Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Monday, 10 August 2020

Terry Pratchett Estate distances itself even more from BBC America's THE WATCH

Following the publication of yet another publicity image from BBC America's The Watch, a TV series loosely "inspired by" Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, his family and associates have once again made it clear that they do not approve of the project and have distanced themselves from it.

The Watch - then also referred to as The City Watch and also less seriously as CSI: Ankh-Morpork - began life way back in 2011 as a co-development between Sir Terry Pratchett and the BBC. Pratchett had seen several adaptations of his work undertaken in the past, most notably the animated Channel 4 versions of the novels Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music, both released in 1997, and Sky One's live-action versions of Hogfather, The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and Going Postal in 2007-10. Although none of these adaptations were outright terrible, none arguably were as good as they should have been given the strength of the source material. Pratchett wanted to get more involved in these adaptations and in 2012 set up a company called Narrativia. Narrativia's goal was to try to establish greater control over the process and ensure greater fidelity to the feel of Pratchett's work transplanted to the screen, although not necessarily being completely 100% book-accurate in all respects (Pratchett understanding well that changes were needed given the shift in medium).

Sir Terry himself led discussions with the writers and it looked like everything was set for a faithful adaptation based on the novels, but with the freedom to move things around and take different ideas from different books. One idea apparently baked in from the start was that the series would not directly adapt the novels, but would instead pick up in the "present day" Discworld setting and use the novels as backstory, with the characters already in place. Among Pratchett's own ideas were using Ankh-Morpork's oft-mentioned, never-seen hospital as the setting for one storyline and using the creation of a City Watch band as a running gag.

Pratchett and his assistant and business partner Rob Wilkins were filmed discussing the project with the team from Prime Focus, the production team originally slated to make the show, by SFX Magazine in March 2011. Gavin Scott (Small Soldiers) and Terry Jones (Monty Python) were slated to write and possibly direct some episodes, and Pratchett's daughter Rhianna, now a respected writer in her own right, was also attached. The series was envisaged as being made in the UK on a relatively modest budget of $2 million per episode for a 13-episode first season, to air on the BBC. Crucially, the deal for the project was signed in 2011, before Narrativia was founded, with Sir Terry as the only named person involved on the book side of things.

Despite there being a strong wind in the sails of the project at this juncture (in October 2012 it was even reported - later erroneously - that the show had been greenlit), it appears that the BBC began to have second doubts and around 2013 put the brakes on the project. The BBC was under fire at the time for what was deemed to be over-extravagant spending in the aftermath of the global recession, and with The Watch coming in at significantly more expensive than Doctor Who, one of the BBC's own flagship programmes, it appears that enthusiasm for the project had dried up.

At some point between 2013 and 2016, possibly around the time of Sir Terry's sad passing in March 2015, the rights for the project were transferred from BBC Enterprises to BBC America, which decided to completely re-tool the project from the ground up with a whole new writing team. It appears during this time that Narrativia was effectively shut out of the process. Both Rhianna Pratchett and Rob Wilkins later reported (with somewhat-but-not-really concealed misgivings) that neither they nor Narrativia as an entity had been involved in the show for "many years." Nevertheless, when the show was formally greenlit (for real this time) in October 2018, Narrativia was namechecked as still being involved.

Prior to this point it appeared that the project was still going to be in line with Pratchett's original vision, where the novels are canon background material but the story takes place in the present-day of the book universe. Early reports that Ankh-Morpork was being modernised makes more sense in that context; although the city starts life in the first Discworld novel as a traditional medieval fantasy city, by the end of the series it as become a lot more Victorian and steampunk in technology and character, complete with railways and telegraphs. However, the initial casting reports from the series provoked concern, particularly when it was revealed that Sybil Ramkin, a middle-aged, rotund woman in the books who is nevertheless a major and powerful character, was being aged and slimmed considerably down to add sex appeal and action in her newfound role as a "vigilante," fighting crime on the streets of the city. The character of Cheery had also been changed from a young dwarfish woman anxious to prove her worth in her patriarchal society whilst also retaining her femininity to a young, non-binary human raised by dwarfs, borrowing Carrot's background and story for no immediately obvious reason.

