Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Issue 6 - Acrux: The Manual!

Playing games never goes out of fashion and even today, our whizz-bang computer games are only part of the story. Traditional games such as board, card & dice games are still popular and in fact the granddaddy of modern games, Scrabble, celebrated it’s sixtieth birthday this year!

I make a big deal about fandom being an outlet for creativity but being a fan is really all about having fun and that's the whole purpose behind gaming too. Oh, you can get very technical about it - the Wikipedia article is about as deep as I need to go - but having fun with friendly competition is about as close to a working definition as any.

Today we are going to start a survey of Star Trek fan-made gaming over 2008 but, since they are a reflection and embellishment of professional games, a certain amount of news about the licensed games will sneak through. For the most part Star Trek fan-made games have an enviable relationship with the game licensees. The licensees understand that fan produced modifications (Mods) of their games extend the longevity of their product, so that it continues to attract new players, long past its normal life span, by keeping their fanbase engaged for longer.

I might also take a slightly more relaxed outlook on inclusion of material from previous years so that the survey will be more comprehensive and show a little of the historical background behind their development. As with last year's Gaming Day this will be aimed at people with no experience of gaming as well as those who might be experienced but want to try something a little different.

I must admit to not being much of a gamer myself, although I'm the parent of two obsessed gamers. You could say I've got a Noob's outlook on it all since I'm still looking for the game that suits my style and temperament … and there is such a lot to choose from!

There are board games for young and old and, despite the demise of the Decipher Star Trek Customizable Card Game, there are still professional and fan-made card games available. Tabletop space battle simulations are also enjoying continuing support – and even expansion - from fans as are other types of Role playing Games.

For the computer/gamer historian there are still a few of the original text-based Computer Games online which paved the way for the computer-gaming industry - A historical curiosity which is still of interest to a small core of retro-gamers!

Next in complexity came the 2D Games, games that you played as if you were looking down from the top, "top-down", or from the side, a "side-scroller".
These were followed by 3D Games, characters and ships that existed as a three dimensional, "virtual model" that could be viewed from any direction.

The programs used to create and control these models, the “game engines”, are incredibly complex but in a shining example of how the entertainment industry can work with players, fans are allowed to modify (Mod) their games by creating new models and “maps”. This can be as simple as adding a new character or playing environment or building an almost entirely new game! The guys at SpaceStation K7 for example used Elite Force II, a Star Trek: Voyager based game, to build a complete Original Series Starbase!

Perhaps the biggest news in gaming this year has been the resurrection of the development of Star Trek: Online, a “Massive Multiplayer Online Game” or MMOG that will allow users to interact with each other in an immersive storyline within a graphics-rich gaming environment. Online interaction like this, whether it is in a browser-based game, a MUD, a MUSH or an MMOG adds a social aspect to gaming in clans and guilds that can go far beyond the game itself. My daughter is dating someone she met through her WoW guild. A Boomkin and a mage, it’s so cute!

This is only the briefest of summaries that cannot begin to give you an idea of the breadth of the options that are out there! This present will be released as a series of posts on the Acrux fanzine blogsite that, like the fan film and audio drama days, will grow into a twenty-page fanzine.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Issue 5 - Acrux: The Audition!

Radio drama, as a form of mass-media entertainment, was close to extinction at the start of the 21st century. The public had been lured away by the instant gratification of TV's eye candy and radio in its turn had dropped drama as part of it's programming, focusing instead on news, talk shows and music.

It was in 2001 that audio production and distribution was revolutionized by the release of the iPod and the development of the internet as a public access and distribution platform. Podcasts began springing up as amateurs created their own shows giving news and views on subjects that interested them and it was only a matter of time before creative fans realized that they now had the tools and distribution medium to make and share their own audio dramas.

2008 has been a year of consolidation and diversification in Star Trek audio dramas as existing groups build on their experience and new fans realize that this represents an accessible way of breaking into fan productions. Star Trek: Defiant and Star Trek: Lost Frontier, from Pendant Productions and Darker Projects respectively, still represent the benchmark against which other groups are measured but their position at the top is being assailed by some newer groups that are good and getting better.

