Saturday, 16 January 2077

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After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Angel: Season 1

Having helped Buffy Summers, the Slayer, defeat the evil Mayor and save Sunnydale from destruction, the infamous vampire-with-a-soul Angel has relocated to Los Angeles to open a new front in the war against evil. He rapidly joins forces with former Sunnydale associate Cordelia Chase and newcomer Doyle (a half-demon with visions of people in trouble) to continue the good fight, guided by the mysterious "Powers That Be" and opposed by a supernatural law firm, Wolfram & Hart.

Way back in the day, when it was first announced that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was spinning off Angel into his own series I could only groan. Angel, particularly in his "good" mode, was not the most compelling character on Buffy and if often felt like him hanging around was inhibiting Buffy's character development. As it turned out, I was wrong and the Angel/Buffy relationship was also damaging Angel's own character. Freed from that relationship, Angel quickly becomes a more interesting character in his own show.

It helps, of course, that Buffy has already done the heavy lifting of introducing Angel and establishing his detailed backstory and motivations, so the show is able to jump much more into doing its own thing: establishing Angel as a private detective (!) working in LA, helping the helpless. This slightly goofy premise would be more wince-inducing if the show itself took it seriously. Instead, Angel's semi-Batman antics are roundly mocked (including his early-season use of a Bruce Wayne-style utility belt packed with unlikely gadgets) and drama is mined from both the standard supernatural shenanigans and more mundane concerns, like Angel and his associates needing money to keep going.

The first half of the season has its moments, but also has a lot of monster-of-the-week episodes where Doyle gets a vision, Cordelia does research and Angel kicks backside. This dynamic is fine, but a tad repetitive. We're not in Buffy Season 1 territory of low production values and some dire scripts here, but the show is a far cry from its later, much more compelling self. Things improve markedly in the second half of the season, as Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (from Buffy's third season) joins as a new regular character and J. August Richards' Gunn joins a recurring ally. The dynamics at Wolfram & Hart also become more interesting. Whilst Buffy had a "Big Bad" which changed every season, Angel more realistically has a "Big Bad" that constantly unfolds and develops across its entire five-season run, complete with its own internal machinations and betrayals which makes for some compelling drama.

Still, Angel still feels like it's running with its training wheels on until the two-part story where Faith arrives in LA (after events in Buffy Season 4) to cause even more mayhem. This results in one of the finest fight scenes that either Buffy or Angel ever did, followed by a remarkably powerful story of redemption that will unfold across the next three seasons. Combined with Wesley levelling up as a badass (after being tortured by Faith for hours knocks some of the Giles-ness out of him) and Wolfram & Hart becoming a much more threatening enemy in the genuinely surprising season finale, Angel's first season goes out on a high, paving the way for the superior second year.

Angel's first season (***½) takes a little whilst to get going, but once it does it kicks into high gear and never looks back, becoming a worthy companion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in some respects (such as general episode consistency) its superior. It is available now as part of the complete series boxed set (UK, USA).

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

In 1892, a young British couple working for an English bank in South Africa had a son, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. By the time he was twelve years old, Tolkien had lost both his family and was brought up by a family friend. He developed a love of languages and mythology, fell in love, married, went to Oxford University, fought in the First World War, went into academic, became a respected expert in his (albeit narrow) field and died peacefully at the age of 81. But along the way he created nothing less than an entire mythology, a long and stirring epic of mighty battles between good and evil, of angelic hosts descending from on high, a mighty kingdom drowned beneath the waves and, at the last, a small hobbit being the only thing standing against the shadow. This is the story of J.R.R. Tolkien and his life.

Originally published in 1976, Humphrey Carpenter's painstaking biography remains the definitive account of his life. Other biographies have followed, but they either draw so much on Carpenter that you might as well just read the original, or they are more interested in stirring up controversy which doesn't really exist.

Carpenter divides his book into sections, focusing on Tolkien's traumatic childhood and the development of his early interesting in languages, then his even more traumatic life as a young man, fighting in the trenches of the Somme and trying to win the heart of a (slightly) older woman, and then his life as an academic and teacher, during which time he began writing The Silmarillion and, later The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Carpenter has an interesting task here because, although Tolkien's life was certainly not free of tragedy and incident, it was also arguably not wall-to-wall action. Tolkien, by his own admission, was a conservative figure. He did not travel widely, apart from the war he avoided from getting involved in any major political or national events, and he was at his happiest in a pub or friend's drawing room, drawn into an engrossing conversation about religion, myth, art or literature. A fascinating biography this does not necessarily make.

