Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Endgame, the Good Things and Beyond


Ahhhh 1994 and 2001 are marked in your calendars aren't they?

That's because today, May 23rd, marks both the airing of The Next Generation's All Good Things... and Voyager's Endgame. If you're working out the passing of time it's 21 and 14 years respectively. My my, how time has flown and only a few weeks ago we were raising the flag to Enterprise's flawed finale episode These are the Voyages.

I'm a big admirer of All Good Things... and I'll be getting to Endgame in a few months time to close my Voyager rewatch (for those keeping track I'm hitting mid-season four and the magnificence of the Hirogen). The Voyager finale may not be the epic that The Next Generation managed but it still manages to bring the crew home even if that's only just as the titles roll. They also defeat the Borg which is nice.

I suspect that when I do reach Endgame I'm going to find it a lot more fulfilling and satisfying given the way I have chosen to revisit Voyager this year. I have some good memories of watching it on VHS as I had with All Good Things... and What You Leave Behind previously. Janeway did of course appear once more after the finale in Nemesis from 2003 and the saga of that little ship still rolls on today in the novel series currently under the guidance of Kristen Beyer with Atonement only a few months away.

Those two points marked closure on the TV exploits of two of Star Trek's three seven-season adventures and here we are now in some form of Star Trek renaissance perhaps. There are a ton of superb fan-made web-series which are at such a high level of production you;d be forgiven for thinking they were the "real" thing from a CBS studio and the convention circuit is still rampant for the cast and anyone associated with the franchise.

However.

There's always that shadow and it's Star Trek Beyond. I'm not making any earth-shattering announcements here about the title, the director or whom might be playing a baddie or a Klingon but I do want to discuss the writer.

Simon Pegg we know is on scribbling duty. No big secret and nor is the story over his opinions on current "nerd culture" or on how the script for Star Trek 3 is coming along but the worry we thought might have faded away with his involvement have come back but I don't think it's Pegg's fault at all.

From what I can understand Paramount want Star Trek to remain mainstream and steer clear of heading into the fan niche that might have accounted for its TV and cinematic demise in the early 2000's. JJ Abrams first two blockbusters proved that Star Trek could appeal to the larger non-Star Trek audience and retain the fan base and give us a blow-out action adventure in the space of about two hours. 

In fact we now know that Beyond will be less Star Trek-y because Paramount want to keep it earning big bucks and bridge the billion dollar gap between it and The Avengers which is the third biggest movie of all time. Seriously? That's a big mountain for Pegg and co to even attempt to climb and while a third outing penned by his hand will have more draw for fans of his writing, I just can't see the movie making that big a dent on the profits of such a movie mammoth.

I truly fear that making it less Trek-y will take us even further down the path which was prodded and exposed to some degree in Into Darkness. There was more action and adventure, more disregard to the franchise history and exceptionally liberal mining of the script from The Wrath of Khan. Now I don't believe Pegg will homage-slaughter Beyond  and if there are nods they will be better handled but are we expecting too much and is the studio asking too much?

Probably yes. Not only does Simon Pegg need to write something which mends the bad feeling of Khan and his super-blood but he has to avoid making Star Trek into something recognisable. Ok that means no technobabble, more space battles, probably a bit of lens-flare for good measure but will it still carry the moral themes and nuances that made the series what it was 50 years ago? Let's also remember that it will be arriving six months after JJ Abrams himself has directed a certain other sci-fi blockbuster sequel called The Force Awakens which lands in December 2015.

Justin Lin will have to direct like he's never directed before as his work will be compared whether he likes it or not to Abrams Episode VII. I don't think the third Star Trek reboot movie will be the last but it will have to prove its worth. I don't expect it to please a lot of fans because the dollar signs are king and nor can we expect it to lead into a TV series (stopping right there on that point).

Frankly who cares what SImon Pegg believes about today's sci-fi fans? Heck, Scotland Yard was checking us out before the Millennium in the UK in case we all went a bit nuts in 2000 and as long as he delivers a movie which he knows is the best he can do and is precisely what the studio have asked for then he can do no more. We've all had jobs where we haven't wanted to do X, Y or Z and his is no different. Pegg has a job to do or he won't get paid so our dissatisfaction needs to be aimed higher if Beyond is a turkey.

I'm really looking forward to seeing his work begin to take form in trailers, set shots and rumours that will explode in a matter of months. We are now barely a year away from the premiere and (from what we know) not even a frame has been committed to film and that might be the biggest concern left - time. This film has to be released in 2016 to coincide with a teeny tiny anniversary but yet we are nowhere near. Flashback to Into Darkness and the 2009 movie and we were well into production by this time. Is now our ultimate fear about Beyond that whether the script is good, bad or just ok it could be slapdash to produce "something" by June next year.

So let's see this as the "official" start to our countdown. I expect whatever result we get will be a big winner at the box office.

