the surroundings to be able to get that immersive feeling of the older games. But overall I must say RE2 remake is very fun.

Here's to hoping they'll remake RE Nemesis too.

Images from myself and