The greatest game of all time

At the battle of Yavin
Rebel terrorists, aided by
spies and traitors within the
Empire, struck a cowardly
blow at the new symbol of
Imperial power… The Death Star!
Darth Vader brought swift justice
to the Rebels by destroying their
main base on Hoth. The pitiful
remnants of the Alliance have
now scattered to the Outer Rim.
In the days ahead, the Emperor
will call upon the Imperial Navy
to eradicate the last vestiges
of rebellion and restore law
and order to the galaxy!

Always wanted to be a part of the Star Wars universe and fight for the forces of law and order against the rebellion? In Lucasarts 1994 flight sim TIE Fighter, you will get your chance.

It would have been around ’94 or ’95 that I was introduced to TIE Fighter by a friend. In my post about my Top three movies I discussed my affinity for the Empire:

The Empire Strikes Back appeals to me in many respects because I always loved the ethos and aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. I always – and in no way secretly – cheer for the bad guy. This perhaps speaks volumes about my character!

Being able to jump into the seat of the iconic TIE Fighter and blast away at X-Wings, A-Wings and Y-Wings was a dream come true.

It’s important to note this is a simulator and not an arcade-action game. Using a joystick and the full keyboard there is a hugely steep learning curve when you first start playing TIE Fighter. Its not a game you can just pick up and play. There are training missions and tutorials to assist you in understanding the controls; they really should be mandatory. Without them you’ll have a tough time understanding what you need to do to use a TIE in anger against traitors and rebels. To give you some idea of the complexity, this is the keyboard reference card.

Point and shoot, it is not.

TIE Fighter runs alongside the events of Empire Strikes Back, starting in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin (when the first Death Star was destroyed). You play as a new recruit, green and inexperienced TIE Fighter pilot and your first mission objective is fairly underwhelming; inspect freighters passing through the sector to check for rebels fleeing from Hoth. You soon learn that you’re a small part of a larger effort, a small cog in a giant imperial war machine. From small beginnings flying the basic TIE Fighter with laser cannons and nothing much between you and the void, you quickly advance onto more powerful ships with advanced technology such as shields and hyperdrives. In total there are seven different ships to fly from the Fighter, Interceptor and Bomber basic models to the TIE Advanced and super-sleek TIE Defender. Throw in Gunships and Missile Boats and you have a veritable arsenal to unleash against the enemies of the empire.

What I love most about TIE Fighter is the immersion into the Star Wars universe. I had never known anything like it before. Characters such as Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine from the movies crop up frequently; you can even fly a mission with the Dark Lord of the Sith. But the main OH MY GOD appearance was that of Vice Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn made his first appearance in the 1991 Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire. He is a badass military genius who takes command of the Imperial Navy after the events of Return of the Jedi where he is Grand Admiral Thrawn. In TIE Fighter he the overall commander of the fleet you are a part of for most of the game. This inclusion of Expanded Universe characters shoved TIE Fighter into my consciousness. It felt like you were truly a part of the Imperial Navy. There was no sympathy for the rebels. In TIE Fighter, the heroic Rebel Alliance is the enemy.

TIE Fighter has so many features to explore you can spend hours and hours playing around on the concourse before finally starting your first mission.

Here there is a training simulator – the first step for a novice pilot, a combat trainer where you can take part in simulated (simulations inside simulations!) combat missions, a tech room where you can check out the technical specifications of both Imperial and enemy craft, and the film room where you can watch back recordings of previous engagements. So much to do before finally embarking on your first mission.

That first battle can be over incredibly quickly if you’re not careful. TIEs are fragile craft and it only takes a few stray laser shots before you’re either dead or floating in space. You have to choose your targets carefully and work as part of a team in order to bring down larger enemy ships. If you stick at it you’ll soon become a master pilot; the best the Imperial Navy has to offer, and late game the missions increase in complexity and difficulty. Engaging fast, manoeuvrable A-Wing fighters with a TIE Advanced is one of the best experiences in the game – a true dog fight. Taking down large capital ships with rockets and bombs dropped from an unshielded, slow and sluggish TIE Bomber, wonderfully exciting.

