Category Archives: What The–?

(New)Battlestar Galactica and My Roller-Coaster Fandom

Richard Hatch passed away last week, and it got me to thinking. Most folks probably remember him as Captain Apollo, starring beside Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene in the original Battlestar Galactica. My favorite role of his was in Galactica, but not in that one. I’m talking about his role in the 2004 reboot as the calculating political operator, Tom Zarek.

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Previously, on Battlestar Galactica…

While lamenting Mr. Hatch’s passing, I found myself revisiting the music of both the original and reimagined series. Of course, I still feel the thrill and majesty of the original main theme. As a connoisseur of space operas, that one is pretty boss. Inevitably, I began listening through the score of the ‘new’ series, which is tonally much darker and angst-ridden (pretty much like the show itself).

For the most part, I don’t look back on New Galactica very fondly, mainly due to the nonsensical third and fourth seasons, and the X-files/LOST kind of ending that was disappointing in the extreme. But then I rediscovered the track “Reuniting the Fleet.” Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait.

The same mix of drums and the uilleann pipes are a direct callback to an earlier piece of music, “A Good Lighter.” Both instantly transported me back to my favorite moments in New Galactica. One is where Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, shared a moment with his son, Apollo, (Jaime Bamber) on the flight deck before an all-important mission. While I take issue with the direction of the show, the peformances remain incredible, and this scene between them – just thinking about it as I write this – gives me a big ol’ lump in my throat.

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I’m not crying. You’re crying!

The same is true for the “Reuniting the Fleet.” Faced with leaving the colonists behind on New Caprica in search of Earth, Adama makes the decision to reunite his people, who were sharply divided down ideological and political lines. I remember watching that scene on TV and being moved by it. Now, it’s downright profound.

With this level of emotion, atmosphere, and acting, how could my immediate impression of the show be negative, now after nearly eight years since it went off the air?

There are so few shows that leave me with such mixed emotions. The aforementioned X-files and LOST are two of them, certainly. These are shows that I absolutely loved at the beginning, but by the end watching an episode was uncomfortable, and largely consumed out of ‘fan duty’ if that makes any sense. And also the hope that it would get better.

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*holding in the existential dread* It’s going to get better…right?

When I first discovered New Galactica, I feel in love. Unlike many old-school Galactica fans I know, I really loved the darker more helpless tone of the new show. It really felt like a great tragedy had befallen the survivors of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, and this had scarred them all to a lesser or greater extent. Here was military science fiction I could really sink my proverbial teeth into.

The first and second seasons of New Galactica, as well as the first few episodes of season three were not only some of the best sci-fi I’d ever seen on TV, but also one of the best dramas. Full stop. Again, I cannot say enough good things about the performances turned in by Olmos, Callis, Sackhoff and so many others. Bear McCreary’s score put it over the top. The discovery of Kobol and the hint that old gods where not who they seemed, the return of the Pegasus, and the interplay between Adama and Cain…wow. Intense. Like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner with Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction.

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Yeah, pretty much like that.

But once our intrepid heroes blasted their way off of New Caprica, season three took an immediate nosedive. They had gotten the show back on the road, back on the quest for Earth, but it seemed like the writers and showrunners had less of an idea of what to do next. The intro to the show boasted of the Cylons that ‘they have a plan,’ but it became apparent that the showrunners didn’t.

Season three felt like this strange mix of individual character studies that didn’t seem to support what had gone before. Previous to this, each episode had stacked on top of the last, adding layers to the story while adding new developments, new wrinkles. These new episodes, however, felt like you could pull them out of the pile and they wouldn’t be missed. In fact, ‘Hero’ was an episode that I think weakened the series as a whole.

The continuity began to unravel and characters began acting, well, inconsistent to say the least. Adama is willing to stand Cally up against a bulkhead and execute her if Chief Tyrol doesn’t comply to his demands because ‘he can’t have people deciding when to obey orders,’ but does nothing to Helo for disobeying orders when they could have shown Hugh the insidious diagram and destroyed the Borg Collective…er—I mean the Cylons, and saved the human race. And then Helo is promoted to CAG, even after this incident…and he’s not even a pilot.

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Baltar isn’t so sure about that. Baltar is not alone.

There were some bright spots along the way, to be sure. I’m a huge fan of Jan Espenson, and so the middle of the season got a bump with “The Passage” and “The Eye of Jupiter.” But then the ‘All Along The Watchtower’ moment happens at the end of season three that really looked like the show had gone off the rails, and I wasn’t sure it was coming back.

It took more than a year, but come back it did. There was a little improvement, but that’s when the ‘Final Five’ story arc came into play, and for me…the worst thing about the show, not counting the ending. I was this close to just calling it and watching something else. It takes a lot for this fanboy to want to pack up and go home, but I was done.

