Some Notes On Emulation

I grew up around different games systems. Atari 2600 for a while (every so often we’ll still drag one out). Commodore 64, with my first experiments in programming, but mainly lots of games. And friends with their Spectrums, Atari CPCs. BBC Micro at school. DOS, Windowses (precious). Master Systems, NESes, MegaDrives, SNESes. PlayStations, DreamCasts. A brief encounter with an N64. Most of these not mine, and some of the ones that were mine, I picked up long after the heyday.

I have played with a bunch of emulators, some to a larger degree than others. For some systems, you can find a vast array of games to download, others I haven’t really looked.

Much as I played the Commodore 64 back in the day, I haven’t really played very much with the emulator. Perhaps all that time glued to the joystick makes it a very different experience playing those games on keyboard.

I found a while ago that some games from various consoles are available to play on archive.org – I did try Sonic The Hedgehog for both Master System and MegaDrive – you can really see the difference between the two systems, but keyboard worked for the Master System version and not for the MegaDrive version. I think you need a controller that connects to the computer, rather than rely on keyboard.

I picked up a BBC emulator, trying to hunt down a game that I played in school all those years ago (not Granny’s Garden, I remember that). Emulator worked, but I didn’t find the game. The game had levels of different types. I remember one where there was a sentinel, or a guardian, something like that, and you had to colour it with two or three colours, the catch being that you couldn’t put a colour in a segment adjacent to one with the same colour. I think it was the same game that had you trying to drive to the castle, and you had to program the instructions in advance (west 5, etc), and not accidentally go off-road. If you have any ideas as to what it was called, let me know.

DOSBox is THE go-to DOS emulator, and it can be fun to brush up on one’s old DOS skills to write .bat files to streamline mounting and running the games.

Also an emulator of sorts, the SCUMMVM program is an easier way to get a lot of old point-and-click adventures working on more modern machines: the kids mainly use it for Humungous Entertainment games like the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam series. I’ve also played Discworld and Discworld II with them, on it.

Probably the emulator I’ve used most, is ePSXe, which lets you run games for the original PlayStation. Actually having a bunch of PlayStation CDs lying around, I haven’t felt the need to look for any PlayStation games online. I’ve got through Final Fantasies VI, VIII and IX on there, a little of I, II, IV and V, and a chunk of VII. Games like this, where it’s good to save early and often, benefit from virtually infinite memory card storage. Plus the Griever and Memoria save-game editors for VIII and IX are rather nice, when you’ve played through the game a few times already and don’t want to grind too much.

It’s kinda funny, cos the older two kids were playing Rayman on a real PlayStation 1 earlier this evening.

ePSXe itself can take a bit of configuring to get it running just right, and sometimes I’ve just needed to try a bunch of different settings until it looks good. It was mainly the display settings, though some games needed the CD drive plugin to be adjusted, too. A down side is that it doesn’t save these settings to the ePSXe folder, it saves them in the operating system’s configuration files, so if you reinstall, you lose it all.

A week or two ago, I went looking for a PlayStation 2 emulator. I happen to have one lonely PS2 disc, that I had never got to try before. I decided it was time to see if I could give it a go.

The disc came with Final Fantasy VI (PS1), and was a demo for Final Fantasy X (PS2).

The emulator I tried was PCSX2. It seemed like it didn’t need as much configuration as ePSXe, but there weren’t default keyboard controls for Controller 1, so I needed to go and set those manually, which took a bit of time. The game ran without displaying oddly, so I was glad I didn’t have to go through all the display plugin settings like I did with ePSXe.

The PCSX2 site lists all the games they’ve tested the emulator with, and state the relative compatibility. Some games can be played all the way through, some suffer from particular bugs that mean the game can be played, not completed, some play as far as the menu, some only play an intro, and others do Nothing At All. But they warn that even games that can be completed, can suffer from slowdown at points.

FFX was listed as a game that could be played all the way through. The demo was not listed, but if the full game runs all right, the demo stands a fair chance, doesn’t it?

The FFX demo came with an intro movie, and two playable segments. I’ll talk more about these tomorrow, and stick to performance today.

The intro movie played all right. The first segment had quite a few FMVs, which really struggled at times. The gameplay didn’t seem to suffer any trouble.

So there you go, some experiences of emulation. The past… in the future.

Comparison: Telegraph Road and Dry County

I have talked about getting my first album as a present, more-or-less together with my first Walkman. The opening to the album was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Guitars making engine sounds, swirling from one side to the other and back, fading or turning into something different. Kind of a story hinting at the story to come in an instrumental track that I would discover later in the album. Then the piano hits, beautiful but intricate, those fingers might be flying faster than my car. The guitars continue their thing, and it’s still a while before it all calms down and the vocals start.

Meat Loaf’s “Anything For Love”, the first track on Bat Out Of Hell II, was my proper introduction to long songs. I think the Walkman, and that album as it was the only one I had at the time, might not have been my first exposure to listening closely to songs, but it might be close enough, picking out the threads the instruments weaved, examination of background vocals as well as the main ones. And perhaps most of all, my first really close look at song as story.

This post is not about that song. But it kind of sets the background for two songs that I like, that are both pretty long, and both tell stories.

Telegraph Road by Dire Straits clocks in at over 14 minutes. The song starts simply, with just a long, fairly high-pitched sound. Then the music starts, a simple melody that gets more complicated, and played-around, as the song goes on.

The narrative starts simply as well, a guy walking down a lonely path, finding a place to set up a home, then civilisation being built up around him. The independent spirit only lasts a short time: “Then came the churches, then came the schools, then came the lawyers, then came the rules”. As it builds up to present-day, making your own way becomes nigh impossible, the place seems kind of dead-end. A similar sentiment to this quote from another song that I won’t otherwise mention: “The boundaries of this town are closing in just like a noose, the future’s gonna rust if we don’t put it to some use”. Then that wonderful solo, all the way to the end of the track.

Dry County by Bon Jovi is “only” nearly ten minutes long. It starts remarkably similarly, with a chord instead of the one note, and then the tune comes in. The opening lyrics play with associations of hope and despair. Then, “I came here like so many did, to find a better life”. He’d come down the Telegraph Road to the same place, but arrived after the lawyers and rules. All the promise had already drained away from the place.

While Telegraph Road had that throwaway line talking about the churches, Dry County makes more of the religious imagery and wordage: water into wine, a reference to the Eucharist, talk about praying, and about sins. This would fit with the album that Dry County is on: Keep The Faith.

