The Decline of Triple-A Publishers

Triple-A, to some it means one of the top level of hockey you can achieve before professional, to some it means being able to get roadside help in the USA; but to gamers, it means massive publishing companies. EA, Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, Bandai, Ubisoft, these are all Triple-A Publishers that have made some great and some truly terrible games in their years of operation. A couple of them, EA and Activision Blizzard specifically, have been in hot water recently over some of their practices. This week I’m going to look at some of these practices and how it will/has lead to the decline of Triple-A Publishers.

LOOT BOXES/CRATES

Let’s start with the elephant in the room, loot boxes. Now for most people who are unfamiliar with what they are I’ll explain.. Loot boxes are digital crates you either earn in game or purchase (for either in game or real world currency) that randomly gift you with different upgrades or cosmetic items for games.

Now, loot boxes in themselves can be harmless if done correctly. It’s still not good practice to have them in games, but there’s a reason for them that I will touch on later. They are meant to provide incentive for continuing to play the game, or to provide some gamers with more unlockable material to acquire. Most of the time they contain solely cosmetic items (the way your game character looks) and nothing to influence play. Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite and PUBG (Player Unknown’s BattleGrounds) all use loot boxes the way they are intended, purely cosmetic content that has absolutely ZERO effect on your progression through the game. They do offer the opportunity for you to purchase in game currency using real world dollars to obtain more boxes, but all of these games allow for boxes to be obtained simply through playing the game. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with this style of content delivery. It allows the developers to continue making interesting new skins and material for a game without adding it as a DLC with a new price tag (another practice which is ridiculous that I’ll also touch on later) but I digress… While there are games like those listed above, which use the loot boxes as they are intended, there are many who don’t.

Loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)

One of the big problems that has plagued Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) since its release was the way Dice (the developer, known for the Battlefield franchise) and EA Games (the publisher) handled their loot boxes. When Battlefront II was released it faced massive backlash because of the “Pay to Win” progression system it contained.

Pay to win involves gamers forking over real life money to purchase in game weapons, power ups, XP boosts and various other content to give them an edge over everyone else. Battlefront II (2017) was not the first game to do this, sporting games like the annual NHL, FIFA, and the 2K line of games are notorious for it and Call of Duty has started adopting this practice as well. The main problem that has been raised by mostly parents and some gamers is that this is akin to gambling. Some countries, like Belgium, believe this so much that they have actually outlawed Loot boxes in video games for anyone under the age of 18. 

Here’s the full article from the BBC on the subject.

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-43906306

Square Enix (of Final Fantasy and Tomb Raider fame), one of the companies that manufacture both console and mobile games, pulled three full mobile games from the market in Belgium to coincide with this new ruling. They didn’t pull them out in anger or frustration, they pulled them in respect of the new law.

How did EA handle this? They delivered a long winded speech that basically amounted to “Belgium’s lawmakers don’t know what they’re talking about”. EA adopted the model of pay to win years ago and have started to lean into it hard. The only issue is that gamers aren’t going for it anymore, which has caused massive problems for the company. When Star Wars Battlefront II released there were several hero characters (mainstays of the franchise), unlockable through either playing games and earning credits or by paying x amount of dollars and unlocking them immediately. Here’s the problem, the amount of time required to unlock the likes of Darth Vader amounted to roughly 1000 wins. 1000 wins. When a game can take up to 45 minutes to play from start to finish that’s an absurd amount of time. Or you could pay $20 to get enough credits to unlock him. Not only can you use the credits to unlock heroes, you could use it to buy Loot boxes that gave you random power ups, which in turn gave you an upper hand on other gamers who didn’t spend the money to buy the crates. Once this became obvious to the gaming community, Battlefront II faced a massive boycott by players until they fixed the issue. Which, to a very small amount of credit, they eventually did but it was too little too late.

PAID DLC (DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT)

Alright, now I’m not that old, I’m only 27 but I remember the good old days of video games. By “good old days” I mean when the game you purchased was finished, not full of bugs and came with ALL the content. Growing up, I remember getting games like Ghost Recon Island Thunder, ATV Offroad Fury, and Halo Combat Evolved, and what’s the one thing all these games had in common? They were finished games! Nowadays Publishers impose strict deadlines on Developers which cause a whole slew of problems. Most notably, the release of incomplete and buggy games. Rather than allowing the Developers more time to make a complete game, they force them to release the unfinished product and patches to fix the bug issues.

Paid DLC serves four main purposes, firstly to install bug fixes with patches, secondly to distribute content that SHOULD HAVE been included in the initial game release, thirdly to keep gamers interested and lastly to keep money coming in while the next game is created. Mostly though, they serve to milk gamers for more money on a single game.

Most games nowadays go for $79.99 +tax which amounts to $90. Then you have the option to buy a “season pass” to get the first year’s DLC for free, normally these passes cost another $40 on top of the game price. We’re now up to $130 for a single game for one year. If you don’t buy the season pass then each DLC for year one is normally $20 anyways, so you’re not saving any money. After the first year of the game, a new DLC patch will be released which will also cost an additional $40, we are now up to $170 for one game. Then another DLC will be released midway through year 2 also totaling $40 and now we are at $210 for a single game. This also goes hand in hand with Publishers locking content behind these DLC walls to force players to buy the content to continue being able to enjoy the full game.

Destiny 2 Content showing pay to win model and locking DLC content behind pay to play barrier

The Destiny franchise was extremely bad for this practice and caused a lot of players to lose interest rather quickly. Some developers like 343 (known for Halo) have openly stated that all DLC will be free and no content will be locked behind pay to play walls. They did, however, include Loot boxes but that’s the price you pay for free DLC.

Paid DLC is akin to going to Subway and paying full price for what you thought was a full sub. Then having the employee tell you it’s an additional $2 per topping and $3 for any one condiment.

MICROTRANSACTIONS

Microtransactions (MTX) are small digital content packs that players can purchase with real world currency for in game content. They are similar to Loot boxes but in this instance you know exactly what you are getting. MTX is most common in free to play games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and pretty much every single mobile game. MTX exist to allow Developers and Publishers to help recoup some of the cost for making the game free to play. This sounds acceptable right? Well if they follow the earlier example of cosmetic content only, it’s not that big of an issue, but most of these games don’t follow that. Similar to loot boxes they allow players the ability to purchase in game boosters and power ups to help them win against other people. Every time a game is advertised as “Free to Play” it is nearly 99.99% guaranteed that it will involve MTX in some fashion.

Microtransactions in Forza

Now there are quite a few games that adopt both of these practices, both the cosmetic only and actual pay to win, and there’s only one reason for it, to make the Publishers money. EA in particular uses both systems without mercy. There was a time when EA made good games and cared more about the content of the games than the money they brought in. It’s sad to say that the days of EA not being a money hungry trash bin of a Publisher are long gone.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Basically this all means that Publishers are losing money at a steady rate and are trying to find ways to trick gamers into continuing to spend money on their crappy unfinished and buggy games. A notable YouTube channel I follow is Upper Echelon Gaming, he creates videos explaining this exact thing. One of the videos where he discusses this is below:

What he explains in this and several other videos is that for large Triple-A Publishers, their shares are dropping at an alarming rate. This doesn’t bode well for anyone, Developers, Publishers or gamers in the long run. Publishers will continue to tighten their grip on a failing practice and in the effort destroy the limited autonomy they give the developers as is.

I’m not a business or economics major, but even I can tell that within the next 2 years we will be seeing some Triple-A Publishers in serious jeopardy of declaring bankruptcy, and the thing is that they have nobody to blame but themselves. Some Developers are starting to see this trend and are fighting back against the large greedy Publishing companies. Developers like CD Projekt Red (famous for the Witcher games) have never partnered with a massive Publisher and it 100% shows in their content. They make massive engaging games, they actually listen to the players and give them what they want instead of what will make them a quick buck. Recently, Bungie (known for Halo) has split from Activision Blizzard and put the future of the Destiny franchise back solely in the hands of Bungie. Not only did they split, but now Activision Blizzard is under investigation because of a lawsuit launched by their investors. Not only are they in hot water over fraud allegations following the dissolution of their partnership with Bungie, but they also laid off nearly 800 employees most of which are game developers and support staff. This all flies in the face of them hiring a new CFO, Dennis Durkin, and paying him a handsome $15 million signing bonus… after they laid off 800 staff.

