16 October 2017

FWS Movie Review: BLADE RUNNER 2049

TIt is no secret that I am a huge fan of the transformative 1982 BLADE RUNNER and I've often wondered what an official sequel to Ridley Scott's flawed cyberpunk masterpiece would actually look like. Now, in 2017, we fans of the film shall wondered no more with the release of BLADE RUNNER 2049.  While I wanted to see this on day one, but life caught up with me. For the record, I saw this on an IMAX in Dallas on Wednesday October 11th.  This will be a Spoiler-Free review.

Did the original BLADE RUNNER warrant Sequel?
Despite the current holy status of the original 1982 film and its director, we should remind ourselves that BLADE RUNNER was a box-office flop when it was original released, making about $33.62 million throughout its several theatrical releases at a budget of $28 million. While the film was regarded as special and unique for the time, especially in the post-Star Wars era, it took time for BLADE RUNNER to transform into the film it is today: one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.
But, does that fandom and praise translate into the need for a sequel? The original Philip K. Dick book was never followed-up and to me, the 1982 movie story involving  Rick Deckard, the rogue NEXUS-6 skinjobs, and Rachel would preclude a sequel given it encapsulated nature. Given this, I've always feared what a sequel to my favorite film would look like, and nor did I think it really needed one. I never felt that road was clear for where to take Deckard and Rachel and the world of 2019. Despite this, I greatly desired to see more of the dark world of 2019, but I was also willing to let the greatness of the first film to remain undisturbed to prevent someone fucking it up. That, my friends, is what made the journey to make BLADE RUNNER 2049 so perilous in the first place...but I do believe that this followup film proves that the effort was not in vain and that the story of BLADE RUNNER could be organically built upon.

The GOOD
Sequels come at high peril, especially when adding onto a classic of film or literature. This is only compounded when the original work and the sequel are separated by a wide gulf of time. When the immortal classic Gone with the Wind was finally gifted with a sequel in book and miniseries form, it was the 1990's and there was much risk due to the legend status of both the 1936 book and 1939 film. The 1991 book Scarlett was widely panned and the miniseries was just good enough, but not the same level as the "best movie ever made". It just so happens that my wife's favorite book and movie are Gone with the Wind, while my favorite movie is BLADE RUNNER (I hate the PDK book BTW), so I felt that the parallel  needed to be made.
I was nervous when the BLADE RUNNER sequel became reality...what if it sucked? What if it was another Scarlett? Fortunately for all of us BR fans, that did not happen. The short of it is that BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a sequel done properly with great respect paid to the 1982 original and careful consideration paid  to the path the new 2017 film blazes with expanding the world of BR. It also does not alienate the fans of the original film by being a serious departure from the original. BLADE RUNNER 2049 still asks the hard  questions of slavery, quality of life, and what makes someone really human while examining these question through the lens of a gumshoe police assassin on the path of runaway technology in a flying car cutting throughout the dense asian-infused urban jungle of a broken, sick world.
Much praise must be laid at the feet of director Denis Villeneuve, writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, along with cinematography by Roger Deakins. They replicate the original look and feel of the first film by Ridley Scott, but adding their own spin and style, creating one of the best sci-fi films in years that is more than just BLADE RUNNER visuals. Populating this world of 20419 is an awesome assembly of actors and actress that bring flesh to the dystopia. While Harrison Ford does resume his role as Rick Deckard, it is new Blade Runner, K played by Ryan Gosling that is the heart of the film.
While I've not seen much he's been in, Ryan shines here, turning a great layered performance that is the best when acting opposite the talented and lovely Ana de Armas playing K's "girlfriend" Joi. It is that emotion center that brings heart to the messy, dirty world of BLADE RUNNER. Three other performances I thought were spot on where MacKenzie Davis, (who plays in one of my favorite current TV shows, Halt and Catch Fire), the always good Jared Leto, and newcomer Sylvia Hoeks round out the new evil faces of the new megacorporation. The one performance I was surprised at was Robin Wright as Lt. Joshi appearing in the film and how strong she was in it. The best praise I can add on to BLADE RUNNER 2049 is that it left me emotional how I felt after seeing the first film back in 1990. It echoed the memories of sadness, depression, fascination, and wonder; perfectly replicating them. As the final credits rolled, I was in awe and emotional spent. I love this movie. 

The BAD
For the most part, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a masterwork that marries up to the original 1982 film in all of its good and bad ways. When I saw BLADE RUNNER for the first time in 1990, it left me confused, sad, shellshocked, and fascinated. I wanted more. So, I watched it over and over...to the tune of over 100 times. But, while this emotional journey is great for us fans of the original, it will not create fans that where not interested in the first one or experiencing those emotions. This is not Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. 
Many people have told me that BLADE RUNNER is "depressing" or "overrated", and there is nothing in BLADE RUNNER 2049 that will alter that for them. Due to this, it likely that this film will not be the box office success that the first one could not be either. BLADE RUNNER is not Star Trek, Star Wars, and we fans would not want it to be. Added to this, BLADE RUNNER 2049 does not stray from the pack of other works in the BLADE RUNNER universe. It is more of the same as we saw in the sequel books, the 1996 PC game: a Rep-Detec hunting down his prey in the mean, neon-washed streets of Los Angeles. While we do see more of Earth in 2049 and this is welcomed, the basic structure remains the same because it has to. I do not think the majority of BLADE RUNNER fans would like a sequel to divert from this pattern and setting. It simply is what BLADE RUNNER is.

The UGLY
There is very little to criticise here with the new film, but there is one element that stood out to me: accessability. My wife nearly went with me to see this film and I am relieved she did not because she has never seen the original 1982 film, nor the three short films made to detail the backstory of BLADE RUNNER 2049. If you have not seen the original film and the shorts, that explain the thirty year gap between 2019 and 2049, than you will be lost and portions of the 2017 film are not going to make any sense. This makes BLADE RUNNER 2049 a less accessible film to moviegoers than other sequels and this is likely why its financial performance as been lacking. This was a film for the fans by the fans for better or worse.

Should You See BLADE RUNNER 2049?
If you are a fan of the science fiction cinema, BLADE RUNNER, or even Ghost in the Shell; than go see this film on the big screen, preferably in IMAX. This is a properly done sequel to the 1982 classic that adds onto the mythos of the world of BLADE RUNNER. It is all that we fans could have hoped for and more than we could have dreamed. It is that good and deserves our money, time, and attention.



Will BLADE RUNNER 2049 Hold Up to the Original?
Despite the box-office failure of the original film, BLADE RUNNER has been praised as the Citizen Kane of sci-fi movies and revolutionizing sci-fi design along with cinematography. But, will the 2017 sequel be held to the same regard? After seeing it and the incredible job it did to expand on the original material, I think it would be picked over, studied, marveled at, and establish a cult following. I am in more awe of this 2017 film and its accomplishments than the 1982. BLADE RUNNER 2049 comes in the shadow of the original film and other works that heavily borrow from it, including the recent Ghost in the Shell and even the struggle of Mr. Data on ST:TNG. This means that the 2017 film had more to proven and even hard work to set it apart from the world that BLADE RUNNER created. That is worth celebrating.

