Star Wars VII, What’s it Going to Be?

The news that Disney has purchased LucasArts for a cool 4 billion has certainly been making the rounds of late! Even more interesting is the release that they will be releasing the sequel trilogy sometime in 2015. This news has once again fueled a great deal of speculation as to what direction the new movies will take. Regardless of who is at the helm, it is generally agreed that there are only so many story arcs that the new movies could take…

The following list comes from AMOG‘s (Alpha Male Of the Group) online magazine, courtesy of Keith Veronese. The list is pretty comprehensive, and covers all the likely candidates for potential sequel and spinoff story lines. And lets face it, with the course of the prequels took, we all would like something new to rehabilitate the series! And with Lucas no longer at the helm, we all might just get what we want!

Immediate Pick-Up:
The first possible story arc for the new trilogy would be to pick up where the last movie left off. As it stood, the Empire was dealt a significant blow, but was far from finished. Granted, the Death Star was destroyed and both the Emperor and Darth Vader were dead, but the majority of the Imperial Fleet was still intact, as was its infrastructure and network of allied planets. As evil and rotten as it was, the Empire still commanded a great deal of loyalty and support within the Core Worlds, and the Rebel Alliance was likely to have its hands full dealing with all of them.

The benefits of this story are pretty clear. It’s a blank canvass in terms of plot, into which a new generation of writers can hurl all kinds of ideas. In addition, it’s a chance to bring back the old gang for another run, albeit with new actors and actresses.

The Thrawn Trilogy:
Written by noted sci-fi author Timothy Zhan, the Thrawn Trilogy are perhaps the most famous novelization in the franchise. Set five years after events in Return of the Jedi, the trilogy centers on the enigmatic character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, the last of the Empire’s senior officers who has assumed control of the Imperial fleet. Intrinsic to these plans are a lost fleet that disappeared prior to the Clone Wars, a secret cache of cloning vats the Emperor established during his reign, and an insane Jedi Master living on a remote world.

Meanwhile, Senator Leia Organa Solo (that’s right, they tied the knot!) is pregnant and expecting twins. While she has become a member of the New Republic government, Han has continued in his role as a fleet General and is using his old contacts in the smuggling world to try and drum up shipping for the new government. His efforts bring him into contact with a group of privateers who will one day go from being self-interested sorts to the same kind of heroes Han had become.

And finally, there are the adventures of Luke, who is drawn to Jedi Master C’boath and seeks to learn from him. However, they quickly become enemies as Luke realizes he is insane and seeks to capture Leia’s twins for his own purposes. He also comes into contact with Mara Jade, a Force-sensitive woman who once served the Emperor. She plans to kill Luke, but circumstances have thrown them to work together and cooperate.

Needless to say, this would be a good story arc for the series, and would be convenient since it’s already been written in full. All the old characters are reprized and fleshed out, and some new, decidedly Star Wars-esque characters are also introduced. And given that much time has passed since the originals, it would be a good opportunity for some new actors to tackle the roles of all our favorites. I’m sure Disney would be willing to spring for some cameos from the original cast as well!

Darth Vader Spinoff:
True, we got more than enough of his origin story with the prequel trilogy, but there’s still plenty of room for Darth Vader to grow! In fact, there is a twenty year gap between the prequels and the original movies, during which time Vader essentially did his best work. This included hunting down the remaining Jedi, rooting out dissent and resistance to the Emperor’s rule, and just generally cementing his reputation as an evil cybernetic menace!

The benefits here are pretty obvious, at least as far as a single movie are concerned. Plenty of lightsaber fights, stalking from planet to planet looking for Jedi, and lots of that creepy respirator and James Earl Jones-esque dialogue. However, it might be difficult to maintain a three-movie story arc from this. But that might not be a problem, given the next option:

Boba Fett Spinoff:
Boba Fett is arguably the most popular member of the supporting cast, and there are plenty who believe that he deserves his own moment in the spotlight. And after the prequels gave him a passing intro, there might be some merit to giving him a more complete origin story. Imagine Boba Fett as a young man, going about the known universe and establishing himself as the most notorious bounty hunter.

Aside from being action-packed and full of plenty of the seedier stuff of Star Wars, this film could be paired with a Vader movie as a potential second installment. And perhaps a third could be opened involving Obi-Wan, focusing on his adventures as he travelled from place to place on Tatooine, hoping to stay off the Empire’s radar while keeping an eye on Luke.

The Sith Wars:
Finally, there is an area of the franchise which has become rather popular of late, and that is the rather fertile period in the Star Wars timeline known as the Sith Wars. What began with the Knights Of The Old Republic series has now evolved into a MMOG with Star Wars: The Old Republic. And even though the reception was not as extreme as LucasArts might have hoped, the stage has certainly been set for a possible second prequel series.

Taking place thousands of years before the events in the first Star Wars trilogy, the Sith Wars chronicles the titanic war which took place between the Old Republic and the Sith Empire. And although there have been several installments in the franchise that carry the name “Sith War”, the expanded universe now claims that the greatest confrontation took place 3681 years before the fall of the Old Republic and lasted until 3653. This war was in turn the result of over 1300 years of preparations and buildup by the Sith, who never forgot the crushing defeat they had suffered at the hands of the Republic during the Great Hyperspace War.

