Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 20 (Return to Tomorrow)

There were a few Star Trek episodes where I wondered about the implications.  It’s easy enough to write a scenario into a script, but it’s another thing to have actually gone through it or to have to carry it out. As they say, it looks good on paper.  One has to wonder what it actually means to have been implemented.

The Enterprise comes across a planet that’s lifeless and barren.  Except that the crew is greeted by the voice of Sargon, who invites them to a subterranean chamber where he and two others are stored in several orbs.  (The other two are his wife, Thalassa, and his former rival, Henoch.)  The three of them want to use the bodies of Kirk, Spock and a third crewmember to build permanent android bodies for them to live in.

Yes, it’s a risk.  In fact, there’s no good reason why the ship’s top two officers have to volunteer.  There are plenty of security officers onboard.  But, Kirk eventually agrees to let the survivors build their androids.  The androids could last for thousands of years, but will be limited in sensation.  This leads to Henoch wanting to keep Spock’s body.  In the end, the survivors realize that their time has passed.  They agree to depart their respective bodies in peace.

It’s hard to imagine that their consciousnesses were stored in orbs for however many centuries.  It must have been a boring existence.  I can hardly take being trapped indoors for 18 months with COVID.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be contained in such a small space.

You’d think that they would have just gone ahead and built the android bodies.  True, that would have required resources.  The android bodies would require power and they could have been trapped underground anyway.  But, you’d think they’d maybe build a few anyway just to have them ready when a ship came along.

For that matter, it’s stated that their race seeded several other planets elsewhere.  This would mean that they had their own ships, or at least the capability of building them.  Why not build a ship and leave the planet themselves?  Even if they didn’t have warning that their planet would die, they could build enough android bodies to build a ship.  (There were originally more survivors.  Only three orbs made it to the episode’s present day.)

Ultimately, it’s a shame for the race to die out like that.  To spend all those countless years underground in orbs only to give up.  The tantalizing thing is that this is the first real mention of a race that seeded the galaxy.  There were other episodes that alluded to this, although there’s no mention if this is the same race that was seen in The Chase.  Just to have the three survivors pass on some information would have been nice.

I don’t really dwell on this episode, but I often wonder why more wasn’t done to preserve the last of that race.  I also wonder how the three survivors survived for so long and what actually happened to the others.  It would have been nice to know.

 

IMDb page

 



Monday, August 02, 2021

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 19 (A Private Little War)

Many of the stories in Star Trek were allegories.  The problem with this is that sometimes, the meaning is lost.  Take, for instance, A Private Little War.  The Enterprise visits a planet Captain Kirk had visited years before.  The inhabitants are relatively primitive.  They shouldn’t have weapons at all, which makes it surprising when one of the tribes has guns.

Kirk is good friends with a member of another tribe, The Hill People, who doesn’t have weapons.  Kirk’s friend is a member of The Hill People, which allows Kirk to get some information.  The other villagers started using weapons a while back and it was assumed that they were making them.  It turns out that the Klingons are supplying the weapons, which created an imbalance in power.

Now, the Klingons aren’t bound by The Prime Directive, but Kirk is.  He can’t use phasers in front of The Hill People.  He really shouldn’t be giving weapons to them, either, but he feels the best thing for The Hill People is to be put on equal footing. 

The episode was supposed to be a commentary on the Vietnam War.  A lot of that is lost on me, as I’m not very familiar with the context, but some things do come through.  The most notable is that there really isn’t any good option for Kirk.  He can’t stop the Klingons from supplying one tribe.  Even if they seemed to agree, they could turn around and go right back to supplying weapons.

Supplying The Hill People with weapons does seem like it would at least be fair, but more weapons would necessarily balance power.  It could just lead to more violence.  There’s nothing preventing one tribe from stealing the other’s weapons or just killing everyone.  And the Klingons could just as easily supply better weapons.

Escalation solves nothing, but doing nothing isn’t the right answer, either.  I suppose Kirk could call it in.  The Federation and Starfleet must have someone who would be better equipped to handle it.  Still, there is no real good answer to the problem.  The options are to let one group kill the other or make it so both sides could kill each other and hope that neither does.

This is one of those episodes where I would have liked to see some follow up.  There were a few cases where it was a shame we never get to see the consequences of what happened.  This is one of them.

 

 IMDb page


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 18 (The Immunity Syndrome)

Thinking of movies and television of today, I’m sure there are certain things future generations will look back on and will think were strange.  People fly back when being hit by a bullet.  Explosions in space are still somehow fireballs.  But looking back at some of the original Star Trek episodes, I’m forced to wonder who, exactly, was approving the scripts.