Then we got to the mutiny arc and, by Grapthar’s Hammer, we were back, baby! The excitement, the drama, the everything…I wanted to shout at the producers: “This is what I’m talking about! Every episode should be like this!

But after that, the show went back to floundering. They found ‘Earth’ only it wasn’t Earth, and we got a pretty weak explanation of how the Twelve Models came to be, even though it didn’t make much sense AND seemed to contradict what we knew about them already. Again, I must stress, Final Five = Worst Part of the Show. Somebody should have really gamed this out ahead of time. I understand writing yourself into a corner, but come on.

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Submitted for your approval…

By this time we all knew that Season Four would be New Galactica’s last. You couldn’t tell it by the way the story plodded on, however. The episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” did not feel like a series with only a few episodes left, but rather a series that still had three or four seasons still to come.

And the ending? Well, let’s just say that it would take the god-awful ending of LOST to eclipse New Galactica on my ‘Worst Ever’ list. It still remains in a solid #2 spot, however. From eschewing technology for no good reason, to Kara’s unexplained departure, and even Adama deciding to live alone for the rest of his life rather than with his son, there are so many horrid things here that a recounting of them all would be a blog post unto itself. It had some interesting action sequences, and *something* of a resolution to the ‘All Along the Watchtower’ craziness of before, but…well, yuck. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Yeah, Brah, I don’t what to make of that either.

So why do I bring this up? Is it just to bash a long-time fanboy disappointment? A bit, yeah. But really it’s to show the extreme ends of the pendulum here, and the lasting impression it made on me both coming and going.

Understand that I still use Bear McCreary’s music when I write. (If you ever need to write an epic combat scene, put “Prelude to War” on your playlist, trust me.) I follow the projects of cast members of this show as much as I do for Firefly, or Babylon 5, or Star Trek. I love to see cosplay of these characters, and enjoy fan theories on the connections between the original series and the new.

That’s still with me.

This show meant something to me. It still does to some degree. I only wish that more care and energy had been put into the latter half of the series to match the first. To me, New Galactica serves as both a shining example and a cautionary tale of what to do/not do in modern science fiction.

Like with people, you have to take the good with the bad here. And in that sense, boy howdy is New Galactica like the contradictory nature of the deeply flawed people it portrayed in the show.

Can I get a “So Say We All”?

 

 

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My Love/Hate Relationship with Transformers: The Movie

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Transformers: The Movie, which premiered in U.S. theatres in August of 1986, I thought I would comment on what was simultaneously one of the fanboy landmarks of my childhood AND perhaps the movie that scarred me the most as a kid. No really, the emotional scar tissue is still there. First world problems, yeah?

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I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

If you’ve been with me on this blog for any length of time, you know that I love Gen 1 Transformers. It is both my favorite toy line of all time as well as my favorite ‘80s cartoon. Of course, the cynical adult side of me sees the cartoon for what it was: a half-hour commercial designed to sell more toys. But there’s also the kid in me that remembers when I could come home from school to be greeted by Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Hound, Prowl, and the irascible Ironhide. They were friends of mine, and in my mind’s eye I rode shotgun with them through a hundred adventures.

I remember well when I first saw the teasers for Transformers: The Movie. It looked incredible, with some of the slickest animation Sunbow has ever produced. “Two years in the making,” the TV spots proclaimed, “an incredible adventure and spectacular wide-screen animation with an original story that will shock and surprise you!”

Boy, did they have that right.

Before we get to the crying-so-hard-I-had-to-be-taken-out-of-the-theatre part, there are some things I genuinely love about this movie. Let me spell those out first.

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I may or may not have a replica of this sitting on my writing desk.

1.) The Lore – In the comics, the Matrix of Leadership was just a computer program in Prime’s head. The movie is where we first see the iconic, semi-mystical talisman, and find that the one who carries it is the anointed Prime, AND that it has a will and power of its own. Throw on top of that the Universal Greeting (say it with me: Bah-weep-grah-na-weep-ninni-bong), Unicron the Chaosbringer, Autobot City, and the saying ‘Till All Are One! We meet the Quintessons for the first time, along with the Junkions and the ill-fated Lithonians. The Transformers universe expanded well out of its TV cartoon roots with this movie.

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Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

2.) The Soundtrack/ScoreYou got the Touch! You got the Pow-wwwwer! Yeaaah! From the mindblowing hard-rock reimagining of the main theme by Lion, to both of Stan Bush’s classic TF anthems (The Touch and Dare), this soundtrack is great throughout every track. At times it almost gives the movie a kind of Heavy Metal feel to it. That’s Heavy Metal in a ‘one-way ticket to midnight’ kind of way with rock paired with animation. There’s also Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way, Hunger, and Instrument of Destruction. And did I mention that Weird Al Yankovic has a spot on this album? That’s right, Dare to be Stupid. And my hat’s off to Vince DiCola on his scoring the movie itself. It really added some emotional weight to a certain scene I’ve yet to discuss.