But Carpenter does make it work, by tying incidents in Tolkien's life into his mythology, noting how a 1911 trip to Switzerland inspired Tolkien's fascination with mountains, and encounters with Norse, Icelandic, Welsh and Finnish mythology gave him the names "Middle-earth" and "Earendel." This constant circling back to Tolkien's literary works is clever - it's of course why people are interested in Tolkien's life - and gives the book a strong thematic spine. This approach also means we get a good view of Tolkien the individual and Tolkien the writer and academic and how these two sides developed.

Those looking for drama and controversy will find relatively little, apart from Tolkien's dislike of his friend C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories and the occasional tension between Tolkien and his wife over religion (Edith was a Protestant who had converted to Catholicism on marriage, something she always resented). The truth is that Tolkien's wasn't that controversial a character, so the biography instead is able to delve deeply into his stories and the events in his life that shaped them.

Carpenter writes with an easy, flowing style, mixing academic musings with more relaxed accounts of home life. The book never becomes bogged down in detail, but some elements are explored in greater depth where necessary. I suspect that when he wrote this book, Carpenter had an idea to publish Tolkien's own letters in a companion volume (Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1981), whilst he certainly knew that Christopher Tolkien was planning the publication of The Silmarillion (1977) and possibly companion volumes, so that people who wanted more detail and depth on the mythology could find it elsewhere.

There's also a hint of poetry in the book, particularly the way Carpenter stakes out important touchstones in Tolkien's life - his love for his wife, his appreciation of trees - and uses these to anchor several key moments in the book: his early childhood in the countryside near Birmingham, a key moment when he was utterly stuck on Lord of the Rings and a neighbour's tree crisis sparked in him a revelation that helped him to complete the book, and his last few years in retirement. The result is that rarest of beasts: a biography of a literary figure that is fast-moving, rich in anecdote and detail, and simply enjoyable to read.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (*****) remains the definitive Tolkien biography, a well-written, well-researched and fascinating account of the most important figure in the history of fantasy literature. If you are at all interesting in how The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion came about, this is essential reading. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Netflix confirm that NEON GENESIS EVANGELION is coming in June

Netflix have confirmed that they will be airing classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion from 21 June this year.

Originally airing across 26 episodes in 1995, Hideaki Anno's cult animated series has some traditional anime tropes - large battle mecha, battles with invading monsters, young heroes and their life problems - but mixes them in with a degree of philosophising and existentialism to create something more original and thoughtful (although standard anime mayhem is never too far away). The series has gained a reputation for being almost as confusing as it is revered, with fans intensely debating the meaning of the series and its themes to this very day, whilst the ending has proven controversial (and was subject to several rehashes via remakes and DVD movies).

Unlike some other classic anime, like Death Note and Cowboy Bebop, Netflix will not be producing a live-action remake of Evangelion on the grounds there isn't enough money on Earth to do so.

This is a slightly new version of Neon Genesis Evangelion, featuring a remastered look and an all-new English dub. A whole new generation can look forward to being confused anew by what can only be described as "David Lynch's Pacific Rim."

Narcos: Season 2

Columbia, 1992. Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is possibly the richest man in the world, the head of a vast narcotics operation spanning much of South and Central America. But the Colombian and American governments are keen to bring him down. The DEA is on Escobar's trail but find his network of informants and sympathisers makes it hard to pin him down. If they are to bring Escobar to justice, they may have to make a deal with the devil.

The first season of Netflix's Narcos was an interesting, unconventional series. It mixed the tropes of traditional drama with the docudrama, a necessity of it trying to cover about fifteen years of complex political and criminal manoeuvring in just 10 episodes. This made for an interesting drama, but one which had a very intermittent, start-stop feel to it as sometimes years passed between each episode and major events were relayed in voiceover.

Season 2 fortunately improves on this by devoting itself to the final eighteen months or so of the Medellin Cartel's existence, and focusing much more on the hunt for Escobar by the DEA, the Colombian government and by rival criminal organisations. There's a real feeling of tension, intense drama and things gradually collapsing as Escobar's enemies rack up the pressure, but he is more than capable of hitting back.

