As Battlestar Galactica approaches its endgame, I’ve had cause to think back to a simpler time when Cylons were just stuntment in shiny suits and in no way resembled Tricia Helfer.
It may seem absurd now, but back in the day (1978) the original Galactica series was seen as a pretty big deal. Aside from a couple of delightfully dreadful imported sci-fi flicks–Japan’s Message from Space and Italy’s Star Crash–it was the first true response to the genre-busting Star Wars. At a time before VCRs, when the best Star Wars home viewing experience one could hope for was an eight-minute Super 8 film compilation, the thought of a big-budget space combat show being beamed into one’s household every week was pretty damned exciting.
Midway through its first and only season, though, I found myself understating: “This could be a whole lot better.” For me, the problem wasn’t just the obvious stuff like the monkey in the robot dog suit. I was bothered not only by the frequently-recycled special effects but by the plots lifted wholesale from other movies, among them Shane and The Guns of Navarone. And I began to think the thing that so many fanboys before or since have thought about their own particular obsessions: “I could make this better.”
So I began to think of changes both large and small that I would make to Galactica if I had the chance to start it over. Some were admittedly superficial. I wanted the Viper space fighters to have guns that fired backwards; why allow a Cylon raider to sneak into your “six” unchallenged? Some were in the interest of better storytelling. I wanted to go back to the original premise of the Cylons being lizard-like aliens before ABC’s Network Standards and Practices division decreed that such a kid-friendly series should instead use robots for its cannon fodder. Robots, I thought, were much less interesting than thinking, feeling opponents.
But what really influenced me more than anything was a Japanese animated series that aired briefly on weekday afternoons before being shunted off to the hell of early morning TV: Star Blazers (aka Space Cruiser Yamato). In some ways, Yamato was Galactica, only the Japanese did it first. For that matter, Yamato predates Star Wars itself by several years, which, given George Lucas’ attraction to Japanese culture, should be food for thought.
In its English-dubbed form, Star Blazers told the serialized story of a literal space battleship–the World War II-era Yamato–pulled from the sea bed, outfitted with an interstellar drive, and rechristened the Argo. It was humanity’s last hope of saving planet Earth from constant nuclear bombardment by the alien Gamilons, set off on a long voyage in search of the “Cosmo DNA” device that would remove the radioactivity and restore the environment.
One of the things I liked most about Star Blazers–aside from the numerous space battles–was its even-handed treatment of its villains. An early episode featured the crew of the Argo meeting a wounded Gamilon soldier face to face for the first time and realizing that their enemies had their own hopes and fears. Even their dreaded leader Desslok was an honorable figure who later became one of the Argo’s staunchest allies.
Another thing that pulled me in was the serialized story. Now, Galactica also had a story progression of sorts, but not so obvious as the one seen here, with its one-year timeline and frequently referenced doomsday countdown. (Each episode ended with a subtitle declaring, “The Argo has only X days left!”) Season-long story arcs were unknown on American TV at the time.
What I wanted to see from Galactica was even more ambitious, something akin to what eventually happened with Babylon 5: the multi-year story arc. Knowing full well that Galactica would probably wind up like Gilligan’s Island, with the entire premise negated if they ever reached “home,” I tried to think beyond that. And I came up with my own five-year plan:
- Year One: The Colonials flee from the pursuing Cylons. (Pretty much what we actually got in that first and only season.)
- Year Two: The Galactica escapes the Cylon sphere of influence and has various unrelated adventures in space.
- Year Three: The Galactica reaches Earth, and has to build up its defenses against a presumed Cylon offensive. (Kinda like Galactica: 1980, only not lame.)
- Year Four: Cylons launch wave after wave of attacks against the Colonials’ new home, and are finally repelled.
- Year Five: Emboldened, the Galactica makes a perilous voyage back and strikes to eliminate the Cylon threat once and for all.
Oddly enough, I never had the opportunity to put my plan into action. But in 1986, I spent several months interning at Stephen J. Cannell Productions in Hollywood, fresh out of college with intentions of being a network TV writer. This was back when Cannell was at its peak, producing The A-Team as one of a half-dozen series. (Most of which were cancelled by the time my internship was up, which is one reason I never became established in Hollywood.) I was assigned to hang out with one of their producers, and one day I told him that what I really wanted to do if I had the chance was to remake Galactica and do it right.