Suppose I told you that one episode was about the Enterprise encountering a miles-long amoeba in space.  Oh, and it’s in this area of void space that they can’t see past or get out of right away.  Plus, something about the amoeba and/or the space is draining the ship’s systems and causing the ship to work in reverse.  (Forward thrust makes the ship go backwards, for instance.)  To make matters more confusing, the episode is called The Immunity Syndrome.  I’m not sure where it comes from or what it means, either, but that describes the entire episode for me.

There does seem to be more of a fantasy angle in many of the episodes of The Original Series.  I’m not sure if that was intended or if that’s just what audiences expected.  The entire plot seems to be one where it puts the ship in a dangerous situation.  What makes it suspenseful is that much of it is new and unknown.  Everything is backwards and not as it should be, requiring the crew to think outside the box.

It’s difficult to imagine the crew being in any real danger.  Spock, who goes out in a shuttlecraft, might have to make a sacrifice.  It’s conceivable that one crewmember would be lost.  However, the crew is being affected, as well.  The show can’t maintain the situation forever.

What gets me, mostly, is that The Giant Space Amoeba is dividing.  This means that there are probably more of them out there.  It’s not clear if any more are ever encountered.  If they’re not, it would mean that they might one day fill up the galaxy.  (It’s not clear how long the reproductive cycle is.  They could divide once every few millennia, for all I know.)  Still, I would think that someone, somewhere, would have seen one and gotten away.

To an extent, I could almost see space being the exact opposite of what I’d expect.  There’s no reason to think that space would be within the realm of what I (or anyone else) could imagine.  I’m sure there are all sorts of wild and crazy things out there that no one would be able to explain.

The amoeba is simple and threatening.  It’s fairly clear what has to be done.  It’s a biological invasion on a galactic scale.  The amoeba is big, so you’d think it would be difficult to miss.  It’s possible that the amoebas have eaten every ship it came in contact with.  To that end, you’d think there would be some mention in one of the subsequent series.

Many of the episodes in the original series were one off, meaning you could watch them out of order or skip them entirely.  I’m kind of in the middle on this one.  It is one of the odder episodes from the franchise.  It might be interesting for newcomers to watch just to see how odd it is.  Then again, I wouldn’t recommend making this the first episode you watch.  It might prove too much for a first-time viewer.

 

IMDb page

 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 17 (A Piece of the Action)

The Prime Directive was always a standard in the Star Trek universe.  If a society hadn’t yet reached a certain point in their development, Starfleet vessels weren’t to interfere in their development.  The results could be disastrous.  The society’s development could be stunted or, worse yet, the population might annihilate itself.  A Piece of the Action shows us what that might have looked like.

The Enterprise is responding to the destruction of the Horizon 100 years earlier.  The last planet they visited was Sigma Iotia II, which was said to have a very imitative population.  When the Enterprise gets there, they find the people imitating gangsters of 1920s Chicago.  Why?  Because one of the crewmembers left a book on 1920s Chicago gangster culture.  The Iotians took this book as their new bible.

Kirk doesn’t have to worry so much about the Prime Directive, as the damage has already been done.  The question now is what to do about it.  In dealing with one of the bosses, Bela Okmyx, he realizes that it’s not going to be easy.  As Spock points out, the society is based on what he calls a moral inversion.  There’s no precedent for it in the ship’s computers.  It’s going to take a bit of creativity.

As usual, Kirk and Crew manage to pull it off flawlessly.  Yes, the episode is campy, as usual, but it works here, more than usual.  There’s an underlying feeling that the portrayal of gangs isn’t meant to be accurate.  You know that gangs probably were never like this, but you don’t know anything about who wrote the book.  Also, the Iotians are bound to take a few liberties.  You’re very much in on the joke.

Kirk is, too.  He realizes that it’s impossible to undo the damage.  His best option is to simply roll with it.  He uses their own inertia against them and, ultimately, for their own benefit.  The Iotians will have to be put back on track gradually.  Yes, there’s the issue of having to explain it all to Starfleet.  Kirk admits he has no idea what his report will look like.

It’s not the kind of episode that would call for an all-out sequel, but I would have like a throwaway line or two.  The Next Generation and Voyager dealt with The Prime Directive.  Even Deep Space Nine walked a tightrope with the Bajorans.  The Iotians could have been mentioned as a reason why The Prime Directive is so important.

The kicker is that McCoy left his communicator on the planet, which could mean that the Iotians might one day develop space flight.  I doubt they could build a warp drive from it, but there were apparently some important components in the device.  It might have been interesting to find out what happened to them.

 

IMDb page

 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Grand Theft Auto V

I swore I’d never go back to that airfield.  I hated those flying lessons that took me way too long to beat.  I spent months, on and off, trying to get the controls just right.  Then, GTA V comes along and eventually brings me right back to that same airfield.  The good news is that I didn’t have to do flying lessons again.  The bad news is that the controls were so complex that I nearly regretted buying the game.  At least it didn’t take me several months to master the keypad.

