Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Previous Generation

Over the Christmas period I’ve revisited one of my earliest geekisms. Star Trek. “Ah”, I hear you say, “So you got the new film on DVD from Santa then.” Well yes I did thank you, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No, I revisited The Next Generation, or as the dedicated call it, TNG.

Over the last year I’ve become reacquainted with Wil Wheaton, the child star who brought Wesley Crusher to annoying life. First through the Penny Arcade/PvP DnD podcasts, which are as funny as they are geeky. After laughing so much at the amusing way he handled PvP’s Scott Kurtz’s reaction to Wil’s character dying I thought it only right I check out his own stuff. There I found that Mr. Wheaton was doing a podcast series, Memories of the Futurecast, that reflects on his time on TNG. One of the funnier parts of the 'cast was Wheaton coming to realise why the majority of the viewing public had hated his character.

All this listening to recaps of the old series got me in the mood to watch some TNG, something I’d not looked at since it had ended years ago. Especially with the last part being the dreadful Nemesis. So on visiting my parents’ abode for the Holiday Season I managed to dig out a boxset of the Borg episodes from the series and the film Generations. First of all, Generations wasn’t as bad as I remembered, being older allowed me to appreciate the meeting of Picard and Kirk a lot more then I did aged 12. But it was the Borg episodes that really got me. First I was reminded how good TNG could be when it tried as all six episodes are brilliant. In the six, you get the brilliance of John de Lancie’s Q, and also the amazement of how good an actor Brent Spiner is, playing both the non-emotional but kind hearted Data and his emotional and evil brother Lore, and the two appear as totally separate characters.

What really struck me was how much of shame it was that Star Trek at this point was still episodic and didn’t venture into serial territory, something that would only rear its head with Deep Space Nine. Watching Best of Both Worlds I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities that could have been followed after this if the show just carried on story-lines for more than two episodes. As well as being the quintessential Borg story, Best of Both Worlds is also an examination of Commander William Riker. Revealed here to have turned down three separate commissions for his own command and with the arrival of Lieutenant Commander Shelby gunning to be his replacement as Picard’s first officer we get a wonderful introspective of Riker. When Picard gets kidnapped by the Borg and transformed into one of them we get to see Riker as a Captain, and he does a brilliant job. I just thought the possibilities were fantastic. When Picard gets rescued and disconnected from Borg it would have been great to have a few episodes of him rehabilitating back to normal while Riker’s left in command of the Enterprise instead of the reversion to status quo Star Trek is known for.

First thing I’m going to do when I get back home is go out and get First Contact on DVD and finish off the TNG’s Borg Saga. Despite a few friends arguing it, I’m not going as far as watching Voyager though.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ben is BACK!

My very first proper American Comic was an issue of Spider-Man. I was on my first holiday to the US with my parents and I managed to badger them into buying me quite a few that trip. But the first was part 1 of ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ - a storyline that featured a certain clone as the main star. Yes, my first proper comic had Scarlet Spider as the main star during what is widely considered one of the worst stories in Marvel's history, the Clone Saga. From that moment on I always liked Ben Reilly. I followed him through most of the saga, his stint as Spidey and his eventual death.

His was one comic death that never seemed like it was ever going to be reversed no matter how much it was wanted. This is comic books though and only Uncle Ben stays dead, so it was only a matter of time before the guy who took his name from him rose from the grave. While we may not have that yet, 15 years is long enough for Marvel to finally start admitting that Peter Parker's test tube brother existed. While a storyline in Amazing addressed the character in-continuity, we were also given an out-of-continuity story covering the Clone Saga that was to cover how it should have been told, instead of the mess it turned out to be.

Well that's what Marvel claimed anyway. The six issue mini series isn't really taking that stance. It's odd what the writers have done. They seem to have taken beats from the whole saga and are half retelling and half re-imagining. For instance, in the original saga Ben had a very 90s mullet and looked a lot scruffier to Parker's usual look. It was only after he took over the real Spider mantel that he decided to dye his hair blonde and tidy it back up. To distance themselves, in this clone saga Ben is blonde and working at the coffee shop while still running around as the Scarlet Spider.

