Discovering Qualms

I have been accused of hate-watching Star Trek Discovery, and as much as I’d like to deny it that’s probably accurate. I love the actors and the clear skill of so much of the cast and crew. I can’t stand the writing and the narrative choices, especially in the last two episodes, and I cannot abide the clear breaks in canon. I’ve been having trouble with accepting that clearly since so many people disagree with me that the things I can’t stand aren’t broken but are just signs that this just isn’t for me, and that the fact that STD isn’t for me doesn’t invalidate anything else about Star Trek or “ruining my childhood” as it goes. And then there’s today.

I guess the argument “What I don’t like about discovery doesn’t damage what I like about other Star Treks” just died horribly.

The timing of this stinks of CBS trying to add more subscribers by launching this along side the next season of STD, seeing as the DS9 expansion Victory is Life is less than two months old and was only just released on consoles two days ago. We’ve had far less new content with the new expansion compared to others, but that ignores all the hard work the STO team did revamping existing content for the expansion. I’m still not happy about it, but this announcement is also thanks to a leak. This was supposed to be announced at the next big Star Trek convention, and while that might have only been another week away, it still would’ve made it a different week than the console launch of Victory is Life. My biggest issue with it is definitely that there was a crunch for the VIL PC release, with several aspects of the DS9 model & map revamp not guaranteed to launch if they weren’t finished on time. All I can think is if CBS didn’t want this Discovery content while the show was “airing” then the STO team could’ve taken their time with the DS9 sets and not had to worry about “If Ops isn’t finished in time we’ll just have to not put it in.”

So, aside from crowding freshly-released content and potentially making the dev team’s schedules unpleasant, why must I care (especially negatively) that this content is being added to the game? To me Discovery just doesn’t mesh with anything around it in a way that wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if it was its own universe AS IT SHOULD BE versus something that “definitely happened in the same timeline as the original series and the other shows.” I think that would fix almost everything I don’t like about the show (the Klingons bowing to a new ruler who will detonate the planet otherwise still doesn’t compute, but whatevs). It gives the freedom to change both the Federation and the Klingon’s cultural designs because they don’t have to line up with anything else. Starfleet’s court martials looking more like courts on Cardassia or in the Klingon Empire could also be explained away easier. I think you’d still have trouble getting all of Starfleet to agree that going Death Star on Qo’nos would be plausible, but getting ONE admiral to decide it’s a good idea isn’t hard.

Fucking hell, I just realized why “The Battle of the Binary Stars” bothers me so much as a title in-universe… BECAUSE ABOUT 85% OF STAR SYSTEMS HAVE TWO OR MORE STARS. Jesus Fucking Christ. Also this is a great example of what I don’t like about Discovery, where established science and canon are ignored because they think something is cool. And that is EXACTLY the vibe I got from the season 2 trailer. I feel I can definitely argue that some of these things are not okay and need to be course-corrected, and therefore the writing may not be objectively bad as I feel, but it’s definitely screwing up in at least a few places.

The biggest strength of Star Trek Online has always been tying everything together. And I would describe this as the biggest weakness of the STD team (not within their own story, but to the greater whole). This honestly means that the STD content for Star Trek Online will probably be the best Discovery content that will ever exist in my book, but I’m worried about how much of the STD team’s work they will have to use and how they will have to incorporate said work into the greater whole. It’s like trying to reconcile George Lucas’s fifth and final version of the Original Star Wars Trilogy with their theatrical releases #hanshotfirst. I look forward to seeing what the STO team does, but I’m worried what CBS and the STD team might have forced upon them.

 

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In lieu of something of substance, here’s a bunch of Star Trek Online screenshots. Meara is teething/not sleeping so I really can’t handle anything requiring more thought.

Also, since their 30-year history of events between Star Trek Nemesis and the beginning of the game is no longer in an easy-to-digest format, here’s a PDF of History 102 – The Path to 2409, stylized as an in-universe Starfleet Academy file. It’s LARGE.

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“Faith of the Heart”

vlcsnap-2016-08-14-23h07m18s398.pngMany people either love or hate Star Trek Enterprise, and the same can be said of its theme song. I definitely fall into the latter category on its theme. The only Star Trek theme (so far) to have lyrics, being an outright pop song felt wrong on many levels. It fit with what they were trying to do, but it just didn’t feel right. As is often the case with things like that, you can get used to it and move on, but halfway through the show they felt the need to jazz it up, and made it that much worse in the process.

To make matters worse, around the same time that they changed this, they released THIS VIDEO on StarTrek.com…

The majority of the comments at the time were “WHY ISN’T THIS THE OPENING CREDITS?!?” and I definitely include myself in that. Now that I was adding my own fan edits to my Plex server, I decided to undergo the massive undertaking of recreating this in HD and then replacing the opening credits with it in every episode. I don’t currently have an online copy of the final product, but here’s the second draft. I’d made some slight changes (and used shots from fewer episodes for simplicity).