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The man himself.

3.) The Voice Cast – I met Peter Cullen once at a convention. It was less than a minute, and I was just one fan out of a hundred waiting to get something signed. Even though it was only a few seconds of my life, I will remember it always. Always. These names, now so familiar, like: Scatman Crothers, Jack Angel, Chris Latta, Frank Welker, and many others, are the ones who really brought the characters to life with their voice work. This dream team of actors was then joined by the likes of Eric Idle, Robert Stack, Susan Blue, Leonard Nimoy, and friggin’ Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron. I think even the much-maligned Judd Nelson did a fine job as Hot Rod and Rodimus. All those talents under one roof…it’s amazing.

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Gorgeous. Simply Gorgeous.

4.) The Animation – Once again, this is some of the most beautiful animation that Sunbow ever created. The coloration, the cell-shading, the grace with which characters move through the frame, all of it is beautiful. The characters seem to take on a new life and vitality, and look better here than just about anywhere outside of Transformers: Retribution.

And here are the parts that left their mark on me as a child:

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Pretty much the look on my face, too.

1.) The Casual Deaths of Supporting Characters – The first scene, the destruction and subsequent consumption of Lithone, really set the tone for the movie. But then we get the credits sequence, and we’re back to the Autobots that we know and love. Previously, we’ve seen the Autobots get hurt or shot up, but they were all better by the end of the episode. The one ‘perma-death’ they had in the cartoon, Skyfire, was later undone by Wheeljack and an ice jackhammer.

I still remember the battle on the Autobot starship. Prowl, one of my favorite characters, takes a direct hit in the opening shots. Fire comes out of his eyes and mouth, and he falls over dead.

Let me say that again: Fire came out of his eyes and mouth.

I remember trying to explain why I was so upset by this to my mom and she didn’t get it. She thought that was just one of his special feature or powers, like he had fire breath or heat-ray eyes or something. Nope, that was the Autobot version of blood coming out of his mouth before he died.

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Wut?

But it didn’t stop there. In a scene that takes less than a minute of screen time, we see Ratchet riddled with holes and die, Ironhide is given a contemptuous coup de grace by Megatron, and Brawn charges the Decepticons only to take a hit in the shoulder and fall, presumably finished off afterwards (though he does make an appearance in Season Three, so perhaps not all was lost.) In a word: Brutal.

Then we get to Autobot City. We see RC dragging the corpse of Windcharger, which she dumps next to poor old Wheeljack. We don’t even know how they died. We don’t see them make some heroic sacrifice or stand their ground against impossible odds. We just see their dead bodies, discarded and sad. By this point in the movie, Kidd-Matt was mighty uncomfortable with how things were going in that movie theatre in Athens, Texas. But none of those deaths prepared me for the emotional gut-punch of what was to come.

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Worst. Marketing. Decision. EVER.

2.)  The Death of Optimus Prime – Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? Remember those TV spots I mentioned? Well, as an adjunct, there was a Transformers toy commercial tie-in. It featured Frank Welker in his Megatron voice introducing the heinous Galvatron toy, and Peter Cullen’s Prime introducing Ultra Magnus. At the end, there’s a movie tag that shows Optimus being shot up pretty badly and the announcer asks “Does Prime die?” I remember watching that in my grandfather’s living room and thinking, “Naah, they’d never kill off Optimus Prime.”

Right?

But, as Kidd-Matt watched several of his favorite bots terminated with extreme prejudice, a gnawing suspicion began to dawn that his favorite of favorite characters was about to go down. We get the glorious fight with Megatron, Prime at his fighting best, and then the idiot Hot Rod gets in the way. Way to go. Perhaps just saying “Hey, watch out! He’s reaching for a gun! Shoot him!” would have been better, yeah?

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Way to go, Hot Rod. Tool.

But with one final, mighty uppercut, Prime ends Megatron’s reign of tyranny before collapsing. As Kup says, he turned the tide in the deadliest battle us little’uns had ever seen these characters fight. Not content with that, the sadistic bastards making this movie make us watch as Prime slowly slips away on life support to a musical score that STILL hurts to listen to. He gives the Matrix to Ultra Magnus, tells us not to grieve, and then the bright blue light fades from his eyes. And in case that wasn’t enough to show us that Prime is finally, irrevocably dead, we see his iconic red and blue color drain away to a grey-black, and then his head lolls to the side.

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😥 *buckets*

 

At this point, my godmother had to take me into the hall because I was crying so hard. Like snot-coming- out-of-my-nose-with-my-bottom-lip-quivering-uncontrollably kind of crying. I missed the next 10 minutes of the movie, and didn’t see that part until a few years later when I chanced to watch it again on VHS.

