Posts tagged ‘star trek’


Star Trek Online, the MM-uh oh.

The box cover art is beautiful, the graphics even more than you could imagine.

Star Trek is “The” science fiction franchise.  Nothing, not even Star Wars comes close to having it’s real, or imagined, world history.  With its heroic starship captains, huge back history, well-built self-contained universe and a penchant for dramatic and exciting battles, it has always been a franchise ripe for computer game conversions.  In fact there have been many Star Trek games.  But unfortunately very few of them have come even vaguely close to realising the potential of the series, books or movies in-game form.

So several years ago it was with glee, maniacal laughter and much frenzied dancing around my living room that I read about how an online Star Trek game was in development.  By that time we had already had two excellent Starfleet Commander games and the technology, it seemed to many Trek fans myself included, had reached a point where, maybe, just maybe justice could finally be done to our favourite branch of science fiction.  In the end it took several years and one bankrupt developer but Star Trek Online or “STO” finally saw its launch.

In the end, having had experience of several Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), I decided that I would wait ’til it’s first birthday to buy it.  MMORPGs are notoriously unstable on release and it typically takes a full year, for the developers to get the game to where it should be.  So with joy in my heart and wishing, that I had a tiny original series Starfleet uniform to wear, nine weeks ago I loaded my STO DVD into my PC and clicked install.

Usually a PC installation is a straight forward and quick affair.  Just install the basic game from the DVD, download and install a patch that it is maybe 100 megabytes in size and away you go.  Not STO though.  The DVD part, installed very smoothly, in about five minutes and with one left click the game launcher was on my screen.  Nice.  I input my account ID and hit my first problem with STO.

Most non-free MMORPGs give you a free period of play when you first register with them, but before you have to sign up for a subscription.  With World of Warcraft, for example, it’s a month.  STO also gives you a month of free play.  But STO, unlike any other MMORPG I’ve ever played, also requires you to have already signed up for a subscription to use that free play time.  Worse still the STO installation, which you have already paid for, won’t even update itself without your having a subscription.  There is also an implication that you pay for your first month and then receive your second month free.  An implication that I only realised was bunkum, after I checked my bank balance a week into my STO play experience.  This is nothing less than madness, and I personally see it as nothing more or less than a blattant attempt by Atari to trick some players, who are less than internet savvy, into paying for at least one extra month.

As for needing a subscribed account to even update?  Well, while I was playing STO I let my World of Warcraft account lapse.  I’m a one MMORPG kinda girl, mostly due to being somewhat OCD and having realised many years ago that I tend to get obsessed by one game at a time, so what would be the point in paying for a game I wouldn’t be playing?  Anyway during that period of time I able to continue updating my Warcraft installation, regardless of my subscription status.  Again madness, insanity and absolute foolishness on the part of STOs producers Cryptic and Atari.  I have yet to find a satisfactory answers as to why they set up their server in this way, but personally I feel that it is simply lazy and greedy development.  Unfortunately this won’t be the last time that word, “lazy” is used with regards to this game.

So after signing up for my subscription I click on the launch button, actually it’s an “Engage” button and every time I clicked it, I had to suppress a huge fit of giggles.  But I digress.  So I click the launch button and the launcher checks for updates.  Now having had a fair bit of MMORPG experience I knew to expect a sizable update, perhaps half to 2/3rds the size of the initial installation.  But SEVEN GIGABYTES?!  I shit you not, seven goddess damned gigabytes.  Now admittedly Cryptic use a reasonably good compression system for their patches, so what you download is only about 2/3rds the size of the final patch.  But still, please, seven gigs of patches?  Again turning back to Warcraft, I join that game during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.  But even after two expansions and over three years of patches, to update the installation was only a little over one gigabyte.

Anyway, I start the update and after seven hours of downloading and patching I was finally ready to play.

Now STO is one gorgeous game.  It is literally, the best looking game of its type I’ve ever played.  And the sound is nothing less than stunning.  It actually managed to make all the patching almost worth it.

The character creation is fluid and easy, with one issue.  That issue is the skill choices when you build your character.  Essentially the descriptions are vague and confusing.  It took another two hours of reading forums before I felt confident to choose my starting skills.  This is again just laziness on the developers part, there’s no excuse for not writing out your tooltips in a clear and comprehensible manner.  So eventually with character created and away we go.

