Blake’s 7: First Flight

Some things you don’t want to leave up to chance. Whilst all of Blake’s 7 seems to be freely available via YouTube, with no particular effort by the BBC to get it taken down, at the same time I’d wanted a physical copy of the thing just in case all that changed in the immediate future – plus, getting the proper DVDs likely meant better quality than the YouTube copies. Lo and behold, after Christmas HMV went bust (again), and in the midst of the fire sale I was able to get a boxed set of the complete series for a fraction of the usual price.

I’m going to share my thoughts on Blake’s 7 here, and like my mammoth article on Babylon 5 way back when I’m not going to flinch at dropping spoilers. If you’re averse to spoilers for a show which is now over 40 years old, then to be honest I’m not that fussed about your feelings because there’s a statute of limitations on these things, but don’t complain if you read deeper into the article and encounter spoilers.

Other sources of comparatively fresh Blake’s 7 discussion include the excellent podcast Down and Safe, featuring various professional SF authors taking it in episode by episode, but don’t get your hopes up for them to ever actually finish the damn thing – the update schedule got increasingly glacial, until their season 2 wrapup got released nearly a year and a half ago, so I suspect the odds of them actually getting to the end of season 4 are so remote as to be not worth considering. (Dear Down and Safe crew: I love your work but if you don’t want me saying mean things about your schedule, prove me wrong, mamajamas.)

A non-spoilery observation, by the way: as much as American hegemony is problematic, I am really glad that American English has given us this distinction between “series” and “seasons” in talking about television. In British English, it is the case – or at least used to be the case – that “series” was used to mean both “series” (as in the show as a whole) and “season” (as in a particular run of the show), which in retrospect is tremendously awkward because whenever you mentioned a “series finale” it was unclear whether you meant the final episode of a series ever or just the last episode of the latest run. It feels like we’ve had a bit of a sea-change lately, possibly due to the boxed set/Netflix streaming era making it more common to consume TV by the season and so much of the fodder for that coming from America.

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He Was Turned To Steel, In a Yaoi Magnetic Field…

The Tetsuo movies by Shinya Tsukamoto get mentioned whenever you look at the Japanese cyberpunk genre. “Japanese cyberpunk” is simultaneously a very apt and a very misleading term; on the one hand, it does touch on a whole heap of the same themes as the rest of cyberpunk, but on the other it does so with such a different and idiosyncratic approach that sometimes those links aren’t so apparent. That’s especially true of the Tetsuo material, where Tsukamoto has this regular habit of slowing the plot down to an absolute crawl so he can communicate a particular idea in excruciating detail, usually by throwing in a surreal sequence comes across more as an Einstürzende Neubauten music video than an attempt at conventional cinematic narrative.

This is especially true of the first one, Tetsuo: The Iron Man. It wears its Eraserhead influence on its sleeve and it’s widely seen as being similarly plotless, but I actually think the plot here is much more straightforward than Eraserhead – it’s just that the plot is sufficiently thin that if it weren’t for the highly unusual manner of its delivery, the movie would be done in 10 minutes (and as it stands it barely breaks an hour in running time).

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Kickstopper: Big Trouble In CyberChina

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Back when I started doing these Kickstopper articles, the first one was for Shadowrun Returns, a rather successful bid to redeem the Shadowrun IP on the videogame front. I’d actually played Shadowrun: Hong Kong, its sequel, a while back, and had even written the review, but I inadvertently didn’t get around to posting it. Better late than never, though…

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

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Nirvana In Mirrorshades

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

If you’ve enjoyed the Persona games – I’ve previously provided reviews of the first, third and fourth – then odds are that sooner or later you’re going to want to explore the wider Shin Megami Tensei series of demon summoning-themed JRPGs. What you discover is a mixed bag; most of the other branches of the series eschew the high school life simulation visual novel and dating sim influences of the Persona games (and only Persona 3 and Persona 4 actually focus on that), and whilst sometimes their surreal takes on fairly standard JRPG plotlines can be quite interesting, other times the games can get bogged down in repetitiveness and tedium. On top of that, there’s a sprawling morass of side-series which, like Persona, take the demon-summoning concept and put their own spin on it.

One of these is Digital Devil Saga – not to be confused with Digital Devil Story, the strapline for the original NES-era Megami Tensei games. Digital Devil Saga was a Playstation 2-exclusive duo of games which emerged after Lucifer’s Call – the sole game of the core Shin Megami Tensei series to get a PS2 release – and before Persona 3 came along to both redefine the gameplay of the Persona series and radically expand the bounds of what you could do in a Shin Megami Tensei game.

Consequently, what you might to expect to deal with here – both from the title being highly reminiscent of the original series and the fact that it preceded Persona 3 – is a more traditional Shin Megami Tensei game, and for the most part that’s what you get. So any of y’all who were hoping for another life simulation will probably be better off waiting for the recently-announced Persona 5.