So, seeing my favorite childhood character die hurt pretty bad, but what hurt worse was when I learned the real reason that had Prime died. Hasbro wasn’t going to sell the Optimus toy the next season. They were clearing the way for new characters to sit on the shelves, and killing them off in the story was the perfect way to get them out of the way and explain their absence at the storefront.

Ouch.

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“…”

Even as a kid, I knew that the cartoon was just a way to promote sales, but I was okay with it because I was already sold on the toys. But to cynically kill off a fan favorite just because he wasn’t being sold anymore? What. The. Hell? Worse, this set the precedent for Prime dying in other interpretations of the character. Revenge of the Fallen, anyone? Transformers: Prime?

But in a twist of what I guess is karma, I wasn’t the only kid who had a freakout moment in the theatre. Lots of parents complained, and there was so much fan outrage over Prime’s death that Hasbro brought him back six months later in the two-part episode aptly named The Return of Optimus Prime. Of course, that was right as Transformers as a cartoon was sinking into the morass of “Seasons” 4 & 5, but at least Hasbro did the right thing in the end.

But the scars remain. #thankshasbro

3.) A Whole New Cast – Take a look at the official movie poster. Go ahead, take a look.

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Despite it all, I have this framed.

Notice anything? If you aren’t familiar with the characters, here’s a hint: All of them are new. Every character displayed here, with the exception of what might be Laserbeak in the background, is first introduced to American audiences in this movie. I remember seeing this poster hanging in the lobby of the movie theatre and wondering why Bumblebee, Prime, Jazz, Prowl, and the others weren’t on it. Sure, these new guys looked cool, but who were they?

So, if you had been watching the cartoon for two years, and then went into the movie thinking the main story would revolve around those guys (as I naturally assumed it would), that’s a negatory, Ghostrider. Only the Dinobots play any significant role, and live. Old characters die and are replaced, or are reborn as other characters, complete with new voice actors. It’s a bit of a cinematic bait-and-switch when you think about it, like going into the next Avengers movie to find that all the main heroes have been replaced with Squadron Supreme. Nothing against Squadron Supreme, but that wasn’t exactly what I thought I was getting.

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Eh, not so much.

4.) Rodimus Prime – To be fair, Optimus Prime is a tough act to follow. But since Prime dies, the Powers-That-Be apparently had to have another Prime. Instead of picking Ultra Magnus, who shares a lot in common with Prime, including a fancy name made up of superlatives, and an identical base toy, the Matrix instead goes for the punk kid, Hot Rod. Because…reasons. There is an admittedly cool transformation scene where we see Rodimus grow in size and the ghostly voice of Optimus saying, “Arise, Rodimus Prime.” He quickly kicks Galvatron’s butt and goes on to declare an end to the Great War. Roll Credits.

But then we get Season 3 of the cartoon, now with the new guys in lead roles, with little of the old guard remaining. Rodimus is now the Autobot Supreme Commander, and it’s clear that he’s no Optimus Prime, either in the strength of his leadership abilities, his ability to inspire others, or his lackluster combat skills (especially compared to Galvatron who seems waaaaay more powerful by comparison). Worse yet, Rodimus knows he’s not nearly the leader that Optimus was. And he’s right, he isn’t. So it goes.

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I much prefer this version, even if it’s a tad misleading. I also have this one framed.

Conclusions: 

As you can see there’s a lot to love and hate about this movie. In only 85 minutes, it embodies both the best and worst of what Transformers had to offer in the 1980s: callous disregard for what fans wanted based off of changes in a toy line, mixed with incredible jumps forward in the universe of Transformers, given to us with animation that looks like visual candy.

So when it comes to the cinematic vomit/explosion orgy offered up in the new series of Transformers movies, I honestly can’t say that Michael Bay is stepping all over my childhood. Transformers: The Movie did that during my childhood. And yet, there’s still a part of me that can’t help but smile when I hear Stan Bush belt out The Touch.


An Open Letter to Bethesda Game Studios from a Humble Fanboy, Concerning the “Contraptions” DLC

Dear Bethesda Game Studios,

Let me start by making my position clear: I LOVE YOU GUYS. You have given me two of my favorite games of all time, and you can bet your bottom bottlecap that Fallout 4 is one of them. This letter is not meant to be abrasive, mean, or to otherwise throw shade in your direction. I merely want to ask some questions, knowing that in all likelihood I won’t receive answers. But if Socrates has taught me anything, aside from that I know nothing about everything, it’s that I should ask questions anyway, even if there is no clear answer.

