Today’s BattleTech is a massive franchise consisting of a tabletop wargame and a tabletop RPG from Catalyst Labs, a popular online multi-player video game developed by Harebrained Schemes, and many novels covering the range of history of the setting. The game was first released as Battledroids in 1984 by FASA. The game was renamed after Lucasfilm reminded the company that “Droid” wasn’t FASA’s trademark. The second edition was renamed to BattleTech and had corrections and more advanced rules, including a way for players to create their own BattleMechs, the kings of the battlefield.
The second edition, the first under the BattleTech name, introduced a galaxy at war, with the 3035 Succession Wars. The five great houses, Steiner of the Lyran Commonwealth, Kurita of the Draconis Combine, Laio of the Capellan Confederation, Marek of the Free Worlds League, and Davion of the Federated Suns. The initial BattleMechs provided were licensed from the designer of the mecha for Super Dinemsion Fortress Macross, Crusher Joe, and Fang of the Sun: Dougram. As the game line increased with supplements, Technical Readout: 3025 added more designs, some of which were also licensed from the mentioned anime.
The third edition came out in 1992. However, problems were looming. Harmony Gold, the studio that adapted three separate anime series – Super Dinemsion Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Squadron Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA – into the series RoboTech noticed that FASA was using mecha from Macross. The result of the lawsuit turned a large number of BattleMechs being removed from the game in 1996; those ‘Mechs became known as the Unseen. However, FASA was already advancing the setting’s time line, having released Technical Readout: 3050 with more new designs for BattleMech, AeroFighters, and conventional vehicles.
Since the game is based on BattleMechs battling each other, any peace in the setting could only be short-lived. For 3050, a new threat appeared, one that allowed FASA to use new BattleMech designs on the covers of their games. From beyond the Periphery came the Clans to reclaim Earth from the Inner Sphere barbarians. Lost in Translation covered this in some detail in the review of the BattleTech cartoon. The Clan Invasion looked to be unstoppable with their advanced weapons technology outstripped anything the Inner Sphere had. Two events caused the Clans to stumble. The first was the loss of the Khans of the invading Clans, taken out by a lone pilot, Tyra Miraborg, who A-winged her Aerospace Fighter into the bridge of a Clan warship.
The other event was ComStar calling out the Clans to Tukayyid for a proxy fight for possession of Earth. Until 3055, ComStar was the quasi-religious corporation that had the monopoly on interstellar communication. No one expected ComStar to have a vast horde of Star League-era BattleMechs, least of all the Clans. No one expect ComStar to survive with green pilots and soldiers. When the smoke cleared, though, on May 20, 3052, Tukayyid was in the hands of ComStar and the invading Clans were defeated.
The fallout of the Battle of Tukayyid was that the Clan Invasion was stalled for fifteen years, giving the Inner Sphere time to figure out what to do. ComStar underwent a schism, with the more religious of the corporation upset with what happened and splintered off to become the Word of Blake, named after the founder of ComStar. To the Great Houses’ credit, they saw an out that would cut off the Clans from further invading once the fifteen year moratorium ended. The Second Star League formed. Without the pressure of the Clan Invasion, the Lyran part of the Federated Commonwealth started a civil war, resulting in the polity splitting into the Federated Commonwealth and the Lyran Alliance.
The Second Star League didn’t last long. While the idea was sound, the implementation didn’t take into account the existing tensions between the Great Houses. After seven years, the Second Star League dissolved. The Word of Blake, feeling betrayed by, well, everyone, began their Jihad to punish everyone responsible for the Second Star League’s failure.
All of the above is just scratching the surface. FASA and, later, Catalyst Game Labs have produced a number of sourcebooks and novels that go into far greater detail. The setting’s vast history is a draw for fans of the game. It’s possible to play in any era, and the setting’s timeline is still being advanced.
