28 July 2017

FWS News Flash: New Serial Coming to FWS!

In the next few months, FWS will be premiering a new serial here on the blog devoted to exploring and explaining a special realm of the genre of military sci-fi: anime. For some months, I've been thinking about creating an serial just devoted to the vast array of military sci-fi works from Japan due to the impact that foundational anime MSF works like Space Cruiser Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam, and ROBOTECH had on me as wee little one in the very late 1970's and 1980's. This new blog serial called "Future War Stories from the East" will detail an military sci-fi anime in the depth you've come to expect from FWS. It will be difficult to watch every single episodes of some of these animes, but I will give it a shot. If you have any military sci-fi animes you would like to see profiled and researched for the new serial, comment below and let me know!  

27 July 2017

FWS Top 10: Most Influential Military Sci-Fi Works

There are some works in fiction, no matter the media form, that are touchstones of inspiration for fans and creators. We creators of currents military science fiction have all been influenced by a number of other creators and works in our special sub-genre of the broad genre of science fiction, and I thought was high time that FWS made a list of the Top 10 most influential Military SF works. Bear in mind that some of these are more current and they are influencing not only us currently, but the future generations of MSF creatos to come.

1. Starship Troopers (1959)
Nearly every Military Sci-Fi creator or work cites this 1959 novel about the adventures of Juan Rico in the Mobile Infantry as being an influence. With good reason, this novel by Robert Heinlein the founding classic of Military Science Fiction and it setup many of the common elements of the genre that carry onward to this day. Powered armor, space drop, hostile insect aliens all came out from this one novel and have been carried on by modern creators, like James Cameron. Throughout the years, the book has been translated into other media forms such as an 1980's anime, an big budget bloody 1997 film, and a combat board game from Avalon Hill. What is most interesting about the influence that Starship Troopers has broadcasted on the genre of sci-fi as whole is not as much about the story itself. Often elements are extracted, like the powered armor, by creators to frame their own Military SF universe. The story itself is has been controversial since its release and it divides fans and critics. Some have clearly drawn inspiration from the society presented in the text, but many steer clear of the military-centered government and the "service guarantees citizenship" policy. However, this culture and society presented in the novel continue to be a source of examination and discussed despite the novel being over fifty years old. It is likely that Starship Troopers will influence writers and creators for a long time, just as War of the Worlds has.    

2. Various Tabletop Military Sci-Fi Games
This may be a cop out, but hear me out. As a younger gamer back in the exciting 1980's going to various hobby, comic, and book stores, I was exposed to one of the greatest eras in sci-fi gaming. There was a sea of sci-fi tabletop games that were war simulations, RPGs, or hybrid of the two. Most people I knew that were into science fiction, where also playing several RPG games at once along with D&D. From the legions of Military SF fans I've met over the years and here on FWS, I began to see the influence of these great non-video gaming systems on forging new fans of the entire sub-genre of military science fiction. Hell, even the box art was an influence on some of us. With these games servicing as a foundation, fans could creator and explore, setting their heroes in off-world space wars that only their imagination limited. I know this is where I constructed my first fictional worlds, races, armies, and conflicts. This was at a time when video games (computer and console) were less immersive, expensive and less involving, causing these more physical gaming systems be more immersive and more social. Some of the earliest ventures in to sci-fi creation were done within these borders and boundaries of various sci-fi games by current movers and shakers in the world of sci-fi/fantasy.

3. Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Back in 1978, NBC aired a daring sci-fi show that built upon the Star Wars fever sweeping the nation at the time as well as creating a unique sci-fi universe. I actually watched classic BSG back in its original run when I was two, and the show has been part of my life ever since. While I was never a huge BSG fan, it was something I was interested in and the ships and space fighters were damned cool designs (along with one of the best theme songs!). For years, there were rumors of an rebooted or sequel coming to expand on the one season of classic Battlestar Galactica. Richard Hatch was so committed to make this a reality, he used his home to fund an BSG "2.0" sequel. He shopped his pilot around for years and that is how I met in him at a con here in DFW.
Then in 2003, we finally got new BSG via the Sci-Fi Network and it rocked the world of science fiction and Military SF with a significant alteration to the classic BSG of the late 1970's. It alienated some fans, but forged many new ones, even roping in non-sci-fi fans due to the strenght of the writing and dramatic elements. For six years, the Ronald D. Moore rebooted BSG showed many of us how reality could be interjected into science fiction along with a building slow-boiling mystery. It became an influential work that saw its style of space combat and reboot formula incorporating into new sci-fi works like 2010's Space Battleship Yamato. For many of us, Ronald D. Moore's style allowed creators to explore interpersonal conflicts that were alien to shows like ST:TNG. At present, no science fiction show has equalled the new BSG, despite what you might think about the ending.

4. Star Wars/Star Trek
Often in modern life, there is a decision between similar products that force you to chose and does say something about you. Coke vs. Pepsi, Galaxy vs. iPhone, Xbox vs. Playstation, coffee vs. tea, Beatles vs. Elvis, PC vs. Mac. In the science fiction, there is such a choice: Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Both contain military sci-fi elements and both have greater altered the world of sci-fi and society. While some of us are fans of both, we often come down to liking one over the other.
Needlessly to say, these are obvious massive influences on all of us and all works that followed since their emergence. These two massive science fiction universes are often the starting point for future creators due to their extreme accessibility and society wide impact. These are "gateway drug" to wider world of science fiction and even military sci-fi. Moreover than being an influential films or TV series, these twin sci-fi franchises have generated the creation of other products that have spread their influence. These other products include cartoons, toys, RPGs, tabletop combat games, and cosplay. There can be no discussion of science fiction or Military Sci-Fi without including these two pillars of the genre.

