Time for some truth, America. President Donald Trump was always in the works. America is a country which more than any other has celebrated and championed ruthless capitalism ahead of the public interest; of course the Oval Office was eventually going to be bought by an amoral billionaire.
President Elect Trump is not the problem with America; he’s the symptom of an insidious parasitic disease which has always been a part of the American experience. This is the richest country in the world that can afford to do literally anything; build a colony on the Moon or turn the Middle East into glass; and yet won’t fund healthcare or education. A country that has used 9/11 as the excuse for every evil it has perpetrated since, and yet refuses to look after those brave first responders who are dying as a result of the smog at the World Trade Center site. America is a country that acts so often in the name of its founding fathers while deliberately and systematically dismantling the systems they created.
A country that for years has looked at tens of millions of its citizens who quite literally cannot read, and rather than attempt to change this fact has cultivated a distrust of those who attend the finest educational centers in the land. “Ivy League” is a greater insult in the US than “illiterate”. A country where televised news is explicitly designed to consider advertising revenue as more important than informing the electorate. Where the sacred duty of acting on behalf of the people in holding politicians to account has been replaced with fawning over celebrity, misreporting pop science, manufacturing epidemics of fear, spending more money on three dimensional diagrams than research, and replacing statesmen-like journalists like Edward Murrow with hyperactive TV presenters like Wolf Blitzer.
This is the country that has decided children being massacred as they sit in school is an acceptable price to pay for the right to carry a firearm.
For the rest of the world looking in, America is the great horror show. For every Barack Obama, there are ten Donald Trumps. George W. Bush’s Presidency, hugely unpopular across Europe, now seems like the good old days of Republicanism. At the turn of the Millennium, Europeans thought there could not possibly be a less competent character for the highest office in the world. Then Americans gave them Sarah Palin. Surely, that was the worst it could get. No. Not in America where gross incompetence is no more a deal breaker than outright racism or brazen lies.
2016 has been an awful year in almost every regard; movies have been appalling, beloved artists have died, and across the civilised world, countries have competed to see who can commit the most self harm in one vote. For months it seemed that the UK would claim this title with Brexit and a resulting GBP value roughly equivalent to a half eaten tub of Pringles, but never to be outdone in size or stupidity, the US has wrestled the title of Stupidest Electorate In The West from their old masters.
Donald Trump has lied perhaps more than any other Presidential candidate of all time. His supporters do not care and nor, despite the indignation of some individual commentators, do the media. FOX News is often correctly lambasted for its openly partisan reporting and its continuing support for Mr Trump was never in question, but organisations such as CNN and MSNBC have much to answer for as well. In an attempt to chase ‘balance’ they have switched fairness for false equivalency. Johnny Sixpack may be excused a, ‘they’re both as bad as each other’ albeit with a weary sigh, but respected newscasters suggesting the same have abandoned reason. Whatever her faults, Secretary Clinton is manifestly more qualified to hold office than the host of The Apprentice. She has been a public servant for decades, she is respected around the world, and she doesn’t lie as often as Mr Trump. There is nothing of real public interest in the Wikileaks emails (all courtesy of a man who is effectively an anarchist, lest we forget), and yet they have dominated electoral converge.
The environment has been a non-issue in this campaign. So have guns, so has healthcare, the shape of the judiciary for the next fifty years, congressional and electoral reform; John Kerry lost an election because absent evidence, the media perpetrated the narrative that he was a coward in Vietnam; Hillary Clinton lost an election because absent evidence, the narrative was that leaked emails suggested corruption on her part.
There is no dressing this situation up. It is not hyperbole to say that Mr Trump is potentially the worst American President in history. An office held by great men; men like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and James Madison, is now to be held by a man who boasts of sexual assault, a man openly supported by white supremacists, a man who demonises people based on nothing more than their place of birth, who has called for political rivals to be incarcerated, who suggests shooting Presidential candidates, who calls the sitting President an ISIS founder and a Kenyan Muslim, who lies and lies and lies and lies – this is to be the Leader of the Free World.