The benefits of this story are also quite obvious. In addition to being a very established story arc, there are plenty of interesting characters, developments and battles in this period which, if properly developed, would result in cinematic gold! What’s more, people do enjoy origins stories which are well told, and after the mixed reviews of the last prequels, a deep-origins story could be just the thing to rehabilitate the franchise. And it’s got all the right elements; Jedi, Sith, lightsaber fights, and a titanic war between good and evil, similar in tone to the war between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire.

What’s more, this story will have no sense of duty to suffer from. Unlike episodes I, II, and III which were burdened by having to explain where all the original characters came from, how Anakin fell to the Dark Side and how the Empire came to be, a Sith War trilogy would be able to tell a story where the details are not entirely pre-written. What’s more, the massive war does not suffer from the ambiguity or the Clone Wars, which seemed like little more than background for the prequels main focus – which was the fall of Anakin Skywalker. This time around, we’d be able to see lots of fighting and not be distracting by a whining Hayden Kristensen complaining about how much his life sucks!

____

So what’s it going to be? Personally, my money is on options two and five. Having read the Thrawn Trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed it, I would certainly pay money to see it adapted to the big screen. At the same time, I’m itching to see some of that Sith War swashbuckling and fleet battles! Man, tough choice, and the studio hasn’t even announced what they might be planning yet…

Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer

As far as the gaming world is concerned, this trailer is old news! But, it’s news to me, and I thought it was pretty darned cool. Not sure how I missed it, since during 2010 I felt I was pretty up on all the news surrounding SWTOR, the third installment in the Knights Of The Old Republic  (or KOTOR, for short) video-game series. Guess not. And of course, when fan reviews began to pour in saying that the game was not all it was cracked up to be, I kind of lost interest.

However, news is beginning to circulate that the KOTOR franchise might actually be the basis for the next Star Wars trilogy. I kid you not, not only is LucasArts deep into deals with Disney to produce the next three installments, there’s also a great deal of speculation as to whether or not they will be sequels or further prequels. But more on that soon enough. Right now, enjoy this video. It’s like Star Wars meets 300 with some Matrix for good measure!

Coming soon: Video game reviews!

A short while ago, I did a review on my top ten favorite nostalgic games. I might have mentioned somewhere in there that this was an intro to a new segment I was thinking of getting into: video game reviews! Well, I’ve decided to take the plunge. In the next few weeks and months, I’d like to do full reviews on the sci-fi video games that have made an impact on me over the years, or that I’ve just taken the time to enjoy.

I’ve prepared a tentative list below and would like to know if anyone has any games they’d like to add. Keep in mind two basic criteria: One, it should be a sci-fi or fantasy game, or at least something that’s mildly futuristic (which is how I justified adding Modern Warfare to this list). And two, it needs to be something I have or will be able to get my hands on in the near future. But anything’s possible given time, so just make your suggestions and I’ll let you know if I can or can’t find it!

Thanks you and happy gaming! Expect the first reviews soon 😉 *Note that the list is a mock-up and the actual reviews need not occur in that order.

  1. Knights of the Old Republic
  2. The Sith Lords
  3. Star Wars: Force Unleashed (I and II)
  4. Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri
  5. Halo (1, 2, 3)
  6. Starcraft (and Brood War)
  7. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
  8. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  9. Modern Warfare (1, 2 and 3)
  10. AVP (2010)
  11. Wing Commander (I, II, III)
  12. Wing Commander Privateer (1 and 2)

Cool Ships (volume VIII)

Battleship Yamato:
A couple times now I’ve given praise to ship designs that went beyond the usual airplane/ seafaring paradigm. But what can you say about a spaceship which is a carbon copy of a old sea battleship? I don’t know, gutsy maybe? That its paying homage to the original? That’s all I can really say on this one, since it is identical to its namesake from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Taken from the anime series of the same name, the Yamato was a prototype ship which was built in secret by Earth forces in the ruins of the original. Using alien technology, it was the first Earth ship to boast FTL and a “wave-motion-gun”. These devices were meant to give it an edge in the ongoing war with a race known as the “Gamilons”.

Early in this war, the Gamilons had bombarded Earth with radioactive meteorites. The result was that all human settlements had to be moved underground. However, the radiation was slowly working its way down to the inhabitants, and the only hope for survival came in the form of a message from a distant star. After completion, the Yamato was meant to fly to this world and retrieve the device which apparently could cleanse Earth of its poisonous radiation.

Thus, the Yamato was created to perform a mission that meant the very survival of the human race. It’s drive system was to make sure it could make the trip, while its weapons were meant to ensure it could defend itself.

Cylon Heavy Raider:
Another installment from the BSG universe, here we have the heavy hitter of the Cylon fleet, the dual purpose attack and transport craft, otherwise known as “the turkey”. Capable of atmospheric entry, space flight and FTL travel, the Heavy Raider is capable of attacking, transporting troops and conducting boarding operations.

Unlike the standard Raider, the heavy can either fly itself on autopilot or be piloted by actual an Centurion. However, its automated functions do not appear to be the result of a sentient nervous system. In terms of armaments and capacity, the heavy has six cannons mounted under its cockpit and its bay is capable of holding up to ten Centurions.

The Heavy Raider made its first appearance in season one (“Scattered”) when one crashed into the starboard flight pod. On Caprica, Sharon Valerii (Boomer) commandeers one to provide fire support to the resistance and save Starbuck as she escaped from a Cylon medical facility (“The Farm”). The Heavy Raider would go on to make several more appearances in the series, particularly whenever assault missions or heavy raids were concerned.