By November 2019 it was clear that the project bore little, if any, resemblance to the source material, causing an immense backlash from fans and critics alike. In January 2020 the first publicity pictures from the project were released, reigniting the furore as it became clear that Ankh-Morpork in the TV show was a much more contemporary city, inspired by "punk rock" and featuring very modern-looking street lights and graffiti. It was at this point that Rhianna Pratchett and Rob Wilkins addressed the situation. Wilkins noted, rather forcefully, that The Watch is "inspired by, NOT based on," the series. Rhianna Pratchett further noted that the series being developed by BBC America is not the same series that her father signed off on, when it was a very different (and presumably better) beast and she hadn't been involved for years.

The Discworld Monthly published a run-down of the project here which seems to explain the root cause of the problem: the original contracts between the BBC and Sir Terry Pratchett stipulated that Sir Terry had some degree of influence and approval over the production, not Narrativia; Narrativia wasn't formally founded until after the initial contract was signed. As a result, when Sir Terry sadly left this Mortal Disc in 2015, there was no longer any kind of creative control being exercised from the book end of things and that allowed BBC American to effectively do whatever it wanted with no input from Narrativia.

The Watch is currently scheduled to air on BBC America in January 2021. Narrativia has signed a series of new deals with Moving Pictures to develop TV and film projects based on the other Discworld novels. The Wee Free Men is also in production at the Jim Henson Company, with Rhianna Pratchett attached as a writer. It appears that BBC America only has the rights to the City Watch sub-series of Discworld novels (Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Night Watch, Thud! and Snuff) and cannot include any elements from the other books. Moving Pictures may have the rights to all the other books (including those previously filmed by Sky One and Cosgrove Hall, since the rights reverted to the Pratchett Estate in the early 2010s), with Narrativia likely having more say over these adaptations.

The Discworld book series consists of 41 novels and numerous ancillary works and is the joint-biggest-selling adult fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings, currently tying with Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire at around 90 million book sales apiece.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Christopher Eccleston to return as the Ninth Doctor for Big Finish Audio

In surprising but welcome news, Christopher Eccleston is returning to Doctor Who for the first time since his short but well-regraded stint as the Ninth Doctor in 2005.

He's not coming back to TV - yet - but instead the long-running and well-regarded series of audio dramas by Big Finish have contracted with Eccleston to appear in no less than twelve new stories. Big Finish have tapped almost every single living actor to play the Doctor or a companion to appear in audio stories set during their runs, allowing fans to revisit their favourite Doctor/companion pairings without that pesky ageing issue getting in the way. Christopher Eccleston was the biggest missing piece of the puzzle.

Eccleston will appear in twelve stories, to be released as four box sets of three stories each. These will be released in May, August and November 2021 and in February 2022. It's not yet been revealed who else will be starring in the dramas, although fans will be hoping that Billie Piper (who has done several dramas) might be persuaded to return as Rose. 

Eccleston was cast as the Doctor when Russell T. Davies - whom he had just worked with on the ITV drama Second Coming - resurrected the show for the BBC. Although the plan was for him to stay in the role for several seasons, Eccleston suffered an early creative clash with one of the directors working on the series, whom he believed was bullying and harassing cast and crewmembers, and stepped in to address the situation. He was upset when he felt he was not given sufficient backup from the producers and decided to quit. He did feel things improved by the end of his stint on the series, particularly his collaboration with director Joe Ahearn on the concluding episodes of the season, but by that point had already resigned and his replacement, David Tennant, had already been cast.

Eccleston's experiences on the show and resulting mental health issues (discussed candidly in a recent autobiography) soured his feelings towards returning, despite his respect for his fellow castmembers and many of the crew. In 2013 he entered into discussions with then-showrunner Steven Moffat about returning for the 50th anniversary special, but wanted to have a say in the choice of director. When the BBC was unable to provide that, he decided not to return; John Hurt was drafted in as the previously unseen "War Doctor" to replace him, although Eccleston's face is briefly seen at the end of the episode when the War Doctor regenerates into the Ninth Doctor.

With the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who looming in November 2023, this may also renew hopes that Eccleston could return to the role on screen as well for a reunion special.

Why J.R.R. Tolkien Never Won a Hugo Award

The Hugo Awards are the premier awards for science fiction and fantasy literature, first given out in 1953 and every year since 1955. One of the more interesting mysteries of the award is that J.R.R. Tolkien, widely regarded as the most prominent fantasy author of the 20th Century, was never given one despite being eligible on multiple occasions.