As a game STO is broken in two.  The space travel and combat section is nothing less than beautifully realised.  You view your ship and the battlefield in much the same way as you would any character in any MMORPG.  The ships are simply gorgeous, and even though many of them, have never appeared in any on-screen Trek they look the right.  Everything moves in a way that’s flawlessly true to the various series and movies.  And the sounds are Trek through and through.  Every phaser, every photon torpedo and even the voices sound perfectly right.  Everything about the space combat segments is right, though a little repetitive, but in a mostly good way.

The ground missions, known here, just like in the series as away missions, are just as beautiful to look at and listen to.  But unfortunately the away missions feel all wrong.  They’re repetitive, but unlike the space combat, not in a good way.  You use the same simple tactics over and over, with 99% of the time, the same results.

Now yes I know MMORPGs tend to be repetitive,  there is after all only so much you can do with a game of this type.  But there’s no excuse for not even trying.  The developers obviously invested vast amounts of time into the space segments, but the away missions just feel tacked on.  Then there’s the crafting aspect of the game, which is clunky and difficult to understand.  The auction house is badly implemented, making it difficult to find what you’re looking for.  The list of faults just goes on and on.

There are great aspects to this game.  The way teamwork is designed is brilliant, you simply warp into a system and automatically join forces with anyone already in system.  There is a series of diplomacy based missions which allow for a more Trekkish experience.

But the sad truth is, that this is a game which should still be in Beta testing.  For all its visual and audio beauty, it’s simply not good enough, not really ready enough for general play.  Everywhere barring how it looks and sounds it feels slapped together.  But despite this it manages to often be fun.  Unfortunately though there was to be one, final nail in the coffin where this game is concerned for me.

A typically gorgeous STO screen shot.

Now after all these years of gaming I understand that the key to a good, stable game, is regular patching and updating.  But I’ve never found a game before that always has a weekly update which sometimes might be only 100 megabytes.  But then the following two weeks turns out to be a gigabyte each.  This is a big issue where I’m concerned.  No game, needs these kinds of huge weekly updates and speaking as someone with a download cap on their broadband, it managed to finally and completely kill this game for me.

In truth I am crushed about this game.  I waited years to play it.  I devoured every preview, every review and I was almost bouncing out of my skin waiting for my copy to arrive in the post.  I desperately wanted this game to live up to my hopes.  But this isn’t the game that was originally talked about.  Back then we had hints about serving on one another’s ships, working our way up through the ranks and eventually getting our own ships.  Later I logically assumed that there would be a choice of servers, there isn’t.  I hoped that the gameplay would be well worked out and that after a year of continued post launch development it would really be ready.  But it’s not.

This game was a valiant attempt, but at the end of the day too much of it is lazily done and so I have to say the following.  Don’t play this game.  It’s simply not worth the cost.  Maybe in another year or two it’ll be where it should have been on when it was launched, much less a year later.  But for now play Warcraft or Warhammer.  If you absolutely need to play a space based MMORPG play Eve Online or even join a private Freelancer server.  But for now don’t be suckered into paying to Beta test this sad, disappointment of a game.


My top 5 greatest series of books ever – Science Fiction

This is a series of posts that I’ve been saving for my birthday and seeing as I turn 33 tomorrow, it’s finally time for me to enjoy my treat.  Books mean everything to me.  My own private collection numbers in the hundreds of books and covers both free walls of my bedroom.  In addition to being a real pain in the backside when I move apartments, they have become my anchor and are my most treasured possessions.

So now that I’ve established my immense bookwormishness (yes that’s a word even if I did make it up) lets talk about some specific books.  Just like my lists of good and bad movie there are a few criteria to get on these lists.

1: There has to be a minimum of two books in the series.  Singular books that make a large enough impact on me will be dealt with on their own in the future.

2: They have to have had a profound emotional effect on me.  That means that simply being entertaining isn’t enough. A good book entertains.  A great book moves you.

Just like with my movie posts I will be keeping the spoilers to a minimum.  But unlike those posts I won’t be linking to any wikipedia articles.  I could but all that would do is make my not ruining the surprises kind of redundant. So that done let’s begin the count down.

