Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Tuesday, 15 June 2021

What we know about STARFIELD

Bethesda did a reveal of their upcoming CRPG Starfield on Sunday. With the game still almost eighteen months away, it was more of a prolonged teaser than a deep dive on the game's systems. Still, eager-eyed fans have been scouring the trailer (thanks to Reddit), an accompanying behind-the-scenes look at the game and various interviews done by the team over the last few days (mostly behind paywalls) and have assembled a surprising amount of information on the setting and background. A summary follows.

  • Release Date: 11 November 2022
  • Platforms: Xbox Series S/X, Xbox Game Pass via compatible devices, PC
  • Inon Zur (Fallout 3, Fallout 4, Fallout 76) providing the soundtrack.
  • Built using the new Creation Engine 2 (presumably an upgraded Creation Engine 1, which was used to make Skyrim and, modified further, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76).
  • The game is a "bit more hardcore of a roleplaying game" than Bethesda's last few games. The game brings back roleplaying systems they have not used in a while. In particular, your character's customisable background is a much bigger part of the game.
  • The game was inspired by the Traveller tabletop RPG (which Bethesda had the rights to in the 1990s, but didn't do anything with).
  • The game will feature big changes to the traditional Bethesda way of doing things (probably related to you having your own spacecraft) but will also lean hard into some of their normal approaches. The designers call the game "Skyrim in space."
  • The team did field research at Space X's headquarters and rocket factory. The art direction vibe was given as "NASApunk."
  • The game was directed to have a "more realistic" feel, with lower tech than other SF games. However, there are some conceits to space opera tropes such as sound and visible lasers in space.

The game is heavily based around your ship. It is unknown if this is the only ship you have or if you can buy/acquire others later on: 

  • The ship is called the Frontier and was either built by Nova Galactic, or it's a Nova Galactic-class vessel. Its registry is NG1350.
  • The ship is armed with two distinct cannon systems and a missile launcher.
  • The ship appears to have artificial gravity and an FTL drive, the GFLA (Graviton Field Loop Array), which is a fancy name for the theoretical Alcubierre Drive, a type of warp drive.
  • However, according to Todd Howard there are no FTL communications. So you can fly to other stars at FTL speeds, but you can't make a Zoom call across interstellar distances.
  • The ship has a big navigation table which shows gravitational waves propagating in space, suggesting the ship may harness these waves for travel and maybe artificial gravity.
  • The same table has around twenty star systems marked on it, though half the table is obscured. That may indicate 20-40 systems are visitable in the game, or only a few them can actually be reached.
  • Every switch, button, toggle and screen in the game was designed with a function. You won't be able to press every button yourself, but they have a purpose in mind.
  • The ship has a robot engineer/servant called Vasco. Obviously, the Internet already loves him.

The background lore appears to be as follows:

  • The game is set "a bit more" than 300 years in the future. A photograph in the trailer is date-stamped 2320, so it's possible the game will take place in 2321-30 or thereabouts.
  • The player-character works for Constellation, the "last" human organisation interested in interstellar exploration. This suggests that interstellar settlement and colonisation has either failed or the idea of exploration for its own sake has become unpopular.
  • The dominant government appears to the United Colonies. The United Colonies has two military wings, UC Vanguard and SysDef, presumably Systems Defence.
  • The Freestar Collective is mentioned. This may be part of the UC or a separate, external human government.
  • The Crimson Raiders and Crimson Fleet appears to be a loosely-organised coalition of pirates and bandits, possibly this game's equivalent to Fallout's raiders and Elder Scrolls' bandits as a low-level threat you'll encounter throughout the game. The Raiders seem to have been plaguing the Freestar Collective but have recently started appearing in UC space.
  • The United Colonies has an organisation or agency called MAST, the Military, Administrative and Scientific Triumvirate.
  • "Ranger" is a rank, probably in Constellation but possibly in MAST, Vanguard or SysDef.
  • Mentioned planets or star systems include Cheyenne, Sagan, Lunara and Narion.
  • A city or base called New Atlantis is located on the planet Jerrison in the Alpha Centauri star system (our nearest interstellar neighbour).
  • "Cydonia Security" is mentioned. Cydonia is a region on Mars, indicating that Mars has been colonised.
  • Various patches and emblems mention "the Livingstone Project," the "Ferrera 4 Expedition," the "New Discoveries Expedition," "The 10th Planet" and the "New Age Resolution."
  • A company called Chronomark makes watches (presumably smart watches) for use by Constellation. Chronomark was founded in 2188, seemingly confirming that Starfield does not take place in the Fallout universe (humanity is still living in the ruins of the atomic war in 2188 and is barely doing any better in 2287 in Fallout 4, only forty years before the events of Starfield) and is its own setting.
  • There are two real-life books in the ship: Sailing Alone Around the World (1900) by Joshua Slocum is about the first solo circumnavigation of the Earth (Slocum later vanished on another expedition in 1909). Omega: The Last Days of the World (1898) by Camille Flammarion is a disaster novel about the Earth being destroyed by cometary fragments. This may hint that Earth has been destroyed or too badly damaged in this future, forcing humanity to flee into space.
  • An unusual artifact/object has been discovered, which is being studied. The object may be some kind of FTL gateway, and might be the focus of the Livingstone Project. The object may be alien in origin.
  • Aliens will be in the game, but it sounds like they will not be playable, or commonplace, and the game's story may revolve around First Contact.