Thematically, structurally, the songs could be twins. Musically, there may be elements in Telegraph Road to place it in its home of 1982. Perhaps something in that distinctive guitar sound. I think Dry County is more easily placed in 1992, from the instrumentation. So perhaps brothers, rather than twins. So it’s fitting that when I listen to one, I usually listen to the other one right next to it.

Interview: James Heaney of Star Trek: Excelsior, Part 2

Last night, I posted the first part of this interview with James Heaney, writer and producer of the Star Trek: Excelsior audio drama. Part 1 talked about the origins and development of the story, what makes a Star Trek show really Star Trek, TNG Borg as distinct from later Borg, and the show’s timeline. Here in Part 2, we continue discussion of the timeline, the Kickstarter to bring Uhura and Chekov to commandeer the show for the episode, and a brief diversion into the card game.

Please consider listening to the Excelsior audio drama (starting with Season 4), letting your Treknophile friends know about it, and contributing to the Kickstarter. I pledged towards it today (and no, I’m not just saying that), and look forward to reading some of the drafts that James talks about a bit further down.

So here we go, Part 2.

The Limey Frog (TLF): To what extent has the departure from the RPG changed the timeline?

James Heaney (JH): One plus was that the timeline did not really have to be revised as we gradually broke away from the RPG. The RPG relied, canonically, on comic-book time, in large part to keep our game clock synchronized with the Bravo Fleet overall clock. Every time we started a new mission, we would advance the clock to the current date, regardless of whether in-game time had actually passed. So, if we ended a mission on 22 January 2383 (in-game), but the out-of-character date was now 12 April 2007 (which meant the in-game fleet clock was now 12 April 2383), we would literally write a post saying, “Today’s in-game time is 12 April 2383. Yesterday was 22 January 2383. In-game, only one day has passed; February and March simply did not happen, and your characters do not find this in any way odd.”

For a roleplaying game operating within a larger fleet, this demi-coherent system made a lot of sense. (It also made it a rare and special treat when a character actually celebrated a birthday!) But it was a completely incoherent, inconsistent basis for an audio drama, especially one that depended so much on interconnected continuity. So, the dates and stardates from the RPG were all thrown out very early — one of our first divergences from the RPG canon.

This led to interesting consequences of its own. For example, the pilot episode takes place on 7 December 2382. The season three finale takes place at 0400 hours on 25 January 2383. Those episodes were released in 2007 and 2013, respectively. So we spent 6 years of real time telling a story that took place over just 6 weeks of in-universe time.

Since Season 4 is much more episodic, there’s been more room to let the timeline flow, and it’s gradually making up for some of that lost time.

TLF: I haven’t asked you about the story you’re Kickstarting, yet. You wanted to do something for the 50th Anniversary, could you say something about other ideas you had, and how you settled on the Uhura/Chekov story?

JH: I can’t talk too much about this, because one of the backer rewards gives backers access to all our old drafts for this episode.

About all I can say is this: we started out with a story that is completely unrecognizable as this story; it shared nothing with the current story besides the MacGuffin, included neither Chekov NOR Uhura, and the plot (such as it was) followed a completely different chain of events. We never actually threw out that story, but we incrementally changed each element of it across a series of aborted drafts and outlines until we finally got the product we have today.

And Nichelle and Walter may yet request further changes to the script we have (right now, I am informed, they’re both working on notes), so I can’t even say for certain that this transformative process has come to an end yet. It’s funny how you can start out thinking you’re building a submarine, then at the end discover you actually build a lunar lander.

TLF: And could you say something about making your characters take a back seat? Was it harder to write because of this, did it cause backstage tensions? Have your cast even seen the script?

JH: Even if they weren’t so awesome, from their perspective, this is still a big opportunity for them: they’re going to get to be “on-screen” with one or two (hopefully two!) legendary actors, in reduced but still prominent supporting roles. So they’re very happy to be involved in this, and to my knowledge they’re all completely embracing it. Several have seen the script; several others have not, and probably won’t until it is absolutely locked-in.

From a writing perspective, pushing the main cast to the back was the biggest breakthrough of the entire script process. Trying to treat Walter and Nichelle as mere guest stars didn’t give them enough of a spotlight, when they are really the primary attraction, and the people we are most celebrating on the 50th Anniversary. Every time the main cast showed up and made a major decision, it felt like they were distracting from the story the script actually wanted to be telling. There were too many cooks.

Think of the Doctor Who episode “Blink.” Consider the story that script is telling — about how empty Sally Sparrow’s life is (both metaphorically and, thanks to the angels, increasingly literally), and then how she manages to survive and start living again. For the vast majority of the episode, the Doctor and Martha exist only on a television screen, speaking what appears to be gibberish. Now imagine that the writers hadn’t pushed the main cast into the background of that episode. Could they have done it? Sure — the Doctor and Martha would have helped Sally solve the mystery of the angels, there would have been some fun running bits, a touch of timey-wimey… but the story wouldn’t have been about Sally Sparrow anymore. It’d be a Doctor-and-Martha story, and Sally Sparrow would lose most of her agency, becoming nothing more than Doctor Who Damsel in Distress #3247, and nobody would really remember “Blink” all that well today. Sally had to be the star, and that meant the other mains had to be sent somewhere where they couldn’t have much direct influence over events.

That was at least 100x truer here than in “Blink”, so the script just didn’t work until the main cast got pushed out of the spotlight.

TLF: It seems like you’re almost contractually obliged, at this point, to answer this question “TOS”, but what’s your favourite Trek series?

JH: I love them all, of course, and it’s very hard to pick a favorite.

If forced, I think I’d probably pick the last two seasons of ENTERPRISE — a vastly underrated show. (Understandably, because its first two seasons were barely better than the catastrophic TNG Season 1.)

TLF: Could you talk a bit about the process of contacting Nichols and Koenig, how all that went down?

JH: It was more straightforward than we expected. We wrote to an appearances agent they both share, the wonderful Zachary McGinnis of Galactic Productions, LLC. We explained what we were doing and why (which was tricky — “What’s an audio drama?”, etc.), we talked budget and time commitment, they quoted a fee, and we committed to making that fee. They spent a couple more weeks with the script to consider it — some of the most agonizing days of my life.

Then, last Wednesday, Zach sent me an email saying, “Both are in agreement to participate… let me know when the Kickstarter goes live.”

It helps that Zach is pretty wonderful. I can’t imagine this is netting him very much money, yet he has always made time for our project in his extremely busy schedule, and he has been friendly and accommodating throughout — despite the fact that I am deeply inexperienced in the ways of Hollywood, incredibly anxious, and occasionally an outright pest. I have spoken to a very few other agents in my life, but none has been as consistently supportive as Zach.

