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Topics - Lurkndog

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Other Games / More games like Advance Wars
« on: May 18, 2020, 11:47:10 AM »
Advance Wars was a great series of lightweight strategy games for the Game Boy Advance. The games were attractive and easy to get started with, and yet there was some meat to them too. Best of all, you could play most of the battles in about half an hour. They were perfect for "I want to do something fun for a little while, but I don't want to spend all night on it."

There were three games in the series: Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2 on the Game Boy Advance, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike on the Nintendo DS. (There was also Advance Wars: Days of Ruin on the DS, but it was done by a different team, and it sucked.)

I replay these games every couple years, and I always enjoy them, but I haven't found much else that scratches the same itch.

Super Robot Wars was the closest thing to Advance Wars, but I don't like it as much. SRW is IMHO overcomplicated, and is basically a strategy RPG. You spend more time leveling up your units than you do playing, and grinding and leveling up is far more important than placement of units and use of terrain.

I tried one of the Fire Emblem games and didn't like it. Like SRW, it seemed like it was more about leveling up than battlefield strategy, and giving all the characters names made it unpleasant to lose them in battle.

I also played Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3, which I loved, but it tends to be a game you play for hours, rather than a quick pick-up game. VC2 on the PSP was the same way, only worse, and VC4 on the PS4 was good, but had a less enjoyable storyline.

Media and Inspiration / Babylon 5
« on: April 17, 2020, 02:09:28 PM »
The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call – a home away from home – for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs... and wanderers. Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night.

Babylon 5, B5 for short, was a syndicated TV show that aired on UHF stations and cable from 1994-1999.  It is a space opera set on the space station Babylon 5,  which serves as an interstellar diplomatic outpost, a strategic military base, and a center for trade and commerce. "Casablanca in Space" was one early tagline.

There's a lot of say about Babylon 5, in fact there are numerous books written on the subject, so I'm just going to list a few of the high points that made the show stand out.

1) The State of Science Fiction on Television in 1994

When Babylon 5 aired its first episode in 1994, it was a somewhat optimistic time for syndicated television. Star Trek: The Next Generation was wrapping up its original run on TV, and in the wake of its resounding success, there was a small boom in syndicated TV shows being sold directly to independent UHF stations. Babylon 5 was sold by a fledgling company called the Prime Time Entertainment Network, whose other shows included Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, and the sci fi time cop series Time Trax. Other sci fi TV shows on the air included The X-Files, SeaQuest DSV, TekWar, and of course, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The boom in independent syndication was soon overtaken by the rise of nationally syndicated networks like UPN, the WB, and Fox. These networks swiftly bought up the UHF stations in major markets, and as the 90s went on, the smaller syndication companies like PTEN lost their footholds in the markets and went out of business.

2) What Made Babylon 5 Different

At the time Babylon 5 came out, most TV shows were strictly episodic in format. Babylon 5 was strikingly different. It was conceived of as a single story arc that was planned out to span five seasons, with a beginning, middle and end. Characters grew, things changed, the scope of the story line expanded, and the show made extensive use of foreshadowing, setting up plot threads that would be followed up on in later episodes.

Babylon 5 also pioneered the use of CGI in television. At the time, most sci fi TV was produced using models shot with motion controlled cameras. This produced excellent results, but was expensive and time-consuming. Babylon 5 made a breakthrough by producing its effects on inexpensive Commodore Amiga desktop computers, using the Lightwave 3D package, and the Video Toaster graphics card. This allowed them to do a lot more effects shots on a small budget, within the time constraints of TV production. The downside, though, was that they were on the cutting edge, and some of the graphics work quickly became obsolete. This is quite visible in the first season, where the textures and rendering look blocky and cheap now.

Babylon 5 also made a splash by using solid science and accurate physics in its models. Instead of using "artifical gravity," Babylon 5 was an O'Neill type space station with a spinning cylindrical body that produced centripetal acceleration. The Earth Federation spaceships obeyed the laws of physics. They didn't fly like airplanes or naval vessels, and once in motion, they stayed in motion. This was exemplified by the show's Starfury space fighters, which would spectacularly flip end over end, and shoot at enemies behind them. That was a "Eureka!" moment for us fans, and after that we were on board.

Lastly, Babylon 5 made extensive use of prosthetic makeup for a huge variety of alien species. Some aliens were also done using puppets and CGI, so that they could be completely nonhuman. The results were very impressive for the time, especially for TV, and paved the way for shows that would follow like Farscape and The Orville.