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's best-known work, was originally published in three volumes despite being written as a single novel: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers were published in 1954 and The Return of the King in 1955. This made the individual books eligible for the 1955 and 1956 Hugo Awards, and the novel as a whole also eligible in 1956. Similarly, The Silmarillion, published in 1977, should have been eligible in the 1978 Hugo Awards. Later Tolkien works, consisting of off-cuts from his notes and repackaged material previously published, would have been more controversial but likely could have made eligibility in other categories (particularly Unfinished Tales, effectively a short story collection, published in 1980).

The Lord of the Rings' failure to qualify is perhaps unfathomable to modern readers given its titanic impact on genre history, but more understandable when given context. When the book was originally published, it attracted strong reviews from the likes of W.H. Auden and C.S. Lewis, but opprobrium from a lot of mainstream critics. Although The Hobbit (1937) had already become a well-regarded classic of children's literature, its sequel initially was deemed too long, too weird and too unclear in its audience. There was also a modest delay between the UK and US publication, and the book was only available for more than a decade in hardcover, putting it out of the price and reach of many readers.

The Lord of the Rings also had two other things going for it: although the Hugos did not ban or omit fantasy, it was generally seen as a science fiction award first and foremost; an outright fantasy novel did not win the award for the first time until 2001, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire took the top prize. Once that happened the floodgates opened and more followed (American Gods, Paladin of Souls, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Graveyard Book and all three volumes of The Broken Earth trilogy), but for much of its history, the award has not regarded fantasy in a good light. Secondly, Tolkien was British, and the Hugos were seen as a predominantly American award. To win a Hugo Award, British authors had to have their work published by prominent US genre publishers or become so dominant in the field that they couldn't really be ignored (as with Arthur C. Clarke). This cross-Atlantic ignorance also went both ways, with the Hugos having almost zero profile in the UK. The first Brian Aldiss knew that he'd won the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Short Story (for his Hothouse collection of interlinked stories) was when the award showed up at his house in the post. The first issue probably penalised Tolkien, although the latter did not, as his books were distributed by a reasonably big US publisher within a year of their UK release.

Although certainly not obscure on release, it was not immediately regarded as a classic and the American WorldCon attendees (the two ceremonies were held in Cleveland, Ohio and New York City, respectively) seem to have pretty much ignored it. The 1955 Best Hugo was instead given to Mark Clifton and Frank Riley's They'd Rather Be Right (later regarded by some as the "worst book ever to win the Hugo Award") and the 1956 award to Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star.

The Lord of the Rings retained a somewhat low profile until 1965, when Ace Books used a copyright loophole to issue an unauthorised American paperback edition of the book in its original three volumes. A legal kerfuffle and fan backlash followed which eventually led to the issuing of an authorised paperback edition and Ace Books agreeing to pay royalties on their pirated version of the book. The "war over Middle-earth" made national headlines and catapulted the book to superstardom, as it was then picked up by young British and American readers and became part (not entirely to Tolkien's approval) of the 1960s counter-culture movement.

In 1966, the Hugo Awards introduced a one-off "Best All-Time Series" category. It was widely assumed by many (but most notably Isaac Asimov) that the award was introduced solely to reward The Lord of the Rings and to make up for the book's initial publication being overlooked. Surprisingly, the award went instead to Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, as it then was. Although few could argue with anything remotely approaching a straight face that Asimov's work was of greater literary merit, it was inarguably Science Fiction with a capital S and a capital F, and Tolkien's fantasy was once again left out in the cold.

With J.R.R. Tolkien dying in 1973, it would appear that his chances of winning a Hugo would have been reduced to zero. However, his life's work and what he regarded as his magnum opus, The Silmarillion, remained unpublished. Working to his directions, his son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien, assisted by future fantasy author (and likewise inexplicably non-winning, and even more inexplicably, non-shortlisted) Guy Gavriel Kay, organised The Silmarillion into a publishable form and the book was released in 1977. Although "difficult" and unusual in structure, The Silmarillion received critical praise and modest commercial success, and would seem to have been a shoe-in for the 1978 Hugo Award.

Instead, it didn't even make the shortlist: Frederick Pohl's Gateway won the award and was joined by nominees Marion Zimmer Bradley (The Forbidden Tower), Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Lucifer's Hammer), Gordon R. Dickson (Time Storm) and some obscure guy called George R.R. Martin (for his debut novel, Dying of the Light).

