Story – One Thing You Should Never Skimp On

For this week I decided to take all of my interests and try and condense it into a topic that covers everything, Story. A good story obviously has a lot of elements to engage the consumer and maintain their interest no matter the cost. I’m going to look at examples of my favourite entertainment mediums and highlight when stories have worked and when they’ve flopped. There are obviously exceptions to every rule but as a general stance, story is something you should never ever compromise. I’m going to highlight one failure and one major success for each category, let’s dive in…

GAMING

Oh gaming… I could write a full post about games that were supposed to be great and dropped the ball *cough* Anthem *cough*, but I’m going to focus on two games that I’ve played extensively, Witcher 3 and Destiny. First let’s look at the one that botched the story, Destiny.

DESTINY

The inaugural piece and focal point of Bungie’s deal with Activision/Blizzard (a deal that has since fallen through), really shit the bed on the whole story telling front. While you would play missions through the game, unless you were paying attention to the barely audible dialogue of your ghost (your companion), you missed everything. I know some players who played over 40 hours in the game and still can’t tell you what the main focus of the story was. It appeared that you were fighting the Fallen (aliens), only to switch and fight the Cabal (more aliens), then switch to the Hive (even more aliens) and finally end up killing a Vex God (another race of aliens). What made it worse was that the majority of the story and the background lore was only accessible through Grimoire Cards. You earned these cards by playing the game but had to go to the Destiny website to actually read them. Ya, you had to do homework to understand the story of the game… Not only did they botch the story, but the best part of it, the fact your Ghost was voiced by Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame), was removed in their first update! They took out Dinklage, due to scheduling conflicts with Game of Thrones, and brought in Nolan North! I mean, respect to Nolan North, he does some great work, but you don’t replace Dinklage with him. They also replaced Nathan Fillion with him as well! Fillion voiced Cayde-6 (one of the Vanguard Guardians, and my favourite character) and provided most of the humour for the game. In Destiny 2 he was replaced by North and then they just straight up killed him! I am not a happy camper about that…

Ghost from Destiny

WITCHER

It’s no big secret that I love the Witcher games. They’re expansive, lore filled, and actually follow a comprehensible story. From the first game that was released on the PC way back in 2007 to the Wild Hunt which was released in 2015 (now holding the most awards for any single game at 251) the story has continued to captivate audiences since its release. The main protagonist is Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (Monster Hunter) and focuses on his various adventures detailing his exploits and his training and protection of Ciri, the daughter of the Emperor. Each game delivers a new and exciting story to the Witcher mythos and entices consumers to expand their knowledge on the subject by buying the graphic novels and original works by Andrzej Sapkowski. I remember seeing the trailer for Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, in a Gamestop with couple of friends during a trip to Kingston. As the TVs show a rotation of current and upcoming trailers, the trailer for Assassins of Kings came on and everyone stopped to watch. I do mean everyone. Myself and my friends, the employees, and the other patrons all stood stock still watching this trailer. I have never seen anything like that until the explosion of the MCU and their genius marketing campaigns. Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment:

FILM

Films are actually notorious for skimping on story for some big blockbuster action sequences. Films like the Michael Bay Transformers franchise beat this practice to death… Not all film franchises do this, but there are quite a few that fall into this practice.

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Justice League… oh what could’ve been if not for studio interference… I know I have praised this film before on this blog, but the nostalgia glasses were pulled off my eyes long ago and I have seen the light of truth… it’s a bad movie. Do I still like it? Yes, because liking something and it being considered “good” are not mutually exclusive. I LOVE the Marvel Ghost Rider films, are they bad? Obviously! But because of my love for the character I can look past it, the same thing can be said in the most part for Justice League. Here’s the problem with Justice League, the story makes no sense! Literally none. When WB got wind of Zack Snyder’s plan and his vision they got scared because of the lackluster performance of Batman V. Superman, and frankly, can you blame them? Zack was eventually removed from the project, whether by his own volition or the studio and him parting ways and Joss Whedon was brought in to revitalize the movie. People give Whedon a lot of flack for the film, and some of it is rightly placed, but he didn’t really alter the story at all. He added pretty much ALL the humour in the movie and added some more character interactions to make the League appear as more than just wooden and emotionless demi-gods. I have long said that WB and DC comics make movies for comic fans whereas Marvel makes comic movies for everyone. The main issue with not only Justice league, but Suicide Squad and Batman V. Superman is that DC assumed everybody knew the characters. Which a lot of people didn’t. The core characters obviously, but not the secondary and background ones that influence the plot. They assumed you knew the motivations and back story of all the characters and only chose to highlight the ones they deemed important. These large assumptions meant that the story was gutted and replaced with more action which is one of the MANY reasons the movie failed.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS

This is Peter Jackson’s crown jewel. The theatrical cut makes perfect sense and the extended cuts for the purists deliver all the extra content in spades. This is the ONE book to movie adaptation that nobody has any complaints about.