Bethesda will be gradually unveiling more info about the game ahead of its launch in November 2022.

Iain M. Banks's CULTURE universe to get two new companion volumes

Iain M. Banks's Culture universe is one of the most accomplished in all of science fiction and fantasy, and is now getting two companion volumes.

Iain Banks wrote copious notes for the setting, along with his own illustrations of spacecraft, people, places and hardware. Orbit Books, in collaboration with Banks's close friend and colleague Ken MacLeod, is to now present this material in two volumes. The first is entitled The Culture: The Drawings and will focus on Banks's illustrations. The second, presumably The Culture: The Notes, will be a companion guide to the series drawing on Banks's own background material and information for the setting.

The two new books replace what was originally one project, The Culture: Notes & Drawings, once it was realised the material was too large to fit comfortably into one book.

The Culture novels are Consider Phlebas (1987), The Player of Games (1990), Use of Weapons (1991), Excession (1996), Inversions (1998), Look to Windward (2000), Matter (2008), Surface Detail (2010) and The Hydrogen Sonata (2012). Iain Banks passed away in 2013.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Star Trek: Insurrection

The United Federation of Planets is faring badly in its war with the Dominion and seeks to bolster its chances through an alliance with the Son'a, who require resources that are only available on a remote planet. The Federation agrees to help move the indigenous population so the Son'a can seize these resources. However, a malfunctioning Lt. Commander Data exposes the Federation presence, triggering an inadvertent first contact situation. Captain Picard and the USS Enterprise arrive to retrieve their errant officer and uncover a much more complex situation is unfolding, one that endangers the very morals of the Federation.

After the enormous success of First Contact, a darker action movie, Paramount decided that the next Star Trek movie should be lighter in tone. Michael Piller, renowned for writing many of the finest episodes of Trek, was called in to write a script that could serve as the "first-ever Star Trek date movie," a request that was...dubious at best. Paramount wanted a film that was closer in tone to The Voyage Home, with light comedy and a warmer feel, rooted in the character relationships.

What they ended up with was a two-hour episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not Yesterday's Enterprise or The Inner Light Next Generation, but one of those middling Season 5 episodes that is absolutely fine but you completely forget it exists until you bump into it on a full series rewatch, mildly enjoy whilst it's on and immediately forget about the second it's over.

The film starts off well with some solid humour as Picard and Worf (whose presence in the film despite being on Deep Space Nine as a regular character at the time, is briefly but effectively explained) have to gather up the errant Data by using Gilbert and Sullivan songs to distract him. The story then gets into a moral quandary as the Bak'u not only don't want to be removed, but might well die if they are moved. Since they are not native to the planet, the Prime Directive doesn't strictly apply, although basic morality does. However, the Son'a are also suffering from their own problems, which the planet holds the key to answering.