The Silmarillion not even being nominated would seem unlikely, and it turns out that it actually was nominated and may have even got enough votes to make the shortlist, but it was kept out by pedantry: a man named Jim Corrick who was in charge of eligibility that year deemed that The Silmarillion was a short story collection containing a novel-length work (the Quenta Silmarillion) and thus if people had specifically nominated the Quenta Silmarillion, it would have made the shortlist, but since they didn't, it didn't.

It seems that at this point interest in getting Tolkien a Hugo Award evaporated: Unfinished Tales and its constituent stories were not nominated in 1981, and none of the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth was nominated for Best Related Work. The Children of Hurin (2008), Beren and Luthien (2017) and The Fall of Gondolin (2018) would have been of questionable eligibility, since they were repackaged material that had been previously published many years earlier. However, a case could have been made for them and for the latter two making the entire Middle-earth legendarium eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Series, but it seems no attempt was made.

Tolkien himself was probably vaguely aware of the Hugo Awards. He was a fan of Isaac Asimov's fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, and during the tussle with Ace Books, he had been in communication with the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) over the matter. He also had built up an extensive body of correspondence with American fans of his work. It is, however, unlikely that he spent a huge amount of time worrying about not winning awards. The immense fan recognition of his work and the resulting "grosser forms of literary success" as he put it (i.e. lots of money) was reward in itself. 

Still, although Tolkien himself never won a Hugo, adaptations of his work finally did. Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring won the last-ever Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 2002, and The Two Towers and The Return of the King won the first Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) in 2003 and 2004 respectively. And the list of "influential writers who never won a Hugo Award" is distinguished company, also consisting of Gene Wolfe, Terry Pratchett and Iain Banks (among many others).

Saturday, 8 August 2020

DUNE trailer to arrive this month

SF fans have been eagerly awaiting their first proper look at director Denis Villeneuve's next film, an adaptation of Frank Herbert's sprawling SF epic Dune. Now star Timothée Chalamet, who plays Paul Atreides in the film, has indicated that we should get a trailer before the end of the month.

A number of publicity images from the movie were released back in April, leading to speculation that a trailer was imminent. However, the trailer seems to have been delayed as the studio considered the chances of them actually hitting their planned 18 December release date considering the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It now appears they are happier with the likelihood of the film going ahead as planned. It should be noted that releasing a trailer in late August, just three and a half months ahead of the film's release, is awfully short notice for a film of this scale, leading some industry watchers to speculate if this will hurt the film's box office prospects. There is also speculation that the movie might move early to VOD services, like Bill & Ted Face the Music and Mulan, although it's bee noted that Dune's immense budget and the requirement to make the money back makes this less likely.

STAR TREK film franchise put on hold

Paramount has put its Star Trek film franchise on hold whilst it figures out how to proceed.

After a seven-year delay in the movie series (following the box office bombing of the Next Generation crew-starring Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002), Paramount released J.J. Abrams' Star Trek in 2009 to a mostly solid reception, before following it up with the much more negatively-received Into Darkness in 2013 and the mostly-ignored Star Trek Beyond in 2016. In 2017, CBS released Star Trek: Discovery via streaming services, creating a renewed TV franchise which, despite dividing critics and fans, has chalked up three seasons of live-action television and one of animation since then, with several new shows in development. Paramount are keen to get back in on the act.

Paramount originally started developing a fourth film starring Chris Pine and the rest of the Abrams-era crew back in 2016, but ran into problems over pay. They wanted a budget reduction after Star Trek Beyond's modest performance and this required everyone to take a pay cut. However, Chris Pine (fresh off a solid turn in Wonder Woman) and returning first film guest star Chris Hemsworth (who had since become Thor in the Marvel universe) refused to renegotiate their compensation, leading to a stand-off.

In the meantime, Paramount had been in discussions with Quentin Tarantino over directing a Star Trek feature, although reportedly Tarantino had not settled down on one idea. At one point he was considering adapting the Next Generation episode Yesterday's Enterprise with a new crew, and at another was reportedly interested in remaking the classic episode A Piece of the Action (where Kirk and his crew arrive on a planet that is effectively run by prohibition-era gangsters). Tarantino later decided to not direct the film, but to co-write and produce.

Last year, Fargo and Legion showrunner Noah Hawley was announced as the writer-director of a new film. After initially a strong positive reception to the news, it sounds like Hawley wanted to move in the direction of hiring a whole-new cast and creating new characters for the film, something Paramount seem to have been more sceptical about.

