19 January 2015

Forgotten Classics: Battle Engine Aquila (2003)


Throughout the lifecycle of an video game console, hundreds of games titles are developed and published, all taking their changes among the other games on the shelves. Some will become fondly remembered, securing a place in video game history, much like HALO, Super Mario Brothers, and Tetris. Others will merely blip the gamers' radar and be lost on dusty disconnected shelves...doomed to a forgotten existence. In 2003, British game studio Lost Toys developed an transformable mech combat shooter set on an alien world at war called Battle Engine Aquila. Hopes were high for the title by the developer and the publisher: ATARI. This game was rolled on the original Xbox, Playstation 2, and the PC on January 20th of 2003, but failed to make an impact, and the title was quickly forgotten.. For this installment of Forgotten Classics blog series, FWS will be discussing this unique title in all of its 2003 glory.

What is Battle Engine Aquila?
With their first major game, Lost Toys developed a rather unique military sci-fi video game experience. This game can be best described as a hybrid of a shooter, combat flight game, with some giant robot goodness, topped with elements of an war strategy game and all wrapped up in a military science fiction theme. As Hawk Winter (haha), you pilot an prototype advanced war machine developed by the Forseti government called an "Battle Engine", and it can transform into a combat jet with limited flight ability and a GERWALKER multi-legged tank mode for ground combat.
Both feature unique weaponry to their mode and as the game progresses, you can choose from different Battle Engines loadouts for your style in combat. As pilot of the Battle Engine, you are often fitted into major island engagements between your Forseti allies and the enemy Muspell. Hundreds of units are in combat as you are sent in to alter the tide of the battles or accomplish a difficult special mission, and the Forseti need all the help they can get. In flight mode, your armaments are limited to two types as well as is your energy, which is burned off more quickly, forcing you to land. However, in GERWALKER mode, you are a metal green-blue god-of-war, casting judgement with your weaponry over the Muspell forces. If you are wise, you can change the course of the battle, and be the winning element towards victory.

The Plot of Battle Engine Aquila?
The planet of Allium is a desperate state, global climate change has melted the polar ice caps, triggering a massive flooding of dry lands, and wasting away the major cities. By the end, only a few islands were left on the surface of Allium along with two political groups that survived the apocalypse: the Muspell and the Forseti. The Forseti are more technologically advanced, who use green energy, and are governing over in a democracy, which is very much in deep contrast to their rivals: the Muspell.
The industrial dictatorship of Muspell have set their sights on the Forseti islands, and to accomplish this goal, the Muspell have cracking out war machines and genetically engineered soldiers from their dirty factories. They are greater militarily than the more peace loving Forseti. As the game opens, the Muspell are planning a major military operation to take Forseti lands as the Forseti are testing their new Battle Engine prototype mecha. Your character, Hawk Winter is a punk dock worker that conducts illegal races, and is drafted for his natural talent to pilot the Battle Engine, thrusting Hawk into a new war for the survival of the Forsteri  

The Historical Context of Battle Engine Aquila
2003 has been called the "year of sequels", and it was an important year for the Playstation 2 and the original Xbox. This year saw the release of Bioware's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic along with the beginning of the  mega Call of Duty franchise, and Xenosaga. Along with this, there was the release of sequels to notable previous titles like SOCOM, Time Crisis 3, Max Payne 2, and Silent Hill 3. This was also the apex of the PS2 and the Xbox lifecycle with quality games coming out on a continual basis, but the end was in sight, Sony and Microsoft were developing the next-gen consoles. We also have to remember that 2003 was the year that we got Dead or Alive...let that memory sink in. Yep, good times. During this period of gaming, there was a great deal less online presence and more time and energy was devoted to the single player experience, but is in a decline today, sadly.


What Happened to Battle Engine Aquila?

Given the fickle nature of the gaming industry and gamers in general, games either make an impact and give rise to sequels or they fade away to the resell shop with a few scattered fans raving on the internet. This was the fate of Battle Engine Aquila, fading away with a few fans, like me, fondly remembering this title and raving on sites like this one. ATARI tried hard with Battle Engine Aquila, marketing the title for success with playable demos on gaming stands at stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy. In gaming stores, there was the arresting game art and posters, and this is how I was first educated of the game. Reviewers placed Battle Engine Aquila on "games worth waiting for" lists and when the game came out in January of 2003, reviews were solidly positive, with an average of 7 or even 8. However, the game had been delayed, and it was not shipped during the busy November/December release span, and instead was released in January. January was a bad month for games or anything, because of the Christmas exhaustion for consumers. Sales reflected this, and Battle Engine Aquila, despite the positive reviews, was unsuccessful, and prices dropped quickly. When I bought the game in 2004, it was brand new and more than half in original price.
Soon after this, the developer Lost Toys, closed their doors, and the title disappeared. Before the release of the game, Lost Toys had hoped that Battle Engine Aquila was going to be the first in a new franchise. Some of the game article of the time that featured Lost Toys discussing a sequel in the planning stages with Muspell having their own copy of an Battle Engine, and the possibility of an war strategy game based on the war between the Muspell and Forseti. This was the original concept by Lost Toys for the Battle Engine Aquila game, and would have been similar to HALO Wars.
Battle Engine Aquila Today
After the game was on the bargain shelves, and the next-gen home video game console came out 2005, gaming magazines and websites came out with their lists of the best games on the previous consoles. On these lists, Battle Engine Aquila was ranked in the 80's and 90's, and called a solid shooter title with interesting elements. This has helped Battle Engine Aquila from completely disappearing along with the internet and online articles (like this one). Battle Engine Aquila is like many of these lost and forgotten titles, remembered by few and forgotten by many.

Why is Battle Engine Aquila an Classic?
Sure, in the realm of military science fiction games on the original Xbox, MechAssault and HALO: Combat Evolved are certainly the more classic titles that are still fondly remembered to this day. However, there is something special about this game. Battle Engine Aquila stands out as a classic on the PS2/Xbox due to its originality and how it stood out from the crowd of games in 2003 or even today...only Yager was similar, and it was released only after Battle Engine Aquila. The setting is unique, the mecha itself is a bold organic design, along with the overall design of the world of Allium. All of these elements connect in the crazy battlefield action that can be had in the majority of missions. Even after my Playstation 2 was stolen along with my copy of this game, I still wanted to own it. When I finally decided to write this blogpost, and bought the game (again), I could still see why I enjoyed Battle Engine Aquila all of those years ago. Even in 2015, Battle Engine Aquila is still a fun game, and one of the lost classics of that era in gaming.