Looking forward with anticipation to the new movie or really concerned we're going to get a garbled mess? Let's talk!

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Trexels on Android


Purely by chance I stumbled across the latest Star Trek addition to the Google Play store.

Now all you iOS users will be mocking me at this point because you've had the chance to play Star Trek Trexels for some time however us "lesser beings" now have the opportunity to join the fun and I am truly hooked after a couple of weeks.

Whenever I download a new game from the app store I straight assume that it will have some type of in-game purchase requirement which will in turn mean that upgrades, changes and level ups might take a serious amount of time to take place because I won't part with a penny to progress further and quicker.

Graphically, Trexels is 100% retro, taking us back to those Commodore and Atari graphics of the 1980's which is an immediate winner for me. Produced by CBS Interactive, x-cube Games and Yes Gnome, its just about the best Star Trek mobile game out there as far as standalone experiences go. I'm sure some will say that the recent Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff event was as good and if not better but that was a game within a game if you will. Up to now all us mobile gamers had was a few sound boards and a pretty poor tactical game that vanished from the Play store.

Opening up you get yourself a basic bridge crew, the USS Enterprise TRX-1701 and a lot of options to explore. The menu screen is a mix of The Original Series and The Next Generation with your crew in classic uniforms on a classic bridge however the layout is set up around the LCARS elements from the later shows.

Your starship has the basics when you acquire her; a bridge, turbolifts, a sickbay, main engineering and a shuttlebay but that's about it. This leaves a lot of expansion room to add crew quarters, holodecks, a Battle Bridge, security stations, Ten Forward, torpedo bays....the list is extensive and split across four areas of Operations, Personnel, Science and Security. As you level up there are more rooms available to build (and more space to build into) and upgrade but beware, you'll need the right amount of Command, Research and Power resources to create your dream starship. I'd recommend getting your Starfleet Academy in place quick and get training that basic crew up with haste. The rooms all have their own advantages and bonuses, meaning that selecting the right one and putting it in the right place can have benefits to surrounding features as well as away missions.

Those valuable resources can be bought through the always available store or more satisfyingly come from getting your crew to work on the ship or through the missions which you can undertake across a range of star systems requiring different crew skills and away team set ups to complete. 

These missions are very cleverly done and give variety to the gameplay. While Star Trek Online chooses the old point and click pew-pew style and the upcoming Star Trek Timelines has chosen a more "dice rolling"  board game-esque experience, Trexels has gone a very different route.

As each scene of the episode adventure takes place, you collect cubes of energy effectively for defence and attack purposes. Sometimes it's diplomatic, sometimes a battle or on occasions there's the chance to do some techie work and bring computer systems back on line. These encounters bring you into contact with some of the best villains from the Star Trek universe in all their pixellated glory including the Klingons and the Borg (massively out of canon but who cares). Yet, dear adventurer, be careful to balance your mission with receiving damage or your crew/away team will be lost. You'll need to get your crew trained up as well. It might seem a breeze at the beginning but as the exploration progresses it does become harder and crew skills become much more relevant.

Of course there's the option to move ahead quickly by using dilithium to buy features ahead of their level unlocking or buy additional resources and even different uniforms for a nominal fee but I, as stated, have chosen the long haul as my wallet has a padlock on it. It is keeping me thoroughly entertained, ensuring that I have crew working in different areas of the ship (I only have three at the moment) to provide resource to then use to explore galaxies and build more aspects of the ship.

The crew, as noted, can be trained up across a range of skills in your own, onboard Starfleet Academy as you go. Again it requires a substantial amount of resource so be prepared to keep on top of our shipboard activities to get those numbers up. Either that or slap some cash into the game store. Talking of crew, you do start out with a whole crew of no-names taking up the positions of everything from captain to engineer through to counsellor but there are more familiar faces to purchase. Shame here is that they are limited to the crews of The Original Series and The Next Generation with Picard costing a jaw-dropping 59 dilithium crystals - and they aren't that easy to come by.


What you do get though are neat "guest stars" in the form of your favourite pixellated...erm...guest stars. Classics from The Original Series  such as Kang, Naked Time Sulu, Christine Chapel and Zephram Cochrane are all unlockable by completing various worlds through the game. For those who can't wait the scarce dilithium can be used to get them early. Some of these guests are still down as "Coming Soon" such as Wheelchair Pike and the Talosian which does indicate that there's expansion plans afoot for this gem of a game.

Likewise you can upgrade from a retro Constitution Class to a budget Galaxy Class which increases firepower and tractor beam power only. This for me is a bit of an issue.

Let me explain. While I am totally addicted to this game so much even my three-year-old is playing it within a few days of downloading I'm holding out that the team behind this game will be adding in the crews of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise at some point as well as further starships with their own quirks. Not being able to select Sisko, Tuvok or Phlox does limit the game a bit but not to a point where it becomes boring in fact as I'm writing this my crew lounge is being built and I've got a few resources to collect. All in a day's work I suppose but I would like to have more variety in who I can have on my command crew and who I can sacrifice on an away mission.