10 October 2017

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol. 1)

The video game industry is over 40 years old and since its founding, there has been a love affair between Military Science Fiction and video games that burns still. While some games reach legendary status as icons like DOOM, HALO, or Wing Commander...others do not. These MSF games disappear from the common conscience of the video game public for one reason or another. FWS has profiled a few "lost" military sci-fi games like Xenophobe and Battle Engine Aquila over the years, and I was inspired by YouTube review Metal Jesus to explore more forgotten military sci-fi games. For clarification, this is the first of four Top 10 lists on forgotten military sci-fi games and I will be excluding shoot'em up style games, like Xevious, R-Type, and Blazing Lazers. If there is forgotten Military SF you know about and want to see included, comment below and let me know!

1. Star Trek Strategic Operations Simulator (SEGA 1983)
Despite Star Trek coming onto the public consciousness some 11 years prior to the release of Star Wars, Trek has never reached the levels of popularity in terms of toys and video games...especially in the arcades. In 1983, Trek and Wars both had vector graphics arcade cabinets battling it out for quarters in the golden age of arcades, which I was front-and-center for as a small boy. The 1983 ATARI Star Wars arcade game is well known and celebrated and there was always a line for it...but the 1983 Star Trek Strategic Operations Simulator (STSOS) by Sega is a forgotten title in the long history of Trek video games and this is one of the few Trek arcade games ever developed. I can clearly remember this arcade game in the 1980's, and I would always pump quarters into it. When my family made the trek to Tulsa from Bartlesville in the 1980's, my brother and I descended on the Starbase 21 comic book store and then begged to go to the Mexican food joint next door: Casa Bonita. Good food with a massive arcade, it was a real winner...and they had the sitdown STSOS arcade game which I always played first due to being a massive Trek fan since birth.
There were three versions of Sega’s STSOS: the white sit-down “captain’s chair”, the dedicated standup cabinet, and the retro kit sold by Sega to switch over one of  their other vector graphic standup machines to the Star Trek game for about $1200. You sat down, took the controls on either side of your command chair as Spock-like synthesized voice and main theme pumped into your ears. Then it was time to defend Starbases and kick some Klingon D-7 ass! Borrowing heavily from the look and feel of Star Trek II: TWOK, it was a real winner that could be merciless, but it did not replicate the complexity of capital ship combat seen in the Trek universe.
Rather, STSOS was a basic space shooter having D-7 capital ships dying quick deaths like the TIE fighters in the Star Wars arcade game. STSOS was not confined to the darken arcades only, being ported to the ATARI ST, 2600 and 5200 systems, the Commodore 64, Apple II, and the Colecovision. Decidedly, the ports on the computer systems were much better and fleshed out with you even engaging NOMAD from the original series! One of the only articles I’ve read on comparing every port concluded that the Commodore 64 was the superior of the home ports, only trumped by the original arcade. The only system that was able to replicate the Vector graphics was the Vectrex home console systems own Trek game from 1982. This was not developed by Sega, but GCE under the title of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. This was even more the space shooter with you taking command of the refit  Enterprise and battling the Klingon and Romulan forces. Given the uniqueness of the arcade and the many ports of the game, why is STSOS considered a forgotten game?  Part of this stems from the delicate nature of the arcade game hardware, especially the vector graphic monitors. According to a vintage arcade cabinet reseller, vector monitors are troublesome and often see service calls. It was not just limited to the monitors, but also the power supply, along with issues with the computer boards themselves equaling an arcade game that has the reliability of an old Fiat!
Despite the extensive porting of STSOS, the game never seemed to attract much in the way of attention at the time or even now. Part of this has to do with the historical context. Star Wars was much more popular in the video game market and easier to develop games for. In addition, when the  ATARI ports came out, it was the Video Game Crash, making the ports of STSOS much rarer than on the home computer systms. While I loved this game at the arcade, I never knew it was ported to the ATARI 2600 until a few years ago, reflecting possibly poor advising at the time. Then there is the other issue: STSOS is simplistic space shooter video game lacking the magic of what Star Trek really is. Star Wars was much more geared to being packaged into space shooter arcade games, and it seemed hollow when applied to Star Trek. If there is to be combat, it needs to be more complex and detailed as seen in tabletop starship combat games released by FASA.

2. Solaris (ATARI 1986)
The wood-enhanced ATARI 2600 was the progenitor of all home video game consoles and it lasted longer than most people think. After ATARI emerged from its financial troubles in 1983, it would keep the iconic, but outdated 2600 with a fresh remodel to match the 5200 and 7800 aesthetic. This version was called the 2600 Jr. and would see new video games being released, they were mostly downgraded 7800 titles. One of the real standouts was the 1986 2600 Jr. only release Solaris. This is one of those iconic sci-fi names and while it has no connection to the 1961 Stanislaw Lem novel, it is one of the best 2600 titles of all time.  It originally started off life as the sequel to Star Raiders and then was attempted movie tie-in title for 1984’s The Last Starfighter. Those were abandoned with the 2600 Jr. getting Solaris and the 8-bit ATARI systems getting Star Raiders 2. The story of Solaris is lacking and it involves finding a pioneer mission to the planet Solaris before the evil alien collective, the Zylons, find and destroy the lost settlers.  Your low-profile mission is to locate Solaris, rescue the settlers on the planet along with killing any Zylons you can.  The game was a classic space shooter in the vein of Star Raiders, due to those games sharing the same creator, and Solaris is viewed as a spiritual sequel to that iconic title.
Your view is behind your space cruiser and you warp from location to location over a massive amount of space that seemed to be the upper limit of the 2600 hardware. To locate the Planet Solaris, you have to hunt through 15 quadrants (map pages) with 48 “sectors” on each quadrant. Limiting your range is fuel and only Federation planets have docking stations. If the fuel station is destroyed, it fucks up everything with the ship controls being reversed. Without a save system, the game was extremely difficult to get through in a single sitting, despite owning this game for my 7800, I never beat it. The game is widely praised today as being one of the best titles on the older ATARI hardware and I agree with them. If it was so praised, why is it a lost title? At the time, the NES was the goliath on the 8 bit home console market and it nearly blotted out the Sega Master System and the ATARI 7800 let alone the older 2600. With the market share for ATARI consoles was small, the market for 2600 games was even smaller.