The Modern Mini-Review of Battle Engine Aquila
Due to the length of time since the release of Battle Engine Aquila, I decided that I would write a mini-review of the game. Overall, this game is a fun experience with a unique setting and a fresh take on mecha, along with little touches in design that make this game a standout, even among mecha games. The controls are good, the weapons awesome, and being in the middle of massive engagements is a very nice touch, along with the combined arms approach to both military organizations. During the game play, the game sings. Crushing massive amounts of Muspell forces, unleashing grenades while performing an "death from above" tactic is the great moments of the game and never get old. But, when the game attempts to further the plot, it stalls. The basic plot of an Muspell invasion of the Forseti territory is simple enough and should be enough. However, the game attempts to tell a larger story and the result is very mixed, due mainly to the awful visuals of these cutscenes and poor dialog.
While no 2003 game is going to look "modern", much of Battle Engine Aquila is good, especially while you are fighting, however, the cutscenes are terrible, simply terrible. The human characters are more simian looking, and despite this being an alien world, they use common Terran names and other touches that betray the alienness of Allium. At times, it seems that the developers didn't even try to make an effort with this alien culture. This is compounded by the bad dialog and lack of an engaging "story" within the settling due to a simple lack of writing. However, the single worse element of Battle Engine Aquila is the weakness of the Forseti forces, and their endless bitching about it. During the majority of battles, the Forseti relay too heavily on the Battle Engine and your skills at the controls to turn the tide of them giving dominated by the Muspell. Trained soldiers will start to bitch and whine when they fall under attack, and scream for your help. This rapidly becomes annoying, and without your aid, the Forseti military will fail, and you flunk the mission. Thank the Lords of Kobol that the gameplay is so much fucking fun and that for a fan of mecha, this is a refreshing take, or else I would be temped to join the Muspell and end their bitching permittely.

Next Time on FWS...
For the next blogpost here on FWS, we will continuing the blog series Our Enemies, and the subject will the Grey Aliens of popular UFO lore. As someone who grew up with an strong interest in ancient astronaut theory and UFOs, the Greys represent something is both fascinating and terrifying to me. In some works, the Greys are the benefactors to humanity and this view is backed up by some UFO theorists. But then there are other works and theorists that believe the Greys are malevolent and here to push their own agenda on mankind.  It is my hope that I am NOT abducted for blogging about this and be sure to watch the skies. Got my shotgun and a tinfoil hat at the ready.

14 January 2015

FWS News Feed: AVATAR 2 Delayed and Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell?!

In 2009, no one expected that James Cameron's science fiction message movie with military sci-fi elements would be the largest grossing film of all time, and since the massive success of the film, Cameron has been discussing a series of sequels that will take place in the oceans of Pandora along with a rumored possible a prequel for number 4. News broke today that AVATAR 2, rumored to be called "The Lost Ocean", will be delayed until at least 2017. Why? Cameron and his team are writing three goddamn AVATAR films that the same time and it is taking longer than expected. Not to mention his work on the upcoming live-action adaption of Battle Angel. Cameron stated that he wanted the next films in the series to be of the same quality.
But, the real question is...does anyone still care? I make no secret that I really enjoyed 2009's AVATAR especially in IMAX 3D...if FWS had been around then, there would have been a massive review. I have since enjoyed the film in its extended edition on DVD,  and discussed its military science fiction aspects many times on FWS, but the window for a sequel seems to be slipping, Also, to me, the 2009 film feels complete with the story told and the elements were nicely wrapped up, and unless Cameron pulls an Terminator 2 out of his hat...the story of Pandora should be left as it is. After all, the environmental point made, the blue cat-people kicked the evil human imperialists off of their Ferngully picturesque world. Everyone wins, the studio and Cameron made over two billion dollars in global ticket sales, and we fans get an AMP suit toy (yes, I have one...okay two). However, If  there is going to be sequel, and if James Cameron is reading this, please put Michael Biehn in AVATAR 2!
In other news around the sci-fi cinema realm, her hottest Scarlett Johansson has been offered $10 million by Disney and Dreamworks to play in the western live-action adaption of the much beloved Ghost in the Shell anime. Mrs. Johansson will be playing none other than Japanese cyborg Section-9 super-cop Major Motoko Kusanagi. Some fans of GITS are calling it an "white wash" of the original material and that this film slated for an April 2017 release, to be rethought and recast. This white-wash charge was also supported by Asian-American community groups that would like to see the original character concept honored. Look, I think Scarlett Johansson is very talented, makes a convincing kick-ass heroine, and is Texas-Summer hot with a sin-inducing body, but she is not right for Ghost in the Shell. Of course, I wonder if an GITS live-action film is something that should even be undertaken.

10 January 2015

Ships of the Line: Medium and Light Cruisers

Much like some classifications of cars, some types of naval warships often get ranked by popularity. Battleships, battlecruisers, aircraft carriers, attack subs, and the kick-ass dreadnoughts are normally the most popular in media and some of the most revered naval vessels. Making these popular naval warships similar to Lamborghini, Ferrari, or Bugatti. This creates a difference between those red-blooded exotics and the normal cars of us normal people, like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and the Mazda 6. This also creates a difference between the very popular types of naval warships and the vessels were are talking about today: the light and medium cruisers. These type of cruisers are more common than the battleship or carrier, but are often overlooked, and are outranked in popularity by their own bigger brother: the heavy cruiser. In this blogpost in the continuing Ships of the Line serial, we shall be looking at light and medium cruisers.

What is an Light Cruiser?
During the heyday of warships around World War One and World War Two, there was a number different types of warships, and light cruisers were among these, rounding out the more popular Dreadnought battleship. Light Cruisers were classificated by the London Treaty of 1936 as an cruisers with 6.1 inch guns and were sometimes called "light armored cruisers" that were designed for speed, and not a naval slug-fest. The first of the light cruiser was the 1878 HMS Mercury of the Royal Navy, and the German Gazelle class further defined the light cruiser classification in the 1890's. By World War One, most Light Cruisers were under 5,000 tons and mounted six inch guns as the main armament. The 2nd World War was the last gasp of glory for the light cruiser, were the demand for warships was at fever pitch. However, once the war was over, the demand for these types of cruisers dried up, and during the Cold War, the missile cruiser and the Destroyer classes took over.