Really, to sum it up, Babylon 5 was something very different than what had come before, in a very good way. For those of us fans who were frustrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was a huge breath of fresh air.

Media and Inspiration / The Future by Lexus
« on: January 20, 2020, 08:59:03 AM »
Lexus has sponsored some high-concept sci fi artwork with a Lexus theme. It's definitely form over function, but it's still pretty cool.

Media and Inspiration / The Mandalorian Season 1
« on: November 13, 2019, 12:25:24 PM »
I've seen the first episode, and it's pretty good. It feels like Star Wars, and so far the main character is both likeable and enigmatic. Never takes his helmet off, but so far we only see him when he's on the clock. Good supporting cast, too.

That said, I'm a little surprised by the production values. While some of the effects are flawless, like the spaceship and location CGI, others are surprisingly creaky. I liked that they used a lot of practical stuff, but there were points where it was obvious that the props were wobbly and/or insubstantial.

And so far, not a lot of big picture stuff going on. That may change as the season moves on.

But so far, so good. I say check it out for yourself.

Media and Inspiration / Bllade Runner is now, or is it?
« on: November 04, 2019, 11:56:04 AM »
This article notes that Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles, November 2019.

It talks about surface details like flying cars and fashion trends, but it is interesting how much of the movie is simply premature.

We don't have offworld colonies, but we can see them from here.

LA isn't a climate catastrophe, but parts of China aren't far off.

On the other hand, it is getting pretty clear that sophisticated AI isn't anthropomorphic, even if the concept is alive and well in fiction.

It might be possible to build humanoid robots, but they are not used for work, because they're inefficient.

And nobody is building biological androids, though there is a lot of work on 3D printing organs and tissues.

I'm not sure if we already had this discussion in the cyberpunk threads, apologies if so.

Media and Inspiration / Archer: 1999
« on: June 28, 2019, 01:25:41 PM »
I don't know how many here watch Archer, my own circle of friends is somewhat divided on the show. For some, it is too transgressive, and I get that.

Anyway, the last few seasons have been alternate versions of the show, set in various other fictional milieus but using the Archer characters and humor. They did a season where the characters were in a 1940's film noir detective setting, and one that was set in the South Seas in the 1930s (think Tales of the Gold Monkey if you've seen that).

The Season 10 is called Archer: 1999, and is set in Outer Space. At first it looked like it would be a specific spoof of Alien/Aliens, which I was up for, but it has turned out to be more of a generic starship crew scenario.

The last couple of episodes have been pretty good, with Season 10 Episode 5 being a particular standout. In this one, their ship drops out of hyperspace unexpectedly near an ominous alien space station. They go in to loot the station, only to discover an alien android who was created as a doomsday weapon by a long-dead species, and has been waiting for eons for someone to give him the order to detonate. With a crew this dysfunctional, things go downhill rapidly, but it is also funnier than it has any right to be.

They have Matt Berry from The IT Crowd doing the voice of the doomsday android, and he knocks it out of the park. His delivery is just aloof and sophisticated enough to elevate the material, and he manages to make the character just likeable enough to allow the "nope, it's a WMD" jokes to catch you off guard.  Great stuff.

If you're not watching this season, and you have enjoyed Archer at any point in its run, I say you should definitely tune in.

Media and Inspiration / Whiskey Cavalier (2019 ABC TV Series)
« on: March 29, 2019, 12:34:37 PM »
A new TV show I've been enjoying is called Whiskey Cavalier. It's a spy show starring Lauren Cohan from The Walking Dead. It's on ABC at 10 PM on Wednesdays.

The setup: FBI Agent Will Chase crosses paths with CIA Agent Frankie Trowbridge in a bar in Moscow, and both of them are after a wiley hacker named Standish. They spend the pilot in a fun cat and mouse chase across Europe, crossing and double-crossing each other, while trying to take Standish in and keep him from getting kidnapped by the opposition. In the end, Standish turns out to be a good guy white hat hacker exposing high level corruption, and they all wind up on an inter-agency task force (spy team) along with a gadgeteer and a psychologist/social operator.

The fun bits are the interplay between the characters. Will and Frankie fall immediately into a Moonlighting-style frenemies type relationship. Will is a hugger-idealist-softie, while Frankie is more of an amoral-pragmatist-with-baggage. But the interplay is fun, and the will-they-won't-they has not yet become tedious. Plus, Lauren Cohan is just good looking as all get out.

The show is not trying to be taken seriously, it is simple fun and nothing more, but it IS fun. The pilot was great, and the later episodes have gotten into a pretty good groove.

I say check it out.

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