Perfection.

Enough said.

COMICS

CIVIL WAR II

Civil War II Issue #1 cover

I’ve already done an entire post on this run so I’m not going to dive to far into it. To be frank, it was really ridiculous and unnecessary. Marvel Comics and DC Comics seem to have this idea that there needs to be some sort of “event” or “crisis” every year to keep readers interested. I understand their thinking, but when you have so many events that you have to start putting “II” after it because you ran out of original ideas, it’s time to just take a bit of a break. The story line involves an Inhuman named Ulysses that can see the future. Nobody is sure how reliable his visions are but Captain Marvel and her side think that Ulysses’ visions are enough to warrant arrests and pre-emptive attacks; whereas Iron Man and his team want to test the reliability of the visions first and think the crime needs to be committed before the punishment can be dealt out. Captain America said it best in Captain America: Winter Soldier “I thought the punishment came after the crime?”Not only was it ridiculous, but the story line seemed to be there just to remove certain characters from continuity to make room for a more diverse line up. The original Civil War was probably Marvel’s best event and its ramifications can still be felt in the comics. This second one though, it was just a cheap sequel to try and cash in on the success of the first massive hit.

BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN

This masterpiece by comic legend, Jeph Leob, was released in 1996-1997 and still remains as one of the best Batman stories ever written. It starts on Halloween night and continues through all the major holidays as Batman races to solve the mystery before more people die. It introduces us to great characters like Calendar Man, and long time favourites like Catwoman, Joker, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon. The iconic art style really helps to complete the story as told by Leob and immerse the reader in the tale. The story is not predictable and throws you for twists and turns as the victim pool grows. We are shown some iconic images from the Batman mythos and the descent of certain characters into madness. All in all it’s a gripping story that grabs your attention right away and refuses to let go. I found myself unable to put it down. I read the entire thing, all 13 issues, in a matter of hours and was floored by the ending. First and foremost, this is a mob story. The main characters are those of the Gotham crime families with Batman, the GCPD and other masked individuals scrambling to either pick up the pieces or get out of the way of the inevitable gang war. Leob weaves an intricate tale of deception and double crossing to deliver one of the most commercially and critically successful Batman stories of all time.

Batman: The Long Halloween massive print Paperback

Story is THE most integral part of any type of media. Movies, games, comics, even music; all tell a story and when you sacrifice that for some more flashy elements, your creation suffers. I wish some companies would realize this and stop putting out garbage products which serve no purpose other than to try and make them money. They can’t be proud of what they produce and as a fan I can probably say, the fans really aren’t either.

Until next week!

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Independent Developers And The Opportunity They Have

This week, I will be explaining how small independent Developers are beginning to rise in the industry as the massive Triple-A Publishers start to decline. This will be a companion post to my piece from last week titled The Decline of Triple-A Publishers,which you can find on my site.

I would like to thank my friend Alex for suggesting I do this as a follow up piece. He runs his own site and YouTube Channel where he vlogs about his life in British Columbia. His latest video can be found here:

As Triple-A Publishers begin to decline and the gaming market begins to crash, this could and most likely will allow for smaller independent Developers to expand and take over the market. There are plenty of examples of indie Developers making it on their own but first, I’m going to talk about an independent Developer that is a favourite of mine, CD Projekt Red.

CD PROJEKT RED

CD Projekt Red is a Polish video game Developer and Publisher best known for the Witcher series of video games. It was founded in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland by Marcin Iwiñski and Michał Kiciñski who both worked as video game retailers before founding CD Projekt Red. Their first project was to translate major western video games, the Baldur’s Gate games, into Polish. When the project ultimately fell through they used the coding from it to begin their own original project, Witcher, based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. Their first stab at the Witcher, universe didn’t prove as fruitful as they hoped it would and the company was nearly forced to declare bankruptcy; the 2007/2008 Financial crisis also had a lot to do with the threat of bankruptcy. Through their own perseverance they produced the second game in the series Witcher II: Assassin of Kings and the small studio began to increase their success. When the third installment was released, Witcher III: Wild Hunt the company received global praise for what they had done. They were named developer of the year with their game being named game of the year. They released several free DLC packs for the game along with two free full expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, the latter being widely considered one of the best DLC expansions ever made.