I've also experienced a couple of little bugs in the first few days) I've now been playing for about 10 days). Occasionally I'll get double graphics overlay as if I'm playing two different areas of the game and it was impossible to unlock the holodeck feature by connecting Facebook and then like the Trexels page. I attempted this four times with zero success and finally chose to spend a bit of that valuable dilithium to get the room. On occasion I did find that Trexels wouldn't load until about the fourth attempt just after I'd unlocked Kirok. As I opened the second system it also required a serious amount of screen tapping to open up each world meaning I've now developed a very flat-ended index finger. Minor quibbles there that will surely be sorted in the future and I'm sure that the Trexels team will happily refund my dilithium(!).


Otherwise this is a great mobile game and well worth the wait. If you're an Android user like myself you'll probably have already snapped this up during the week and be playing it to death. While there's nothing overly technical about playing Trexels it does come down to being adept on managing your resources to complete the aspects of your missions. Buying additonal bits in this freemium world is nothing new so either be prepared to lose a few quid or develop your patience levels. The latter is cheaper.

So here I am, over a week into playing and not yet edging towards boredom or the gnawing need to buy extras and speed my way along. I have drained some dilithium - mainly thanks to my son purchasing Janice Rand - and completed the first sector. This has given me the Horta and Kirok as guest stars but a shortage of room space ahead of entering the second sector. It's also an expensive wait since I need a lot of resource, command and power to open up the next set of worlds but I can wait. I think. Time is now being spent increasing the number of crew, upgrading rooms and pooling funds for the next step forward.

The creators have also provided a limited time offer to purchase a Kirk/Spock pack for the princely sum of £3.80. Available until the end of June it might just tempt me to spend a few coins but then that's probably the deadly spiral into buying dilithium for a Crew Lounge and an Observation Lounge. Probably against my better judgement.

In conclusion with this one I am pleased although it's been a long, arduous wait and I know it will keep me going at least until Timelines drops in the not too distant future. The concept of the 8-bit graphics and simplistic gameplay works perfectly even if there is a mix of generations in the implementation. I'm now awaiting the next challenge which will hopefully mean I can get some more dilithium. 

I have no way to compare this to the release on iOS so if you are aware of differences and upgrades that aren't available on Android, please let me know as it would be good to get that second opinion and to fill in the gaps.

Are you playing Trexels? What are your thoughts so far?


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Monday, 18 May 2015

Star Trek Wars: It's Not the End?


It could be decommissioning time for one of the greatest Star Trek podcasts to appear for some time.

Star Trek Wars hosted by Jeremy Reed is now heading towards the midst of the second season of all five shows but personal circumstances could mean postponing the show or,  even worse,  cancellation. It's almost like certain events from the late 1960's around a certain popular science-fiction TV series isn't it...?

The show was about to reach its 39th episode and would have been talking about the 16th installment from each show's second year including discussions on The Gamesters of TriskelionMeld and the superlative Q Who but plans are currently on hold due to those recent circumstantial changes.

The fortnightly Star Trek Wars podcast is now pulling thousands of downloads per episode and has been making gradual improvements almost in the same way as Star Trek itself did during the 80's and 90's, meaning it's now beginning to really hit its stride.

"The original concept of Star Trek Wars was to bring together people with very different Star Trek backgrounds," recalled host Jeremy, "to watch an episode from all five Star Trek live action series each week to discuss and determine which show was the best."

It's definitely a different, unique format that has, at times, had me shouting out loud, agreeing wholeheartedly or even reassessing my opinions over episodes from the early years of each show. Only a select few episodes have managed to achieve a full score from the team over the last 38 episodes but I'll leave you to find out which. Star Trek Wars is the kind of podcast we fans need - one that encourages debate and does make you want to take part in the next episode. Which is an option as we'll see.

"I have always taken constructive criticism to heart," said Jeremy, "Actively listening to what the community wants in this podcast. I feel the biggest improvements made were sitting down and creating a standardized structure for reviewing each episode. My favorite improvements actually just came in the last few episodes..."

Those improvements came in the arrival of new co-host Jordan Rosenwinkel and the inclusion of a listeners score (aka the Detepa Council) and comments piece within each episode which have meant the audience is being included much more in final score and in choosing the winner.

A great shame that it could all come to an end so soon and so suddenly when the show still has to break ground on the brilliant third seasons of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. It may look bleak for the podcast but Jeremy is managing to look at it in a positive way; "One of the main things I have learned while doing Star Trek Wars is just how much Star Trek can get you through even the darkest of times. It has also helped me gain some respect for some of the Star Trek's I didn't much care for when they aired all those years ago; Enterprise especially."

"What is needed now to continue the mammoth project is a Macbook  as Apple Macs come with the editing software I use (MIDI for multiple mics, Garageband for music creation and podcast editing, iDraw for episode artwork, etc..). The mics and audio recording equipment I still possess, it is just that Mac that is still required. 