Newly-arrived Paramount motion picture group Emma Watts is now considering her options. The Hawley and Tarantino films have been put on the backburner (with a view to being developed as spin-offs rather than mainline films) and instead the Pine/Hemsworth-starring script has been put back into contention, with Paramount more willing to consider their salary requests. There is also the possibility of all these ideas being put out to pasture a clean slate being adopted. Paramount are to consider their options in the coming months before deciding how to proceed.

Friday, 7 August 2020

THE WATCH gets an airdate

BBC America's controversial adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books featuring the City Watch has finally gotten an airdate. The show will debut on BBC America in January 2021.

Image may contain: 5 people, text that says "THE WATCHNEW BBC AMERICA DUE ON YOUR SCREENS JAUARY2021 Information provided by"

The Watch is "very loosely" based on Pratchett's source material, but has seen a raft of changes made to the books which have alienated the fanbase. These include creating a "young, sexy," crimefighting version of Lady Sybil Ramkin (a larger and older woman in the books) and turning Ankh-Morpork into some kind of steampunk metropolis rather than the Renaissance-level post-medieval city of the books.

Terry Pratchett's business partner Rob Wilkins and daughter and literary executor Rhianna Pratchett were originally both involved with the project, when it was a much more faithful adaptation with the UK BBC, but have publicly distanced themselves from the show since it was transferred to BBC America.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The World of Cyberpunk 2077 by Marcin Batylda

Night City, California, 2077. A city of netrunners, megacorps, edgerunners, gangs and outcasts. Nearly destroyed in the Fourth Corporate War of 2023 (when a tactical nuke went off deep inside the Arasaka Towers), the city has survived flood, famine and war to emerge stronger and more influential than ever before. Now an independent city-state free of outside governmental control, Night City is attracting more people than ever before.

The World of Cyberpunk 2077 is, as the title implies, a background setting book for CD Projekt Red's forthcoming roleplaying video game, Cyberpunk 2077 (due for release in November). It's also set in the same world as Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk pen-and-paper roleplaying game (best-known for its Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020 editions), which makes this book doubly worthwhile, not just as scene-setting for the video game but also as a lorebook for those interested in trying out the pen-and-paper game. Semi-coincidentally, the latest edition of that roleplaying game, Cyberpunk Red, should be hitting shelves in the next couple of months.

The book is 192 pages long, full colour, with every page combining text exploring the world of Night City with art from the video game. Some of this is concept art, some are video game screenshots and some are fake (and often RoboCop levels of subversive) adverts for in-universe products. How about some Real Water®? Only 99E$ per gallon!

The book is presented as a series of articles from the Night City Inquirer, an anarchic news and press organisation determined to get the real truth out there (with the implication that maybe you shouldn't take everything in the book as being 100% reliable).

The first section focuses on history, mostly alternate history since the Cyberpunk universe deviated from our own in the 1980s. The devastating impact of climate change, resource conflicts, declining nation-states, growing international digital supercorps, a new Dustbowl and three corporate wars fought in the 1990s and 2000s are detailed, along with the founding of Night City on Morro Bay. The devastation of the Fourth Corporate War gets a spotlight, followed by the lengthy rebuilding process for both Night City and the Free State of Northern California.

Once that is covered, there's a lengthy section on the technology of the setting: cyberware, weapons, vehicles, braindance (a potent VR experience where people can go for rides in other people's lives, experiences and hallucinations) and netrunning. The implications of cybernetic technology are covered and the dangers, such as cyberpsychosis, whilst the moral question of how much of yourself you can replace whilst still being considered human is briefly pondered (although not in too much detail).

The longest section details Night City itself, its districts and neighbourhoods. This is fairly bare bones - which given its length is a surprise - since a lot of the detail of the setting will be found in the game itself. It does provide an overview of what districts to avoid after dark (unless you want to get jumped by gangs), where the most exclusive bars are and where might be the best place to procure some shady items. Further chapters look at the the society of Night City, from the rich megacorp regional directors down to the homeless, and at the city's forces of both law and disorder: the police, the gangs and the Nomad tribes who live beyond the city limits. The book ends with an interview with Rogue, an infamous operative of the 2020s who's now in semi-retirement but unofficially still working as a "fixer."