3. Military Madness (Hudson Soft 1989)
Back in the late 1980's, the era of 8 bit home video game console systems was ending with all of the major companies in the market involved moving on to developing 16 bit systems when one new usurper came to the video game market with a 16 bit system early in 1987: the NEC PC Engine (AKA Turbografx-16 in the West). The system would arrive in the western market in 1989 as the new Sega Genesis was also arriving. By the early 1990's, the Turbografx-16 was battling for market shares with the SNES and the Genesis, with ATARI ending their plans for an 16 bit system called "the Panther". NEC's home console system had limited exposure to the US market and despite being a great system, it was discontinued due to poor sales in 1994 despite several attempts to spice up sales with a portable system and an CD hardware attachment, the first offered for a home system.
I was fully aware of the Turbografx-16 due to a display system at a high-end Tulsa area electronics store and badly wanted one...but, in Xmas of 1990, my father bought a home computer for my brother and I, launching me to become a PC gamer for much of the 1990's. One of the titles that stood out to me, due to the name, at the time of the Turbografx-16's release was Hudson Soft's Military Madness. This noted Japanese software company partnered with NEC to develop the PC Engine/Turbografx-16 system. This meant that a great deal of games on the system were developed by Hudson Soft, including Military Madness (AKA Nectaris in Japan).
This military sci-fi strategy game takes place on the Moon, specifically, the Mare Nectaris region, where the Japanese title originates from. In 2089, a war between the two major Earth political blocs breaks out for control of the Moon, which the Axis side is planning on using as a launching pad for a doomsday weapon so that they can gain control of the Earth. The turn-based hexagon map game is played over 16 missions. RTS games have never been as popular on console as computers, and to make matters worse, Military Madness was released on a unpopular system in the west. This was a double-tap to the head for Military Madness, causing it to fade away along with the Turbografx-16 system.  In Japan, the PC Engine was much more success along with Nectaris with several other games being developed and released in the series.

4. Oni (Bungie West 2001)

For those of us gaming back at the turn of the new century, we can recall this awesome manga-inspired cover-art. On the heels of success with Myth, Bungie was able to expand, opening a new studio in California called Bungie West in 1997. Their only release before being shut down was the oddity called Oni. Released on the PS2, Mac, and PC; this 3rd person futuristic shooter borrowed heavily from Ghost in the Shell with the Japanese anime opening being a love letter to the world created by the 1995 OVA. That was the hook of the game: western anime beat'em up/shooter with an rocking badass female warfighter with big guns that could be Major Kusanagi's punker little sister. That cover-art wrote a big check that the actual Oni game just could not cash when gamers got their hands on it January of 2001. The game takes place in 2032 where the Earth has been ruined by pollution, forced the formation of an one world government and you take the role of specialized police officer Konoko assigned to special taskforce of TCTF. When she learns the truth, Konoko begins working for the other side and is hunted. She makes use of melee combat and gunplay that all channels your inner John Woo. Once again, it all sounds great, but the final result is a game that did not deliver on the concept or the vision presented in the trailer along with a LAN multiplayer.
The failure of the game caused Bungie West to be closed and Oni piled up in used game stores as a cheap title...then it was forgotten for the most part. There was to be a sequel developed by Bungie West and Take 2 until the failure cancelled the sequel and ended the studio. That sequel was to be called Oni 2: Death and Taxes developed by Angel Studios (Rockstar San Diego today) for PlayStation 2. Some of the work done around 2001/2002 on the sequel has been dug up showing improvement on the melee Martial Art combat being a primary focus, but it was never released and it likely will never be finished.

5. G-Nome (7th Level 1997)
As computer technology increased, so did the promise of bring mecha that  we’d seen in some many classic animes to the realm of video games.  One of those 1990’s mech video games lost to time was 1997’s G-Nome; developed Dallas based software developer 7th Level. This studio only existed for a brief time, but their most known game, G-Nome, was continued onward by other developers after the end of 7th Level. Ion Storm would release a sequel in 1998 under the name “Dominion: Storm over Gift 3” and is the terminus of the series at present due to the massive failure of the game. This was due to the fact that Dominion: Storm over Gift 3 came out the same day has Starcraft. So, what was G-Nome? The central story revolves around several factions’ battle for the control of the mineral-rich planet of Ruhelen in the Omicron Reticuli system. Union intelligence has learned in 2225 of the alien super-soldier program codename G-NOME. Your character has been assigned to hunt down any information on the Scorp Republic G-NOME program.
The mecha of G-Nome are the HAWC (Heavy Armored Weapon Chassis) and much like Titanfall, you can get out of the HAWC and either carryout mission objective or capture a better HAWC.  Sounds solid, but there were issues with the development of G-Nome. The first trailer was revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1994 and fatal delays pushed the game back until winter of 1997. During this, the original developer of G-Nome was Distant Thunder, which was acquired by 7th Level.  This delay caused the initial interest in the mech game to cool and by 1997; the market had changed with Activision’s MechWarrior being established PC mech game. Other reasons for the lack of impact were the actual name of the game itself, some play issues, and heavily pixilation. In the end,  G-Nome’s sequel was developed by another studio and was converted to an RTS with a terrible name.  

6. Marathon Trilogy (Bungie 1994,1995, and 1996 )
Today, Bungie is one of the largest and well known video game studios in the world with their current release, Destiny 2 riding high, but this empire all started with two important games: Minotaur and Marathon. While Minotaur is a fantasy game and not covered under FWS mission statement, Marathon is a solid military sci-fi shooter that has been forgotten in recent years. To some of us fans of HALO, the existence of Marathon came as a shocker and seems to be more forgotten as time goes on. Hell, it took an article on HALO 2 in Game Informer Magazine to enlighten me on the mere existence of the Marathon trilogy and I thought I was aware of the major DOOM clones of that time period!
There whose that will read that Marathon was forgotten and laugh because they were all about Marathon back in the day and still boot it up. So, why are the Marathon games classified as "forgotten?" There are four reason I can see. First is that the first game was released in 1994 and only on Apple Macintosh computers. At this time, Apple was in deep financial trouble with a smaller computer market share than the vast array of PCs. While beloved by Mac users upon its release, that many of us PC gamers that had no concept that a solid Military SF DOOM clone had been unleashed. Even when Marathon 2 was released for Windows 95, it was a sequel to a game may on PCs had not played.
The second reason for Marathon's forgotten status is the rise in popularity of Apple products. In the late 1990's, Apple would be turned around and rise to being one of the largest, most profitable companies on the face of the Earth. This might that mainstream software developers were creating for the Macs than ever before, eclipsing Marathon under other releases. Third, is due to popularity of HALO: Combat Evolved. Without Marathon, we would not have HALO, due to the  lessons of Marathon being rolled into HALO and some of Marathon's genetic code can be found sawn into HALO:CE, but it was the crushing popularity and praise that killed Marathon. That wasn't all. Bungie was bought by Microsoft just before the release of HALO:CE and they were not about to have this game released on a Mac when it was eyeing HALO for their new Xbox console. With the massive success of HALO and some similarities between Marathon and HALO, Bungie was out of the Marathon business. The company's resources and energies were turned to making the sequel, not a fourth Marathon game. Adding insult to injury, HALO: CE was ported to the Mac in 2003, hitting the home turf of Marathon directly.
Finally, as stated above, Marathon was not released on a widely popular platform, that included home video game consoles. If Marathon had been ported to a popular home console system at some point in history, it could have increased its longevity. Sadly it was ported to the failed and forgotten Apple/Bandai Pippin. Released in September 1996 in North America, the joint effort of the American Apple Corporation and Japan's Bandai played CD-based software that included a port of Marathon called Super Marathon.
The $599 Pippin would die a quick death in the home console market of 1996 with total sales of 42,000. If you like to learn more of the history of the Pippin, click here.  There have been stories from time to time about the resurgence of Marathon due Bungie still owned the IP rights, but those were around as Bungie was getting out the HALO business and before we knew of Destiny. Marathon is widely available today for download and there was even a physical boxset released on 1997. There was rumors of Marathon being released on the Sega Dreamcast, and some fans have homebrewed a port of the game to the last Sega console.