I don’t recall the exact response, but it was something akin to “Why would you want to do that? Who would want to see a remake of a failed TV show?”
Wonder if the Vipers will shoot backwards this time.
It’s been pointed out to me that I haven’t blogged in some time. Indeed, when I logged into this site this morning, I was surprised to find that it had been longer than even I’d thought: twelve days since the last post. So, to the dozen of people who stroll by here on occasion, my apologies.
I attribute the silence to a combination of work-related issues, a massive amount of cleaning necessitated by the aftermath of Basement 2.1, and the visit of my good friend Dave Lartigue, who has been staying with us since last Friday while handling his own work-related issues here in Champaign.
Oh, and an awful lot of Spore. Once I hit the Space Stage of the game, I found the experience very addictive. The Spore galaxy is made up of what appears to be thousands of star systems. And unlike a lot of space exploration games, you are by no means expected to visit them all. I have perhaps a dozen or so planets in my little empire, and they’re about all I can effectively manage. It seems as if I’m always being called home to handle some sort of environmental disaster or fend off yet another attack by the Grox.
Ah, the Grox. The constant thorn in the side of every Spore player. A thoroughly belligerent alien species that starts the game pissed off at the player and generally grows in anger with each successive contact. I understand that it’s possible to come to terms, and even to ally with the Grox, but at the cost of every other species in the game hating you.
When one isn’t defending colonies from the Grox, there’s a lot to do. I particularly enjoy terraforming planets to support my type of life form. Over time, the player acquires tools that allow one to coax the atmosphere and temperature into the habitable range, and then to transport various species abducted from other planets to form a “food web.” I like watching the planetary conditions change in response to my ministrations, and love the planetary sculpting and painting functions. The latter make me feel like I’m one of the custom planet-designers from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
While I may have found some of the earlier stages of Spore a bit lacking, what I do like about them is the way that they inform this final section of the game. A player will find planets at every level of development. Back in the Creature Stage, one would experience mysterious circumstances such as meteor showers or hovering spacecraft abducting fellow nestmates. In the Space Stage, the player is the one calling down those meteors and snatching the locals.
In addition, the online aspect of Spore means that your personal galaxy is filled with a potentially infinite number of life forms and structures designed by other players. There’s always something new to find.
This weekend, while Dave L. was asleep fighting off a bad cold, I decided to make the perilous journey to the galactic core. Which, unfortunately, is surrounded by thousands of star systems…all inhabitated by angry Grox. After a dozen or so tries, I finally reached it. And met Steve, of whom I will speak no more.
And then I buzzed the Grox world closest to the core, and dropped a Planet Buster bomb on it. It felt good.
On Wednesday, President Obama signed into law a delay to the previously announced analog television shut-off “hard” date. Instead of February 17, all U.S. TV broadcasters are now mandated to turn off their analog transmitters on June 12. This change was made in response to concerns over the long waiting list for digital converter box coupons, as well as surveys which suggest that millions of Americans are not yet ready for the switch.
However that doesn’t mean that all broadcasters will be waiting those extra four months. To the contrary, 491 television stations had filed with the FCC that they intended to turn off their analog transmitters on February 17 regardless of any delay. Many were reportedly doing so because of the extra expense involved in powering and maintaining a second transmitter for four additional months. Yesterday, the FCC allowed 368 of them to pull the plug. The other 123 have been denied, as many were in markets where all of the commercial stations planned to go dark.
The result? Instead of a single, national termination date, we’ve got a rolling shut-off situation. In our market, the ABC, NBC, Fox and CW affiliates will all switch off their analog next Tuesday, while in the nearby Peoria market, only ABC will remain on the air. In my view, it’s a big mess.
What irritates me is that we did our part in the education effort. In addition to all of the federally-mandated spots and crawls that we aired, we went far beyond minimum expectations. We held a digital TV open house, and we made dozens of in-person presentations throughout our coverage area. I personally hit the rubber-chicken circuit with my own Power Point presentation. Now we’re going to have to tell our audience “Just kidding!” Blurg.
A real-life Warhammer 40,000 Rhino transport, built to promote the next Dawn of War PC game.