5. The Forever War (1975)
While 1959's Starship Troopers may have laid down many of the elements of Military SF and gifted us with a idea how these novels should be written, it was a rather cold, incomplete book when take at its narrative face value despite its popularity and notoriety. The true founding classic of military science fiction, it terms of the heart-&-soul of the entire genre, is 1975's The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Much like Starship Troopers, it is a book that the vast majority of fans and creators within the genre read and with good reason: it is the best MSF novel of all time and a masterpiece of showing the horror and oddness of warfare...even if it many lightyears from Terra. Unlike Starship Troopers which has been made into an anime, an American CGI cartoon series, films, and video games; The Forever War has received nearly none of these...making it somewhat more pure(?) in a way and more contained to its original form of media. The stage play and graphic novel adaptations are rare and relatively unknown by the general sci-fi general public. For many of us Military SF creators, The Forever War is a massive influence and the standard to which we hold ourselves.  

6. Mobile Suit Gundam/ROBOTECH/Starblazers
The current state of anime and manga is simply outlandish to an old school Otaku like me. It is an easy affair today to consumer anime and manga. One simply has go to Amazon, or to the local comic book store, or even a major chain book store and slap down some cash. Back in my day, anime/manga was much more rare and those that loved it where cool-beyond-their-time (haha). By the mid-1980's, anime/manga had become more commonly accessible with several major Japanese Military SF anime arriving on the shores of America in the late 1970's/early 1980's. Due to this, I am going to rope all of these into one single entry.
What these anime series did was inspirit an entire generation watching to think about sci-fi a different way along with futuristic conflicts and pave the way for importers to market Japanese model kits, toys, and cell books. This forged many of us early watchers of anime to love combat mecha, space-going battleships, and wild haired pilots. I count myself very fortunate that I was living in Dallas at the time of Gundam and Starblazers release, because it altered who I was and who I was going to be. Then came ROBOTECH in 1986, and it blew the lid off of everything in my mind. I was hooked on not only anime but without knowing it, military science fiction. The very foundation of Future War Stories was laid when I was three watching Mobile Suit Gundam and Starblazers in my house in Richardson, Texas.

Way back in 2001, a little military science fiction game out that would change the face of the entire genre of military sci-fi and gaming as well. Since the release of HALO: Combat Evolved, a massive franchise has been created around the world of HALO that until recently was one of most profitable in history. Books, comics, other games, toys, and even cosplay were all influenced by the universe of HALO, giving the entire genre of military science fiction a boost. Despite the fall-down-the-stairs recently, HALO has a major influence on the gaming industry and on military science fiction with the injection of new blood and excitement into the genre. Certainly, HALO was a massive influence on me and I still consider HALO: Combat Evolve my favorite video game of all time. Given the caliber of the majority of the games and even the books, it likely that HALO's influence will remain bright despite the abortion that HALO 5: Guardians was. 

8. Warhammer 40,000 and Space Hulk
There is just something about the grimdark world of 40K and its future where there is only war. When I was going into comic book stores in the 1980's, I was in awe of the models and box art of WH40K and when I was old enough, I played Space Hulk and 40K...plastic crack had invaded my life. Beyond the tabletop battles was a mythology that we ate up because it was not typical sci-fi, it was more akin to D&D, and it was truly dark and exciting. This was new soil to grow new and different ideas about future wars and fictional universe influencing us to fuse elements of fantasy, history, and insanity into our brave new bloody worlds.

9. Ender’s Game
In 1985, an interesting take on alien invasion, child soldiers, and retribution was explored in Orson Scott Cards' award-winning military science fiction novel Ender's Game. Since publication, Ender's Game has remained on "best of" lists in both military sci-fi and regular science fiction. Much like Starship Troopers, it is on military reading lists, and it was also made into a major motion picture. While SST film of 1997 was only slightly related to the original source material, the Ender's Game film of 2013 was actually quite good and I believe it was better than the book in most parts...but it failed to be as much of a success as the SST film. Since the original release of the book, the universe has been expanded many times over with comics and books. The unique plot and approach has caused this book to be a major influence on many creators and fans...but, I am not one. This is the only entry on this list that I do not agree, but the facts are clear: Ender's Game is a major work in the genre of Military SF. I enjoyed the film much more than the book along with some elements of the book. However, I've never read anymore entries in the Ender's Game book series due to this...and I likely never will.

This 1986 sequel is the best military science fiction movie of all time...bar none. Since its debut, ALIENS has reminded one of the most influential Military SF works of all time and has inspired thousands of works and millions of creators. Not only is well done in terms of design of the future military hardware, it is also a blast to watch, rewatch, and watch again. It is a great movie that one of those films that is as good as you remember it. Everyone seems to draw inspiration from ALIENS around the globe, and it such on a rarified level, it has never been duplicated despite many failed and painfully efforts. In many ways, ALIENS is the standard, and we all, in one way or another, operate to that fact. I think I need to rewatch watch again!