Star Trek: The Continuing Mission for example came on the fan production scene at the end of 2007 promising professional level production and delivering just that with two more episodes in '08. Star Trek: Unity released their first episode at much the same time and have followed it up, one year later, with their second episode, the conclusion to the first.

Frequency of production is a problem for all fan productions and audio dramas are no exception. Star Trek: Dimensions, which released a well-received premiere episode in August, has addressed this with a bold decision to voluntarily go into hiatus until March '09 when they hope to have three full seasons finished and ready to roll!

Creatively, Star Trek audio dramas represent a wide spectrum of styles from Star Trek: Eras character-driven 'broad canvas' that spans two hundred years of Star Trek to Star Trek: Excelsior's RPG based, plot-driven action. In between you have the political drama of Star Trek: Diplomatic Relations, the ill-fated Starfleet Renegades and Star Trek: The New Frontier and the unique Star Rabbit Tracks.

This issue of Acrux fanzine, Day six of The Twelve Trek Days of Christmas, is yet another installment in my annual review of Star Trek fan productions, this time covering Trek audio dramas produced and planned in 2008, posted on our Blogsite, to be released on completion as a twenty page fanzine.

[And the fact that I'm punching out issues of Acrux like they're going out of fashion has nothing to do with making up my bimonthly quota for the year! Click the thumbnail to see the 'zine cover]

Click the links to read the articles ...

Monday, 5 January 2009

Issue 4 - Acrux: The Movie!

The public preconception that fan films are all low quality took a severe beating in 2008! The level of production expertise and the quality of scripting and acting has made major advances with certain trends emerging that are working in favour of the production groups. Two groups in particular are garnering a lot of media attention.

Star Trek: Of Gods and Men brought together the best of the amateur, fan production talent and a wealth of professional talent and experience and created a movie that was critically well received. It must surely have opened a few eyes in the entertainment industry for the way that it showed that popular entertainment need not necessarily cost millions of dollars per episode.

James Cawley's, Star Trek: Phase II is another show that has raising eyebrows with it's Nebula and Hugo nominations and it would be easy to say that is due to it's use of professionals who voluntarily want to be involved. They have however remained true to their roots by ensuring a strong contingent of fans in their cast and crew with a regular call for volunteers.

Rob Caves is also branching out into original work with his latest proposal, Frontier Guard, whilst maintaining his commitment to fan film-making by mentoring a number of spin-off series from his recently completed, seven season epic, Star Trek: Hidden Frontier: Star Trek: Odyssey, The Helena Chronicles and Federation One!

A trend that is growing is the concept of joint productions. Star Trek: Intrepid and Areakt Films have proven this with two excellent examples of what can be accomplished by combining their resources of equipment, manpower and talent with the films, Orphans of War and Operation: Beta Shield. Another trend that this Scottish fan production group is perfecting is the vignette, short films that add depth to the plot and characters.

Starship Farragut is following both these by developing on it's strategic partnerships with other fan groups, such as Star Trek: Phase II, and NEO/fx (who are independently creating an animated series based on the Farragut fictional universe) as well as producing vignettes of their own in between the filming of their full sized episodes.

These are just the stars of the Star Trek fan film community, though, they represent the tip of an iceberg that encompasses a vast range of fictional styles and media. For the fifth present in The Twelve Trek Days of Christmas, Acrux fanzine is producing what will become an annual Star Trek fan film review, starting as posts on our Blogsite that will grow into a twenty page fanzine which will be published at the conclusion of the serial posting.

[Those who can read between the lines will guess that I don't have the fanzine finished but I don't want to keep you waiting any longer. This will allow me time to compile a better 'zine whilst giving you, O Hypothetical Reader, your present in installments. Click the thumbnail to see the 'zine cover]

Click the links to read the articles ...