7. Battle Unit Zeoth (Jaleco 1990/1991)
Back in the 1980's and early 1990's, it seemed that Nintendo could do no wrong and it cornered the market of handhelds with the 1989 release of the Game Boy. Nearly everyone I knew either wanted one or had one. The Game Boy was my companion on long car trips until I was in high school and this was the only true video game system I had in the 1990's during my PC gamer days. It is surprising that I missed a mech-based shooter game during the height of the Game Boy release because it would have been right up my alley. Battle Unit Zeoth tells the story of a united Earth that beat back an alien invasion by the Grein some forty years ago. When they retreated, these aliens hid a self-replicating base that would allow a sleeper cell strike on the Earth at the important city of New Age. To combat this new threat, the military digs up their specialized CLASS-II mecha: the Zeoth.
This side scrolling game changes with odd and even stages from horizontal to vertical platform battling the alien forces in New Age City across five stages. From the reviews, the game is just okay and is good at what it does, but certainly not the best of the original Game Boy releases.Some have criticised the length of the game: it can take as little as 10 minutes to beat.  Developed by Jaleco Entertainment One of the most interesting elements of this forgotten military SF handheld game is that original name was altered for western release to "Jetpack". This was fairly common occurrence in the video game industry, but the name was changed back despite Jaleco believing that the name was too foreign for western audience. The name was one of the most attractive elements of the game along with arresting cover art.

8. Time Soldiers (Alpha Denshi 1987)
Soldiers battling over time rather than across the stars is fairly common in science fiction and even seen in the classic arcade games like Time Pilot. Another arcade game that used time travel as a plot device was 1987's Time Soldiers. Developed by Alpha Denshi as "Battle Field" and published by SNK, the game was an arcade run-and-gun in the same style as the awesomely hard Ikari Warriors. It was released by Romstar outside of Japan in the arcades, ported to the Sega Master System, the ATARI ST, Commodore 64, and Amiga computer systems. The goal of the time traveling warfighters is to rescue fellow members of the Earth Command that have been scattered throughout Terran history by the evil Gylend.  The game cycles through four historical settings and even the future modern day. These time periods are:  Ancient Rome, prehistoric (complete with cave men and dinosaurs), War World II, and “the age of wars”. Often cited as a tough game, Time Soldiers was designed to suck down your quarters rather than focusing on a Military SF story. Like many arcade games that do not achieve the status of iconic status like Pac-Man, Double Dragon, and After Burner; Time Soldiers simply melted away among the masses of other arcades released in 1987.

9. Vajra and Vajra 2 (Data East 1990's)
As I said above about NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 and Military Madness applies to the mecha-shooter series of Vajra only seen in the States on the most insane home console of all time: the Pioneer Laser Active. While widely unknown at the time of launch and nearly completely forgotten about today due to the price and rarity, it is damned interesting. At its heart, the Pioneer Corporation LaserActive system was intended to be a hub for all manner of entertainment options with the ability to be an laserdisc player, karaoke machine, play multiple video games over a variety of systems and media types, along with being a platform for future development.  These feats were accomplished via changeable “PAC modules” that allowed for the LaserActive to play games from the TurboGrafx-16, Sega Genesis, and possibly PC games via the Japan only PC PAC module.  The base system sold for an insane $970 in 1993, which is over $1600 in today’s money. Ouch!
That did not include the PAC modules that allow for the owner to play Sega Genesis/Mega Drive/CD games nor the TurboGrafx- 16/NEC games. Those were $600 a piece in 1993 or $1100 today’s money. The Karaoke PAC module is still the cheapest and the Japan only PC PAC being the most rare and little understood by Western collectors. The LaserActive was on sale in America from 1993-1996 with limited sales and thus making the games themselves rare and forgotten.  There were two military SF mech-shooter games called “Vajra and Vajra 2” that featured you controlling various mecha, represented by a crosshair, going up against other hostile mecha in various full-motion backgrounds. Little is available on the game or its story, but it was a DataEast LaserDisc game designed for the NEC PAC Module that sells in the neighborhood of $200 today for Vajra. The second game was designed to be used with the 3D visor system and seems to sell for a much higher price, over $500! If you want to know more about the system, click here.

10. Iron Soldier (Eclipse Software Design 1994, 1996, 2000)
The history of ATARI is one of the most tragic in video game history complete with a great rise and an epic crash that sent riddles throughout the entire video game industry even to this very day. Up until the announcement of the new Ataribox console, the last gasp of ATARI as a home console company was the “64 Bit” Jaguar that ATARI had put all of their eggs into. When the console failed soon after launch in both the US and Europe, ATARI was cooked. While the Jaguar story is well known with some excellent “history of” videos on YouTube, there was a few military science fiction titles to discuss here that were considered the best of the much-maligned system: ALIENS vs. Predator and Iron Soldier. While the first-person-shooter ALIENS vs. Predator is widely known, the Iron Soldier series is not. Three games would be released in the first-person giant robot/mecha shooter series that was developed exclusively for the ATARI Jaguar by Eclipse Software Design, who was a German software company that had worked with ATARI for their ST computer line. The plot is rather simple, the Iron Fist Corporation is plotting worldwide domination in the dark future were urbanization has taken over much of the Earth’s surface. To aid their conquest is their 42 foot high mecha known as “Iron Soldiers”.
The only hope is that an early prototype of the mech has fallen into the hands of the Resistance, and you are the pilot on a holy quest to destroy the evil megacorporation. The first game was released in 1994, the second year of the Jaguar’s short lifespan, and was one of the few Jaguar games that nearly fulfilled the promise of the hardware and the "Do the Math" ad campaign. Over the course of 16 missions, you roamed the 3D environment fulfilling objectives while engaging all manner of Iron Fist forces, from mechs, to attack helicopters, to tanks.
The first game was praised by critics and even the retrogaming community that often ranks Iron Soldiers among the best. Even at the time of release, the relatively popular title was one of the bright spots on the system. Its sequel, Iron Soldier 2, was rarer that the original release...with good reason: it was for the Jaguar CD add-on hardware. This 1996 game came at the end of the lifespan for the Jaguar and the CD add-on hardware machine was a royal piece of shit that has been well documented via the Angry Video Game Nerd and the Spoony One. This meant that the second Iron Soldier died a lonely death and Atariage.com ranks it as an 7 out of 10 on the rarity scale.  After the Jaguar died quicker than a NEXUS-6 Replicant, the last game in the Iron Soldier series, Iron Soldier III, was published by Telegames instead of ATARI and ported to the rival original PlayStation in 2000. Given the rash of retrogaming YouTube personalities, the ATARI Jaguar is a popular subject and nearly every video that discusses the games has Iron Soldier on their list of being one of the best. However, until the research phase of this blogpost, I never knew of the other two games, making them the more forgotten games than the original.

Next Time on FWS...
FWS says it over and over again: military terminology is a trick thing and often sci-fi creators get it wrong. Well, FWS is here to help! And next time on FWS will be exploring and explaining the word "marine", the history of these sea-based warfighters, the current status of marine units, and the future of marines. Of course, we will be discussing space marines again in full detail.