This is to say nothing of Vice President Elect Mike Pence who believes homosexuality is an illness which can be cured, man-made climate change is a myth and there should be no such thing as the separation of church and state.
This could not happen elsewhere. Donald Trump could not become President of France or Chancellor of Germany or Prime Minister of Canada. Only in America could a bullying, misogynistic, racist, failed Emmy winner be rewarded for his petulance with the highest office in the land. Donald Trump is the violent ejaculate of a superpower that treats its own citizens with abusive disdain. Other Western democracies house middle-classes that bemoan the inequality of society and wonder how best to help the weakest in society. America scrapes its poorest off the boot of unconstrained free market economics that work from the basis that if you’re not rich, it’s your own fault and the horrors that follow are your just desserts.
Of course America voted for Donald Trump as President. The shock of Barack Obama’s election wasn’t that he was black; it was that he was socially liberal in a viciously illiberal society. That a shred of basic decency had somehow made it through the faecal gauntlet that is the American electoral system. President Obama was a modern European pragmatist in an Old Testament country.
Donald Trump is larger than life, ridiculous, inexperienced, unfit for command, a bully, a charlatan, a cur, mocked around the world, excessively wealthy despite having done nothing to earn such riches.
You reap what you sow. Donald Trump is America.
Footballer Ched Evans was today acquitted after a retrial of one count of rape. The jury at Cardiff Crown Court returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty, Mr Evans’ solicitor read out a statement on his client’s behalf to the gawping media on the court steps in the time-honoured fashion and, within seconds, social media duly exploded with more speculation, myths, distortions and unjustified fury than one might suppose 140 characters could contain.
The facts, as reported, can be briefly summarised: Ched Evans was originally tried with a co-defendant, and fellow footballer, Clayton McDonald, in April 2012. On 29 May 2011, Evans and McDonald had sex with the complainant, X, in a hotel room. McDonald had met X on a night out, taken her back to the hotel room, and had alerted Evans that he had “got a girl”. Evans duly arrived, made his way to the room and, seeing McDonald…
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You might think that with a Brexit vote supported by just 52% of those who voted that the Tories would go slowly and carefully on their plans to take the UK out of Europe. You might think that they’d be concerned to ensure that they gained the support of the whole country. You might think that they’d be careful not to antagonise other EU countries which hold most of the cards in Brexit negotiations and which are concerned about the fate of their citizens who live in the UK. You might think all of these things because you’d be a sane, rational and reasonable person. Which means you’re not a Tory.
The Tories have instead chosen to use the Brexit vote as an excuse to go full on fuck the foreigners. They want companies who employ foreign citizens to list them, so that the companies can be shamed. In Britain…
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When it first launched on PC six years ago, I played a little Star Trek Online. It was clearly made by people who love the show, but not so clearly made by people that knew what they were doing. In short, it was promising, but very rough around the edges.
This review will go on for a bit, so if you’re one of those 70% of people who never make it to the bottom of internet articles, the skinny is that it’s quite badly made in some places, really good fun in others, and there’s a very good amount of Trekkie stuff to check out for a free game and a 16 gig download.
This year when it was announced that the game would be coming to consoles, I picked up my character and decided to have another play to see what had changed. Immediately I was overwhelmed by the most complex interface and gaming system this side of EVE Online. Why were there at least five separate currencies used in the game? Why did I have to press 2 to fire torpedoes on one ship, CTRL+1 on another, and ALT+7 to do it on a third? Were the numerous graphical glitches a result of me playing on a not particularly impressive laptop, or were they symptomatic of continuing problems on the developer’s side? Spoilers for later: it was the latter.
Entirely flummoxed by a system that threw more data at me than a Brent Spiner fan collective, I started a new character hoping that tutorials would help ease me into the game again. And this is where that story largely becomes indistinguishable from my experience on console.
