Friday, November 11, 2011

Games: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) Part 13

Well, although I didn't plan it that way, this seems to be my week for things ending.  I had the last of Stanley G. Weinbaum's van Maderpootz stories for Free Fiction last Saturday, and the last chapter of Undersea Kingdom on Tuesday (plus the last re-post of the edited version on Monday).  And now, more than 21 months after posting the first level of Shadows of the Empire, we finally come to the climactic Skyhook Battle, the concluding cutscenes, and the end credits.

I'm not sure where to go from here.  I taped a playthrough of Goldeneye for the N64 back in 2002.  For a while, I discounted the notion of posting it here, on the basis that it's not science fiction.  Then the other day, it occurred to me, Of course it's science fiction, you nincompoop.  It's about a plot to destroy London with a satellite weapon.  But it may be too early to start another long playthrough on the same system as Shadows of the Empire.  So I dunno.  I may do a few features on games for other systems, and then do Goldeneye.  Or not.

At any rate, I need to get going on replacing the few parts of the playthrough that I deleted when I (mistakenly) thought that my problems uploading new videos had to do with the fact that they were banned in some countries.

Thank you, all 22 or so of you out there who have watched this whole thing.

1:23 On this level, you get a free life with every fifteen fighters destroyed.

4:41 So what's the most lives it's possible to get?  Other times, playing this level, I've reached 60 kills.  I don't know if it's even possible to get to 75.

4:55 The control scheme changes for this last part of the level for some reason.  I frequently forget, and up firing a few missiles when I mean to fire blasters, as here.

5:05 Here, I'm just firing the rest to get a full supply again for when I go into the Skyhook.

6:38 I know some people can just fly around the reactor core, pounding it with more missiles when they reload.  For me, it's easier, if more time-consuming, to go out the next arm of the Skyhook, fly out a ways, turn around, and come back in again to fire on a new side of the core.

6:43 Again, shooting the last missile to get a new supply.

9:29 To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what happened here: neither what sent me out of control, nor how I managed to damage the last side of the core with two wild shots.

10:00 I didn't run out of time; this is supposed to happen when you reach the end of the last arm.  (I'm not sure there even is a time limit.)

10:32 The timeframe of Shadows of the Empire stretches from the beginning of Empire to just before the beginning of Jedi.  Note that Leia is in the bounty hunter suit she wears into Jabba's palace.

10:57 So what does happen when you finish the game in Medium?  I did it back in the day, but it would take quite a while for me to repeat the feat now.  Fortunately, someone else has recorded it.  It's at the end of this post.

12:01 I never watched Freakazoid! so I needed Wikipedia to tell me that this is a gag credit which frequently appeared on that show, although it was most often spelled "Weena Mercator."

12:29 By this point in the credits, I always start thinking about the Atari 2600 days, when individual programmers created games all by themselves: design, music, graphics, everything.  (And sometimes it showed, as with Adventure's ducklike dragons.  But I digress.)

14:48 Then the credits just repeat.  I just put black over it in editing until the next music fade-out.

And here it is, the Medium-and-up ending. It starts at 1:55 of this video.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Radio: The Planet Man, Programs 2 & 3

This is kind of a curious one.  Transcription discs for 76 of the 78 episodes survive, identifying the producer as "Palladium Radio Productions, Inc."  But that's where the hard data pretty much ends.  According to, "Various sources date its syndicated run around 1952-53, but specific air date information remains unknown."  None of the lead actors have even been identified.

But the show interests me for a couple of other reasons.  For one thing, the show marks kind of a transition in science fiction.  On the one hand, we're into the period, after World War II, when the notion of space travel—that it was not just possible, but inevitable and imminent—began to take hold in the culture, and with it, a new interest in astronomy.  So we have Earth's first rocket to the moon treated in a fairly matter-of-fact way, an explanation for the listeners at home of what an orbit is, and fairly realistic worries about the oxygen supply.  On the other hand, this just ends up serving as an introduction to a story told more in the space opera idiom of the '30s, with a superhero-like spaceman, zipping between planets in a more futuristic and less likely spacecraft.

In one way, though, it's very much of its time: like Space Patrol, with its "Smokin' rockets!" The Planet Man had its own rocket-age expression: when the announcer throws to a commercial, he declares, "We'll return to Planet Man in just a moment!  So level off!"  But it doesn't strike me as a very successful one.  Maybe it's just me, or maybe the way the last words are yelled out, but it comes across as a little hostile, the emotional tenor of "So piss off!" or maybe "So deal with it!"