*BONUS* War of the Worlds and Edison's Conquest of Mars 
The entire genre of military science fiction was founded via one single novel at the edge of the turn-of-the-last-century with H.G Wells' celebrated (and terrifying) novel: War of the Worlds. This 1898 novel called into question man's inherent sense of superiority when an alien invasion is called down from the red planet. Despite the advancements of science, mankind is unable to stop the armored walkers of the Martians armed with "heat rays". It is the smallest of invaders, Terran bacteria that stops the red invaders. Repeatedly cited as a book that laid down the foundations of science fiction, it is also the forgotten "sequel" that also spawn many common elements of military science fiction: Edison's Conquest of Mars. Relatively unknown today, Edison's Conquest of Mars was an newspaper serial that was an unauthorized sequel to the 1898 novel that picked up after the halted invasion when the Earth decides to strike back at the red planet. It ushered in several major elements of science fiction warfare itself and while unknown, it still echoes onward to this very day. There really cannot be modern science fiction nor Military SF without these two classics of the 19th century.

Next Time On FWS...
One of the most common types of science fiction weaponry is the almighty blaster...but what the hell is an "blaster" anyways? And there an real-steel equal to the sci-fi blaster that hangs from the tights of many our favorite heroes and villains? Join FWS next time when we explore and explain the archetype of science fiction weaponry: the blaster!

17 July 2017

FWS Topics: Are Military SF Video Games in Trouble?

In 1977, sci-fi received an earth-shaking boost in popularity and respectability that still echoes on onward even to this day. At the same time, video games technology was emerging as a new favorite pastime fueling a new sector of the economy and industry. These two titans fused together to fulfill the wishes and dreams of sci-fi fans and moviegoers: living the events of their beloved films. By the mid-1980's, fans of Star Wars could embark on the iconic trench run at the Battle of Yavin IV at the joystick of an X-Wing. This is still being recreating to this day with modern computer technology. However, the once promising relationship of sci-fi and video games has fallen on hard times with the failures of Destiny, HALO: 5 Guardians, TitanFall 2, COD: Infinite Warfare, COD: Black Ops III, and the mixed reception of Space Hulk: Deathwing, We fans of military sci-fi are left with a painful question: Are Military Sci-Fi video games in trouble? Let us review the evidence.

The Failure of Destiny 1 and the Rebooted via Destiny 2
There is little doubt that Bungie redeveloped the video game and Military SF landscape with the release of 2001's HALO: Combat Evolved. For a decade, Bungie released HALO games to celebration and massive profit. Then around time of HALO 3, Bungie decided to move on, spin off HALO, and developed an new game/universe to usher in a new era for the company. That game was Destiny and hints of its existence were easter egg'ed in HALO 3: ODST. For years, Bungie and her business partner, Activision, poured half-a-billion dollars into this new game...and then results were mixed at the time of release in 2015 with most scores falling the "6 out of 10" category. HALO it was not in both gameplay, setting, and generating the same like of response among fans and critics. This is did not hurt sales though due to a lack of pre-release reviews by the company's orders and actions. Millions of players and dollars flowed in with Destiny becoming of the biggest games of all time in terms of preorders and sales, especially on the new generation of consoles.  But, mere sales figures did not fully tell the tale of Destiny and its bloody, dark, development.
Prior to the release of the DLC packs, "vanilla Destiny", as it has become known, was a short campaign of a muddled story, and new multiplayer that excited many. If you wanted to know more about the space fantasy-post-apocalypse world of Destiny, you had to dig via in-game cards, videos, and internet sites. For a long-term player of HALO like me, Destiny was a welcomed change and I rather liked it, and I played it continuously for nearly a year on my Xbox One. That is longest I've ever played a game continuously without switching games. After The Taken King, the game became stale and unless you wanted to form a team or battle online, you were basically done until the next DLC save for grinding and random reviews. My involvement in Destiny faded and so did the public. While still profitable, fans and critics lashed out against the lack of in-game explanation, short vanilla Destiny campaign, and need for continued investment by the player to use the game to its full potential.
While it was a success technically, it was bloody one, and Bungie knew that they needed to make a change for the incoming sequel. Now, we know the level of surgery that Bungie performed and it looks like the world of Destiny 1 has been burned to the ground, the lore altered or forgotten, and a new Destiny is being formed right before our eyes. But, is that a good thing? Certainly. Destiny 1 was a mixed bag to us fans of military science fiction, but there was an interesting world to be explored and now many online feel like answers we were promised about the Exo Stranger, the Darkness, and the 9 will not come because Bungie wants to distance their new game and themselves from the issues of Destiny 1.
This means the abandonment, on the surface, of the extensive lore. To me, this is a sign of serious trouble for the company and the long-term future of Destiny. If the second full game fails to solve the issues of the first and attract old and new fans, this universe and its lobbies will grow dark and cold. To me, witnessing the most expensive game in the history be rebooted is cause for concern and is another sign of the trouble that Military SF video games are having.