If you follow 90% of players and start off as a Federation character, you’re met with a surprisingly in-depth and decent character creation screen. Sex, build, and even race are up for grabs; if you don’t like any established aliens from the show, feel free to create your own. Thereafter you’re whisked off to the instantly familiar Starfleet Academy where, as a final year cadet, you’re awaiting your fleet posting. The game introduces you to the basics of the ground-based gameplay, including combat because apparently you can spend four years training as a security officer and never fire a phaser, before you’re taken on your first space tour, as acting first officer of a starship.
What follows is contrived, but since you’ll be commanding your own ship almost from the get go, some explanation as to how a group of snot-nosed cadets end up gallivanting about on the front lines absent direct oversight was required. Better origins are provided in the Romulan and Klingon storylines where you’re already an established officer, and since you’ll be promoted through the ranks quickly enough, you’ll soon forget about your entire bridge crew being the same age as Justin Bieber.
The Final Frontier, again
The interface is mercifully simpler on console, as indeed, it needed to be. In place of ALT and CTRL you have power wheels mapped to half the controller buttons, R2 for phasers, and R1 for torpedoes. Complicated and numerous buffs that soon mount up can be automated so you’re not trying to remember whether Engineering Team II repairs hull or shield strength in the middle of a firefight, and generally speaking, space combat is a joy.
Starting off in a Miranda-class frigate (that’s the Reliant from Wrath of Kahn, if you weren’t sure), you are weak, slow, but maneuverable enough with your phaser and torpedo systems roughly equivalent to a high powered flashlight and some conkers. Quickly you’ll be given the chance to upgrade and can choose from giant cruisers that are practically invincible but have a larger turning circle than Africa (think Picard’s Enterprise), more tech-minded vessels which strike a middle ground between power and speed (Voyager) and small, extremely quick ships that pack more punch than either (Defiant), but go down quicker than CM Punk in an octagon when it comes to a straight fight.
There’s a real sense of difference between the three, and picking a different class every ten levels will drastically affect your play style. There’s a certain arrogant thrill to be had from watching small fighters buzz around your vessel while your phasers lazily zap them away on autofire, but it’s genuinely fun to twist, dive (and, thanks to some graphical glitches, handbrake turn) your way around the battle field as a small craft, just waiting to finally lock on to someone your own size, or unload a barrage of pain on a capital ship’s rear end.
This is to say nothing of the fact that, though this wasn’t the prettiest game around even in 2010, Star Trek fans have never had such a good opportunity to play with the ships they’ve seen onscreen, and whether your favourite be Excelsior, Ambassador, Constitution, little known designs like Olympic or Saber, guest stars such as Nova or Prometheus, they’re all there to say hello to. Most are customiseable too and it can be great fun sat in orbit of Earth watching the different configurations come and go. The original design derivations which dominated marketing for the PC launch (or, “fucking arcade bastardisations”, if you prefer) are largely awful, but the classics are all there and there are some new gems hidden throughout.
Not all is well on the visual front in space though. The camera has three zoom levels, and each is based upon the assumption that you’re flying something the size of the Burj Khalifa. This is great when you’re in one of the big boys such as a Romulan Scimitar which is 1350m wide, but fly a twenty metre shuttlecraft about the place (yes, you can do that whever you want), and you’ll barely be able to see it. One mission is entirely taken up by a small craft dogfight in the skies above an under siege city which should be great fun, but the fact that even with your nose to the screen, you’ll barely be able to see your craft negates any fun that might have come from it.
Space presentation is split into two types. On the galaxy map you’ll be able to warp between familiar systems like Vulcan and Risa, occasionally running across a trade freighter or multiplayer shoot-em-up, and it typically strikes a decent mix of calm between storms allowing you time to install newly acquired updates & make some bad jokes on chat, and the crushing boredom of watching some pixels move across the screen for an age as you wait for something to happen a la EVE Online. Within systems, you can explore the ship graveyard of Wolf 359, disrupt your sensors in some very pretty nebulae, check out space stations and spend an inordinate amount of time posing your vessel in front of a star to see the different lighting effects on your hull. It’s a real shame that there’s no option to hide the HUD for screenshots because on occasion the results really are very pretty.