30 September 2017

Ships of the Line: Cutters, Corvettes, Scouts, Patrol, and Escorts


For many of the naval ship classes portrayed in various media, it is often the sexy big combat vessels like the Dreadnought, the Carrier, or the Battleship that get the most attention. However, any naval organization is comprised of a vast amount of vessels that fulfill all manner of roles in peacetime and in war. These can be badly overlooked by creators and the audience. That being said, as FWS clicks down to the last classifications of naval vessels in this series, we are exploring the lesser known and lesser featured ships. For the next few installments of Ships of the Line, FWS will be covering several classes in one single post and the structure of these articles will be different as well. In this installment of Ships of the Line, we will examining Corvettes, Cutters, Patrol, Scouts, and Escorts.

What is a "Corvette"?
The name "corvette" has a long tradition in naval historic and classification. That being said, corvette class warships appears in many tabletop sci-fi war games and is the name for a popular American sport car. But what the hell are these  "corvettes"? Generally, the naval Corvette class ships is the smallest surface warship classification in a navy that is beyond the size of the  Frigate that ranges in the 500 to 2,000 tonnes. They often serve light combat roles like patrol and fast attack. The name itself is from the 17th century Dutch word "corf" meaning "small ship". During the Second World War, Corvette type warships served in various roles including escort duty, anti-submarine hunting, and general patrol. The classification of "corvette" seems to be more associated with the British Royal Navy and other international navies. With this, some have said that the international "corvette" are more akin to the US Navy's "destroyer escort".The  Corvette type warships of today are tasked with coastal patrol duties with the Russian navy having the most Corvette class warships in active service.

The Sci-Fi "Corvette Class" Starship
These are often depicted as small, lightly armed, armored warships that are easily overpowered by the larger capital ships. At times, they operate in groups or are the only choice of an unfunded military organization or to fill a gap in their spaces navies as we've seen in Babylon 5 and Star Wars. Like many other smaller spacegoing warships, corvette class starships are a flexible platform to allow for a variety of roles during peacetime. During major fleet engagements, corvettes are assigned to protect carriers, plug holes in the lines, and fast attack.   

What are "Cutters"?
In the age of sail, the "cutter" was a fast, small sailboat, while in today's navies, the term "Cutter" is applied to vessels that serve a law enforcement role on the high seas, as with the US Coast Guard. While lightly armed, the mission of the naval cutter is more than just busting drug runners, but preventing waterborne terrorist attacks, rescue operations, and inspections. If the need was desperate, Cutter naval ships could be pressed into emergency naval wartime duty.

The Sci-Fi "Cutter Class" Starship
Given the seaborne law enforcement role assigned to modern naval Cutter class vessels, it is likely that any "Space Coast Guard" like organization would make use of small starships with limited crews, drones, and probes. These manned patrol vessels would possibly be classified as an "Cutter" due to naval tradition given their role as law enforcement interdiction. The lines between the space fleet manned patrol class vessels and the space coast guard Cutter type vessels would be blurred and possibly even constructed on the very same space frame with alterations in armaments, armor, engines, and sensor package to fulfill all manner of duties.   


What is the "Patrol"Ship?
Patrol vessels that are active within any naval organization fall into two catalogs: inshore and offshore. These two classifications often deal with size and scope. Offshore patrol ships are designed to operate within the open water away (green water) from shores and are larger in scale with some being all the up to Frigate class vessels.  These larger type of patrol ships are often seen in service with island nations or nations with large coastlines that do not field large green water navies due to economics or mission, such as New Zealand and Bangladesh.
As to their mission, it can be generalized and flexible in wartime and peacetime with everything from pirate protection to interception of illegal activities. Inshore patrol boats are designed to operate very close to shore and within the confines of major river systems, as with the “brown water navy” during the Vietnam War all the way up to hydrofoil watercraft. These are lightly armed and armored with duties ranging from stopping and boarding ships, anti-terrorism, and prevention of enemy activity


The Sci-Fi "Patrol Class" Starship
Given the vastness of space and the complexity of securing such territory, science fiction creators have turned to the use of patrol starships to monitor and undertake a wide range of missions from interdiction of illegal trade, space pirate suppression, rescue operations, and investigation of space junk and hulks. These vessels would be lightly armed, and could be the first armed ships on the scene of any hostilities like a nightwatchman. Often these patrol class starships are the beginning or end of someone’s career.  The duties of patrolling a solar system could be split between unmanned and manned space vehicles along with working in concert with a sensor network.  To save money, patrol vessels could be retrofitted older small warships decommissioned by the space fleet and retasked for patrol duty. During times of war, we could see lighter warships from the space navy being deployed to important star systems as an early warning/interception unit to hold down enemy ships until the taskforce can arrive. These would be better armed and armored that standard inter-solar system patrol vessels.   


What is the "Scout" Ship?
To my surprise, the naval scout ship did indeed actually exist and assumed the role of flotilla leader prior to the Second World War. This role was taken over by other smaller warships, like destroyers and the scout ship was phased out of navies. To many, the term "scout" is the pathfinder for a larger group that gathers intelligence on the enemy, the land, and the best route ahead. In the modern navy, there are no scout ships and reconnaissance of the way ahead, early warning, or the target location/objective is conducted by naval drones, satellites, AWACS aircraft, Special Operations units, and even the advanced sensor equipment onboard some warships.

The Sci-Fi "Scout Class" Starship
Okay, science fiction loves scout ships, and it does not matter that navies quit using this type of ship soon after World War II. Given the vastness of the final frontier, space navies design, construction, and deploy specialized small military spacecraft to gather intelligence on a unknown part of space, the location of enemy forces, or map a sector of space. This specialized mission would require specialized equipment and impressive speed. To save on mass, these scout class ships are lightly armed.
When the heat gets turned up, most scout class vessels are easily overwhelmed and are forced to withdraw or face destruction; as we saw with the USS Grissom at the Battle of the Genesis Planet. In naval taskforce groups, Scout class ships could be upgraded to serve has a light warship. The role of recon and intelligence gathering could be undertaken by advanced probes or even specialized space fighters, similar to the A-Wing rather than the typical scout ship. To save credits, future space navies could follow the Starfleet example: turning science ships into scout ships with some modifications to the offensive and defensive systems.

What is the "Escort" Ship ?
Wars are won or lost based on the supply chain and the protection of merchant cargo vessels or even conveys on overseas routes during times of crisis and war are critical tasks. These threats to commerce shipping can come from below or above the water and naval organizations often assign Destroyer or Frigate class warships as escorts to these juicy targets as we witnessed in World War II. Those surface warships often defended the cargo vessels against hunting U-Boats. These warships were classified as "destroyer escorts" and were used to keep seagoing shipping vessels alive despite the U-Boat threat. In most modern navies, the role of "escort" is more of  task assignment and, as in WWII, doled out to Destroyers, Cruisers, and Frigates. These warships, like the USN Ticonderoga class, often use their air defense detection equipment and counter-weaponry to defend against incoming air threats as well as surface warships and submarines.

