There's a lot of Star Trek. As of the end of the first season of the latest show Discovery, there are over 740 episodes in total - and then the films on top of that. With this in mind, it can be worth doing what the crew of the USS Voyager did on their way home, and take a few shortcuts.
The original 1960s series is where the Star Trek phenomenon began, but it's also understandably dated and often radically different to what today's TV audiences expect. I recently decided to get an introduction to The Original Series, and watched around 30 of the 79 episodes aired between 1966 and 1969 - using as my guide a number of "best of" lists.
If you've less time than I had, or are eager to move on to The Next Generation, what follows is my list best-of-the-best - my ten personal favourites episodes of the first iteration of Star Trek.
First identified in New York in 1972, it's a stubborn condition and new cases emerge every year. Most often, it's hereditary - passed from father to son. There is no known cure, and few victims ever recover. The nature of this disease? Liking Steely Dan.
Formed by Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker, Steely Dan were at their height in the '70s. Their music is complex, steeped in jazz, and made by a revolving cast of session players. The band took its name from a line of motorised dildos in William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. The only thing less likely than their original breakthrough is their continuing appeal. This is especially true because they released only two LPs after 1980.
"God bless you KKnD: you may have been a shit game, but without you, we may well still be stuck in isometric RTS hell to this very day."
Real-time strategy games are all but dead. New releases are few and far between these days, and most of the developers who once focused on them have moved on to other projects. StarCraft II is the last vestige of the traditional RTS, kept alive primarily as an e-sport by genre pioneers Blizzard for the better part of a decade.
Of course, it wasn't always so. Once the foundations of the RTS had been solidified by games like Dune II (1992), WarCraft (1994) and Command & Conquer (1995), a major boom dominated the latter half of the 1990s. New games from the experienced studios routinely sold in the millions, and smaller developers found success with derivatives of their own.
Speaking to PC Zone in 2004, Tim Ansell of The Creative Assembly recalled being stunned by the success of these "clones". He singled out a Krush, Kill 'n' Destroy (or KKnD), "an absolute pile of crap" and bemoaned its impressive sales of 600,000 copies. This realisation of how much money could be made inspired the development of what would become Shogun: Total War (2000).
The short-lived Mucky Foot Productions was founded in 1997 by former employees of Bullfrog and based in the Surrey town of Guildford, then as now the spiritual home of the British games industry. The founders' background was in management, strategy and "god games" - but for their first project as an independent developer they chose something much more dynamic and ambitious.
Initially known as "Dark City", the game was to feature open urban locations, driveable vehicles, and a sophisticated combat system. Published by Eidos, it was eventually shipped in November 1999 under the title Urban Chaos and retained much of its original design brief. In fact, in its novel and smooth combination of features, Urban Chaos was tremendously ahead of its time. Sadly, it was not widely played on release and faded into relative obscurity. Following a digital release via GOG, the game can be reappraised - albeit with some technical issues.
REKKR is a total conversion mod for Doom developed by Revae, with music by Tom Jensen, sounds by TerminusEst13, and with contributions by a number of guest mappers. Compatible with all modern source ports and even with the original Doom executable, it's a tremendous piece of work. Available to download now.
Of all the many types of projects for Doom, the total conversion is the most comprehensive and ambitious. It requires the replacement of all of the game's assets: not only maps but also graphics, music, sounds, weapons, monsters and effects. In effect, a total conversion is not so much a mod for Doom as a new game that employs the Doom engine. Understandably, these projects are rare compared with those that add only maps because of the tremendous amount of work they require.
Sucker Punch is my first multi-map WAD for Doom II. It's available to download now from the idgames archive, where there is more information on supported ports and where feedback would be gratefully received.
Back in April, I wrote at length about my initial forays into mapping for Doom-engine games: at the time I felt that I would not try to complete Sucker Punch, which had been released in early 2016 with just three maps. However, such is the lure of Doom that I was eventually drawn back in, and the finished 9-map version of the WAD is the result.
In this post, inspired by one on Matt Tropiano's site, I'll go over my design process for the WAD and explain how these nine maps eventually came about.
A number of years passed between my first playthroughs of Doom and Doom II and my exposure to the vast wealth of maps made over the years by the games' community. A time spent lurking on the venerable Doomworld forums opened my eyes to the huge variety of WADs made by mappers amateur and exerperienced, for purist vanilla compability all the way up to advanced source ports like ZDoom. Deciding that mapping for the Doom engine seemed simple enough, I eventually sank a great deal of time into learning Doombuilder 2 in around 2014 to 2016.
A couple of years on from leaving Doom mapping behind, I suddenly remembered the maps I had completed and released: a tiny number compared to the hundreds of designs I'd begun and abandoned. To my surprise, I'm still fond of these modest projects and have even found that there are some gameplay videos online. It seemed as good a time as any to reflect on my comparatively brief time as a Doom mapper.
The early 2000s were a unique and special era for videogames. For the first time, 3D graphics hardware enabled developers to set games in relatively realistic environments; there were greater opportunities to experiment with lighting, higher resolution textures, and more detailed models. At the same time, games generally stuck with relatively simple, accessible gameplay - unencumbered by the layers of complex systems that typify many of today's "AAA" projects.
This period saw the release of several favourite games of mine; not only Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) but a number of third-person action titles like Urban Chaos (1999), Oni (2000) and Rune (2000). Of these, the one I've returned to most often is Remedy Entertainment's peerless classic Max Payne, released in 2001 - the original, and frankly best, playable action movie.
For Christopher McQuarrie, even an Oscar for Best Screenplay cut little ice with Hollywood studios. Denied creative control on new projects, he wrote a crime movie at the urging of Benecio del Toro, a veteran of The Usual Suspects. This script would not be designed to attract major studios, but almost to repel them. Remarkably, McQuarrie was able to make it, his first film as director.
As a starting point for what would become The Way of the Gun, McQuarrie made a list of "every taboo, everything [...] a cowardly executive would refuse to accept". Instead of traditional leading men, he created "Parker" (Ryan Philippe) and "Longbaugh" (del Toro) a pair of cruel and desperate outlaws living off the grid. McQuarrie's interest was in building characters who are not "traditionally sympathic", but this proved to be an understatement.
A recent Rockstar bundle provided the perfect means to revisit some of the older Grand Theft Auto games, beginning with the first 3D entry, GTA III. After the huge success of that game, the developers chose to produce a prequel, moving the action to the sunny streets of Vice City in 1986.
Ready your hairspray and mirror shades for a revisit of the middle entry of the "3D trilogy", which truly established Grand Theft Auto as a powerhouse series.