The Tex Talks BattleTech series is a love letter to a game from such a fan. Tex started the series because of how much fun he had with the game and wanted to do something light with it. The first Tex Talk was on Tex’s favourite BattleMech, the Awesome. He followed up with the assault ‘Mech, the Atlas. He then turned it over to the fanbase on what to cover next. As with any Internet poll, the results were predictable. There’s always a so-ugly-it’s-cute item in any setting and in BattleTech, that role falls to the UrbanMech, a light ‘Mech that is essentially the Volkswagen Beetle of BattleTech, though Beetles could outrun one. Despite the Urbie’s performance, Tex treated the ‘Mech the same as he did the Awesome and Atlas, though with far more memes.
The turning point came May 20, 2019 with a special Tex Talk “remembering” the Battle of Tukayyid, with Tex giving a historical overview of the battle for Earth with insight on where both sides made mistakes. Tex does more than just restate the results of the fight; he gets into the tactics, the psychology of both the Clans and of the ComGuards, and adds his own opinions on why the battle ended the way it did.
The special was just a hint of what was to come. Tex and his team then took on the main event in the BattleTech setting, the one that set off all the Succession Wars, the Clan Invasion, the Word of Blake Jihad – the Amaris Civil War that ended the original Star League. Tex went back to the source material, spread across a number of sourcebooks and websites, to put together a 3+ hour presentation split into two videos to cover the build up, the war itself, and the fallout.
Again, Tex goes beyond the text, adding insights on everyone involved and analyzes why the Star League fell and what could have been done to prevent it. The videos can act as an intro for any new player to understand why the galaxy is constantly at war.
Tex’s video have a light touch, with humour to keep a potentially dry subject interesting. Tex himself is a voice made of well-aged whiskey. There are meme and running gags. Some, like calling ComStar “Space AT&T” are based on what the corporation does. Others are based on quirks of the various Houses, such as the Lyran use of assault ‘Mechs, the heaviest of the heavies, to do scouting.
Tex Talks BattleTech is a labour of love for Tex and his crew. They know the setting and have the sourcebooks on hand if they don’t remember a detail. Fans have been sending in more sourcebooks and other items, including painted miniatures of various BattleMechs. The videos don’t just do the surface details; Tex and his team get into details and analysis over several sources, working out the whys behind the whats, then adds a layer of humour on top.
Lost in Translation continues its look at fanworks with “Kenobi: A Star Wars Fan Film”, directed by Jason Satterlund, story by Rob Harmon, and screenplay by James Costa & Jason Satterlund and Rob Harmon. This production had some money behind it, not only for effects but for location shots. Have a watch; it’s only seventeen minutes.
The short takes place a few years after Revenge of the Sith on Tattooine. Obi-Wan is in transition from being Ewan MacGregor to being Alec Guiness. The seventeen minutes packs a lot of information, all through body language of the leads. Knowledge of the movies both before and after the fan film adds to the depth. The costumes and hairstyles match what has been seen in Star Wars. Costa as Ben has the looks to show that Obi-Wan is aging.
I mentioned above that the production had some money behind it. The creators ran an IndieGoGo campaign. As a result, the creators were able to do some filming in Morocco to capture the right sort of desert needed; in the movies, the Lars farmstead was filmed in Tunisia to the further east. The music was performed by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra, who have appeared in a number of movies and video games. And to sweeten the pot, the creators got James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to portray Captain Leegus. The funding also allowed for drone shots and 3D printing of props.
The effort put into the fan film pays off. Keeping a young Luke safe means sacrifice for Obi-Wan, one that he isn’t sure he can make when the film starts. The mood is maintained through the actors, through the camera angles, and through the music, with tension being underlaid until everything explodes into action. Pacing matters in a shorter work, and the pacing in “Kenobi” never lags.
“Kenobi” demonstrates what is possible with today’s technological infrastructure. It’s not just having blockbuster quality video camers at consumer-friendly prices. It’s the social networks that come along with Internet-as-a-utility. IndieGoGo allows creators to have fans directly fund works, with word of mouth spread through the likes of Twitter and Facebook, and the final result on YouTube. Even twenty years ago, this would not be as easy to do. Today, the infrastructure that allows creative types and audiences to meet allows for fan works not considered in the past.