Game play for GTA V is, by and large, the same as GTA IV.  The controls are similar, as are the missions.  The main difference is that you’re now playing as one or three different characters.

You start out with Michael Townley, Trevor Philips, and Brad Snider performing a heist in Ludendorff, North Yankton.  It goes south and all three appear to die.  Cut to several years later in San Andreas.  Franklin Clinton is trying to survive at a legitimate job, except that he has a corrupt boss who isn’t above repossessing a car that was actually paid for.

Unfortunately, that car is used by the son of one Michael De Santa.  De Santa happens to be Townley, who was relocated and set up with a new life in Los Santos by the Federal Investigation Bureau.  Franklin and Michael eventually become friends and start working together.  Eventually, Trevor finds Michael and horns in on the action.

Since Michael has returned to a life of crime, the FIB enlist the trio to attack the International Affairs Agency.  Some of the missions feed into this, like stealing cars for a heist.  Others don’t.  There are also many side missions, like parachuting missions.  Not all of them are necessary to complete the game.

The one package-like mission I tried was collecting the note scraps.  There are fifty scraps that, when put together, create a confession.  This leads to an additional mission that was kind of a letdown.  It was way too simple for the amount of effort I had to put in to collecting the scraps.

There are some upgrades in the game play.  You can now save your progress on your cell phone.  (To be fair, this might have been available in GTA IV.  I’m not sure if I just didn’t notice.)  It does make things a lot easier.  Each character has, at most, two safe houses.  As with GTA IV, this makes going back to your safe house a problem if its way across town.

You also can skip segments of a mission after three attempts.  I’ll admit that this does remove some of the challenge, but after having to remember those flight-school missions, I’m not complaining.  I would occasionally make a fourth or fifth attempt only to realize that it would be way easier and more enjoyable to just skip a difficult section.

The friendship/respect aspect is toned down from GTA IV.  I never really liked that about the previous installment.  This isn’t to say it doesn’t exist.  It’s just not as important.  For instance, Franklin is given a dog to train.  You have to take the dog out for walks and whatnot, although there doesn’t seem to be any negative effect to the dog or anything else if you ignore the dog.

As for switching characters, this is necessary in certain regards. Some missions can only be accessed by one character.  Each character has a different color indicating their missions, so you won’t have to go to a location only to realize you have to switch and start all over.  It also saved me from driving a few times, which is helpful.  For the most part, it’s voluntary, but there will be cases where you have to flip back and forth during a mission.

There are also insane jumps, which act as a collectable.  They’re somewhat difficult to find.  Some are rather easy.  A plank of wood leaning against a wall at just the right incline is likely a stunt.  I was able to complete a few, but I failed a few, as well.  Apparently, they require you to land in a certain zone.  Since it’s not obvious where this zone is, it might take several attempts.  (Note that you have to land upright.  This took me a few tries to figure out.)

There is a casino on the map, but I was never able to access it during normal game play.  From what I’ve read, this only for the multiplayer mode.  To be honest, I didn’t really miss it.  It would have been nice, but it wasn’t really a big deal.

One thing that got me was that the map introduced a fog of war, so to speak, in that you couldn’t see places you hadn’t accessed yet.  I’d hate to fund out there was a way to get rid of this.  Important icons showed up and it didn’t affect GPS directions, but it was a little annoying.  There were even a few points in the game where it reset.  Again, it wasn’t really a deal breaker, but I could have done without it.

One nice upgrade with the map is the ability to save up to ten points of interest.  This was useful to me mostly when I found an insane stunt that I couldn’t complete.  I’d mark it to come back to later.

I downloaded the game through Steam.  I should point out that it was a huge file.  It took a while to download.  (I think the file was something like 70 GB.)  I’m not sure how it works if you get the game on DVD.  They might use compressed files.  It might require a huge download anyway.

Overall, the game was a little shorter than I expected.  Granted, previous games took a while because I couldn’t skip missions.  Having to come back to a difficult mission often created an unavoidable bottleneck.  So, it’s six of one, half a dozen of another.  If I had stuck out all of the missions, the game would have taken me much longer.  But do I need to remind you of that airstrip?

 

IMDb page

 

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Grand Theft Auto IV

It seems that every main character in the Grand Theft Auto franchise has a sordid history.  Usually, they’re a criminal.  Nico Bellic is a little different, though.  He’s been through war.  That’s not to say he hasn’t done some horrible things.  In fact, he’s come to Liberty City to start a new life.  He has his cousin, Roman, to help him out as well as a cast of other characters he meets along the way.

At first, the missions are about getting settled.  Niko needs a place to stay, which he can do at Roman’s place.  However, Niko wants revenge on someone who betrayed his unit.  Niko needs to make connections.  He takes jobs, which usually consist of killing people.  Sometimes, it’s just kidnapping.  Maybe it has to do with drugs.  There are a few occasions where he has to rescue Roman or someone else, but it’s mostly focused on doing jobs no one else wants to do themselves.