The Light Cruiser of Today's Navies
Sadly, there is only a single light cruiser still in active naval service as of the writing of this blogpost, the Peruvian BAP Almirante Grau. This warship was sold to Peru in 1973 by the Royal Netherlands navy. The BAP Almirante Grau was originally the De Ruyter, built in 1939 and commissioned in 1953. This light cruiser has been modernized several times during its service life in the Peruvian Navy. Why are light cruiser no longer in service? This is due to the change in modern naval surface warfare which is more dependant on aircraft carrier and missile cruisers, and not an array of cruisers and battleships. The traditional role of the cruiser can be fulfilled by the frigates and destroyers.

The Curious Case of the "Medium Cruiser"
In the history of naval warships, there are a number of different types of cruisers, but none are classified as "medium cruiser". However, in the realm of the science fiction, medium cruiser do exist, and they are often seen in RPGs and fleet simulation games...so what's the deal with the disconnect? It could be that medium cruisers grew out of ignorance of standard naval classifications by the creators, and the title "medium cruisers" sounded good to them. Also, it seems logically that since there is heavy and light cruiser classes, it makes sense that there could be an medium cruiser classes sandwiched in between the light and heavy cruiser classifications. Certainly,  Star Wars and Star Trek wargames were the ones that put these types of fictitious warships into the minds of future creators, and they soon riffed off these creations, like myself.

The Future Combat Role of the Light/Medium Cruiser Classes
In any "normal" sci-fi space fleet organization, the heavy and missile cruisers are the most respected and valved among the cruiser warship classification, while the lesser two (light and medium) are regaled to patrol duties and border security. However, like much of the cruiser classes of any space navy, they are flexible and able to take on a variety of missions. These warships would be a multi-role, being retasked for patrol, escort, flank security.
In peacetime, light and medium cruisers could be used for patrol duty, short-range science/exploration missions, and even escort duty. Some of these cruisers could be used a training vessels for cadets. Then there is another use of light and medium cruisers: the wolf in sheep's clothing. Given the attitude towards light and medium cruisers, it could be possible to use their diminutive status as an advantage. Light or medium cruiser could be used to conceal a naval experimental testbed project vessel. Much like the Star of Milwaukee from the Dynamo Joe comics or the USS Pegasus from ST: TNG "The Pegasus". 

Would There be an  Hard Science Light/Medium Cruiser?
While most science fiction fleet based war-simulation games occur in a soft science universe (*cough* Star Trek *cough* Star Wars), and there can be any number of warship classes with all manner of jobs. But, if we examine the real world with real rules set down by Newton and Einstein, would there be light and/or medium cruisers in our future? I very seriously doubt the existence of medium cruiser. I guess you could up-arm and up-armor an light cruiser of some sort of civilian vessel to be an "medium cruiser", but it would not exist as its own independent class.
I could see a light cruiser class of warship that was designed to be an inter-solar system patrol and first-responder warship to hostile actions and disasters. By design and limitations, the light cruiser would be bound to a solar system, unlike its longer range brother, the heavy cruiser. Light Cruiser could compose the bulk of the "coast guard" of the colonies. These would be a cheaper warship, lightly armed with a limited armory of smaller KEW/DEW systems, and be able to be serviced by local resources. When and if an military action was undertaken inside the star system, these light cruisers would be serve along side the expeditionary taskforce. I've read that light cruisers could be vessels assembled by colonies for their own defense from material left over from their colony ships.    

What is the Hell is the Deal with Star Trek and Cruisers?!
When one examines the bulk of starships in the Star Trek universe, they are mostly cruisers, especially in the Federation, but why? Being a former Trekkie, I can only guess that cruiser classes offer a flexible platform of an agency like the Federation's Starfleet, where their main aim is not a military organization, but one of keeping the peace and exploration. Plus, the word cruiser is not committal and does not sound immediately military or aggressive like an Dreadnought or battlecruiser. Most of the Federation ships in service are classified as "starships" to dilute the waters further, and even pressed, canon Trek sources simply say, "oh, they're cruisers."  Some of it has to do with the attitude of Trek to not be about conflict and space battles, but a hopeful vision of the future. It took FASA and other Trek wargames to further develop the Federation line of starships. Either way, there are a shit ton of cruisers in Trek.    

The Light/Medium Cruiser of Science Fiction
Like many of the ship classes discussed in the Ships of the Line blogpost serial, the majority of the light and medium cruisers found in science fiction are in RPG, video games, and the occasional mainstream work. While light cruisers were an actually combat naval vessel that since has all but disappeared due to the changes in naval surface warfare, the medium cruiser of sci-fi is all but fantasy. Often the light and medium cruisers are used as fast attack elements of a space navy flotilla or as protection for more critical vessels, like space carriers and troop transport. Some RPG and video game players I know used these types of smaller warships similar to chess pawns, using them to push the offensive line and test the plans of the enemy.
While they compose most of the bulk of any large space fleet taskforce, these lower classification of cruisers are seen as unimportant and expansible. I often used light and medium cruiser as flanking units while my larger heavier warships engaged the enemy vessels. I won several Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator engagements with that tactic, but I lost much of my Reliant and Durrett class cruisers in the process. This is not just in the realm of Star Trek, but also in other works, and the smaller cruisers often are the foot soldiers of the fleet, and languish in the shadows finding little respect, while their bigger brothers, the heavy cruiser get the starring roles.     


Examples

The Republic Consular class Light Cruiser from the Star Wars Universe
Can you say, all style and no heart? The weakass Republic Consular class light cruiser was a symbol of a different time in the galaxy prior to the rise of the Sith and the Clone Wars when the Jedi and the Republic were still in power. This Corellian Engineering Corporation built government staship were designed specifically to transport Jedi and Republic personnel to hotspots around the galaxy in the spirit of solving intergalactic crisis peacefully. These were painted in the red hue of their diplomatic immunity status, and were lightly armed, if at all. In a crisis situation, these Republic cruiser could be used as neutral ground in negotiations with specialized salons, meeting rooms for all types of environments. After the Clone Wars broke out, the Consular class light cruiser was retrofitted for combat duties, from troop transport to being a frigate.
  