The Mishandling of the TitanFall Games
Combat Mecha is one of the bedrock technologies and symbols of military science fiction, serving has an instant indicator that "this is the future". Anime and Manga have full realized this connection with works like ROBOTECH, Gundam, Armored Trooper VOTOM, and Fang of the Sun Dougram. In the West, works like Battletech and Exo-Squad would reinforce this concept, that it fueled our imaginations of future warfare. For decades, we fans of Military SF with badass mecha have waited for a video game that would allow us to suit up and fight like we were metal gods of war.
It was hoped by EA and Respawn that TitanFall would capitalize on both the long-term love affair with mecha and online shooters. It helped that the developer had Call of Duty experience. However, there was one fatal flaw sown into the very DNA of the original game: multiplayer only. No single-player campaign at all. This, while fine at the time of launch for some players and the current climate of gaming, would artificially limit the longevity of the game. Much like what the Tyrell Corporation did to the NEXUS-6 Replicants, a limited lifespan to deflate the risk of another off-world revolt, Respawn and EA did to their new IP. Without the benefit of an single-player campaign or even some sort of shared experience like Destiny, TitanFall was sentenced to a limited lifespan, Very limited.
The story of TitanFall could not be effectively total, even as a COD game, and this would limit player involvement and relationship between the game and the players. This hurt sales as well. For players like me that bought their Xbox Ones later and were not on Xbox Live most of the time, TitanFall was not a worthy investment even at 1/2 off. By the time I could have bought the game, the lobbies were becoming empty and I would have to invest in Xbox Live to even play the damn thing. Despite this, the game sold very well, 10 million units, and was a fun mecha-based shooter that generated great reviews.
 The success empowered EA to greenlit Respawn to forge a sequel. Building on the good elements of the original 2014 game and would correct the mistakes, namely constructing an single-player campaign that would allow TitanFall 2 to have a life outside the lobbies and being on the PlayStation 4 as well as the Xbox One and PC. It was hoped by all that TitanFall 2 would be a even bigger success than the first game. But it wasn't. TitanFall 2 was not the success the original game either in terms of day one sales, secondary merchandise, or in the population of the lobbies despite the general good reviews.
Unlike the original game, EA did not invest the same amount of money in advertising/promotion, poor communication that TitanFall 2 would be on the PS4, EA released the game into a feeding frenzy. At around the dame time,  Battlefield 1, Skyrim, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (another future shooter) were all released causing gamers to have to pick-and-choose what shooter to invest in. While firm sales figures were never released by EA, there were bad enough neither Respawn nor EA will comment directly on them, only stating that success can be measured over time and by different standards.
The poor decisions by EA (surprise!) as placed the future of TitanFall into jeopardy with the planned for 3rd game being now in question and the mobile was outright cancelled. The TF2 DLC is said to be incoming...we shall see. All of this is such a pity for such a promising MSF game franchise. TitanFall looked like, in 2014/2015, that it would spawn an live-action TV show, a possible movie, books, toys, comics. Those have not materialized or have been curtailed. The worst part of the "failure" of the TitanFall franchise is that the entire genre of Military SF was impacted via being robbed of an new IP that could have generated a wider experience for us fans of the genre, similar to HALO. Time will tell if TitanFall will survive this storm and EA...hopefully it turns out better than it did for the rebooted Medal of Honor franchise.  

Call of Duty Goes Back to World War II 
There is no doubting the juggernaut that Call of Duty is with $15 billions in sales and 250 million games sold. However, at one time, COD was just another World War II shooter that had not yet unseated the king of the WWII shooters: Medal of Honor. In 2003, when the original game was released on PC, no one had any idea that COD would become a cultural touchstone. In fact, its first shooter on the original Xbox and PS2 was a terrible piece of dog shit. However, by the time of COD III release, the brand was established as well as their domination over MoH. However, in the year that the 3rd WWII themed game was released, 2006, that setting had been exhausted.
There were rumors floating around that Activision would be setting the next COD in Vietnam or Korea or even World War One. None of those came to reality with the next game. Instead, COD would be going into the modern setting with the global War on Terror and the conflicts in the Middle East. It was a earthshaking event in the world of shooter video games. The bar has been rest by COD 4: Modern Warfare and everyone else had to play catchup. Modern Warfare propelled the COD franchise and popularity at a rockets pace with the online lobbies packed with hunters and victims. That only increased with the release of MW2, which many have said was the apex of these games.
The next game was developed by another studio and set new characters into a Cold War/Vietnam world of Black Operations. It was yet another massive success and Black Ops would became a standard of online play (Tomahawk'ed across the map!) However, the stage was set for another issue. With the released of MW3 in 2011, that storyline came to an natural conclusion and developer Infinity Ward to look elsewhere for another world to set the chaos of COD into. That became Ghosts. Treyarch would be the first to set the COD universe into a near-future setting with the release of Black Ops II in 2012. For many, including myself, Black Ops: II would be the apex of the online shooting enviroment of COD with gameplay that kept you returning for more and more digital bloodshed. There was a period of an year that I drank Jack&Coke on Fridays and Saturdays and played Black Ops: II online until the wee hours. Those were good times. With the future setting ventured into by Treyarch, the other studios attached to COD games would follow. This would signal the end of COD as we know it. Then came Ghosts in 2013 by Infinity Ward...and it was the first of the COD games to fail in everything but sales. While the plot was a break from the world set up by Modern Warfare and Black Ops, it was still "America under invasion" scenario with uneven online play that could not hold a candle to Black Ops: II or MW: 3. The game was panned and the lobbies dried up with players leaving for other games and even returning to Black Ops: II.
This was the first blow to the COD franchise and given the "wash-and-repeat" formula of the games and their yearly release schedule, gamers became jagged and burned out. The futuristic setting of the COD games would be pushed by Advanced Warfare, Black Ops: III, and then lastly with Infinite Warfare. That last game has the "honor" of being one of the most disliked videos on the whole of Youtube.com and it was a sure sign that the entire COD empire was heading the wrong direction. With their rival Battlefield going back into the past to World War One, it was clear that it was time to travel back to the past to save the future of COD. This might that the long-held dream of some of us Military Sci-Fi gamers to see COD in the far-future was DOA with the failure of Infinite Warfare. Be careful what you wish for I guess. With it clear that the COD games set in the future a losing venture, the wider world of Military SF games has taken a serious blow in terms of overall popularity and further investment of future warfare games by other developers/publishers.

