Saturday, January 25, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E1 "Remembrance"

Spoilers galore!

I've mentioned it a couple of times before and anyone who has read some of my previous posts on Star Trek might know by now that The Next Generation is far from my favorite Star Trek series. In fact, in many ways I would probably put it at the bottom of my list (the verdict is still out on Discovery). That doesn't mean I think it's a bad series though, just that it is facing stiff competition. When comparing it to the other series in the Star Trek universe, TNG definitely has a lot going for it, but it has even more that just rubs me the wrong way. Mainly I find most of the supporting characters to be annoyingly... lacking of substance. They're just walking caricatures to me, and you could probably say that about all of the Star Trek series really, but in TNG they don't even come off as likable.

That is, except for Picard and Data. Those two carry TNG if you ask me and without them there would be no reason to watch that series at all. They alone do make it worth suffering through however, though I do recommend simply skipping the episodes that focus on some of the worst characters (Riker, the Crushers, Troi, Worf... wait I am just naming the entire cast ain't I?).

So when Star Trek Picard was announced (though at first it was only known as something Star Trek with the character Picard in it) I wasn't really sure what to think of it. I'm not against more Star Trek, although like I said I am not really sure what I feel about Discovery yet. And I like Picard as a character, he is great. So whether this new series would be worth checking out or not would really come down to how much it was about Picard and how much it would be fan servicing all the other characters in there as well. I definitely didn't feel like I needed to see more of them, especially since some of them do plenty of cameos on other Star Trek series already, unlike Picard and beforementioned Data.

We'll fast forward a couple of months and I have watched the first episode of Star Trek Picard and I can say, yeah. This has potential. This could actually turn out to be something I am really going to enjoy.

Data's role is still very mysterious.

It starts out with Picard in a dream sequence, though at first that's not entirely clear. Picard is sitting on a space ship playing chess with Data, but things quickly seem to feel a bit off. The very first sequence into this scene is overlaid with Bing Crosby singing, and I can't hear Bing Crosby without immediately thinking of everything Fallout.

The dream sequence turns into a nightmare and we see Picard waking up in his bed at some sort of vineyard mansion. When he looks out the window at the rows of crops it looks like it's the middle of the day, so does he sleep that long or did he just have a nap?

We also learn that Picard's dog is named, or at least called, Number One. Funny I guess, but cropped ears? Really? All those years into enlightenment and peaceful living but they still do that completely unnecessary and cruel cutting of ears? It seems like such an odd anachronistic thing to accidentally leave in, it makes me kind of sad that it's so natural to the show runners that they didn't even thing there was anything odd about it (cropping of dog ears and tails is thankfully illegal in Sweden).

Apparently Picard lives with Romulans at this vineyard and he is about to hold an interview with a TV network (or whatever they have that far in the future) who wants to ask them about the incident that made Picard retire.

I can't say I am well versed in TNG and Picard lore, so I actually have no idea if this was something that was known prior to this show or created for this show. My shoot-from-the-hip guess is that it was entirely, or at least mostly, created for the show. This part is very exposition heavy, and the interviewer is so bad at her job it is clear it was only written this way so that us viewers will quickly get up to date with where and why Picard is in his life.

I think it works in the sense that they make a whole lot of background story delivered in a short space of time understandable and easy to follow. This exposition also does its job in helping us understand a lot of the things that are about to follow.

No body likes the Romulans.

In short, the Romulan home-world was about to explode (some 20 ish years ago in this series) and Picard was part of the few people who wanted to help the Romulans out, seeing as they are snarky and aggressive and have been the enemy of the Federation for a long time. They're simply not very nice people. Picard manages to rally enough support for his cause to get a rescue mission going, but everything is ruined when a group of "synth's" (short for synthetics i.e androids) decide to go rogue and abuse the situation by blowing up a lot of people. Synthetics are subsequently banned from existing within the Federation, something that Picard is very much against seeing as one of his best friends was a synthetic (i.e Data). Data had died somewhere around this time by sacrificing himself to save Picards life so isn't around anymore as I understood it, though it's not mentioned exactly how this happens.