Quasar Fire-class Cruiser:
Once more onto the Star Wars universe, my friends! But this time, its into the expanded universe with a ship that is somewhat obscure by most standards. Known as the Quasar Fire-class cruiser, or Alliance Escort Carrier, this ship made its first appearance in the Thrawn Trilogy during the Battle of Bilbringi then again in the novel The Truce At Bakura.

Designed by the Sullustans as a cargo transport, many of these vessels were given to the Alliance and converted for combat. This consisted of stripping down the cargo bays and turning into hangars, and mounting defensive turrets at the front and rear.

Thought lightly armored, armed, and shielded, the Quasar’s small size and versatility make it a ship of choice for small fleets and minor attack forces. It’s six squadrons of fighters also give it an effective defensive screen, making it all the more suitable as a small fleet command ship.

The Leviathan:
Did I say once more, I meant twice… maybe more! And this one goes way back, to roughly 4000 years before events in the original movies. Officially known as an Interdictor-class cruiser, this vessel was the mainstay of the Republican navy during the time of the Mandalarion Wars and was featured heavily in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

During the outbreak of the Sith War which immediately followed, the Leviathan served as Darth Revan’s flagship. After he was captured by the Jedi Order, ownership of this vessel changed to Darth Malak. The ship was responsible for obliterating the surface of Taris and was later the site where Darth Revan, now working for the Jedi Order, confronted Darth Malak for the first time since his defection.

Measuring 600 meters in length, the ship carries an arsenal of 20 quad laser cannons, 4 turbolasers, 2 ion cannons, and four squadrons of fighters. Although somewhat mild by modern Star Wars standards, she was designed to be a forerunner to the modern Star Destroyer design.

Negh’var-class Cruiser:
Despite their brawling, yelling and terrible table manners, you gotta admit; the Klingons make a fine looking ship! And this is especially true of the Negh’var-class warship, the heaviest of the heavies in the Klingon armada, serving as the command ship on many different occasions (and in multiple universes).

Ships of this kind made their first appearance in the series finale of Star Trek: TNG when two attacked the USS Pasteur. Another appeared in DS9 when a changling posing as General Martok led the Klingon fleet against the Cardassian Union, and again against Deep Space 9 when the Federation chose to oppose the invasion. They also went on to play an important role in the Dominion War alongside Federation and Romulan warships.

In addition to the standard cloaking device, the Negh’var carries an impressive array of armaments, including two massive disruptor pods mounted underneath the ship’s wings. It also carries multiple photon torpedo launchers, and several smaller emitters mounted across the ship. She is also capable of standing toe to toe with most other ships in the Alpha Quadrant in terms of velocity, making it up to speeds of Warp 9.

Ornithopter:
Not long ago, I was lamented the fact that I kept forgetting to mention anything from the Dune universe. Now I can’t seem to do a single post without including a Dune ship! This time, its the ornithopter, the curious cool ship that’s perplexed readers and conceptual artists for some time.

The most common vessel in the Imperium, the ornithopter (or ‘thopter for short) was an extremely versatile vessel that served primarily as a cargo vessel and transport. In addition, they often served in a military capacity, being fitted with lasguns, bombs and missiles. This was particulalry the case during Paul Muad’ib’s uprising, when House Atreides ‘thopters were fitted for the assault on Arrakeen and the Imperial Palace.

According to numerous descriptions taken from the expanded Dune universe, the thopter was primarily powered by jet propulsion, but relied on a set of beating wings to maintain altitude and maneuver. The concept has gone through several renditions over the years, due to the many attempts to adapt Dune to the screen. In David Lynch’s 1984 movie adaptation, ‘thopters appeared as small, box-like crat with swept wings that retracted and deployed from the fuselage.

In the 2000 miniseries, they were pictured as vertical take off and landing craft with fans mounted in pivoting wings. The featured picture (shown above left) is taken from The Road to Dune and is an artists concept of what a ‘thopter would look like. Here, we see beating wings which deploy for takeoff and retract upon landing.

USNC In Amber Clad:
Feels like its been awhile since I included anything from the Halo universe. And so here’s the Reunion, a Vladivostok-class guided missile frigate. Though somewhat old and outclassed by modern Covenant standards, several frigates played a crucial role in the Great War against Covenant forces. One such vessel was the In Amber Clad.

Armed with 12 Point Defense Guns, 40 missile pods, 5 twin rail gun turrets, a magnetic accelerator cannon, a compliment of Shiva nuclear missiles and a full compliment of Marines, dropships and escort fighters, the In Amber Clad was considered the mainstay of the old Earth fleet. Capable of atmospheric entry and landing, this ship did not need to rely on drop pods or shuttles, and could land an entire Marine force by itself.

During the Covenant War, these frigates were replaced by the larger and more heavily armed Halcyon-class cruisers. However, the In Amber Clad managed to score a significant victory over the Covenant during the Battle of Installation 05. During the course of the battle, it served as the flagship and won the day when it crashed into the Covenant ship High Charity.

VF-1 Veritech:
As requested, I’ve finally found an example from the Robotech universe! And to be honest, I wondered how long it would take. Though I’m not too familiar with this franchise, the RPG is something I remember fondly from my childhood, and some of the designs still percolate in my consciousness.

One of which is this, the VF-1 Vertiech, also known as the “Valkyrie”. This battleoid, which was adapted from alien technology (known as Protoculture),was originally designed for hand-to-hand combat with aliens which were up to 15 meters in height, the Veritech and subsequent breeds of mechas became the new face of warfare.