The Sci-Fi "Escort  Class" Starship
The role of the escort warship is to serve as a bodyguard/close protection to either other space warships in a formation (like an spacecraft carrier) or a covey of commerce/merchant space vehicles. They are often heavily armed, for their size, long range, and equipped for independent operations. They may or may not be a purposely designed class of starship. Often in water navies, destroyers, frigates, or cruisers are tasked with escort duties in deep space
Given that the mission of any spaceborne escort class warship is prone to risk and engagement by space pirates and other hostiles, they are always on a combat footing and even in peacetime, the escort warship crew could be earning their combat pay potentially on every mission. This makes the escort warships an "sexy" assignment for others wanting or needing combat experience. Unlike many other warship classes, even in wartime, the escort class starships performance basically the same operational role. During my limited gaming experience with the FASA starship combat game, we used to pay "hunter/prey" scenarios, where one player had to protect a badly needed shipment of food or medicine from a raiding party of Orions, Klingons, or even Gorn. Those were fun games and spoke to the terrible role of the escort. These were popular mission types in Wing Commander and X-Wing that plagued my teenager years.  

Will These Combat Starship Classifications Exist in the Real World?
Science can be a harsh mistress especially when it comes to space combat. When we examine the realities of hard science space warfare and space travel, the number of space warship classifications gets cut down...way down. Which of these classifications of spacegoing warships will be present in our future? It is for certain that exploration and settling of space will create a great deal of commerce traffic. Off-world colonies, mining stations, and production facilities will require a fleet of commerce vehicles that deliver raw material and finished goods over millions of miles or lightyears.
These commerce starships will represent a great of money and investment, giving way for space piracy. Just has treasure ships were rich booty for high sea pirates, there will be attempts by others to hijack those cargo ships for themselves. To protect these space vehicles government, companies, and military organizations will employ some sort of protective space vehicle that fulfills the role of escort. It is highly likely that both the commerce and the escort spaceships will be unmanned and under the control of an advanced AI program. It is also likely that the pirate predatory vessel will also be unmanned due to the vast distances associated with interstellar commerce. That means that space robot truckers will relay on robotic escort ships to defend them against space robot pirates. Crazy.
I think there will be a place for some sort of "space police/space coast guard" patrol/inspection vehicle that will monitor incoming commerce traffic and the orbital space around settled worlds. It could be that prior to docking at space stations, that some of the commercial space vehicles are boarding and inspected. When it comes to scout class military spacecraft, it is likely that unmanned space probes will be tasked for surveillance with sensor interpretation techs pouring over the data. Any scouting/recon mission is naturally risky and a small probe could be a better tactical choice over a lightly armed manned spacecraft. Only time will tell what combat starships future space defense organizations will construction. 

Examples from Science Fiction

The CR90 class Corellian Corvette from the Star Wars Universe
The Corellian Engineering Corporation's legendary 150 meter long CR90 Corvette is one of the most widely used general-purpose spacecraft during the latter Republic and Imperial period of galactic history with independent worlds, the Rebel Alliance, and corporations using the CR90 for all manner of uses. It was even used as personal starships for high level government officials and the wealthy, like Senator Bail Organa.
 Designed to be modular, the CR90 would be used as a blockade runner to get needed supplies and black market goods to a payer through naval blockades, which were common in the end of the Republic via the Trader Federation and during the Empire. In addition, it could be used a interstellar passenger vessel with light armaments or even as a light warship as seen in the independent star ships and the Rebel Alliance. To that end, there is a known variant of the CR90 that is more heavily armed for duty as an gunship: The CR90G. Some in service with the Alliance were used as poorman fighter carriers with docking rings attached to transport up to four A-Wings.
While on of the most famous Star Wars spacecraft for it starring role in the first few minutes of 1977's A New Hope, it was never made into a playset vehicle like the Falcon. Why? Well, there was going to be one that was not made out of Lego's. For the 1983 The Return of the Jedi toyline by Kenner, they would have rolled out a scaled-down Blockade Runner that would have closer in size to the B-Wing and featured a cockpit for one figure, the radar dish tower for one figure and a escape pod for R2D2 and C3PO. There was a battery operated laser turret and light-up rear engine assembly. There is a prototype floating around somewhere that we have scans of that looked to be in the early stages of development for the 3rd SW film. It was not made for the original film and would have justified to be in the ROTJ toyline due to several CR90 Corvettes being at the Battle of Endor. It is unknown the current location of the Blockade Runner mockup and why Kenner chose to not product it throughout the years despite the ship being released in model kits, diecast toys, and even in Lego.

The Imperial Klingon K-22 B'rel class Bird-of-Prey Scout Configuration from Star Trek
Since Terra's first contact with the Klingons in 2151, their warrior mindset and their readiness for war was widely known and accepted. However, there are hints of the Klingon military being more devoted to the art of war in all its forms rather than just blunt combat. One of the smallest, but most celebrated Klingon warships has been the scout/raider B'rel K-22 Bird of Prey. Designed to carry out major combat operations via squads of B'rels, they are also tasked with more intelligence gathering, surgical strikes, and harassment operations than as individual warships, like the D-7. This mission was perfect for the B'rel class when paired with cloaking device, leading to this class being the most feared during peacetime by Federation captains and distant outposts and colonies.
Well armed for its size (157 meters) with a small crew could allow the punch above its class, but if engaged by an large Federation starship, it was a fight that was soon over. For nearly two hundred years, the smaller scout Bird of Prey class was built on mass by the KDF with some intelligence sources believing that this infamous ship owns part of its existence to the brief military alliance between the Klingons and the Romulans. Both of the classes of warships based on the same style served with honor during the three bloody wars of the 24th century.
The smaller B'rel class was used as a gunboat/scout/raider during the Dominion War and many were destroyed, but many more were built. One of the most famous B'rel class scout was the one captured by Captain Kirk and refitted and renamed HMS Bounty in 2286. After the Humpback Whale Incident, the sunken HMS Bounty was recovered from waters of San Francisco bay by Starfleet Intelligence and reverse-engineered with help from Captain Montgomery Scott
For nearly 20 years of Star Trek history, the Klingons had a single starship seen on-screen: the iconic D-7. From the original series to the first two films, the D-7 was the symbol of the empire of alien warriors. Then came call for new smaller Klingon warship that was in a scout/raider classification for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Director Leonard Nimoy wanted a predatory swooping bird design and Bill George created the initial studio model with ILM staff Nilo Rodis and David Carson created the final SFX model that would be used off and on for much of Trek history.
With the Bird of Prey being an established Klingon warship, the production staff of TNG and DS9 would recycle the hell out of the green little ship and even developing an larger variant of the scout class vessel. In addition to the small screen, the Bird of Prey model was recycled for Star Trek V, VI, and Star Trek Generations. It has been widely reproduced for the model/toy/gaming market with the very first Bird of Prey toy being produced by ERTL in 1984 for their limited Star Trek III toyline.

The Yautja Scout Ship from the ALIENS/Predator Universe
At the very opening of 1987's Predator, a hot-rod looking alien ship rockets past the Earth and fires off a single pod-like object then books it out of Earth space. Nearly nothing was known about this small ship and we did not even get a good look at it during its flyby of the Earth in Predator. In the Predator comics by Dark Horse, the look of the Yautja warships did take some design notes from this mysterious 1987 ship for their hunting part landing ships that were paired to a mother ship. These tiny craft were used to transport a hunting party to and from the interstellar hunting grounds with room for a small trophy room. It is believed that the 1987 model prop was constructed by Michael Stuart. Recently, the NECA "Cinemachines" toyline released an diecast reproduction of the 1987 Yautja Scout Ship which is quite nice and well done.