Still looking at fan adaptations this week. It turns out, animated Star Trek fan works are a thing, along with fan podcast series. Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Curt Danhausen’s memorial to James Doohan, “The Quintain” and how he used Filmmation’s art style and approach to animation to be a one-man studio. This week’s review, Star Trek: The Paradise Makers, looks at what a team can do.
The Paradise Maker is a two-part series from Sagittarii Productions, with special effects by Tommorrows Magic. The feature runs over two hours, all animated. It took the team four years to complete. Animation styles include rotoscoping and chroma-key to add in architecture and iconic Star Trek gadgets.
The feature uses a known idea from Star Trek: TOS, that of Star Fleet officers going rogue. There have been a few in Kirk’s time who have ignored orders and gone their own way, including Commodore Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”, Garth of Izar (“Whom Gods Destroy”), Commander Spock (“The Menagerie”), and even James T. Kirk himself (Star Trek: The Motion Picture among other events). Dr. Xiang LI’s self-aggrandizing fits in.
The animation style fits in with the Filmmation series while being a little more fluid. The aquashuttle comes from the animated series, though not lifted directly. The use of chroma-key allows for using real settings and architectural photos and film to save time. Even then, the small team still needed four years. The regular cast of characters are recognizable in appearance. Lost in Translation has mentioned before on how difficult it is to portray Spock, so props to Jay Prichard for tackling the role and trying to balance cold logic with hidden human emotion.
The Paradise Makers fits in the first season of Star Trek, with Dr. Mark Piper (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) retiring and new Ship’s Surgeon Dr. Leonard McCoy reporting for duty. The Enterprise and the Bowfin appear as expected, with the animated series having influence for stylization and requirements for animation. Animation also allows for sets that the live action series didn’t detail, such as ground installations on airless worlds, something The Paradise Makers shows early in Part 1. There’s always a tradeoff; more time needed but fewer restrictions save those imposed by the setting.
The plot would fit in with the original Star Trek. The feature is a morality play on what happens when ambition is not tempered. Dr. Xiang Li risks the lives of the planet and of the crew of the Enterprise all to become a god. Even Garth of Izar at least waited until he became a captain before playing god. However, as Arthur C. Clarke puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” something Star Trek touches on repeatedly.
The Paradise Makers was put together by fans of the original Star Trek. Ideas that appeared in the original and the animated series appear, with nods to the progression of today’s technology. The feature has core elements of Star Trek from the superficial – the gadgets, the sounds, the music – to the building blocks, including the message wrapped up in a captivating story. The Paradise Makers also shows what a team can do to put together a feature, even if it takes them four years to complete.
Continuing the look at fan works today with a Star Trek animated fan film, “The Quintain” by Curt Danhauser, part of his continuation of the animated series. Have a watch; it’s only twenty-three minutes long.
Lost in Translation has reviewed Filmation’s animated Star Trek, a series that is and isn’t considered canon, depending on the episode and how the studio feels any given day. “Yesteryear” is accepted as being part of Spock’s past, but other episodes haven’t been that embraced. For an animated series in theory aimed at a younger audience, the series touched on adult themes, turning the series into a continuation of the original Trek and an introduction into the franchise for pre-teens. The Filmation budget meant reuse of animated scenes and actions, to save time and money, but the restrictions allowed the production team to determine what was important for the episode.
With “The Quintain”, Danhauser wanted to do something for the 100th birthday of James Doohan, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott on the original Trek and the voice of a number of characters on the animated series, including Lieutenant Arex, the Guardian of Forever, Koloth, Korax, and Kor. Danhauser goes further, playing all but three voices in “The Quintain”. The episode brings in a few elements from the movies, including Scotty’s nephew, Peter Preston, who appears in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, adding some more depth to the relationship between the two.
Danhauser mimics the Filmation style well in the episode. The character designs, even for the new characters, would fit into an episode of the animated Trek. Danhauser uses animation to expand the diversity of the cast, adding more Federation species on to the Enterprise, something a live action budget would be hard-pressed to do. For a one-person studio, the Filmation style is an asset, providing a way to keep the animation under control.