The Cruisers of the Citadel Council Members from the Mass Effect Universe
Cruisers are the defined as "middle weight class combatants" in the allied navies of the Citadel Council member races, and the Alliance Navy and the Turian cruisers were considered the "infantry" of any naval flotilla. These cruisers are mostly in the 500 meter length range with light armaments and are mostly used by the navies for patrol and security for the larger and more expensive Dreadnoughts. Losses of light cruisers were heavy during the Battle of the Citadel during the first Mass Effect game, and during the all-out Reapers invasion, Cruiser class warships were slaughtered.
When Shepard is attempting to make her way through the wreckage of Alliance HQ on Earth, an Systems Alliance light cruiser attacks an Reaper ship with little effect. This speaks to the ability of the light cruisers of the Systems Alliance Navy to be dual-atmosphere, and is could be used in planetary operations. All of the Alliance Navy light cruisers are named for Earth cities, but oddly, there is no class name known of these cruisers.

The Federation Constellation class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe

One of the few Starfleet classes of starships seen in TNG that speak to the "in between years" spanning from the movies to TNG is the Constellation class light cruiser. This class was based around a modified saucer section from an Constitution class heavy cruiser, and was an "cheaper" design by Starfleet Operations and the production staff of TNG. This class of light cruiser was designed to be an short-range explorer vessel and serve as an light cruiser in military operations, which was rare in those years.
During military operations, the warp nacelle pylons could be mounted with twin torpedo launchers, allowing for the shaky class of starship to be an artillery vessel in a taskforce. As per most of the Starfleet during the Dominion War, these old vessels were pulled out of mothballs, and placed on the secondary line of fighting, as patrol and early warning vessels. Of course, the Constellation class came to fame due to the Stargazer mission under Captain Picard. This is one of the Federation starship classes that was different in the FASA RPG manuals and other more official publications. Some of these was design related, there was a difference in opinion about the role of the ships and their numbers. In the non-canon FASA ST:TNG Officer's Manual, there was 126 Constellation class built, but less than ten were construction according to the Star Trek: The Magazine.  

The Federation Saber class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
This is one of the more odd designs of Federation starships, and it very much of the modern Starfleet design that grew out of the bloody Battle of Wolf 359 and the continued Borg threat. The Saber class light cruiser looks different from the dorsal and side views. From the side, the Saber class looks more like some sort of large shuttle, and not in the typical Federation starship design. However, from the dorsal view, the Saber class was more compact, and reminds me of the old Soyuz class, an subclass of the Miranda class, this is more dramatic from the angled view, especially with the forward mounted shuttle bay. It is uncertain what happened to the Saber class during and after the Dominion War, but we do know that the class served during the war, and it suffered along its brethren

The UNSC Halcyon class Light(!) Cruiser from the HALO Universe
The first official class of UNSC Naval warships seen in the HALO universe was the massive Sulaco inspirited Halcyon class light cruiser that was seen in the original 2001 HALO: Combat Evolved game opening scenes. That vessel was the Pillar of Autumn and it was the vessel that escape the slaughter of Reach and carrying Cortana and the Master Chief to the discovery of the  first Halo ring. The Halcyon class was classified by Bungie as a light cruiser despite being 1170 meter long and 414 meters tall, and containing enough UNSC forces to mount an ground and air assault on Installation 04 against the Covenant. In addition, the Pillar of Autumn was heavily armed with an MAC cannon, Archer missile pods, and a number of 60mm point-defense cannons.
I was seemingly unaware that the Halcyon class was an light cruiser, and during a recently replay of the excellent HALO: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition over the holiday, I was shocked at the resources, size, and abilities of the Pillar of Autumn, and the rest of the Halcyon class for only being a light cruiser! I cannot believe that the Halcyon class is a light cruiser in the minds of most sci-fi fans unless the rest of the UNSC Navy has some seriously huge warships other than the common Charon class frigate. My guess that these vessels were misclassified by Bungie due to ignorance.    

The Klingon K'vort class Light Cruiser from Star Trek Universe
Since ST likes to create mottoes for their starships, the K'vort class should be "Necessity is the mother of invention", because its entire existence is owed to the lack of SFX budget on TNG. In one of the best TNG episodes of all time, "Yesterdays Enterprise", the alternate future Federation and Klingon Empire are at war, and for the studio to pull of the ship-to-ship combat scenes in the episode with the added expense of constructing the "C" Enterprise, the studio recycled the familiar Bird-of-Prey class scout, and renamed it the "K'vort" class cruiser. According to later information, the K'vort class was a larger, combat-minded variant of the familiar and smaller B'rel class scout, and was christened a light cruiser. This would allow the studio to pepper the old Bird-of-Prey ship in any episode that required a Klingon warship. This new aggressive and fast light cruiser was developed to fill the gaps between the old D-7 and the new Vor'cha class "attack cruiser" in the Klingon fleet.
During massive Klingon naval engagements, especially at the battle of Deep Space 9, the K'vort class was the rapid assault element, operating in packs. The speed of this small warship was to offset the unpowered shield grid and the light hull armor. When an enemy was able to lock on to the K'vort class, they were taken down with minimum effort. This factor made the K'vort class the assignment of newer warriors to the fleet, and/or warriors in disfavor of the high council. It is believed that the K'vort class is the most produced Klingon warship in service to their fleet during the 24th century. In the real-world, the K'vort class light cruiser was a creative answer to a familiar porblem on sci-fi TV shows: money. It is believed by Trek sites, that the K'vort class represents the majority of appearances of the Bird-of-Prey model in Trek shows. Since there is no really difference between the B'rel and the K'vort classes, they often referenced to as just "the Bird-of-Prey class".

The Imperial Strike class Medium Cruiser from Star Wars
To most, the Fleet of the Imperial government of the Star Wars universe, is comprised of Star Destroyer class warships and TIE fighters. However, there were other warships in service of the Empire, and one of the best was the Loronar constructed Strike class medium cruiser, coming in at 450 meters and armed with turbolasers and ion blasters. These vessels can carry a company of soldiers, some AT-ST and AT-AT walkers with some TIE fighters. During the reign of the Empire, the Strike class medium cruiser were patrol vessels and rounded out Imperial Fleet taskforces. While the Star Destroyer class was heavily expensive, the Striker class was cheaper and easy to produce, making it a common sight during the days of the Empire.