So, really, a simple process.

Making it run smoothly, though, even working with a great agent, involved an enormous amount of overhead on our side. Months of planning for a ton of contingencies. Months of whittling our budget down as low as it could go, and working out flexibility in the budget depending on the actors’ availability and preferences. Trapdoors for the script in case one or more actors couldn’t join the adventure. I had to do three timed readthroughs of the script to answer the question, “What is the absolute minimum amount of studio time we need to record each of these actors?” (Because time = money!)

And then lots of behind-the-scenes work figuring out, “Okay, how much money do we have on hand? How much money do we therefore need to ask for? How do we tier it — in the catastrophic event that we can pay for only one actor, who gets dropped? What rewards will we use? Caitlin, can you make this video? Cab you do it in the next six hours? How do we promote this Kickstarter? Do we need to release an episode with it? Jim, can you finish ‘Day at the Park’ six weeks early, on three days’ notice?” On and on and on and on. For months.

TLF: As we get to the end of this interview, I must ask a couple of questions about our shared hobby, the card game. As an aside to the readers, I’ll say that the game strives to give you the tools to do the kind of things you see in the shows (TOS to Enterprise) and the movies (The Motion Picture to Nemesis). Of course, that many tools can combine in some pretty crazy ways. Nuking whales from orbit is a legitimate (if little-used) strategy. I heard tell of a deck someone did for fun, that left Amanda Grayson (Spock’s mother) on Vulcan, to be destroyed by a Black Hole, recreating the story from the 2009 movie, but with cards from the other shows and movies.

If hearing about that kind of thing isn’t your kind of thing, skip the next couple of questions.

TLF: So, James, say something crazy you saw happen in a game of 1e.

JH: One time, I was playing a personnel battle deck. First and last time I’ve ever done that, in fact. I believe the deck was called “Civil Defense (Or: God Bless the Second Amendment)”, and the gimmick was DS9 Cardassians with Weapons Locker. The draw deck was 52 cards, of which 26 were Cardassian Disruptor Rifle.

This is not the crazy part.

In my game against Matt Hayes that day, Matt had an Original Series Federation solver deck all ready and raring to go. But he figured out very quickly what I was up to, and (noticing that I had no Ref deck) stopped playing any personnel. Instead, he just drew cards… every turn… for a long, long time. And I had no one to battle, so I just played more and more guns and gradually solved some missions.

Eventually, he decides it’s too dangerous to stay frozen like this, so he burns his Space-Time Portal and plays 17 personnel with his Starship Enterprise. (I can’t hit him with It’s Only A Game because, again, no Ref deck.) The whole megateam goes out and promptly solves a mission.

Next turn, my Cardassian Division of Punching arrives aboard the Stolen Attack Ship. We beam through his shields and initiate battle.

The crazy moment is the look on Matt’s face when I counted up all the disruptor rifles in that away team, then announced, “Okay, all my personnel are STRENGTH +36. How about yours?”

We captured or mortally wounded every single person on that ship. Including Ruk, which I’m rather proud of.

TLF: Hahaha, that’s something! Say something crazy you’re looking forward to trying in a game of 1e.

JH: I have a Reshape the Quadrant deck that seeds nothing but missions worth 45 points or more, including Diplomatic Conference (which it needs to solve). I would love to play it. Haven’t quite been able to make it gel, though.

TLF: Are there any questions which I haven’t asked, but you want to be asked?

JH: Nah, that was fun!

TLF: Thank you very much for your time, I had a lot of fun reading all your answers. All the best with the Kickstarter!

If you want to support the project, follow the link to the Kickstarter campaign. If you don’t, I’m sure he’ll still be happy if you followed the link and donated anyway, but no-one will put a phaser to your head and make you do it. If the project doesn’t meet the minimum goal, no money will be taken.

Interview: James Heaney of Star Trek: Excelsior, Part 1

Today’s post is Part One of an interview with James Heaney, of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. I know James from a message board about a game we both play. His sig lets us know about Excelsior, his main hobby, but he doesn’t push it a lot. I’d looked at the Excelsior website a couple of times. James and the Excelsior production has just put up a Kickstarter, trying to raise money so that they can get Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig into an episode celebrating Trek’s 50th Anniversary. This is what prompted me to start listening to Excelsior. I’m rather enjoying it, and I started with the part that they least recommend.

We explore all of the above in our conversation. Hope you enjoy!

The Limey Frog (TLF): How did your Starship Excelsior project come about? Who started throwing the idea around, and how did you get from there to recording with a cast?

James Heaney (JH): Way, way back in 2005, I stumbled into Star Trek: The Section 31 Files, which was one of the first fan audio series. Now, I had seen some fan films at that point, but this was 2005: fan films had a lot of problems back then. Even on the top shows, production values were low, with terrible CGI and questionable makeup, acting was very weak, and it generally took years to make episodes that would have been considered bad even in TOS’s third season. Section 31 was a revelation to me: because they were audio, they didn’t have to worry so much about production value: instead of making terrible CGI, they just told me the Nosferatu was being attacked by a battlecruiser of the Divine Celestial Imperium, invented a cool weapon sound effect, and let my own imagination fill in the blanks! Because they didn’t have to film all the actors together in one place, they weren’t bound by geography, and were able to get quality amateurs from anywhere in the world! And they could produce episodes as quickly as once a month, allowing Section 31 to develop complex serial storylines that most of the video series could never seriously attempt!

Audio drama, I decided then and there, was super-cool. But that was all for the moment.

Fast forward a bit. Now it’s 2007. A friend of mine and I had joined a roleplaying game in one of the larger Trek roleplaying federations, Bravo Fleet (they called it a “simm,” short for “simulation”). The simm was set aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior NCC-2000-C, and, for complicated reasons, they were part of a task force exploring the Delta Quadrant, and we played characters who had just joined the Excelsior crew on its way to starting a new mission. It was a fun game, but, partway into our first “mission” — a diplomatic trip to a matriarchal society called Valandria — the captain stopped posting, and generally disappeared from the Internet. Most of the crew went with her. The game very nearly fell apart.

My friend and I managed to play out the mission, but, by the end of it, we only had four people playing the game, and it’s really hard to play a good simm with fewer than six. So we started talking about recruitment. How do we get more people playing our game? We tried some of the traditional methods — forum posts and begging our friends and so forth — but it didn’t work. So one night, probably at, like, 3 AM, scraping the bottom of the barrel, I say to my X.O. (we’d been promoted to captain and first officer, respectively), “Hey, what if we made a fan film based on our adventures? People would tune in, probably a few hundred, and then we’d link to the game on the website, and some of them will join, and we’ll be the biggest ship in Bravo Fleet!”