What could be a really thorny moral quandary is let down almost immediately by portraying the Son'a as repulsive in both appearance and morals, with their leader Ru'afo (a fine, scenery-chewing turn by F. Murray Abraham) being ruthless, amoral and prone to using violence as his solution to all problems. So the Enterprise crew siding with the Bak'u is pretty much a given from the start of the film. Also, the film suggests that the Enterprise crew are really going out on a limb by risking their careers to help the Bak'u, but it's more the case that the Starfleet Admiral helping the Son'a is going off the reservation by himself, so the "insurrection" of the title never really gets going.

As I said, the film is fine. It has some spectacular scenery, a few good set-pieces between the recovery of Data's shuttle and the space battle between the Enterprise-E and the Son'a in the nebula, and the supporting cast is all solid with none of them being spectacular. But the film bogs down with technobabble. The tension between the transporter inhibitor defences and the attacking Son'a drones is weak, at best, and the film never really adequately explains why the Federation are so keen to ally with the Son'a, who seem to be a small civilisation of limited use in the war with the Dominion (which gets several mentions at the start of the film and is then dropped immediately, which seems odd).

Star Trek: Insurrection (***) continues the curse of the odd-numbered Star Trek films by being, well, not terrible, but certainly inoffensive. Some reliably solid performances by Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and the rest of the cast fail to make up for a film that's simply blandly forgettable.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Obsidian Entertainment unveil THE OUTER WORLDS 2 with self-mocking trailer

Obsidian Entertainment have announced the existence of The Outer Worlds 2, a sequel to their well-received 2019 CRPG.

The trailer takes a mocking shot at hype-building announcement trailers that reveal very little about the game other than using stock concepts like "slow-motion action" and "main character silhouetted against the horizon," before doing exactly the same thing. Obsidian separately revealed that the game will be set in a new star system to the original game and will feature a brand-new cast of characters.

Unlike The Outer Worlds, which was released by Take Two Interactive who, among other things, insisted on an exclusivity period on the Epic Games Store, the sequel will be published by Microsoft (who acquired Obsidian two years ago) and should get a wider release on Steam and Xbox Game Pass. The game will also be console-exclusive to the Xbox Series X/S.

As well as The Outer Worlds 2, other teams at Obsidian are working on an Elder Scrolls-esque fantasy CRPG set in their Pillars of Eternity world, Avowed; diminutive crafting/survival game Grounded; and a mysterious new CRPG about which nothing is known.

Bethesda unveils more info and a release date for their upcoming CRPG STARFIELD

Bethesda and Microsoft have lifted the lid - at least a bit - on their new forthcoming CRPG, Starfield.

The game is notable for being Bethesda Game Studios' first new IP since the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, in 1994 (they inherited Fallout from another company, Interplay), and their first game to be released since they were acquired by Microsoft last year.

Like their previous single-player games, Fallout 4 (2015) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), Starfield appears to be an open-world game giving the player the choice on where to go and what to do, to follow a central narrative or ignore it as they see fit, in favour of side-missions or exploration.

The game pits the player as an explorer, part of a group called Constellation, with a fully-customisable spacecraft and capable of flying between different planets.The video only showcased one wild, unkempt planet environment, but concept art suggested multiple planets, including a lush jungle world, subterranean caves, factories, a low-tech outpost, a settlement on stilts located in the ocean and a huge, technological-looking city. The game takes a somewhat low-tech approach but Bethesda claim to want to present a more optimistic view of the future, rooted in our shared humanity, compared to the more dystopian vision presented in Fallout.

The game utilises the "Creation Engine 2," a significant revamp of the technology used to power Skyrim, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76. The trailer was rendered in-engine, suggesting a hefty improvement to visual fidelity over their previous games and the ability to use ladders (a lack fans have mocked Bethesda over for years).

Starfield will be console-exclusive to Xbox Series X/S and will also release on PC via Steam and Xbox Game Pass. The title is scheduled for release on 11 November 2022.

