So what the heck happened to Picard's dog?! Number One was my favorite character in the premiere, but then he completely disappeared from the entire rest of the show and hasn't even been mentioned since. Were his inclusions in the premiere nothing more than reshoots that were thrown in at the last minute, after much of the rest of the show had been scripted and filmed?

Picard's home was broken into and Picard physically assaulted. The dog was nowhere to be seen. Guess he's not much of a guard dog, huh? I don't even think Picard bothered to ask if Number One was alive after the attack. For all he knew, the Romulan assassins murdered his dog. There's also no tearful "good bye" when Picard has to leave the planet on a potentially dangerous mission, or talk of who might take care of the dog if Picard doesn't return. On the upside, at least the writers didn't kill the dog as an excuse to turn Picard into "space John Wick", in the same fashion that the TNG movies used Picard as a "space John McClane".

Then again, bringing up an idea or character, only to completely drop it by the end of an episode with no real exploration of the concept or character seems to be the modus operandi of Star Trek: Picard.

I gave a lot of leeway to the premiere. I even said that I want to "delight of having just watched a new piece of Star Trek media that I didn't hate". Well that lack of hatred didn't last long. Each episode of Picard just got progressively worse and worse.

If not for the fact that I intended to write a full season review, I would have stopped watching the show by episode 4.

What happened to Picard's dog, Number One? He just disappears from the show after the first episode!

Just as I feared, Star Trek; Picard isn't about the rights of androids or the moral imperative to provide humanitarian relief to refugees (whether those refugees happen to be Romulans or ex-Borg). These things are dominant themes, but they aren't what the plot or story is actually about, nor does it ever become the ultimate message of the show. I think the overall message was supposed to be to not let your fear and prejudice turn you into a genocidal monster, but even that happens in a lazy, eleventh-hour "twist" that I thought made no sense. The actual plot is about conspiracies to cover up the existence of robot Lovecraft monsters from another dimension, and to stop androids from inevitably summoning them to kill all humans. Yep, that's Star Trek canon now. Go figure...

Picard facepalm

In the meantime, the episode-by-episode (and minute-to-minute) scripting is trying too hard to be like Firefly or any other grungy sci-fi series from the past 20 years. Now, I love Firefly. I also praise The Mandalorian for taking cues from Firefly. But The Mandalorian is set in the Star Wars universe, which was always a grungy universe that contained lovable rogues and scrappy survivors. Star Trek has never been that kind of universe. It's the antithesis of that kind of universe. If I wanted to watch a dark and gritty cowboy / ronin space adventure, then I'll watch The Mandalorian, or I'll go back and watch Firefly or Battlestar Galactica again. Or I'll check out The Expanse or Dark Matter or Altered Carbon or Westworld, or any one of a dozen other sci fi shows that have come and gone in the past 20 years and have borrowed heavily from that same aesthetic. Or I'll play Mass Effect 3, which Picard seems to have blatantly plagerized.

I don't watch Star Trek for that. I watch Star Trek for thought-out, uplifting, cerebral science fiction about an optimistic future that I hope humanity eventually achieves.

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I'm late to this party. With Avengers: Endgame due out in the next couple weeks, I finally got around to seeing Captain Marvel. I had planned to see it with a friend the week after release, but illness and work got in the way, so we never made it out. Also, I just haven't been out to movies much since being blown away by Into the Spider-Verse -- seriously, it's out on home video and streaming, go watch it! There's a few other movies that I've been wanting to see, and I'm going to try really hard to not miss them in theaters. I'm really looking forward to Jordan Peele's new movie, Us, which I'm hoping to see this week or next. And apparently, DC's Shazam! might actually be good?!

But I finally had a weekend afternoon to myself, and decided to go to Captain Marvel, since my girlfriend didn't want to see it. As is par for the Marvel movies, it's good enough. Marvel has yet to produce a true flop, but I feel like Captain Marvel is a bit of a regression considering the studio's recent track record.

I like when the Marvel movies experiment with genre, but Captain Marvel remains a pretty standard fare origin story.

The big problem is that we're back to origin stories. Spider-Man: Homecoming smartly passed on re-re-telling the story of how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, and was all the better for it. Recent movies like Black Panther, Guardians vol. 2, and [especially] Infinity War, had moved beyond the dull origin stories and un-interesting, cookie-cutter villains to offer truly engaging and transcendent films. Captain Marvel kind of falls in with Doctor Strange as being a passable -- but ultimately skippable -- entry. At least it isn't as contradictory as Doctor Strange.

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This War of Mine: the Little Ones

It was a long wait to get this DLC on PC and Steam. It originally released back in January on consoles, while we early adopters of the PC version were stuck waiting out in the cold with no clue whether or not we'd ever get the expansion. I wanted to play it, but I was hoping that a PC version would be released because I was skeptical that controlling a shelter full of characters with only an analog stick (and no pause button) would be unweildy. But it finally did get a release on Steam, and was even discounted during the Steam Summer Sale, so there was no way that I was going to pass that up.