Mechas can function in both the fighter and mech role. Capable of flying through space, atmospheres and fighting on land, the Veritech was one of the most versatile and maneuverable mechas in the known universe. With a flight speed of Mach 3 (in atmosphere), and a top speed of 100 km/h running, she is as fast as any land vehicle or aerospace vessel. In addition, the standard Veritech carries two high-powered lasers, head mounted laser cannons, guided missiles, a rotary cannon, and is even capable of engaging in hand to hand combat.

YT-2400 Corellian Freighter:
To finish, I’m in the mood for something Corellian! And so it’s back to the Star Wars universe for this one. Much like its predecessor, the YT-1300 (a.k.a. the Millennium Falcon), the 2400 was a class of light freighter that was fast, tough and endlessly modifiable. So like the Falcon, it was a favorite amongst smugglers, merchants and privateers.

Smaller and lighter than the 1300 series, the 2400 boasted only one servo-turret for defense in addition to its shield array and armor plating. However, this could easily be remedied with the addition of extra guns and missile launchers. And its ample hull space and engine power, the 2400’s could easily accommodate additional mounts and the added weight.

One such ship which acheived notoriety during the Galactic Civil War was the Outrider, the ship of famed smuggler Dash Rendar. This ship, like most other 2400’s, was heavily modified to accommodate additional systems and weapons. Clearly, when the Corellian shipyard designated this vessel as freight transport, it was a nod and a wink!

Thank you all and good hunting! See you in next time in volume 9!

Top 10 Most Nostalgic SF Games

Hey all. The other day, a revolutionary idea came to me. What with all the other sci-fi stuff I cover, why haven’t I made any mention of sci-fi videogames? Not sure, really, seems kinda obvious now that I think about it. God knows I love talking about the stuff that inspired me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it that sometimes, those things have been games.

Whether they were first-person shooters, space combat simulators, or strategy games, there are some games which have stuck with me over the years. It might have been their cool game-play, inspired backstories, or classic sci-fi elements. Who knows? Point is, I liked them then and, with some exceptions, I like them now.

Anyway, here are the top then that stand out in my mind, in ascending order:

10. Halo 2
Granted, this game has not been with me too long, as I came to it a bit late in its existence. But I still count it among my top sci-fi nostalgic classics. And in that, I am hardly alone! For gamers, Halo 2 was one of the most anticipated sequels of the last decade. Combing kick-ass gameplay, a cool storyline, and some badass weapons and vehicles, Halo 2 remains a game that I can play over and over.

My favorite missions are the earliest ones when the Covenant are assaulting. Room to room and street to street combat with automatic weapons is much fun! And commandeering a Warthog and joyriding through the transit tunnels of New Mombasa? Pure action gaming art! And while I never really got into the multiplayer thing too much, I have to admit that it’s both extensive and endlessly entertaining.

In addition, I found the storyline highly respectable. In addition to having a classic sci-fi and space opera feel, it contained some genuinely respectable themes and plot devices. The whole backstory about the Forerunners was interesting; but then again, anything involving an ancient and extinct species who’s technology still litters the Galaxy is cool! And the way the Covenant theocracy was following what they believe to be the path to salvation, when in fact they were walking headlong into their graves – tell me that’s not significant!

9. Doom
Granted, it didn’t have the most inspired storyline, but do you think a 16 year old boy gives a damn about stuff like plot and character development? No, he cares about shooting guns and blowing shit up! And that’s precisely what this game was good for when I was a surly teen looking for some fun and adventure on my PC.

And in a lot of ways, this game was a pioneering piece of software. It’s first campaign was made available through shareware, it was one of the first first-person shooters of all time, and it established a new standard when it came to gore and violence.

Thousands of others would follow, each following Doom’s example of a varied arsenal, raw firepower and bloodletting! It was also spawn a slew of sequels, comics, and RPG, and even a horrible, horrible movie. It also provided me with the means to mispend my youth. Good job Doom!

8. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Speaking of time poorly spent, I can’t tell you how many hours I dedicated to playing this game when I first got it. As I recall, I was in my early 20’s at the time and living in a tiny bachelors apartment in Ottawa. One day this game came in the mail courtesy of one of my best friends (thanks Chi!). I spent the next three days playing it all the way through, pausing only to eat, sleep, and maintain some semblance of a life.

Yes, it was just that addictive. And all because it combined quest-based gameplay with lightsaber duels, a detailed universe, and a genuine Star Wars-esque storyline. Granted, its replay value is a little shaky given that most of the fun comes from completing quests and uncovering the whole mystery plot, but I still found ways to waste time with it!

Another appealing feature about this game was the fact that it took place during the Sith Wars, something that gets mentioned in the expanded universe but never really covered in any detail. So while you’re playing, you get the added benefit of having some important background info filled in for you. If you’re a Star Wars geek, which I admittedly am, this is kind of a big deal…

7. Starcraft
Granted, it took Blizzard FOREVER to make the sequel, but they been busy, what with Diablo, Warcraft, and all their various sequels. And in the meantime, they did give us that fantastic expansion pack to tide us over.

In any case, Starcraft has to be one of the most infinitely replayable games in the history of real-time strategy games. It’s creative, got a good storyline, and some genuinely awesome characters. The Terran Marines are delightful hicks, the Protoss religious zealots, and the Zerg horrifying beasts. What’s not to like? And let’s not forget the multiplayer, which kept gamers entertained for years after the original release date.

