Star Trek or Babylon 5?

Star Trek or Babylon 5: Which is the More Accurate Version Of Humankind’s Future Growing up one debate reigned supreme amongst fans of science fiction and fantasy, Star Trek versus Star Wars. Fans of both sides offer very passionate arguments as to why there franchise is better and then there are those of us who like both and choose take a more neutral stance on the subject setting the pros and cons of each. The other day that I got to thinking about another science fiction series that I feel given proper support by the studio could have become just as big as the two previously mentioned series and that is Babylon 5. Forced to deal with syndication as well as a lack of appreciation from Warner Bros. the series still racked up an impressive list of awards and has many fans who hope someday that they will get more stories to experience in the fabulous universe created by J Michael Straczyinski.

With the casts pending 20th anniversary appearance at the Phoenix Comicon Memorial Day weekend, it got me thinking about the show and how much I loved watching it each week even when the rivers of the syndication market required me to do a little bit of research to locate which time and channel it would be on when new seasons appeared in the days before DVR’s. For a show that had numerous storylines and complex character arcs that were unheard of for the genre much less for many television shows, I find it odd that there is one question that I can’t seem to find closure to. And that is the question as to whether Star Trek or Babylon 5 has the more realistic interpretation of humanity’s future.

Star Trek illustrates a future or after a devastating world war, humanity rose up, made contact with a superior alien species, and set the framework for vast interstellar alliance. In the world of Star Trek, war, hunger, crime prejudice, poverty, and other plagues of our society do not exist. In a utopian future the main conflicts facing humanity come in the form of alien threats. While conflict does arise between humans it rarely leads to violence, and even then, little more than a fist fight.

On the other hand, Babylon 5 presents a future where humanity has made great strides in the technological department and is it peace with itself as a planet. However there is still crime, poverty, deception, murder, exploitation, and prejudices in place. As anyone who’s ever watched the show would know, the Down Below section of the five mile-long station was a very dangerous place that held all manner of criminal elements, and those destitute individuals who became trapped on the station after leaving their planets in search of a better life.

While I would like to think that the vision we see in Star Trek is possible, preferably without catastrophic war, I do think it is a bit unrealistic.

Regardless of how far our technology takes us into the galaxy, I don’t think the basic human desires and issues can be overcome in 250 years. Look at where we were society in the late 1700s. While our technology, lifestyle, and abilities have changed greatly. Lust, greed, violence, deceptions, intolerance, and a desire for wealth and worldly possessions still remain for many of us. While we’ve gotten better as a society in terms of helping those who are less fortunate there is an ever-growing gap between haves and the have-nots that shows no signs of slowing down.

So the more that I think about it, I believe that Babylon 5 is a much better vision of our future. A society that is achieved much and has great potential, it still must overcome many of the issues that have plagued it for centuries. Regardless of which version is more accurate remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, who must strive to better ourselves always.

Paul Sage: Elder Scrolls Online

We recently spoke with ZeniMax Online Studio’s creative director, Paul Sage about the hotly anticipated Elder Scrolls Online. Paul was kind enough to tell us what he could about the game but some of our questions had to remain in secret until a later date.

What is the background and setting for the game please?

The game is set in the Second Era before the rise of the Septim Dynasty almost 1000 years before the events in Skyrim. The old Empire is in disarray, and recently three powerful Alliances of nations have risen up on the continent of Tamriel. As each of these Alliances gathers for war against the others, they are almost oblivious to the fact that a dark pact between a Daedric prince and the rulers of the crumbling Empire threatens the world.

What are some of the player types and their abilities?

Players will have access to many different skills and abilities. What they choose to become an expert in is really up to them. Players can choose to become experts in certain weapons such as two-handed weapons, they can become experts in the art of healing, or they might choose to concentrate more on things which enhance their skill in armor. As they gain new abilities or skills, players will add abilities to their shortcut bar. How they fill this bar, really defines how they want to play right now, or their role.

For example, some players might choose to fill their bar with healing abilities, and they might choose to equip a healing staff. So the role they have chosen is one of healing and support. However, that same player might, on a different day, choose to go for more defensive abilities. The longer you play The Elder Scrolls Online, the broader in scope what your character can do becomes.