The base version of This War of Mine is a fantastic game and ranks up there with Papers, Please, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Ace Combat 4 as one of the best games about war that I've ever played. This War of Mine is a very harsh, brutal, and depressing game. But if you didn't think that it was a depressing enough game to begin with, then wait till you play it with children as playable characters! The expansion adds some new scenarios with child characters as well as a handful of child-specific craftable items, but it's surprisingly skimpy on new content. As far as I can tell, there are no new scavenge locations, ambient events, or neighbor events.

This War of Mine - a child was hurt
If the game wasn't already difficult and depressing enough, now you have to keep children safe as well.

The trauma of war

Children can be both a burden and a blessing in this game. By default, they can't perform most crafting, they can't shovel away rubble or unlock blocked doors, they can't be sent out to scavenge at night, and they can't do anything to guard or protect the shelter from raids. At the start, they are basically just extra mouths to feed that have the potential to consume more of your valuable medicines and bandages, but they can't contribute directly to your survival. They can also be particularly needy, and their needs can be tough to meet as you struggle just to get the basics like food, water, and an assembly line of crafting stations.

However, it won't stay like this for long, as children can be taught to do many of the same crafting tasks that the adults can do...

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This War of Mine - game title

Games have an awkward relationship with war. Most games embrace violence and conflict because they are very easily simulated by computers and mapped to a set of easy-to-understand mechanics. Computers aren't as good at understanding or reacting to speech or emotion as they are at allowing a character to move around in a space and at tracing the path of a bullet or artillery shell. So when a game is about war, it's almost always told from the perspective of a soldier, someone actively participating in the war. And that character's participation is usually presented as noble and honorable, with the people that you are shooting being given little - if any - humanization at all. In many cases, the games will go out of their way to de-humanize the player's opponents by presenting them as literal demons, aliens, or the so-easy-to-hate Nazis.

While there are plenty of examples of games that deal with the behind-the-scenes causes and effects of a war, or the politics of conflict, these elements very rarely appear as central gameplay elements (outside of grand strategy games like Civilization, Total War, or Europa Universalis). Usually, the player plays on the battlefield, and any politics or effects beyond the battlefield are just material for non-playable cutscenes. At best, you might end up with a game that puts the player in the middle of the battle, but which has civilian characters that play a large role in the story.

One of my favorite games of the PS2-era is Ace Combat 4, which is a jet fighter combat game that found a comfortable middle-ground between flight sim and arcade shooter. Its narrative revolved around a child living in an occupied city, who befriends the ace fighter pilot of the occupying nation's air force. The player, however, takes on the role of a nameless, faceless ace fighter pilot belonging to the opposing liberation force. This created a fascinating dichotomy in which your success in missions resulted in defeats for the enemy ace who was the focus of the narrative. He falls into depression and alcoholism as the player systematically shoots down his wingmen and friends, and it served to humanize both sides of the conflict and exposed the human cost of war. One man's victory is the other's defeat. Your own victories became increasingly bittersweet as the game neared its final mission. It was a beautifully constructed scenario that has stuck with me to this day. I suspect that This War of Mine will leave a similar impact on me.

This War of Mine - stockpile
The logistics of keeping your shelves stocked with food and medicine is the primary challenge.

This War of Mine also reminds me of my visit to the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, U.K. this past January. I was really surprised by the difference in presentation that museum had as opposed to most museums that I visit in the United States. Whereas a museum in the U.S. will focus on exhibits of weapons, uniforms, vehicles, battle tactics, and politics behind wars, the IWM was focused primarily around the civilian costs of the two World Wars. It featured exhibits about food and material shortages, how women had to work as battlefield nurses and in factories, and how supplies were moved between cities under siege. It presented the wars as much more personal and ignoble and focused on how it affected people's day-to-day lives, and how the majority of people simply had to live through it. That's the same approach that the Polish studio behind This War of Mine took for their survival game.

Behind the lines

This War of Mine doesn't take place on the front lines or the battlefields. Instead of controlling a soldier, you play as a group of survivors in a rebellious city under siege. You have found a shelled building that you have claimed as a shelter, and every night, you must send one of your group out to scavenge one of various sites around the city for food, medicines, and other supplies to enable your group to [hopefully] survive till the end of the war. In the meantime, those who stay in the shelter must contend with the risk of being raided by other survivors during the night and having your hard-earned supplies stolen from under your own nose - or worse: somebody being hurt or killed.

This War of Mine - shelter
Your close-knit group of survivors must build and defend a shelter and scavenge for supplies.

The result is a game loaded to the brim with choices and consequences. How do your survivors spend their daytime hours? What items do you attempt to craft from your middling inventory of supplies? How do you defend yourself from raids? Do you send your one gun out with your scavenger in case he runs into hostile bandits, or keep it at home to defend your shelter from raids? Who do you send out each night to scavenge? Where do they go? And what do they bring back with them? The "rogue-like" fashion of the gameplay means that there's no undoing and no retries. This, combined with the scarcity of resources, makes every choice, every action, and every death is permanent. This gives a great deal of weight to all those choices that the game gives you.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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