“The Quintain” has character moments, action moments, and a satisfying twist. Danhauser caught the essence of Star Trek, live action or animated. The efforts and work as a one-person studio pays off in an entertaining episode that is almost indistinguishable from Star Trek: The Animated Series.
/Lost in Translation/ is going to take it easier the next few weeks starting today after submerging into Prohibition and Chicago of the eaerly 30s. Fan adaptations will be on the menu for the next few weeks. This week, a look a Kadir Deniz‘ “KITT vs KARR” series. A quick reminder about the approach Lost in Translation takes with fan works – the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Fan works are good for learning storytelling and film techniques without the pressure to produce something for sale.
The series that Deniz is adapting, Knight Rider aired originally from 1982 to 1986, was created by Glen A. Larson, and starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and William Daniels as the voice of KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand. KITT is an artificially intelligent vehicle, aiding Michael as he works for the Foundation for Law and Government, bringing justice to people who are often above the law. KARR, the Knight Automotive Roving Robot, voiced by Peter Cullen, was FLAG’s prototype, an early design put aside in favour of KITT. The difference between the two is that KARR was programmed for self-preservation while KITT’s programming placed the life of his passengers and the people around him above his own. KARR was introduced in the first season episode, “Trust Never Rusts”, and thanks to fan interest, returned in the season three episode, “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.”.
In the first episode of Deniz’ series, KARR is portrayed as he appeared in the latter half of “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.” The music and dialogue are pulled from existing episodes. Deniz, though, created the storyline for the series of videos. The camera angles used are a mix and include classic angles from the TV series to new angles possible thanks to being CG animated. The only real hints that the series is CG animation are how Michael moves and how the trailer breaks apart. KITT and KARR are spot on, and Michael is wearing his classic ensemble from the series.
There’s a nod to the 2008 Knight Rider series with the black Mustang Shelby, the car that portrayed KITT in the remake series. Again, the episode is all CG animation. The cinematography is based on the original series, but expands, allowing Deniz to make the episode his while still being a fan work. KITT’s abilities are all ones that have appeared in the series, even the skiing.
The latest episode available. KARR’s plot continues and he has help from someone with a grudge against Michael. There’s still classic camera angles as seen in the original series, almost indistinguishable. The problem seen with the tractor-trailer as KITT turbo boosts through in the first episode is more cleaned up this time around. The chase reflects the series; KITT’s shell could withstand bullets, but missiles were to be avoided. The final twist, Airwolf, comes from the Donald Bellisario created series, Airwolf, starring Jan Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke and Earnest Borgnine as Dominic Santini. Hawke had a deal with Archangel, played by Kent McCord; the Firm would get Airwolf back if Archangel could recover String’s brother Saint-John, a POW in Viet Nam. Airwolf, as it appears in the third episode, is a perfect replica of the model used in the TV series. Even how it appears up from behind the cliff rings true; Hawke and Santini often came from below the line of sight in the helicopter. The end theme of the third episode blends the the themes of both Knight Rider and Airwolf, which caps a note perfect episode.
Deniz’ series isn’t complete. He’s working on it as he can, but he has released some test footage for future entries on his YouTube channel. He has captured the feel of the original series and has created a work that fits with the tone of the series while telling his own story.
Fanfilms have been around for a while. The Internet has made it easier for audiences to find them. Prior, tapes needed to be circulated and copied, with screenings done at conventions and club gatherings. Today, well, YouTube exists. It’s easier today to stumble across a fanfilm.
Let’s go back to 1997, twenty years after the release of Star Wars. The Galaxy Far Far Away feels inviting. For the longest time, there wasn’t much done with the setting, not after Return of the Jedi. Fans created droids, built model starships and snubfighters, and dressed in costume. Once home video got inexpensive enough for the masses to own, coupled with editing software, fanfilms started to take off. This is where the fanfilm “Troops” comes in. Created by Kevin Rubio, “Troops” crosses Star Wars with the popular reality series Cops. Have a watch.
Lost in Translation has covered Star Wars many times, the latest being The Mandalorian. Cops got touched upon briefly during a discussion of Machinima. To expand, if one hasn’t seen an episode of Cops, the series was built around the idea of having a camera crew ride along with an officer or deputy of the featured police department. The only dialogue comes from the officer, talking about how he or she became an officer and notes about where the filming is taking place. The series is still running, now on the Paramount Network, and has clips on YouTube.