One thing that lacks is the sense of scale. Park your starting ship next to a top tier behemoth and you’ll notice the difference, but not quite as much as you should. Space stations that are identified as being over three miles tall never seem quite that big when you’re drifting by in a two-hundred metre garbage scow. Commands can fix these camera issues on PC, but on console (ironically) you’re stuck with how it is.
All I ask is a tall ship… and giants to crew it
These scaling issues continue to the ground levels where they are hugely exacerbated. Everything in Star Trek Online is too big on the ground. The relatively small bridge sets seen on the show are transformed into cavernous, empty , negative space deadzones, and racing to keep up, the furniture looks like it was built for the BFG. Characters almost never sit properly on their enormous chairs, instead perching on the edges, or just as often sitting on the floor in front of their consoles. Plonk a 5’9” female character in the Captain’s chair and she’ll look like a hobbit extra from Lord of the Rings. This will continue when you notice her sidearm; the sleek bottlenosed phasers of the show that fit as naturally in the hand as a TV remote are gone, replaced by foot-long monstrosities that belong in a geeky sex dungeon. And almost every other player you meet will seem like the descendant of Richard Osman because the default character height seems to be set at six and a half feet.
These are the voyages of the Starship MIKEYONE316
Storytelling in Star Trek Online varies in quality throughout. Some mission ideas are genuinely clever and not only take inspiration from the series and films, but actively expand upon them in new and interesting ways. An ancient race mentioned fleetingly in the series here is set up as a major villain. Characters such as Worf’s son Alexander are given more interesting roles than they ever were on the shows in occasionally touching ways and if you ever wondered what the next Enterprise would look like after Star Trek Nemesis, it’s Star Trek Online that gives you a satisfying answer.
But there’s also some dreadfully written dialogue, shoehorned references to the episodes a particular mission is drawn from as if the developers are scared you might not recognise everything they’ve put in and scream, “See! Remember this from Next Generation season 2? We got that from there! We’re fans!”
Furthermore everything is dominated by the lazy thinking that all players want to do in an MMO is fight. So the Klingons who, last we saw, were at peace with the Federation, are now at war with it. The Romulans who have been decimated by the loss of their home planet, are at war with themselves. Everyone in the Delta Quadrant is ready to shoot at Starfleet because of the seven years of hell they endured at the hands of Janeway (understandable that one, really), a splinter group of Dominion and Cardassian forces are trying to re-enact their lost war for no greater narrative reason than, “wasn’t Deep Space Nine awesome?”, and the Breen are doing whatever it is that Breen do, and trying to invade Federation space. This is to say nothing of the Tholians, Gorn, Remans, Orions, Mirror Universe, and shady illuminati types in the shadows, all of whom shoot on sight.
Star Trek Online isn’t the first or last Trek game to focus on combat more than diplomacy and with good reason, but other games have shown us that story isn’t something to be feared, and when you have a universe as vast and well-developed as that which exists for Star Trek, it’s criminal not to use that to further some gameplay which at least purports to be more than horde mode on Gears of War.
This is where Star Trek Online is at its worst. In one typical mission, you respond to a distress call from a freighter. After a brief chat with the captain where he tells you exactly what season of Voyager his people popped up in because everyone in the galaxy is as big a fan of the show as you are, it’s revealed to be an ambush and you are attacked by a ship. You destroy it and then are attacked by two more. You destroy them and… can you guess where this is going? At its laziest, the game simply throws waves of faceless drones at you, often acknowledging as much in the mission objectives list. There’s no narrative reason given for why they don’t all attack at once and blow you up, you’re encouraged to ignore the high improbability of you taking out ten larger warships than your own in one sitting, and there’s no real impetus to worry either, because if you die you’ll simply respawn as you would in an FPS and there’s nothing lost.Story and character; always more important to Star Trek than action, is forgotten.