How will player customizations be handled?

Players will have a ton of ways to customize their character, some of which I touched on in the question regarding player types. From the very beginning players will choose which alliance they wish to become a part of, which race they are, what they look like, and what skills they wish to start with. As players gain experience in the game, they will choose to add to their health, magicka or stamina, and they will choose which abilities they acquire.

Then there are the other ways they will customize their character: which armor, which weapons and which clothing they will wear. They’ll also make choices in quests and other important situations that will further differentiate their experience from that of other players.

What will the in game economy be like?

What we hope it will be like is players will have to work hard to get the gear they really want, but will feel rewarded every time they do. Obviously having a huge economy, especially in the megaserver environment is going to be a challenge, but we are looking to make sure players never feel poor, but few should ever feel rich. Players should have enough items and in game money to play how they want.

Combat is key to the series so what can you tell us about the combat and casting system in the game?

I really feel players are in for a treat with our combat. You don’t have to hold down a button on your mouse to look around, you just move your mouse.

By default, the primary weapon attack is on the left mouse button, and the longer that button is held down, the harder the attack. Right mouse button blocks and abilities are fired off using the 1-6 keys on the keyboard. We kept the controls simple because what is happening in the game world should be more interesting than what is happening in the UI.

Our combat has a visceral feel to it; you’re looking into the world and you’re reacting to what is going on there. Players are going to feel much more in control of their character. Put simply, if someone played Skyrim or Oblivion, they’re going to be able to get right into our game and play.

What game engine are you using for the game and what are some of the features it allows you to include that are new to the genre?

Our engineering team has worked diligently on our toolset. Players are going to see a large variety of quest content in the game. There will be quests that really are different from what people have played before in MMOs. Our design team has been able to put these quests together fairly quickly given the scope of the quests. The toolset has enabled us to do that.

Also, I’ve shown the game to a lot of different people over the last couple of months. I have not had one person who hasn’t said something about the game being beautiful or pretty. That is a credit to both our art team and our tech team. When you consider that you can also get 200 players on the screen at once and it runs on PCs or MACs that are five years old, then I think you understand why the team is pretty happy with our engineers.

There is also our megaserver tech, our highly reactive combat, our customizability, etc.

What have been the biggest challenges in creating the game and the biggest rewards?

I’d say making sure a service is up and running alongside the game is probably the biggest challenge. You have to have a huge IT effort, customer service team effort, as well as just making the game. You also have to make sure those things are seamless for the player. Players just want to play the game, they don’t care about all those other things unless they aren’t working.

One challenge on the game side has to be making three completely different alliances, each with a completely unique experience. Also challenging is taking something that people really love, like Elder Scrolls, and crafting the right amount of familiarity for fans of the series, while making sure it is still fun in a huge online multiplayer setting.

Tell us about the mass combat abilities of the game and how day/night combat will work please as what we saw at E3 last year looked amazing.

You might be referring to what we call ‘synergy’ abilities. Those abilities are special abilities where one player casts it, and another player can augment it. The system is incredibly simple and is not meant to be a timing puzzle. As long as the player is aware of what is going on around him or her, then it is as easy as walking into a specific area and pressing a key. Again, we want to encourage people to cooperate and have fun playing together.

There is a day/night cycle, but we aren’t commenting on how or if that would affect combat at this time.

Will the game have a branching storyline as it appeared at the E3 preview that players could chose quests and side missions that would alter the look of the landscape and gaming universe.

Players will be able to make a lot of choices in the game. A branching storyline would seem to imply there is only one, and so I want to be careful and say that there are lots of different story lines and many have choices that affect the outcome of that storyline as well as the player’s experience throughout the rest of the game.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Billed as the first true sequel to the smash film “Aliens”, Aliens: Colonial Marines has weathered various delays and large expectations. The game was developed by Gearbox Software and published by Sega, and boasts an impressive level of talent behind its construction.