The company expanded opening a second office in Wrocław Poland in March of 2018, to assist in the development of their new IP, Cyberpunk 2077.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

CD Projekt Red has long said that the players are their priority. The support and praise from the fan base helps to drive them forward and to encourage them to constantly develop new and expansive content. They also consider themselves to be “rebels” in the sense that they do not partner with any of the Triple-A Publishing companies. Instead they deal with all aspects of game development, publishing and distribution themselves. The studio follows the work philosophy which was made famous by Rockstar Games, rather than having a lot of small projects splitting your workforce, the entire studio focuses on one project to deliver the best possible content. They focus on quality over quantity and believe that by delivering a quality product the revenue will return due to the appreciation of the fans. Open communication is a large aspect of the company’s core values, this means that all financial details on project creation (development, marketing, distribution) are public knowledge.

” The moment we start becoming conservative [and] stop taking creative risks and business risks, and stop being true to what we’re doing, that’s when we should worry. And I am not worried. Our values and our care for what we are doing and – hopefully what gamers would agree with – care for gamers is what drives this company forward. It’s my personal horror to become a faceless behemoth of game development or publishing or whatnot. As long as I am here I will be fighting for this not to happen.

— CD Projekt Red founder Marcin Iwiński

EPIC GAMES

Epic Games was founded by Tim Sweeney in 1991. It was originally called Potomac Computer Systems but changed its name to Epic MegaGames in 1992. They focused primarily on computer games from their founding up until 2006. In 2006, the game industry was suffering due to copyright infringement cases from various parties and the bloom of video game piracy. The company decided to branch into console games and in 2006, the delivered Gears of War. The Gears series would go on to become one of Xbox’s biggest properties and earn the company dozens of awards and accolades for it’s content and style. Prior to their fame with Gears, Epic was known for the manufacturing of the Unreal Game Engine, and the Unreal game series. Mostly though, people know Epic Games for one singular property which has been plaguing the gaming community for almost 2 years now, that would be Fortnite Battle Royale.

Epic Games focuses on third person shooter games, which is prevalent given their library of releases. Recently, as in December 4, 2018, Epic launched their own digital game store in contention with Valve’s Steam which has been operating for many years already. Steam has long held the title of PC gaming store front, and is now having to compete with the new Epic Games store. Compete may be a strong word, tolerate is more accurate. For the most part Epic has tried to stay away from large Triple-A publishing companies instead choosing to focus on smaller more independent companies for publishing purposes. While they have partnered with the likes of Atari, Microsoft, and EA in the past, their two most successful properties have been developed and published in house.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

The main thing that make Epic Games different from other Developers and Publishers, is their new Epic Game store. The store itself is nothing spectacular, like at all. If anything, it’s a far cry from the Steam store which has fine tuned the necessities of an online digital game store. The main thing that the Epic games store has over the Steam store, is their profit sharing. If a Developer wishes to release a new product they’ve been working on for years on the Steam store, they must allow Steam to take a 30% cut of the sale profits of that product in order to sell it on their site/app/program. To most Developers, 30% is nothing. Some companies spend more than that just on advertising alone, but to smaller indie Developers, that can make or break their release. Epic has realized the gap and in order to provide a competitive market and a space for indie Developers to deliver their content to a large fan base, their store only takes a 12% cut on sale proceeds. This cut means a much larger return to the Developers to ensure they continue to produce quality output. This smaller cut has allowed them to obtain exclusive contracts with 4A Games and Ubisoft. The former putting their new release Metro: Exodus on the new store and the latter putting Division 2. While these games may eventually make their way to the Steam store, they won’t be permitted to arrive there until at least this time in 2020.

There are a lot of people who are not happy with the move by 4A to the Epic Games store. So much so, that there was a large portion of the player base willing to boycott the game simply because of the exclusivity deal with Epic Games. It wasn’t solely about the exclusivity, it was about the deal coming to light mere weeks before the game’s release date. Not to mention one employee tweeting about the “whiny gamers” and going further to say “If this is the kind of reaction we get from PC gamers then we just won’t make PC games anymore”.