As you progress the game charts your progress. It is a statisticians dream. You will get stats on number of kills, shots on target, craft lost. You will be promoted all the way up to General and, if you can complete bonus and secret missions, be inducted into the Secret Order of the Empire. Completing a mission and missing an objective is excruciating. It’s so tempting to go back and play it again to hit all the objectives to advance outside of the battles.

TIE Fighter occupied me for months in the nineties and, in researching this post, I’ve ordered a new joystick to be able to play as the forces of the Empire once again…

“This Rebel stronghold has no hope of escape. Commence the attack!”

What are you reading now?

Confession: I thought that this Chris Taylor (the author) was this Chris Taylor, the legendary games developer. Oh how I cringed with embarrassment when I tweeted him! Let’s move swiftly on. What am I reading now?

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise

As a true Star Wars fanboy/nerd/geek I adore everything to do with George Lucas’ epic saga. I recently wrote about my favourite movies and The Empire Strikes Back, the second (or fifth!) movie in the series features in a list of three. I’ve watched all the movies, I’ve played almost all the games, I’ve collected the collecitbles, I have read dozens of Expanded Universe novels, I even named my child Lucas George. I have lived and breathed Star Wars for as long as I can recall.

When I saw this book over on Amazon I immediately clicked ‘BUY NOW’.

Why do most people know what an Ewok is, even if they haven’t seen Return of the Jedi? How have Star Wars action figures come to outnumber human beings? How did ‘Jedi’ become an officially recognised religion? When did the films’ merchandising revenue manage to rival the GDP of a small country? Tracing the birth, death and rebirth of the epic universe built by George Lucas and hundreds of writers, artists, producers, and marketers, Chris Taylor jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how STAR WARS has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long. ‘It’s impossible to imagine a Star Wars fan who wouldn’t love this book. There are plenty of books about Star Wars, but very few of them are essential reading. This one goes directly to the top of the pile’  ~ Booklist

The book starts with Taylor’s quest to find a true Star Wars virgin and his attempts to find one at a screening of Star Wars translated into the language of the Navajo native american tribe. It seems that Star Wars has seeped into popular culture the world over; even people who have never seen the movies can reel off the names of characters, planets, droids and ships. It seems that everyone knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.

If you are a fan of Star Wars and want to understand more of how this project which nobody believed in became a global phenomenon this is a good place to start.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Top three movies

This is a tough call. It would be impossible to say just how many movies I’ve see and how many of them I have enjoyed or which have influenced my likes, interests and passions. How to choose just three from hundreds? This isn’t going to be the three ‘best’ movies as I’m no movie critic or student/scholar of cinematography. There are better movies than these listed. Much better, but these reluctant three are the ones which stand out for me.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” — Maximus

Gladiator. Released in the year 2000 Gladiator was my first DVD purchase when DVD was the highest of high tech. Ridley Scott’s epic has it all. A classic tale of good vs evil. A revenge story with enough superbly captured action sequences to cover up the often-obvious plot issues. Brilliantly filmed from the initial Roman army ‘unleashing hell’ to the final showdown between Maximus, the hero of Rome, and a snivelling, whiney Emperor Commodus.

Gladiator tells the story of the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor. It starts by offering a glimpse at the world’s first superpower at war. The roman army with its superior technology engages in battle with Germanic barbarians and we see Maximus at his best. As a man of the people, a general respected. Someone who cares about the fighting man. With Hans Zimmer’s triumphant soundtrack accompanying the cavalry charge giving way to soft strings and low horns as the dust from battle settles, the audience cannot resist buying into the charm and charisma of our hero. Enter Commodus who misses both battle and war and is seen as the whiney and weak soon-to-be Emperor he becomes. Commodus committing patricide is the final act dooming him to become the hated villain of the piece.