The Federation Centaur class Medium Cruiser from Star Trek: DS9
During the devastating Dominion War in the Alpha Quadrant from 2373-2375, the Federation was desperate to put starships on the frontlines. Losses had been great due to the Starfleet's philosophy of being an agency of exploration and not a military organization. During the war, the powerful Dominion had shown them the error of their ways. During the operation to retake Deep Space 9 space station and control the Bajoran Wormhole, Starfleet needed all ships, completed or not, into the fray. 
The Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards above Mars responded with a motley kitbash of medium cruisers, and one of them was the temporary Centaur class. This medium cruiser classification was armed with the normal array of phasers and photon torpedoes, and the vessel was assembled out of parts from the Excelsior class battlecruiser and possibly the Akira missile cruiser class, and  it was christened the "Centaur" class medium cruiser. During the Dominion War, Centaur class medium cruisers were on the line, and filled in the gaps in the Federation naval taskforces. It is believed that after the war ended, these kitbashed classes were disassembled.       

The Narn Regime Th'Loth class Light Cruiser from the Babylon 5 Universe
Given the budget of the Babylon 5 show, there was a limited amount of CGI starships that could be seen on-screen. The Narn Regime mainly used the excellent G'Quan class heavy cruiser, but if the starship combat computer game, Babylon 5: Into the Fire had been released by Sierra, than we would have seen more starships of the Narn, including the Th'Loth class. After the Narn were able to repel the Centauri Occupation, they attempted to get a fleet into space to defend themselves from another threat, and the Th'Loth light cruiser was one of the first. The only element developed by the newly formed Narn Regime was the shell that housed alien technology, from the weapons to the hyperspace drive, the Th'Loth class was a symbol of the Narn turning their enemy's weapons and tools against them.  

The Federation Steamrunner Class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
Here is a funky little design, and one of the more interesting Federation starships in a long time. The Steamrunner class light cruiser that was developed for the Battle of Sector 001 scenes in Star Trek: First Contact, and it was just another class of Federation starship in the chaos. Alex Jaeger at ILM developed the Steamrunner class for the movie, and was named for a song from the Fold Zandura band (never heard of them personally). After the Battle of Wolf 359, Starfleet Operations had to replace the losses and develop new ships in case the Borg came back.
While ships like the infamous Defiant class escort was underdevelopment, Starfleet Operations also saw the need for replacing the aging Miranda class light/medium cruiser class, and the Steamrunner was developed for that purpose. However, the vessel was called "ugly", and Starfleet Operations preferred the much more beautiful Intrepid class heavy cruiser. One element of this oddball class that is debated is if its an "heavy frigate" or light cruiser. The DS9 Technical Manual clearly states that the Streamrunner class is an light cruiser. In the Star Trek Armada game, the Steamrunner class is used as a long-range artillery vessel armed with tricobalt torpedo.

The Federation Norway Class Medium Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
After the revolution of CGI SFX and the lower of costs in using these in productions both on TV and in the movies. This created more Starfleet starships began to show up on-screen, and the Norway and the Steamrunner were both forged out of the computer and not the model shop, both by the talent of Alex Jaeger. Once again, the Norway class medium cruiser was born out of the devastating Battle of Wolf 359 and the Borg Threat. Originally, the Norway class was designed to replace the aging Miranda class cruisers, but that aging vessels served along its replacements during the Dominion War.
The Norway class medium cruiser was first seen in the Battle of Sector 001 in the Star Trek: First Contact, and it had an powerful phaser beam emitter on the dorsal bow, and was seen used against the Borg cube. This class was used throughout the Dominion War, and it is possible that Federation designers took the inspiration of this class from early smaller Starfleet starships that were in use prior to the Earth-Romulan War.

The Federation Miranda class Light/Medium Cruiser from the  Star Trek Universe
During the days when there were few official canonized Federation starships, the Miranda class cruiser was one of the few, and had a starring role in the best Star Trek movie of all time. This caused the Miranda class to be a favor design among wargamers, comics, and game manuals, and the ship became known by a number of names. This caused the Miranda class to be shoehorned into the TOS time period. Officially, the USS Reliant was a member of the Miranda class medium cruiser, however, the FASA RPG listened the class as the "Reliant", and the noncanon 1991 Ships of the Starfleet: Volume One, there are several classes based around the Miranda base, including the Avenger and Knox, and some of them are light and medium cruisers. Most of them are different classes based on the "roll bar" used or if there is one at all.
Since the formation of Starfleet, there have been Miranda class type cruisers populating the ranks, like the 22nd century Intrepid class and the 23rd century Anton class. During the refit of Starfleet during the 2270's, the Miranda class was developed and became a fixture of Starfleet and Federation Space. While Starfleet wanted to replace the Miranda class cruiser during the 24th century, the Dominion War caused the Miranda class to be saved and put into another conflict. However, by the end of the war, the Miranda class survivors were few, and this was the last duty of the old lady.

Next Time on FWS...
In the next installment of the blog serial Forgotten Classics, FWS will exploring a hidden lost gem on the original Xbox and the Playstation 2: Battle Engine Aquila. This was 2003 mecha first-person shooter developed by the British gaming studio Lost Toys and published by ATARI. While the game was given solid reviews at the time, and placed on some of the "best of" lists for the PS2 and Xbox, the game was a commercial flop, forcing the closing of Lost Toys. I decided it was high time FWS cover one of my favorite titles on the original Xbox, so, I got onto Amazon, ordered a copy and dusted off my original Xbox for some retro fun.

01 January 2015

FWS Topics: Patrolling


One of the most common operational types for any soldier or airman is the patrol. These mission types are at the heart of basic military operations, and are some of the first types of operations taught to new troopers. While this operational type is very important to the military, they seem to be forgotten by most military sci-fi authors and creators, and hopefully this blogpost could change some of that.  Much thanks goes to William S. Frisbee Jr. for his excellent Tips on Writing Military Science Fiction website for the topic idea and some of the information presented here.

What is an Military Patrol?