And as I said, the expansion pack was really great. As if the original storyline and units weren’t enough, they managed to make some truly worthy add ons with Brood War. I especially loved the Medics and the Dark Templar, the former making Marine shoot em ups more effective, and Dark Templars who’s dark look and hyperblades were just so cool. But the storyline was still what I liked best. Terran exiles, invading aliens, complicated alliances, double-crosses and intrigue. Can’t wait to see how what happens in SC II. Just need me a faster computer before I try to play the damn thing is all!

6. Command and Conquer
Speaking of real-time strategy games, the next up is the classic Command and Conquer! Though I didn’t take to the sequels so much, I thoroughly enjoyed this baby for like a whole summer between grades 11 and 12. And much like Starcraft, the multiplayer was the icing on the proverbial cake, taking all the guerrilla fighting and strategizing to new heights.

And the storyline, once again, is something which I certainly appreciated, being an alternate history and all. To break it down, the story takes place in a world where Hitler never came to power in Germany and Stalin became the big menace of the century in his absence. Once he was defeated, a global coalition known as GDI (Global Defense Initiative) was formed.

And in a way, the game predicted the “war on terror” a bit early, predicting that this coalition would have to fight against a multinational terrorist organization (Brotherhood of Nod) for global supremacy. This war was triggered by the arrival of an alien substance, known as Tiberium, to Earth, an organic-mineral compound that is also radioactive. Pretty cool, real science fictiony when you get right down to it. And the varied units were also neat, each side having their own distinct soldiers, vehicles and special abilities. These made things like rushing virtually impossible, as all units had their own strengths and weaknesses, and could not therefore make offensives unless they had support.

5. X-Wing
Another classic game and one of the most popular flight simulators of all time. Maybe it was because it combined space dogfights with the Star Wars universe. Maybe it was because every kid who grew up with the franchise wanted to fly X-wings and take down the Death Star. Who knows? Point is, it worked, and I for one got a real kick out of it.

Taking place before and during the events of the original movie, X-wing follows the exploits of a Rebel pilot who fights for the Alliance in a series of campaigns. These include raids, escort missions, seizure operations, reconnaissance, and ultimately, large scale assaults. While most missions involve piloting the venerable X-wing, you also get to fly A-wings, Y-wings, and even B-wings (in the expansion pack).

Over time, these campaigns culminate in an attack on the Death Star from the end of the first movie. In the expansion pack, the story continues with the evacuation of Yavin and the search to find a new base of operations, eventually leading to the establishment of a base on Hoth. These events, which took place between movies one and two, are fertile ground and get a good showing here. The same is true with all the early events of the franchise, stuff we hear about in the original movie and expanded source material, but never got to see.

One of the coolest things about this game was the details. When assaulting enemy ships, you could disable them as well as destroy them. This could include disabling subsystems with ion guns or missiles, or targeting things like engines and weapons and destroying them. When assaulting capital ships, you were also able to take out weapons and missile turrets, not to mention shield arrays. This made for a more realistic gameplay, something which other space combat games would emulate in years to come.

4. Wing Commander II
Coming in fourth on this list is the second installment in the Wing Commander series. Another space-combat simulator, this game emerged at about the same time as X-wing and was, at least in my neighborhood, its chief competitor for all the mispent hours we would play games!

In truth, I’m kind of hard pressed to pick one game in the series, since I loved the first three games. But when it comes right down to it, I think I spent the most amount of hours on this one, so WC II for the win! Picking up where the first one left off, this game in the series is set aboard the TCS Concordia and follows the exploits of the series’ protagonist Capt. Christopher Blair.

This is something that set the WC series apart from other space-combat simulators, which is the story-driven and personal nature of the game’s story. Even though the protagonist wasn’t given an official name until the third game (gamers got to use whatever name they wanted), everything centered around the life of this one person, their experiences being yours and helping to shape the course of the game.

In short, after being humiliated and demoted due to the destruction of your former ship, the Tiger’s Claw, you are relegated to a backwater assignment aboard a space station. You remain there, until the TCS Concordia shows up in-system looking for help. After defending her, you are transferred aboard her and become part of its campaign to fight the Kilrathi for control of the Enigma sector (if this is starting to sound familiar, then chances are you read my blurb on the Tiger’s Claw in the Cool Ships series).

In any case, by game’s end, you clear your name, defeat the Kilrathi, and gain control of the sector. Much fun! And because it was personally focused, you find yourself getting emotionally involved and being that much more concerned with winning each mission in your campaign. And of course, as with the first game in the series, this one also had spinoffs which added to the fun as well.

3. Wing Commander Privateer
Though this game bears the WC name, it was more of a spinoff than part of the series. And that’s one of the things I loved about it. Though connected to the main storyline, it was a standalone space combat simulator with a story of its own, and which delved into the world of pirates, smugglers and privateers.

Arriving in my game pile between WC II and just after Doom, I spent the better part of a year playing this game because it was just so replayable! What made it fun was the fact that with this installment in the WC universe, you were a private contractor, you pulled missions for hire, and you used your money to upgrade your ship and buy new ones altogether.

You also got to choose your focus in the game. You could become a merchant, a mercenary, both, and add to that with a little pirating and illegal trading. And of course, there was a larger story set to the backdrop of the Confederation-Kilrathi war and your own drive to get rich. Basically, it involved an ancient ship that was roaming around the quadrant, killing ships on both sides. If you chose to partake of this campaign, you followed clues, pulled jobs, and pieced together the mystery of the ship until it was destroyed.