The series hinges on the viewer being able to understand Escobar and even - if only fleetingly - sympathise with him whilst not sugar-coating the fact that he was a monster, a criminal whose impact on the world (particularly the flooding of the USA with cocaine in the late 1980s and early 1990s) has few rivals. This works purely through Wagner Moura's excellent performance, capturing the family man but also the ruthless drug kingpin and the person who believes himself to be a man-of-the-people folk hero sticking it to the man, who gradually realises that perhaps he isn't who he wants to be. As the mayhem rises and Escobar becomes more and more ruthless, resorting to mass murder, political assassination and ill-thought-out revenge killings, so whatever semblance of normality and likeability he had vanishes and he becomes a target for everyone. How true this is to reality and how much is dramatic invention is debatable, but certainly it makes for a gripping and tense drama.

The rest of the cast also bring their A-game (although Boyd Holbrook is a bit anonymous) to make for an increasingly intense chase story that does a good job of both wrapping up the Escobar story but also putting things in play for later one, for as the Medellin Cartel goes down in flames, a rival cartel is starting to take shape in Cali, and the players have to accept that defeating Escobar doesn't mean the end of the monster he has created.

Season 2 of Narcos (****½) is superior to the first, more grounded in character drama and forming a far more intense game of cat-and-mouse that can only have one ending. It's also a story of hubris, murder and of a country near-ruined by criminals and their associates, but trying to fight on. It is available now on Netflix.

Starport by George R.R. Martin & Raya Golden

Ten years ago the alien Chasheen arrived on Earth. They are members of an interstellar commonwealth known as the Harmony of Worlds, 314 species living and trading together in the interests of galactic peace. They offered humanity the chance to become the 315th member and humanity accepted. Three great starports have been built to link Earth to these other worlds, the latest of which is located in Chicago. Charlie Baker, newly promoted to detective on the squad overseeing the Starport district, is keen to use his knowledge of alien worlds and civilisations to help on the job, but discovers that not all of his fellow officers - or civilians - are that keen on the alien presence.

From roughly 1985 to early 1993, George R.R. Martin worked in Hollywood in the film and TV industry. He worked on The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, rising to become a producer on the latter. This earned him enough credits to try creating his own show, so he wrote a slew of pilots. Doorways was the only one that was filmed, and that never made it to series or the air. Another, written in 1992/93 shortly before he gave up on Hollywood to return home to resume work on an epic fantasy side-project called A Game of Thrones, was called Starport. It did the rounds of the four American TV networks before being turned down for being (as per usual with GRRM) too long and too expensive.

A quarter of a century later, Starport has been given a new lease of life as a graphic novel, adapted from Martin's original 90-minute script by Raya Golden. Golden previously adapted Martin's story Meathouse Man as a graphic novel to some acclaim, and Starport is an altogether larger and more impressive project.

As a graphic novel, it's an attractive package. The art is vivid, colourful and pops at the reader. The script is punchy and pacy, with the pages flipping by quite quickly despite the book's impressive length (almost 300 pages). Golden's artwork is excellent, mixing a classic comic book feel with modern colouring techniques and some crazy panels of technicolor alien vistas and species that feels out of a mid-1970s Marvel cosmic epic.

The script has been updated, with VHS jokes going out and smartphones coming in. The dialogue is mostly decent and well-done, although Martin's script hews towards TV standards of the 1990s a bit too closely at times (with more short, soundbitey quips and less of the longer, more erudite speeches that may be associated with his fantasy work, although this does keep the pace flowing). There's also the feeling of some references being updated but others not: so the internet is mentioned but the cultural touchpoints are Gilligan's Island and Kojak, which do feel a bit dated.

The protagonists are a likeable bunch, a mixture of beat cops looking to improve themselves, cynical lifers just trying to reach their pension, geeks fascinated by aliens, bigots who hate them and so on. The characters tend towards archetypes, like the undercover cop who gets in a bit too deep and justifies some dubious behaviour (like sleeping with much younger women) by saying it is to maintain his cover, but do have some depth thanks to the graphic novel's length. The adaptation is generous at almost 300 pages (to cover what was originally a 90-minute TV script) which allows it to delve deep into the characters and premise. There's a few characters who don't have a lot to do, which is where the "TV pilot" feel comes in a bit more (characters set up for bigger things further down the line), but it also helps the story feel more realistically populated.