"A gracious person reached out to me and shown me a place where I can acquire a Mac for a third of the normal cost (with their discount), so I have started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise the money needed to continue on at http://www.gofundme.com/StarTrekWars."

Star Trek Wars had certainly evolved since they took up the challenge on the pilot episodes and the 37 weeks after that. Now the project is a mere $80 off its $300 target and there's still a good amount of time left to hit that figure to ensure the show's survival. I've become a big fan of the show and it's demise would be a great loss as I do feel it has a lot more to give. For those who remember, we did review an early episode of the show and even since then the style has developed, the discussion tighter, the fun facts more...fun and some of the early teething troubles have been long since banished to Ceti Alpha V.

Now all that stands between the show's survival is a few dollars and I would ask fans of Star Trek everywhere to grab a listen to one of the most recent episodes which can be found via their website and be sure to leave a review on iTunes if you can to help spread the word. If it floats your starship then I'd certainly recommend hitting up gofundme and helping keep this entertaining show on the air.

Listened to Star Trek Wars? What other podcasts do you recommend or should get more coverage? Let us know below!!!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Supanova 2015 from the Inside

Please give a big SKoST welcome to +James Patrik as he leads us into the world of the convention from the perspective of the fan and the stall-holder - and in Australia!!!


Supanova – one of three gargantuan sci-fi conventions held in Melbourne each year. It's day one, and the fans have arrived in droves to meet the some of the actors from the original Star Trek series.


I work here; rather, I am an exhibitor working at a stall as part of a team selling collectables. 

Right now I’m waiting in line with the rest of the fans. It’s not so bad – there are only a couple of people ahead of me, so it shouldn't be long now. 

I glance around the room, taking in the sheer enormity of the event. Over the next 48 hours, approximately 50,000 people will make their way into the Melbourne Showgrounds like costumed pilgrims seeking autographs and action figures. For everyone else, it’s a circus – a day of fun and frivolity – but for me it’s a day of work, and this is my lunch break.

The queue lurches forward again. A couple more steps. In spite of the vomiting butterflies in my stomach, I take a moment to realise just how tired I am. Unbeknownst to the average convention attendee, these conventions are often hard work. Exhibitors arrive two days beforehand and join an army of hi-vis vest wearing men and women unloading trucks and setting up stalls.

This fluorescent army keeps working right up until the doors open on the first day. A strange electricity hangs in the air in anticipation of the day ahead. I’ll always remember seeing the waiting crowd for the first time - thousands of people restrained by glass doors, just waiting for the right time. It was quite a sight, and one that filled me with excitement and terror.

The line is moving again again, I reach for my pocket to check on my trading card – it is still safe – encased in its hard plastic toploader. Others have glossy photos signed, but I prefer the cards. They are smaller and I can stick them on my wall.

The anticipation finally too much, I nervously begin bobbing up and down on my toes. Up ahead, I catch a glimpse of a familiar face, a face that cannot possibly be real. 

My heart skips a beat.

In spite of my fatigue, I'm still energised. I have always loved sci-fi conventions. The costumes, the colours, the general over-stimulation. In fact, ‘Cosplayers’ have now become integral to these events. Walking attractions in themselves, they spend the day patiently posing for photographs.

These shows are the only time I get to talk to other fans outside of the internet. Each interaction quickly becomes a heated debate about the current season of Doctor Who or an angry review of the latest Ninja Turtles film. Cheesy as it may seem, I feel I’m among my own kind. Sci-fi fans are passionate, knowledgeable and warm. Though they are strangers to me, we are united by a common love, a shared history and a million nerdy conversations.

And so here I stand, in line with my brethren. Behind me, a green Power Ranger and a girl dressed as Deadpool compare tattoos.

“Next!”

A man up ahead beckons me forward as I nervously fumble for my trading card and place it down on the table in front of me. And there he is – the great man himself - George Takei.

Sat before me, his eyes are piercing and clear, his hair a little greyer than I expected, but there is no mistake – George Takei is right in front of me!

It is a moment frozen in time. This man – through books, VHS tapes and comics – has been a part of my entire life. The realisation is staggering, and the world seems unreal as he sits across a table from me breathing the same oxygen.

George picks up my trading card to inspect it. My mouth feels like it’s filled with peanut butter, but I manage to say hello. His brow furrowed, he reaches for his spectacles and gingerly slips them over his ears, now squinting at the card I have placed before him. 

I freeze. 

What could possibly be wrong? Does he not want to sign my card? Everyone else is having photos signed. I start to panic.

“Great. I've pissed off Captain Sulu”.

And then it happened – with a practiced flourish he signs my card, offering me a smile and a single word of approval in his familiar iconic baritone.

“Outstanding!”

I shake his hand and politely say thank you as I suppress a childish squeal and return to work, clutching my signed card.