Basically, what I’m saying is that because of the ridiculous practices most Triple-A Publishers are using, they’re all going to disappear within 2-6 years. Developers will once again be responsible for creating, marketing and distributing their own material and maybe then we can get back to the way gaming used to be.

See you next week!

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The Umbrella Corporation – Probably THE Most Evil Company In All Of Fiction

The Umbrella Corporation, a staple in the Resident Evil series and probably THE most evil corporation in all of fiction, why? well… let’s find out.

FOUNDING OF UMBRELLA

The Umbrella Corporation was originally founded as Umbrella Pharmaceuticals in late 1967 in the UK by Dr. Oswell E. Spencer, Dr. James Marcus & Dr. Edward Ashford.

Marcus and Spencer had become obsessed with a 19th century encyclopedia titled Natural History Conspectus. It was written by Henry Travis and detailed his journeys and contact with the Ndipaya tribe of West Africa and their folklore detailing a flower which can imbue great powers when consumed. Spencer and Marcus conducted several expeditions into the region and eventually discovered the flower. The Drs. along with Marcus’ student Brandon Bailey, discovered the flowers contained a mutagenic virus they would later dub “Progenitor”. Brimming with potential, Spencer made it his life goal to ensure the genesis of a new race of humans using this newly discovered progenitor virus. He founded Umbrella Pharmaceuticals alongside his long time friend Marcus and their mutual friend Ashford. On the face of things, Umbrella was a simple medicine manufacturing company, some of their most notable contributions were Adravil, Aqua Cure, Safsprin, and a common first aid spray to heal wounds. Under the surface the main goal of Umbrella was to further Spencer’s research into the advancement of humanity using Progenitor and to manufacture bio weapons to be sold for research money. One such project, became known as the “T-Virus”.

In the early 1970’s, Umbrella acquired Arklay laboratories and their samples of the Ebola virus. Officially, Arklay was using the virus samples to attempt to manufacture a cure; unofficially, they were mutating the virus to strengthen it’s applications and potential use as a bio-weapon. Throughout the early 70’s, Umbrella acquired several other subsidiary laboratories and their research for use in it’s bio-weapon research and manufacturing. They would contract each subsidiary to manufacture a specific medicine but use their collective research, which was deemed property of Umbrella, to further their bio-weapon research.

Progenitor flower

For each vaccine that the Umbrella Corporation produced, they also produced a strain of the virus that was resistent to it. Thus, ensuring them a global market. A large portion of their viral research was on specific viruses and bacteria outlawed by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. As Umbrella began to acquire more and more research firms, they also branched into other industries, always with an ulterior motive. Umbrella made a huge push into tourism and transportation who’s main purpose was the transportation of biological and viral weapons out of Africa. They also founded an Umbrella subsidiary company for defence manufacturing called Umbrella Industries that focused on weapons manufacturing and Anti-B.O.W (Bio Organic Weapon) weaponry.

In 1978, the T-Virus project began to move away from its original designation as a weapon of death when it was discovered that hosts infected and killed with the virus underwent severe mutations. The T-virus caused severe mutations in the host which rendered them alive in a mentally damaged, cannibalistic and homicidal state capable of strenuous activity even after death.

DISSENTION AMONGST THE FOUNDERS

As the success of Umbrella began to take shape, the founding members of the company became at odds with one another. Ashford was actually killed in a T-virus experiment that went awry in 1968. It is highly believed that Dr. Spencer had something to do with the accident, though no connection was ever proven.

Dr. Marcus grew very unpopular with the executive board of the company for his tendency to use executive trainees as guinea pigs in his biological experiments without consent. It got so bad that Umbrella Security Service (the company’s private police force) apprehended and executed him in 1988.

Dr. Alexander Ashford, the son of the Late Dr. Edward Ashford, did not take up his father’s work in virology and thus was not a threat to Spencer and his control of the company. Alexander’s daughter, Alexia, however, did follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and helped to restore the Ashford name to prominence. Spencer grew worried of the Ashford’s once more and both Alex and Alexia were infected with a version of the T-virus code named “Veronica”. They disappeared from public eye and were believed to be dead.

Dr, Brandon Bailey now a full fledged virologist and not just Marcus’ student, was overseeing operations in Africa with the production of the T-Virus and various other biological weapons. Despite his requests to be moved to another locale, he was kept in Africa as head of manufacturing and research until he was executed by the Umbrella Security Service in 1998 to prevent a “security breach”. Several other doctors and their descendants would die under suspicious circumstances, with no direct evidence ever implicating Spencer.

BIO ORGANIC WEAPONS

NEST Facility

In the early to mid 1980’s a rare but effective immunity to the T-virus was discovered in various populations around the world. T-Virus research was doubled as well as the production of new chimeric beasts dubbed “B.O.W” (Bio Organic Weapon) began. The B.O.Ws were utilized by many militaries around the world that Umbrella had infiltrated in an attempt to kill anyone with a natural immunity to the T-Virus. By this point in time, Umbrella had grown to be a massive global conglomerate that controlled many of the most powerful nations around the world. The Arklay laboratory was the main research installation for Umbrella USA until the construction of the NEST Facility in 1991. The NEST (renamed the HIVE in the film series) was a massive underground research facility on the outskirts of Raccoon City that specialized in work with the G-Virus. The G-Virus (Golgotha Virus) was a mutated viral strain of the original Progenitor virus that could reanimate dead tissue without the negative effects of the T-Virus. It would also bestow upon the host near superhuman abilities effectively granting them biological immortality.

Jealous of the success coming out of Umbrella USA and their NEST facility, the European branch of Umbrella began work on their Nemesis Project. Project Nemesis was designed to create an intelligent parasite that could circumnavigate the brain death and loss of intelligence caused by the T-Virus. Project Nemesis ran alongside the USA’s project Tyrant to develop a superhuman weapon. In 1998, both projects were merged to create the Nemesis T-Type, a hulking B.O.W that had an AI interface to allow remote control of its actions. The only known Nemesis T-Type was dubbed “The Pursuer”, it was killed by Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera during the Raccoon City incident.

PRE RACCOON CITY INCIDENT

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s, Umbrella aggressively expanded into Easter Europe and Northern Asia. they founded, trained and armed several branches of paramilitary forces all under the control of the Umbrella company for use in outbreak events. An anti-B.O.W training facility was established on Rockford Island and was overseen by Alfred Ashford, the grandson of Dr. Edward Ashford.

Umbrella developed an intelligence division which served to keep track on the various governments of the world and their plans. The intelligence arm of Umbrella planted moles in various governments around the world, one such mole, that was planted in the USA, was Albert Wesker.

Umbrella’s influence over the governments they were selling weapons and biological agents to was extremely prevalent. When plant No.57 in West Africa suffered an outbreak, the Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service (UBCS), massacred everyone in the plant and the surrounding villages to prevent exposure. This cleansing was covered up by the government so nobody would know of Umbrella’s involvement. Similarly, when a human experiment went wrong at a hospital in the Arklay Mountains, there was no police investigation, no media outlet identified Umbrella as the culprit and the hospital was shut down in 1993.

In 1996, one reporter who was getting close to the truth of what was really going on, was murdered with his body being washed up on the shore of the Aimes River. No investigation was conducted into his murder and all his notes and evidence mysteriously disappeared.

RACCOON CITY INCIDENT

THE MANSION INCIDENT

By the time of the Raccoon City incident in 1998, Umbrella’s influence and power had begun to decline. The decline was attributed to 2 reasons:
1. Industrial Espionage with other companies and governments stealing Umbrella’s research.
2. Internal Destabilization from the constant fighting and back stabbing done by the Umbrella board.

In May of 1998, the facility in the Arklay Mountains had a containment breach. While the facility was quickly put on lockdown, sentient “Cerberus” B.O.Ws escaped and made their way through the mountains killing and turning hikers into zombies. These zombies then attacked and turned other civilians into zombies as well. The local law enforcement was unable to determine a cause of the deaths or stop them from piling up. They contacted the STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Service), a paramilitary organization funded by Umbrella that operated independently of both law enforcement and military, to help stop the murders. Having retired from the military, Albert Wesker was now leader of an elite team of STARS operatives and was tasked by Umbrella with taking his squad into the mountains and allowing them to be killed. He was told to destroy any incriminating evidence linking the incident to Umbrella and record all combat encounters to observe the combat effectiveness of the T-virus infected hosts. Wesker faked his death and left with all the incriminating evidence he had found and fled to the rival biological tech company. Only 2 members of his team survived the ordeal, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine.