Picard retires from the Federation in anger and spends the rest of his days at his vineyard. Until something happens.

What happens is a girl named Dahj. We get a scene where she is having a date with her boyfriend when suddenly loads of SWAT-looking people show up, instantly murder he boyfriend and go to kidnap her. Dahj "activates" in some way and kills them all with some pretty kickass fighting (which immediately made me think of Clarissa Mao from The Expanse). Seeming as confused about this as the rest of us, she gets a vision/memory of Picard in her head and since he is somewhat of a notability she knows where to find him and decides to do so.

When Dahj turns up at Picards vineyard my brain started screaming "BLADE RUNNER!". Rogue synthetics? A synthetic that doesn't know it's a synthetic (Dahj)? A human who has to go looking for them? Any of this sound very familiar?

One of the rare occasions where the movie is much better than the book.

I am a huge fan of Blade Runner so I would never turn down something that has taken inspiration from it. Also I think that just because Blade Runner has explored this concept before doesn't mean you should shy away from it, it's a great concept after all. In fact I would applaud the show creators if this is the direction they want to take this show in, I am all for that. But I don't know that yet.
Dahj presents herself to Picard who starts to suspect that she is a synthetic. She leaves before he can ask her more and he has a hunch he decides to go look up. In a vault he has a painting made by Data 30 years prior called "Daughter" and it is the image of Dahj on it. So Data is involved too somehow. It doesn't help that Picard keeps dreaming and daydreaming about Data as well.

It turns out Dahj left because she was worried Picard would get hurt. Don't worry, Dahj's mom (or whatever she can be) deus-ex-machinas Dahj back to Picard where Picard can tell her about the discovery of the painting. Then the SWAT-people find them and they get chased down, Dahj fights them off for a while but they manage to kill her.

This actually threw me off. I was sure Dahj was going to be part of this story and killing her off this soon deepened the mystery in a great way for me.

Picard decides to investigate further at the Daystrom Institute, which apparently has the most knowledge of synthethics though they're actually banned. He talks with a woman there who looks like she is at most 30 but she talks about synthetics and their history like she's been part of it for the last 40 years. They couldn't find an actor who looked like she had been around for all that time then?
Picard finds out that synthetics that are entirely organic might exist and they were always created in pairs. Why you're probably wondering? Very good question that this episode at least doesn't answer, though I am very sure the answer is nothing more than "plot reasons".

Anyway, this means that Dahj's twin is out there somewhere and Picard is setting out to find her somehow.

Before the episode ends we get to see this twin, named Soji (if I recall correctly), on board what looks like a repurposed Borg Cube full of Romulans. Also, did they create a Romulan language for this show or did it exist already?

This could be good.

This episode was definitely too short. Aren't pilot episodes supposed to be double-length anyway? It got me interested almost immediately anyway and although some of the writing is a bit sloppy and convenient, Picard (Patrick Stewart that is) and the promise of stories about androids make it come to life for me. Would I love it half as much if Stewart wasn't in it to sell it so well? No, probably not but he is so here we are. This has so much potential to become something great I feel, if they manage to keep the same sense of urgency and mystery throughout.

Some of the critique seems to be that the pacing is too slow. While I haven't seen far enough to judge for myself yet, but my spontaneous reaction is hell yes! Finally a TV-show that has the guts to take its time and not just whizz past my face.

Are these synthetics creations of Data's? Who is hunting them? Is Data still out there? Where is Seven of Nine? These are all questions I want answers to and I am really looking forward to the next episode.

Images from,,,,

Monday, January 20, 2020

My Best of 2019

Time to take a look back at 2019 and some of my personal entertainment highlights as far as books and games go.

Some thoughts on the books I read in 2019;

Overall I can't say 2019 was a good year for my reading. I did a lot less of it first of all. I think the main explanation is that I used to do most of my reading at my work (it used to be very intermittent work load with sometimes longer breaks in-between) and now I have a different job that has pretty much no breaks for reading instead. The upside is that I have more fun at work, the downside is that I have less time to read.