I’m having entirely too much fun recreating the classic Dungeons & Dragons canon in Spore. Unfortunately, it looks as if a gelatinous cube may be out of the question for now. But here’s a carrion crawler doing a little dance!
Here are two more iconic Dungeons & Dragons critters recreated in Spore. In both cases, I went back to the original Chinese plastic toys that Gary Gygax appropriated for the game.
The bulette was a burrowing beast that probably owed a great deal to Chevy Chase as the “Land Shark,” as well as to the classic Outer Limits episode “The Invisible Enemy,” in which Mars was infested by fin-headed monsters that swam beneath its sandy surface.
The dreaded rust monster, whose sole purpose in the game was to screw over players that had acquired too much loot. Its tendrils caused metal (e.g. magic swords, magic armor) to rust instantly.
Really, how awesome is this scene from last Friday’s Battlestar Galactica, in which Mary McDonnell’s President Roslin faces down Tom Zarek, leader of the coup against the Colonial fleet?
Oh, and I love the irony of Richard Hatch, the star of the original Galactica and the guy who tried to launch his own sequel series before being pre-empted by the folks who actually owned the rights, attempting to literally take control of the new show.
One of the first things I did after getting my new laptop up and running was to load onto it pretty much every piece of computer game software I’ve bought in the past five years. Some were ones I’d just never finished, others were ones that I’d had to uninstall because of lack of hard drive space on my old desktop, and still others were ones that required a much more powerful processor than I had available. So it was that for the last week of January I played through the remainder of Doom 3…approximately five years after it came out.
I’ve also bought several new(ish) games, a couple of which came courtesy the closeout of the rapidly-dissolving Circuit City chain. Right now I’m messing with Spore. After a lot of hassle with its ridiculous digital rights management scheme, I was finally able to access the enormous online library of user-created content. But of course the real fun is rolling your own creations. Here’s a Dungeons & Dragons Beholder that I whipped up, thick in the throes of first love.
As many of the reviews have suggested, Spore the game isn’t half as interesting as Spore the thing maker. It’s neat to put your creature through the evolutionary process, but the early stages of the game are rather uninvolving, and the Tribal stage in particular isn’t something I think I’d ever seek out a second time. My little guys are just entering the Civilization stage, and then it’s on to outer space, where I’m told the gameplay becomes a lot more fun. Still, the title has charm galore, and the content creators are amazing. I was lucky enough to snag a copy for twenty bucks, and I’ve gotten my money’s worth just fiddling with the editors.
One of the games that I picked up during the death rattle of Circuit City was Soulstorm, the most recent installment of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series, and I’m psyched about the addition of my beloved Sisters of Battle to the franchise. The other was Fallout 3. I know that certain fans of the older entries in that post-apocalyptic series are annoyed with the switch from pure role-playing game to first-person shooter, but having no exposure to Fallout outside of the Playstation 2 game, I don’t have much invested in it. The reviews have been very encouraging, and I’m looking forward to giving the disc a spin.
Once again, I have to give props to the producers of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. Not only did Monday’s episode feature Sheldon sporting a nifty t-shirt festooned with silhouettes of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah, but a later scene had the whole gang sitting down over a game of Talisman. I don’t think that they ever mentioned it by name, but the board was recognizable and the dialogue even made reference to specific elements of the game. It would’ve been easy to have them playing D&D (or a generic D&D knock-off), but it’s clear that someone there really knows their geeks.
I’m totally loving the version of Aquaman that appears on The Brave and the Bold. In recent years, Aquaman’s often been portrayed as a pissed-off, surface-dweller-hating Sub-Mariner clone, but the new cartoon series casts him as a hilarious braggart who loves to give exciting names to his many daring adventures. Last Friday’s episode involved him and the Atom shrinking down to enter Batman’s bloodstream and combat a virus. Never mind that they simply swam around without so much as a rebreather. (As my friend Dave Lartigue points out, blood cells carry OXYGEN, duh.) At one point, Aquaman decided to use his telepathic fish-summoning power, and sure enough, a cell answered the call. It was vaguely horse-shaped. It even whinnied. And Aquaman promptly dubbed his new steed “Platelet,” much to the Atom’s chagrin, as it was clearly a lymphocyte. It’s funny stuff, and it’s still online.
Another news item: this morning a guy in Colorado Spring held up two convenience stores. With a Klingon bat’leth.