OUTBREAK INCIDENT

Dr. Birkin, the head of the NEST facility underneath Raccoon City, devised a plan to leave Umbrella and hand himself, along with samples of the T-Virus and the G-Virus, over to the US military/government after he failed to impress his way into Dr. Spencer’s inner circle. Due to the deep influence of Umbrella, he devised a plan to ruin them and expose their nefarious acts around the world. In the weeks, leading up to his departure, Birkin dumped live samples of the T-Virus into various essential works around Raccoon City such as their Sewage Treatment Plant. This allowed for the T-Virus to infect the entire City in a matter of weeks. By mid September of 1998, the entire City was experiencing the effects of the T-Virus and the Raccoon City hospital was under strict quarantine. Dr. Birkin was killed when he released his “Hunter” B.O.Ws in the sewers of the city. An Umbrella Security Service team was sent to handle the problem and Birkin was killed in the crossfire. He used a vial of the G-Virus to mutate himself into a powerful monster that rampaged through the sewers and the city itself.

T-Virus

By this time, Umbrella had become aware of the contamination of Raccoon City and moved to cover up their involvement. They quarantined the entire city and attempted evacuate some of the remaining uninfected civilians. When the infection spread too rapidly, the Umbrella squads sent into the city were decimated. The remaining National Guard, Military and Umbrella forces retreated to their blockades and sealed the city shut. With the city sealed and all living people in the city presumed to be infected or soon to be, Umbrella decided to use this as a testing ground for some of their B.O.Ws. Umbrella Europe deployed the Nemesis project to eliminate any surviving STARS members or civilians in the city, to test its combat effectiveness and to avenge the disappearance of two other B.O.Ws sent in by the military to initially control the outbreak. When it became clear that the outbreak could not be contained, and project Nemesis was lost to some survivors in the city (Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera), The President, Joint Chiefs, and the Security council opted to use and experimental fuel air bomb to destroy the city and all traces of the infection. An undercover Umbrella agent used his influence over Senator Ron Davis to push for the bomb to be used. On October 1, 1998, the fuel air bomb was deployed and the city was destroyed along with all evidence of Umbrella’s involvement in the outbreak incident.

UMBRELLA’S DECLINE

After the incident in Raccoon City, the United States government was no longer able to ignore the power that Umbrella had amassed. Congress voted to suspend Umbrella USA’s right to do business in the country and federalized all of their assets. With no evidence of the outbreak despite what some survivors were reporting to the media, the United States government was in very hot water over their bombing of the city. While several outlets were receiving interviews from survivors like Alyssa Ashcroft ( a field reporter with Raccoon City Press), the threat of bio-weaponry was covered up providing no excuse for the bombing. In response to the backlash received over the Raccoon City incident, the United States government formed the Anti-Umbrella Pursuit and Investigations Team. This team was focused on anti-B.O.W tactics and was given near unlimited power to operate within the US against bio weapons and outbreaks under the Anti-Virus Weapon Protocol No.7600.

As stock shares in Umbrella and its influence began to wain, Dr. Spencer (now the only surviving founding member) decided to shutter much of Umbrella’s viral weapons research and production. Umbrella’s African production facility was shut down and all staff eliminated to prevent a security breach.

In November after the Raccoon City incident, Umbrella’s facility on Sheena Island was destroyed along with their production facility for project TYRANT.

In December, the Umbrella training facility on Rockfort Island was attacked and destroyed by the Rival Company. The survivors fled to the Antarctic transport facility Umbrella had set up years before to distribute bio-weapons globally without interference from governments. As the survivors and the samples of the T-Virus they brought with them were deciding what to do, former STARS member and survivor of the Mansion Incident Chris Redfield, activated the facility’s self destruct system.

As the years ticked by, Umbrella found it hard to keep their employees in line. With their detention facilities on Rockfort and Sheena islands gone, and their research grinding to a halt, many employees began selling bio-weapons on the black market to make enough money to run from the company. The United States government was still covering up the bio-terror attacks, which were growing in frequency with the weapons making their way onto the black market. To combat this rise in bio-terrorism, the United States government formed the Federal Bioterrorism Commission to combat another threat on American soil should it ever arise.

Albert Wesker

In 2002, a terrorist named Morpheus Duvall raided Umbrella’s Paris facility and stole samples of the T-Virus as well as an experimental T+G Virus. The group then boarded a cargo ship as it was transporting illegal Hunter B.O.Ws to an unknown buyer in North America and commandeered the ship. The group threatened to fire missiles loaded with the T-Virus at large cities in both the USA and China unless they were paid 5 billion dollars. A coordinated effort between the US and Chinese governments resulted in a neutralization of the threat with no media coverage of the event.

By 2003, Umbrella had become a shell of its former self. Most of the nations of the world had withdrawn their support of the company and many of its subsidiaries were closed down. The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when their Caucasus facility suffered an outbreak. The surrounding villages were all burned to prevent further spread of the virus and Umbrella lost their super computer that had all of their research they amassed since the founding of the company. The United States Division of Umbrella was embroiled in a legal battle, which they almost won, in regards to the incident in Raccoon City. Due to the lack of physical evidence tying them to the outbreak and the cleansing of the city, Umbrella was nearly able to shift full blame to the government of the United States. It took a defected Albert Wesker, who had copied the super computer hard drive before the Caucasus facility was destroyed, making a covert deal to provide the US government with overwhelming evidence to convict Umbrella USA for a guilty verdict to be rendered. With Umbrella USA being found to have caused the incident and being found implicit in the “sanitation” of the infection, their stock prices plummeted and they were forced to declare bankruptcy due to compensation claims.

Umbrella Pharmaceuticals and the Umbrella Corporation were forced to declare bankruptcy following the verdict in the United States Supreme Court. American and Russian intelligence services issued a warrant for the capture of Dr. Spencer, though it was several years before he was found. He was killed by Albert Wesker in 2006 before he could stand trial for his actions.

With the bankruptcy of Umbrella their only division to remain active, if even for a brief period, was their Japanese location. It remained active until its liquidation in 2014 when no company would risk their reputation by purchasing it.

Umbrella Pharmaceuticals and the massive global conglomerate of Umbrella Corporation are without a doubt one of if not THE most evil corporations in all of fiction. Granted there are some like Oscorp from Spider-Man, Lex Corp. from DC Comics or even Abstergo Industries from Assassin’s Creed that are pretty brutal in their treatment of people; but, none of them compare on the scale of Umbrella. Umbrella essentially owned your research, you and anything you produced. Not to mention they reserved the right to kill you if necessary to prevent a “security breach” or even used you as a guinea pig for some new viral weapon they were testing without notifying you that you were being tested. They condoned the massacre of nearly an entire city to test some of their own mutated weapons, and they tried to cover it all up with a bomb that destroyed all evidence linking them to the incident. This is one company that I am happy has stayed firmly in the realm of fiction.

That was an extremely condensed version of the history of the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil fame. Any thought let me know in the comments. See you next week!

Star Trek Discovery – Not Your Parents’ Star Trek

I was recently off work for a couple of days and decided to check out Crave (since I’m paying for it) to find something to soak up my time while off work. As I scrolled through the list of Crave’s available shows, one thing stuck out to me, Star Trek Discovery. I will say this first and foremost, I am not a Trek fan. I liked the reboot movies with Chris Pine and Co., but I was always more of a Star Wars/Stargate fan; which apparently means you can’t like the Trek?

Anyways, I loaded up the first episode and I was actually blown away at the production quality of the show. I have seen episodes of every Star Trek show in existence, my grandmother was a fan of anything Sci-fi as is my mother. So I have seen the odd episode here and there but it just never tickled my fancy. But Discovery is one of those high quality shows that has fewer episodes to really make their limited budget work, and boy does it.

COSTUMES

Most people are familiar with the Star Trek Unitards that were made famous with the original series and the sequel series’. While most of the main cast always had a two piece uniform, any supporting members of Starfleet normally sported a rather form fitting one piece. With this new series all members of the USS Discovery sport sleek and updated two piece uniforms that are distinguished by their colours and bands on the sleeves and shoulders. For example, our main character, Michael Burnham, is a science team member after she was dishonourably discharged from Star Fleet. Her uniform is the standard dark navy blue of the others, but instead of gold on her sleeves and shoulder she has silver to signify her occupation as scientific.