But above all, the most cool aspect of the game was the richly detailed universe. There were literally dozens of systems and planets for you to venture to, as well as space stations and pirate hideouts. Every place had its own feel and aim, and the jobs you could pull on any given one were suited to match. Years later, I would remind myself of this game when it came time to develop my own sci-fi universe (again, the one I used to write Legacies).

2. Descent: Freespace
One such game was the smash hit and personal favorite of mine, Descent: Freespace. Released in 1999, this game remains one of the best fighter simulators I have ever seen. And I’m hardly alone in thinking that, seeing as how several games (including the online BSG game) have used its engine as a platform. Much like Half Life 2, this game has had many imitators and borrowers due to the sheer wickedness of its design.

But again, one of the things that I loved about this game was its backstory. Set in the 23rd century, the GTA (Galactic Terran Alliance) is at war with an alien race known as the Vasudans. This war has been ongoing and spans several star systems, with losses numbering in the millions. However, all this changes when a new race, known as the Shivans, appears suddenly and begins attacking both sides indiscriminately. After several attacks, the GTA and the Vasudans agree to put aside their differences and focus on this common threat, as the Shivans are clearly not playing favorites.

Also, the Shivans possess vastly superior technology. Their ships are shielded – something neither side has – and are very difficult to track on sensors. Their capital ships are also very tough and hard to disable, and their largest vessel, the Lucifer (expect to see it in the next Cool Ships installment) seems invulnerable to conventional attack. As a result, much of the game is spent conducting intel gathering and raids to procure pieces of the aliens technology. And things really escalate when the Lucifer discovers the location of Vasuda Prime and Earth.

What I loved about this game was how much it reminded me of Babylon 5 and the whole Earth-Minbari war, how Earth Force found itself so outmatched and struggled to try and find a way to beat Minbari technology. I often wondered if the game designers had been inspired by it, given the common elements. On top of that is the fact that you never really get to learn why the Shivans are attacking, or even what they look like. The mystery of who and what they are remains well into the sequel.

But even without all that, the gameplay itself was nothing short of awesome. The missions were realistic, the ships were realistic, and the space combat was realistic (and detailed). I’m not ashamed to admit that this game actually formed part of the basis for my own sci-fi creation, the novel Legacies and the kind of universe it was set in. Being gritty and realistic, I thought I’d found my perfect muse, and did my best to adopt, if not outright copy, a lot of its feel.

Ah yes, and according to an article I read recently, it appears that there might be a third installment at some point in the future. Efforts have kind of stalled, but apparently the developers who worked on the first two games said that they “would kill for a chance to develop Freespace 3.” Given how the sequel ended on a cliffhanger and just how kick-ass this series is, I count myself among them! Tell me who’s gotta go, I’ll take care of ’em!

1. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
Finally, coming in at first place, is Sid Meier’s sci-fi spinoff, Alpha Centauri! Much like the Civilization series which bore his name (and which I adored!), this game was a turn-based strategy engine that focuses on civilization building and conquest, with the player choosing a faction and then ensuring that they become the dominant force in the game.

However, what set this game apart from the Civilization ones was its uniquely speculative and futuristic undertone. Based in part on the Civ games, this story is basically an extension of the original series, where games would end when a player either conquered the world or won the space race by sending a colony ship to Alpha Centauri.

But far from just picking up where these games left off, this game revolves around the idea that Earth was abandoned by the people on the colony ship because of its rampant overpopulation, war, famine, chaos and environmental destruction. This puts the stakes much higher, as the mission is not just to colonize but ensure the survival of the human race.

The story begins with the colonist splitting into five factions before they make “Planetfall”. These include the Morganites (a bunch of monopolistic capitalists), the Gaians (environmentalists), the Hive (totalitarians), the Believers (religious zealots), the Spartans (survivalists), the University (rationalists), and the Peacekeepers (humanitarians). Together, they represent the entirety of the human race, all its particular drives and obsessions. Their struggle clearly mirrors of that of humanity in the present day world.

On top of all that, there’s a planet-wide organisms which is made up of pink fungi and “mind worms”. This organism, as a whole, grows and evolves towards super-sentience every few million years as the planet’ sun reach perihelion. Naturally, this has coincided with the arrival of the colonists, and therefore poses a threat to their survival. So in addition to dealing with the threat of the other factions, there is added threat coming from the planet itself.

In the end, there are any number of ways to win the game. You can conquer the other factions, in which case it is reasoned that you will be able to face the growing threat from “planet” unimpeded. There is a an economic victory, in which a single faction corners the “energy market” (energy being the basis of currency on this world). Then you have diplomatic victory where you basically ally yourself with every faction left in the game, followed by the “transcendental” victory where you become the first faction to achieve union with the planetary organism.

This last option is the biggest and best, being the one that deals with the biggest problem of what to do about the planet and in such a way that ensures humanity’s virtual immortality. By merging humanities consciousness with the planetary organism, you not only achieve a degree of immortality, you also help ensure that the organism won’t regress this time around. And it gives you the highest final score, which is why I always preferred it.

And then there’s all the cool units you get to make. As with the other Civ games, new technologies give you the ability to craft new units. This grows more complex and varied the more technologies you unlock, giving you the means to equip units with new weapons, armor, and special abilities. But the best thing about this game, aside from all the classic sci-fi elements, is the inspired nature of it all. Some serious thought went into the technologies you research, as well as the philosophical models you can adopt.

I’m telling ya, its like some serious sci-fi geeks got together, read all the classics, swallowed the works of Sartre, Plato, Nietzsche, and then waded through the theories of Einstein and Hawkins. This game was a favorite of mine during the early 2000’s, and recently, I managed to get an a copy of it through Amazon.com and have been wasting time on it once more. I’m a happy manchild!