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That said, let’s talk about your Contraptions DLC. This feels the most ‘unlike’ you so far, and I can’t really see the point to it. I enjoy building my settlements, but I do so either for role-playing reasons (e.g. literally rebuilding the Commonwealth), or as way stations to give me a safe haven when I need to rest, repair, and resupply. Do I indulge in a little trophy building? Sure. You should see my Power Armor museum in Sanctuary. Boy, is it ever self-aggrandizing.

But what I don’t want is to build just for the sake of building or to see what ‘clever’ things I can cook up using Settlement mode. This is what perplexes me so much about Contraptions: it seems that this is for players who couldn’t give two shakes about the game’s story and just want to use the game as high-res version of Minecraft. A lot of thought and energy went into things like the ball tracks, new switches, mortars, and logic gates, etc.

Why? (No really, that wasn’t rhetorical. I really want to know why.) Was there that much call for it? Is this just for Twitch and streaming players to show off?

What’s more, those things that do appeal to a more utilitarian player like myself seem oddly executed or not thought out completely. Some of them really have me baffled, because this is not like you. Even though Wasteland Workshop was panned by some, we still got fusion generators, concrete structures, and the contamination arch out of the deal, which I have made extensive use of in my Survival run.

Maybe you’ve spoiled me, but I’m used to your products being polished and well reasoned, maybe a little buggy sometimes, but I am pretty forgiving on that last score. Contraptions, however, feels more than a bit frustrating. Thus begins my list of questions to you:

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Workshop Link-up? — Was there some reason we couldn’t link manufacturing machines up to our Settlement’s Workbench? Carting resources back and forth, and worse yet, scrolling through hundreds of items trying to find items that contain fiberglass is a bit of a pain. I’m not sure why this couldn’t work like armor and weapon workbenches, that draw resources directly from the main workbench’s pool. If you were worried about accidentally depleting certain resources, particularly if you have supply lines to other settlements, could we have set a limit for our factories to produce? So, a Vault-tec lunchbox costs 3 steel. I could potentially make 10,000 of them, but I don’t want to utterly deplete my steel reserves, so I instead a put on cap of 50 on the production run. It prints off 50 and then stops, regardless of how many more it could create.

Factory Automation? — Why are factories limited to producing goods only when I’m present in the settlement? Isn’t the point of automation that it does its thing while you’re away, so you can come back and collect? It is cool to watch the conveyor belts and all, but when I’m creating 30 sets of 2mm EM cartridges, I don’t necessarily need — or want — to watch them roll off the assembly line. I know that settlements do at least some resource bookkeeping while I’m away, so wouldn’t it make sense for this to be a part of it?

Dress Dummies/Weapon Racks — I hope I don’t sound like an ingrate when I say this, so here goes: why are we just now getting these? I’ve been wanting to display weapons and armor since the game premiered in November. So, why did you wait until the fourth DLC to finally give them to us? Not to make too many comparisons here, but Skyrim had this in the base game. Also, what gives with the ‘corkboard’ weapon displays using so much space to display just one weapon? The game’s title sequence shows several weapons and add-ons together in a fairly tight area. Is there no way to be a little economical with the wall space?

Fireworks – Misc Tab — Was it necessary to have these guys live on the ‘Misc’ tab of the inventory, instead of, say, the Weapons tab? The Misc tab is likely the longest of all of them. It’s not too bad to scroll down to ‘F’ for ‘Fireworks,’ but it is quite a chore to scroll down to ‘W’ for ‘Weather Control’ whenever I want to get rid of a rad storm.

Armor Forge — Okay, this is a big one. Why would you randomize the armor pieces that are produced? Why can I not specify that I want the right leg of Sturdy Combat armor? Or the left arm or Heavy Leather armor? Why can’t I tell the machine exactly what I want on the terminal? It feels like the cost in terms of resources is the equivalent of convenience store prices for an unmodified piece of armor, so why must I then waste even more resources waiting for it to produce a full set? You see, I wanted to build a museum of the different armor types because they look so cool and distinctive. Doing so is surprisingly difficult and wasteful with the armor forge as it stands, when it should just be point-and-click.

Also, where is the Synth armor? Or the Trapper armor from Far Harbor? Or the Robot Armor from Automatron? It feels like if you have completed these DLCs you should be able to produce those armor types as well. Possibly more than other aspect of Contraptions, the Armor Forge is the one that leaves me scratching my head. Honestly, how did all this get past you? Surely, you didn’t make it almost unusable on purpose, right?

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Mark it on my map, will you?

Ammunition Plant — In contrast, the Ammunition Plant is perhaps the most useful thing I’ve found in this DLC. It fills a gap that seems long overdue. I use a Gauss Rifle, so ammo is always rare, and this allows me to do something about it. But I have to ask…why are there ammo types missing from the line-up? We’re already paying a premium cost in terms of resources to use this, so where are the mini-nukes? The rockets? The fusion cells? The flamer fuel? Heck, where are the railway spikes? Those are literally iron or steel spikes. Why were those ammo types left out, along with many others?