The next day, I had the good fortune of also meeting Walter Koenig, who like his contemporaries is sporting a little more grey these days, yet is still recognisably Chekov. A little less shy this time, I decide to try some witty banter.

“You were one of my action figures when I was a kid”.

Koenig smiles.

“I take great pride in that young man." he replies quickly, himself a toy collector.

He too signs my card and sends me on my way. As I return to work, I ponder the iconic nature of these two men. Takei and Koenig – for me, no longer mere actors but pillars of my youth and a reminder of my 24 years spent trekking. As I write this, the world still mourns Leonard Nimoy, and I wonder if I will ever again have the chance to meet an original series actor.

The convention ended, my feet sore and my body exhausted, I return home and inspect my treasured autographs once again. The items themselves aren't important; they are merely props with which to tell this story – proof that one day, not too long ago, I got to meet Sulu and Chekov for real.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff welcomes the Alpha Quadrant

Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff was more Star Trek than anything else this spring as the crew of The Next Generation descended on Quahog. Could the most ambitious event yet to hit TinyCo’s addictive freemium mobile game tap the right nostalgia buttons? Against quite a few odds, and Borg, absolutely says Matt Goddard.






“Stop poking me” – Deanna Troi (Family Guy version)


Your chance to revitalise Quahog's Star Trek Quarter

It’s been a long time brewing. Despite some major hiccups, Family Guy remains one of the pre-eminent lampooners of American culture on the air, pop or otherwise. And despite being placed on hiatus after its third year – which, as every Star Trek fan knows is a sign of some quality – it’s now somehow reached its 13th series. Packed full of references, it likes few things better than a strong dose of science fiction and has dutifully paid tribute to Star Trek over the years. So, it had to happen - for just over a month Family Guy’s freemium mobile game, The Quest for Stuff (TQFS) was all about strange new worlds. 

The Star Trek Event that ended last week was TQFS’s fifth in-game event since it launched just over a year ago – tent-pole, short-lived seasonal specials that introduce more targeted in-joking gameplay. Previously Comic-Con, Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day have expanded the Quahog universe, but this was the boldest leap yet, hurling the player straight into The Next Generation. Of course, it remained a mainly comedy game, and more importantly a Family Guy game. Even the greatest The Next Generation fan setting coordinates near TQFS was unlikely to be convinced if they’ve never quite gelled with Seth MacFarlane’s work. That’s a warning worn on the sleeve of any uniform freshly purchased from Al Harrington’s Outfitting Store…

“I know I can be a little dramatic…” – Khan


A nice night for ornithology. With phasers.

But what Family Guy creator MacFarlane certainly is, is a Star Trek fan through and through. That’s evident from all his shows, with countless references and cameos (particularly Patrick Stewart’s regular role in Family Guy sister series American Dad) and not least his own two appearances in Star Trek: Enterprise as Ensign Rivers. In 2009 MacFarlane even managed the unthinkable, staging a cast reunion of the The Next Generation crew on Family Guy! Although they didn’t record together, it was the first time they’d appeared as a 'crew' since Nemesis in 2002. MacFarlane is one of the key people in American media determined to keep The Next Generation going. 

So not surprisingly, what really hit about this Star Trek Event was the attention to detail, no matter how skewed. From classic show design, the fact that most characters were voiced by the original actors and ridiculously canonically correct in-jokes and parodies: it was certainly a work of affection. And just as the best comically bad piano can only come from a pianist of Data’s ability, this heightened, tongue in cheek, intrinsically well-researched Star Trek fitted right in to the Family Guy world. 

“My Beard is warm face blanket” – William Riker


Riker crash lands: Little regard for the Prime Directive
On with the event! Once you reached a sufficient level of the standard TQFS game (Quahog District 3, you know) you were pushed to the mobile equivalent of amber alert anticipation: a battered Commander Riker crash-landed his shuttlecraft in Quahog and off you set on grabbing ‘stuff’ to fix him up and unlock as much Star Trek as possible. On the way there was time for the loose plot that unravelled around the Borg. The crew’s mission to 21st century Quahog was all to do with a weapon that Stewie Griffin would invent in the future and would have been very useful at Wolf 359 - culminating in various upgrading boss battles with a Borgified Bertram – who, as fans of the show will know, is Stewie’s sworn nemesis. As always nemeses prove a killer formula - even in a parody Star Trek universe.