The biggest adjustment for me was learning new controls.  I played Grand Theft Auto IV right after finishing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  Driving took some getting used to.   You also have an assortment of side missions similar to San Andreas.  Instead of packages to find, you have pigeons to kill.

Instead of vigilante missions, you now have Liberty City’s most wanted.  Rather than go after random people on the street, you have to find a police car and access the computer to look up individuals and go after them.

There are also individuals you can steal cars for.  It’s not exactly like previous games, but how can you have a game called Grand Theft Auto without a mission or two where you steal cars?  If you want to do taxi missions, you can usually do that, too, but I never found that too exciting.

One thing that kind of got on my nerves is many of the NPCs having both a like and respect rating for Niko.  This goes up based on mission completion and if you hang out with them.  Not hanging out causes your ratings to go down for that character.  It normally doesn’t matter, but there are a few cases where you have to keep it up.  Some of the characters help you, assuming they like and respect you enough.

Usually, a character will call you and ask if you want to do an activity like darts or bowling.  They may also want to go drinking or to a strip club.  It seemed to me that the characters would call right when I’m about to reach someplace that I wanted to go, but it is random.  Also, the character will have you pick them up.  You have one minute, but they are usually on the other side of the map.  Being late causes your rating to go down.  It gets annoying because it’s an element that’s not really necessary, but is sort of forced on you.

The number of save points is drastically reduced.  With the 3D games, like San Andreas, you could buy properties to save the game.  You had to go to one of those locations, but there were a lot of locations to be had, assuming you had enough in-game money.  With this version of Liberty City, you have maybe three or four at a time and the map is large enough that this becomes a chore by itself.  Imagine completing a difficult mission only to have to spend a few more minutes driving to the nearest house.

You also don’t have garages.  You have street-side parking for two vehicles.  This isn’t that annoying because it’s not that difficult to find cars.  It’s only really necessary if there’s a particular model you like or just want to have a car ready for you.

Speaking of which, it seems that the missions all involve a lot of driving.  There’s no way to skip it the first time, but you are allowed to restart at a checkpoint if you fail or get shot or arrested.  This, at least, makes things a little easier.  It was even possible to buy more weapons and body armor before restarting.  (If you don’t take the option to continue before saving, you’ll have to start over.)

The driving is usually to give time for some dialogue, but it’s kind of annoying since Niko always gets stuck with the responsibility.  It would be nice to have someone else take care of it or, maybe, take the subway.  Do we really have to go all the way across the map several times for each mission?

I will say the addition of GPS really helps.  It was usually hard for me to find my way in previous games.  To have a voice assisting me was a big help.  It keeps me from having to check the map every minute or two.

Overall, it’s a good game with a great storyline.  There are a few choices in the game which will affect your path in the game.  (If you want more details on this, there are guides you can look at.  I don’t want to give away too much.)  Of course, it’s as violent as previous entries.  There’s nothing new there.  It does seem a little toned down.  It was a little harder to find weapons and there weren’t any rampages, which I miss, but it is still a great way to take out some frustrations.

Even as someone who has only visited New York City, I was still able to recognize things like Middle Park.  The subway was also a nice addition, although it was usually easier to just drive if you had to get somewhere.  I often had to double back because I had taken the wrong train.  It would have been interesting to see what someone from New York would think of it.  To that end, I’m hoping that if a Grand Theft Auto VI happens, it will be in Vice City.  I’d like to see how Miami gets the HD treatment.

 

IMDb page

 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Trailer for Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard

I just saw the second trailer for Star Trek: Picard and I have one question:  What’s with the communicator that Cristobal Rios is wearing?

It looks like many of the major characters are back from the first season.  Picard is shown wearing an admiral’s uniform.  7 of 9 is shown without her implants.  We even see Agnes Jurati, although it’s not clear what her fate is.  And then, there’s the addition of Q.  Of course, we knew that from the first trailer.

The one scene that I’m talking about is Rios standing on his ship.  He has a Starfleet communicator, but one thing sticks out for me.  It has what appears to be the hilt of a sword or dagger.  We know that there’s supposed to be some aspect of time travel.  Q even says something about “the very end of the road not taken.”

Now, this might be a callback to Tapestry, in which Picard saw what his life was like without his artificial heart.  Of course, Picard was only a lieutenant in that episode and here, he would seem to be in charge of Starfleet.  (I count four pips inside the rectangle.)

However, the dagger would imply that the second season might be visiting The Mirror Universe, even if briefly.  There’s also the voiceover saying that time is broken.  Maybe elements of several timelines have converged, but I haven’t seen anyone else comment on the dagger.  I just wanted to put that out there for anyone who might have picked up on it.