THE OPPORTUNITY

I know I’ve been rambling a bit about these two companies but I swear it will tie together…

Okay, so as I said this post is a companion piece to the one from last week about the decline in Triple-A Publishers, which is becoming more and more prevalent as the months tick by. Activision Blizzard is facing a huge dip in their stock prices and only have two major properties due out this year, which means they’re going to double down on their predatory monetization schemes. Already, they’ve introduced gambling style pay to win loot crates in Black Ops 4. This is all coming after they laid off hundreds of employees, signing a new CFO as well as coming months after the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has launched an investigation into loot boxes in games. Here is an article by Kotaku regarding the subject:

https://kotaku.com/the-ftc-says-it-will-investigate-loot-boxes-1830714932

Black Ops 4 Loot Crate with Pay to Win mechanic

So, with these large companies now under a microscope and bleeding money on crumbling practices that gamers are no longer accepting, the opportunity comes for smaller independent companies to make an impact. Some of the greatest games in the last 20 years came from small independent companies that partnered with large Publishers to expand their product, Halo is a prime example. Bungie was a relatively unknown company before it partnered with Microsoft to make the first Halo game and it spawned one of the largest franchises in gaming history. But the likes of CD Projekt Red and Epic Games show that while things may be easier with having a massive Publisher to help push your game, it’s not necessary and you can make quality products with a commitment to the work and fans rather than the almighty dollar. Companies like Paradox Interactive, Mojang, Rovio, Paladin, HALFBRICK, MDHR and SpaceChem prove that you can make quality products that fans love, without the interference of large Publishing companies. If more studios follow the examples set out by CD Projekt Red and Epic Games we could be seeing a large influx of quality independently developed games in the coming years. This influx could gift us with some great new franchises that might last for years to come and help to show Triple-A companies that they need to stop using the gaming community like an ATM machine with no limit.

Any questions or comments leave them down below! See you next week!

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!

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!

My Most Anticipated Games of 2019

This week I decided to take a bit of break from the usual comic or sci-fi posts and focus on something that I’ve been watching closely, the upcoming games of 2019. With greats like God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Red Dead Redemption 2 having come out this past year, it’s going to take some serious mojo to top that list.

Let’s dive right into the list!

1.BioWare – Anthem

You’ll probably need to live under a rock to have not heard anything about this game. Produced by BioWare (of Dragon Age and Mass Effect fame) this upcoming “shared shooter RPG” is making massive waves as we near its release date of mid February. Having taken some bad press recently with their follies (Mass Effect: Andromeda to be specific), BioWare went through a complete restructuring of their development team before production on this began. The game focuses on your playable character as a member of Fort Tarsis on an alien planet sometime in the near future. In order to explore the wilds of the planet and defend the people of the fort, your character uses a Javelin. Javelins are exosuits that allow for intense combat, flight, and even underwater exploration. There are 4 main classes of Javelin: The Ranger (all around suit), The Colossus (The “tank” suit), The Storm (Wizard-like suit that hovers and uses elemental attacks), and the Interceptor (Quick and up close damage expert). Each Javelin is reportedly customizable to an extent and each player can have multiple Javelin suits of varying levels.

I personally am very excited for this game, but I, like many, have some very big reservations about a game BioWare puts out. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from Andromeda… That being said, this is probably going to be the biggest game of the first quarter and doesn’t look to have much direct competition, which will help it out immensely.

2. 4A Games – Metro: Exodus

Set to release a week before Anthem, this single-player first person shooter is the next chapter in the Metro continuity. It, like it’s predecessors (Metro 2033 & Metro: Last Light), rely heavily on horror and stealth while implementing survival components to add an extra level of difficulty. Developed from the Metro novels by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, Glukhovsky actually worked on the second game, Last Light, (having helped write the storyline) and as sole writer for Exodus. The games take place in a post-apocalyptic near future where nuclear war has devastated the globe. The population of Russia has taken refuge in the Metro and has built a vast underground civilization using the metro tunnels. A special branch of the military known as Rangers, are responsible for scouting the surface and some of the deeper tunnels which are home to some nightmarish creatures. One of the really unique points of the games is that because the people are forced to live in the metro, good ammunition is hard to come by. Due to the shortage of good ammunition, military grade ammunition is your currency; however, in a tight spot, you can load your weapons with the military ammunition to deal more damage than the sub par readily available bullets.