Defeating Borgified Bertram was the name of the game 
That ‘stuff’ part, the transaction and reward system that necessarily propels the game, was – truth be told - where this event came slightly unstuck. With every character you discover, comes the task of gathering a quantity of specific items. By making other characters, Star Trek and otherwise, complete tasks and building special monuments in your town centre to earn everything from cat food for Spot to beard trimmers, medical tricorders and emotion chips, you can expect an increase in time and perseverance as the game progresses. But as Riker’s unlocking led you variously to Geordi, Troi and Ten Forward, Locutus and the Bridge, Crusher and the Sickbay, Data and the Holodeck and so on… There was an inevitable push to pay for shortcuts as you work against the Event’s deadline. Some terse criticism of the time and effort it took to obtain items, combined with what will forever be called the ‘Enterprise bug’ that hit in the game’s final weeks led to a week-long extension to May 7th. I’m certain the balance could have been better pitched. While this ‘inflation’ may be expected from freemium games, it’s not a great fit for Star Trek or a fan frothing at the mouth against a deadline… 

Sometimes visual bugs had comic consequences 

There was very little chance of fully completing this Event without investing, unless you got few other things done during April. The price of every achievement was steep and the dedicated collection items took almost just attention to threaten sucking some of the fun out of an event that really needed to feel spontaneous and full of potential. 

But inevitably, sometimes it was nothing short of irresistible. Once Riker was unlocked and Peter Griffin had earned his own Star Trek uniform – and was crucially able to perfect his ‘Peter manoeuvre’ and sit in ‘that chair’ - access to the Enterprise-D made things a whole lot more interesting. Alright, it wasn’t an accurate representation of the ship, rather a wonderfully toy-like breakdown of the saucer section into five key areas. It managed to distil the essence of that iconic flagship and the show’s chemistry while picking up and running with all The Next Generation tropes you’d expect. In fact, the Event was less predominantly The Next Generation than definitively 1987 to 1994. There were no First Contact jumpsuits to be seen – although the Borg got a latter television colouring and a couple of the character’s sound-bites had a very movie feel. And there was defiantly no reboot. None of that.

Starfleet Lois shoots some stuff while a Red Shirt gets typical short shrift 
That meant an event hinged around the crew of the Enterprise-D you’d expect, albeit Locutus is manning the Bridge during this Borg incursion. In opposition, the troubled and battered The Next Generation crew were aided by unlocking various Star Trek spins on the inhabitants of Quahog - from Ferengi Mort to Klingon Chris - who could board the Enterprise and carry out their own Starfleet missions. And once that’s in the mix, there’s no harm in bringing in some golden classic guest cameos from of the rest of the Star Trek pantheon. Yes, The Next Generation was supplemented with icons from the Star Trek canon. The Original Series Kirk was the golden aim, although Spock, Uhura and Khan all made memorable appearances.

Montgomery Scott: Who could resist that equation? 

This intrepid explorer did invest in some extra Clams (premium Quahog currency) to unlock Scotty (movie version) after being sucked in by an advertising conjunction: a 23 hour deadline and a hilarious character equation that told me that accessing Khan, Spock and Locutus would unlock the venerable engineer instantly. That comedy pact between the Locutus and Khan was irresistible. Still, springing a just-out-of-reach iconic character on a game player was really tugging on the heart strings on this ship. Perhaps it should have stuck more to that strong The Next Generation base. 


“Would it hurt the Captain to say please sometimes?” – Geordi la Forge


Can you feel it? Assimilate this! 
Still, switching between Quahog and the Enterprise-D added a certain away team styling to the game. With Riker’s crash-landing came a Tribble invasion of Quahog that would continue aboard the Enterprise-D. Later, fan 'Trekkies' of two varieties strolled around the corridors who –like their small and furry, multiplying friends – were be dispatched for dilithium with a quick stab of the finger. Later still hordes of Borg stalked the corridors alongside rather hapless panicking red shirts (inevitably on fire – the game played the red shirt card a lot). 

Energise 



Aboard the ship, a plethora of Star Trek experiences were laid on, tugging even more desperately on those nostalgia strings. Phaser crystals allowed for phaser fights against Petercrafts (Starfleet vessels via Thomas the Tank Engine with a rather familiar visage) and even decloaking Romulan Warbirds. Away missions sent assembled crew off to comedy planets (Cesspoulus?) as a hit and miss way to capture certain items faster. A fully powered replicator allowed you to trade special monuments and characters for gathered items, collecting them on a replicator pad in Quahog. The end result were rooms that chopped and changed aboard the Enterprise as your goals changed– most with their own comedy stylings – as Quahog quickly developed a lasting Star Trek quarter. From a branch of Latinum Loans to the Klingon Forehead Clinic, floating Borg Cubes to Romulan Ale Bar these were built to last.

As the missions heated up, the comedy didn't stop. Borg dispatching played an important part, but was only available to certain characters. When Deanna Troi starts dispatching Borg by hurling Tribbles at them you know the Federation was far too humane when they chose not to pump Borg cubes full of the critters. Sisko wouldn't have thought twice, which is presumably why Deep Space Nine had no presence at all while Voyager’s Seven of Nine managed to sneak in during the Event’s final days. 

“You will be assimilated” - Locutus


Riker's quarters - you had to ask? 