Anyway, the other thing about the show that caught my interest was its universe.  Well beyond this period, whenever science fiction posited a union of different worlds, especially within our own solar system, Earth was almost inevitably the senior partner.  Even in Star Trek, where civilizations like the Vulcans had space travel far earlier, Earth's role in the Federation seemed to be essentially that of the United States in NATO.  But in The Planet Man, not only have many worlds in our solar system banded together without us, but Earth is so backward as to have escaped the attention of almost everyone but the villain... and that only because he wants to enslave us.

I've posted two episodes because they're fifteen minutes each (actually more like twelve, without the commercials that the individual stations supplied).  Radio Archives suggests that it was intended for daily afternoon broadcast.  My guess is that it aired six times a week, because that would make the most sense with a total of 78 episodes—just the right number to air six times a week for a standard block of thirteen weeks.

I wonder what the missing first episode was like.  Program 2 clearly presents the first meeting between Dantro and the Earthlings.  Did he not feature in the premiere of his own program?  Or maybe there was a scene or two of his monitoring the rocket, and deciding to intervene.  Either way, the upside is that we don't miss much by not being able to hear it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Twelve

I'd call this the "Where Are They Now?" section, except that, given that the serial was made 75 years ago, I think the answer for everyone involved in Undersea Kingdom is "dead."  So let's just call these career capsules.

Lois Wilde (Diana) reportedly won the Miss America pageant in 1923, but lost the title when the judges found out she was a professional model and stage actress.   She also worked as a screenwriter before becoming a movie actress in 1936.  Her career ended abruptly the next year when she broke her neck in a car accident.  Although she eventually recovered, she would only appear on the screen in occasional small, uncredited roles, ending with "Casino Patron" in 1984's Oh, God! You Devil.  She died in 1995.

Monte Blue (Unga Khan) began his film career as a day laborer for director D.W. Griffith at Biograph Studios.  His first role was a bit part in Griffith's classic The Birth of a Nation (1915).  He appeared in dozens of silent films, becoming a leading man.  He continued to work steadily after the advent of sound, although his roles became smaller through the 1930's.  From the mid-'50s, he worked exclusively on television.  He died in 1963.  Also, I can't see his name without wanting to sing, "Ooo-hoo, Monte Blue/Lives his life from inside of a room."

Lee Van Atta (Billy), like many child actors, had only a brief career, from 1936 to 1939.  Billy was his first credited role, but perhaps his highest-profile role was in another serial, Dick Tracy (1937), as Junior.  He died in 2002.

Boothe Howard (Ditmar) also had a fairly brief career, from 1932 until his premature death later the same year as Undersea Kingdom, 1936.

William Farnum (Sharad) had frequent work in films from 1914 until he was seriously injured making a film in 1924.  He was sidelined for four years, and only began to work regularly again in 1930.  His last appearance was in 1952, and he died the next year.

Of course, the best-known alumnus of Undersea Kingdom was Lon Chaney, Jr. (Hakur).  Appearing under his birth name, "Creighton Chaney," for the first few years of his career, he renamed himself after his famous father not long before Undersea Kingdom.  He had mostly bit parts, often uncredited, until 1938, but broke through as Lennie in Of Mice and Men the next year, and become a star in his own right with The Wolf Man in 1941.  His alcoholism sometimes interfered with his work, most notably in his role as Frankenstein's Monster on the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow.  Confusing the live broadcast for a camera rehearsal, he hefted furniture, only to set it back down for the "real" performance.  Although he suffered from throat cancer and heart disease in his later years, he continued to appear in films until 1969, and was cut from the final version of Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask (1972).  He died in 1973.

Sources: IMDb, Wikipedia

2:11 Is this the first time Unga Khan has called our hero just "Crash"?  I think up to now (or rather, last episode, where this line first appeared), he's just called him "Corrigan," or sometimes "Crash Corrigan."

3:28 That belly-flop to the ground just kills me every time.  You wouldn't think Crash would recover from it quite as quickly as he does.

5:46 You know, they take the death of everyone in Atlantis awfully casually, don't they?  Surely there were some people left, even after that last battle.

6:49 I give up as to whether it's "the reflector plate" or "the reflecto-plate."  Here, Crash clearly says it as the former.

7:15 A boom mike shadow makes a guest appearance.

7:39 What, does Unga Khan have a setting for the naval base, or is the Professor just a whiz at tuning the thing his first time out?

9:55 Say, this reminds me... what was the point of the whole earthquake thing, anyway?  I mean, as I recall, when this serial began, Unga Khan had no expectation of being able to leave Atlantis.  Was he just screwing with the Upperworld for kicks?

13:55 Yow!  Judging from the high-angle shots, that pit has got to be at least twenty feet deep from the mouth.  I'll allow Crash jumping into it, because he's our all-powerful hero and everything, but imagine being the Professor, landing flat on your back from that height.