Rubio’s “Troops” follows stormtroopers on Tatooine following up on calls that tie into events of Star Wars. A Grand Theft Droid call leads to the destruction of a Jawa sandcrawler, but the droid is safely recovered, if a little far from home. A domestic dispute call that goes tragic after a farm couple get into argument about why their nephew ran away from home. And even a disturbing the peace call from the Mos Eisley cantina to start the end credits. This is Star Wars, behind the scenes and a few paces behind what Luke does on screen.
The filming, though, follows the style of Cops. The camera is handheld, isn’t steady, and has to keep up with the troopers. The cameraman remains silent, letting the troopers provide the narration and dialogue. The camera is there in the action as an observer, getting close to the stormtroopers. The segments are introduced by the callouts from dispatch. The troopers themselves have accents that come out of the TV series.
Star Wars has opened itself to a wide range of storytelling techniques. The original movie takes its queues from The Hidden Fortress and The Dam Busters. Other entries have taken inspiration from a wide range, including spaghetti westerns with ronin influences. Slipping in Cops, especially on Tattooine, isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Kevin Rubio added a dash of humour while the characters treated the situation seriously. The result is a fanfilm that still stands up over time.
Lost in Translation has looked at fan works in the past. When reviewing a fan work, the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Crossovers add a wrinkle, as two or more sources are being brought together and something has to give to make the story interesting. Crossing four or more sources is a challenge to have everyone involved have a role while keeping each source unique. Along comes “Galactic Battles”. It’s easier to watch it than to read a synopsis, so go ahead an watch the short film. Keep watching past the credits.
“Galactic Battles” brings together four separate sources, two film series – Star Wars and the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot – and two video game series – Halo and Mass Effect. Each of the settings is obvious. The main setting, from Halo, gets the narrator explaining the newfound peace, thanks to the Master Chief. The Normandy from Mass Effect and the Enterprise from Star Trek have appropriate lighting, complete with lens flares for the latter. The Millennial Falcon gets the Star Wars wipes at the beginning and end of the ship’s appearance.
The creators did their homework. They are well aware of the details of each setting. The music blends the themes of all the sources, melding them as the camera switches view. The controls for each ship are unique and recognizable. The costumes are appropriate. Bonus points for having Garrus, one of the aliens, specifically, a Turian, from the Mass Effect series. The Master Chief’s armour is well done, too. Everyone is recognizable, from red, gold, and blue uniforms on the Enterprise to Joker and his baseball cap from Mass Effect.
The little details matter. The circle wipe when Star Wars first appears, how Shepard enters and leaves a scene, the lens flares on the Enterprise‘s bridge, the view from the Master Chief’s HUD, all add to the feel of the sources. Getting Mark Meer, who played the male Shepard in Mass Effect to reprise his role also helped. Details can make or break a major studio’s adaptation. With fan works, they are necessary, and “Galactic Battles” delivers.
The short is a visual masterpiece. Jupiter hanging in space as the battle rages on provides colour to what would normally be just black space and metal ships. The special effects, sound as well as visual, matches each setting’s contribution. Phasers sound like phasers, not like TIE fighter lasers or Reaper cutting torches. There’s care taken to make sure each element looks and sounds appropriate, even in the post-credits sequence.
The key issue with making a crossover meant to appeal to fans each original source is making sure characters from each one has a hand in solving the problem. With “Galactic Battles”, the solution starts with Spock, but Shepard, Master Chief, and Han all have a role to play in putting the solution in action. The breakneck pace doesn’t let up as they put the daring plan into action.
“Galactic Battles” is a fun fan short to watch. It handles each original source well, keeping the little details that define the originals.
And for those interested, there is a behind the scenes look to “Galactic Battles”, showing what it took to make the short.