I’ve been a fan of this series since I bought the first game for the Xbox 360 back in 2010. I like the expansive world that Glukhovsky has built and the alternate history it contains, for example, in Last Light (the second game) you have to sneak through the front lines of a still raging Eastern front of WWII. The main character, Artyom, is also a very relatable person, he was a young 18 year old kid when he started and has since become a type of leader and hero to the people of the Metro. I’m very much looking forward to this game and hope that it will serve as an epic third chapter in a great series.

3. Ubisoft – The Division 2

Say what you will about the first game, but Ubisoft has a habit of taking something that was sub par on release and by commitment to the fan base, turning it around and making it great. They did it with Rainbow Six Siege and they did it with the Division. The first game was released to some very sub par reviews citing it as repetitive and barren as well as having a “fractured progression system”. This didn’t hinder what I thought to be a great story, which is made all the better by how plausible it is (to an extent). The story is an eco-terrorist was able to obtain a sample of the smallpox virus which he then mutated in such a way that our vaccinations wouldn’t work against it. The virus was then sprayed onto $1 bills and distributed around Manhattan on Black Friday. The virus moved its way through the city killing hundreds of thousands and forcing the government to quarantine the city. The President then activates “The Division” which is a top secret branch of the military to enter the city and find a cure while maintaining order in the streets. One of the best aspects of the game was what they called the “Dark Zone”. This was a walled off area in the center of the city that served as the PVP/PVE area. While there were high level enemies in this area, other players could also help you or try and kill you to steal your loot. Your character was only able to carry so much loot on them before having to call in an air evac. This air evac was visible to EVERYONE in the Dark Zone and attracted a lot of enemies that you would have to hold off until the evac arrived.

Division 2 is supposedly set 7 months after the first game and takes place in Washington D.C., where a civil war has broken out between the survivors and “villainous bands of marauders”.

I was a huge fan of the original game but after you got to a certain point there was a definite lull. You would be too strong to do any of the missions without difficulty and the Dark Zone was only viable if you had a fireteam; however, without the powerful gear from the Dark Zone, you couldn’t do any of the incursions because they were too difficult. I’m really hoping they’ve addressed this issue in the new game as it was one of the main criticisms of fans. From the looks of the trailer they released, it heavily resembles the first game with some notable improvements and it appears they added new weapons one of which is a crossbow.

4. id Software/Bathesda Softworks – Doom Eternal

Coming off their massive hit’s success in 2016, Bathesda/id Software’s next project is coming to consoles later this year. Coming in as the fifth main title in the Doom game series, this game serves as a continuation of the story from 2016’s Doom which in itself was a sequel to Doom 64 from 1997. At the conclusion of the 2016 game, the Doom Marine has been tricked by the Cyborg Samuel Hayden, leader of he UAC facility on Mars, and teleported away to an unknown location. Eternal will pick up after the first game with the forces of Hell invading Earth and the UAC being unable to stop the invasion. The original development team will return to create Eternal helping to ensure direct continuity with the original. One thing that I do hope they continue with is having the Easter eggs to the original games. I remember one spot in particular where you enter a door and are put in a portion of one of the old school levels with the 8bit graphics and musical score. It was a great homage to the originals that helped to pioneer the first person shooter genre. This series is known for its excessive gore and frightening monsters, something that the new series has leaned into heavily. Whether they’re Hell Knights, Barons of Hell, or possessed UAC personal, the enemies are varied and offer unique challenges to defeating each one.

I personally can’t wait for this game. I was a massive fan of the original and play it if i ever just need a game to zone out to and not think. The one thing that really captured me with this new series was the score. While most FPS games use orchestras and ambient music to generate their atmosphere, Doom lends more towards creepy Halloween style environment music blended with sci-fi and heavy metal for the action sequences. There’s nothing quite like picking up that double barrel shotgun and loading it for the first time to a massive heavy metal “dun dun… dun dun” on an electric guitar with heavy distortion.

5. CD Projekt Red – Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 is an interesting prospect for this upcoming year to say the least. Coming from Studio Projekt Red who are known for the Witcher game series, this is a far cry from their medieval and magical world they got famous on. This game centers in the world 2077 wherein cybernetic modifications are the norm for most citizens. The player takes control of the character known only as “V”. V is a completely customizable character from clothing and modifications right down to eye colour and sex. While it is an RPG style of game, there are base classes that a player can choose: NetRunner (centers on Hacking), Techie (centers on Machinery) and Solo (centers on Combat). The game takes place in a city called “Night City” which is located somewhere in California. Night City is divided into six different districts that each have their own aesthetic and atmosphere. In true CD Projekt Red fashion, there will be multiple endings to the game and players actions and choices throughout the game will determine which ending they receive. The game will feature heavily on robotics, cybernetics, body modifications as well as autonomous technology.

