Last week, just in time for the announcement (and release) of a new expansion for Cities: Skylines, I posted a video analysis on YouTube discussing what I perceive as weaknesses in the modular design philosophy behind Skylines' myriad expansion packs. The full video is available on YouTube (and embedded below), but I've also transcribed the text in blog form for those who may prefer reading over watching/listening.

The video is up on YouTube.

I want to start out by saying that I love Cities: Skylines. Skylines is -- without a doubt in my mind -- the single best city-builder since SimCity 4, which released in 2003 (over 15 years ago, as of the time of this recording). When I watched the first trailer for the game, in which the player apparently custom-builds freeway ramps and interchanges from scratch (at about 40 seconds into the trailer), I was sold on this game! After years of having to use boring, pre-fabricated stock on-ramps and interchanges, the little civil engineer withing me practically jizzed in his pants at the idea of being able to build my own highway ramps and interchanges! And there was no looking back.

Cities: Skylines gloriously succeeds where games like SimCity (2013) and Cities XL miserably failed. It picks up the mantle of the great SimCity games of yester-decade, and brings it into the 21st century with deep simulation based on agents, a sleek and modern UI, extensive customizability and moddability, and an attractive 3-D graphics engine. It's made all the more impressive by the fact that the game's developer, Colossal Order, is a small, independent studio that had something like nine people working for it when the game initially launched. And a company with all the manpower and resources of Electronic Arts only managed to produce a flop like SimCity 2013.

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Star Trek Voyager cast

Don't worry, I'm almost done venting my frustrations with Star Trek: Voyager. The first post was about how the show failed to build on its foundations, and the second post was about how the show was a Next Gen copy-cat. This will be the third (and last) post exclusively dedicated to bashing on Voyager. If I decide to write anything further about Voyager, it will probably be about the things that I actually like about the series. I want to re-emphasize that I don't hate Star Trek: Voyager as a TV show. I feel that it was very mediocre, and I'm disappointed that it failed to deliver on its potential.

Even though I don't hate the series as a whole, the one thing that I actually do absolutely loathe about the series is its finale: "Endgame".

Voyager's "Endgame" is a lazy, contrived, cop-out of a finale.

Endgame is one of the worst episodes of Voyager, and might very well be one of the worst episodes in all of Star Trek! OK, it's not "The Omega Glory" or "The Alternative Factor" or "Sub Rosa" bad, but it's pretty terrible! I honestly do not understand how it keeps making lists of "best Voyager episodes". About the only redeeming factor of this episode (in my mind) is that the inclusion of Klingon Captain Korath (and his possession of a time-travel device) indirectly cannonizes Star Trek: the Experience -- and kind of indirectly canonizes me!

"Endgame" is a schlocky action adventure that basically perfectly represents all of Voyager's weaknesses as a show. It's too dependent on its TV-budget CGI Borg special effects. It makes Seven of Nine out to be the most important character on the show (she is the most important character, but the show doesn't have to continually force it down our throats). It's selfish and pretentious. It's fan-servicy.

The inclusion of Captain Korath's time travel device indirectly canonizes Star Trek: the Experience.

"Endgame" is too concerned with its gimmick to really care much about the characters. So much so that it literally manifests a significant (but ultimately arbitrary) romance between two main characters out of nowhere with no build-up at all and in complete contrast to any development that had already been happening. Even the actors thought this romance sub-plot came out of nowhere and blindsided them!

Lastly, "Endgame" is also a rehash of an earlier Voyager episode: "Timeless" (in which Harry Kim goes back in time to save Voyager from crashing), while at the same time trying to be a lazy rehash of TNG's brilliant and beautiful finale "All Good Things..." -- but without the brilliance or beauty.

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Star Trek Voyager cast

In my last post, I vented some of my frustrations with Star Trek: Voyager. Primarily, I ranted about how the series mostly failed to follow through with its central premise of being about the ship being lost and isolated on the other side of the galaxy. But I still have more complaints with Voyager. A side effect of the show not following its "lost and alone" premise to its logical conclusion, the show ended up feeling like it was trying too hard to be a Next Generation copy-cat.

Steve Shives also brought up this complaint in his Youtube video "What's My Problem With Voyager?", and I echo the criticism. Voyager had the frustrating habit of retelling stories that had already been told (usually better) in Next Generation. Star Trek shows have always repeated archetype characters, but TNG and Deep Space Nine were very good about paying homage to the earlier shows, without outright copying them.

Many characters feel like slight variations of characters from TOS and TNG.

For example, it could be argued that Data in TNG is a copy-cat of Spock. Dr. McCoy, after all, frequently referred to Spock as a "computer", and Mr. Data is [literally] a computer. But Data isn't a copy-cat of Spock. He's actually more a reflection of Spock (though, admittedly, Spock's arc in the movies and in "Unification" does paint him as being more similar to Data). Spock (in the Original Series) derided his humanity and fought very hard to subdue and quell it. Spock was like a Dr. Jekyll who thought his human half was the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Data, on the other hand, inverts this concept and is more of a Pinocchio (which Riker explicitly spells out for us in "Encounter At Farpoint").

Data wasn't a copy of Spock, he was an inverted reflection.