14:46 I think Khan gets his replacement Volplanes from the same place the Starship Voyager got its endless supply of shuttles.

16:42 Hey, Billy's joined the Hitler Youth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom (Faster-Paced Version), Chapter Twelve

(originally posted January 31, 2009)

Well... in spirit... I guess. Which is just as well, because it looks like that's the plane on which they now need to be defended. Seems like a certain caption card writer hasn't been keeping up with the plot.

Welcome to the rousing... and oddly nihilistic... conclusion of Republic's classic 1936 serial, Undersea Kingdom!

Someone who knows more physics than I do will have to tell you how much thrust those rocket motors would have to have to break through the roof of Atlantis—which, as we know, can resist the pressure of more than 10,000 feet of water. And, of course, how tough the tower must be to punch through totally intact. Seems to me like the Navy would have a lot more trouble than we see here, force field or no force field.

This episode was about 16:30 after removing the caption cards, and the editing was mostly removing shots from sequences to move them along faster.

You might think there was originally a scene in which Crash shows at least some feeling about his faithful buddy Moloch getting turned into a self-heating MRE in a can, but no, there wasn't one. He's just that callous.

You'd also think there was a scene, here or in Chapter Eleven, in which our heroes rescued Briny and Salty. No luck there, either. They're just magically in the sub. I don't think they were even in the chariot that brought Billy and Diana to the sub last week.

Incidentally, that means they served absolutely no purpose in the plot. I thought they did, from my dim memories from seeing this serial a couple of years ago. Had I watched this chapter again before I started, I would have removed them from the serial entirely. I briefly considered cutting them out of this chapter, but I didn't have the heart to. Having gotten them captured by Unga Khan's forces, I just had to get them out, even though I have no idea how they managed it.

Thanks to all of you who stuck this out, and I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly had fun editing it. Early on, I thought that when I was done, I might buy a higher-quality copy from a public domain video dealer, and make a new feature version (with the title I mentioned last week, Mad Tyrant of Atlantis) to release on DVD. However, since I have about six viewers a week at this point, I can't imagine it being economically viable. Oh, well.

Oh, and one last thing... Crash and Moloch emptied out the two Volkites from the sub. Moloch got crispy-fried in his, and Crash ditched his. So where did Prof. Norton get the one he's working on in the last scene?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Watching You Tube: Playing "Burn: Cycle" on the Philips CD-i

What is the CD-i, you may ask?  You could call it the earliest disc-based game console, but that's only part of what Philips promised with CD-i.  In addition to playing games, you could listen to CD's, watch Video-CD movies, sing along to Karaoke CD's, or use multimedia data.  To put it uncharitably, it was the CD-ROM drive you could use with your TV set.  And like the similar 3DO, it was a big commercial flop.

One of the groundbreaking specialties of the CD-i was its capacity to add full-motion video (FMV) to games. Most such games used FMV pretty uncreatively. There would be live-action interludes between game levels. Or you'd have to shoot live-action people with your light gun.  Burn: Cycle used its FMV to come far closer to the ideal of an immersive experience, an interactive movie.  That's not to say it got to that ideal, of course.  Quite a lot of the gameplay, as you'll see, is puzzle-solving that just gets you from one sequence to the next.  But the creators of the game built an interesting world from cyberpunk elements, with a dash of Hong Kong cinema.

Anyway, it's widely considered one of the best games produced for the CD-i.  And not just because so many of the others reportedly stank on ice.  (It got an A- from the Video Game Critic, one of only three CD-i games so far he's given better than a B.)

Maybe it's just me, but I find that the game's theme of the interaction between humans and computers makes it easier to excuse the somewhat low-fi graphics.  Like the saying about something being a feature instead of a bug, the fairly primitive CGI transcends unreality to become stylized atmosphere.

They did a surprisingly good job of integrating the actors into the environment. Even today, there's a tendency for live-action figures to look "floaty" when put in an entirely digital set (as with the mothership interiors in the recent V series). But these actors are generally well-anchored to the virtual floor. I don't know what was up, though, with that hotel scene, where the actors seem about 30 degrees off from the plane of the set.

Some of the green-screen compositing isn't so hot (there's noticeable fringing in some scenes), and I suppose they could have done a better job with the lighting, so that the live action wasn't so flat and video-like.  But it reminds me a little of the original Doctor Who series.  I can't help thinking that if it had lasted into the 1990's, instead of dying at more or less the "Video Toaster" stage of CG technology, there would have been episodes that looked like this.