Food Processor — I think I can sum up my confusion with this facet in just one word: Cram. It takes mongrel dog meat, Brahmin meat, and radstag meat to make a single Cram. In terms of healing, each component is comparable or far better than the end product, and the bonus 25 to carry weight for grilled radstag is really too valuable to waste. Why would I do this for anything other than novelty purposes? I don’t understand. The same could be said of the Builder. Other than the Vault-tec lunchbox, why would I want to pay more to produce a teddy bear/Jangles the Moon Monkey/etc. than what I can scrap it for?

Explosives Mill — Maybe I’m missing something here, but we could already make explosives at the Chemistry station. If automation is not a thing, why would I use choose to produce grenades at the Explosives Mill and receive no XP for it, when I could just as easily do it at the Chemistry station gain XP for every one? You basically gave us something we already had, though with no XP reward and more complicated. What gives?

Autoloom — It’s interesting to be able to make new, clean clothing. I like putting my settlers in new clothes rather than the rags they rolled in wearing. Still, and this seems like a no-brainer, but where is the ability to make Vault-Tec jumpsuits? It would be so cool to make jumpsuits from any of the vaults that we’ve visited, even ones like Vault 118 that didn’t have a jumpsuit you could pick up. That’s an iconic part of the game, so why was this overlooked?

Okay, so I could go on and on, but those are the major points. If you’ve stuck with me, kudos to you. Now let me hit you up with my wish list of things I’d like to see for settlements and general gameplay convenience. Submitted for your consideration:

More Reasons to Have/Make Settlements in the First Place — My first run through I built all sorts of stuff in more than 20 of the settlements, and I tried to make sure I built each one with the idea that people would actually live there. Much of it was just RP, of course, but it dawned on me that there was really no point other than to have them as a convenient place for various workbenches, to store stuff, and to sleep. Settlements take on a whole new dimension in Survival mode, but with a lack of fast-travel abilities, it’s better to never set up that recruitment beacon. If there are no settlers, they don’t get attacked at random intervals.

To me, settlements should be more than just blank canvasses to build wacky or over-the-top stuff, they should have some reason for being. Right now, they really don’t.  Even if you set up a robust set of shops, it takes far too much effort, perks, and caps to get them going properly, and even longer for them to start making money to justify their existence. If caps are what you want, you can do more with a couple of perks in Fortune Finder and then just wandering the wasteland.

So why not give us something in Settlement mode that we can’t get anywhere else? Say there’s a key ingredient in something we want that only grows at one or two farms. What if one settlement had a power switching station that could provide power to settlements around it, using the existing and still-standing power lines, if you made extensive repairs? What if there were Settlement perks that we get if we bootstrap the Commonwealth back up to a certain point? Not just achievements, but something worthwhile, like unlockable upgrades that benefit the player personally, but also help the settlements out. Really, what I’m trying to say is here is: give us an incentive to care about these settlements beyond just the basics.

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You made it this far? You are awesomely awesome with that unmistakable air of mystery and danger! Read on!

Fixed Level 4 Vendors — Speaking of the shop system, could we get a fix for Level 4 vendors? Smiling Larry and the Scribe continue to be bugged beyond repair. I play on the Xbox One, so I don’t have the console commands to teleport them to my location. And really, I shouldn’t have to. This has been a problem since day one, and none of the patches have thus-far fixed this.

New Unique Items — If you can get the top tier vendors to work correctly, it seems that they have only a single piece of unique gear in their inventory. If you want to spice things up for a workshop DLC, how about giving us new unique items in all of the named vendors, across the Commonwealth? Perhaps this is a tall order, but it might give us a reason to revisit some of the guys that are no longer really relevant just to see what they have.

Named/Unique Settlers — You guys are all about immersive play, which I adore. So when I have to sort through 20+ men and women who are just called ‘Settler’ it gets a little stale after a while. Why not give us the ability to name them ourselves, or have them come with randomized names (or both)? Also, it would be great to find unique settlers that did something extra. I wooed Sheffield to my side with a Nuka Cola, but he does not do anything more than any other settler. Maybe we find a badass mercenary who alone raises the our defense score by 25 or more, or a gardener that can tend far more food than normal, or make it produce more often. Perhaps there’s a negotiator that brings prices down in whatever settlement he’s assigned to, or a chef that improves the quality of the food that you bring to him. The possibilities are endless here, and you haven’t even scratched the surface of it.

Permanent Item Placement — This goes back to a gripe of mine about Skyrim. I would like to place objects on tables or shelves and have them stay there. I don’t want to leave and come back and find my carefully placed items on the ground or knocked over. Again, this goes back to immersion. Let us set up a bar with a myriad of different bottles, or place sentimental items together without them going all over the place.

