Sunday, October 28, 2012

TWITrek Character Insight No. 26: Dr. McCoy

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, our subject is Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy from TOS. (He's Dead Jim!)

Bones is Chief Medical Officer aboard the Enterprise. Dr. McCoy serves as an accomplished surgeon, physician, and psychologist for 27 years under Captain Kirk. He is also one of Kirk's closest friends and allies, along with Spock.

Dr. McCoy attended the University of Mississippi and was a true southern gentleman, at least whenever he did not have to verbally do battle with Spock. His character is similar to an old country doctor, and he distrusts certain types of technology such as the transporter. Bones is a practical joker who has sharp wit and great lines that add so much character to the original Star Trek series.

The nickname Bones stems from the term "sawbones", which was used commonly in 19th Century medicine to refer to military doctors and surgeons who routinely performed amputations on their patients. In the 2009 movie, an unscripted line by new actor Karl Urban explains that a divorce with his ex-wife forced him into space because all he was left with was his bones. Regardless of the origin, the nickname is unique and used often.

Bones is the only crew member who routinely addresses the Captain by his first name, indicating the friendship beyond their duties. Bones also enjoys sharing regular drinks with the Captain, and he prefers Earth alcoholic drinks like bourbon, whiskey, and mint juleps. Stemming from his Southern heritage, Bones also cooks a mean pot of baked beans.

The best episodes featuring Bones include: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, Journey to Babel, and Shore Leave.

Our notable quote this week comes from multiple episodes: (I'm a doctor, not a...)
Actor: Deforest Kelley played McCoy and he was the first regular cast member to pass away in 1999 at age 79. Kelley also appeared in Bonanza. Karl Urban took over the role in the 2009 reboot, and he also appeared in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as on Xena warrior princess.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, October 22, 2012

TWITrek Character Insight No. 25: Jonathan Archer

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, our subject is Jonathan Archer from Enterprise.(insert - It's Been A Long Road...)

Archer serves as Captain of the Enterprise NX-01. While acting as captain, Archer earned a reputation for being one of the great explorers in Earth's history, including making first contact with many species such as the Andorians, the Klingons, and the Xindi. Archer laid the groundwork for what would become the United Federation of Planets, the organization that all Star Trek series are centered upon.

Archer grew up in San Francisco as the son of a renowned warp scientist, and that kindled his interest in exploring and space travel. Archer is an Eagle Scout who was also an accomplished athlete in the sport of water polo. His experiences as a scout and as a star player shape his views and give him a confidence that he can win or survive, regardless of how grim the circumstances may look to others.

As a result of being the first Earth captain in command of a deep-space exploration starship, Archer has to deal with many moral and ethical dilemmas that begin to develop how the Federation will handle tough situations (for example, The Prime Directive). At times, Archer decides to let nature take its course instead of interfering with cultures. Although Archer is loathe to do it, he is also driven to torture a space pirate and steal a warp coil from another ship in order to stop the Xindi from successfully destroying Earth.

Archer owns a pet beagle named Porthos who he brings with him aboard Enterprise. Porthos is often a sounding board for Archer as the Captain prepares his entries into the Captain's Log. However, Porthos also gets to tag along on many away missions.

Archer was supposed to have the first name Jackson originally, but this was changed during casting because research turned up exactly one person in the USA with the name Jackson Archer. To avoid confusion, his name was changed to the more common Jonathan.

The best episodes featuring Archer include Dear Doctor, Cogenitor, Anomaly, and Shockwave.

Our notable quote this week comes from the episode Impulse in season 3:
"We'll find a way through this. But I won't leave anyone behind, not if I can help it. I can't try to save humanity without holding on to what makes me human.
Actor: Scott Bakula played Archer, and he is best-known for playing the main character Dr. Beckett on Quantam Leap. Bakula more recently appeared regularly on Desperate Housewives (juicy!) and Men of a Certain Age.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dark Souls Game Diary No. 1: Ring That Bell

Back around the beginning of the year, I bought Dark Souls along with Mass Effect 2 and 3 and Batman Arkham City. Of those games, the only progress I made was really made in Mass Effect 2. I did start into Dark Souls but I had become stuck on the Taurus Demon. Eventually I lucked into defeating the first major boss of the game and then got stuck working through Undead Burg towards Undead Parish.