5: The Empire of Man by David Weber and John Ringo

Prince Roger MacClintock, Heir Tertiary to the Throne of Man is pretty much just a clothes horse.  Even his bodyguards think he’s a waste of genetic material and nothing at all compared to his mother.  But someone thinks he’s worth assassinating…

Those three short sentences sum up the first few chapters of the first novel in this amazing series of books perfectly.  When I picked up the first book in the series a few years ago I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for.  These books simply blew me away.  Starting as what I thought would be a kind of royal intrigue action novel, they quickly became the single best heroic fiction I have ever had the good fortune to read.  David Gemmell for all his talent never even came close to this.

So how to explain what makes these so great.  Well there are the characters who vary from hilarious to heartbreaking.  They include Nimashet Despreaux, one of the Princes bodyguards who in my 28th year taught me a new lesson.  That you can fall hopelessly in love with a literary character.

Then there’s the action.  The battles are so beautifully described that you’re right there with the B company of the Bronze Barbarians of the Empress’s Own.  Fighting off Atul in the jungles of Marduk or fighting off vast, seemingly endless hordes of bronze age warriors in the ruins of Voitan.  But even when you can see and almost smell the blood, the authors somehow make it hurt horribly every time one of the company dies.

But for me what makes this series stand out is that it shows why a touch of barbarism in your blood is anything but a thing.  They touch on the simple truth that any healthy society needs those few who can fight for and out of  honour and loyalty.  They’re the ones who keep everyone else safe in their beds.

I really can’t recommend this series of books strongly enough.  Get them, read them.  If you do, I bet you won’t be able to stop yourself from dancing around the room when the universe finally finds out why you don’t pock with a MacClintock.

4: Dragonriders of Pern by Anne MacCaffrey

Set in a world where dragons are real and a deadly thread like organism falls from the skies, these novels are a wonderful combination of high adventure, political intrigue and intensely emotional moments.  How to describe this series…imagine a half a dozen love stories being told in parallel. Add a deadly threat which could wipe out humanity in a very short time without the dragons to fight it off.  Now mix in beautifully written characters and an even more beautifully crafted world to set all that in.  There you go that’s the Dragonriders of Pern in a nutshell.

Over the years I’ve heard these books labelled as chick-lit with dragons and dismissed by hard sci-fi fans as mere fantasy.  Personally I think that both of those descriptions do serious injustices to something which is actually very special.  Though that said, I can see where they come from.

You see Anne MacCaffrey excels in creating incredible female characters.  They always jump put of the page at you.  This I think is because she makes them flawed.  Some are scared.  Some are damaged or jealous or vain.  Then she balances that with some redeeming factor in a way that may not be precisely realistic but is ultimately extremely powerful. But having read and indeed written chick-lit I can say that these books are not chick-lit.

Nor are they fantasy.  Of course if you say the word “dragon” people will automatically think “fantasy”.  But in these books the dragons are genetically engineered and Pern is a lost/forgotten human colony in a distant part of the galaxy.  So nope not fantasy either.

But what they are is emotional.  Back in my very late teens two books in particular from this series helped me to survive the stresses of being transgendered, lesbian and chronically ill, Dragonsinger and Dragonsong.  They were the first books to move me to tears.  Not just once but several times over the course of each book.  Sometimes from sorrow but also from sheer joy.  They were a wonderful healing experience to read and to this day, remain my favourite way to touch base with myself, when I feel the need to.

3: Star Trek: New Frontier

It’s Star Trek dear reader but not as we thought we knew it.  Charting the experiences of the Starship Excalibur and her very eclectic crew, as they explore a new part of the Trek universe, these books really surprised me.  I’ve been a fan of the Star Trek pocket books since my childhood.  They’ve always been an enjoyable way to join the crew of your favourite starship on new adventures.  But the New Frontier series was something completely new.

For the first time ever, here was a series that dealt with a starship and crew who had never factored in a major way in any of the television series.  Instead we had all new characters mixed with a few guest characters from random Next Generation episodes.  We had a new part of the galaxy, which came complete with new dangers.  And we had a new Starfleet captain, MacKenzie Calhoun, and boy was he new.

Some of what puts this series at number three in this list can be summed up simply in two words, fun and excitement.  Calhoun is a captain of the James T. Kirk school.  He punches hard and often.  He’s aggressive, confrontational and completely undiplomatic.  His chief engineer is a pansexual  polyamorous hermaphrodite and his security chief is something like The Thing from The Fantastic Four.  But far more bad-tempered and even tougher.  With a crew like that it’s hardly surprising that chaos and excitement follows them in every book.