An “Opt Out” Clause for Settlement Attacks — My version of Sanctuary Hills has a defense of over 300. Only the wildest, most unthinking beast or the most stupid Super Mutants would ever consider attacking it. Yet, Raiders, Gunners, and the Brotherhood do, even though it’s suicide. Perhaps they will slightly damage a few of my turrets before they are cut down, but it makes no sense and is just sort of mindless. Plus, Settlement attacks have the worst timing. I once got a notice that Tenpines was under attack just as I was going through Kellogg’s memories. Sorry, Tenpines…it’ll be a minute before I can make it. Another was Oberland Station while I was deep in the depths of the Mechanist’s Lair. Ugh. In Survival Mode, it really sucks to hear that the Abernathy Farm is under attack when I’m hanging out at the Castle. So, give us the option of either turning that functionality off, or give us some in-story way to avoid or stop it. Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Sort Items In the Order They Are Picked Up — This is more of a convenience thing, but while I’m wishing, here you go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a holo-tape and then can’t find it again because I don’t remember the name. It gets lost in the tons of keys, notes, and other miscellany of that tab. Is it possible to get a sorting protocol that can show me the last thing I picked up? Even if it’s only for the ‘Misc’ tab, that would be a HUGE help.

Increased Stability in Survival Mode — Again, nothing to do with settlements, but just for my own sanity. I’ve noticed a dramatic uptick in game-terminating bugs while playing on Survival mode. Since you have limited save points to beds (and for some reason you can’t carry a bedroll around with you), nothing chaps this player’s hide like getting through a long section of the game, where there are no beds to save along the way, only to have the game freeze up before I can save. Too much of that makes me think ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

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Whew…

Okay, so if you made it this far, you are a darling. Thanks for listening, or reading as the case may be. If anyone from Bethesda does read this, I hope you will think about what I’ve said here. Food for thought, at least. I have spent more hours than I care to count in the world of Fallout 4. It is a titan of a game, and the DLCs don’t fall far from tree. Automatron was a bit light on story, but the Robots! Holy cow, the ROBOTS! Wasteland Workshop had some useful things in it, and I always appreciate more lighting options. Far Harbor was beyond awesome, with a story that was incredibly engaging and morally ambiguous. Love it!

But then there’s Contraptions, which has some of the Sesame Street vibe of “which one of these is not like the others?” It wasn’t meant to have a story, but the utility it does have seems half-hearted and half-baked at best.

Now I don’t say these things to tear you down. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m used to getting a certain ‘plussed’ experienced from you, to use a Disney term, and Contraptions is lacking that. It’s like a friend who is super extroverted becoming suddenly withdrawn and anti-social. It just doesn’t fit the pattern of behavior I’ve come to expect. You have to stop and ask, “Are you all right?”

I hope that you are. All right, I mean.

And here’s hoping that the upcoming Vault-Tec DLC will put you guys back on the top spot.  Not to blow too much smoke here, but you guys are the best.

Respectfully,

– Matt Carson


What The−? Minority Report

This is a new segment on the Sector M blog, one where I take a subject matter (usually something to do with sci-fi, movies, comics, etc.) and explore what’s wrong with it. This will usually be something that should have been a slam dunk, but somehow didn’t live up to its own hype or potential.  For our first time out, I’ve chosen the 2002 movie, Minority Report.

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Note: Not “Manos”: The Hands of Fate.

This was a ‘tent pole’ big-budget blockbuster with Tom Cruise playing the lead character and directed by Steven Spielberg. It was (loosely) based off of Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name.  Set in 2054, Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is a cop who specializes in “PreCrime.”  In this future, the crime of murder has all but been eliminated by the presence of “PreCogs,” who are psychics who can see into the future.

When a murder is about to happen, Anderton’s squad receives an image of the crime from the PreCogs before it happens. They have only a short time to find out where the crime takes place based on the vision, get to the scene of the crime, and stop it before it happens.  Everything is going okay until Anderton receives a vision of himself shooting a man in cold blood. Since you are guilty of crimes before you commit them in this world, Anderton is now on the run from the law and out to try and prove his innocence.

Here’s what’s wrong with it:

The Billiard Balls

So, when a PreCrime is reported, the first thing to show up at the police station is not the recorded psychic vision itself, but one laser-cut wooden sphere inscribed with the victim’s name on it and another with the perpetrator’s name. They make a reference that the unique wood grain of each ball makes it virtually impossible to duplicate or fake.

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Plot point, plot point!