Despite a few pretences, there are no moral choices in Star Trek Online akin to those you’ll find in Telltale or BioWare games. In the Romulan storyline, following the destruction of your homeworld some years earlier, you’re a refugee living on a colony when unnamed nasties show up and you’re left to flee with a rag-tag group of survivors. Seemingly pulled between two factions; the remnants of the military-intelligence complex and a group of rebels seeking a new home, there is no choice as to which you can join nor, despite a brief tease, any question that the rebels are good, and the Empire is bad. That sounds familiar.
With this newer expansion there was a real opportunity to break the mould of Star Trek Online and allow players to experience both a story and gameplay style that was far removed from the constraints of an upstanding Federation officer. Visually it starts off that way as your crew have no uniforms and look like a grotty group of pirates. Maybe you want to play the heroic rebel, but maybe you think that sacrificing a few forgotten colonies to restore the former glory of your people is worth it. Doesn’t matter. The game will force you into one path and away from the other.
To seek out new life and new civilisations, and blow the shit out of them
That being said, not everything you’ll do as a Starfleet officer is in keeping with characters like Picard and Data. In one mission, and not for the last time, your team is trapped in a gladitorial pit and forced to fight to survive. This has happened in almost every incarnation of the TV series so nothing seems unusual. Until you break out of the pit and proceed to slaughter absolutely everyone in the club next door. Not just the security staff, or the alien nasty who trapped you. Everyone. Bartenders, dancers, customers. People firing at you in self defence and people cowering behind tables. You kill them all. As you do, you pass by another gladiatorial slave, who bangs on the forcefield of her cell begging release. There is no option to free her amid your slaughter, and so she watches as you casually slay everythng that approaches like Stallone in the 80s, then leave her alone to watch fifty-plus corpses rot in front of her as she starves to death, alone in a cell. Starfleet protects the weak.
It’s an aberration; no other mission comes close to this level of casual murder, but it is jarring and it’s fascinating to wonder if there was any competent oversight during development. Never would such a scene have been allowed onscreen absent fallout, and though it’s the worst, it’s far from the only time Star Trek Online has spread the optimistic hope and joy of Gene Roddenberry’s future at the tip of a casually waved Gatling gun. Almost every hurdle you encounter throughout will involve you blowing up said hurdle, shooting the other runners, and nonchalantly jogging to the end of the race, only to do it all again tomorrow.
Fire at Will. Yes, that Will
Things aren’t helped by the enormous amount of bugs throughout. More than once you’ll see a character’s eyes bulge out of their forehead if the camera gets too close, making Vulcan mind melds seem much more dangerous than they ever did in the show. Missions objectives often fail to be acknowledged leaving you with no option but to start again, it’s easy to become stuck in environments, and to top it all off, combat on the ground just isn’t much fun. Holding L2 will lock you on to one enemy and, theoretically at least, swiping left or right on the right analog stick will change targets. This almost never works however, and the system is much more likely to target an enemy so far away they’re out of range rather than the Klingon charging you down with a giant sword. Worse yet, it makes no distinction between friend or foe, meaning that when an enemy dies and it automatically switches to the next target, you’re just as likely to throw a grenade into the back of your first’s officer’s skull as you are the group of enemies twenty metres away.
You can attempt to sidestep this by forgetting about L2 and firing away in freemode, but the camera never helps you with this (you also lose an attack bonus) and so you’ll eventually blast through ground segments as quickly as possible, hoping desperately that sometime soon you’ll be asked to beam up to your ship and destroy something larger.
The Vacuum of Space
At launch, there are a host of features, ships, and episodic content missing from the console version. Minigames that function like Extra Ops in Metal Gear Solid or contracts in Assassins Creed Brotherhood are entirely absent. An entire temporal war story thread (and The Original Series introductory levels that go with it) is notable by its absence. The ability to explore your ship and see engineering, sickbay et al is non-functional for most players, one particularly important story mission is so bugged it causes the entire game to crash for most players, and there are a number of mission giving NPCs from PC that on console simply standing around looking like badly drawn bouncers at a particularly jerky nightclub.