To which my X.O. (rightly) answered, “How in God’s name will we make a fan film? We are all students, and we live thousands of miles apart.”

And then I asked him, “Have you ever heard of The Section 31 Files?”

Two days later, we had written the pilot script and published the absolute crappiest little audition site you’ve ever seen in your life. We were using a free Tripod webserver. It was atrocious.

The funniest part of all this: after, I don’t know, something like a quarter-million downloads of the audio drama, do you know how many new roleplayers we recruited from this? Three.

TLF: I’ve done what your site says I should not do under any circumstances: I started from the very beginning, “…There you Are”. At this point all your cast and crew are still learning how to do it, and I, as a listener, am trying to get straight all these new characters.

JH: Oh, don’t bother. Most of these characters will be dead or dying by the end of “Turns of Events.”

We always knew they were going to die, but we had some dumb ideas early on, like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be a dark twist if we introduced the audience to all 14 (or whatever) of these characters, made them care about them like we do, then killed them all six months from now?” It was a dark twist, and it does do a good job of announcing what kind of a show Excelsior is — we’re a show where anything can happen — but the execution was poor, and I think the end result was more confusing than anything else.

That’s one of the main reasons we tell people not to listen to the pilot, actually. There’s a, like, 15 minute mission briefing (which is embarrassingly overlong in itself), and the main purpose is to introduce all these different characters, and for about half of them that’s it. I still regret not telling the actors that their “starring” characters were marked for death.

So, seriously, don’t worry about it. The only thing that happens in the pilot that you sort of need to know about is Simon Westlake, the stowaway boy with the brain-rotting disease. He’s important later on. And some of the bits with Cortez are nice. Eleiece is a solid actress.

TLF: You know what, this kinda works for me. I’ve been known to start TV shows, and think that 2 characters were actually one character for a good chunk of the first season. This way, the overhead of learning a bunch of characters in one go is diminished, and the other half of the crew can get introduced more slowly, so it’ll be easier to keep them straight.

Tell me a little about what people have learned over the years of doing this, what changes you’ve made, and so on.

JH: When we started out, we were slaves to the roleplaying game. We figured, this show is a tool for recruitment to the RPG, therefore it should be an absolutely accurate reflection of the RPG. The pilot script is, word for word, almost an exact transcription of all the dialogue spoken in the RPG.

And the pilot script is terrible.

So, as Season 1 progressed, we became more and more willing to edit dialogue for the sake of a better radio show, but we still followed the RPG story exactly. In Season 2, we started to revise the overall flow of the story for the sake of a better drama, but still stuck to the major pivot points. At the end of Season 2, though, there was a really pivotal moment — a character departure — that I decided didn’t work, and, ultimately, we changed it, which radically broke with the RPG.

Ever since then, the audio drama has been its own show, looking to the RPG occasionally for inspiration, but otherwise piloting its own course based on its own needs. In my mind, that’s when the show got good, which is one reason why we recommend people start with Seasons 3 and 4.

There have been plenty of other changes behind the scenes as we’ve incrementally improved our process and our cast has grown, but I think that’s the most fundamental change: breaking the audio drama away from the RPG was just tremendous.

TLF: I’m not knocking your early efforts. I’m enjoying the story so far, which mitigates a lot. And though I think I read your “New listener page” before, I didn’t remember it when I bulk-downloaded all the episodes, and so I read the page again after I started from square one. That page acknowledges that things improved over the years, and recommends people start with newer storylines. That disclaimer mitigates a lot, too. But I’m patient (and possibly stubborn) and once I’ve started, I’ll generally continue through a series, see how people started and where they went after that.

JH: Well, thank you! For all its flaws, there is a lot of heart in that first season. The writers sort of included everyone in the RPG, desperately improvising, the cast was new and fresh and excited to be in a Star Trek show, and the behind-the-scenes crew was incredibly blessed with two very talented mixers who appeared out of thin air to help out (Garry Cobbum and Jim Smagata). We survived, we learned a lot, and I do think the story is, at its core, a good one. I’m always tempted to go back and do a George Lucas on it, redoing the whole season based on what we’ve learned since, but I think when you make art you have to let it stand on its own, and revising it might just kill a lot of what makes it lovable.

TLF: Visiting the site, I see the Excelsior name, and a Sovereign-class ship. I found this hard to look at, until I started “…There You Are”, and it explained about the ship being the Excelsior-C, and some background to the ship itself. Tell me some about the decisions around this setting.

JH: As you probably gathered by now, I didn’t pick the name. By the time I got there, the Excelsior-C had been running, off-and-on, as a Bravo Fleet simm for… oh, something like ten years before we took it over. (In the pilot episode, that stuff about “Grenn, Dhivael, Underwood, Riku” in the opening trailer — those are all former captains from the RPG.)

Truthfully, I thought it was a stupid fanwanky name at the time. I would have renamed the ship U.S.S. Visionary and made her a mid-sized cruiser, if we hadn’t been so married to following the RPG.

But, in retrospect, I was wrong. Star Trek is a series built on traditions, and on a particular formula. You can play with the formula — in fact, you have to play with the formula, in big ways, to stay fresh — but you also have to honor some of the key traditions, or you’re not making Star Trek anymore; you’re making Battlestar Galactica or Firefly or something that just happens to have Klingons in it.

Here’s a great example of this: Star Trek Aurora. Wonderful series. I adore Aurora. I binge-watched it this week, actually, just to unwind from the Kickstarter stress. Everyone should watch Aurora. But — and I hope I cause no offense to Tim Vining here — it’s not really Star Trek. Take Trek out of the title and make T’Ling slightly different — a member of some new “logical” race, or even just a very dour human — and it’s the same show, with the same feel.

The Excelsior name grounds Star Trek: Excelsior very firmly in the Trek tradition, setting the show aboard a top-of-the-line cruiser gives us most of the ingredients of the boldly-go formula, and setting it after Nemesis gives us the freedom to invent and explore in a way that we couldn’t if we were tied down to, say, the early 24th century. It makes us unmistakably, uneraseably Star Trek.

Now, as you’re going to discover, we are constantly looking for new ways to subvert the Trek formula — heck, our opening theme speech for Seasons 2 and 3 is a pretty massive subversion all by itself. But you can’t subvert the formula unless you’re deeply embedded in it first, and being set aboard the Excelsior-C puts us deep in the Trek tradition while allowing us the freedom to play around with it. We’re very lucky to be there.