It's easy to see why Starport never got made in the early 1990s. It has an epic scale and scope which I think would have been hard to translate to the screen. It also came along not long after the Alien Nation movie (1988) and TV spin-off (1989-90) which was abruptly cancelled. Although Starport's premise is rather different - a police force of humans working alongside alien security forces from the titular starport, rather than alien refugees joining the police force - the surface similarity may have put some producers off. The premise also feels a little bit like the later Babylon 5, with the starport serving as a meeting and mixing ground for hundreds of alien races and humans.

Starport (****) is brash, enjoyable and fantastically-illustrated. Those looking for a deep, immersive, serious story like A Song of Ice and Fire may feel disappointed, but those looking for a fun, pulpy SF yarn will be well-catered for. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Paradox confirm they are working on VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE - BLOODLINES 2

Paradox Entertainment have announced that they are working on a sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, one of the most critically-acclaimed CRPGs of all time.

Originally released in 2004 as the second game (after Half-Life 2) to use Valve's Source Engine, Bloodlines was a somewhat open-ended RPG which cast you as a vampire in the setting of White Wolf's phenomenally popular pen-and-paper roleplaying game. You could choose from one of several vampire clans, including the insane Malkavians who would get an entirely different dialogue tree for the entire game from the other clans. The game was hugely acclaimed on release for the quality of its writing, dialogue, story and characterisation, but criticised for a large number of bugs. Subsequent patches and fan mods have fixed most of these issues and in some cases restored cut content.

Bloodlines' developer, Troika Games, later collapsed and most of the staff who worked on the game moved over to Obsidian Entertainment. Leonard Boyarsky, who worked on Bloodlines, is now working on The Outer Worlds alongside former Troika colleague (and Fallout co-creator) Tim Cain. However, Bloodlines' other creative lead, Brian Mitsoda, is working on the new game alongside Cara Ellison and Chris Avellone.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 is currently planned for release in March 2020.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Amazon greenlights DARK TOWER TV pilot, casts Roland & Marten

In an interesting move, Amazon have greenlit a new pilot based on Stephen King's dark fantasy series The Dark Tower. The move comes just two years after a movie version, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, bombed at the box office.

The new TV version of the story will adapt the series in a more chronological order, starting with the events of Wizards and Glass, the fourth novel in the series. Wizards and Glass mostly flashes back to the young days of central character Roland Deschain and his early encounters with the enigmatic Man in Black, here going by the alias Marten.

Sam Strike (Nightflyers) has been cast as the young Roland, whilst Jasper Pääkkönen (BlacKkKlansman, Vikings) is playing Marten.

The TV series started life as an addendum to the Dark Tower movie, with the plan being for Idris Elba to narrate a framing device and the series telling the story of Roland's younger days with a new, younger actor in the role. However, Amazon have now severed the storytelling connections between the 2017 movie and this new version of the story, allowing it to stand alone. Presumably, if successful, the series would then undergo a time jump and start adapting the events of The Gunslinger.

The Dark Tower is the central work of Stephen King's career, with most or all of his novels taking place in the Dark Tower multiverse, where different dimensions, timelines and worlds collide. The formal Dark Tower series, which has sold over 30 million copies, consists of eight novels (The Gunslinger, The Waste Lands, The Drawing of the Three, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower and The Wind Through the Keyhole), but many of King's most famous novels, including The Stand, also tie into the same story and setting.

With only a pilot greenlit, we're likely 18 months or so from seeing The Dark Tower on screen, but it's certainly a promising step in the right direction, and a surprising display of faith from Amazon in the franchise given its recent box office failure.

Epic vs. Valve: The Battle for PC Gaming

For the past fifteen years, the PC gaming market has been dominated by one retailer above all others: Steam. An online sales, downloading and gaming service, Steam is run by Valve Corporation and has utterly dominated the market since launch, fending off several competitors along the way. But that has now changed, with Fortnite developers Epic Games launching a rival service that means to do nothing less than smash Valve's monopoly forever.

The Epic Store launcher.

Steam was launched in late 2003 as a system for updating Valve's online games, titles like Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat and Team Fortress Classic, keeping players all in sync with one another and allowing new maps and patches to be rolled out quickly and efficiently. In 2004 the service transitioned to a store, selling new games. It was mostly ignored until the November 2004 release of Half-Life 2, arguably the most eagerly-anticipated video game in history up until that time. It was the sequel to Half-Life, the 1998 game that rewrote the first person shooter rulebook and established Valve as a force to be reckoned with in the PC gaming scene.