Doubtless much will be added in the coming months and there’s more than enough content to get you started, but PC players will find that this is a smaller, simpler game than the one they’re used to.
Of particular note is the lack of multiplayer at the time of writing. It’s almost an entirely solitary experience, bar passing other players in silence. That should change though as more players progress and unlock the higher level multiplayer scenarios and playing fields. Thus far my few fleet actions have been good fun; one particular highlight coming as a Sovereign-class cruiser upped their aggression levels and soaked up damage from a Borg cube (oh, yeah. They’re at war with the Federation too. Also Species 8742), only for me to fly out from beneath their hull in my Defiant and unleash a devastating volley of phaser cannon and quantum torpedoes the moment the enemy’s shields dropped.
I then got caught in the resulting explosion and died, but we don’t talk about that.
Once you have their money, you never give it back
Much has been made elsewhere of the not-so-microtransactions in the game. Buying a top tier starship will set you back twenty bucks and a uniform set such as that seen in Enterprise isn’t any cheaper which seems extortionate, but by the time you get to the level where you can fly such a thing, you’ll already have had tens of hours of game play for free and dropping the developer a monetary thank you doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. It is theoretically possible to gain currency for this without spending a penny, but to get enough will take serious grinding. You might be able to gain 30-40 free credits a day absent forking out then try to play the market, but that top level ship will set you back 3000. I was able to increase my cash by about 5% over the course of a day, so starting from scratch as opposed to paying £7.99 for 1000 really is taking the long way round.
Star Trek Online is a deeply, deeply flawed game. The joy of space flight and combat is matched by the boredom and monotony of ground play, and even the former can get trying in the game’s less inspired levels. It’s kept me coming back though, and there is a certain addictive quality. Is it because I’m starved for Trek and also decent space-based fun on console? Almost certainly, but it’s not just that. There are moments in both gameplay and script that are genuinely funny, some are touching, and others are impressive. It can’t be compared to Mass Effect or HALO, and probably not Infinite Warfare when that launches soon, but compared to other MMOs it keeps pace, if not exactly leading the pack.
And almost none of its competitors are on console. This is probably the best free game on PlayStation and while that is admittedly faint praise, it’s not nothing. You don’t need a PS+ membership to play it either, which is hearteningly surprising.
Trek fans should have no questions about whether or not to check it out. They’ll almost certainly have at least a few hours fun with it, and where else nowadays does that come without a price tag on console? Third person action fans will find nothing to love in the ground sections, but if you’re convinced that Star Trek Invasion was the last game of note based on this IP on console, the space combat should do you just fine.
Brexit hasn’t properly started yet but just the sheer fact of it being decided has profoundly psychologically impacted on how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with the world. Everything feels different. There’s a feeling of being more constrained, smaller, of being culturally alone and communally detached. Being on holiday in Europe there was a real sense that all these other nationalities are part of a club that I’m now excluded from and they are planning all sorts of new co-operative shared initiatives that I can now only observe.
Marooned on this small island, governed by the most right wing ideologues in this section of the planet, doesn’t help this sense of being adrift in an interconnected world. The rest of Europe will be getting on with building shared institutions whilst isolated Tory UK will be getting down to the business of scrapping the Human Rights Act. The…
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It’s an overly simplistic and clickbaity headline, I know. Show me one that isn’t. Of course CBS Paramount’s new ‘guidelines’ for Star Trek fan films are their own responsibility and so, at the least, they must shoulder a weighty proportion of the blame. But by ignoring what caused their release, you’re ignoring the meat of the story.
Before we get to that though, what are the guidelines? Well, google them. I’m not your dad. Here’s the highlights though.
Your fan film can be no longer than fifteen minutes in length. You can extend this by making it a two parter, but that’s it. Two fifteen minute ‘episodes’. No sequels, no remakes, no continuations, nada. One stand alone story in two pieces lasting no longer than thirty minutes in total.