TLF: I know you through playing the Star Trek Customizable Card Game, and honestly I remember more Trek trivia from that game than I do from watching the episodes themselves. When did you get into the cards, and have the cards helped influence the development of the show? Listening to “The Valandrian Expedition”, the first regular episode, we meet a society that made me think of both Matriarchal Society and Zaldan combined.

JH: I was given my first starter deck by a friend of my mother’s way back in 1995, and fell in love with the game right away. For a number of years in the mid-90s, my parents decided that Star Trek had gotten too racy, and forbade me to watch DS9 and Voyager, so, for quite some time, the CCG was my only connection to new Trek. I learned about the Cardassian/Dominion treaty, and the subsequent Dominion War, not by watching the show, but by opening up a pack of Dominion and reading the lore! Which, looking back, is an insane way to experience the Dominion War for the first time.

I stopped collecting shortly after Second Edition began, because my friends all stopped playing, and I just found the game too boring after a year or two of trying. But when I discovered the CC had relaunched First Edition, in about 2012, I fell in love all over again, and haven’t left since.

I can’t say I ever looked at two cards, combined them, and decided to do an episode based on them. (Although maybe I should try that!) But the cards have had such a profound influence on how I see the Trek universe, it’s hard to separate the two in my mind. For instance, the game’s idea that the Borg are fundamentally unbeatable, and the only reason they haven’t stomped you to death already is because they are playing an almost completely different, very alien game that frankly isn’t all that interested in your puny Klingon armada — that concept really captured the core of the Borg (the pre-First Contact “Q Who?” Borg especially, and yes I know that’s ironic), and stuck with me. It played a big role in shaping Season 3 of Excelsior, which goes to great lengths to re-establish that role for the Borg in Star Trek canon (after the depredations of Voyager): they’re not ants or zombies, and you can’t actually beat them, and they would wipe out out in ten minutes if they cared enough to try… but they aren’t even playing the same game you are, you puny Federation chumps, so you can survive as long as you don’t give them a reason to be interested in you.

Those Borg are scary, and I think I owe the card game a debt of gratitude for helping Excelsior envision them that way.

TLF: I saw on your Kickstarter pledge levels, that you have a timeline for the show worked out. Did you have this from the very beginning? How far back does it go, and how far into the future?

JH: No, I didn’t. And this caused problems. When you have a deeply interconnected, multi-season story with a bunch of moving parts taking place in different parts of the galaxy, it’s very, very important that you know when everything is happening relative to everything else… and I just plain didn’t have that, and inconsistencies started creeping in.

Fortunately, I started to notice the problems midway through the first season, and — with one exception in the pilot episode, plus two bigger exceptions we haven’t been forced to actually grapple with yet (because they deal with future events) — we were able to either reconcile or retcon away all those problems. Ever since then, every event with an associated date that is mentioned on the show has gone on the timeline, and stuff we’re planning to reveal later also goes on the timeline, all of it with source citations and relevant passages of dialogue so I know where the information is coming from (and how “set in stone” it is in case future retcons are required).

I honestly didn’t expect many/any backers at that level. I didn’t think there was all that much interest in an Excelsior timeline, especially when, for just a few dollars more, you can do things like invent your own character, which I just thought was super. But, in retrospect, that was stupid: how many copies has the Star Trek Chronology sold? So now I’m getting a little nervous about how much previously TOP SECRET information is going to leak out — but, hey, we’re committed now.

I plan to clean up the timeline a little bit before sending it out, because right now it’s full of shorthand that only I could understand, and that needs to be expanded for backers. But, in its current version, the timeline’s first entry is “~6000 B.C.” and the last entry is “2403 (Stardate 79283.2)”.

End of Part 1.

Tune in next time as discussion about the timeline continues, we talk more in depth of how the Kickstarter came together, and some brief chat about card-based shenanigans. Make sure to visit the Star Trek: Excelsior site, and give Season 4 a listen (with the side bonus of being ahead of me). And then head on over to the Kickstarter campaign, and give them all your money.

Part 2 now published.

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving. An American holiday, packed with food, family, fankfulness (if you’ll forgive my brief descent into Estuary English), and f-

Hmm, must be some way to start this with an “f”.

Ah, filling up shopping carts.

There we go.

Naturally, we had some tidying to do before company came over, but thanks to the game night we had the other week, the mess wasn’t deeply entrenched. Company came, and fun was had. Food was served in the afternoon. It was breakfast to me, as I knew there’d be a lot of food, and I wanted a lot of it. Also, it was probably good policy to not get in the way of the wonderful cooks, who are people I’m very thankful for.

After the main course, we took a break before dessert. In that break, games were played. The kids played Loopin’ Louie, and sometime before that (you know how days go, could have been before eating), they played Twister. I played two games of Blokus with my parents-in-law, the first also with Oldest, and the second with my sister-in-law. During the second game, I got distracted a couple of times helping youngest play Dixit. He’s not really old enough to play, so I picked a card from his hand and asked him to say a word the card made him think of. The picture was of a treasure chest in a castle, with tentacles extruding from something inhabiting the chest, and the shadow of a treasure-hunter seen through a door, he’s coming down some stairs to the room.

The clue that Youngest gave to this image, was “three”.

So it was fun hearing all that. And despite the distractions, I managed to win both games. Sometimes I worry that if I do that too much, people won’t want to play with me.

In-laws and games, I’m thankful for those.

In the evening, some of us went to Wal-Mart. Say what you want about their Black Friday sale (and many do), it’s a good opportunity to pick up Christmas presents.

Last year, they staggered the sales, so some started at 6, some at 8, some at 10, and some the next morning. Or perhaps the 110 was the next morning. Anyhoo, this time the flyer was set up in a similar way, only all the times were 6pm, pretty much. Our store seems a little too large for the area, so often when you go in, it feels pretty empty. Tonight, everyone could get around, though sometimes the main aisles took a bit of time. I think they opened their doors around 4pm, but people couldn’t check out with the Black Friday items until 6. We got there just after 6, so missed the initial rush.

In the end, I didn’t get much. My mother-in-law expected to see me with a stack of DVDs as long as my arm, and I kind of expected that, too, but not much really grabbed me. I ended up with 3 DVDs, a couple of USB flash drives (it’s amazing how the price of those things has been dropping – it was only a year or two ago that I got 16GB for what I paid for 32GB today), and some headphones.

We left there at about 8, and the extra divisions between the checkout lines, were being taken down as we queued. The big rush, for them, was already over. Black Friday had almost ended at 8 on Thursday.