But in addition to the fights, the battles and the back stories there are also love stories.  Parent/child relationships and constant comedy.

But what really gets this series onto this list is the drama filled love triangle formed by a hermaphrodite alien, a vulcan doctor and a human officer.  It is drama filled.  But it is surprisingly positive and is never anything less than a joy to read.  Oh and I challenge anyone not to end up fancying Burgoyne 172, the chief engineer.  Talk about your characters who transcend gender and sexuality. Wow.

2: Deathstalker by Simon R. Green.

Set in a universe where a galactic empire has become decadent and cruel, this series chronicles the efforts of Owen Deathstalker to remove the Empress from the throne and clear his name.

These novels are epic.  Think Star Wars then double or even better triple the scale and you’re somewhere near the sheer grandeur of this series.  They’re filled from end to end with brilliant characters, most of whom want anything but to be heroes and most of whom are hiding multiple secrets. The universe is rich and diverse.  With everything from high-tech future gladiatorial games to a world of farmers whose lives get  both literally and figuratively ripped apart by war.  Or how about a world inhabited by nothing but artificially intelligent homicidal stuffed toys?  Then there are the fights…

…actually the battles while well written are the least important thing in these books for me.  What I love most is the unrequited love story between Owen Deathstalker and Hazel D’Ark.  Almost from the very beginning, you are told that this love will ultimately lead to Deathstalkers downfall. But it’s knowing this and wondering how that drove me to keep reading, even after my favourite character had died.  But we’ll get to her later.

These books really aren’t hard science fiction.  By this I mean the science in them may as well be magic.  They use energy weapons that take minutes to recharge between shots  and so rely instead on swords in ground battles.  But aside from that remarkably little of the technology is really explained and the reader is left to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.  It works extraordinarily well in this case.

But never doubt for a moment that these novels aren’t beautifully crafted.  They are, with some of the most perfectly worded descriptions I have ever read.  They are works where everything combines perfectly to create a near flawless whole.  The descriptions lend weight to the characters, who in turn fill out the universe in way that the descriptions for all their detail and beauty never could.

Speaking of characters and the reason why this set of novels is here, my favourite character and incidentally my favourite science fiction villain of all time.  Empress Lionstone XIV, but I prefer to think of her by her nickname, The Iron Bitch.  Simon R Green achieved with her what very few writers have ever managed for me.  He created a character who makes me anxious every time she appears on the page.  She is devious, cunning, cruel, sadistic and utterly unpredictable.  Basically the perfect sci-fi villain and on her own makes reading this series of books well worth the effort.

1: Dune by Frank Herbert

I am of course speaking here about the original books, not the sequels and prequels based on his notes but written by his son.  Though I do enjoy those books also, but I tend to treat them as simply being well informed fan fiction rather than true sequels or prequels.  Anyway I won’t even try to go into the story of Dune here because I simply can not do it justice.  Instead I’m going to talk about what Dune means to me.

The first novel of this series, Dune, was literally the first science fiction novel I ever read.  To say it had a lasting impression would be like saying that molten iron is hot or that beagle puppies are cute.  Accurate but an insanely massive understatement.  Frank Herberts Dune series is nothing more or less than the yard stick by which I judge every book I read.  And more they are what I aspire to, but know I will most likely never achieve, even after decades of practice as a writer.

They are a flawless masterwork of world-building and storytelling.  Nothing, not even and I know this is almost sacrilege, Lord of the Rings comes close.  His characters inspire, revolt and terrify, sometimes all at the same time.  His descriptions are so powerful that you can sometimes feel the sand of Arrakis under your feet.  To this day when I smell cinnamon all I can think of is Herberts description of Spice.

I could easily write about Dune for hours and end up literally boring a few of you to tears.  But instead I will leave you with a final thought.  Science fiction can be described as an exploration of possible futures where science is just like now a means to advancement.  In Herbert’s future some technology is machine based but some is made from humanities own flesh.  In Dune he forces his readers to wonder what technology truly is and more importantly what it might end up costing us.  In doing so he somehow makes me equally long for and fear that future.

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