Players play is Cpl. Christopher Winter who, along with his squadron was dispatched to investigate an S.O.S. sent from the USS Sulaco. Upon arrival things are not as expected. Not only is there no sign of the crew, the ship clearly has been the site of some horrific experimentation. Worse yet, swarms of deadly aliens have infested the ship quickly playing havoc on the rescue party. As if this was not bad enough, we soon learn that there’s conspiracy afoot by the evil Weyland Yutani Corporation and Winter and his fellow Marines are highly expendable in order to preserve their corporate secrets.

Action soon moves to Planet LV 426 and kicks into high gear as players must investigate and survive various locales ranging from derelict spacecraft to the Hadley’s Hope colony. At this point the game truly shines as the attention to detail is amazing. It truly feels like you’re walking in the movie as even the smallest details such as knife scratches on the table have been captured.

Unfortunately the gameplay really suffers despite the very interesting plot for the game. The gameplay is extremely linear as players must battle from objective to objective or perform various tasks. While this is standard fare for most gamers, the fact that they lack any real variation does become tedious after a while. There are also some obligatory stealth modes which in many ways are more annoying than they are challenging. One of the biggest issues I had was with the look of the aliens themselves. Their body movements seem very limited at times. While they did occasionally run on all fours and drop from the ceiling, they tended to take a very stiff pose when they came at you in a very straight on manner.

The character animation, especially during the cut scenes, seemed dated as well, and while entertaining didn’t live up to some of the other graphical moments in the game. The attention to detail is really a shining point for the game especially being able to find iconic weaponry and dog tags from characters from the film as part of many secrets in bonuses in the game. The pulse rifle was the main weapon and it does pack an awesome punch especially with the ability to launch two grenades and an all-fire mode. Unfortunately with the clip of only 40 rounds, you can expend ammunition quickly and get caught up in no man’s land during a reload. Many times I opted to use the shotgun in tight situations where rapid shooting and reloading was an option, especially when I could fire after loading only one shell when taking down an enemy.

As the game progressed, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and other innovative weaponry was brought into play. I especially enjoyed one earlier level where I was able to take advantage of the smart gun which tracks enemies and basically requires you to do nothing more than pull the trigger.There were plenty of armor and health power ups along the way, and the game does allow you to set the difficulty level that is best suited for your style of play.

At the end of the day, the attention to detail and interesting storyline almost was enough to overlook the linear gameplay and character animations but I kept thinking about how good the game could have been. The multiplayer mode is solid as there are co-op for modes which allow up to four players to work as one squad. There are also various modes such as team death match, escape, survival, and other modes which will allow players to enjoy themselves as either Marine or Alien.

Players will be able to select from weapon class or species of alien. I found playing as the alien to be a real challenge. Getting used to being able to scale walls, and having to rely on stealth and savagery isn’t as easy. Jumping into a squad of Marines all equipped with assault rifles with only your teeth and claws definitely takes some adjustment, especially when playing in a third person perspective. Playing a Marine on the other hand is more familiar ground, especially when playing in first person. Having no limit to the arsenal and having the ability to use the points that they acquire in game to purchase power ups for their weaponry is always a plus.
But playing as the alien allows you some unique power ups such as becoming a new breed of alien that is quite difficult to bring down.

In the end, the in-game menu shows a section for downloadable content. I would definitely be interested in seeing what the future may hold as despite the issues there were some very fun moments in the game. I think some reviews have been rather unfair with the game as they’re rating it on what it is not rather than what it is. If you look past the wall of expectations and accept the final product as a standard shooter then you may not be so disappointed and will find yourself enjoying it. The sound of the game and the artistic design of the game are solid and, as I mentioned earlier, you truly do feel as if you are part of the film. The voice work in music in the game really helps set the atmosphere and it was really nice to hear some of the iconic score from the film series in game. I did find much of it to dark, as even with the flash light, I was wandering in the dark far to often for my taste.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a great idea that fails to live up to its potential. It could have been the signature and defining game for the franchise but instead falls short of expectations like so many others to date. It is ironic that Alien vs. Predator 2 is still viewed as the high point of the series despite the best efforts of so many developers since.

3.5 out of 5