Was almost tempted by 3 seasons of NCIS. I know I’ll enjoy it if I sit down and watch it, in fact part of an episode I caught before we moved here, intrigued me enough that it’s on my radar. Don’t think I’ve actually caught more than one full episode, though. Maybe one day.

Also, I did catch a bunch of deals on Amazon, in the morning. Missed out on “Inside Out”, being waitlisted when I clicked “add to cart” as soon as it was available. Got one lightning deal, and a few other things that were just cheap. Still got my eye on a couple of things that I hope will dramatically drop in price, as both did at around this time of year, last year.

The waiting game.

This evening, after coming home, I played some jigsaw puzzles with Youngest. He’s getting the hang of lifting pieces and putting them in, rather than trying to ram them together, flat on the table. Still trying to figure out turning them just that little bit more to make them fit right. Still, happy with the improvement.

My kids and wife, I’m really thankful for.

There’s been snow on the ground for a week, or maybe two (not the best at keeping track of time). This has prompted me to sing “White Thanksgiving” to the tune of “White Christmas”.

And may all your Thanksgivings be white…

DS9 Season 2, Part 3: Rules Of Acquisition

Deep Space Nine has quite a range, having episodes that are very light, and episodes that are quite dark. This contrast is significant, it allows for a broad painting of life which is, for want of a less pun-ny way to put it, quite lifelike. Sometimes, the contrast is starkened by light and dark being in the same episode.

Rules Of Acquisition” is rather firmly in the lighter side of things.

It starts with Dax playing Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi, in Quark’s bar, which is closed for the night. The game looks very complicated, there are constant bids going into the pot, there’s a set of cards on the table, each player has a hand of a different kind of cards, there’s also the rolling of dice. There are a couple of points where the game is held up by a player who takes a while to make a decision, or whose mind is elsewhere. It happens in games, though most people try not to be that person. I try to have my turn planned before it happens, though of course in many games the element of chance, or other players’ turns, can disrupt that planning.

Quark then gets a call from the Grand Nagus, in his second appearance on the show. Zek wants Quark to meet with some representatives from the Gamma Quadrant, and come to a significant deal, establishing the Ferengi a financial foothold in the new market.

Quark’s waiter, Pel, provides Quark a lot of helpful advice, leading Pel to become a significant assistant during the negotiations. Pel turns out to be a woman disguising herself as a man, Ferengi women not being allowed to go outside, wear clothes, make a profit, that sort of thing. The profit one may be the most significant, in a culture that worships profit.

The Dosi, the species Quark and Pel are trying to broker a deal with, are aggressive negotiators, and are reluctant to agree on the high amount of tulaberries that the Ferengi are demanding. Even intially, before Grand Nagus Zek tells Quark he’s to negotiate for tent imes the initial amount.

Pel intuits that Zek knows more than he’s letting on, and that the tulaberry deal isn’t what he really wants. Quark gets told that the Dosi can’t deliver the amount he’s asking, but he should try dealing with the Karemma.
“Who’s the Karemma?”
“An important power in the Dominion.”
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
“Let’s just say if you want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, you have to do business with the Dominion.”

This is our first mention of the Dominion, who become somewhat important later in the series.

I’m sure I shall say more about the Dosi, the Karemma, and the Dominion, when we’re introduced to the Karemma, I believe at the start of the next season.

The Dosi seem to be a bit violent, perhaps not quite so much as the Klingons, who head-butt each other for fun. Last season we saw Tosk, a kind of sentient pet species, and the race that hunted Tosk for sport. We also saw the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, two factions on a planet, that were always at war, and those that died got regenerated by nanotechnology. so the majority of species we’ve met in the quadrant, have a violent streak.

We’ve also seen the Wadi, who weren’t really violent, they were more interested in pleasure, particularly games. Wonder what they’d make of the Ktarians.

Considering what comes later, it’s interesting to contrast what comes earlier.

The Ferengi view of women is something that gets looked at a few times in DS9. When Jake and Nog went on a double-date, Nog expected his non-Ferengi date to chew his food for him, like a Ferengi woman would be expected to. In today’s episode, there’s scandal that a woman is out and about, wearing clothes. Quark and Zek reach a kind of stalemate, that either could ruin the other by revealing that they let a woman take such a big place in these important negotiations. And of course, next season we meet Quark’s mother, who also doesn’t adhere strictly to Ferengi law. And the attitude of pretty much any male Ferengi to any female at any time, perhaps paint even more of a picture than our exposure to Ferengi females.

“They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.”
“Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.”

One does rather wonder where these attitudes come from. A couple of the screen-mentioned Rules of Acquisition specifically concern females (#94: “Females and finances don’t mix.”, and #139: “Wives serve, brothers inherit.”, honorable mention to #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”), and quite a few others recommend exploiting family in general, and employees.

From what we see in the show, Rule #94 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Ishka and Pel both turn out to be smarter and better at business than most, if not all, of the other Ferengi we ever see ever. Perhaps the smart Ferengi male is one who disregards that rule, and lets his wife have her own income streams (under his name, to put off suspicion), or takes her advice on things sometimes.

But the Rules themselves must have reflected the culture in which they were produced, by Grand Nagus Gint, 10,000 years ago. Though there have been revisions and additions since then, so who knows how bad the original ones were. Not us, certainly, as the show never explores that. Rules are often set up for a reason, and to understand the rule, you have to understand the reason for the rule. And sometimes both reason and rule are stupid, sometimes the reason is understandable, but not good enough to establish a rule, and sometimes there’s a surprisingly good reason for a rule.

The Ferengi were originally intended to be an opposing race that would rival the Klingons in popularity. They didn’t really take off as that, from their first few episodes in TNG, and so they packed up heir bags, and headed into the land of comic relief. They had their taste for profit from their introduction, however.

The Rules of Acquisition made their debut in Season 5 of TNG, their only TNG appearance. Most of the rest are from DS9, the rest are from Voyager and Enterprise. The TNG reference is late enough that it may have been part of setting up for DS9, which started 9 months later.

I think those who established these facets of Ferengi lore in the TV shows, never really asked why the Ferengi were like this, and to be fair, I don’t think they ever really needed to. Like an anecdote I heard about Fawlty Towers, we don’t need to know why Basil and Sybil got married, or what they liked in each other back then, we just need to understand that they are married now, and to some extent they don’t really like each other any more.

But in real life, we do need to understand the reasons for things. A significant element of ’60s and ’70s culture was “free love”, which essentially meant unrestricted sex for everybody. To some extent, our media still portrays that as an ideal. But, as Austin Powers was confronted with when he reached the ’90s, there turned out to be reasons why everybody doesn’t just sleep with everybody else.

