Star Trek Picard: Ep 1 Review

To put it right at the front: I didn’t like it. I’m going to put a short version of my review that I’ve placed elsewhere (I believe in recycling!), then go into more detail:

In short, if you’re looking for a generic sci-fi show, this isn’t too bad. Not good either, but not terrible. 4/10, mostly brought down from the apparent need to have absolutely minimalist dialog to get to the next scene (like a second-year writing student heard for the first time “brevity is the soul of wit,” and applied that to almost every single scene). Most of the sjw propaganda isn’t too much on display at this point. The apparent Mary Sue co-protagonist at least has a reason for being a sooper-speshal butt-kicking waif. I’m thinking most of the stuff from the trailer is going to be in the next episode. 

As a Trek show, it’s pretty bad. Not STD bad, but still bad. Even the worst episodes of proper Trek gave you time to think about whatever thing was on offer. Even if what they were describing was dumb, they at least gave time to try to give an explanation, not just expecting the audience to hear some thing and just accept it, before instantly moving on. And, continuing the JarJarTrek pattern that’s been going on the last decade, it’s like the people that wrote this only knew about Trek from memes and scanning Memory Alpha articles – and I include Patrick Stewart in this (apparently, he’d never even watched his own show until a couple years ago). There’s a whole memberberry vault too (though, fortunately it’s kept mainly to the one scene). I never got the feeling that Data was Picard’s BFF (I’d say that he was closest to Worf, of anyone besides Crusher), but apparently that’s the case, and it’s the thrust of the plot, even though that was 20+ years before the events of the show.

But, at least it completely invalidates the idiots that thought a comic was canon. That’s nice. 

Yes, I know this is about the haters, but I filled it in about the episode itself.
  • Data doesn’t look too bad, but still weird. It’s obviously a dream, so that’s fine.
  • Weird editing all around. Like, bad enough that even a know-nothing non-kinophile like me can notice.
  • Credits are dumb and boring.
  • Holy crap, could the scene with the boyfriend be any more [Current Year]? This would literally fit in any CW drama. The only thing that makes it sci-fi at all is the fact that the guy is an ayy lmao. (And I guess he mentions the replicator.) A cringeworthy CW drama to boot. So awkward.
  • Ah, and Dadge/Dajh/whatever (it’s Doge now) is now a fellow at Daystrom in TWO fields! So smart and STEM! Slay queen! I like science!
  • No Russian Speak English! I guess it makes sense that not everyone on Earth would necessarily have universal translators. And the alien who might have had one is dead, so his probably turned off, if he had one.
  • Let’s not knock her out, or beam her up, or whatever, now that we know that she’s safe to handle. No, let’s put her in more conscious danger by putting a bag over her head (wouldn’t want her to know the transporter path back to our hidden base/ship)!
  • Are the Romulan couple refugees themselves? I think that’s supposed to be the implication. Are they random people that Picard invited to live with him? Are they specifically hired as caretakers (doing job no Earthman would do)?
  • “They said they wouldn’t ask about [thing].” They’re definitely going to ask about [thing].
  • The interview is the exposition dump. This is literally the only thing that explains what happened between Nemesis and this show. Very awkward and jarring.
  • Why did they have that light and camera setup? Even in Enterprise they had cameras and lights that the reporter could just wear on their face.
  • “Romulan lives.” “No, LIVES.” Wow, so powerful!
  • I’m not going to hate on the 900M people thing. I figure that the Romulans were using their own ships (and maybe the other powers helping out) in the lead-up to all that. I mean, if Picard thought he had time to build 10,000 ships, there was obviously a lot of warning. Enough time to evacuate billions, probably. Just the unlucky plebs that got left behind.
  • Why is this a huge (potential) refugee crisis, for the Federation? It’s the Romulan STAR EMPIRE. They have other planets.
  • The whole “Synths did it, so we’ll outlaw synths and also turn insular and not help out” was really forced. Not only is it not TNG-era Federation/Starfleet AT ALL, but it just doesn’t make sense. At least with the Augment thing there’s reason, however dubious. This is just for setting up a fake moral dilemma to set up the plot the creators wanted (particularly Stewart).
  • At least they got one thing right: Picard wouldn’t shoo away some crazy girl that shows up at his house uninvited, at least not without listening to her story. Even considering her story, he’s seen much weirder stuff.
  • PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THE NECKLACE. I mean, talking about it would be a good way to calm someone down in a crisis (and Picard is good at that), but it’s so bloody obvious that this pretty boring and normal necklace is going to come up later for some reason.
  • OK, the first dream sequence was fine. But now Picard is having prophetic dreams.
  • I like how it’s morning in France, and late-night in Boston. At least someone writing this had a brain.
  • For some reason Picard uses the Starfleet Archives as his safety deposit vault. And for some reason he keeps his ship models and sword there. It’s obviously supposed to be some kind of display area, but for some other reason only Picard is allowed in it. And why does the computer take more than an instant to search out his very simple queries?
  • It says Quantum, so you know it’s advanced! I like science!
  • So she’s a synth, and she’s tied to Data somehow (and now has superpowers), so naturally that must mean she’s Data’s daughter. Which he always wanted.
  • Why not just carry the old man, since you have super powers?
  • Why are you running to the roof, where it would be very hard to escape from?
  • How does she know “they” are coming? It seems like she can hear them, but then they beam in, which means they were on a ship.
  • So is she a proper robutt, just human on the outside (like the Borg were doing to Data in First Contact)? Because then her superpowers would make sense. But the Daystrom lady and Picard make it seem like she is basically in effect an augment; while they are strong and smart and whatever, they weren’t Avengers.
  • A 91-year-old man (who could barely get up the stairs, so he isn’t some future-science fit dude) was thrown 40 feet by an explosion, and all he got was a bump on the head. Lucky!
  • The entire Daystrom scene was bad. Dialog and pacing were terrible, the worst example of what I was talking about up at top.
  • Why do they come in pairs? This isn’t a mystery box thing. Real Trek would have at least given a cursory explanation (and Voyager a long-winded, terrible, technobabble explanation) for all of this mess.
  • Good thing she has a twin, so we don’t lose our Mary Sue protagonist.
  • Oh look, ROMANCE!
  • Also, Borg Cube. If I hadn’t played STO for years, this would have been a negative; but Romulans playing with Borg stuff is a plot point in the game, so I’m used to it.