Also, Spock was dueling with his human half throughout the Original Series and into the movies. That's a dynamic that isn't present in Data at all. That dynamic is present, however, in Worf! Then, of course, there's the whiz kid element of Spock's character, which was transcribed onto Wesley in TNG. So TNG took inspiration from the Original Series' most popular character (Spock), but instead of copying him with minor variations, it split Spock's attributes into multiple characters.

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Star Trek Voyager cast

A couple years ago, I wrote about the show that I wish Star Trek: Enterrpise had been. Enterprise completely dropped the ball as a prequel and as a bridge between our time and the time of the original Star Trek, by screwing up at fundamental levels of its conception and design. But Enterprise wasn't the first Star Trek series to do this. Its immediate predecessor, Star Trek: Voyager had already started this trend, which has sadly carried onto into all incarnations of Star Trek since.

I rarely talk much about the reasons that I think Voyager is an inferior show to Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. The closest I've come so far was my rant about the Borg, a brief retrospective as part of the 50th anniversary, and a few off-hand jabs at Voyager in some of my other Star Trek posts. This past summer, Steve Shives published a video on Youtube called "What's My Problem with Voyager?" in which he vents some of the same complaints that I have. Steve has some pretty excellent content on his channel, and I highly recommend checking him out if you enjoy my Star Trek content. Anyway, his video inspired me to vent some of my own frustrations with Voyager that he either didn't cover, or for which I feel I have additional insight.

Steve Shives, creator of "Trek, Actually", posted his problem with Voyager on Youtube.

Just like Steve, I want to start by stressing that I don't hate Star Trek: Voyager. I don't think it's as good as its predecessors, but it's perfectly watchable.

When I first started drafting this, it was going to be a short list of complaints. However, as I re-watched the show, the post ballooned with examples. As such, I'm going to split this into several parts. This first part will probably be the longest (so bear with me please) and will focus on what I perceive as a failure of Star Trek: Voyager to adequately build upon the foundations of its premise. The next post will be about how I perceive Voyager as a lazy copycat of The Next Generation.

At a conceptual level, Voyager begins with two foundational pillars: the ship is stranded on the opposite end of the galaxy; and a quarter of the crew has been replaced by Maquis freedom fighters and terrorists instead of trained Starfleet personnel. The show almost completely whiffs on both of these concepts. I would say that there are also two other foundational pillars of the show, but each of these only lasts for half the series. In the first half of the series, a major source of conflict is the fact that Voyager possesses technology far superior to the races and civilizations that it encounters; thus, bringing the Prime Directive into sharp focus and testing the crew's resolve to obey the Directive in such desperate circumstances. In the second half of the series, we have the Borg (which I will be discussing again).

Voyager is isolated and alone, without the resources of the Federation or a starbase.

All four of these are very strong concepts and well worth exploring. Unfortunately, Voyager almost completely abandons its two initial foundations, and (again) completely whifs when it comes to the Borg (though, admittedly, a big part of that is Star Trek: First Contact's fault). The only concept that Voyager really sticks the landing on is the idea of technological disparity between Voyager and its foes in the first couple seasons.

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Madden NFL - title

I think I've finally decided to take a stab at some long-form video analysis and critique on Youtube. My first go at this came in the form of a nearly-hour-long breakdown of my frustrations with the Madden NFL video game series (broken up into 2 parts). For the benefit of my readers, I'm also transcribing the video onto this blog post. Though reading this post will certainly convey all the same points that I make in the video, I still highly recommend watching the video, as the video footage included will do a better job than screenshots of demonstrating the problems I report. The entire video is embedded below.

If you want to see more (better-produced) video content like this from me, then I invite you to support me on Patreon.

Watch the full video on Youtube.

EA's ethos of releasing a new Madden entry every single year has become a tremendous detriment to the game as a whole. Modern games have become very large, very complicated, and very expensive to create, and every game series that has relied on an annual release cycle has, in my opinion, suffered for it. Even companies like Ubisoft have recognized this, which is why the company has decided to end the cycle of annual Assassin's Creed releases, opting instead for a major release every two or three years, with some large-scale DLC and expansions to fill out the intervening period. Despite re-using the same game engines, the huge cost of creating a new game every year stretches the company's resources further than they can go. Though I still didn't think that Assassin's Creed: Origins was particularly great, the game still clearly benefited from the extra design and development time that the year's hiatus provided, and the general internet consensus is that the game is very good.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey was released only a year after Origins, and it looks like a terrible, derivative, waste of time fueled by a grindy micro-transaction economy pulled straight out of a mobile free-to-play game, except with a $60 upfront price tag. We'll have to wait and see if Ubisoft follows through on its promise to "spend more time making fewer, better games", or if it goes back to milking its franchises with slapped-together annual releases.

EA's Madden game is in an even worse boat than Assassin's Creed was in. Not only is Madden an annual release, but it's internal resources are being stretched out between multiple, completely divergent game modes! EA has to chose how much resources to devote to each of these modes, and that commitment comes at the expense of the other modes. In addition to having to make general gameplay improvements every year, the team is also tasked with coming up with new features and improvements for Franchise mode, Ultimate Team, and now Longshot. They're basically developing three different games, and trying to squeeze them all into a single annual release cycle.


Madden's resources are divided between three divergent game modes every year!

Worse yet, one of these game modes clearly makes a lot more money than the others...

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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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