Western society now has a kind of schizophrenia, pushing sex, while also pushing the notion that you’re not owed sex by the object of your desire, who might not be that into you. Promising freedom from consequences of sex through abortion, while enforcing consequences for sex by hasty marriages or child support.

And all the while, it seems that every other cultural boundary is open for dismantling, every other taboo is ripe for mainstreaming. It’s like someone in a house, deciding he doesn’t need this wall or that one, and taking them out without any concern or knowledge that some of these walls might be load-bearing, and thus, rather important.

And yet at the same time, the majority of the laws being enacted are increasingly more restrictive.

Neither of these, of course, are new phenomena. The Roman Empire, as it got more decadent, also got more restictive. Communism, billed as levelling the playing field for everyone, tearing down social structures and creating its own.

Many consider certain traditional understandings of things, to be as silly as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I think only a tiny fraction of them have ever given any thought to the Why of things, not to try and understand it. Perhaps to ridicule it, but not to understand it.

But also many of those who adhere to the traditional understandings don’t have a firm grip on the Why, either. When the That has been common understanding for a long time, it’s easy to just accept. The realisation that suddenly there’s a whole lot of people not on the same page as you, tends to catch you unawares.

For an example, iconoclasm. (Warning: simplification for the sake of time) There was Christian art from the beginning (apparently the Roman catacombs have some good examples), and iconography was status quo for quite a long time. Then there was the rise of iconoclastic Islam, which started conquering Christian lands. Some leaders thought perhaps the Muslims were winning because there might be something wrong with icons, which opened up a second front of destruction. The iconodules were used to icons being the status quo, and knew the What, but now they were challenged to come up with a Why. And they did, there are writings (by St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite, for example), and the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

Dialogue and understanding between different groups and opinions, rarely seem to be actively encouraged. It’s hard to not think that this will be our downfall.

Best Song On The Album – Whaler By Sophie B Hawkins

Once upon a time, there was a song on the radio that I liked. Actually, the nineties was a pretty good decade for such things, but this was a while before things like realising Virgin’s “No repeat 9-5″ had virtually the same playlist every day (you could just about set your clock by November Rain at one point), or suffering “Chasing Cars” five times in one night shift.

So this song I liked, I didn’t really catch enough in the way of lyrics, and certainly nothing in the way of announcements, to find out what that song was.

Some years later, on a message board I frequented at the time, I mentioned some half-remembered lyrics, and some helpful person said something along the lines of “That kinda sounds like…”, then named a song, which quick research revealed to be the right one.

“As I Lay Me Down”, by Sophie B. Hawkins.

This turned out to be her last single, coming from the second of her four albums.

Some time after that (I have no idea how much time), I came across that album, “Whaler”, in a charity shop. Due to meticulous record-keeping (AKA “not peeling the label off”), I know I got it in Help The Aged for £2.99. Bit steep for a CD in a charity shop, but hey. I was young (ish) and reckless (well, perhaps, can’t say I really remember).

We have a 5-CD changer in the living room, and some CDs tend to be picked, stay in there for a while (a mealtime tends to take most of 1 CD, and if the player’s left going we’ll sometimes reach a third, and occasionally it reaches the end of the 5th). Then after a while, someone decides it’s time to change CDs, and we get another batch that lasts a while.

Recently, Whaler (from 1994) was brought into the playlist. It’s been played a few times. so what’s the best song on the album?

Sometimes, an album will contain tracks that are better than the singles (“you released THAT one as a single?”). And other times, the single tracks are the good ones, and the rest feels more like filler.

Well this time round, I can’t say that I put on headphones, and subjected myself to a close listening of the album 5 times before writing about it. I did notice that a bunch of the rest of the album had more of a pop edge to it, where if I was making a playlist and was familiar with those songs, I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to them.

Perhaps it’s familiarity with the track, perhaps this track is that much different from the others, but the only track that’s really stood out, in that “I want to hear this” kind of way, as the sound of the album drifts out into the house, is “As I Lay Me Down”. It’s so pretty. None of the other tracks made me want to come over and find out what the track was called. Of course, neither did this one, because I already know. But you know what I mean.

On Christmas Shopping

I’m one of those annoying people who starts Christmas shopping months in advance. Indeed, I’ve now at least ordered something for everybody in the house. The last person to be ordered for was Youngest, who really doesn’t need much (with access to many toys and books from his older siblings), but I wanted to get him something, and one of those play mats with roads and buildings on, came on a reasonably good sale, and he loves him some cars.

There’s still a thing or two I’m planning to pick up (one may be dependent on whether or not it goes on a good sale this week). And I haven’t started thinking about those outside the house, yet.

I have gottent to the point of rather enjoying buying presents for people, and I think I’m getting reasonably good at choosing what people will like. Some of it’s down to observation: that thing you mentioned that you liked the look of six months ago? Probably went on a hidden Amazon wishlist, so I would remember it.

This is definitely a skill I had to develop. Cue shameful anecdote:

One year, my sister had said something she wanted for Christmas. I didn’t make adequate note, and forgot what it was (it was a chocolate fondue set – NOW I remember). Closer to Christmas, I said I’d forgotten what it was she wanted, please could she remind me. I think she thought I was joking, but alas, no. I believe I asked a couple more times (could be wrong about that, long time ago), but she wouldn’t tell me. So I didn’t get her anything.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over very well with anyone. It was either her birthday or the following Christmas that I attempted to make up for the incident by getting her a large, expensive present. (I hope she liked it…) Anyway, we’re on speaking terms, so hopefully there’s no remaining grudge.

So there you go: keep your ears open for what your people want, make sure you don’t forget, plan ahead so you can take advantage of sales. And have a good hiding place or two, to keep the purchases where the intended recipient won’t find them.

City Of The Daleks Adventure Game

Deep in the mists of 2010, the BBC started releasing Doctor Who games on their website. This series of games was entitled “The Adventure Games”. The first was released around the time of the Van Gogh episode, and the second coincided with Matt Smith’s first season finale.

These free games were only free to people in the UK, and they couldn’t be downloaded from abroad. I found this out by already being abroad by this time. I was provided a disc of the first Adventure Game, downloaded in the UK, but then I found out the other limitation: you had to be in the UK to install it as well.

I saw that at least some of them became available for purchase-download for those abroad, but I didn’t bother at the time.

I see the games are now available on Steam, currently about $20, though I did not get them from there. I checked Amazon recently, and they were a little more than that. I happened to see a disc version of all 5 games in Wal-Mart, for a few cents under $10.