(click on the post title to see all nine chapters of this playthrough)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Free Fiction: The Point of View

click image to download story (2.05 MB pdf file)

Now it's time to put on our subjuctivisor and explore alternative time, like Dixon Wells in "The Worlds of If."  And it's doubly appropriate to do so, because the history we're visiting is the one in which we're able to read a preview of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 4—or whatever volume in which I would finally have published "The Point of View," the third and final story of Stanley G. Weinbaum's van Manderpootz series, which began with "The Worlds of If."

This story's Attitudinizor reminds me a little of the Point of View Gun, my favorite new bit in the movie of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  You use it to short-circuit arguments by forcing the other person to see where you're coming from.  If van Manderpootz lived in our actual early 21st century, he would most certainly find a way to make his Attitudinizor work over the Internet.  And it would be the greatest thing that ever happened to that medium.  Sometimes I think the force that runs the World Wide Web is transference.  At least three-quarters of Internet comments wouldn't exist, or would at least be far less bitter and hostile, if the writer weren't subconsciously projecting everything he hates onto the person he's responding to, irrespective of what that person actually posted.

Speaking of the early 21st century, Weinbaum makes a little continuity error in this story.  He sets it in 2015, and says it's the year after the two previous stories.  Evidently, he remembered he'd mentioned 2014 in "The Worlds of If," but forgot that it was in reference to Dixon's college days... which Weinbaum said in that story were eight years past.  I suppose I could just correct it in the text to 2023, but while I'll correct punctuation, like adding the second comma setting off a clause, I draw the line at correcting factual errors in old stories.  (I made a similar decision in proofing the book of In Caverns Below, when Stanton Coblentz's timescale didn't add up.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Television: Kip's Private War (Rocky Jones, Space Ranger)

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger has a bit of irony to it.  Not in the writing—in the fact that it wasn't terribly successful, but it's probably better known now than its contemporaries in the early-'50s TV science fiction boom.  And what makes it doubly ironic is that its survival and lack of success are tied together.

Captain Video, Space Patrol, and most other science fiction shows of the era were enacted live, and preserved, if at all, as kinescopes: a film taken of the live video image.  As a result, surviving episodes are of fairly poor visual quality.  They're often zoomed in a bit, so as not to catch the edges of the somewhat rounded video tube, so they don't even have the benefit of all 480 video scan lines, much less the full resolution of the film.  The contrast is frequently blown out, thanks in part to the low dynamic range of '50s video, and partly to the limitations of the kinescope process, in which a film camera was pointed at a tiny, bright video monitor.  The brightness of the monitor (necessary to make a filmable image) and the primitive tube video cameras both contributed to ghosting of the image.  Finally, the kinescope had motion smearing, since the film ran at the normal 24 frames per second, and video ran at 60 fields per second—with each two fields interlaced into one frame.

All of which is to say that the shows looked as good as any other '50s television when they were originally broadcast, but reruns were of substantially poorer quality.  They didn't look as good as videotaped shows (once that was an option) or filmed shows, and so they didn't tend to have that robust of an afterlife in syndication.  (I have the feeling the same thing is going to happen to the shows of the mid-'80s through the early 2000's, which had post-production on standard-definition video... and, worse, analog standard definition video for most of the period.  Something shot and posted on film, you can re-scan and broadcast in high definition, and it'll look better than it ever did.  But standard-definition videotape, you're pretty much stuck with.  Which, no doubt, is part of the reason CBS is currently shelling out the dough to rebuild Star Trek: The Next Generation in high definition with new special effects: they can give it new syndication life that fuzzy 1-inch analog video tapes won't have.)

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger was uncommon for the time, in that it was produced entirely on film.  Which helped to make it more expensive than the other shows, even though the production quality, really, wasn't that much higher than Space Patrol's.  And that in turn contributed to the producers discontinuing it after less than one year.

But, having done that, they still had 39 filmed episodes which would look just as good on repeat airings.  What's more, 36 of the episodes were in twelve three-part serials, allowing them to have an alternative afterlife as 90-minute compilation TV movies.  Then, in the 1990's, two of the TV movies appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  And so the show that wasn't nearly as popular as its contemporaries when originally aired lasted much longer and was ultimately seen by more people.  Both MST3K episodes are now available on DVD, and the unadorned episodes and films are available from multiple commercial sources (due in part to their falling into the public domain).  Meanwhile, you can only find Space Patrol on DVD-R's from individual sellers.

This episode, by the way, was one of the exceptions to the three-parter rule.  The series was produced in two blocks, one of 26 episodes and one of 13, leaving extra episodes that were produced as standalone stories.  "Kip's Private War" aired a little over halfway into the show's run, on July 27, 1954.

The "cold light" mentioned in this episode was a previously-introduced method of invisibility.