The Nosedive of Mass Effect: Andromeda
In 2007, BioWare released the first game in the best Military SF RPG video game series of all time. Mass Effect forged a new, unique universe packed with beloved characters. For three games and a number of DLCs, the universe of Mass Effect was explored (and probed) that apexed in an end to the galactic cycle of the Reapers that was met by heated fan reaction that forced changes and was a black eye to the 3rd game and the whole series. After the end of the original trilogy in 2013, we fans wondered what, if anything, would happen to the Mass Effect franchise after the end of the galaxy as we know it?
BioWare conducted a poll asking what direction Mass Effect should take with the next game: the past or the future? The past path was to show the First Contact War or go forwards. The fans chose forwards as the path of the future of Mass Effect and the more exploration-centered mission to the Andromeda galaxy was told...with very mixed results that are still being patched. We all know that the latest and possible last Mass Effect video game is a half-baked mess with creepy facial animation that could be enjoyed if these were overlooked and with a cold six-pack. The game is a result of a internal war at BioWare with studios fighting one another. People left, the planetary generation mechanic was scrapped, but the deadline was not. Most of what we got in ME:A was completed in the final nine months prior to release, allowing for little time to test and correct. For such an Triple-A title as this to suffer and stumble via mismanagement, too hard of deadlines, and nosebleed high expectations is heartbreaking and may have cost Mass Effect its life and its status among us players (I am playing ME:A at the moment for the record).

The Uncertain Future of Killzone

Back in 2004, the video game industry was still under the shadow of the success of HALO. With the game being exclusive to the original Xbox console, PlayStation needed their own military SF shooter or "HALO Killer" as the gaming press titled it. This was a common title and theme in the industry at the time and it was challenge to game developers. One such HALO Killer game for the Sony PlayStation came from a Dutch company: Guerrilla Games. Their Military SF first-person shooter featured the arresting imagery of a gas masked black stormtrooper that channeled an "space nazi" feel. This became the cornerstone of the marketing for the game, which excited the gaming public and the gaming press. When the first Killzone was released on the PS2 in winter of 2004 it was not the HALO killer that it reported to be. Instead we got a good MSF shooter that was rough around the edges and with a storyline that was buried. Still, the foundation was there and with the success of the first game, Guerrilla Games got on the sequel.
Released on the PS3 in 2009, Killzone 2 would see the ISA invade Halghan to put an end to the threat. It was the high mark for the entire franchise with the best sales and ratings along with a damn cool teaser trailer. After this, the entire franchise entered into a plateau with the 3rd game in the original trilogy being well received...but, Guerrilla Games had written themselves into a corner with the end of the planet Halghast and it showed in Cold War Berlin setting of the fourth game: Killzone: Shadow Fall. 
While the game was praised for its beauty, it failed to excite beyond the base nor create anything new. The game sold 2.1 million copies, making it one of the best selling games on the PS4, but for some reason, the passion for the Killzone franchise was simply not there and there was not the generation of an secondary market of goods as we have seen with other gaming franchises. The developer, Guerrilla Games, moved on to develop the PS4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn, but they stated in early 2017, that they will indeed return to the Killzone universe soon. We shall see if the fifth major game in the series will finally break through to be the wider success of other military sci-fi shooters.

The Shit Show that was ALIENS: Colonial Marines
With 1986's ALIENS being the best military SF movie of all time and having one of the best hostile alien enemies, translating the dark sci-fi world of the ALIENS universe into a video game has been a goal of 20th Century Fox and the video game industry. Despite many attempts, all of fans of MSF and ALIENS still wanted an solid military sci-fi shooter based on the United States Colonial Marine Corps. Since 2001, Sega has been attempting to develop just that: an shooter based in the ALIENS universe using the Colonial Marines as characters. After a bloody long development we finally got an impressive demo at E3 with the Gearbox CEO that took us back to the colony site on LV426 in 2011.
We had high hope...we were fools. When the "game" was released in 2013, it was a half-baked mess that completely shit the bed and broken all of the promises it made. It was so bad that day one reviews prevented people like me from buying it. While there have been some improvements made via patches and some fun to be had in the multiplayer and the "Status Interrupted" DLC, it is still a black mark on the world of Military SF games and the collective memory of us fans. After all, these studios and the publishers soiled the good name of ALIENS and the Colonial Marines in the same game and that level of emotional trauma will take time to heal. This is all in conjunction with the box office failure of ALIEN: Covenant means that the ALIENS might be put back into hyper-sleep. Maybe in 57 years...maybe.