No props unless you bought them from official sources. Made a captain’s uniform at home with a sewing machine? Can’t use it. Got a friend who makes plywood phaser rifles? Nope. Turned your tablet into an LCARS padd? That might be okay, if only because I’m not aware of an official toy of the sort, but if CBS have a licensed product out there already, you’re not using an alternative.
There are also narrative constraints, and their scope is wider than a Galaxy class’s saucer section. You can’t depict drugs or alcohol, so bang goes Sickbay or Quarks. You can’t show any “offensive” behaviour which could quite literally cover anything CBS wish it to, you can’t show anything “disparaging” so your O’Brien/Bashir-esque banter has to go, no “hateful” or “threatening” content either so say goodbye to your antagonists.
In truth these narrative constraints sound very familiar to those set out by Gene Roddenberry when laying the groundwork for The Next Generation, but it’s easy to forget this far removed that the first two seasons of TNG, like The Motion Picture which Roddenberry was in charge for were… well, let’s just say they’re not the parts we get nostalgic about.
It’s fair also to note that CBS’s restricitons are more about overall themes than individual characters motives. You’d likely get away with a Klingon who hates Romulans, but the moral of your story can’t be that hatred of others is a perfectly fine thing to feel. So far, so Star Trek.
The most limiting of these rules are those concerning length, and production. Anyone who’s ever seen the excellent Star Wars short, Troops knows that you can make a great little fan film in ten or so minutes, but the majority of Trek fan films are based on an episodic structure; indeed the most celebrated are fully fledged series of 43 minute films. Many, if not most, have costume designers who work, with varying degrees of success, to mimic the costumes and uniforms seen on screen while constrained by a tight budget. CBS have nuked that idea, and purchasing the uniform, combadge, and pips from official supplier Anovos to dress up as Captain Janeway or her equivelant will set you back six hundred dollars. Picture a halfway populated bridge and your fifteen minute film has now cost you anywhere from $3000 to $6000 before you’ve shot a single scene.
The quickest skim of these rules then, reveals that fan films have basically been Red Wedded by CBS. They will allow you to crowdfund up to $50,000, which isn’t nothing, but who really wants to spend $50,000 on a half hour concept that they can’t use in any way in future? Star Trek fan films, never the most populous beasts to roam the Internet plains, are to become ever rarer.
But why? CBS have been fine with fan films for decades. There have been ongoing Star Trek fan series for as long as I’ve been using the Internet. They’re almost all dreadful, and the few that aren’t tend to be TOS-based which isn’t my thing, but because they were small, inoffensive, and crucially, didn’t make any money, CBS didn’t care. Why would they? A fan film is effectively free advertising for a franchise. LucasArts worked this out long ago, and though CBS have never embraced them to the same degree as their competitor, they knew that too.
Enter Alec Peters. Alec Peters is a fifty-five year old former volleyball coach who collects children’s toys and led his last company into bankruptcy owing creditors hundreds of thousands of dollars, and who describes his hair colour as “salt/pepper”. Which is fine.
Peters and some chums made Prelude to Axanar, an excellent documentary type short film set in the Star Trek universe. It met with near universal acclaim thanks to excellent visual effects, a tight script, and blessed lack of wannabe actors who would struggle to show more facial emotion than a Gerry Anderson character.
The goal was to intrigue people enough that they would contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to finance a full Axanar feature. This blog isn’t here to drown you with legalese, but in short, presuming the money is accounted for and all goes on the feature, this is generally fine. Strictly speaking every fan film you’ve ever seen is a copyright infringement, but as long as you pay your dues and don’t profit, most studios don’t give a damn. They’re not Konami, after all.
The trouble with Axanar is that all the money raised wasn’t going on the Axanar feature. Portions of it were going to Peters and Co. Effectively they were paying themselves out of the fund. Weasel wording aside, this is a textbook definition of “profiting” and they were doing it based on the Star Trek IP. Furthermore, funds were also being used to set up Peters own studio, which, it was planned, would go on to make for profit features. Effectively, the lure of a Star Trek fan film was being used to generate money to build something else, and line the pockets of those involved.