The problem with it is not that this seems like a pretty weird way of handling things, but it brings up a question in my mind – how do they get that information? From the initial scene, it seems like the psychic vision is the only information that the cops have to go on. They have to look for landmarks and clues within that vision to find out where the crime will happen, yet the PreCogs apparently also transmit the name of the victim-to-be on a separate channel.  If the PreCogs can know a victim’s name, and the name of the would-be criminal, why don’t they also know where the crime will take place?

The Countdown Timer

This is a cautionary tale of using time-travel elements in sci-fi, and how they can go wrong in a hurry.  So, when a PreCrime vision comes in, there is a timer attached to it, counting down to the time of the murder. Like the name on the sphere, it’s never clear how they get this information, but there it is. The problem is that crimes of passion have a much shorter timespan than a crime that is premeditated.

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Um, say that again?

On the surface that might seem intuitive; someone who decides to kill on the spot gets a smaller window than someone who plans it out. It is, however, utter non-sense. You are looking into the future. Even if it was a seemingly random string of events or emotional states that lead up to the crime, even if it was an on-the-spot decision, the outcome is already part of the time stream. The intentions behind the crime are irrelevant.

The Eye Transplant

Anderton is on the run and realizes that too many places have retinal scanners that could identify him. His solution? Get an eye transplant from a less-than-reputable street doctor. It makes sense − change your eyes so they can’t track you. It also shows off both the seedy underground nature of the world as well as the ease with which such an operation can be accomplished. Yep, we’re in the future, all right.

Once complete, Tom Cruise walks into The Gap and it scans his eyes. The holographic store greeter calls out, “Hello, Mr. Yakamoto! Welcome back to the Gap!” That tells us that the dark eyes that Tom Cruise has from then on were not cloned or grown, but taken from another person who apparently also shops at The Gap.

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War of the Worlds meets Gulliver’s Travels.

Sure, it solves the basic problem of being tracked, but if it comes from another person, who has an existing profile in the system, won’t that be noticed pretty quickly by the Big Brother security systems in place? Tom Cruise may be many things, but he doesn’t look Japanese. Someone’s bound to notice.

Psychic Camera Angles

Towards the end of the film it is revealed that (Spoiler Alert) Max Von Sydow is the bad guy. Not only that, but he has been killing people in his way for some time now. How can he do this given that the PreCogs’ whole job is to report murders before they happen?

Simple, he takes his victims to the site of a previous would-be murder witnessed by the PreCogs and kills them in the very same way. That way it looks like the psychic vision of the murder is merely an echo of one they’ve had in the past. It’s dismissed out of hand and everyone goes about their business.

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The ripples, man…it’s all about the ripples.

Well, it’s a good thing that whatever extra-sensory organ the PreCogs use to see into the future always uses the same camera angles, huh? It would be pretty embarrassing if you went through all that trouble to stage a murder and then the vision showed your face in a close up rather than from fifty feet away.

There is No Minority Report

So, Anderton sets out to prove his innocence.  He seeks out Dr. Iris Hineman, one of the original pioneers of the PreCog program to see if there’s been some mistake. He finds her and she seems like some sort of crazy and weirdly flirtatious Professor Sprout from Harry Potter. She tells him that the strongest of the three PreCogs occasionally sees an alternate outcome of a PreCrime.  These are called “Minority Reports.”

The reports are immediately buried, however. Determinism is what drives this PreCog program in the first place. If it became know that there was a possibility of an outcome other what the PreCogs saw in their visions, it would undermine the entire system. Every person convicted under that law system might have been innocent since they were stopped before they could commit the act. So, Anderton pins his hopes on finding the Minority Report to prove he won’t commit the crime, going even so far as to break into the PreCog facility and kidnapping the lead psychic.

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So…he’s actually guilty, then?

In the end, however, Anderton does actually the kill the guy, in exactly the same circumstances as seen in the original vision. There are extenuating circumstances, of course, but he still pulls the trigger and commits the crime anyway. There was no Minority Report.

Aside from that being the name of the friggin’ movie, doesn’t it strike anyone as odd that Anderton was framed and railroaded to commit this crime? How does one even go about setting someone up to kill a total stranger like that? The cause for him to go on the run, and ultimately kill this stranger, was the vision of him committing the crime in the first place. So, the effect becomes the cause that becomes the effect that becomes the cause. Paradox much?

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Minority Report wasn’t a total loss, however. There were some cool sci-fi and action elements in this movie. It had many of the marks of Steven Spielberg’s skillful direction in it. Unfortunately, much of the good stuff was overshadowed by the underlying flaws in the story.

It always amazes me when an expensive, effects-driven movie like this comes out. So much money was spent making the magnetic cars and holographic interfaces come to life, but it seems that parts of the overall story were not considered much at all. That’s a shame. The script and story are probably the easiest and cheapest things to change in a movie of this scope. When I see such a magnificent failure, all I can say is…what the−?