So...Are They in Trouble?
Yes, I do believe that the wider world of military science fiction games are in trouble if things do not change. It seems that every major Military SF video game franchise has been battered and bruised in the last few years with the release of games that were not ready to leave the nest. But, that is not just limited to our beloved specific genre of sci-fi...the inflection has spread much deeper. It is also concerning the entire video game industry as a whole. Some believe that we are the edge of another video game crash as we were in 1982. Will 2018 be the same as 1983, where the whole of the video game industry crashed only to be rebuilt again in 1986 with the NES? We can only hope that the video game community and industry are aware of the similar conditions that this pothole can be avoided...it is not too late...yet.

The Real Enemy: Video Game Companies Themselves
After reading over the common failures of these Military Sci-Fi games, I've arrived a one major underlying issues: the video game publishers and the studios themselves. Most of the games on this list had all of the right pieces in place, but they are assembled in a such hurry and rushed out to meet some deadline imposed by the publisher for the game to generate a profile that were broken, unpolished, or cut to create a DLC pack to finish the original game for more cash. However, that business strategy has badly backfired to the point that it could jeopardize the entire industry and bring about another Video Game Crash. What the video game companies have done is break the bonds of trust. Trust is at the heart of business, not greed. We, the customers, have to trust that the products being advertised is worth of our money and time. When they release a half-baked game that could have been great, these companies erode the trust that we the consumers have placed in their brand and this has led to the shelving of Mass Effect by EA and Call of Duty going back to World War II. There is no better example that HALO 5: Guardians and the recent COD games.
When a video game franchise has forged a foundation based on solid games that were worthy of our invest in time and money, it has dutifully earned our love and trust. That love and trust can be used against us, as we have seen with the recent HALO games. These companies traded on the good name of their franchise to push out an product that is NOT of the same caliber as the others, and while they got their money from us, they crack the bedrock of trust. There comes a time when those half-baked games cause us to hesitate at the time of release when prior we would have gladly forked over our money. Pain is always a good reminder. These are some of the most trusted, profitable, and respected video game franchises of the 21st century, and via the mismanagement of the recent games, many of us will not pre-order the game or buy it on day one. We will wait to see if the game has earned our hard earned money. It doesn't fucking help that these companies milk the consumers with DLCs and in-game purchases more than Thufir Hawat had to do to that creepy pasta Harkonnen cat-and-in-mouse-in-a-box (I'm looking at you Destiny!). Video game companies and developers need to understand that our patience is running thin and time is running out. Video games cannot be viewed as a vehicle for short-term monetary gain, they are important to us and if that fact is not respected by the companies creating and releasing them, we will be a crisis point.

Next Time on FWS...
For many years, FWS was a smooth operation with blogposts leaving the nest often and my life was relatively stable and okay. Over the last few years, my life has grown more complex and painful...and 2017 is some of the most bloody. With the selling of my house, my family will be moving into a rental house in the next three weeks, coupled with trying to find another job in the middle of this latest storm. Thus, making the next blogpost a bottom priority. I am hoping to get the next blogpost about the 10 most influential Military SF works out quickly before the chaos. Fingers crossed!

12 July 2017

7th Anniversary of Future War Stories!

It is that time again when FWS celebrates another year of being active and kickin'. This year has been one of the hardest for me personally and that has reflected in the work output of FWS. Seriously, there have been dark times. I moved to Austin without my family, traveled around the nation opening medical clinics for my new/old company, and tried to support my wife has she took care of our three kids. I've never missed my family so much or felt more alone. While this was going on, our foster daughter returned to us four months ago was an answer to our hopes, the stress of moving and selling our house has been extreme. In the middle of all this, I've been attempting to keep FWS going and it was not always successful. I've been terrible at returning messages and emails, and I think I've alienated some fans and business partners. For that, I am truly sorry. This has been the worst of times and some of my life is still up in the air with the fact that lost my job during my writing of this. blogpost. That's right. The job I moved down to Austin to take fired me for lame causes. I guess It doesn't matter anyways, I wasn't happy in Austin and I missed home. FWS and my family will be staying in the Dallas area! I'm back and I'm staying! Anyways, thanks to everyone that reads, comments, and shares...you make FWS live and breath. I am grateful to all of you and I hope that we celebrate many more FWS anniversaries! Now back to writing the next military science fiction masterpiece..and trying to find a job. Kill me now.

29 June 2017

FWS Military Sci-Fi Oddities: SPACE RANGERS (CBS 1993)

Back in the early 1990's, science fiction exploded on the American airwaves like a supernova propelled by programs like The X-Files, ST: TNG, and Deep Space 9; along with increased public interest in anime. As with any trend, the major American networks attempted to cash in on the popularity and get onboard with the winning team. CBS always seemed like an "Me too!"American network of late, and they did the same with the sci-fi trend with their own early 1990's entry: Space Rangers. This military sci-fi oddity came and went in the space of a few episode and was largely unknown by many, including me at the time. It was only after running across a list of very short-lived TV shows on WatchMojo on YouTube that I learned of Space Rangers. I originally was only going to mention this one on a Top 10 list, but after some of the responses and enjoy I had writing the FWS article on The Osiris Chronicles, I decided it was high time to give Space Rangers an full Military Sc-Fi Oddities article and take its forgotten, but oddball, place in Military Sci-Fi history here on FWS.    