First Officer Saru, Doctor Culber & Chief Engineer Stamets

The main villains for the first season (and I presume subsequent seasons) are the Klingon race, but these are the not the Klingons made famous by The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. These Klingons resemble the brief view of Klingons we got in the feature film Star Trek Into Darkness. Normally Klingons have brownish skin with very pronounced facial ridges. The Klingons in Discovery vary in colour from deep black to white and their facial structure looks much different, (I’ll touch on that later in the make-up section) their clothing is also much different. In the older series Klingons wore armour exclusively to signify their readiness for battle at all times, the armour was always a black or dark grey in colour. Discovery has moved away from the stark colours and have shown the Klingons in deep reds, whites, golds, blacks, and greys.

THE TIMELINE

As I said before I am not a fan of Star Trek and most of my knowledge comes from hearing people discuss it, the movies, or the passing episodes I’ve seen. Discovery takes place after Star Trek: Enterprise and roughly 10 years before the Original Series. In one episode First Officer Saru pulls up a list of notable Starfleet captains and it lists both Johnathan Archer ( Captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek Enterprise) and Christopher Pike (Captain who recruits James Kirk into Starfleet). This series sets up and explains how the Klingon race went from a fractured house state governed by 24 distinct houses to the Empire encountered in the later series’.

USS Discovery

While the technology they display is similar to other shows, the weapons of the Discovery and the crew are where the slight differences lie. The Discovery only has 4 phaser banks that fire in small bursts as opposed to the long blasts from The Next Generation, and the phaser rifles and handguns are more bulky and less refined than their ‘future’ counterparts.

MAKE-UP

The make-up for this show is leaps and bounds better than any other sci-fi show I have ever seen, it’s closer to movie level make up than for a standard television serial . I understand that at the time of their production all of the Star Trek shows used state of the art make-up and visual effects, but this show just sits above the rest. First Officer Saru is a Kelpien, a race designed specifically for this show; he is played by the amazing Doug Jones who has made his entire career by working under heavy prosthetics to bring his characters to life. The Kelpiens look like a cross between a fish and a gazelle. They have long legs and arms but their face is very much asymmetrical and and standard looking. Apparently able to sense the ‘coming of death’ most other species view Kelpiens as cowards.

Klingons

The Klingons for this show look VERY different from the original source material. The prothetics that the actors wear give them a large nasal cavity with a large crown and pointed egg shaped head. As I said before the Klingons come in all different colours and their armour is much different too. Traditionally the Klingons look like regular people with dark brown skin and facial ridges, these Klingons are much beefier and stand roughly six feet tall at the shortest one seen (as of episode 9).

CGI & SPECIAL EFFECTS

Binary Star System in Star Trek Discovery

The CGI for this show is better than some of the feature films I’ve seen. It’s a very visually stunning show with expansive backdrops and uses practical effects whenever possible. In the first two episodes, the story takes place in a binary star system. This provides a very stunning backdrop for the entirety of the two episode arc before we are placed firmly in the Discovery for the remainder of the episodes. Even being set firmly in the inside of a ship, there is a lot of moments where CGI was used perfectly in conjunction with actual prothetics. In the third episode, the crew finds their sister ship, the USS Glenn, and in an attempt to discover why it went dark, board it. Without revealing anything, the CGI and practical effects used to generate the creepy atmosphere is spot on.

CAST

Main cast of Discovery

The cast for this show is exceptional. There’s no one person that I dislike, which is rare. Normally there’s always that one member of the cast that makes you question why they’re there, but not this crew. Each member serves a very unique and important purpose. The cast is as follows:

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham: A one time mutineer set to serve a life sentence in a Federation jail. She is mysteriously conscripted by Captain Gabriel Lorca to serve on his ship the USS Discovery.

Doug Jones as Saru: The first and only Kelpien member of Starfleet. He serves as the First Officer on the USS Discovery. His character is comparable to Spock and Data from the Original Series and The Next Generation respectively.

Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca: Captain of the USS Discovery and a brilliant military tactician. He is willing to use any means necessary to win the war against the Klingons so that Starfleet may continue its primary directive, exploration.

Shazad Latif as Lt. Ash Tyler: A Starfleet member held and tortured in a Klingon prison, he helped Captain Lorca escape and as restitution Lorca named him his Head of Security.

Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets: Chief Engineer aboard the USS Discovery. His invention of a Spore Drive that allows for blink travel could end the war with the Klingons in favour of the Federation.

Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly: A Cadet in her final year of training she was assigned to the Discovery under Stamets with Burnham as her roommate. She is optimistic about everything and wants to have her own command one day.

OVERALL

As I’ve said numerous times in this post, I’m not a Trek fan and never really was, but this show has changed my outlook. I have heard lots of conflicting reviews of the show and what I believe it boils down to is this: If you liked Star Trek before this show, then you’re not a fan; but, if you weren’t a fan and see this show, you’ll like it. I’ve spoken to some people regarding their ideas of the show and that seems to be the die hard consensus I’ve come up with. I spoke to one fan who said that he didn’t like it because it had become “too flashy” to be called Star Trek. Star Trek was always about the stories and acting not so much about the shiny sets and the perfect CGI battles. I can both agree and disagree with that statement because I think that while classic Trek was like that, it was because they didn’t really have a choice. With the advent of new animation techniques and CGI that can be used in everyday shows, I think the flashy space shows are only going to get more flashy in the future.

The show is pretty good from what I’ve seen so far, I’m only on episode 9, but it has grabbed my attention after only a few episodes which is good right? Normally I like to give shows at least 7 episodes for them to grab my attention. I find that 7 episodes is enough that you get rid of all the “mandatory” introductions of characters and into some plot. There are plenty of shows out there that lots of people love that I just couldn’t get into (Breaking Bad and Dexter for example), but Discovery is something every sci-fi fan can get behind. It has action, plot, aliens, and some pretty amazing backdrops that help to deliver a modern and stylistic approach to the decades old franchise. I give it a solid 8/10! Give it a shot, you might just find yourself engrossed in this new fantastic show as much as I am.

Battle of the Binary Stars

Aquaman – King of the DCEU

Last night I was out with a couple friends enjoying a double feature for one of their birthdays. We took in the new addition to the Transformers Franchise Bumblebee and the newest addition to the floundering DCEU, Aquaman. While I immensely enjoyed Bumblebee, it’s by far the BEST Transformers movie, I had a few more reservations for Aquaman. After the disappointing Justice League and the terrible Batman V. Superman, Wonder Woman was the only thing keeping the DCEU afloat, until the king of the seven seas arrived.

Directed by James Wan (of Saw fame), this movie was the first salvo in the soft reboot currently underway from Warner Brothers and their DCEU. This review will be spoiler free but I will discuss several key aspects of the film and their relation to the source material.

STORY

The first thing I have to say and it can be taken a slight negative for the film, the story is all over the place. While they make it work for the film, they basically took the first five collected issues of Aquaman’s New 52 comic run and made it into the plot for the film. The main pull is the Throne of Atlantis story line which has already been made into an animated feature as part of the DCAU (DC Animated Universe). The story centers around King Orm (Aquaman’s half brother) a full blooded Atlantean and his bid for the throne of Atlantis. Wan’s film is a very ‘Shakespearean’ tale of family betrayal and political trickery with a healthy dose of comedic undertones. Arthur Curry (Aquaman) fresh off his defeat of Steppenwolf with the Justice League has decided to become the unofficial protector of the seas. This brings him into conflict with a particular group of pirates. These pirates have been operating with maximum casualties for quite some time and Aquaman has had enough. Those familiar with the storyline for the Throne of Atlantis arc will be able to see what will happen before it does; however, Wan and co. have worked enough subplots into the mix to provide some surprising turns wherever they can.

Left: Nereus and Xebel Forces; Right: Orm and Atlantean Forces

CAST

Jason Momoa returns as Arthur Curry (Aquaman) for his second foray into the DC comics world. He builds on his persona established in the Justice League and we are shown his origins with a great exposition at the opening of the film. As the film progresses we are also shown why he holds Atlantis in such low regard and refuses to help them in any capacity. It allows for a great heroic origin as Arthur goes from occasional vigilante to the full blown hero we’ve been waiting for.