CBS, understandably, had something of an issue with this. Try to imagine this parable. You write and record a piece of music. You allow people to download it from the Internet for free, in exchange for the usual agreement that they won’t use it for public broadcast or to generate profit. If someone’s making money off it after all, it should really be you. Imagine then than James Cameron picks it up, and uses it as the main theme for the next Avatar movie trailer. The trailer has millions of views, Cameron gets the ad money from YouTube for this, and thereafter, Avatar 2 makes a billion dollars in large part because the trailer convinced people to go and see it. You get nothing. Wouldn’t you be pissed?
This is pretty much the same thing that Peters did to CBS. CBS are legally recognised as the creators and owners of Star Trek. What happens with Star Trek is up to them and you can’t do anything with it that they don’t want you to. This includes, but is not limited to, using their brand to crowdfund tens of thousands of dollars for yourself. Surprising, I know.
So CBS sued Peters, and rather than, “hey bud. Sorry about that. My bad,” Peters countersued CBS trying to alledge that among other things, they didn’t own the copyright to Vulcan ears. This lawsuit by the way, was also paid for using funds from the original crowdsourcing. Fans who had paid for a new Star Trek film, were instead paying for a new studio, Peters wages (some $30-40k per annum if I recall, but don’t quote me), and the frivilous lawsuit he winged at CBS to divert attention from the fact that he’d broken the law.*
- – Allegedly, of course, each man being innocent till proven guilty, and this apparent evidence of Peters breaking the law isn’t proof that he broke the law or that he is a lawbreaker until of course a court of law decides that he broke the law and is a lawbreaker. I’m just saying it looks like he broke the law and is a lawbreaker.
Cue an effective media campaign launched by Peters & Co. CBS was “picking on” the fans. They “were jealous” that Axanar was looking better than Justin Lin’s Fast Stars & Furious Treks (which in fairness, looks to have all the charm of a hypocritical Simon Pegg moaning about comic book films and sequels propping up Hollywood). CBS were only suing Axanar because the fundraising had been so successful. They wanted the million dollars that had been raised. The CBS network is worth about $30 billion, but sure, they wanted the $1m Peters had raised.
You can pick whichever side of this you choose. You can criticise CBS for not supporting fan films. You can call Peters a dishonest money-grubbing git. You can pledge never to watch another Star Trek feature again (no one will ever believe you because you’re lying, but you can pledge nonetheless), you can ignore the whole thing because Star Trek will go on as it always has, and you’ve never really felt like you were in need of extra hammy acting, ropey special effects, or surprisingly impractical clothing beyond that you already get onscreen.
But it remains a fact that CBS never felt the need to lay down the law until Alec Peters and his friends decided to profiteer off fans desire to see ever more of a beloved franchise. So fine. I retract the headline. CBS is the one killing fan films.
But it was Alec Peters that inspired them to do it.
Nb – 29/06/2016 14:00 – This article originally stated that monies from the crowdsourced fund were being used to fund Axanar‘s legal case. Thanks to readers who pointed out this error below. Axanar’s legal team agreed to work on a pro bono basis, and I’m happy to acknowledge that here.
No, it’s not a trick question. Go ahead and say it. The truck is yellow.
So what’s the point? How does this help us grasp the concept of cognitive bias? Well, consider this quote from David McRaney,
“If you notice a rise in reports about shark attacks on the news, you start to believe sharks are out of control, when the only thing you know for sure is the news is delivering more stories about sharks than usual. . . you think, ‘Gosh, sharks are out of control.’ What you should think is ‘Gosh, the news loves to cover shark attacks.”
It’s actually very reasonable to assume that the more you hear about shark attacks, the worse the problem is. It’s how our minds work. Our brains are making an assumption that works really well in small-scale. In other words, when our world is small enough that the stories…
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