The cast added hugely to the occasion. All the regular The Next Generation crew came equipped with comedy Family Guy one-liners - and the power of that authenticity became clear when other characters weren't so lucky to be voiced by their original actors. Dishonourable mentions for Khan (oddly, only once unlocked) and sadly Scotty. Otherwise, all of the characters were stretched to the max. Here’s lascivious womaniser Riker, sex-bomb Troi and irritably logical Spock. Locutus may not have anything amusing to add, but that just served to aid the meta-jokes. Other great examples of that were Beverly Crusher casually asking if she missed anything during season two and multiple character asking you not to poke them. 

The same was true of tasks which grew as characters gained more experience and levelled up. While Starfleet Lois may have run off to spy on Riker, Troi could grow a perm while Khan could equally tame his mane or dig a grave with relish. Most amusingly Locutus could be set to work playing with a Borg kitten or brilliantly, assimilating tea. 

"He's here. Spock is here." - Spock


Whoever thought Khan didn't know how to have fun? 
What this Event really did show was, as if we’d forgotten, how vivid and brilliant The Next Generation ‘brand’ was and still is nearly 30 years on. From Trexels to Timelines, we’re not short of Star Trek mobile games, but anything touching this level of respect and addiction would be superb in a 100% Star Trek game. The catch may be that so much of this gameplay relied on parody and in-jokes. So much so that it would be virtually impossible to scan across to a real universe game that sought to give a ‘realistic’ mix of comedy and drama. Still, it was a pleasure to hang round with that famous crew again, even in a sitcom... 

The Live Long and Prosper monument standing proud 
But above all else, even the pang of The Next Generation nostalgia, this TQFS event was a timely tribute to the legend of Spock. Quagmire and various blue shirt Trekkies running around the Enterprise imitated the look, but unlocking Spock and having him stroll around the ship and Quahog, sometimes playing 3d chess, sometimes indulging in a bit of Pon Farr, was a treat. Voiced, of course by Leonard Nimoy - the only posthumous vocals in the game - this prolonged tribute was touching even in an occasionally coarse game like this. When I placed the Event’s Live Long and Prosper monument in Quahog only to later arbitrarily place a propelling Star Trek II casket launcher and find it’s its torpedo arc perfectly sparked at the monument… Well, it truly felt a little bit special. Highly illogical though it may be, small moments like that left me rather adrift when the Event’s suddenly concluded last week. 

But while I may have been pondering where that re-imbued nostalgia would take me next, I’m certain of one thing: it won’t be long before Star Trek makes a return to Quahog…

Been playing the event? How did you get on? Drop us a line below!

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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Where's Ten Years Gone?


With a flypast from two starships named Enterprise as Archer, Kirk and Picard recited the now famous "Space, the final frontier..." opening, the titles rolled and that was it.

Ten years ago today, 13th May 2005, These are the Voyages..., the last and by no means best episode of prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise aired. Yep, it's a decade since the crew of the NX-01 skipped a few years of adventures to tell one last story and become guest stars in their own finale. Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis tried their best to play Riker and Troi as if they were actually discussing events that happened during The Pegasus. Note to fans, that was an episode made 12 years earlier so any form of consistency was lost to begin with however much effort was put in.

From recent reports it continues to be nailed into our skulls that there's going to be no new series on TV. While the cash is rolling in thanks to the rebooted JJ Abrams universe which has already seen two multi-million dollar movies take the big screen by storm and a third, suggested to be titled Star Trek Beyond, lined up for 2016 it's movies or nothing. Think about this though - it was ten years from the end of The Original Series to the release of The Motion Picture and we've been lucky enough since the end of Enterprise to get two new movies and a whole ruck of fan series and flicks that have satiated some of our thirst for original Star Trek content. In some respects the future never looked so good especially in comparison to that barren decade of the 70's.

Now Some Kind of Star Trek has given a fair amount of column inches to the rumours, the stories, the suggestions and even THAT Captain Worf series. We could easily spend this 10th anniversary of the end of first run Star Trek by crying into our blood wine and lamenting its passing or moaning about the way in which JJ chose to take the franchise or that the likelihood that a new Star Trek TV series is an eternity away (please let's not get into that Jonathan Frakes angle).

So instead of picking over old bones once more, let's be uplifted. While These are the Voyages... might have been a poor way to say goodbye, what were the five best ways that Star Trek closed a season? What were the best finales the show produced over 49 years? I'm going to take a pot shot and select my favourites. Be free to disagree.

The Best of Both Worlds

Let's start with the obvious one and work away from it. Undoubtedly one of the biggest episodes of all time and arguably the defining cliffhanger in Star Trek history. The Riker sub-story, Picard captured, the return of the Borg, a seemingly lost cause, a magnificent, haunting soundtrack; all add to make this hit every single marker you could want. The conclusion is nowhere near as good simply because there was no way it could live up to the hype of part one. Those final few moments where we realise it really is that bad are seminal.