This is one game I’ve had my eye on ever since they released a teaser trailer back in January of 2013. E3 2018, was where they showcased the first actual footage of the gameplay and it looked amazing. It blends the intricate gameplay that the studio is known for, with a distinct setting that hasn’t been touched on much, Detroit Become Human could be seen as the exception. With so much riding on this game and it being the studio’s first attempt at something other than the Witcher, this could be a make or break for CD Projekt Red.

6. Ubisoft – Skull and Bones

Alright, I’m going to be blunt with you, I love pirates. There are very few eras in history that I really enjoy and the classical pirate age is one of them. Yes, I know that piracy has been around for hundreds of years, but I’m specifically talking about the classic Pirate Lords like Captain Morgan, Charles Vance, Jack Rackham, etc. This game is centered in the Indian ocean and details the exploits of the East India Trading Company. Players assume control of a Pirate captain of their own design and set sail across the Indian ocean in a single player campaign and can take on other players in the “Disputed Waters”. Originally showcased at E3 2017, the game was then slated for a Q4 2018 release. The release date was pushed back to 2019 in order to accommodate bug fixes and 4K upscaling. Not much is known about the story of what the game will entail. The developers have stated that it will be possible to acquire other ships throughout the story in addition to the one you start with, as well as customizing the weapon loadout of your ship.

As someone who was a HUGE fan of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I’ve been longing for a good pirate game ever since. I was extremely tempted to buy into Microsoft’s exclusive Sea of Thieves, but thanks to some very observant friends who scour review sites, I did not. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed when this game got delayed, but as my friend Theo points out “If they delay it, that means they’re fixing broken things. So I’m okay with it”.

7. Capcom – Resident Evil 2 Remake

Much like what I said for Anthem, you literally have to live under a rock to have not heard of Resident Evil. Whether it’s the immense game franchise or the movie series that has been going downhill since the first one… everyone knows of this franchise that helped to pioneer the survival horror genre. At E3 2018, gaming giant Capcom surprised everyone by announcing they would be remaking Resident Evil 2 and releasing it on modern consoles. They showed a brief video of the gameplay that we can expect and it looked amazing. Serving as a direct remake of the 1998 classic for the original Playstation, Resident Evil 2 is going to bring us back to the first T- Virus outbreak in Raccoon City. Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy are the main playable characters and their Character models have been updated to coincide with some of their more modern interpretations. The main change that Capcom implemented for this remake is to change the style of camera and controls. Originally sporting “tank controls” (moving the character relative to where they are looking not the camera angle) and fixed camera angles, they have updated the interface to work with an over the shoulder third person style of movement.

When I heard that this game was getting a remake for modern consoles I was ecstatic! This is one of the few Resident Evil games that I was never able to play. It came out when I was 7 years old and I remember seeing a cardboard cutout for it at Microplay and asking my mom if I could get it. She took one look at the cutout and said “Absolutely not! Are you crazy?!” solid call on that one mom… That being said I am no longer 7 years old, so bring on the gory zombie mayhem!

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Mortal Kombat 11, Rage 2, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Biomutant.

I feel like I should include Halo: Infinite on this list, but apart from a short video showcasing the new Slipspace engine that 343 built to run the game, we haven’t heard anything about it. The most recent information we have is that it will allow for 4 player single console co-op and have Halo: Reach style customization. I keep my ears and eyes peeled for any information on the upcoming Halo: Infinite but my guess is that it will be announced at E3 2019 for a 2020 release date.

There you have it! Those are my most anticipated games of 2019. Are there any you think I missed? See you next time!

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!