Fans can get creative. Sometimes, fans can create an adapation that surpasses anything that professional studios can do. Sometimes, though, the creativity is willing, the skill level isn’t quite there. Or maybe there’s a time crunch. It’s not an issue for fans who are building up their skills, be it writing or drawing. Animation, though, is skill- and time-intensive. For those fans without the skills, there is another way.
Machinima, technically, is the use of any pre-existing computer graphics engine to create images. The most popular graphics engines used by fans just happen to be video games. Rooster Teeth wasn’t the first, but may be the best known thanks to Red Vs Blue, a series using Halo about the men on enemy armies defending a critical box canyon from the other side. Several video game engines have been used, including Quake, Halo, and The Sims 2 and later versions. What the games have in common is a sandbox mode that allows for free play and being very customizable by players.
Example time. First, though, let’s take a look at a TV series to be adapted. COPS is on its thirty-second season, having started in 1989 and only off the air for a couple of seasons while switching networks. COPS is a reality show, with camera crews riding along with American police officers on patrol. The series made an appearance on an episode of The X-Files, effectively becoming a crossover when the camera crew started following Agents Scully and Mulder. The draw of the show was that it was unscripted. While edited, the show wasn’t staged for viewers.
How does one recreate a reality show, especially one that relies on the unpredictability of life? Enter Grand Theft Auto V, the life of crime simulator from Rockstar Games, with the mod LSPDFR, allowing players to be the police on patrol. Jeff Favignano has been using this combination, plus other mods, to produce his own series of role play, styled after COPS.
While he has monetized his YouTube channel, the work is still by a fan. There’s also the limitation of the game engine. The goal Favignano has is to approach the events generated in game with proper police procedures. As far as GTA V allows, he succeeds. Each episode of his LSPDFR is stylized as an episode of COPS, with a few call outs in each. Surprisingly for GTA V, there aren’t many shoot outs. Favignano aims to end each call peacefully, only escalating when the characters in-game do.
The adaptation works well, until the game’s engine starts going wrong. The pathing AI often sends traffic the wrong direction, through a crime scene, pushing past or sometimes through police vehicles and officers. When things do go off, it’s the game, not Favignano. However, even the game acting up adds to the feeling of the original TV show, where a pursuit and its aftermath weren’t predictable.
Fans will create. It’s the nature of fandom. Today, there are ways to express creativity that weren’t dreamt of even thirty years ago. The results are varied, but do get to the heart of the original works.
Lost in Translation has looked at Jem and the Holograms before. The original cartoon was based on Hasbro’s line of dolls developed to challenge Mattel’s Barbie. The cartoon was popular but failed in its primary mission, selling the doll line. The 2015 film revival faltered at the box office because fans were expecting the cartoon. IDW picked up the Jem license for an ongoing series of comics beginning in 2014, leaning heavily on the cartoon as a base but going its own direction.
Lost in Translation has also looked at fan works before. Fan works can be variable in quality, but the common theme is that they’re made by fans. Fans will get into the minutiae about what they’re fanatical about, and may know the work possibly better than the creators. With the cost of recording technology coming down far enough to let anyone with a mind to creating a video do so, fan works are getting more common.
The video takes the form of a live-action version of the 80s cartoon, including a bumper halfway through where a commercial break would be, but mixes in some of the ideas from the IDW comic. The characters’ appearances are based on the cartoon, with an eye to the wigs and costumes seen there. Almost every major character from the cartoon makes an appearance, including the Limp Lizards. It’s obvious that Feldman was and is a fan of the series.
The plot would fit in after the series if slightly overblown. Jem and the Holograms are still big in the music world, garnering attention for their latest efforts to raise funds for the Starlight Foundation. Eric Raymond, though, has hit rock bottom. His schemes have failed. The Misfits are in prison. There’s nowhere for them to go. In a nod to IDW’s continuity, Stormer really misses Kimber and isn’t doing well in prison. But Kevin, who is totally an American, really, has information that will help Eric and the Misfits turn their fortunes around.
It’s not just the attention to detail in the characters, though. “Truly Outrageous!” includes several songs that reflect not just the plot but how the characters are feeling. There’s also the required morale of the story, the bits needed in the 80s to qualify what would be thirty minute toy ads as educational programming. The morale is a little heavy-handed, but that appeared in the original cartoon, too. The film is well aware of what it is, and even winks at the fourth wall to let the audience in on the fun.