According to online military field manuals I found, an patrol is "a detachment sent out by a larger body to conduct a specific mission. Patrols operate semi-independently and return to the main body upon completion of their mission". These mission types can vary, but the sources I checked with explicitly say that most patrols are not combat focused as a general rule. Any patrol operates under the risk of encountering the enemy, but given the smaller size of the patrol force, they would attempt to avoid contact whenever possible. The majority of the time, patrols are used to gather intelligence on the terrain, the populace, possible positions of the enemy forces, possible natural resources or positions, securing an area or reassuring the local population. Patrolling is one of the longest conducted types of operations in military history, from our ancestors in caves to the streets of Kabul, and it will endure to have soldiers in spacesuits walking patrols on the sands of Mars.

The Types of Patrols

Search and Destroy Patrol
The term "search and destory" was popularized during the Vietnam War, and was altered to the aggressive nature of the term that was unpopular politically. Today, "search and attack" patrols are designed to be an aggressive tool to hunt down enemy forces and destroy them far from base before they can mount an attack. As the name implies, the unit that is sent out on patrol has to hunt down the enemy force prior to the destroying. Normally, the search and destroy patrol is conduct after several RECON patrols and the AO is well known to prevent the S&D patrol from being ambushed after their own assault as well as developing an E&E route that allows the patrol to move quickly and quietly back to base. While the S&D Patrol is out in the field, another unit is kept on hot-standby, acting as an QRF...just in case.


Contact Patrol
According to William S. Frisbee Jr.'s website, there are two types of Contact Patrols. One is to literally make contact with friendly or allied forces to determine their status of these allied patrols, give them information, supplies, or lead them back to base. These are dangerous missions due to the increased risk of friendly fire or exposing your allied force to an enemy unit. Another type of Contact Patrol is used to purse an enemy force after another unit has made hostile contact with them. For some reason, the original patrol cannot purse the enemy force, and another patrol is called to engage in a running gun battle with the enemy.

Ambush Patrol
One type of combat patrol is the ambush patrol that is specifically tasked with waiting for the enemy and overwhelm them with suppressive fire and surprise....always a bad combination. If you accurate intelligence on enemy movements and positions, an ammbush patrol can be formed and conducted. Normally conducted on a road or trail against infantry or even armored units, ambush patrols can be a smaller force that engages a larger force. While killing the enemy is always good, ambush patrols reek a psychologically toll on the enemy force. They are less likely to use a certain route or even move through an area if there have been successful ambushes conducted against them.

Security Patrol

One of the most common patrols seen by military and civilians is the security patrol. There is another type of security patrol in the USMC patrol manual, and that one is used to screen the flanks of an larger force. However, the most common security patrol is what we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, military unit patrolling in either vehicles or on foot to ensure the security of an area or even their own base perimeter. This was common during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, to prevent enemy sappers from slipping into the base. On larger bases, security patrols are handled by Military Police units, and it likely in the future that security patrols will be handled by UGVs.

Clearing Patrol
When an unit occupies newly gained territory, a clearing patrol is formed to ensure that the area is indeed secure, especially during the night hours when an enemy counterattack could occur. I've also read that "clearing" patrols were used in urban combat environments to literary clearing the path for vehicles and tanks. Ensuring that mines, snipers, and anti-tank weaponry were not laying in wait, but these were very dangerous for the soldiers on the patrol.

Standing Patrol
Much like RECON patrols, Standing Patrols are used to setup observation posts and/or listening posts to watch an region for enemy activity or gather intelligence on the region in question, such as use as an landing zone. Standing Patrols are similar in mission to RECON, but they are in a static position, and thus requiring more planning on placing the standing patrol in a the right area to make their observations without being exposed to the enemy. This type of patrol was seen in the episode "toy soldiers" of Space: Above and Beyond, when the 58th and a very green Marine 5th Force Recon unit dig in on the planet Mors.

Reconnaissance Patrol
This is a smaller patrol, comprised of a squad or even a smaller unit of soldiers. Their primary goal is see the enemy, but not have the enemy see them, and gather as much intelligence on a specific point on a map. Often Recon patrols are the vanguard of the larger force, and the information they bring back often determines the overall strategy for the commanders. Often, RECON patrols are conducted by specialized units trained in RECON tactics with specialized gear. A good example of a modern RECON patrol is the Navy SEAL Recon and Surveillance team (drawn from SEAL Delivery teams) that was part of Operation: RED WINGS in Afghanistan around Sawtalo Sar mountains in summer of 2005. Another example was MAKO-31, the DEVGRU RECON unit during Operation ANACONDA that setup an OBS post to recon LZs for the main force. Not all RECON patrols are designed for stealth, Recon-by-Force and Recon-by-Fire are two examples of tactics to gauge an area by sending a larger force or probing enemy positions by firing on them.

The Organization and Planning of Patrols
Anytime that soldiers are ordered out of their base and sent into hostile territory, planning is key. Entire manuals have been authored on the subject, and they often information in-depth on every element of an patrol. Unlike some patrols seen in media, most of the time, patrols are highly planned and organized to allow for success of the operation and the soldiers coming back to base alive. Before the patrol is sent outside the wire, the patrol and all the troopers involved are informed of the goals, the intelligence on the area, length of time in the field, transportation, and a plan if the patrol should run into trouble.
Patrols are lead by the patrol leader, and s/he orders an Warning Order to inform the lucky troopers that are being sent outside the wire. During this phase, weapons are drawn, gear packed, radios checked, maps are pulled, and the soldiers are informed of their mission by the patrol leader. If the soldiers are lucky, terrain models are used instead of maps to allow them a sense of the terrain and how the next few days are going to be like. Recently, the use of 3D technology allows for commanders to brief the soldiers without these terrain models. Everything is checked and rechecked, and the patrol is sent out, and then the real fun begins.
In the patrol itself, there is an logical organization of the men, the gear, time, and the overall plan. In the patrol, there is an overall leader is normally near the front of the patrol formation with their radio operator. There is also an assistant patrol leader, and is near the rear of the formation to make sure that the commander's orders are being followed and the soldiers are doing their jobs. Leading this merry band of warfighters through the wildness is the navigator. They guide the patrol via maps and GPS, along with knowing where they are and where they need to get to. Being an navigator is a tough job, and easy to fuck up.
When it comes to the soldiers that comprise the patrol, there is several jobs. The pointman takes point and is front security, and advance out in front of the patrol formation to scout ahead. The navigator gives the pointman information on what to expect. These pointman are normally armed with assault rifles. Then we come to the coverman, armed with the light machine gun and is general behind the pointman. In case the shit gets thick, the coverman opens up with the SAW, and lays down suppressive fire. Flank security is handled by one soldier on each flank of the patrol formation and is there to watch for the enemy, and not allowing the patrol to fall into an ambush. However, there is a chance of being lost from the rest of the patrol.
Bring up the rear, is tail-end charlie or rear security. At the end of the patrol formation is the assistant patrol leader, and can lead another element of the patrol if there is a problem. Rear security is important, because an enemy would be foolish to attack head on, and the flank and rear are the the best targets. Much like the pointman, rear security needs to be on the ball, or else the patrol could be cut down from behind. Normally parred with the rear guy is an SAW gunner...just in case the shit hits the fan. That brings us to the paceman. These soldiers are tasked with keeping a count of the number of steps that they take, and this allows the navigator to gauge their speed and distance.
When the patrol stops and regroups, there is another job: the terrain model man. Until recently, the TMM would design a 3D map with the help of the navigator using string, dirt, coffee grounds. However, with the advent of ruggedized military laptop computers, the TMM can access other applications to communicate their current position, path, and possible battle path to attack an enemy unit. In the modern patrol, technology helps, allowing soldiers to be updated when conditions change in their AO due to current intelligence. Just pray that there is a Starbuck's for WiFi access.