Of course it also didn't help that the first time I played the game was the night before I got sick with a nasty stomach bug making its way around the family. I still haven't eaten the type of pizza I had that night, and Dark Souls honestly had a negative connotation for me that I could not overcome.

Time heals all wounds though, and I was inspired by hearing Bill Abner enjoy the PC port of the game (Prepare to Die Edition). So I picked it up again this week and have finally made some substantive progress. That and the great feelings I have about how the game plays already led to this first in a series of game diaries about my experience with Dark Souls.

For the uninitiated, Dark Souls is a sequel of a game called Demon Souls and both games are known for their brutal level of difficulty. However, if you can stomach the difficulty, what you will find is a game filled with subtle storytelling and a combat model that revitalizes what it means to play an RPG. It doesn't strike you in the first couple hours of game play, but with a few levels under the belt and some harder enemies coming in the second zone of the game (Undead Parish), the nuances of the combat model begin to come out.

You have to be strategic and careful with attacks and counter-attacks. I think it is a certainty that the shield you carry is far more important than the weapon you wield. That makes for a combat that feels more realistic. It is not just button mashing and cooldown timers, although the stamina bar is a manner of limiting your actions. There is real depth here, and I feel like I am just beginning to mine that depth. It brings a whole new meaning to "do a barrel roll" out of the way of that sling blade.

The thing I learned while trying to reach the Gargoyles boss at the top of Undead Parish was that sometimes you have to explore about to find all the connections and spots in this world. The game does not just hand things to you. Discovery is just as important as good tactics. I had been running through the gauntlet all the way from one of the initial bonfires (save points) in Undead Burg to the main church of the Undead Parish. I had made it to the church a couple of times, but the new level of enemies there always put me back at square one with a long road ahead.

But on the other side of the walkway from the entrance to the church is a wooded path the other direction. And what do you know, there's a bonfire right there as well as a blacksmith! This save point stops the 20 minute run back to the church and makes it a 1 minute walk. With this in hand, I was able to work on my tactics against the stronger enemies and not waste time spinning wheels in Undead Burg. This is key to success in Dark and know where your resources are.

The first couple of times I went up to face the gargoyles, it ends quickly and badly. I realized that I was not going to win making small bits of progress with my battle axe (even upgraded a bit at the blacksmith). So I retrained myself by grinding a little bit against the tough church mobs with a longer range and more devastating halberd weapon. The slower swings take a different strategy to use effectively compared to the battle axe.

But more importantly, when I equipped the weapon I did not have sufficient strength to use it one-handed well. I could still use it one-handed, but it was clunky. So I worked up a couple of levels to add some more strength points and the weapon became more and more useful. That is another great system in the game...sure you can use whatever items you pick up, but if they do not fit your character build, then they will not work well. It forces you into intelligent decisions and wise character building.

As a side benefit of grinding a couple of levels, I came up with the shards I needed to upgrade the halberd significantly at the same time I could use it more effectively. That allowed me to finally take some good attempts on the Gargoyles. On about my sixth or seventh serious attempt, I finally got them down. My combat and play skills still are not up to the par this game will require later, but it really feels like progress when you figure a boss out and find a way to defeat it.

And of course, the subtle story begins with you trying to ring two bells, one in the Undead Parish and another in Blighttown. The first bell has been rung. Game on, Dark Souls, game on.

Monday, October 15, 2012

TWITrek Character Insight No. 24: Kes

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, our subject is Kes from Voyager.

Kes comes aboard Voyager with Neelix during the pilot episode following Voyager's stranding in the Delta Quadrant. Kes serves as a field medic under the holographic doctor and as the caretaker of the airponics bay, which is used to grow edible vegetation for the crew.