The result is a video that pays homage to the original cartoon, taking the ideas shown there and expanding on them. “Truly Outrageous!” is definitely Jem.
Last week, Lost in Translation looked at a fan-made audio drama, including the nature of audio plays. The post goes into greater detail about the needs of an audio adaptation. This week, Lost in Translation looks at another fan audio work, Star Trek: Outpost, from Giant Gnome Productions.
Like Starship Excelsior last week, Outpost is a Star Trek fan audio series set after the end of the Dominion War. However, Outpost is set on Deep Space Three, a neglected space station near the borders of both the First Federation, first seen in “The Corbomite Maneuver”, and the Ferengi Alliance. The relative calm of the sector compared to those abutting Klingon space, Romulan space, and the ones consumed by the Dominion War meant that Starfleet did what it could to keep the station running without spending too many finite resources. Commanding the station is Captain Montaigne Buchanan, an efficiency expert who has managed to keep the station going with fewer and fewer resources. Captain Buchanan is looking forward to his efforts at the station being rewarded with a promotion to Admiral. However, the transfer of Lt. Commander Greg “Tork” Torkelson from the USS Remington to become as the station’s Executive Officer, throws a few hitches into Buchanan’s approach. Torkelson, as the Exec, also gains command of the USS Chimera, an Oberth-class starship similar to the USS Grissom from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Deep Space Three has a reputation for being a place where Starfleet personnel whose careers have nosedived go to, a collection of misfits and outcasts. The Chimera‘s Chief Engineer, Chief Petty Officer Bert Knox, is one such character. His goal is to keep the Chimera functioning, going so far as to salvage other decommissioned Oberths and to install alien technologies when the proper part isn’t available. Torkelson’s arrival, though, brings in new ideas on how to make Deep Space Three relevant again. Tork’s plans include re-opening parts of the station shut down to conserve power and resources, including the station’s mall. While Torkelson’s choice to run the station – Ferengi brothers Vurk and Tirgil – may not work out as well as he hopes, Deep Space Three is beginning to turn around from its reputation. Whether it can while Orion pirates, a rogue Klingon warrior, the return of the First Federation, and the general weirdness of the Pinchot Expanse are around is another question.
As mentioned last week, audio works need to create the setting solely through sound. Redundant, but success and failure hinge on making sure the audience knows what’s around through sound cues. Outpost succeeds here; the Chimera and Deep Space Three have different sounds, and starship and station both individualize their sets even further. The bridge of the Chimera has the proper sounds as expected and is different from the engineering section and sick bay. Likewise, Deep Space Three’s command centre is different from the station’s sick bay and from the mall. And when power is lost in one episodes, the background sounds disappear.
Like Excelsior, the cast of Outpost is more than compentent, and the two productions share a couple of voice actors, Larry Phelan and Eleiece Krawiec. Of note, the father-and-son team of Ben Cromey and Doug Cromey are fun to listen to as the Vurk and Tirgil, especially their rallying cry, “We’re gonna die!” Combined with the writing, the episodes of Outpost are compelling, with characters who have depth and can be empathized with, even when they’re not immediately sympathetic.
One thing the creators of Outpost do is create “minisodes”, or mini-episodes, when at conventions. They bring in netbooks with USB microphones and get volunteers from the audience to read parts in a script to show how a show is put together. Overnight, they edit the parts together, add in the sound effects and music, then present the minisode in a panel the next day. A good example of how the creators get this done is the minisode, “Ferengi Apprentice“, recorded at the Denver Comic Con. They had some problems with the recoding due to an unshielded cable interfering with a microphone, so the episode was redone, but both versions, the original recorded at the panel and the redone one, are included to show the differences.
Star Trek: Outpost is another fan-made production that takes pains to fit in with the original work. The effects are correct for the era, and the Chimera‘s mish-mash of parts include sounds from Star Treks of old. The result is a well-done adaptation that demonstrates how to adapt well.