Half-Life 2 launched with the required use of Steam. You could buy Half-Life 2 in stores, but to install it you had to also install Steam and sign up to the online service. In 2004, when not every gamer was online and certainly most gamers did not expect to have to sign up to an online service to play a single-player-only game (Half-Life 2's multiplayer mode wasn't patched in until months later), this idea was hugely controversial. Gaming communities rebelled, some gamers tried to report Valve for breaches of the law (no such claim was ever upheld) and so on. But Half-Life 2 was anticipated in a manner almost no other game in history was, and the sheer juggernaut force of the game's hype and its overwhelmingly positive critical reception saw gamers swallow their pride and buy the game in their millions. In many cases, they used the service to buy and download the game at midnight on release day, and were playing hours before their friends could get to the shops to pick up their copies.

After Half-Life 2 showed that online PC sales were viable, other publishers signed up to the service and more and more games appeared there. Valve had been either lucky or prescient, as 2004 arguably marked the last highwater for PC gaming in the 2000s. The 2005 release of the X-Box 360, followed a few months later by the release of the PlayStation 3, saw a huge crash in PC gaming sales. Within just a couple of years, the number of big titles being developed for PC dropped significantly. 2007-08 was arguably the nadir of PC gaming history, with few big titles coming out, almost no PC exclusives doing well (The Witcher, from CDProjket, being an honourable exception) and the platform being almost dead on its feet.

Remarkably, though, Steam had continued to grow in popularity and success. Valve jumped on the rise of indie gaming, adding lots of popular, low-budget titles to the platform. Valve also pushed their big sales hard. They won back support from big publishers through various tactics designed to promote sales. Rockstar Games had released the PC version of Grand Theft Auto IV after a long delay, but noted that although initial sales had not been as high as the console versions, the "long tail" of the game was significant, with sales picking up years later every time the game was put in a sale, making it far more profitable in the long run on the PC platform. By the start of the 2010s the platform had recovered most of its losses, bolstered by the arrival of Kickstarter as a platform for funding niche, mid-tier games. By the end of 2018, Steam had 150 million accounts (30 million more than Netflix) and dominated the PC gaming market with a share of between 18 and 20% (but 75% of the online market). According to some reports, Microsoft has offered over $20 billion to buy the service and the company behind it outright, but Valve's owner, Gabe Newell (who worked for Microsoft in the 1990s, quitting to co-found Valve), had rejected such overtures out of hand.

Understandably, other services have tried to compete with Steam. CDProjekt launched GoG (Good Old Games) as a rival service which focuses on getting older games updated to work on modern hardware. Their main selling point is not using an form of DRM (Digital Rights Management), which they feel hinders the customer experience. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts, UbiSoft and Blizzard-Activision launched rival services to exclusively launch their games, respectively Origin, UPlay and BattleNet (although many UPlay games are also available on Steam). With relatively small game catalogues and niche target audiences, these services have existed alongside Steam, rather than trying to compete directly with it.

This has now changed thanks to a company whose pedigree in PC gaming is even older than Valve's: Epic Games.

Founded in 1991, Epic Games spent the 1990s releasing a large number of low- and mid-budged action games before releasing their first 3D shooter in 1999, Unreal. Unreal was followed by both sequels and the immensely successful multiplayer spinoff series, Unreal Tournament. In 2006 launched a new single-player focused series on console, Gears of War, which was immensely successful. They also made immense amounts of money by licensing their Unreal Engine to other companies and publishers. In 2017 they redeployed the Unreal Engine to make a new, fun and lighthearted co-op shooter called Fortnite: Save the World, and its multiplayer spin-off, Fortnite: Battle Royale. Better known just as Fortnite, the game has become the biggest global success story since Minecraft, with Epic Games making significant profits from the game's downloadable extras and content.

Late last year, Epic Games launched the Epic Store, which they proudly proclaimed was going to take the fight directly to Valve. At first gamers chuckled and moved on: many companies had vowed to do the same thing and all had failed. But then Epic Games started doing something that no other would-be Steam-killer had done before: actively seeking out PC gaming developers and offering them staggering sums of money for a 12-month exclusivity period on PC. In addition, Epic Games offered to take only a 12% cut of the sales of games, as opposed to Valve's huge 30%. Developers, watching profit margins drop steadily over the years due to an inability to keep development costs down and also an inability to raise prices accordingly due to market saturation, started signing up enthusiastically.