Amber Heard straight up knocks it out of the park as Mera. There is a particular scene in the middle section of the movie where you really get to see why Mera is such a respected warrior and queen in the comics. She brings a very authoritative quality to the role which helps to balance out Momoa’s ‘bro take’ on the classic clean cut Atlantean king. Her arc through the film is one we’ve seen before in plenty of other works; however, Heard makes it her own and shows that Mera is worthy of her own movie.

The standout star for me is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta. At the beginning of the film we are shown a ruthless Kane as he and his pirate crew work to hijack a submarine. Through a turn of events he is left alone and blames Aquaman for it. This sets him on a path of revenge that has him crafting his Black Manta persona through the entirety of the film. When he finally confronts Arthur and Mera in Italy, he has emerged fully as the supervillain that has plagued Aquaman since his first appearance in Aquaman #35 from 1967. Abdul-Mateen II delivers a dark and gritty performance in an otherwise fairly light-hearted film which helps to cement Manta as someone who will continue to appear in future DC films.

Black Manta

Patrick Wilson gives us our main villain by his portrayal of King Orm/Ocean Master. A conflicted ruler who just wants to do right by his people, Wilson brings a certain gravitas to the role that helps to establish Orm as a force to be reckoned with. Wanting to preserve his people and their way of life he has grown tired of the mistreatment of the oceans by the surface world and he is through playing nice. Wilson’s protrayal of Orm helps to provide some sympathy for the young ruler but ultimately helps to give a villain you can’t help to love.

Other notable members of the cast are Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Despite 90% of the film taking place under water and in front of a green screen, Wan manages to deliver some stellar shots. One scene which appears to be a continuous shot (in the vein of the various Marvel Netflix series’), really showcases Wan’s keen eye. He created a living and breathing world at the bottom of the ocean that makes you believe in the might and magic of the fictional kingdom of Atlantis. As I said before in my review of Black Panther, I’m not a cinematographer and don’t pretend to be, but I can tell what shots look amazing and help to convey the emotion and feel of the scenes, and in that regard, Wan knocks it out of the park.

Amber Hear (Mera), James Wan (Director), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman) and Willem Dafoe (Vulko)

COSTUMES

The costumes in this film were perfectly done. Each character has a costume that directly references back to their comic roots and helps to provide a great feel for the overall tone of the film. I was extremely giddy when Arthur finally dons his orange and green comic accurate costume at the climax of the film. Mera’s costume is a direct recreation of her comic source material and Orm/Ocean Master’s full purple and silver battle garb is a perfect counterbalance to Arthur’s orange and green. Black Manta and the Atlantean soldiers take the cake for costume design. Giving us a great armoured and vibrant colour scheme for the costumes of the Atlanteans, Kym Barrett, worked closely with Wan to bring his vision to life. Manta’s costume was heavily influenced by the source material while adding a very apparent Atlantean touch to it to provide a truly menacing character.

“The Trench” which are an ancient race of Atlanteans since mutated into a cross of humans and Angler Fish, were truly horrifying and provided some very terrifying scenes.

Trench Drone
Trench Swarm

MUSIC

The score for the film worked extremely well to create and translate the mood and feel from the shots to the viewers. There were a couple of misfires with some of the music, in particular a horrible cover of ‘Africa’. In a movie of fantastical underwater civilizations and wondrous technology, it felt out of place and a cheap way to bring a small laugh from the audience. With the exception of that small misstep the music fit the film really well and even the inclusion of a Greta Van Fleet chart topper worked to immerse the audience in the world of Aquaman.

ACTION

It’s hard for me to accurately describe the action in the film. It’s not that it wasn’t apparent or well done, it’s just that the majority of it was done using CGI. For obvious reasons they needed to use CGI to convey the 360 degree combat that the Atlanteans and the other kingdoms of the sea are fluent in, not to mention their amazing powers, it just left me a little wanting. The up close and personal action scenes with Arthur,Mera, Manta, the Atlanteans and Orm were very well done and choreographed, but they were few and far between. There is a big CGI slugfest of a fight at the climax of the film that delivers on the building tensions throughout the run time and showcases the various kingdoms of the sea beautifully. I’m not sure if Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa went to trident combat training, or if there even is such a thing, but their work with those tridents is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Arthur and Orm before ‘Ring of Fire’

OVERALL

As someone who has seen every comic book movie to come out since the release of the Dark Knight in 2008, I can say that this is (in my opinion) the best DC movie since Nolan’s trilogy. While I did thoroughly enjoy Wonder Woman, the villain just didn’t capture me like Orm and Manta do. I love Gal Gadot and think she’s perfect for the role of Diana, but Momoa knocks this one out of the park. I would rate it as the top DCEU movie and overall I would give it a solid 9.0/10. Shazam and Wonder Woman 84 are going to have to really step their game up to even come close to this gem that Wan delivered. I highly recommend that if you’re a fan of the character or any of the cast listed that you go and see the film. If this is the first salvo in a new and improved DCEU, then the MCU could be getting a run for their money.

Aquaman movie poster

See you next time!

Secret Empire – Captain America’s Greatest Betrayal

“We were supposed to be heroes. We were supposed to stand for something. It’s hard to say when it all started going wrong, but at some point, we let the fight become about us, not the world we’d sworn to protect. We found ourselves divided, and under siege. So many threats, so many dangers but the one that would end us, was the one we trusted the most.

Funny how the world can change in a day. How something so horrible can sneak up on you so quickly. And Stark was right. We’d won so many times against impossible odds. We started to take it for granted. Started to believe we were destined to come out on top. But something felt different this time.

We’d been pushed beyond our breaking point, slowly, methodically. And just as we were thinking we’d almost survived it, they struck the real blow.

As the battle began, there had already been suspicions. Whispers. Some knew who it must be, Hydra’s New Secret Leader. There was only one person who could’ve orchestrated all this, after all. Even still, they refused to believe… Until they saw it with their own eyes.

And so we fought. We fought because we believed we were right… And we fell because we were wrong.

We thought we were there to stop him, but the truth is… We were right where they wanted us to be. They had made plans for us… Found ways to turn our most powerful against us, again and again.

Later, when the stories were told, they’d all remark on the same thing.. how quickly it happened. We thought we were so strong, so unbeatable. That we could never collapse so quickly. So completely. So when we did, all we could do was watch it unfold, helpless as the day we were born. And with the world slipping away around us, we gazed into the face of our enemy, finally seeing them for what they really were.

They were stronger.

They were more powerful.

In that moment…They were worthy.”

Victorious Cap lifts Mjolnir

This was the moment, the moment when all the readers of Marvel Comics and the heroes contained within knew, that the world they knew had changed forever…

Captain America has been one of the most stalwart comic characters in all of history. He never wavered in his beliefs and he could bring out the best in everyone regardless of circumstances. So why did Marvel use this opportunity to make him evil? To answer that we have to go back to the prelude to Secret Empire.

HOW IT HAPPENED

The First thing you have to understand is that the history that we know since the beginning of Marvel Comics publication, was in fact false. The Nazis and Hydra were the victors of WWII. Captain America was a double agent trained by Kraken and Madam Hydra to act as the Allies’ saviour while secretly providing the Axis with information that could be used to win the war. This worked for pretty much the entire war before Cap’s double nature was discovered, and resulted in a much different world than we know. The ace in the hole was this, The Cosmic Cube. Now after the allies had driven Cap away, they had discovered the Cosmic Cube and its reality warping powers. (The Cosmic Cube and the Tesseract from the MCU are two VERY different artifacts).

Following his exile from Allied territory, Captain America had arrived to Japan high up in the mountains and entered a cave where he was greeted by his father figure/trainer Kraken. Kraken explained that this was where Hydra had begun and where it will continue its legacy. Captain America is led inside where he sees a pool and an old man stirring the waters. He is shown a vision of the allies preparing the Cosmic Cube to alter history and he is told that by submerging himself in the pool he will be protected from the change. Kraken went on to say that he would wake up in a world unfamiliar to him but that he would retain all of his memories and ideals.

As the allies began their change, Captain America submerged in the pool and was bombarded with memories and history that collided with his own. He awoke in a world where the allies had won and where he had been lost in the arctic for 70 years following his foiling of Red Skull’s final plan.