Okay, now I’m feeling kinda weird, geeky, and like I got some serious wasted time to make up for…  But hey, I’m not sorry! Like most people my age, I grew on the dubious combination of television, movies, and video games, with a few genuine experiences thrown in for good measure. If we can’t appreciate the stuff we wasted our youth on, then what good is it? Until next time 😉

Cool Ships (volume VI)

Back yet again with a sixth installment in the Cool Ships series. Like last time, I took this opportunity to tackle some overlooked examples, and some new ones as well. In addition… You know what? Screw the introductions and final thoughts, let’s just get into this!

Bird of Prey:
There’s nothing like a classic, and when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, few ships are more classic than the Klingon Bird of Prey. The perfect balance of form, speed, versatility, and firepower, the Bird of Prey is a ship with a very long history of service in the Klingon Empire.

This ship made its first appearance in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when a renegade Klingon captain, seeking the secrets of the Genesis Planet, used one to attack the Enterprise. Kirk and his crew would later commandeer this ship and use it in the following movie to travel back in time and bring two whales to the future (The Voyage Home).

Bird of Preys would also appear in the fifth and six movie installments, in the latter case as a prototype raider that could fire while cloaked (something previously unheard of). Remaining in service well into the 24th century, Bird of Preys appeared repeatedly in Stark Trek TNG, and DS9,  most notably as part of the Klingon war effort against the Dominion.

Boasting two multi-directional disruptors and single photon torpedo launcher located in the nose. It is also one of the first Klingon vessels to boast a cloaking device, something unavailable on heavier cruisers. Because of their stealthy abilities and versatility, they have played a variety of roles, including reconnaissance, escort, raids and as support for larger vessels.

Cylon Raider:
Boy, they’ve come along way baby! During the original series, Cylon raiders were saucer-shaped, had energy weapons and were crewed by up to three Centurions. In the re-imagined series, this changed significantly, though the Raider still retained its basic roll as a light assault craft.

In addition to getting a facelift, the newer generation of raiders relied on kinetic weapons, missiles and even tactical nukes. Its crew was replaced by an organic brain which was merged with the ship’s machinery, and which relied on an “eye” located in the fore of the central module to communicate and conduct navigation. Much like Raptors, Raiders are capable of making short-range FTL jumps, and therefore do not need to be deployed from a Basestar in the field.

Much of what is known about the modern raider came from Starbuck’s own experiences with a downed vessel. After making her way into the interior, she discovered a system of organs which were apparently fed by an internal supply of nitrogen and oxygen. After removing the brain, she was able to fly the ship using the system of organic levers and controls and rendezvous with the Galactica. Starbuck was meant to use this same vessel as a Trojan horse, but instead used it to fly back to Caprica (“You Can’t Go Home Again”)

Though self-aware, the average Cylon ship is not as intelligent or independent as a humanoid Cylon. However, like the humanoids, they are capable of resurrection and have their consciousness and memories recycled into a new body whenever they are shot down. In time, their accumulated knowledge and experience can make them even more formidable as opponents, as was demonstrated by the vessel known as “Scar” in the season two episode of the same name.

The Ebon Hawk:
Looking beyond the original movies, there are plenty of cool ships to be found in the expanded Star Wars universe. One example is the Ebon Hawk, a Corellian freighter which comes from the Knights Of The Old Republic game.

Much like its modern cousin, the Millennium Falcon, the Ebon Hawk is every smugglers wet dream. The perfect marriage of speed, maneuverability, and survivability, it is perfect for running blockades, evading capture, and saving the galaxy! It also played a central role in the Sith War and the events immediately following it.

Originally belonging to Davik, a ruthless criminal warlord belonging to the Exchange, the ship became the property of the Jedi Order after it was confiscated by Revan. Using this vessel to escape the Sith blockade of Taris, Revan and his comrades used this vessel to travel the Galaxy, investigating the Sith’s plans for domination and systematically unraveling them.

After the end of the Sith War, Revan took this ship to the Rim to further invesigate the true source of the Sith threat. The ship returned to the universe a few years later, carrying an former Jedi master named Kreia who had since become a Sith master, and was exiled by her peers. Once again, the ship would become the property of a Jedi warrior – Meetra Surik – and several fellow-travellers who would used it to retrace the path of Revan and eliminate the Sith Triumvirate, the last of the Sith Lords.

The Event Horizon:
A bit of a break for the usual lineup of cool ships here, the Event Horizon was a  prototype vessel that was featured in the movie of the same name. Built in the near future by Earth scientists to be the first that would be capable of making FTL jumps. In the course of making the jump from the edge of the Solar System to Proxima Centauri, the ship disappeared. Seven years, it rematerialized, sending out a general distress signal.

Upon investigating the derelict, the crew of the rescue ship Lewis and Clarke found a ship of horrors. In addition to having a long spine that was inlaid with jagged metal spikes, the experimental gravity drive looked like some kind of medieval torture device. Seriously, the thing was basically a studded metal ball with spiky rotating appendages.

Oh, and did I mention the ship was haunted? Yeah, apparently generating a quantum singularity and passing through it leads directly to Hell. So in essence, the ship brought a whole lot of Hell back with it when it came back to our universe, and these dark forces began making the rescue teams go made just as it had the original crew. Kinda stupid really…

But ultimately, the design and concept of the ship were pretty cool. And even if you forget about the obviously macabre nature of the engine room, it was pretty neat to behold.

