Archive for November, 2013

Space Sentinels

Alan Moore recently reiterated his distaste for modern super heroes, saying, “They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience.” Sentiments that – as a child of the 1970s and recipient of such mind-warping publications – got me to thinking. Not about comic book heroes, but their TV cartoon counterparts.

There were two distinct camps that held sway throughout the period. The rotoscope heavy, US-based Filmation, and the encroaching influence of early anime.

Marine Boy was the first piece of Japanese serial animation to see light of day in the UK. Originally created in 1965 by Japan Tele-Cartoons, it didn’t reach these shores until the late 60s/early 70s where a pre-Star Wars generation marvelled at the juvenile sub-mariner whose oxy-gum allowed him to breathe underwater.

Sticking with the Japanese influencers, Battle of the Planets – a sanitised export of the original Science Ninja Team Gatachman – first aired in the UK in 1978. Heavy with mecha, transgenderism and city levelling magnitudes of destruction, it was totally off the scale compared to what was coming out of the US. Subsequently, a more ponderous, space opera offering arrived in 1981 in the guise of Ulysses 31. Here Greek mythology unified with interstellar exploration in the tried and tested formula of Lost in Space.

Filmation, however, had already mined this union of science fiction and classical myth with Space Sentinels back in 1977. In this, three exceptional individuals are teleported away from Earth and given super-human abilities by an alien AI called Sentinel One. The development company were also responsible for Star Trek: The Animated Series(1973). Despite the show being official de-canonised by Gene Roddenberry, it still boasted some notable SF heavy-weights (Larry Niven) among its writing credits. On occasion, it also – in the special effects department at least – outshone the original TV series.

Psychotropics one and all. Delivered visually in 2D compact time frames, and seemingly a lot less risk adverse than some of the banal animated offerings of contemporary TV – excluding Adventure Time, of course.

Routine

It’s been a while since the last Sci-Fi games round-up here on Drozbot but, delightfully, there are enough titles of interest to justify another prospective compilation. I’ve been keeping a digital eye on this lot over on Twitter, and at least two are now available on Steam. So, without further ado…

Mirror Moon is one of those oblique, intriguing titles that refuse an easy entry for any player. Reminiscent of Infogrames Captain Blood on Atari ST, it’s a refreshing antidote to the spoon-fed exposition we’ve come to expect from a Hollywood infected games space. It also engenders a real sense of discovery if, that is, you can stick with it.

More SF puzzling can be found with Facepalm’s The Swapper. Initially presenting as a standard platformer with an interesting clone mechanic, the game’s sense of story, place and deeper conceptual implications of who lives and who dies out of your duplicated selves, brings some deeper/cooler SF themes to the proceedings.

Further out on the schedule peripheries you can find Reset – a time bending, mech-driven first-person action puzzler in the style of Portal 2. Theory Labratories have just posted their first in-game video, but it’s the conceptual cinematic that prompts the greatest hope of something special being engineered here.

Finally, and with more than a passing nod to 1970s Sci-Fi aesthetics, comes Routine from Lunar Software. It’s a survival horror game set upon a mysteriously deserted moon base. While the structure may seem decidedly familiar to any who have played Doom or Dead Space, the retro imagery and emphasis on brain teasers and over-powered enemies, generates a palpable sense of disquiet.

A selection of exceptional games then, but ones definitely with final frontiers. If, however, you still like your gaming in long-form and sans button bashing, here’s Multiplayer just for you.

The thematic shift of Doctor Who has already been visited here on Drozbot, but the eve of the 50th anniversary seems well suited for a timely return. Of all the trans-generational mash-ups that we can expect from the BBC and the Who fan-base in the coming weeks, it’s still the contrasts of An Adventure in Space and Time that sit prominent. The darker side of the first Doctor’s personality and his vocal bigotry generate some stark counterpoints to the inclusive, contemporary themes that Russell T Davies championed with his 2005 re-boot.

Glance away from this longest running of all TV shows, and you’ll still find quality SF pacing ahead of the mainstream with its constant, messy, pluralistic embrace of change.
Arab science fiction, through the works of G Willow Wilson and Khyle Alexander Raja (see above), are already re-treading a path of reinvention and re-appropriation taken by the likes of Sun Ra previously. Meanwhile over at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a new exhibition called The Shadows Took Shape showcases a provocative collection Afrofuturist art, sculpture and film.

Even orthodox religion isn’t adverse to capitalising on science fiction as a useful metaphor for re-evaluating its own position, as this recent story on Unequally Yoked exemplifies – albeit from a position of trying to call scientific dogma into question.

Change as a theme then, not just for the TV Gallifreyan and his adoring fans. While it’s reassuring to look back and congratulate ourselves on just how far the genre has come, let’s hope the inevitability of change will keep us on our toes and time travelling in the right direction.