Now while there were various ticks and nods to Cap’s true nature through the beginning of the run by Nick Spencer. If you read the culmination of the previous 2016 event titled Avengers: Standoff! Cap’s change came as less of a surprise (Red Skull influenced the sentient Cosmic Cube ‘Kobik”, to rewrite Cap’s history making him a champion of Hydra as it restored Cap to his youthful appearance). In the first issue of Marvel’s new Steve centered comic run titled Captain America: Steve Rogers,is when his allegiance alteration is confirmed. In the final panels of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 (July 2016), Steve pushes his longtime ally Jack Flag from an airplane to fall to his apparent death, Rogers then turns to Dr. Selvig and says “Hail Hydra”.

Cap’s official turning point

WHAT CAME AS A RESULT

The opening to Secret Empire showed us one of the most complete and utter defeats of the Marvel heroes we have ever seen. The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Ultimates, Hyperion, Quasar, Captain Marvel and her Alpha Flight Space Program are trying to stop a Chitauri invasion of Earth and are fighting a losing battle. While they can beat the Chitauri en masse, the aliens just keep coming in endless waves. Iron Man and Iron Heart are attempting to repair the planetary shield to stop the invasion but they are not having any luck. The Defenders, Uncanny Avengers and some of the X-Men are attempting to quell a breakout from the Supervillain rehab center Pleasant Hill, with some success. One of the SHIELD helicarriers has gone missing and Hydra forces are waging a large attack against SHIELD all around the globe.

Nitro (the supervillain famous for starting the Civil War event, the REAL one, not the MCU version), exits the facility and proceeds to detonate himself in downtown New York City causing massive damage. The rest of the villains are teleported away while Baron Zemo and Blackout drop the entirety of the island of New York into the Darkforce dimension bringing on an endless night. The President then awards Steve Rogers (the Director of SHIELD) control over the United Stated military to help combat these threats. Once Steve has the power of the United States Armed Forces behind him, he sets his plan into action. He activates the planetary shield locking Captain Marvel and the ‘heavy hitters’ outside the planet at the mercy of the Chitauri. He crashes the missing helicarrier, now filled with Hydra soldiers, into another helicarrier and uses the hypnotic suggestion of Dr. Faustus to cause the defending SHIELD agents to become hypnotized and unwilling to fight. Iron Heart and her Tony Stark AI realize that the next target would be Washington D.C and have all the heroes rally there to defend it. Hydra sieges the city in an attempt to destabilize the government and the spirit of the American people. Steve Rogers, Now Hydra Supreme Commander, arrives and asks the Avengers to stop fighting and join him. When they refuse, his army moves in and attacks. He uses undisclosed methods to take out Thor, Vision and Scarlet Witch while the rest of the heroes are slowly beaten, one by one. As he stands victorious above them he reaches down and lifts Mjolnir high into the air. 

RAMIFICATIONS

This turn for the The Captain left a sour taste in a lot of fans mouths. Not only did they take one of the greatest heroes in all of comics and turn him into a Nazi, they also ripped down everything he stood for just to get some more sales and provide even a small semblance of competition to DC Comics with their Rebirth Initiative.

The bit that really stuck with most fans was the blatant disregard for the original creators of the character. Joseph Henry “Joe” Simon born Hymie Simon and Jack “King” Kirby born Jacob Kurtzberg, who created the character, were both of them members of the Jewish faith, both of their families having experienced persecution at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. By turning their creation of a man who stood for what was right and fought for the little man, literally against the Nazis, into a Nazi commander who took over the world, showed blatant disrespect to them.

Steve Rogers as Supreme Commander of Hydra

With all the backlash that Marvel experienced after writer Nick Spencer affirmed that this was not some trick, and that this was the original Captain America, they were (in my opinion) forced to rectify the situation. I won’t spoil what they did, but it kind of just sugar coated the entire ordeal and really ended up making the entire event a terrible run. Not only did they sugarcoat the run, but they kept the Hydra Cap! He still exists in the main Marvel universe (Earth-616) and is going to stir some shit up later on, they foreshadow that at the end of the run.

There’s a lot of things that I’m not a fan of with this event but one thing I can say for sure is that despite its flaws, it’s incredibly well written. The exposition and character development in this story is top notch, and as made evident from the opening speech of this post which was taken directly from Issue # 0, it delivers some hard hitting dialogue.

Cap vs. Cap

When all is said and done, the main betrayal of Captain America is not to any one hero, his long time friends and allies or the universe as a whole, it was to the fans and the legacy of the character. Marvel has worked very hard to rectify this situation and bring the faith of the fans back. I know that, personally, I haven’t purchased any Marvel comics since the release of Secret Empire because of how far out in left field they took it. I will be purchasing in the future, especially the new Moon Knight run but with their new Legacy imprint, I feel like they’re finally listening to the fans and going back to what worked for them for decades.

Hydra Cap armoured for battle

That concludes this post! check back soon for my review of Aquaman and Bumblebee!

Godzilla: King of Monsters

Yesterday we were given another trailer for the upcoming monster mashup of Godzilla: King of The Monsters. It provided more exposition into the plot of the film and some more concrete shots of the kaiju that will be making an appearance in 2019. The first trailer was very cryptic and provided very little in ways of actual monster shots. The most standout piece of the first trailer was Charles Dance’s (of Game of Thrones fame) epic line “Long Live the King”.  This time instead of a very whispered “Let them Fight” from Ken Watanabe we get an equally as hushed “No.. we would be his” in what appears to be a testimony delivered before several senators. I will say this, epic one liners tend to be the bread and butter of this new “monster-verse” that Legendary Pictures has created.

For those who haven’t seen the trailer, check it out right here:

Instead of giving a rundown of the trailer, I’m going to give some slight background to the various Kaiju in the film. Let’s start with the boss himself/herself Godzilla.

GODZILLA

Godzilla 2014 movie poster

Along with the rest of the Kaiju for this film, Godzilla is dubbed a ‘Titan’. These Titans have existed on Earth since primordial times and have been responsible for keeping the planet spinning. As referenced in the first trailer there were several extinction level events that were halted or started (potentially) by these titans. in the first film we are told that the first sightings of Godzilla dated back to WWII specifically the Pacific campaign. We are told that the nuclear tests in the French Polynesian Pacific weren’t tests, and that in fact the government and military were attempting to kill Godzilla before it could cause any damage. In the first film Godzilla is noted to be exactly 100.8 meters tall (330.71 feet for Americans), which apart from the Netflix anime Godzilla, is the tallest one to date. Godzilla possesses the ability to swim and remain submerged for quite a long time. Extremely strong and quick thinking, Godzilla was coined the ‘King of the Monsters’ in several of Toho’s films as well as at the conclusion of the 2014 film Godzilla by Legendary Pictures. Godzilla’s ultimate attack is its Atomic Breath. This attack focuses atomic energy which is stored in Godzilla’s body releasing it in a blueish/white flame that has devastating power. The attack is preceded by the spines and fins on Godzilla’s back lighting up with the same blueish/white glow before the discharge. There’s not much that can be said for Godzilla that most people don’t already know. Having been around since the first film in 1954, Godzilla has become a pop culture icon and known by several generations of people the world over.

RODAN

Rodan concept art for upcoming Godzilla: King of The Monsters

Rodan first appeared in the 1956 film titled Rodan. His first appearance with Godzilla was in the 1964 film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, in every depiction Rodan resembles an irradiated Pteranodon. His original Japanese name ‘Radon’ is a contraction of Pteranodon and also represents the word radiation. As previously stated, Rodan resembles a large irradiated Pteranodon with a brownish/burgundy body, spiky chest and two or three horns atop the back his head. He has a large wingspan measuring between 150-200m (492.13 – 656.17 feet).  He has been shown to walk upright on his two hind legs. His legs end in powerful talons that are capable of grasping large heavy objects (like Godzilla) and holding onto them in flight. In Godzilla: King of Monsters, Rodan apparently lives in a volcano that goes by the name of Devil’s Nest somewhere in South America. His wings are so powerful that they create a whirlwind and back draft capable of wiping the earth clean in his wake. It is unclear if he will be an ally or enemy to Godzilla but lots of the footage from the first and second trailers shows the military actively trying to shoot Rodan down, with little success. I never watched any of the old films with Rodan but a giant flying dinosaur is okay in my books.