What the Hell was Space Rangers?!
This very short-lived 1993 military SF/Space western television show ran for four episodes on CBS out of six that were produced with the filming of the pilot "Fort Hope" taking place in April of 1992 and the show airing in January of 1993. It was developed and created by Pem Densham (the pilot was co-created with Jay Roach) for the production company Trilogy Entertainment Group. This relationship between the two had forged films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Backdraft. Pem actually pitched Space Rangers among three other pilots at one meeting with Trilogy Entertainment. Space Rangers was the show funded to pilot. Production on the pilot was briefly halted due to the Rodney King Riots in LA. The majority of the cast were unknown, however, three of the show's stars where known prior to their enlistment in the Space Ranger Corps. Linda Hunt is well known today for her starring role on the CBS show of NCIS: Los Angeles, but many of us know her due to her role in the 1984 DUNE  film as the "Shadout Mapes". The role of the proud alien warrior was played by Japanese actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who many knew from the film Rising Sun in the role of Eddie. The pilot of the Space Ranger sling FTL vessel was Marjorie Monaghan, who played a Mars Resistance leader in Babylon 5 last season and was up for the role of T'Pol in ST: Enterprise. 
The creator of the show, Pem Densham was taking a more realistic, rock-n-roll approach to sci-fi television over the vision of Star Trek. He said that he wanted his show to be an adventure-centered show with things happening than just talk and meetings. Several actors would call Space Rangers more "blue collar" than TrekSpace Rangers would draw from a familiar concept in sci-fi: the blending of historical frontier law enforcement officers with "Wild West" sci-fi angle. These "space rangers" have endured since the early days of science fiction and the overall concept of "space rangers" has been recycled time after time. The term "space rangers" is as bedrock, generic,  and overused as "space marines", laser blasters, faster-than-light travel, and killer robots. Growing up in the 1980's, I would see the space rangers concept used in the Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and Bravestarr. It was seen in a 1988 comic book by the same name and relativity concepts and there is even a current kid cartoon running under the name Space Ranger Roger along with the short-lived 1954 kid's Black-&-White kid's show called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. This means that this 1993 show was well rooted in traditional sci-fi themes and ideas, but that did not seem to matter to the network nor the viewers when Space Rangers premiered on January 13th, 1993.

The Plot and Universe of Space Rangers
The year is 2104 and humanity has begun a period of colonial expansion that causes a gap between the central and the frontier systems. In addition, we are not alone. Other aliens races and humans ban together to form a law enforcement/peacekeeping organization, called "the Space Ranger Corps". They are based on frontier outposts and patrol in "sling-ships" that use acceleration rings to propel them to light speeds without taxing the fuel tanks while getting the small teams of Rangers out to the latest interplanetary crisis. The series follows only one such team led by experienced Space Ranger Captain John Boon (who is heavily channeling Sonny Crockett!) and based out of Fort Hope on the newly established world of Avalon.
They get out to the frontier via an aging broken down slingship #377 or "Lizzie". Fort Hope is rapid become a place of commerce, relaxation and crime on the frontier. It is here that Boon's team battles for peace on the frontier and at home. This team is composed of an Amazon warrior woman that pilots the ship, an rookie, an mechanic that lost body parts on many worlds and had them replaced via cybernetics, the mad scientist, and the noble/proud alien warrior named Lt. Worf...I mean Zylyn of the Graaka. The main enemies of the Space Rangers are the Banshees that slip into our dimension and are akin to Native American raiders in our Space Western setting here on Space Rangers.
They appear to be an unholy love child of H.R. Giger's creation and are never fully developed. Another enemy is Central Command. Throughout the series, Central battles the Space Ranger Corps over budgets, overtime, logistics, and the role of the Space Rangers. One of the major faults of the show that pertains to this section of the article is the underdeveloped nature of the universe of Space Rangers. While only four episodes aired, there was still no clear direction or unifying concept/vision of the Space Rangers universe, which badly wounded the show and caused viewers to be lost.

What Happened to Space Rangers?
The trouble all started for this forgotten TV show during the filming of the pilot in April of 1992. It was filmed among one of the worst race riots in US history and did not get much better. The original pilot was viewed by the studio, the cast, and the network as weak and it was shelved. Instead, CBS aired episode #2 "Banshees" as the premier in the first week of January of 1993...the same week as the premier of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Which one do you think sci-fi fans watched? This show could not catch a break and with DS9 premiering, there was just enough oxygen for both. When two of the actors were interviewed by Starlog Magazine in mid-1993, they both spoke about waiting on a final decision on the fate of Space Rangers. That call was made around April or May of 1993 and the show of only six episodes slipped away into forgotten dusty realms of science fiction history. After its demise, the show was released for a time on VHS and later DVD with only a good boxset being released recently as in 2013. But, it did received a interesting second life as a series of television "movies"or as series of three"chronicles" that packaged two episodes to form some sort of unified story. It is worth noting that Space Rangers was received with greater interest in Europe than America.  