The first casualty was Metro: Exodus. The third game in a popular first-person shooter series, following on from Metro 2033 (2010) and Metro: Last Light (2013), Metro: Exodus's Ukrainian developers were offered a huge sum of money for a 12-month exclusivity period. They agreed. Fans of the series and more casual gamers railed angrily against the development, citing it was bad form for a company to wall off a game behind a new service, especially a new service that did not have the ease of use or many of the most basic features of Steam. They were also suspicious of Tencent, a Chinese company accused of spying on customers, which had acquired a 40% stake in Epic in 2012. Despite these complaints, Metro: Exodus sold exceptionally well on release, outselling Metro: Last Light more than two-and-a-half times on launch day.

Last week Epic flexed its muscles by locking in Phoenix Point to an exclusivity period. Phoenix Point is the eagerly-awaited new turn-based tactics game from X-COM creator Julian Gollop and his company Snapshot Games. Using an approach similar to Firaxis's recent XCOM games, the game goes for a more simulated-based approach and has been praised for its gameplay decisions. For a tiny company like Snapshot the deal was apparently "impossible to resist," as the money offered could keep the company going for "years." For fans, the anger was much more palpable this time around and also more readily supported: Phoenix Point had been crowdfunded with the explicit promise that the game would be available on Steam and GoG on release day, and that was now not going to happen. Possibly the most eagerly-awaited PC game of 2019 became reviled overnight, with an absolute flood of refund requests pouring in.

But this has not stopped Epic's onslaught. In the last few days they have announced a blizzard of new acquisitions and deals. Obsidian Entertainment's The Outer Worlds, another of the most eagerly-awaited games of 2019, has joined the exclusivity deal (or, more accurately, publisher Take Two signed up for them). Quantic Dream, known for their moody console games with jaw-dropping graphics, were offered a deal so lucrative that they have gone back and dusted down all of their previous games going back to 2010 for release through Epic (comprising Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human). Remedy Entertainment's promising Control has also signed up, along with RTS Industries of Titan and The Sinking City. The full list is extensive and surprising, encompassing many mid-range upcoming PC games, which are the bread and butter of the platform.

This is nothing less than a full-scale assault on Valve's control of the PC gaming business. Whether it can be sustained is unclear, but it represents the biggest challenge to Steam's supremacy in over a decade. Valve will have to respond and in some respects it already has, promising to fix long-standing problems like people gaming the review system and offensive zero-budget, zero-effort games being shovelled onto the platform. The real test, I think, will come when a real AAA big-hitter that should be on Steam goes Epic Store exclusive. Take Two putting some games exclusively on Epic has to be a major concern. It's an open industry secret that Take Two and Rockstar Games are prepping a PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2, 2018's biggest game on console, for release likely in 2020. If they decided to make that game an Epic exclusive, it would be a huge and fundamental blow to Steam's position in the marketplace.

This battle could determine how PC games are bought, sold and played in the 2020s, so is hugely significant. But it may also be futile, as waiting in the wings is Google's Stadia system, which may offer a completely different, more Netflix-esque approach altogether. How this pans out will be very interesting, and no doubt contentious.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

FARSCAPE turns 20, hits Amazon Prime Video

Cult SF series Farscape is celebrating its 20th anniversary through a major re-release on streaming platform Amazon Prime Video.

Launching on 19 March 1999 as a US-Australian co-production, Farscape ran for 88 regular episodes and two two-hour specials, concluding in October 2004. The show focuses on John Crichton, an American astronaut who is accidentally transported across the galaxy by a wormhole. He is found by the crew of a living ship called Moya, a collection of misfits and renegades where he feels at home. Vague attempts to return home are complicated by his growing camaraderie with his newfound friends and his own mental health (Crichton develops PTSD-like symptoms as a result of his misadventures).

As the story progresses, it becomes more serialised and epic, culminating with the team becoming central in a massive interstellar war between two major powers.

The show was notable at the time for its use of serialised storytelling, a device it had inherited from Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but was also a lot more humorous. Although certainly not a comedy (unlike its absurdist Canadian contemporary, Lexx), it was a show that knew when to kick back and have fun as well as when to ramp up the dramatic tension. After a lukewarm first season, the show won immense critical acclaim in later years for its storytelling, effects, acting and the exceptional prosthetic makeup and puppetry.

All four seasons of Farscape and the concluding Peacekeeper Wars mini-series (listed at the end of Season 4) can be found now on Amazon Prime Video in most territories.