Not a promising start. It could get worse or better from here, but signs point to worse.

My Perfect Video Games

Way back a month ago, Kim over at Later Levels made a post about their perfect video game. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot (I was thinking about posting what you see today since that day), but here it is now. This is obviously a complicated question, and I didn’t really think a comment would do it justice. I’m not going to go into that much detail (because I haven’t thought about it that much)…and I’m not going to limit myself to one game.

Now, it’d be easy to just pick my favorite games that already exist, and merely say “make X better” or “fix that little problem”. But that would be pretty boring, I think. So I’ll go with games that don’t exist yet, as far as I know.

First up, I want an Atelier game. Sure, there are a lot of them, and they come out pretty much yearly. But they’ve never made the perfect Atelier game, for me. Instead of a regular turn-based RPG, I’d want something more akin to a shop simulator. Kind of like Recettear, but with the Atelier feel. It’s always bugged me how the eponymous atelier would often be portrayed as a shop of sorts, but the player never actually ran it (Atelier Annie sorta did it, but in a clunky and terrible way, like it did everything); if there was every any money to be made in alchemy, it was selling stuff to the stock npc vendors who for some reason buy all your crap, but never put it up. The narrative link would be that the heroine would notice that these vendors would buy her stuff, then resell it at a 10-100x markup – and she wants to get that action.

As a busy shopkeep and crafter, it doesn’t make sense that the alchemist would go out and slay monsters herself. Like Recettear’s protagonist, our heroine would get other people to risk their necks for her ingredients. Most would do it for free or a small fee (there’s always fighters and friends for Atelier girls), but you could hire some experts to get the rare stuff that even the alchemist wouldn’t know about (or know how to get it): an herbalist, a miner, etc. The combat would be there, but (mostly) optional: it’d be like sending out the Homs or pet slimes, except they’re characters. I would make combat action-based rather than turn-based, since the alchemist heroine wouldn’t be doing the fighting: either like the Tales of… series, or the various hunter-type games. There would be times when the alchemist would have to go on journeys with her lackeys, if only to identify the ingredients the first time (basically training the assistants).

I would also modify the traditional friendship system. Since the traditional Atelier friendship systems depends a lot on taking the friends out in combat, that obviously has to change. It’d probably be better to have a more request-based. Something like how the Persona series handles that system would really work. Maybe there could even be romance options, which are not unknown even in the Atelier series (Mana Khemia comes to mind, even though that game had a male protagonist).