Gladiator does a cracking job of chronicling the fall and rise of Maximus. His time in the provinces under the tutelage of ex-gladiator Proximo sets the perfect counter to the grandiosity of the Roman Colosseum.

When Proximo and Maximus return to Rome to fight in Commodus’ games the CGI representation of the now partially ruined Colosseum is a beautiful sight to behold. The series of pitched battles and epic one-on-one fights which punctuate a classic tale of revenge are a joy. Throughout Maximus can do no wrong in the eyes of both the modern audience and that which is portrayed on screen. He is the hero of Rome:

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Gladiator never claims to be anchored in realism and both story and set pieces are far fetched, but the CGI shots of ancient Rome are stunning, Hans Zimmer’s score stirring, Maximus’ quest for revenge appealing, and Commodus a villain we all love to hate.

“No. I am your father.” — Darth Vader

Of all the movies released from the Star Wars franchise, The Empire Strikes Back is the stand out title. It’s the first of the original trilogy not directed by George Lucas with Irvin Kershner taking the helm (thanks Scooter for the correction). Episode V retains all the magic and wonder of A New Hope but has darker undertones which are not repeated in Star Wars movies until Revenge of the Sith was released 20 years later.

The setting of the movie replicates the darkness found within the story; from the inhospitable ice world of Hoth and the dank swamps of Dagoba to the dark underside of Cloud City on Bespin. These settings frame a story where the evil empire is poised to crush the rebellion, where our hero’s destiny is revealed, where friend betrays friend and Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke’s father.

This revelation now ubiquitously known by both Star Wars fans and Star Wars virgins.

 

The Empire Strikes Back appeals to me in many respects because I always loved the ethos and aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. I always – and in no way secretly – cheer for the bad guy. This perhaps speaks volumes about my character!

This movie hits my list because it was really the gateway to science fiction for me. Sci-Fi is my go-to genre for movies, TV, books, games. For anything entertainment I’ll take Sci-Fi over fantasy over drama over true life. From Star Trek to Warhammer 40k to Iain M. Banks’ the Culture series, I’ll always Veer (and not in the General sense) towards science fiction. As well as being my introduction to Star Wars and the Expanded Universe*, Empire Strikes Back opened up an entire genre to me. This might explain why the third spot on this list was a toss up between The Matrix and…
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* the Expanded Universe (abbreviated EU), encompasses every one of the licensed, fictional background stories of the Star Wars universe, outside of the original six Star Wars films produced by George Lucas and certain other material such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created before April 25, 2014.

“Game over man! Game over! What the fuck are we going to do now? What are we gonna do?” — Private Hudson

Aliens. Not Alien, the 1979 science-fiction horror movie, but rather its sequel, the 1986 science-fiction war movie directed by James Cameron.

Here we have the perfect storm. A relentless adversary, a rag-tag band of marines sent in to deal with the xenomorph infestation and probably the strongest ever female character ever committed to celluloid.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley is superb. She is everything a movie hero should be. Strong yet gentle, brave in the face of fear and resourceful. Aliens drew inspiration from the Vietnam War where a technologically superior force becomes mired in a hostile foreign environment. All their training and high-tech equipment mean nothing in a fight against a determined and numerous enemy. It’s a clear allegory of the Vietnam quagmire. A war movie; a Vietnam War movie dressed up in a futuristic science fiction setting which is gritty and realistic unlike, for example, Star Trek’s clean and pure lines.


There is so much to love about Aliens. The utilitarian aesthetic of the USS Sulaco and the weaponry of the Colonial Marines, the implacable Xenomorph bogeyman (one was terrifying in Alien; hundreds are dreadful in Aliens), the sheer monstrous size of the Queen, the climatic battle between Queen Alien and Queen Ripley (“Get away from her, you bitch!) and the dialogue from the marines convinced of their victory even before there are boots on the ground:

“I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”

Aliens has it all. Now thirty-four years old it sets the standard for science fiction war movies. Sheer brilliance.

So there you have it. My top three. What are yours? Do you agree with my choices?