I also didn't read many books that wow:ed me and some times when I read a lot of not-so-exciting books in a row it sort of puts me off reading for a while. I have this issue with watching anime or TV-series as well. For instance my usual go to series when I want something that I know I'll enjoy - The Expanse - ended up being not as good as I usually think they are. The fifth book in the series, Nemesis Games, introduced a character I had little interest in and really just wanted to go away.
Unfortunately that seems very unlikely to happen anytime soon, but maybe I can suffer this character if the rest of the storytelling is as good as it usually is. Nemesis Games didn't deliver but Babylon's Ashes which I am reading at the moment is already proving to getting back to older forms.
As an anecdote I can mention that I've watched all the seasons of The Expanse on Amazon as well (and Netflix before the move) and while I think the books are amazing I actually think the TV-series is even better.

Didn't have much of this last year.

I've also read a couple of Agatha Christie books as it's always been on my bucket list to read through at least a few of her works. I find them very snack-sized. They're easy get through and entertaining enough but not really anything you'll remember for too long afterwards.

Interestingly enough my favorite books of last year where actually two books I had already read before and re-read because I enjoyed them so much. I guess they don't really count then since I knew I liked them already.

The first one is The Mountain Village by Chun Chan Yeh. I have a fascination with the ordeals of Chinese people through the ages and maybe especially the early 1900. This book takes place in a little village out on the countryside and what happens to the people there as cultural and political revolution takes place around them. People are only trying to get by and do the right thing, but when the right thing is defined by whomever has the most soldiers that day it turns out to be a very hard thing to do. It's well written and heart breaking in many ways. I love it because it manages to make you smile through all the hardships, it's not all grim. You really care and feel for these characters who could've been any one of us.

The second re-read I did last year was of a book I read and owned when I was little. It's called Vitterväder (Wights Weather) by Börje Lindström. It's a ghost story for young adults and I remember really liking it for its down to earth writing style. I decided to buy myself a copy as I've lost my old one somewhere and see if it still held up, and it definitely does. It has the right amount of creepy yet doesn't over-embellish but keeps it clean. I always enjoy books that can tell things with less words rather than more.

Another book I am glad I read last year was Frågor Jag Fått Om Förintelsen (Questions I've Been Asked About The Holocaust) by Hédi Fried. Hédi Fried is a Holocaust survivor born 1924 in Romania and she has worked many years with different kind of educational work regarding the Holocaust. Frågor Jag Fått Om Förintelsen is a straight-forward Q&A with things people have been wanting answers to regarding the Holocaust when she has been out giving speeches. The subject matter makes it a dark read, but it's a necessary one. These things will always be difficult to process and understand, if not impossible, but this book breaks it down to just the thoughts that pop in to people's heads and it's a great read.

My gaming year of 2019 was pretty good actually...

It started off absolutely brilliantly with Return of The Obra Dinn. What a great game. The only bad thing about is that it's a one-off, you can't experience the magic on a second playthrough anywhere near as it is the first time you play it - but that only goes to emphasize what a special game this is. Original idea executed amazingly, this is fun and enthralling from beginning to the end.

Cause of death - really bad luck.

I also played Bloodstained and enjoyed it a lot. Bloodstained is a good example of how you can't capture lightning in a bottle twice, but by golly if you can't have fun with it a second time around. Borrowing very heavily from the Castlevania Symphony of the Night formula, Bloodstained decided to add more of everything and I think it worked. A lot of the extra stuff wasn't really necessary but it also didn't detract from the core game so I didn't mind it. The main game was competent enough and kept my interest throughout.

Talking about re-treading old footsteps as I seem to have done in my book reading last year, I also replayed Resident Evil 2 in a way. Resident Evil 2 remake was finally released, more than 15 years after it was first announced (yes, it was first announced when the first Resident Evil remake was released). The first Resident Evil remake still stands as the template on how to not just make a game justice but actually improve upon it with modern tools and I was definitely worried that Capcom could not pull that off twice. I am so glad I was wrong. The Resident Evil 2 remake embraces everything that made the original great and adds new flavor to the formula to keep the familiar feeling yet making it fresh. Kudos to Capcom for pulling it off again. Let's hope they can do a hattrick with Resident Evil 3 Nemesis.