Mothership (Homeworld):
The flagship of the Kushan fleet, the Mothership was the centerpiece of every mission in the Homeworld universe. Originally intended as a colony vessel, its role expanded during the Homeworld War to include that of a command ship and mobile shipyard. This was due to the many hostile races encountered after the Kushan fleet left Kharak to find Earth.

Although not an effective combat platform, the Mothership’s hyperdrive make it FTL capable and therefore capable of deep-space travel. In addition to its internal factories, it also has the capacity to hold 600,000 cryogenically frozen colonists as well as its regular crew of 50,000.

Although not heavily armed, the Mothership contained the means to construct many different classes of support vessels. These included scouts, resource harvesters, fighter craft, destroyers and even cruisers. As such, it had a solid defense screen during the time of the Exodus. Periodically stopping to replenish its resources from asteroid belts, the Mothership was also able to replenish its losses.

USNC Pillar of Autumn:
And here we have another franchise making its first appearance in this series! Coming from the Halo universe, the Pillar of Autumn was featured in the original Halo. A Halcyon-class light cruiser, this class of ship is one of the older ships in service with the UNSC Navy.

During the Covenant assault on Reach, the Autumn fled to the Soell system where it discovered and then crash landed on the Halo ring known as Installation 04. There, after engaging both Covenant and Flood forces, Master Chief John 117 detonating it in order to destroy the installation before it could fire.

Measuring 1.17 km in length and armed with a combination of kinetic guns, nuclear missiles and a magnetic accelerator cannon, the Autumn is powered by a fusion core and able to make FTL (aka. slipspace) jumps through space. In addition, it also carries a squadron of fighters, 15 Pelican dropships, 8 Scorpion tanks, 40 Warthogs, and a full compliment of Marines and Orbital Drop Shock Troops. The ship is run by a central AI – in the case of the Autumn, Cortana – and has a crew of between 300 and 400 personnel.

The Scimitar:
Though I didn’t care much for the movie that featured it, The Scimitar was still a pretty freaking cool ship! Huge, powerful, scary-looking and packing a doomsday device and a truly impenetrable cloak, this baby pretty much had it all. So it begs the question… how the hell did a bunch of slaves built this thing anyway?

Of Reman origin, this dreadnought was built under the supervision of the Picard clone Shinzon and figured prominently in his designs to take over the Romulan Empire and destroy the Federation. This he planned to do by attacking Earth, a plot which was narrowly averted by the crew of USS Enterprise E.

Built for total war, the Scimitar was given every technological advantage the Romulan Empire had at its disposal. This included 52 disruptor banks, 27 torpedo launchers, several squadrons of Scorpion attack fighters, and of course, its thalaron radiation weapon of mass destruction. Requiring several minutes to power up, this weapon was capable of sterilizing an entire planet. Deployment of the weapon involved unfolding its wings, a move which only made it look scarier!

The Scimitar was also protected by two shield arrays, which combined with its weaponry gave it the edge in every combat situation. And as already noted, its cloak was perfect, emitting no tachyons or anti-protons as other cloaking devices were notorious for. As a result, the Scimitar was truly impossible to track while under cloak.

Slave I:
Anyone familiar with the Star Wars universe knows who Boba Fett is. And chances are, all of those people are familiar with his ship, the Slave I. A modified Firespray-31-class attack and patrol craft, the Slave I was originally the property of famed bounty hunter Jango Fett. After his death at the hands of Mace Windu, it passed to his son, Boba Fett.

Small, sleek and stealthy, the ship was also augmented with several advanced weapons systems. These included two rapid fire blaster cannons, two missile launchers, and a rear-mounted minelayer compartment which was capable of deploying seismic charges. The ship also carried a compliment of dummy torpedoes which could tag ships with tracking beacons.

During the events of Empire, Fett used this ship to track Han and the Falcon back to Bespin and then take his carbonite-frozen body back to Jabba’s Palace. After escaping from the Rancour Pit on Tatooine, Fett upgraded to a new ship, which he named Slave II in honor of his father’s ship.

Reaver Ship:
As a fitting final entry, I am returning to the Firefly universe once more. And this time, it’s the Reaver ship that I’ve decided to cover. Though every Reaver ship is of unique design, the one which was featured in the pilot episode (featured at right) is my personal favorite.

Like all Reaver ships, this vessel is adorned with red paint and what I can only assume is the blood of innocent victims. It’s hull and engine compartments have also been modified to look claw-like and threatening, it’s front section has been mangled from ramming into other ships, and its engine functions without radiation containment.

Above all, its weapons have been modified to incorporate the unique Reaver combination of medieval weaponry and snares. These can consist of EMP’s, grappling lines, nets, and launchers that fire shurikens, buzz saw blades, spears and some kinetic weapons. Ultimately, the purpose of Reaver weapons are to disable and capture enemy ships rather than destroy them. This gives the Reaver crews the pleasure of meeting their victims face to face and killing them with sharpened implements.

Yes, much like the Reavers themselves, their ships are scary and look like they got a facelift from a belt sander. But such appearances, as well as their lack of containment, let merchant ships and smugglers know they are coming. When that happens, crews can either power down and hope they’ll go unnoticed or run like all hell. Otherwise, they’re only option is to make peace with whatever deity they pray to and eat a bullet, cuz’ the alternative aint pretty!

Thank you all, this has been volume six! Stay tuned for volume seven, coming soon!