Why is Space Rangers an Military SF Oddity?
There four reasons why I assigned Space Rangers to the Military SF Oddity category. First, is that this show actually aired on a major US TV network despite the quality, plotting, themes, and overall style of Space Rangers. It is hard to believe that it was not an syndicated television in a similar vain to Andromeda, Babylon 5, Cleopatra 2525. Instead, this military sci-fi show of uneven writing, low quality SFX, and oddball design was run on one of the Big 4 networks in America: CBS....all be it for 20 days...but still, CBS. That is almost as odd as Max Headroom on ABC. Almost. This is likely due to the timing of when Space Rangers was pitched and accepted by the network can explain some of this. After all, NBC had no less than two sci-fi shows: Earth 2 and SeaQuest DSV, Fox had the X-Files, and there were a number of syndicated sci-fi shows, most notably ST: TNG.
Secondly on the oddity reasoning, is how half-baked the entire universe of Space Rangers really is. You can expect elements of the show to alter between the pilot and it being picked up as a regular series as we saw with Star Trek and Space: Above and Beyond. But Space Rangers was born too premature and it cost it fans and continued production. Science Fiction fans of the time were a custom to filled out sci-fi universes were the events and characters lived. When comes Space Rangers that is still having its universe figures on the fly with scripts being finished as the episode is being filmed. This is reflected in interviews with Starlog when the actors were told by the production staff that things still needed to be ironed out and ad-libbing was acceptable. This is reflected in the design of the alien species, especially the big bad aliens of the series: the Banshees. They are poorly done from top to bottom with the basic design being borrowed from ALIENS. Yawn.
This leads into our third reason: welcome to sci-fi cliche city. With vast issues with fleshing out the universe and stories, Space Rangers liberally mined common sci-fi cliches and tropes to a fatal level. Honestly, there is little originality presented in the four episodes aired that it grimly harms everything and everyone. You can nearly guess the next plot event or dialog due to this and makes the show boring to watch. Hence, why it only lasted four episodes. The last reason for Space Rangers being an oddity is the most sad: howe forgotten it is. Despite the explosion of the informational on the internet, it is very odd and telling how unknown this series is today, even to someone like me. I was a sophomore in high school in 1993 and very much active in watching all science fiction at the time ( I had no life). But this show escaped me.
I literally have no 1993 memories of Space Rangers. It simply came and went without me or anyone else I knew even noticing it. Space Rangers just disappeared off of the collective radar until the age of the internet and those damned lists. That is how I discovered that Space Rangers existed at all via a top 10 list. And it is true that Space Rangers does appears on some websites via articles...there is no internet site devoted to it and there is only one episode on Youtube in English. Hell, the Photon tv show from 1987 has more internet space devoted to it than Space Rangers...and that is just sad. Even locating images for this blogpost was tough and to watch all of the episodes without buying the boxset on Amazon, I had to watch them in German with English subtitles...and I wasn't missing much. Oh, another oddity is that great composer Hans Zimmer created the main theme and that Industrial Light & Magic was approached to handle the special effects. Taking of these reasons together shows how Space Ranger exists in the realm of an military science fiction oddity rather than an forgotten classic.

Could Space Rangers have been saved from the Hangman's Noose Back in 1993?
The first part of that question is answered by a simple review of the entire series: it just isn't that good and too under-baked for its own good with a stupid title to boot (should have called "Fort Hope" instead). There is a great deal of assumptions here, but IF there had been better writing, designed, some recasting, more support from CBS or it being laid out as weekly franchise show like Babylon 5 on PTEN then perhaps Space Rangers could have lasted for longer than just six episodes. The creator of the show agrees with this theory and lays the blame on CBS for the failure of Space Rangers. Pam stated in an interview the network never gave the show a fair chance and aired on the wrong day (Wednesdays) and airing the episode completely out of order (Firefly anyone?) with the pilot being aired last and the second episode being the premier did not help forge fans and or even a cohesive universe of 2104.

The Weapon of the Space Rangers...an old friend
One of the most interesting elements of this 1993 show was the primary weapon of the Space Rangers Corps and it is old favorite of sci-fi prop: the Mini-14 Muzzelite MZ14 Bullpup kit. The Mini-14 and the AC556 were developed by Ruger to chamber the 5.56x45mm round and it was close in appearance to the M14 battle rifle. This "jamless wonder" was used as the blank-firing prop gun in many films and when fitted with Muzzelite MZ14 bullpup kit, it became an instant sci-fi prop classic. This carbine has appeared in Starship Troopers as the Morita, in hands of the Mars troopers Total Recall, also on the grim battlefields of 2029 being used by the human resistance in Terminator 2 as an phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range, as the weapon of DELTA Force operators in Delta Force 2: the Columbian Connection, and even in SeaQuest DSV.
By far the strangest places the Muzzelite bullpup has been seen is in Highlander 2: The Quickening. Yep...it is in there on the planet Zeist. In the X-Files, the Muzzelite was seen being used by "the Blue Berets", the US Government black ops UFO crash recovery teams. Indeed, this gun gets around more Lindsay Lohan after a binder. In Space Rangers, the Muzzelite was fitted with a number of plastic pieces to give it sci-fi look via an micro grenade launcher, a comically oversized tactical light, and an old style gas tube laser sight being used as a optical sight. However, it was not made to fire laser beams, but good ole fashioned bullets. In several interviews I read discussed how much the use of bullet-firing weaponry set Space Rangers apart from the majority of sci-fi at the time and that it angered some fans of the genre that rangers used bullets over beams.

Next Time on FWS....
Video games and military science fiction have enjoyed a close relationship for many years dating back to heady days of arcades and the ATARI...however, it seems that relationship has soured with the failures of several AAA military SF video game titles like TitanFall 2, HALO 5: Guardians, and Mass Effect Andromeda. This begs the questions: are Military Sci-Fi video games in trouble? Join us next time for the answer.