2019 was also the year that saw the return of WoW Classic and I can't tell you how much fun I've been having with it. I still play it though literally no one else I know does (or at least not on my server). Even my bf who played it a bit the first couple of months, and we were levelling paladins together, cancelled his subscription last month. Me, I am trudging along in my loneliness. It's not that bad actually, and to be fair it's pretty accurate to my original WoW Vanilla experience. Back then I only knew my brother who played and for the first nine months we shared an account, so playing together wasn't an option. Also he was all into Pvp and I really wasn't.

I've missed this place.

At the moment I play my different alts (have pretty much one of each class) and haven't even made it to 40 on any one of them yet. I run around and do quests and the occasional dungeon while listening to podcasts. I love that you're often forced to ask other people for help and most of the time I only meet nice and funny ones. I am taking my time to get to endgame because I know that's probably when I hit my stop button. I never really raided in Vanilla and I don't have much desire to do so this time around either. On the other hand I know endgame content is more accessible this time around, for whatever reason, so I wouldn't mind giving it a shot. We'll see when I get there, because at this rate of levelling it is going to take me another half year at least, and I am perfectly fine with that.

If I were to also look ahead a bit...

I am mostly stoked for Cyberpunk 2077. I wasn't too fussed about it really until I started playing the Witcher 3. The only reason The Witcher 3 is not on my "awesome games I've played this year" list in this post is because I am nowhere near done with it yet. Spoiler alert, it will be on my list for 2020, if I remember to make one. While I really enjoyed The Witcher 1 and 2 and so I knew CD Projekt Red clearly could do great games, I put it down to the IP rather than the craftmanship. But now that I have played X many hours in The Witcher 3 I have a completely different idea of the skill set of these developers. Cyperpunk isn't something I am crazy into but definitely a genre I enjoy, so now I am really looking forward to trying this game out. As I am writing this, CD Projekt Red just announced that the game has been delayed until September and to me that's is practically good news since I still need more time to finish off The Witcher 3 before I can delve into Cyberpunk 2077.

Can't I just play as Geralt in the future?

Years and years ago, it feels like now at least, I heard about Final Fantasy VII remake being a thing. I decided to buy a ps4 pretty much on the basis of being able to play that game. Years later we are all still waiting as you know and I was starting to become pretty sure that the game wasn't even going to make it onto this generation of consoles but that I would have to invest in a ps5 as well. Well... it is coming out this year now finally right? Did I get that right? I don't even know anymore and I don't even know if I care. Maybe one day it'll come out and when it does I will be a happy camper and play it.

On a personal scale life is absolutely great and on a global scale I am panicking, but at least there are some good gaming and reading hours ahead of me...

Any of you have some personal favorites of last year? Book recommendations are definitely always welcome!

Images from,,,

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Witcher (TV-Series) - Season 1 Review

I guess nowadays it's only fair to expect pretty much any IP to be viable for a TV-series, seeing as I am certain that most Streaming Services are constantly on the look for The Next Big Thing. They must have droves of people just scouring the internet and various books to find a potential money-maker. For better or worse Game of Thrones seems to have set some sort of standard as the way to go for the really big success - was it the mix of extreme violence and nudity? Was it the well developed characters and plots? Who knows but let's try to capture that lightning in a bottle again by just using a similar formula.

How obvious isn't it really then if you keep all those things in mind that the Witcher was going to get the TV-series treatment? It is essentially Game of Thrones in so many ways, though it actually predates it which means you also avoid any claims of just trying to be a copy-cat.

Yet I'll be honest, I was pretty confused when I first heard about The Witcher coming to Netflix. Why? And... how? At the time I had played the first two games (and loved them) and read four of the books (and enjoyed them enough) so I was in that borderland of kind of wanting more because I enjoyed it so much but also being worried that they'd mess up something I really loved.