Foot Patrol
Since the first footsoldiers, there has been foot patrols, and that tradition carries onward today. As said above, the average foot patrol involves a great deal of planning, organization, and soldiers to carry out the task at hand. Foot Patrols by soldiers can be carried out in a variety of terrain, from mountains to cities to jungles with all manner of peoples and enemy forces in their path. Unlike vehicle or air patrols, the foot patrol is the most exposed and naked if anything should happen.

Vehicle Patrol
Since World War II, there have been patrols conducted by mounted soldiers in all manner of light military utility vehicles. Before that, there were horses. While the horse, and the modified Jeeps of the Long Range Desert Group are gone, soldiers today use Humvees, Land Rovers, and the MRAP to patrol places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Within vehicle patrols, communication is critical and planning. When or if an vehicle goes down in the formation, soldiers have to know what to do, and what their role is to get the downed vehicle out of the hot zone. Unlike foot patrols, vehicle based patrols are much more difficult to maintain sheath and a low-profile, especially with vehicles like the MRAP. However, as the soldiers of the LRDG showed us, it can be done. With vehicle patrols, fuel must be considered.


Combat Air Patrol
Air space is as critical as the ground in modern warfare, and to ensure the control over the sky, combat air patrols are flown to protect the carrier or advancing ground units, while maintaining domination of the skies. CAPS allow for reduced response times to incoming threats, this was used in BSG to defend the fleet against Cylon raiders. After the First Gulf War, the US and her allies flow CAPs over the northern and southern regions of Iraq to maintain the UN No Fly Zones. After 9/11, CAPs were flown over the United States in case of further terrorist activities.

The Future of Patrolling
Given what we've seen in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, patrolling was a key element in maintaining control and a presence in an unstable situation on the ground. This was also an opportunity for rebel and terrorist forces to strike at the coalition forces, who stood out in their HUMMVs and MRAPs. With the risk of death and injury, but the need still for patrolling, future warfighters could turn to unmanned vehicles for the answer. Already, UAVs patrol vast regions of airspace, watching and waiting. These unmanned aircraft can stay aloft for 24 hours, gathering intelligence on a region or even waiting on a target.
The same concept could be applied to the Unmanned Ground Vehicle. These wheeled robotic vehicles (or bipedal robots in the future) could take the place of those dangerous foot and vehicles patrols in hostile cities, like what we've seen in Neill Blomkamp's Tetra Vaal from 2004. These vehicles would be piloted from behind the wire or even be programed like the iRobot Roomba to survey an area over and over, without the risk of boredom or distraction as human soldier would experience on very long foot patrols. However, these UGVs or even humanform robots could not engage the local populace like human soldiers, or build a relationship. Instead, the local population would most likely be scared of seeing robotic vehicle or Terminators on their streets...can't win them all. Of course, with the recent advent of micro-UAVs, robotic patrolling could be accomplished without the local being fully aware of the robots that are watching them. We could also see the advent of real-time battlefield video, linking the patrol to the base, much like we witness in ALIENS. Instead of the experience and report of the soldiers, the commanders would also have video to analyze.    

Science Fiction and Patrolling
Despite patrolling being one of the cornerstones of infantry operations, it is not seen that often in military science fiction works. Sure, the word "patrol" is used, but it is rarely the certain centerpiece of the storyline. Sure, back in the more pulp era of science fiction, you had novel by E.E. "Doc" Smith like Galactic Patrol and the old Black-and-White TV show Space Patrol from the 1950's and 1960's. However, while these terms were used for mostly describing an futuristic space military organization, they were not the actual patrols that are conducted by military personnel. I believe that given the rash of the usage "patrol" in pulp sci-fi may have something to do with World War II veterans writing these works. Only on the rare occasion, I've I read an science fiction that contained an actual patrol that conforms to SOP, and often it is in video games, as an excuse to get the player into messy situations, as in some of the KillzoneHalo games or even the recent Destiny. Type in "patrol" into Google, and a great deal of Deviantart art pieces pop up, but few works were it takes the primary role. Why is the realistic military patrol ignored by science fiction creators? I am not sure, it would seem that patrols would be at the heart of most military sci-fi novels and other works, but outside of some video games and RPG situations conducted by the Dungeon-Master, military sci-fi creators use more specialized "missions" more than a general patrols. I have put patrols into several of my military sci-fi novels after reading William S. Frisbee Jr. during the writing of my first military science fiction novel.  

Examples:

Tech 49 Jack Harper from Oblivion 
I might be in the minority here, but I rather enjoyed 2013's Oblivion, and it contains a rather good example of an science fiction aerial patrol. In the film, Tech 4-9, Jack Harper is tasked with repairing the drones used to defend the sea water powered Fusion power generators and patrolling the radiation-free zones of NW America in his amazingly designed "bubble ship". At some points, Jack is forced to a ground-game, and he uses an fuel-cell powered motorcycle. The patrol portion of Jack's mission is brief, but an interesting element in a mainstream big budget sci-fi film. We also see towards the end of the film, there are more than one Jack Harper Tech, and like Jack-4-9, Jack-5-2 patrols and repairs.