MOTHRA

Mothra mid dive

The third contender in the giant monster battle is none other than Mothra herself. Known also as ‘The Queen of Monsters’, Mothra is a Divine Moth and frequent ally of Godzilla. Typically cast as a heroic figure, Mothra is one of the few Kaiju that openly embraces humanity and tries to protect them. She resembles a colossal Imago Moth and has been known to reproduce offspring. Her wingspan in Lengendary’s Godzilla:King of Monsters is estimated to be roughly 244.75 meters (802.99 feet). Typically in the Toho universe, Mothra has resided on her own island but in Legendary’s universe they have marked her domain as the Yunnan Rainforest in the People’s Republic of China. A small blurb released as part of the marketing campaign for the movie has stated that ‘Mothra possesses the ability to emit beta wave bioluminescence that can be used to illuminate the patterns on her wings or focused in very powerful and blinding destructive ‘God Rays”. We are shown Mothra’s bioluminescence in the trailer as well as her in some sort of dive during a (presumed) climactic point in the film. Like Rodan I never watched any of the classic Mothra movies or even the older Godzilla films. I learned about her through pop culture and her inclusion in this upcoming film.

KING GHIDORAH

Ghidorah as he faces of against Godzilla in 2019’s Godzilla: King of The Monsters

Now, I’m going to be straight with you, a three headed flying dragon that shoots lightning…I would call him king as well. Traditionally Ghidorah was the main antagonist of Godzilla and various other Kaiju throughout history. He has had a couple different origins throughout his film run, most commonly he is an alien that travels the universe killing planets at his leisure; although, he has also been shown to be a fusion of three monsters called Dorats as a result of a future nuclear explosion. In his first appearance (and what appears to be similar to Legendary’s upcoming movie) Ghidorah arrived to earth in a meteor before his rampage across much of Japan.  Mothra attempted to stop him but was savagely beaten by the dragon, Godzilla and Rodan then allied together with Mothra and expelled Ghidorah from the planet. He is a massive creature. In Legendary’s Monster-verse, Ghidorah stands 158.8m (521 feet) tall and has roughly a 100-150m (328.08 – 492.13 feet) wingspan. In the trailers we are shown him frozen in a massive glacier which is where he must have been for the millions of years since the ‘Titans’ last walked the earth. In the film they will call him’Monster Zero’ but apparently they will address that ancient civilizations called him ‘Ghidorah’. It’s clear he is the main villain of the film as the second trailer shows him and Godzilla facing off against one another in a climactic battle sequence. 

PLOT PREDICTION

Based on what I’ve read and found out about the various Kaiju to make an appearance in the film, I think that while the earth will be facing an extinction level event that Ghidorah is going to be unleashed. The rest of the Titans will be attempting to use their powers to fix the extinction event and Ghidorah is going to show up and just muck everything up. Initially Rodan will be an antagonist but once Ghidorah shows up he’ll ally with Godzilla and Mothra to take on the bigger threat. We are shown a brief clip in the trailer that shows several squadrons of fighter jets over Washington airspace. In the clouds you can make out the image of Rodan as well as the massive image of Ghidorah when the lightning strikes illuminating the clouds. Ultimately I don’t really care for a plot or storyline, I just wanna see some giant monster beat downs!

Due out on May 31, 2019, this epic film is going to set the stage for the next film Kong v. Godzilla in 2020!

Godzilla’s Atomic Breath in action

The Flood – Halo’s Unstoppable Infection

Picture this…

You enlisted in the United Nations Space Command. You wanted to do your part and help to protect humanity against enemies both foreign and domestic. You went through boot camp with hundreds of other aspiring young marines like yourself and formed some good friendships along the way. 

Near the end of your stint in training, it came over the comms, humanity was not alone in the universe. Harvest, one of the outermost colonies Earth had established in the Milky Way, was under attack. Not from insurgents or splinter factions, from an unknown alien enemy calling themselves “The Covenant”. What followed was something you hadn’t in your wildest dreams ever thought would come to pass.

A war spanning nearly 27 years in length against an enemy that was vastly technologically superior and resolute in their beliefs. There was a glimmer of hope, The SPARTAN-IIs. They helped to stem the tide, but there were too few of them to make a real impact. Finally the Covenant found Reach, the Human military stronghold housing nearly the entirety of the UNSC armed forces. They attacked without mercy and with overwhelming force. The ship you were assigned to, The Pillar of Autumn, fled the battle carrying, what was believed to be, the last SPARTAN-II and made a blind jump through hyperspace. When the ship emerged out of hyperspace the Covenant were not far behind, but there was an object positioned in geosynchronous orbit around a gas giant, the Halo ring. Having escaped certain death at Reach and not wanting to die in the cold vacuum of space, your Captain decides to abandon the ship and land on the ring. 

It’s a rich lush world full of plants, running, water and unknown ancient alien tech. 

One day, a comms tech overhears the Covenant talking about a weapon they discovered buried in the ring; something that could wipe them out. Not wanting this weapon to fall into the Covenant’s hands, your captain hand picks a squad to storm the bunker, retrieve the weapon and bring it back. As they storm the bunker they find a mass of dead Covenant and a single locked door. The squad brute forces their way through the door and unknowingly unleashes The Flood on the galaxy.

The Flood sweep across the Halo ring killing everything in their path, Human and Covenant alike. You watch as your friends are lost underneath a swarm of infection forms and slowly begin mutating into flood themselves.  This isn’t what you signed up for… even with the Master Chief, there is no escaping this. 

Your magazine runs dry and you draw your sidearm. There’s only a few of you left, your backs against the wall waiting for Echo 419 to brave the airspace to evac your squad. There is no end to the Flood. For every single one you kill, a hundred more take their place. You watch as your squad are overrun, you fire your pistol until it runs dry as well, you load your last mag and begin counting the shots squeezing off rounds until there’s only one left in the chamber. Your squad’s bodies begin to move and thrash around as they mutate and begin reanimating as part of the Flood’s endless wave. You turn the sidearm and place the end of the barrel against your temple, this isn’t what you signed up for… you never signed up for this nightmare…

Anyone who has played any of the main trilogy of Halo games knows full well who the Flood are and what they can do. But not everyone knows their origin and how they nearly conquered the galaxy long ago during the time of the Forerunners.

HISTORY

Despite what the Halo games have led us to believe, the Forerunners were not the most technologically advanced species in the Milky Way galaxy, The Precursors actually held that title for millions of years. The Precursors actually created the Forerunners and assisted them in their advancement to space faring species. When the Forerunners attempted to take the ‘Mantle’ from the Precursors, the Forerunners were deemed unworthy. This caused a great war between the Precursors and Ancient Forerunners that resulted in the Precursors being expelled from the Milky Way galaxy all together.

‘The Mantle’, or as it is referred to in the games, “The Mantle of Responsibility”, refers to the belief that the most technologically advanced species was charged with the protection of all other life in the galaxy. With the Precursors having been expelled by the Forerunners  from the galaxy, the Forerunners assumed the mantle and set to work, work which lasted thousands of years. 

Outside of the Milky Way, some of the remaining Precursors entered stasis while others decided that dying was a better end. Those that died eventually dissolved into a dust that was stored in cylinders. Ancient space faring Humanity found these cylinders and opened them. The dust entered the humans’ bodies and began to mutate them from the inside out, eventually giving birth to the first Flood forms and proto-Gravemind. Initially the Flood attacked Humanity but the collective memories of the Precursors deemed Humanity worthy of the mantle and thus, the Flood ceased their attacks, instead moving to attack the Forerunners in the Milky Way. Humanity still fleeing the Flood’s advance, entered the Milky Way ahead of them and began attacking the Forerunners in hopes of breaking through and putting more distance between themselves and the Flood. 

Unbeknownst to the Human fleet, a large portion of them had been infected with the Precursor dust. 

Around roughly 98,379 BCE, The Flood arrived in the Milky Way.  Utilizing captured non military vessels, the Flood managed to bypass the Forerunner defense fleets and land on Forerunner worlds. As the infection took hold on the Forerunner planets, the collective intelligence of all biomass the infection assimilated was provided to the Proto-Gravemind.

After over 300 years of war, the Forerunners began to realize that their extinction was a real possibility. While the Forerunners would win every engagement against the Flood, they were unable to halt the spread of the infection. Eventually resorting to detonating the stars of entire systems to stop large infestations.