I was especially worried about Geralt. Ever since the first game I had a gamer-crush on this exceptional character. He is fun to play and fun to be around. For me he hits every note of being well fleshed out without being overly obvious - we actually know very little about him yet I find his personality easy to grasp and understand. His actions, reactions and interactions not only make sense but they portray a multi-faceted and interesting person. As characters go he is among the best I've had the pleasure to encounter in gaming and reading.

The beard suits him.

In most ways this goes for the entire world that he lives in as well. The reason Geralt comes off as such a well-written character is probably because he has a lot of well-written lore and side-characters to work with and all these beautiful pieces come together and make an excellent whole.

When I heard that Henry Cavill was going to play Geralt I went something along the lines of "eehhh...". Not immediately bad but rather "was that the best they could come up with?". At that time, and pretty much still actually, the only other thing I know Henry Cavill has done is Superman and since I haven't actually seen those movies I only know of it because of the moustache-debacle. Having Cavill in Superman-tights as my only reference point didn't exactly make me think he was going to be perfect as Geralt.

Then pictures were leaked or released or what have you, of Cavill in that wig that everyone made fun of and I actually started thinking the opposite. "You know what, this might actually work". By the time the release date had been announced I had decided that I was going to look forward to this and try my very best to enjoy it. I usually try to not go into things with high expectations and I can't say they were particularly high for this show either, but I wasn't going to slate it until I had given it an honest chance.

And I am glad I did. The Witcher is one of the few shows I pretty much binged, as much as I am able to do that with my limited amount of free time. And while I didn't love every second of it, there wasn't any one thing I hated or really didn't like either. Now that I am through it I can with confidence say that I think it's quite good and well worth watching if magic, beasts and magic beasts are your thing.

Let's take a look at the things I wasn't too keen on first;
While I can see what they were going for, I think, the actual storytelling ends up being way more confusing than it has to be. Since I am ever the optimist I chose to view this as the show creators desire to tell us viewers that they had confidence in our intelligence and went with the most brain straining way possible to tell the story of these three protagonists. Maybe it is to reward rewatchings of the show, since I am sure you don't understand every scene unless you watch them a couple of times. Maybe it was to fully be able to use the effect of "aha, it was really this and he was actually there!".

Easy to follow yet blows your mind.

The Prestige is a good example of where you can blindside and confuse your audience throughout the story to be able to get the full effect of the puzzle coming together and all those scenes that made little sense on their own suddenly get a whole new meaning. The Witcher doesn't fully manage to do this. I'd say they don't manage to do this at all in fact and there are a bunch of ways they could've made the various jumping of timelines and stories so much easier to follow without removing too much of the surprise build up.

Even to me who have read some of the books and especially these particular books that this season is based off, a lot came off as confusing. Though I'll probably still have to say that in the end the confusion fortunately did little to detract much from the fun happening on the screen. In fact I have two friends who have watched it who have zero knowledge of The Witcher beforehand and they still enjoyed it so it's clear the Witcher manages to be more than just its storytelling.

My other issue is a similar one I had to the games. The Witcher's world is really comprised of two very different aspects - him as a monster hunter and him as a pawn in a massive chess board of politics. I find both these aspects necessary and interesting, but I definitely prefer the former over the latter. This is the reason I enjoyed The Witcher 1 much more than The Witcher 2. The first one builds up Geralts character as a monster hunter whereas the second one focuses a lot more around the politics and the wars and the factions and all that.

Because the show is trying to be about not just Geralt but also Yennefer and Ciri, there is a lot more about the politics than the monster hunting. And I'll be honest, I am actually not overly interested in Yennefer or Ciri. They're good side characters, just like Triss, Dandelion (I'm sorry, Jaskier), Zoltan Chivay and all the other people Geralt meets while running around the world. But I'm not interested enough in them for them to be main protagonists.

What does Geralt even see in her?

I find the show actually does an ok job not only with expanding on the characters, especially Yennefers, but building up the story around the three so that we care about what is going to happen to them. But I can't help but think what a different kind of show this would've been if it had focused more on Geralt and his monster hunting and maybe gotten to the heftier political stuff a bit further in instead. That way it would've had a similar arc to series like Supernatural and the X-files which starts out with "monster of the week" and slowly carries you into the "Big Things" that you then care about because you've become so invested in the world and the characters.