As these kind of companion books go, The World of Cyberpunk 2077 is pretty good. The artwork is excellent, as you might expect given that the book is able to draw on seven years' worth of concept art, finalised design work and renders. The production value of the book is very high and the writing is surprisingly engaging. Lore fluff for video games can be hit or miss, but the immense amount of background material developed previously for the pen-and-paper game means there's a ton of information available on the factions, politics and tech of the setting that goes far beyond what you'd normally expect from this kind of tie-in. There's enough meat here to help run a pen-and-paper game in 2077 Night City as well as prepping for the video game.

In terms of flaws, there's not too many. The book seems to assume knowledge on the reader's part about certain characters like Johnny Silverhand and Morgan Blackhand which the overwhelming majority won't have. There's also a distinct lack of deep context on some things, like the gangs. Some of the gangs are based on fairly obvious cliches (the Haitian gang is called the Voodoo Boys, because obviously that's the only thing anyone knows about Haiti; both the Japanese Arasaka Corporation and the Tyger Claws yakuza gang are about honour and face in public, whilst being corrupt behind the scenes), but without the context of the video game it's hard to know if they get more development than that. The book's maps of Night City are also a bit odd, omitting the shoreline, so it's hard to tell at a glance which is an inland district of the city and which is a coastal one.

Beyond that, The World of Cyberpunk 2077 (****) is a readable and solid worldbuilding guidebook, and it does several jobs of providing background for the game, acting as an advertisement for it and providing context for the new Cyberpunk Red pen-and-paper game. It is available in the UK and USA now.

Bethesda confirm no news on STARFIELD until 2021

Bethesda have confirmed they will not be giving any further news or updates on their next big CRPG, Starfield, until next year.

The confirmation came in a rather odd way: a fan via Twitter said their boyfriend had a dream about Bethesda announcing the game will not be out or have any news relayed about it until 2021, meaning he could relax, presumably from the tension of not knowing when an announcement might emerge. Bethesda Vice-President Pete Hines advised the fan that their boyfriend was "very smart."

Starfield is Bethesda's next big open-world CRPG, their effective follow-up to 2015's Fallout 4 and 2011's Skyrim. It's their first new, original IP since the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, was published all the way back in 1994. Bethesda have revealed very little about the game aside from the fact that it's set in space in the distant future and will involve travel between different planets. The game had been in the planning stages for around a decade before development began in earnest after the release of Fallout 4's last DLC in 2016 (multiplayer game Fallout 76, released in 2018, was largely developed by a different team).

Given Bethesda's preference for confirming the release date for their games just 3-4 months before that date, some fans were holding out hope for a surprise announcement followed by a late 2020 release, but that's now comfortably out of the question.

Various rumours have been voiced about Starfield, including that it will abandon the protagonist voice acting of Fallout 4, is set in the distant future of the Fallout universe (after humanity has recovered from the nuclear war) and it will use new technology to provide a seamless experience with no need for separate indoor/outdoor loading areas, but these all remain unconfirmed. It is known that after Starfield, Bethesda will switch to full production on The Elder Scrolls VI, which is believed to have the (at least working) subtitle Redfall.

Gamers will have plenty to tide them over in the meantime, including CD Projekt Red's massive SF roleplaying game Cyberpunk 2077, which is due for release on 19 November this year.

Transformers: War for Cybertron - Siege

The planet Cybertron is wracked by war between its sentient, robotic inhabitants. The Decepticons, a former indentured underclass fighting a guerrilla war against the noble class, the Autobots, have won their struggle, but have become a militaristic, authoritarian force under the command of the dictatorial Megatron. The Autobots have been reduced to a few resistance cells fighting for "freedom," but perhaps not having fully taken on board the problems that led to the war. Caught in between are a whole ton of neutrals, civilians trying to survive by trading with both sides, or medics treating anyone in need of help regardless of allegiance. When Megatron declares his intent to weaponise one of Cybertron's greatest treasures to wipe out the Autobots, he forces his enemies into a last-ditch, desperate battle for survival and causes some of his allies to question their own loyalties.

Transformers started life as a kid's toyline, comic book and cartoon series in 1984. Since then it has experienced lulls of obscurity and, since 2007, the highs of being a world-famous mega-franchise, albeit one resting on the shoulders of some pretty shoddy live-action movies (and the surprisingly great Bumblebee spin-off film). This new TV series from Netflix marks arguably the highest-profile Transformers project since the movie series began and clearly one that's going to get a ton of new viewers, so it's interesting to see how the production studio has approached it.