Since the game would be about keeping a shop, the overall story would have to stay pretty grounded. No existential threats to the kingdom/humanity/the world here. Maybe something threatening the shop at the beginning, but it would mostly be character-driven. Of course there would need to be multiple endings.

My second perfect game would be a grand strategy game…IN SPACE. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What about Stellaris?” The trouble is, Stellaris is an awkward mix of 4X and grand strategy, and doesn’t do either particularly well. I also want the character/dynasty stuff from CKII. I want some of the empire management options from Victoria II. Stellaris is a good start, but I want better. Something more than a map painter in space (though still with the option of painting the map). Also, I would make it single-player first, not multi-player-first-even-though-very-few-people-play-it-like-that like Stellaris and the other Paradox grand strategy games.

Basically, I want a Star Trek gsg (doesn’t need to be actual Star Trek; just have the feel (unlike any Trek made after 2008…)). The Federation doesn’t go out conquering. It doesn’t map-paint. It uses diplomacy and stuff to convince others to join them. Being a one-planet minor is perfectly possible in Trek. Or you could go the Klingon route and CONQUER EVERYTHING. Or you could go the Cardassian route and only conquer to get resources. Or the Ferengi route and stay a small empire, but be extremely influential economically. Or none of the above. Managing the empire would also be different, depending on which faction you’re dealing with. A Federation would settle colonization rights between member states, but a Klingon Empire would have to deal with the Great (and not-so-Great) Houses, with all their jockeying. A monarchy or artistocratic government might need to play games with their nobles, a la CKII. And so on. The possibilities are there.

And of course combat would be needed. I don’t much like the fleet action of Stellaris, and would much rather have individual ship combat, again more like Trek. (Trek had fleets, but fleet combat was relatively rare.) I don’t know if combat would be its own mini-game or not. Might be fun, but might get tiresome. Probably would have it be an option, like in Total War: you could do it yourself, which could potentially lead to better outcomes; or you could just let the computer work it all out statistically.

Oh, and as far as map painting goes, only systems would be owned, not space. That is something that has long annoyed me about space 4X games, and particularly ones that relied on hyperspace lanes between systems: space has borders that can’t be crossed. That’s really unrealistic: space is BIG. It’d be impossible to patrol interstellar space…so I wouldn’t have that as a mechanic. Sure, it might be possible to block expansion or travel, if the game requires hyperspace lanes or whatever that always begin and end in systems. But blocking travel (especially between parts of your own territory) just because a travel path happens to have a borderline that wasn’t there before, in interstellar space, is annoying as hell (had that happen pretty much every game in Endless Space and old Stellaris).

There you have it. My rambles on what I want to play. (There’s a reason I’m not a game designer.) I don’t know if anyone else would want to play those games, but I don’t care; that’s not the point of this blog post. I would play the hell out of these games.

Atelier Ayesha: Initial Impressions

Yesterday the Dusk trilogy of the Atelier series came out. While I’m not the type that generally gets games day 1, especially if I have any question about the quality, or how much I’d like a game, I figured by this point I know what I’m getting into. Plus, they’d have a discount, being new (but not really new – they’re PS3 games), and Koei games, especially those by Gust, don’t often go on sale, let alone get deep discounts. And, the whole Atelier series was on sale, so I picked up the Arland series (at over 50% off, which is about as good as it gets), and Nelke as well, because at this point why not? So now I have all the Atelier games that are on PC, on PC.

And I’ve been in a bit of a gaming funk recently. The mobage I play I’ve all but burned out on from all the free rolls at Christmas/New Year. I’ve finished Elsewyr and Dragonguard for ESO (right in time for the announcement tomorrow). I don’t want to get into Crusader Kings II without more of the DLC. And Cities Skylines is fun and all, but it really doesn’t provide a narrative I want. I started Blue Reflection a few weeks ago, and got to the first boss; I liked what I played, but I’m not really in the mood for that sort of story right now.

Good thing Atelier Ayesha came out. I got to play it a bit last night, and have…a few impressions. Only a few, though, since even the 90 minutes or so I was playing barely got me out of the tutorial. I guess that’s not so bad – a lot of jrpgs have longer tutorials than that. But regardless of how long said tutorial/intro was…it wasn’t quite thorough enough. If I wasn’t quite familiar with the conventions of the series, I’d probably be lost. You get the barest tutorial of the systems, while going through the intro (most of the time is actually just story intro), and then you’re on your own. I do appreciate not being babied, but it does seem a bit lacking, if I didn’t already know what was going on.