The Witcher tries to make you care about a lot of things really quickly and I'll give it big cred for actually succeeding well enough with this. But I think a show more to my liking would've dared to work this up slower. Maybe that is just not how TV-shows are made anymore, Star Trek Discovery has the exact same issue for instance.

That is because when I truly enjoy something I want it to linger. I don't want it to race past my eyes. When playing the Witcher 3 I can sometimes just walk slowly through the shrubbery because I want to immerse myself in the feeling of being in that world. The Witcher TV-series cuts out too much of that aspect for my tastes at the moment.

So to the things I did like then;
Henry Cavill as Geralt. I think you can really tell what respect he had for the character and the IP because overall I think he nails it. I have no trouble with the wig, I think he gets the facial expressions and demeanor just right without just trying to copy the games for instance. He makes Geralt to his own and manages to stay true to the character, hat off to Cavill for this.

Blue Steel

And Cavill is not the only one where I think they've got the casting right, in fact I am happy with pretty much everyone - except Triss. I did just mention that I am not that interested in the side characters, but they are an important part of the world building and immersiveness of said world. I can understand the reasoning behind focusing on the three characters they have now, but I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of some others as the series moves along.

Queen Calanthe was excellent, loved her entire performance.

Just a quick word on Triss. Speaking on WoW to someone about the new Witcher series that person got really angry about the fact that they were going all "agenda" on Triss. I didn't even understand what this person was talking about, but I think it had something to do with the fact that she is not a red-head in the TV-series, though she is in the games. I hadn't even thought much of it, but when I looked it up it turns out that Triss isn't even supposed to be a red-head in the first place. The way she looks in the TV-series is actually more faithful to what she is "supposed" to look like than what they did to her in the games. I care little about exteriors though, as long as they are superficial. I have no issues with Triss whether she had been a red-head or not. The way she looks is not the problem I have with Triss.

I do feel however like the person they cast for the TV-series seemed to hone in on Triss' "gentle" trait a bit too much. Yes Triss is a gentle person who might even come off as nurturing for the untrained eye. I never thought she was just that. Triss is one of the more interesting characters in the Witcher games if you ask me, especially because she is so much more nuanced than what she initially seems like. I feel like they failed to capture this in the TV-series, and I hope upcoming seasons will do her more justice. The Triss in the books has a lot less "screen-time" (What do you call that in literature, page-time?) but then why even add her? It feels like they tried to cater to the game-lovers by adding her and giving her as much screen time as they do, but then they don't make her as interesting as she can be. This Triss seems like a bore and not someone anyone would like to get to know better. The Triss I know from the books and games is way more interesting and fun to be around.

No kisses.

But I seem to have gotten a bit sidetracked there from the things I liked.

The effects and fights were great. Love that they seem to have used a lot of practical effects, I am always a fan of that. My bf who is a bit of a fight choreography snob thought the fights were "ok" but I thought, especially that first one in Blaviken, they were really cool.

Most of the dialogue hit the right levels of cheesy/cool for me.  

I didn't mind them digging/making up background stories for Geralt and Yennefer because I think they actually turned out pretty neat. Sapkowski is in fact part in the creative process here (similarly to GRR Martin in Game of Thrones) so one can hope these background stories are actually something that he came up with at one point or other. Either way I don't think they betray any of the characters and definitely don't detract from the entertainment.

It's difficult I think to point to any particular things that this series gets right, because it actually has a lot of things I think it needs to improve. But in the end, somehow, they really manage to nail the Witcher feeling for me. If it is Cavill or whatever it is, I had so much fun watching it and just want more. If I could wish for anything for season 2 it would be to expand on the "witching" part of the series and maybe put a bit less effort on the "political" part of it, but seeing as Geralt has finally found Ciri I doubt that will happen. In any case I think it is lame that I have to wait another year for season 2.

Images from,,,,,