Friday, 11 June 2021

The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson

More than a decade of peace has passed since the fall of the Crippled God. The Malazan Empire, once an ever-expanding nation, has secured its borders and set about bringing stability and order to its holdings. One of the furthest-flung of its outposts is Silver Lake, an isolated town in the far north of Genabackis, still reeling from the events of many years earlier, when three Teblor descended from the mountains and brought chaos with them.

The 2nd Company of the Malazan XIVth Legion - reduced to just three squads and eighteen soldiers - is bound for Silver Lake to reinforce the garrison there. To augment its strength, it has hired the very mercenary company they were recently fighting against, a practical measure that neither side likes very much. With redoubtable allies, the Malazans have to hold Silver Lake against an implacable foe. For the Teblor of the mountains, tiring of waiting for their Shattered God - Karsa Orlong - to return to them and motivated by a growing threat to the north, have made a decision to migrate south to seek out their reluctant deity. What else are a people to do, when their god is not willing?

Well, this was a surprise. Steven Erikson's work has been called many things but "concise" and "focused" are not among them. All of Erikson's twelve previous novels in the Malazan universe are sprawling, brick-thick volumes you could use to stun a yak. The God is Not Willing, at a relatively breezy 473 pages, is easily his shortest fantasy novel to date. Erikson's work has also been called (sometimes fairly, often not) "obtuse" and "confusing." The in media res opening to the first book in the setting, Gardens of the Moon, remains fiercely debated on Reddit and fantasy message boards to this day. The God is Not Willing is instead pretty streamlined and comprehensible. The word - whisper it - "accessible" may be applicable.

But if those terms are applicable, don't go thinking this is Erikson with the training wheels on, or restrained, or (grimace) going commercial. The God is Not Willing is packed with the philosophical musings and rich worldbuilding of his prior work, it is just paced here with discipline and vigor, and an undercurrent of Erikson's distinctly underrated humour. With the exception of the late, great Terry Pratchett and maybe Abercrombie in his more whimsical moments, Erikson may be one of the funniest writers in modern secondary world fantasy, something he usually keeps under check but here lets loose a little more. This is still a dramatic and sometimes tragic story, but it's also one balanced by the kind of comedic banter between soldiers-under-duress that we've seen before in earlier novels, but here taken up a notch.

The God is Not Willing is set ten years after the events of The Crippled God, in north Genabackis. The events of the opening of House of Chains have left an ugly scar on the town of Silver Lake, with ex-slaves and ex-slavers having to find new roles after the Malazan Empire outlawed slavery. Rast, the half-Teblor son of Karsa Orlong, has been exiled from his home by his mother. The town's depleted garrison is reinforced by the Malazan XIVth Legion's 2nd Company, with the slight problem that the company has been almost destroyed in an engagement with a mercenary company, with heavy losses on both sides. Fighting the mercenaries to a standstill, Captain Gruff hits on the splendid - or barking mad - idea of hiring the mercenaries to augment his depleted forces, which is slightly undercut by the two sides disliking one another. Elsewhere, the Teblor tribes of the mountains have discovered that the fading of Jaghut sorcery from the world is about to have cataclysmic consequences, spurring a mass migration into the lands of the south, and a potential showdown with their reluctant deity Karsa Orlong, also known as Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Novel.

And that's kind of it. The novel rotates between these three storylines with a laser-like focus, with Rast's growth from a confused and terrified youth into a character of moral courage, using his Karsa-like, single-minded and utterly unbendable determination as a force for good (or what passes for it) getting a lot of focus. So too do the Malazan marines holding Silver Lake. There's only eighteen of them left after the clash with Balk's mercenary company (who also get some attention, though it's more of a subplot), allowing Erikson to explore most of their characters in a lot of detail. It's the splendidly-written Stillwater who emerges as the best character in the novel, a lethal assassin-mage who has been trying to effectively trademark the idea (and ignoring the various assassin-mage organisations we've already seen in the previous novels, not least the Claw) and whose facility with the warren of Shadow is slightly complicated by her relationship with the Hounds of Shadow. Stillwater entertains because of her determined lack of interest in the normal ongoings of the Malazan world, and her metacommentary on what is happening is the source of much of the book's humour.