Also Peter is the usual jokey Spider-Man, but part of the reason for the original story was that Parker had gone through so much he'd become dark and brooding. Editorial wanted the single, fun loving Spidey back, a problem they'd pursue another 10 years before getting to grips with, and that's a whole other rant. Having both Ben and Peter working in the same way does spoil some of the magic of the original series. Well, at least before it got out of hand.

That its now looking like Norman Osborne's behind it all again just goes to show that this is just them telling certain parts better than how it was originally. Osborne was originally only revealed to be back from the grave and the mastermind behind the saga when editorial sat down and tried to figure how to reverse the 'Ben is the real Parker' problem. The former Green Goblin was not even in the original plans.

The fact issues two and three cover about 4 different story-arcs within the original Saga just proves my point. One of those arcs was one of the Saga's lowest points. The God-awful Maximum Clonage, a SIX issue story, now part and parcel of a two issue story covering far more ground.

However, I'm loving having Ben Reilly back in comics. Especially in the Scarlet Spider costume. One of my all time favourite comics will be the issue where Ben first puts the costume together and fights Venom, all the way through saying he's worthless while proving the very opposite. It was Spider-Man through and through and I hope I don't have to wait another 15 years to see him again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bioware's Return to Sword and Sorcery

I had originally intended to leave Dragon Age: Origins until after Christmas. One thing was niggling in the back of my mind though. Dragon Age is meant to be huge, and next year we also have Mass Effect 2, Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol all arriving on the RPG scene and that's going to take up a lot of my playing time. When would I get to fit it in?

However, I ended up getting it as an early present and after some minor surgery left me off my feet for nearly two weeks I thought it would be the perfect time to get started with it. Thank God I did, over a week of playing and I'm not sure I'm even half way through. Got a month or two before Mass Effect 2 so should be plenty of time for me to enjoy the game, although the announcement of even more DLC for Dragon Age doesn't fill me with hope.

I'm playing this on the 360 and I know Bioware said it (every reviewer going has) but Dragon Age really is made for the PC. However, since my PC isn't up to scratch for gaming these days, and I still have an uncompleted Neverwinter Nights 2 on there, as soon as it was announced for 360 I knew that's how I'd be getting it. I told myself it'd be fine as normally Bioware's good at porting They held Mass Effect back at least 6 months to make appropriate changes so it worked better on the PC. It looks like EA doesn't care about this though and sped Bioware up so they could have a multi-platform release. The game is set up for pause-and-plan-style fighting, which is a bit difficult to pull off with a console but thanks to a Mass Effect-style menu on the left trigger it more or less works. What's slightly annoying is you have to change some options to get it working properly.

Also the game needs a quick save key. Maybe I've gotten lazy with all my console playing but I expect autosaves when you switch areas or finish an important battle. Not in Dragon Age. I lost an hour of game play because I died in a fight. I am now used to it, but I'm stopping every 5 minutes just to save so I don't lose any progress, breaking the flow of the game.

This game is extremely addictive though. During my recuperation I'd start playing pretty early on in the morning thinking I'd just do a little bit of a quest but I happened to start a questline that beautifully fed into itself to keep you going and I kept telling myself 'just this next bit' and before I realised, the majority of a day had passed.

What's really worrying me is how likely I am to replay this game. Apart from the numerous different starting adventures you can have, there's also the fact that I'm currently playing as my usual good guy and there's certain side quests I can't touch, especially with the party I've assembled. I want to see this game from a total git's perspective.

The party is one of the best I've seen in a long time and I think Bioware have finally pulled off the like/dislike function they've been trying for since Knights of the Old Republic. It’s another reason I think I'm likely to replay this game as an absolute bastard. I want to do the side quests I've missed out on and experience life with the other party members who are a bit less pious then the group I'm wandering around with now.

The problem remains that this is going to take ages, and with the news that Mass Effect 2 is coming on 2 disks I'm starting to wonder when I'm going to get round to all of this.