As far as that story goes, I think it does all right. There’s clearly something going wrong in the world, at least locally. Water is drying up, the ground is getting increasingly infertile, and resources are becoming scarce. Even the simple, not-that-great medicine that our protagonist makes (before even learning what alchemy is) is a money-maker for the merchants she sells to. There are ruins all over the place of a past, more advanced, civilization, that modern people don’t even understand. Monsters run rampant in the less civilized areas. Oh, and sometimes people just randomly disappear.

Which is what happened to Ayesha’s younger sister. But, at the beginning of the game, Ayesha sees her sister, who seems like a ghost or something. Luckily, an actual alchemist just happened to be around, and seems to know what’s going on. But he’s a huge jerk, and won’t tell Ayesha anything – his philosophy is that knowledge given is knowledge unearned. But, he tells Ayesha that she has about three years to get her sister back (this is your ultimate time limit, obviously).

And that’s the call to adventure. Unfortunately, Ayesha is a complete airhead, so just goes off with no idea where she’s going. Fortunately, she has a friend who’s willing to take care of her. Off they both go, to the big city (which I presume is the main hub), and from there you actually start the game.

So far so good. But it’s not really enough to know if I’ll like it much. It has the main time limit, but I’m not sure if any incremental ones will show up, like they do in the other pre-Shalie games that I’ve played. I don’t really like the time limits, but I think it’ll be fine. The main thing I don’t like (which is just part of the series at this point) is that various actions take such a long time, in relation to the time limit. Even the most basic crafting takes at least a day (and remember, there are only three years’ worth of days), and gathering ingredients from even a single node takes a significant portion of a day. (And I’m sure battles do, too.) That, in addition to the travel times (which seem excessive), makes things not quite as fun, for me. But, as I said, so far, so good.

Yes, Lore Does Excuse Design Decisions

Over at Massively OP, an article popped up today about using lore to excuse design decisions, and how that’s not OK. Going in, I thought this was going to be about actual game design – combat flow, ui flow, and the like. Basically using lore to justify bad QOL elements. I can certainly get behind that stance. I can’t really think of any examples off the top of my head (most devs use the excuse of “QOL is hard”), but I’m certainly against the concept, and was hoping that the article would explain things.

But no, what the article was actually about was mostly character customization, or the lack thereof, in certain ways. (There was also a bit about no cross-faction teaming in WoW, which I think is also a valid complaint – I have the same complaints about STO. But that wasn’t the thrust of the article.) Really, mostly complaining about gender-class locking, or not being able to make female characters.

To be clear, I don’t actually like those things. Those sorts of things will definitely diminish my desire to play the game. But they are OK. If that’s what the devs want, they can use lore to justify it. If you want to say “no female knights, because lore,” that’s your choice. Or “no male witches”. Whatever, that’s fine. Even if your game is a knight game, or a witch game.

Getting mad about the gender locking, for this particular reason, is silly. Obviously the devs had a certain sort of character in mind. It’s a really ancient way of designing a RPG, especially for a MMO, but it’s still valid. In the very, very early days of PnP RPG’s, the characters were pretty static. The Wizard, The Knight, The Thief, etc. Even the first modules for DnD were designed with this in mind. Obviously, this design went away pretty quick (because both character and story customization are more fun, and are quite viable in pnp format), but, again, it’s still a valid design choice. Those RPG’s that do this (they seem to be mostly Asian, and particularly Korean in my experience) are fine. You (and I) might not like it, but it’s fine, for them.

Of course, the devs also have to face the consequences of their design decisions. If they whine about criticism, they get to come off as babbys. But said criticism should be about the choice made, and how it makes the game worse, not that the choice itself isn’t ok, or the lore isn’t valid. It’s perfectly fine for the Red Team and Blue Team to not be able to team together for lore reasons. Maybe annoying to players, but not necessary.

Of course, using lore as an excuse, when it’s not the real reason, is pretty low. If the game is coded in such a way that allowing, for example, cross-faction team, is nearly impossible without going in and blowing up half your game, then just admit that. I get the feeling sometimes that devs don’t want to admit those sort of things, for whatever reason. As if it’d be admitting a huge mistake, and that’d be dishonorable somehow. I get the feeling that’s the reason in WoW’s case (and probably STO’s case), but for some reason they just fall back on lore (which is extremely silly for STO).