Scariest Place in the Star Wars Universe

I love Star Wars, I have ever since I was a kid and saw the original trilogy on VHS for the first time with my grandma who was just as much a Sci-Fi nerd as myself. But one thing that really grips me about the Star Wars universe is the MASSIVE expanded universe that goes with it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Skywalker saga and all the stories it entails; however, you also have to look at it as one family’s drama has been mucking up the galaxy for EVERYONE for like 150 years… Even with all the drama that the Skywalkers and their descendants have cause, it’s still nothing compared to the massive Jedi/Sith war that spanned off and on for thousands of years or the Mandalorian Wars that spanned hundreds of years.  These wars are responsible for the scariest place in the Star Wars universe… Malachor V ( aka Malachor, Hell) How does Malachor rank higher than the likes of Korriban or even Dathomir? Read on…

While Korriban was the birthplace of the Sith and home to many torture chambers used by the Sith on captive Jedi; it was completely destroyed and turned into a tomb world when the Sith lost the war against the Jedi. Completely devoid of life, it remains as a constant reminder of where the Sith came from and the atrocities they used to commit in the name of the Dark Side.

Dathomir is a mysterious planet that is home of the Night Sisters, a dark and powerful coven of magic/force users that provided Darth Maul to Siddious as an apprentice. Dathomir played a large part in the later seasons of the Clone Wars TV show and helped to resurrect one of the GREATEST villains in Star Wars, Darth Maul. The site of many battles and wars, Dathomir remains as a dark mysterious planet even after the eradication of the Night Sisters by Darth Sidious and General Grievous.

These two planets pale in comparison to the horrors that occurred and remain on Malachor…

MalachorVIntact

HISTORY

CANON

Malachor V has been the center-point of many wars throughout the Star Wars timeline, but the most prevalent, which earned it the name “Hell”, occurred during the Sith/ Jedi war.

Before the Jedi/Sith war, there was the Hundred-Year darkness, this was a time before the Sith had officially formed and were beginning to separate from the Jedi Order. For thousands of years, the Jedi were the only force users in the galaxy, until one rogue Jedi believed that the path to true power came from the use of Bogan (the Dark Side). The Jedi High Council did not know how to deal with someone who rejected their ways so completely and cast the rogue Jedi out of the order, but this only gained him some followers who sympathized with his belief in the path to power. His followers left with him and traveled to the ancient Sith world of Malachor V to continue their pursuit of ultimate power and the Dark Side of the Force, the exiled Jedi adopted the name of the Sith and the Sith Order was born.

For hundreds of years the Sith expanded into the galaxy, conquering worlds and enslaving entire planets to work in their Empire and fuel their war machine. This rapid expansion and conflicting ideologies brought them into conflict with the Jedi and the Old Republic. As the Sith expanded so did their number of warriors that were trained in the art of lightsaber combat and dark side force powers. The Republic and the Jedi council agreed that the Sith needed to be stopped and so a force of Jedi were dispatched to the planet of Malachor V to end the threat.  The Jedi Knights attacked the planet en mass and drove the Sith back to their temple which also housed their superweapon. As the Sith were being overwhelmed the Jedi grew over zealous and pushed harder into the temple, as a last ditch effort the Sith activated their weapon.

Sith-Temple-Super-Weapon

The superweapon that was housed under the temple was one of planetary proportions. Capable of petrifying all life on a planet it was activated and targeted at Malachor. Mid-combat, Jedi and Sith alike were petrified and killed by the weapon. Their bodies remaining frozen in their petrified state for thousands of years as a reminder of the conflict and what it could cause.

Great_Scourge_of_Malachor_aftermath

While Darth Sidious was training Maul to become his apprentice, he brought Maul to Malachor to have him “breathe in the ashes of his predecessors”. As Maul breathed in the air of Malachor and the ashes of the fallen Sith, he had visions of legions of Sith dying at the hands of Jedi knights furthering his hatred for all the Jedi.

The planet remained undisturbed for several years until in 3BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin) Ezra Bridger, Kanan Jarrus and Ahsoka Tano discovered the petrified remains of the Sith and Jedi. As they examined the bodies, Ezra discovered a green cross-guard lightsaber which he activated briefly before it shorted out in his hand. When he asked Ahsoka if the Jedi had won, she remembered her teachings as a young Padawan in the Jedi temple and told Ezra that neither side had won the battle.

*Kylo Ren’s cross-guard lightsaber is said to be inspired from a design he found on Malachor*

LEGENDS

The Legends backstory to Malachor V is much different than the Canon but it still ends roughly the same way, death and destruction. As opposed to the destruction being caused during the Jedi/Sith War, it was destroyed during the final stages of the Mandalorian Wars.