Kes is an Ocampa, which is the race that was sheltered and guided by the Nacene Caretaker follownig the accidental damage caused to the atmosphere of the planet Ocampa caused by the Nacene.  Ocampa have a short lifespan of about nine years, and females like Kes only have the opportunity to give birth once in their short lives.

Kes has telepathic abilities similar in function to Betazoids, but she also possesses other abilities like precognition, telekinesis, and the ability to manipulate matter on a subatomic level.  After three years on the ship, Kes begins to transform as a result of her blossoming mental abilities, and she left the ship to evolve into a being of pure energy. In some respects, Kes is reminiscent of a member of the Q continuum, but without the arrogance.

While aboard Voyager, Kes had a long-term romantic relationship with Neelix that only ended because Kes was possessed by an alien named Tieran. When this relationship fell apart, many of the story lines surrounding Kes fell by the wayside. That helped lead to her removal from the show around the same time Seven of Nine became a new major character on the series.

Kes is a fan of spinach juice with a touch of pear, a drink introduced to her by Tom Paris. During her short time aboard Voyager, Kes stands up for the right of the holographic doctor and proves that the Voyager crew will sometimes have to think outside the box to get home to the Alpha Quadrant.

The best episodes featuring Kes include Time and Again, Elogium, Darkling, and The Gift.

Our notable quote this week comes from the episode Tuvix:

It's funny. If something happened to Tuvok, if Neelix were here, he'd be the first person to comfort me. And if I lost Neelix, Tuvok would be the first person to guide me spiritually. Now I don't have either of them.  

Actress: Jennifer Lien played Kes and she has not acted regularly since 2000.  Lien also appeared on the Men in Black TV series and on American History X.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, October 8, 2012

TWITrek Character Insight No. 23: Worf

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, our subject is Commander Worf from TNG and DS9. (he of the Aargh noise mating call in The Dauphin, season 2)

Worf is the Chief of Security aboard the Enterprise-D. Worf is the first Klingon to graduate from Starfleet Academy and serve in Starfleet, which fulfilled a prophecy of Klingon legend Kahless during Worf's undertaking of a Klingon coming-of-age ritual.

Following the destruction of the Enterprise-D, Worf took an extended leave of absence and considered leaving Starfleet. When Commander Ben Sisko asked Worf to be a strategic operations officer aboard Deep Space Nine, he accepted to avoid some bad politics in the Klingon regime in power at the time. Worf also commanded the Defiant starship whenever Ben Sisko could not, including in the battle with the Borg that led to Worf joining the crew of the Enterprise-E.

Worf grew up with human foster parents after his Klingon parents were killed in a Romulan raid on his home colony as a young child. He learns quiet discipline and self-control not normally seen in Klingons as a result of growing up with human children.  This self-control stems from an incident where Worf accidentally collided his forehead ridges with a human player during a children's soccer game, which led to the death of the human player and a tough lesson about life's fragility to Worf.

Worf enjoys singing Klingon operas whenever he is alone. Worf also enjoys a wide variety of foods thanks to his dual upbringing, but the most notable preference for Worf is prune juice, a "warrior's drink" introduced to him by Guinan.

The baldric or sash worn across Worf's uniform was a cloth one reused from TOS Klingons in a couple of epsidoes of that series.  In season two, the baldric was reformed out of metal using bicycle chain and became Worf's signature appearance.

As a result of appearing in eleven total seasons of two different shows as a regular cast member, Worf holds the record for most appearances by characters of Star Trek. Worf also holds the record for revivals from death at three, but not the record for total deaths, which is held by Kathryn Janeway.

The best episodes featuring Worf include Sins of the Father, Redemption, Birthright, and Apocalypse Rising.

Our notable quote this week comes from the episode Qpid:

"Sir I protest! I am not a merry man!

Actor: Michael Dorn is the actor who played Worf. Dorn continues to act today in television and movies, including recently on the TV series Castle. He recently joined twitter @AKAWorf.

Until next time, live long and prosper...