The Overmind Bio-Mech Patrols from Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
Taking a healthy helping from 1984's The Terminator, 1987's Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was about a machine intelligence taking power via advancements in AI and waging a war against the meatbags called "The Metal Wars" in the mid-22st century. We lost, and the machines, with help from race-traitor Lord Dread, won. The wastelands of former cites are patrolled by a number of Overmind's Bio-Mechs humanform soldiers. Some of these robot patrols are commanded by human officers loyal to the Machine Order and the new Bio-Dread Empire, while other times, smaller wheeled machines patrol the ruins for humans. During the series, Lord Dread and Overmind developed Bio-Dreads. These more advanced machines like Soaron and Blastarr, are designed to patrol and aid other machine units. We often see Soaron and Blastarr on-patrol and just waiting to intercept Power and his merry band of freedom fighters. Throughout the one-season show, machine patrols are often ambushed by Captain Power or other human resistance fighters.

Kyle Reese's L.A. Patrol from The Terminator
In of the great "future war" scenes from the original 1984 The Terminator, we see Kyle Reese in active military service with the 132nd under Justin Perry as a tech-segerant in the Tech-Com group (whatever the hell that is). During one 2029 scene, Kyle leads an recon patrol observing Skynet aerial patrol activity. The reason for the patrol is never stated, and it likely a normal function of any resistance unit. In my opinion, Kyle's patrol is either to watch Skynet activity near their base, acting as outside-the-wire security, watching to see if Skynet is moving onto their location. Or, the 132nd is planning a strike on a Skynet facility, and Kyle's scout patrol is reconing the AO in preparation. Of course, minutes after Kyle and his soldiers return to their underground base, an Terminator 800 series infiltration unit enters the base with an GE RSB-80 Plasma machine gun and lays waste to the base. When I've imagined the dark world of 2029 AD in the The Terminator universe, patrolling is key element in resistance and Skynet military operations.

The Skynet Hunter-Killer Patrol Machines from The Terminator Universe
To maintain control over the remains of the human population and keep a watchful eye on their activities, Skynet deploys a number of patrol machines on the ground and in the air. One of the iconic scenes in the original 1984 film, is the Skynet Hunter-Killer model A4 400c type patrolling the wasteland that is Los  Angles in the post-Skynet apocalypse. Machine like these forces the Resistance to keep their heads down during the daytime, and only operate at night. If that wasn't bad enough, the wasteland is patrol on the ground by the monstrous  Hunter-Killer Tank, that is used for urban suppression operations.
The smaller variant of the HK tank, the M250D was a smaller tracked vehicle that could maneuver through the rough conditions of post-nuclear strike urban wastelands that were a favorite operational area for the Resistance. Skynet even deployed a snake-like machine to monitor and patrol waterborne environments, as seen in Terminator: Salvation. According to some Terminator fan writers, the first time Skynet encountered the human survivors was when underground patrol machines came across humans hiding in sewers and other underground structures. Often, the Resistance low-level operations involve destroying Skynet patrol machines, and are the most replaced units in the war against the humans.

The Robotic Police from Neill Blomkamp's Tetra Vaal
There is little doubt that Neill Blomkamp is one of the brave new voices filmmaking and in his next film Chappie, he draws from this own previous work. In 2004, he created an  fake advisement about a law enforcement robots that patrols the dangerous region of urban centers of developing nations without risking flesh-&-blood human police officers. Tetra Vaal shows us patrol humanform armed robots and how patrolling could alter in the future with the advent of bipedal robotic technology.


Combat Air Patrols from Battlestar Galactica
In both the 1978 and 2003 TV series, Colonial pilots are seen conducting patrols in their Viper class space fighters or in the case of Ronald D. Moore series, the Raptor was also used to scout ahead and run patrols in   unexplored regions of space. Like most uses of concept of patrols in military science fiction, the writers used patrols to get our Colonial pilots into combat situations. In the original series, the very first episode has Apollo and Zac run a recon patrol, discovering the Cylon plot. This patrol results in the death of Zac. The theme of using patrols would continue throughout the series.
During the 2003 reimagined series, there is a combat air patrol or CAP flown in the fleet throughout the series. Normally, the CAP is flown by two Vipers and act as the primary defensive element for the fleet along being the rapid response military force inside of the fleet when Cylon jump in or a ship captain revolts. Deep space patrols are also undertaken by the Raptor class scout/utility vehicle that use their FTL capability and often this is an important plot device element of the series.

Combat Air Patrols from Space: Above and Beyond
Throughout this important, but short-lived military science fiction television series Space: Above and Beyond, space fighter patrols are launched from the space carrier Saratoga. Space fighter jocks in SA-43 Hammerhead fighters are seen patrolling regions of space to a similar degree as seen in Wing Commander and X-Wing computer games: to control and monitor space.  Some of the patrols last over a day in flight time, and one wonders how they stay awake flying for that long. One of the best examples of patrols was during the hunt for the new Chig fighter and the aliens' ace pilot: Chiggy Von Richthofen. Patrol after patrol was sent out after the new alien fighter, and he killed them one by one. Miss this series.

Combat Air Patrols from Wing Commander
Throughout the various Wing Commander video game titles, patrolling various Nav-Points was a staple of the gamers' experience. Often, when the space carrier jumped into a new system that was not secure by Terran forces from the killer space tigers, you were deployed to run a patrol of several navigation points in the star system. Often, you and your wingman get jumped by Kilrathi fighters, especially in Nav-Points with asteroids. Patrols were a way for the game designers to get the player use to the game or new fighter with a limited engagement scenario and since combat air patrols are a primary mission of any military pilot, it made sense to include them in the game.

Combat Air Patrols from Star Wars: X-Wing
One of the greatest computer games of my high school years was the ass kicking X-Wing along with its expansion packs, and patrolling was an important element in the a few of the missions of the brave rebel alliance pilots. Much like Wing Commander, the mission of this Lucasarts' game are patrol regions of space, and at times, return patrols are the reinforcements to your missions.


Next Time on FWS...
It has been some time since FWS last posted an Ships of the Line blogpost, and we will be picking back up with more cruisers. To speed things along, FWS will be covering two classifications of cruisers: light and medium. Unlike the Heavy Cruiser, there are just fewer explains to work with. Here, FWS will explore and explain the light and medium cruisers of navies past, present, and future.