The answer is that they've taken a lot of influence and input from the 1980s comics, particularly Simon Furman's UK (and later US) Marvel run which introduced a lot of detailed, moral complexity to the franchise. Fans of Furman's epic Target: 2006 storyline will be well-catered here, particularly in the depiction of life on war-torn Cybertron, with neutral "Cybertronians" trying to survive in the crossfire of the two warring sides. Fan-favourite character Impactor even shows up from that storyline. There's also a lot of influence from Furman's later War Within storyline for Dreamwave and the superb War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron video games of a decade ago.

All of that said, Netflix's War for Cybertron is a wholly original story that does not require any familiarity with the existing franchise. It's also the first TV series in the franchise which seems to be aimed at a more adult audience. Given the sheer size of the thirty and forty-something Transformers fanbase (the kind of fans willing to drop £500 on a Unicron toy and £200 on the Jetfire toy for this show), it's surprising it's taken this long. That's not to say that kids won't also enjoy the show, but the more morally murky reasons for the war and the large number of talking heads scenes may make them tap out.

War for Cybertron is a trilogy of seasons - subtitled Siege, Earthrise and Kingdom - which will retell the classic Transformers narrative as a limited series spanning the three distinct eras of the original Transformers storyline (Cybertron, Earth and Beast Wars). As such it's a good way of getting across the "complete" Transformers experience in a very short timeframe; the entire saga is only supposed to span 18 25-minute episodes (barely a third the length of the original cartoon's second season alone). This first season of six episodes shows the strengths of this idea, as you can watch the whole thing in barely more time than it takes to watch a Michael Bay movie and get a pretty good and mostly complete experience. However, some problems do turn up.

One of these is that the pacing feels rather off. The last three episodes have so much going on that they trip over themselves by throwing in ideas and not really explaining them. Soundwave's clone Soundblaster seems ripe for greater exploration, but it's nothing more than a cameo from a fairly obscure character from the mythos (and extremely confusing for more casual fans, who were wondering if he was supposed to be the far better-known Blaster), and the stuff with the Guardians is cool but a little confusing: why does Omega Supreme decide to join forces with Prime? He has pretty much zero explanation or exploration of his storyline or character. The first three episodes, by contrast, have a much more relaxed, talky pace with it taking a long time for the plot to get going. It feels like some of the later story points would have made more sense if they'd been set up further in advance rather than getting tons of shots of characters arguing with one another over minor plot points.

Still, the characters are a lot better defined this time around. Some characters have pretty different characterisation to their more familiar incarnations, with Bumblebee as a hard-bitten loner mercenary being particularly tough to swallow (as well as raising questions about why Outback, who has exactly Bumblebee's personality in this show, was not used for that role instead), but Ratchet as a healer who helps everyone brought to him in need of help, regardless of allegiance, being a particularly solid change. A less confident Optimus Prime, unwilling to explain his decisions and more brittle in the face of adversity before finding his courage, is another change, although not without precedent. Fans of the franchise will also know that Jetfire and Impactor are not destined to remain Decepticons forever, but the reasons for them changing sides are extremely well set-up and provide some solid drama.

Some fans will also have their arguments over which characters appear and which don't, particularly as some prominent G1 characters are missing altogether (Jazz, Sunstreaker, Trailbreaker), some are present but having almost nothing to do (Ironhide, Hound) and some show up only to die almost immediately. Siege also does a solid job of bringing in the female Transformers early and giving them prominent roles - particularly Alita - but this plays into one of the show's more irksome elements. Having set itself up as a story newcomers can enjoy, it then leaves out a ton of backstory revolving around Prime, Megatron, Ultra Magnus, Alita and Alpha Trion but then refers to it consistently. It feels like there should really be a prequel season exploring these elements to remove the need to talk about it vaguely in the show, particularly as the show's biggest innovation to the franchise - that the Autobots may have caused the war and the Decepticons were justified in their rebellion - is left a bit flat without it (since Megatron is already in full-on dictator mode when the show begins).

Still, if the Siege season of War for Cybertron (****) has some pacing and premise issues, they are mostly overcome by the excellent animation, strong characterisation and deeper look at some of the underlying premise behind the entire franchise. The show is available to stream on Netflix now, with two more seasons to follow.