The Ancient Sith order known as The True Sith used Malachor as a stronghold during their first great expansion, even going so far as to build an Academy on its surface due to it’s connection to the Dark Side. As The True Sith fell to infighting and disintegrated, the Sith abandoned the planet and their Academy as they retreated further back into the Unknown Regions. The Sith Empire, led by Darth Vitiate, reclaimed the planet for many years before an uprising by Dakar Sol took it from his grasp. Vitiate was the last remnant of the True Sith and a being of immense dark power. Able to imbue his essence and force abilities into other living beings by possessing them, he led the Sith Empire for over 1,500 years before his eventual defeat.

Centuries after the defeat of Vitiate is when the destruction of Malachor V occurred during the final stages of the Mandalorian Wars.  Despite the many other species and cultures that allied with the Mandalorians during the war, Mandalore the Ultimate (leader of the Mandalorian people during the war), restricted the planet of Malachor V to the people of Mandalore.  It was at Malchor V that Jedi General Revan launched his final attack that would seal the victory for the Jedi and the Old Republic.

MtheUvsRevan

At the time of this battle, some of the other Jedi and the Republic soldiers were beginning to question Revan’s alliance to the Light Side, so Revan used this to his advantage. Composing his massive attack fleet of those questioning his loyalty he sent them into the Malachor system. Knowing the target would be too good for the Mandalorians to pass up, he waited. When the battle was joined, Revan rushed to the Mandalorian flagship and killed Mandalore the Ultimate, effectively ending the War by cutting the head off the snake. As the Republic/Jedi forces and the Mandalorians continued to clash both on Malachor and in the system surrounding it, the Jedi General Meetra Surik, began to realize they were going to lose as the Mandalorians were too many. As the battle raged the Republic forces managed to take the complex which housed the Mandalorian superweapon, the Mass Shadow Generator. Seeing the Mandalorian forces were about to retake the complex, and have a straight shot at Revan’s back, Meetra ordered the activation of the superweapon believing it to kill everyone outside of the complex. The weapon activated immediately and caused Malachor V’s gravity to massively increase instantly crushing everyone on the surface and pulling ships from in space surrounding the planet to the surface. The planet was changed from a lush inhabitable planet to a barren jagged wasteland in an instant with reports of republic ships being pulled to miles below the surface due to the increased gravity. In one foul swoop, Revan had managed to eliminate those questioning his allegiance and win the war for the Republic. It is unclear how, but Meetra Surik was able to survive the weapon activating despite being on the surface. Surik fled the system and went into exile earning her the title of Jedi Exile.

Malachor

Revan and Malak would then: go into the Unknown Regions, become corrupted by the Sith, return to known space and wage a war on the Republic in the name of the Sith, Break the hold from the Sith in the Unknown Regions and resolve to take the Republic for themselves and adopt the titles of Dark Lords of the Sith. During the Jedi Civil War, Darth Revan would use the untouched Trayus Academy, located on the surface of Malachor V and placed their by the True Sith millennia before, to convert captured Jedi to the Dark Side.

Following the end of the Civil War, Revan’s old master, Jedi Master Kreia journeyed to Malachor to discover what had caused her apprentice to fall to the Dark Side, it was on Malachor V that she was corrupted by the Dark Side and took the name of Darth Traya. She trained two apprentices in the Dark Side, Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus, the latter of which was also called the “Force Vampire” and the “Lord of Hunger”. These three Sith would go on to form the Sith Triumvirate which reigned for several years. Traya was eventually overthrown by her apprentices, stripped of her power and banished from Malachor.

In 3951 BBY, Meetra Surik was contacted by Kreia to help destroy the Sith academy on Malachor and allowing Kreia revenge on her former apprentices. Surik battled Darth Nihilus and defeated him before assaulting the Academy by herself. She defeated the Sith at the Academy on Malachor finally silencing the dark energies that resonated through the Force from that planet. As Surik fled the planet, the creator of the Mass Shadow Generator activated the weapon once more using a remote and the planet collapsed in upon itself exploding and forming an asteroid field full of chunks of the planet and pieces of ships from both the Republic and Mandalorian fleets. This area of space became a veritable graveyard floating in the black, a constant reminder of the life lost and atrocities committed on the planet.

Malachor asteroid field

There you have it, the scariest place in the Star Wars universe! I honestly prefer the canon version of the story more than the Legends, but the Legends one has Revan so…. ya…. Let me know what you think the scariest place in the Star Wars Universe is! See you next time!