The EarthForce Olympus class Corvette from B5
At the time of the Earth-Minbari War, the EarthForce fleet was undergoing the introduction of several new classes of warships born out of the Dilgar Conflict and replacing the older designs that had served the Earth and her colonies since the formation of the Earth Alliance. One of these was the Olympus class Corvette. This 444 meter long warship was devoid of any rotating gravity generating sections. During that conflict, the true role of the Olympus class was revealed: escort duty for the Roosevelt class cruiser, but that could not save it from the chopping block. After that war, these ships were being altered for military cargo duties and even sold off to civilian shipping firms…then came the bloody Earth-Minbari War and all military starships were needed, no matter the age.
While no Olympus class survived an encounter with the powerful alien warships until the EAS Lexington engaged the Black Star with nuclear ship mines, the majority of Olympus class were used for military supply runners and to offer point-defense assistance to larger warships. Some survived the war and continued to serve even after the Earth Alliance Civil War with upgrade fulfilling their original role as an escort. For an updated warships, the Olympus class served the Earth and her colonies for many years after she was thought to be scrapped. The Olympus class was designed by Tim Earls for the Babylon 5: In the Beginning TNT television movie and it was the only of his three designs not used.

The Romulan Star Empire V-8 Bird-of-Prey class Advanced Scout and Perimeter Patrol Vessel
Quite recently the first season episode "Balance of Terror" was on cable and as I bathed in the oddness that TOS, I wondered on the role of the Romulan Bird-of-Prey class warship in their fleet and this what I came up with...Around the Time of the Awakening (3rd CE), the warring peoples of Vulcan separated with the people who rejected logic exiling themselves into deep space. This splinter race of the Vulcans became the Romulans. The deeply secretively, militaristic, plotting race kept to themselves, but they watched and waited. One of the symbols of that philosophy was the cloaking device equipped Bird-of-Prey advanced scout and perimeter patrol vessel.
These vessels were named after an 400lbs predatory bird native to Romulus called the vas hatham and even some of the V8 Bird-of-Prey class ships have been marked with stylized design of the vas hatham with the revered bird, like the one encountered by Captain Kirk in 2266. Besides watching and waiting their borders, the Bird-of-Prey class ships could be tasked with border incursions, attacking specific targets with their plasma torpedoes then re-cloaking. These ghost attacks upon enemies of the Empire could not be directly connected to the Romulans, due their xenophobic nature. While an iconic warship of the Romulan military, they were not frontline warships due to being underpowered and poorly armed compared to a standard Federation starship. During times of direct combat, Bird-of-Prey scout ships worked in packs to minimize their weakness.
These small combat starships were developed around the experimental RPL-2 plasma torpedo launcher to the end of  sacrificing crew comforts and even bridge space for this advanced offensive weapon system that compised the bulk of the interior volume of the V8 Bird-of-Prey. Starfleet Intelligence theorized that the low speed demonstrated by the encounter of the first 23rd century Bird-of-Prey by the USS Enterprise in 2266 was due to the vast power consumption needs of the cloaking device and the experimental plasma torpedo robbing the warp power system. After the incursion of 2266, the Romulan military command took the data and improved the Bird-of-Prey scouts to be more well-rounded small warships.
Iconic sci-fi prop marker, Wah Chang, designed and constructed the original Romulan Bird-of-Prey for the episode “Balance of Terror” complete with awesome space predatory bird artwork on the belly. Unfortunately, after the episode was film, Chang trashed the original prop for various reasons. This is the genesis for Romulans using the Klingon D-7 cruisers, because the show could not fund another Romulan Bird-of-Prey prop construction. In the very good episode of Star Trek Enterprise, “Minefield”, we see a 2150’s Romulan Bird-of-Prey ships stalking the NX-01 Enterprise while phasing in-and-out of cloak that were a visual connection to the Bird-of-Prey seen in 2266.

The Covenant SDV Class Heavy Corvette from the HALO Universe
Given the lopsided nature of the naval engagements between the UNSC and the Covenant, there is little attention paid to the organically shaped alien warships and some assume that they have little in the way of smaller warships. Seen in 2010's HALO: Reach, the Covenant SDV class Corvette is proof that the alien religious fanatics possess more than just the iconic and feared CCS class. Coming in at between 1500 to 3100 meters and assigned duties of escort, stealth recon, and endoatmospheric planetary support missions, the SDV class is not able to easily defeat UNSC ships of the line in individual engagements like its larger brethren due to a lack of energy shielding.

The Federation Moscow class Scout from FASA Star Trek RPG Universe
Anytime that a canonized Trek source, like a film or new TV series adds a new design aesthetic or philosophy, it alters other works that running along aside the canon. This has happened three times to the old Chicago-based FASA gaming company. After Star Trek II and III and then after TNG. Much like when ST: II and III added new ships, especially The Search for Spock, the FASA Federation fleet for their games was able to be expanded upon. When the 24th century set TNG arrived in 1987, FASA again got the gaming license and yet again, they had to alter their RPG warships...especially the Federation. One of the ships featured in the non-canon, but still awesome, TNG Officers manual was the Moscow class transwarp scout class. According to its small entry in the book on pages 48-49, there are 21 Moscow class scouts in serve in 2360's with advanced long-range scanners allowing for it to be a planetary survey ship as well as a scout vessel and even serving as light warship in wartime.  In the Starship Tactical Combat Game, the Moscow class is able to hold its own in combat  Sadly, we would not see diecast miniatures produced on the new TNG designs, like the Moscow, Paramount cancelled the FASA license and declared any of its works non-canon...pity.  


The EDF Konisgberg Class Patrol Cruiser from the Space Cruiser Yamato Universe
After the end of the Gamilion-Earth War in 2200, the EDF began a storm of construction on new warships following the technology and design of the Yamato. This rearming project would allow the EDF to be ready to face the Comet Empire invasion of 2201. Among these new classes of Terran warships was the Konisgberg class patrol cruiser coming in at 150 meter and 23,5000 tons with a crew of less than 50. Heavily armed for a patrol vessel, this class was meant to serve in fleet sized engagement as a light warship but also as an independent for solo assignments. Armed with light wave motion cannon, shock cannons, and missiles, the Konigsberg could handle herself. But it was her enhanced sensor package that separated this class from her other hull mates that allowed for threat assessment, recon, and mapping missions.
During the October 2201 Battle of Saturn when the bulk of the EDF Fleet and the White Comet Fleet engaged, there were 85 Konigsberg patrol cruisers in the EDF Fleet with a number being destroyed or damaged during the battle. It is uncertain if these will make appearance in the reimagined Japanese series. While a relatively unknown and underrepresented EDF warship class in Yamato anime, there were models made of the class and they were profiled in the Starblazers Fleet Battle System tabletop war simulation game.  