Notable Quotable: "Mr Worf - fire". - Riker

Key Moment: The cube ship appears for the first time accompanied by that haunting choral theme which plays out across the rest of the episode - we have engaged the Borg.

Cliffhanger: Jeez. Millions went into meltdown as resistance seemed to be 100% futile. Boxsets make it do much easier. Note that in part two however it's not Worf that does the firing but Geordi....!

All Good Things...

It formulated the way to make a show finale for both Deep Space Nine and Voyager with both series attempting to provide a "full circle" experience. Returning Q, linking three distinct time periods and bringing back a couple of our favourite characters made this a must see in every respect. Let's not forget it also marked the first time a Star Trek show had chosen to finish rather than being cancelled. Science fiction was growing in popularity thanks to the show and the future for Star Trek was increasingly bright with Deep Space Nine closing a second season and Voyager due for premiere in the following January of 1995. We all loved that final scene at the poker game and the whole episode was an exhilarating experience that did the show 200% justice and I can watch it again and again and again in a heartbeat. It's not about the suspense here, it's about the experience.

Notable Quotable: "Bye bye Jean-Luc it's been such fun but alas all good things must come to an end." (either than or the last line...) - Q

Key Moment: Admiral Riker's suped-up Enterprise-D blows the hell out of two Klingon warships.

Cliffhanger: Not applicable. This was the end. Until Generations....


In the Hands of the Prophets

Deep Space Nine planted itself firmly on the map with the closer from it's first season. In the Hands of the Prophets is all about the placing of key characters, a reflection on the pilot episode and the preparation for season two. Usually we'd expect (as we'd come to see on The Next Generation) that the finale would be simply concluded in the first episode after the summer break. Deep Space Nine broke that mould by introducing Winn and Bareil ahead of the election for Kai that would take another year to occur plus examined the pairing of Sisko and Kira and their journey since Emissary. A masterstroke that firmly said they would be back for a second year and that it would develop from the events of the first season. Still a tense episode, it's a lot more about the people and the Starfleet officers' acceptance that the station is becoming their home just as much as it's about the assassination plot. Watch it back after a thorough rewatch of the show and it's still brilliant. Bajoran politics never seemed so amazing.

Notable Quotable: "Is the Emissary of the Prophets blaming me for this act of terrorism?"
"The commander of this station is." - Winn and Sisko

Key Moment: The bombing of the school. Hands down that's one way to make fans take note of your season closer.

Cliffhanger: None. All about the set-up.

Call to Arms

It was a toss up between this and The Jem'Hadar because both of them were huge Deep Space Nine game-changers that altered the way in which the series progressed. Call to Arms finally delivered the long-awaited Dominion War in dramatic character-driven style that became the show's trademark. Dark, as far from optimistic as you could ever expect and grounded in the reality that Starfleet are on the back foot, there's a foreboding that this is going to get even worse before it gets better. Losing the station to Dukat and his Dominion allies was a masterstroke we would never have predicted when Emissary aired. This was a close knit family who had come to see the gloomy Cardassian mining station as home and didn't want to leave - a big change from where we were at the start of the show. I won't bore everyone about the whole baseball scene but needless to say it's simply one of the best episodes ever made and far better than Janeway losing Voyager in Basics.

Notable Quotable: "...But no victory could make this moment any easier for me. And I promise, I will not rest until I stand with you again. Here; in this place where I belong." - Sisko

Key Moment: Sod it. The baseball bit. I love it.

Cliffhanger: Not officially but that fleet sure isn't just for show. Deep Space Nine didn't like to do proper cliffhangers because almost every week was one by this point.

Equinox

The what-Voyager-could-have-been story which was one of the best things the show ever did. A similar small science vessel forgets its principles for the sake of a quick trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. John Savage is perfectly cast as "Rudy" Ransom and the chilling modifications to the ship's EMH are a horrifying twist, showing just how far the captain is willing to go. Ultimately it's a comparison of how far the show and the cast have come since Caretaker. Experimenting on aliens is always a winner for the moral dilemma and while we kind of knew that Voyager would be OK, it was more about what the heck was going to happen to the Equinox crew. Personally I also think it's Voyager's best ever two-parter with the quality just as strong in part two and I'm a sucker for the Nova Class.

Notable Quotable: "May I ask you something, captain to captain? The Prime Directive: how often have you broken it for the sake of protecting your crew?" - Ransom

Key Moment: Hard choice but switching the two EMH's was a clever twist.

Cliffhanger: We never thought Janeway would be killed but it's all about the set up of where the characters are and how Voyager has been abandoned for dead by Equinox.


And now you're wondering about The Original Series  and also Enterprise? Fair enough. For me none of their season closers came close to the quality of these five. For The Original Series there was no real season close feeling - it was just another episode to turn out and for Archer's shift, it never reached the levels of excellence that I decided to go with. I, of course, look forward to your suggestions and reasons!!!

So what was your favourite closer or are you still lamenting the passing of Enterprise? Let us know in the comments below!

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