Oh, go on then.

I installed all 5 on Windows 10, and ran the first one. It didn’t run very smoothly. Today I went back into Vista and installed them there, and the one I tried, ran just fine.

I played through the first game, City Of The Daleks. Kids watched the beginning, but creeping around trying to avoid detection by the metal meanies, at the beginning of the game, got a little scary for them. They spent the rest of the game with their attentions divided between the game, and shows on the laptop (3-2-1 Penguins and Strawberry Shortcake).

There were some moments in the game where timing was tricky, and I had to play some sections over, but all in all the game wasn’t too hard.

The game saves itself after significant points: if  you’re supposed to collect objects, it’ll save after you pick it up, for example, but there’s no save function that you can choose to use (“phew, I got round that corner, let me save here so I don’t have to start again from way over there”).

The launcher on the disc needed to be run each time I wanted to install one of the games, couldn’t just do them all at once. Similarly, the games are stand-alone, when you finish one there’s no in-game (or in-menu) button to load the next one now.

There’s several points where the game will tell you off for going the wrong way, so there’s that feeling that the game has laid out the path, and you must follow it. Some games get away with that better than others. I think this game leaned towards not faring very well, but I have played games that did a lot worse.

Having said that, there are a bunch of collectable objects hidden throughout the game, and I missed a whole bunch of them. It seems like there shouldn’t have been many places for them to hide, with the straightforward-path-ness of the game, so perhaps there’s slightly more ability to explore than I give it credit for.

I tend to have subtitles on for movies, TV shows, and games, when they’re available, as often the sound needs to be turned down, due to circumstances. Reading some of the lines as they appeared, one knows what is meant by the line, and the inflections needed to convey the right meaning through those words. It seemed that Matt Smith was, in places, just reading the words, rather than understanding them and conveying the meaning. I rather hope he put a bit more effort into the other ones.

There are cutscenes, and you can’t skip them. Most of the time this doesn’t matter as it’s part of the story, but when you’re dying for the third time on the same puzzle, it would be really nice to skip the dying animation. Or, if you started the game on Win10, and want to get to where you left off (the actual playing part) in Vista, there’s not a way to skip to that bit. Sit and enjoy it, or go make a snack. (I was fine watching that bit a second time, with the animations smoother and no lag between the voice and the animations). Were I to want to play it through again to get the collectables that I missed this fact might put me off doing it on the soonish side.

Most of the game, you’re controlling the Doctor, and Amy is following him. A fair chunk of the game you’re sneaking around, trying to avoid being detected by Daleks. At one point, I got the Doctor through, and Amy got exterminated and I had to do the part again. A bit later in the game, I got the Doctor through down one side of a corridor, while the Dalek was looking the other way. I turn round to see if Amy made it (though I would very much know if she didn’t), and after a few seconds she emerges from the other side of the corridor, having made her own timing decisions. So, AI not the best, but not consistently bad.

Oftentimes you have to duck into corners to evade detection, but then getting out of corners, particularly when there’s debris about, is awkward. Worse when Amy gets in the way and won’t get out of the way. The problems with this are more noticeable at the beginning of the game, I don’t know if I just got used to them, or if matters actually improved. At least the collision detection here wasn’t as fatally bad as in Destiny Of The Doctors.

I feel like I’ve made the game sound a whole lot worse than it was. The above problems were there, were noticeable, but ultimately were fairly minor. They didn’t make me want to stop playing and never come back to them. The low difficulty level can be put down to the game being aimed at 10- to 15-year-olds. To some up how I feel, I’d probably use words like “ok”, “average”, and “not too bad”.

Not in a rush to play City Of The Daleks again to find all the collectables I missed, think I’ll be happy to play the other stories. I feel more in a rush to return to my game of Half-Life 2: Update, to see if I can finally get across that stupid beach without stepping on the sand.

Items Rescued From A Closing Store

Once upon a time, there was a video rental store called “Crazy Mike’s”, which my best man Mike took advantage of in his speech. That closed a while ago. There is another video store on the edge of town, apparently run by a guy called Steve, who doesn’t admit to any level of insanity in his store’s name.

Well, now this store is closing, too. I’m sorry it’s closing, but as I’m more of a buyer than a renter, I haven’t contributed to its staying around.

But they’ve been selling off their stock, so I decided to go in and see what they had.

Newer movies were on some deal, 3 or 4 for $20, I don’t remember how many. I skipped past that one, and the horror movie deal, to the “Get 4 for $10″.

A 3-2-1 Penguins had Oldest dancing around when I got home, and a Strawberry Shortcake did similar for Middlest.

Bubba Ho-Tep had been languishing on one of my hidden wishlists for a while. I’d been interested in seeing it, and so had my uncle-in-law, who gave a big cheer when I read the list out of what I’d got. In the movie, Elvis hadn’t really died. Now he lives in a retirement home. When evil, in the form of a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy, rears its ugly head, it’s up to Elvis, and a black JFK, to save the world.

Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon’s post-Avengers free-time project, we’d borrowed from the library and watched, but was also sitting on a hidden wishlist.

The rest were somewhat more opportunistic. Hot Fuzz I’d had taped off TV ages ago, but never got round to watching before we moved. I’ve seen the other two parts of the Cornetto Trilogy, so this theoretically fills the gap.

I enjoyed the first Alien vs Predator, so I picked up the sequel, though I have heard it’s not as good. Slightly bummed that though I checked the boxes of all the movies for aspect ratio, I didn’t check the discs. So I intended to get the original widescreen, but ended up with a full-screen disc. Whose dumb idea was it to produce these things in the first place? BOOOOOO!

Pirate Radio, from the makers of Love Actually. Familiar with the likes of Radio Caroline and so on, from my dad’s interest in them, and having met a former presenter of one of those stations, I’m interested to see this take on the story.

Having these in hand, I was not readily coming up with an eighth DVD, though there were many reasonable candidates. An X-Files movie, I know people in the house like X-Files. Space Cowboys, I did want to see that. More. In the end, my mother-in-law suggested a movie that she was interested in seeing, co-incidentally one I’d caught in the cinema when it was new. Don’t remember it well enough to give it a review, and my take on it would probably be different now, after the spiritual journey of the intervening years, and perhaps more than that, more exposure to the landscape of American Christianity. I picked up “Saved!”. I joked that I should find a bell to set it next to.

So there we go, my taking advantage of another casualty in the ever-changing face of physical-store-based commercial endeavours.

I expressed condolences to the guy in the store (presumably the eponymous Steve), and he said he’d had a good 12-year run. I wished him all the best for whatever his next thing would be.