The Forerunners began saving and cataloging species to make sure the Flood would not destroy them. One such example was ancient humans. The Forerunners took specimens from ancient space faring humans and after some light modifications, seeded the planet we know as Earth with a new wave of humanity. Some specimens were kept and stored alongside various alien species, such as Elites and even some flood samples in their vaults on the Shield Worlds. After the initial contact, the Forerunner-Flood War entered into a stalemate for several hundred years.

During the stalemate, the Forerunners constructed many different AI to assist in the construction of solutions and deployment of their navy to combat the infection. One of the AIs that was created by the Forerunners was known as 05-032 Mendicant Bias. Mendicant was tasked with interrogation of the captured Proto-Gravemind to determine if the Flood could be reasoned with. The Proto-Gravemind identified itself as the last Precursor when it was interrogated by Mendicant, stating that the Flood was the last salvo in the Precursor-Forerunner war and that they would end the Forerunner race. As the interrogations continued, the Proto-Gravemind began to question Mendicant’s masters until it ultimately swayed Mendicant into believing that the time of the Forerunners was over. This came to be known as ‘The Logic Plague’ which affected not just AI but some of the Forerunner race as well. Mendicant allied with the Flood against the Forerunners sparking the beginning of the end of the war.

As the Forerunners scrambled to fight not just the Flood but now their rampant AI as well, a meeting was called to discuss how to proceed. The Diadect advocated for militaristic action against the Flood. To do this, he would need to compose some of the newly settled humans and turn them into his Knights (of Halo 4 & 5 fame); meanwhile, the master builder proposed the construction of more Shield Worlds and the Halo array. The assembly approved of the master builder’s plan and the Diadect was turned down; though, he would attempt to go behind the assembly’s back and make more knights, he was ultimately stopped and imprisoned in the Cryptum you find him in at the beginning of Halo 4.

As the Flood continued through the galaxy, the Forerunners ran out of options and the Librarian was unable to determine a cure for the infection. Ultimately, the Forerunners activated the Halo Array. The array functioned as it was meant to, killing all living beings with a sufficient biomass for infection. This in turn stopped the Flood and killed off all but the samples the Forerunners had kept in vaults on each Halo ring and on the Ark.

The activation of the array destroyed all Precursor and Forerunner tech that was not protected by either a shield world or a Halo ring. The Flood was starved out with the Proto-Gravemind dying as well. Eventually automated Key ships began ferrying the samples the Forerunners had stored in their vaults to new planets so life could once again foster in the Milky Way without the problem of the Flood.

This is where we start the Halo series. Thousands of years have passed and the Flood have laid dormant in their vaults on Halo.

Precursor

BIOLOGY

The Flood is a parasitic species of extragalagtic origin which is very virulent in its natural state, its Latin name is Inferi Redivivus which translates to “The Dead Reincarnated”. It can only be classified as an anomaly as it does not follow any known structure of function or organization. It represents the unstoppable force of nature and cannot be contained by conventional means.  As the infection takes hold, the parasite forces the host biomass through several stages of “evolution” until it achieves a massive biological breakdown in the host. Once this breakdown occurs then the infection can really take hold and work its magic. While the Flood infection is able to reproduce A-sexually without the use of a host, this is normally seen as a last ditch effort and is only really possible for “Pure Flood Forms”. The Flood has survived for as long as it has by the use of Lysogenic Replication. This is a process wherein the viral cells infiltrate and corrupt the healthy cells infecting them with their own genetic code. This allows the viral cells to mutate the healthy cells into new viral cells to infect other healthy cells. This process occurs until all healthy cells have been turned. 

The infection absorbs all biomass indiscriminately with only a very few species proving to be immune from the infection, Hunters and Drones have been shown to be immune to the infection for various reasons. One of the Forerunner’s plans, before the activation of the Halo array, was to utilize the Lekgolo worms that make up hunter colonies to consume the Flood biomass. While it proved effective in isolated cases, it was unable to be deployed on a large scale and the Forerunners were forced abandoned this plan. 

Flood infected Brute

The Flood are able to infect any organism with a biomass that is sufficient to house their infection, though, they do tend to prefer organisms with large brain capacity. This helps to accelerate the formation of the Gravemind to control the infection. Since the Flood’s Gravemind intelligence is only as smart as the organisms consumed by the infection, the more intelligent a species is, the more dangerous the infection can be. Having developed in severe conditions, the Flood infection is very resistant. It can survive on all known habitable worlds, temperatures ranging from 75 – +53 degrees Celsius, and can even survive underwater for a short time. 

As the Flood assume control of an area, they begin to alter their environment to promote further growth and incubation. They will begin attaching themselves to walls to create pods for breeding the infected virus as well an expelling spores into the air. If left alone for a long enough time and with enough raw biomass to work with, the Flood is able to completely turn a location into a Hive which can house a Gravemind or an entire army of forms (as seen with High Charity following Halo 2). The Flood infection tends to thrive in humid & lush environments which is why during the campaign of Halo 2, the “Quarantine Zone” used to contain the Flood infection is desolate, cold and snow covered.

NEUROLOGY/PHYSIOLOGY

Infection Form

The small bulbous squid looking “infection forms” are the Flood’s basic infectious hosts. They move across the ground looking for dead or wounded biomass with a sufficient sentience that they can add to the collective. Possessing several long tendrils they attack and overwhelm the host before using the tendrils to enter the host and find it’s spinal cord. The infection form then syncs it’s own nerve signal to that of the host and kills the host. From there it assumes control of the host and infects its brain wiping all personal memories. Some information such as combat techniques and technical intelligence is kept by the Flood and added to the Gravemind intelligence.  This process is so complete that despite a few small lingering memories, the host is now completely subservient to the Gravemind. It’s only purpose to infect new hosts and protect the Gravemind.  

There is another tactic used by the Flood to obtain specific information from a new host. This is the tactic that was used on Captain Jacob Keyes during the campaign of Halo: Combat Evolved. Rather than brute forcing their way into a hosts mind, they ‘burrow’ and slowly take over their memories and thoughts until they obtain the specific information that’s sought. In Captain Keye’s case, the Flood were looking for a starship to take them away from the Halo ring (Installation 04) or to show them the location of the ‘new and rich feeding ground’ (Earth). While Keyes fought them for as long as he could, eventually he was taken by the infection and the Flood gained the information they were after. 

A Gravemind is able to override the primal/basic instincts of the Flood and coordinate them into an effective force once enough biomass and intelligence has been obtained through infection.  A Gravemind is also able to control the actions of each individual infected host and even use their vocal chords to communicate with other species.

Gravemind concept art

While the neurological infection and assimilation is the same regardless of species, the physiological mutations are species specific. “Higher evolution hosts” such as humans, elites, and forerunners are used as a means of combat and thus their mutations generally result in “combat forms”. These forms retain the basic profile of the host species while still being significantly mutated. Most common mutations are: corrupted organ systems, decayed body cavities, internal organs displaced and decaying outer skin. The nature of these mutations render high powered ammunition, such as sniper rifles, largely ineffective and allows a combat form to remain functional even after being decapitated or maimed. Combat forms also generate large tentacles from their extremities and central core. These tentacles are used as melee weapons and can sometimes contain bony protrusions for added damage. 

COUNTERMEASURES 

As it stands in the Halo universe, there are no known countermeasures to the Flood infection. Once an infection takes hold of a host there is no way to stop the infection from spreading and there is no known method to reverse the effects of an infection. Flamethrowers are effective in destroying the infection before it attaches to a host, but the most effective form of controlling the Flood is isolating the infection and starving it out. 

Certain neurological disorders that affect the neural frequencies of the hosts have proven to render individuals immune to Flood infection. One such disorder is Boren’s Syndrome. This condition which is caused by radiological exposure creates electrical anomalies in the nervous system which the Flood cannot mimic. Sergeant Avery Johnson is the only known individual with Boren’s Syndrome to have come into contact with a flood infection. While he was attacked and was attempted to be assimilated into the Flood, he survived. He does have some Flood DNA in his system but it is unable to mutate him; however, it did gift him with some advanced healing capabilities.

All known Flood forms

There you have it, the unstoppable infection that is the Flood. It’s rather reassuring that this is a fictional virus and not something we’re dealing with right now.  I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours playing various Halo games and can say that I am terrified of the Flood. It’s something that I hope we would never have to deal with… ever.

Until next time!