The book is relatively small in scale for most of its length, being concerned with very small groups of characters, until Erikson shifts things up a gear in the last hundred pages or so, when we suddenly pull back to a widescreen view of events and discover that things are about to go south very, very fast. Entire cultures and nations are caught up as Erikson finally delivers when he nearly did in The Bonehunters - a fantasy disaster novel! - and does so with spades.

I was very surprised at this book. A dozen novels, half a dozen novellas and thirty years into writing this series (and almost forty since he and Ian Esslemont created it for gaming purposes in 1982), with the previous two-published books being commercial disappointments, you could have forgiven Erikson for writing a crowd-pleasing war story or a thousand-page recap of Malazan's greatest hits. Instead, he delivers a determined, focused, well-paced and immensely rich novel of war, peace, hubris, consequence, sorcery and compassion. He even finds time to right some wrongs from earlier in the series: the somewhat brushed-over consequences of Karsa's odyssey of destruction in House of Chains are here laid bare in full, and the logical (if long-in-unfolding) consequences of events in the main series which were outside the scope of that story are explored in depth by one of Erikson's finest casts of characters yet.

The God is Not Willing (*****) is Steven Erikson bringing his A-game, turned up to 11, and delivering what is comfortably one of his three or four best novels to date. The book will be published in the UK on 1 July and on 9 November in the United States.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

New animated LORD OF THE RINGS movie, WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM, announced

In unexpected news, New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers Animation have announced they are working on a new, animated Lord of the Rings film called War of the Rohirrim.

Set roughly 250 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, the film will tell the story of Helm Hammerhand, a King of Rohan during a terrible war with the Dunlendings and an alliance of Easterlings and corsairs from the south. Helm is mentioned in the Lord of the Rings novels and movie trilogy as the warleader for whom the fortress of Helm's Deep is named.

New Line and Warner Brothers have fast-tracked the project after developing it in the background for some time. It is believed that they wish to take advantage of the impending renewed interest in all things Middle-earth when Amazon launches its Lord of the Rings prequel TV series set during the Second Age. Voice casting is already underway.

The project is not affiliated with Amazon, meaning it is currently intended for cinemas and possibly HBO Max rather than Amazon Prime Television. The project is also not making use of any of the new deals between the Tolkien Estate and Amazon, and will instead rely solely on information from the Lord of the Rings appendices.

Kenji Kamiyama, who created the animation for Netflix's Ultraman project, will direct. Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews, who wrote the well-received Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, are writing. Philippa Boyens, who co-wrote the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies, is consulting on the project, which will be very much in the visual style and continuity of the Peter Jackson movies.

This will be no less than the fourth animated Middle-earth movie, following on from The Hobbit (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978) and The Return of the King (1980).

With the film only just greenlit, it is unlikely to air before 2023 at the earliest.

Orbit confirm Daniel Abraham's new fantasy novel for early 2022 release

Orbit Books have confirmed that Daniel Abraham's new fantasy novel, Age of Ash, will be published in February 2022.

The new novel is the first in a trilogy, with the entire trilogy spanning a year in the life of one city. The cover blurb as as follows:

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.

This is Alys’s.

Alys is simply a petty thief from the slums of Longhill, but when her brother is murdered, she sets out to discover who killed him and why. But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives.

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Abraham is the author of the excellent Long Price Quartet and Dagger and the Coin series, as the co-author (with Ty Franck, both writing as James S.A. Corey) of The Expanse, the final volume of which will be published this autumn.

Keira Knightley to star in ANCILLARY JUSTICE adaptation

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, actress Keira Knightly has confirmed she will be starring in an adaptation of Ann Leckie's 2013 SF novel Ancillary Justice.

The novel focuses on Breq, the AI of a vast starship which has been destroyed. Breq's intelligence survives in one of its crew, an animated human corpse. Breq becomes an important player in the fate of the massive interstellar empire known as the Imperial Radch. The novel was well-received on release, spawning two (somewhat less-accomplished) sequels, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, and winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Knightly notes that in preparation for her role she's reading books about dictators and conquest, suggesting she might be playing Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, rather than Breq herself, but that remains unconfirmed.

Reportedly, Ancillary Justice will start filming later this year.