I left the Mirror episodes with their altered opening sequence intact since those were wonderful. But I turned my attention to “These Are The Voyages…” and gave it the opening sequence it deserved…

The Motionless Picture

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Since it first came out, the first Star Trek film has had a reputation. It’s very shiny with incredible visual effects for its time, back when all effects were still practical. But it drags, and drags, and drags. Behind schedule and over budget, the first draft of the film was the one that made it to theatres, with several effects shots never finished. The plot wouldn’t really even be enough for a 2-part episode in the series, so you end up with lots of visual padding that does nothing to move the plot forward. After discovering fan edits, I thought for sure someone had cut The Motionless Picture down to size, but no dice. I would have to do it myself.

For the DVD release a special Director’s Edition of the film was constructed, finally completing the film after 20 years. Many slight tweaks were made as incomplete shots were realized as they had been envisioned but overall the film was barely changed. However since these changes were made at DVD resolution, they weren’t used for the Blu Ray. For the most part, these were minor changes, and it was worth it not to include them at the poorer resolution. However two of them I felt were rather essential, and upscaled them from the DVD release. After that, it was time to start editing.

One of the first things changed in the Director’s Edition was the opening credits, as the titles are instantly replaced with the next in sequence with no transitions. Instead they had a more conventional fade in and out (slightly stylized), as well as both changing the credits from white to a more orange color and putting a star field behind it. I did the best I could to restore these changes, and went one further; while the original film listed most of the original series actors at once, I changed the speed of the entire sequence to give them all their names standing alone. It made no sense to me that actors from the original show got smaller credits than characters added for this film.

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With this complete, my goal was to improve the pacing as much as possible without completely modernizing it; cutting shots that served no real purpose and reducing many of the absurdly long effects shots to a few seconds in length. Most notably, I cut two of the three passes Kirk and Scotty make around the Enterprise. We’re going to see it again in a few minutes anyway, and the faster I could get the Enterprise into V’Ger the better. Throughout the first part of the film I cut extra time between dialogue to make things feel more like real conversations. With JUST these cuts I removed HALF AN HOUR of the film. I lost maybe three or four words of dialogue, and each instance it was Shatner repeating himself at least once.

With the pacing changes complete, I focused on the upscaled Director’s Edition shots I was putting in. These shots were so important because they were the ONLY actual shots of V’Ger’s ship, which they had run out of time and money to build properly the first time around. And seeing this for the first time blew my mind, as did seeing this ship again in Star Trek Online.

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While there were a handful of other VFX tweaks it would’ve been nice to include, I’m happy with saving these two. I’m still amazed that cutting next to no dialogue let me remove an entire half hour of the film. The edit is available to view on my Plex server.

Strange New Worlds

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I can’t believe how nervous I am at the thought of a new Star Trek series. To explain why I need to return to Star Trek Online, as whomever is writing Star Trek Online these days is doing a hell of a job. This post will contain minor spoilers for STO.

As anyone who has seen the 2009 film knows, Romulus has been destroyed by a “natural” disaster.  In game this occurred over 30 years ago and has vastly influenced the present day, from the fall of the Romulan Star Empire and rise of the Romulan Republic to the return of the Iconians.

Through a blatant disregard for the Temporal Prime Directive, I found myself facing a (fake) choice  with the ability to restore Romulus. This felt like an overwhelmingly big choice with a real moral dilemma. Something had to be done, and on one hand I could erase a terrible disaster that cost billions of lives, but would also erase all the gains the survivors had made towards a free and democratic society. To save Romulus meant restoring the Empire and deleting the Republic, which if you’re playing a Republic character must be more interesting…

As I said, the choice was fake as this mission could only be completed one way, but the game gave you the choice and time to delve into the moral implications fully before continuing. Considering how central this kind of situation is to the Star Trek ethos as a whole, I am very pleased about the way it was handled and very looking forward to the “exploration” themed expansion coming up.

Which brings us back to the new show that we know almost nothing about. Who, what, where and when are all essentially unanswered. All we’ve been told is new characters. The prime universe can be assumed since Paramount would need a cut for any stories in the Abramsverse, but that doesn’t rule it out entirely. But my biggest fear (other than it will suck) is that it will negate any/all of Star Trek Online’s story.

Historically retconning has happened now and then with the live action product but hasn’t been too much of a problem, meanwhile any other media has been ignored. But STO has felt different. It has felt more true to the source material than any other entertainment product I have encountered. Not only has it told some great stories, but in the process it has tied up LOTS of loose ends from all the different shows. It has filled a need for five years with no TV product to back it up, and to negate any of it would be a stupid mistake.