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Kickstopper: The Three Stigmata of Ada Lovecraft

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

All Good Crowdfunds Must Come To An End

Kickstarter is a big deal these days. Sooner or later, we’ll all collectively get tired of it and the bubble will burst. For the moment it’s just about sustaining itself, but sooner or later we’ll all get tired of blindly pumping money into whatever projects happen to catch our eye.

When that happens, the Kickstarter projects that thrive will be those with credibility behind them – and what better way to build credibility than to have a previous successful Kickstarter project already under your belt? That’s why I think reviews of completed Kickstarter projects have an unusual importance: not only are they about offering a critique of the product that’s been delivered, but they’re also a chance for the reviewer to give their opinion as to whether it’s worth the risk backing subsequent Kickstarters from the same creators. This is relevant not just because of the large sums that are riding on Kickstarters these days, but also because more and more people are becoming serial Kickstarters. For instance, InXile are two Kickstarters deep in the isometric RPG field, for instance, with their earlier Kickstarter project (Wasteland 2) still not finished, though to be fair we’re still months away from the originally projected Wasteland 2 release date and inXile have given a fairly credible explanation of why they’re timing things the way they are. Conversely, Double Fine – who catalysed the Kickstarter videogame boom with Double Fine Adventure – still haven’t delivered on that one, are looking to go way, way over schedule, and are confessing to some mild budgeting problems, but are pushing ahead with a new Kickstarter for Massive Chalice anyway.

Because I’m arrogant and like to grandstand, I’ve decided that a new series of Ferretbrain articles are the solution to all this. The idea is that Kickstopper is all about reviewing the detritus of Kickstarter projects I and other Ferretbrain contributors participate in: when all the excitement of the funding period is over, when the thrill and frustration of waiting is in the past, when we’ve hit the point where either the products are in people’s hands, the refunds have been distributed, or the project creators have vanished in a puff of acrimony and threatened lawsuits, Kickstoppers are about gathering the detritus of what’s left behind and asking the question “was it worth it”?

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GOGathon: Beneath a Substandard Script

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

As you might remember, a little while ago I played through Gemini Rue, a cyberpunk point and click adventure. I enjoyed it so much that it got me back in a point-and-click mood, and it also made me remember that I had a free copy of Beneath a Steel Sky that GOG.com gave me when I signed up with them knocking about in my account. I remembered owning the thing when it first came out on Amiga and vaguely liking it back in the day, but I clearly didn’t like it enough to keep hold of it. High time, then, to give it another go, and with Shimmin happy for me to climb on the GOGathon bandwagon I thought I’d share my thoughts under that flag.

Designed by Revolution Software in association with Dave “I Drew Watchmen” Gibbons, the game buys into the 2000 AD comic book aesthetic enough that a small free comic actually came with the game to summarise the backstory. (A PDF of the comic comes with the GOG version, though it isn’t especially necessary since the opening cut scene of the game simply presents the frames from the comic book with the voice actors reading the lines.) The action takes place in a world reminiscent of the Judge Dredd setting with the serial numbers filed off and some more generic cyberpunk concepts parachuted in. After a nebulous disaster took out the ecosystem as it formerly existed, most of humanity lives in tightly packed enclosed cities whose spires soar unto the heavens and whose foundations extend deep under the Earth. The game’s main setting takes place in Mega-City One Union City, a fascistic city-state in fierce competition with the Hobart Corporation which controls the main rival city. Union City’s ace in the hole is LINC, the AI which controls the city’s automated services, sets its policies and whose information terminals, cameras, and laser turrets are found all over.

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I Took a Trip On a Gemini Rue Ship

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

One of the benefits of backing Double Fine Adventure is that the backer forums are stuffed with people who have kept in much closer touch with the point-and-click adventure scene over the past few decades than I have, and consequently have some inkling of what’s hot and what’s not (even if this is filtered through an audience who will tend to get enthusiastic for any game in the genre which isn’t inept on a Limbo of the Lost scale).

One recommendation which came up there regularly is Gemini Rue, an indie point-and-click written by Joshua Nuernberger using Adventure Game Studio and published through Wadjet Eye Games. (You can get it on Steam or GOG.) In terms of its graphics and interface is more or less in keeping with point-and-clicks of the genre’s 1990s zenith; the controls incorporate both inventory and command verbs into a small box which appears when you right-click on something, thus maximising screen real estate without reducing your interactions with things to “look at something” and “interact with something” as some late-period point-and-clicks did, and I think there’s occasional bits of graphical flair which old 486 machines would have struggled with (like the rain), but by and large if you have played any vintage graphical adventures you will find this format very familiar and if you haven’t it shouldn’t be too difficult to get to grips with.

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