What I would like to see would be something that starts either during the game or shortly after it. Where the game stands now, we have fantastic uniforms, (some) great ship designs, and as the map points out, most of the galaxy left to explore. Not only that, but with a big war over we have a class of cadets who were rushed through their final year with a focus for battle who now have to learn to be explorers again. Plus a show running during the game could easily have tie-in missions which would probably boost its numbers, a win-win for CBS. There is so much that could be done with this that I can’t stand the thought that they won’t do it. While I think a show about the Andorian Captain Shon and the Enterprise F would be a great fit, any other ship & crew from the setting would be fine. Follow Miral Paris as a Captain for instance, that’s only an easy promotion away.

A Good Week

I’ve been working on some Mass Effect cosplay for PAX for a while. It’s got a lot done for it but I’m going to wait until it’s finished before I start doing a proper post for it. In the meantime I’ll leave you with this quick Photoshop job. Yes the years are both off slightly (2154-2186) but I was tired and apparently couldn’t read or do math at the time. Image

Other than that I just want to remark on how good things are actually going when I stop to think about it. Work continues to be work, but things are changing for the better in ways I didn’t think would be possible for years. Talk about a blessing in disguise… I’m losing a little money in this process for the moment, but in about a month that will be fixed.

I’m still having trouble believing the NHL is back. That might have something to do with the Leafs beating the Habs IN Montreal tonight. That definitely makes it feel less real, but infinitely more delicious. About as delicious as finally holding my Canadian Citizenship papers is.

Also I want to make sure everyone out there is aware of John Scalzi’s Redshirts. I picked it up Friday and couldn’t put it down. As the name implies, it explores the horrible, terrifying life that Redshirts have to live in a situation very much like the original Star Trek. I’m really bummed it’s over because I want to keep reading it.

That reminds me. I’ve been playing a lot of Star Trek Online, and I should really do a proper review of the game. I haven’t completed the Federation story yet (hit level 50 in season 6 so I stopped, again not wanting it to end) and started playing the hell out of the Klingons. I could go on for quite a while on that, but I’ll save it for a proper post. In the meantime, here’s where playing through Mass Effect again has left its mark.Image

TNG in HD

It’s funny how quickly we’ll adjust to something superior and think “Oh, that’s a little better,” only to then come across the original and wonder how we could ever stand to look at that. Football in HD and Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray are perfect examples of this. They both look nice and shiny on my TV. While football looks amazing, TNG in season 1 only looks better than it did before. That is until you compare it to the actual VHS quality on the DVDs. It’s like the difference between wearing my glasses or not.

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One of the funny things about this new found clarity of image is scenes like this, where a guest star is pushing random buttons on the pad frantically trying to open a door, yelling that he can’t make it work. Maybe you should stop pushing the “Comm” button over and over, silly man. During production of the show some mistakes were made and some were more significant than others. Mike and Denise Okuda have been supervising the project since CBS started with the original Star Trek series, and they are very insistent on not going all Star Wars Special Edition on the show. The following is an example of two different types of errors, from that terrible, terrible second episode titled The Naked Now.ImageImage

When Mike Okuda first made this image 25 years ago, it was supposed to be in color, not monochrome green, but the color coding was lost. He wanted to go back and fix it, but Denise reminded him it’s been green for 25 years. It’s supposed to be green at this point. This kind of non-fix makes me feel the HD project is in exactly the right hands. You may notice however that the images show the movie Enterprise on the original, and the TV Enterprise on the Blu-ray. Okuda originally used the wrong Enterprise in the episode. Again, an unobtrusive edit that doesn’t scream “I’m New!” like everything Lucas has ever touched. The error is repaired and the episode doesn’t feel soiled for it. Well, no more than it is for being this episode.

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And now we get to where things get closest to a special edition treatment. All the planets in the series look terrible. When the entire image looked that bad, we couldn’t tell the difference. But now that the image is clearer, HD versions of all the planets have been recreated with CGI to look like crisp versions of what came before. This is the only instance where CGI is replacing anything that they still have film of, and looking side by side with each planet you can tell they did a good job.

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Season 1 makes me eagerly look forward to the rest of the show making the journey into HD. Having just the one season available also has its merits by forcing you to rediscover that it’s not all trash. Sure, some of it is very hard to watch but other aspects are gems that shine in this release. In my opinion, nobody should try to watch any of season 1 without Wil Wheaton’s Memories of the Future. His snarky commentary on the first half of the season helps you laugh at the bad and appreciate the good about each episode. He claims he’ll have volume 2 done by the end of the year, but we’ll see if he has enough time.