The Broadsword class Surveillance Scout from FASA Starfleet 
To us old-school tabletop war gamers and RPG adventurers, the FASA Star Trek RPG was a goldmine of great art and a mysterious unseen Trek universe. One of my favorite mysteries of the FASA era Trek was the cover of the "Starfleet Intelligence Manual" that featured a interesting design that had never been seen in any Trek resource better or since. According to the cover artist David R. Deitrick, the mystery starship is a Starfleet Intelligence surveillance scout. The artist addressed the ship on his website calling it an "Bladeship" that were fitted with all manner of intelligence gathering sensors and was also lower profile, but not cloaked. While not designed for a fight, these "Bladeships" could run and gun their way out of a situation. Some creative fans have given the mystery ship a complete background and even a proper name. One site christened the Bladeship the USS Claymore (NCC-1867), a member of the Broadsword class of surveillance scouts in service to Starfleet Intelligence. This ship is small! Coming in at just 135 meters with a crew of 45 and only seven decks.

The Alliance Cruiser The Grand Canal from the Legend of the Galactic Heroes Universe
For all of us that have played escort missions, you know that they can suck, and that is what happened to the Free Planets Alliance Cruiser The Grand Canal in 795UC when it was guarding a covey of over 100 cargo vessels with nine other Alliance warships. The other ships pulled away from their assigned duty for the 3rd Battle of Tiamat, leaving the The Grand Canal alone to shepherd the flock. Then trouble came in the form of two imperial cruisers. Outgunned, the escort cruiser bought time with it life for the convey.  One day soon, FWS will cover this massive Military SF anime in Future War Stories from the East!

The Romulan Talon Class  Scout Ship from the Star Trek Universe

There are few confirmed or even seen Romulan warships in the 24th century prior to the Dominion War, but one was the 24 meter long Talon class scout ship. Serving in a number of roles similar to the recent Starfleet Danube class Runabout, the Talon class can perform offensive operations along with scientific endeavors. How many outside of the Romulan Star Empire know the Talon class was due to its use as an transport for agents of the Tal Shiar and as a ghost on sensors on their borders...watching. The overall design of the Romulan scout ship, whatever name it goes by, was designed in the style of the very cool D'deridex class warship by Rick Sternbach. The model was reused throughout TNG and DS9 with the actual studio model being much bigger in scale than expected.

The Gazelle Class Close Escort from the Traveller Universe
This 3rd Imperium, 300 ton warships was assigned to "babysitting" duties in the fleet. The Gazelle class was nothing special in the galaxy, built in the hundreds, it served as important symbol of the government in peacetime and were assigned to role in fleet-sized engagements despite its poor combat record and abilities. It was also tasked with being armed customs enforcement vessel that collected required duties and taxes associated with interstellar trade. With a small crew of 4 officers and 8 men, this small ship could also land within a planet's atmosphere and off-load up to six tons of cargo. GDW would publish deck plans for the Gazelle in 15mm or 25mm for $6 or $8 respectively in 1987 


The Federation Remora Class Escort from the FASA Star Trek Universe
Unlike many of the FASA non-canon Federation starships, the badass little Remora class escort was given a starring role as the front cover model on the 1985 FASA Federation Ship Recognition Manual. Sadly, despite the cover art, there is little said about the Remora class at all in the manual save for dry stats and number. The original ship was weak due to a lower-powered engine that felt the crews of these escort debated raising shields or charing heavy phaser banks...because you couldn't do both! Adding to the issues of the class was the lack of photon torpedoes. Fans of the FASA combat game have taken upon themselves to alter the Remora class into something much better, in terms of gameplay and art. This improved Remora is often called the Charger class escort. Oddly, the name "remora" refers to a kind of suckerfish that attaches to larger fish.

The Firespray 31 Class Scout/Attack Craft from the Star Wars Universe
Kaut Systems Engineering firm is the creator of many of the iconic Star Wars starships, and their most unusual was the prototype Firespray 31. These usual spacecraft was designed for use by the Republic penal system as an armed transport vessel and to serve on patrol duty for space-based prisons and by the time of the Siege on Naboo, six where in testing deployment at the Oovo IV, an maximum security Republic prison in the Oovo asteroid field. Jango Fett journeyed to the prison on a job as seen in the Bounty Hunter 2002 video game. It was there that Fett acquired one of the six prototype Firespray 31 patrol craft to replace his own damaged older starship, and then promptly destroy the others, leaving his to be the only functional Firespray in the galaxy.  It was only much later that Kuat decided to reintroduce the Firespray class patrol vessels. For many of us that witnessed Empire back in 1980, Slave 1 was one of the most unique SW spacecraft and even getting the Kenner vehicle toy did not solve any of the mystery behind the oddball shape and for years I’ve wondered what inspired the creation of Slave 1. After the 2nd draft of Empire, the need arose for the design of bounty hunter Boba Fett’s starship.
This job came to Nilo Rodis-Jamero with input from Ralph McQuarrie and inspiration coming from a radar dish (not streetlights nor an iron as popular stated).  The actual model was constructed by Lorne Petersen and his team with the matte painting being done by Harrison Ellenshaw and the cockpit by Ease Owyeung.  For the sound effect, it was a combination of the horn of an 1971 Dodge Duster and a trumpet. When it came time for the 2nd in the Prequel film series, Doug Chiang and Kurt Kaufman designed the fresher Slave 1 owned by Jango Fett exterior and interior. However, with the original model hanging in the Smithsonian, the new computer generated Slave 1 was built from photo images. It was a real thrill to finally see the cockpit of Slave 1 in the 2002 film. Slave 1 would appear in the Clone Wars animated show, in several of the toylines, in Lego form, and as model kits.


The Federation Defiant class "Escort" from the Star Trek Universe
One of the most famous and most obsessed over Federation starships of all time is the Deep Space 9 pornstar: the NX-74205 Defiant. Officially, Starfleet classified this prototype testbed starship has an “escort”, but this tough little ship was designed around a single purpose: defeating the Borg. Due to the Federation wanting to project an outward image of a peacekeeping organization with exploration at its core mission, Federation starships were not designed for combat as their primary role…that was until the Defiant class. After the Borg threat was revealed in 2365, Starfleet R&D begins a massive project on developing offensive and defensive systems to combat the Borg.
One of these ideas was a new type of Federation starship, an warship constructed around advanced concepts in torpedoes and pulse phasers. Several hull designs were tested at Mars at Utopia Planitia under the supervision of Cmdr. Ben Sisko, until the simulations revealed that a more streamlined unit that abandoned the classic Federation design was more effective.
This created the bulky, wide-bodied design of the Defiant with less of a hull profile to allow the Borg to lock onto, in addition to making the Defiant more maneuverable than any previous Federation starship in 200 years. When the prototype was handed over to the Commander Sisko for his intelligent gathering mission on the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant it was still a mess and shook itself apart from the massive power output compared to her size. After months of work by O’Brien and his engineering team and several engagements, the Defiant class was an proven warship. During the Dominion War, the Federation pulled everything out of the mothball to be fielded and the most secure shipyards in the Federation began to pump out more of the Defiant class escorts.
There are no firm figures, but it is estimated that around a dozen were constructed with some lost or abandoned, including the class namesake. After the Dominion War, the “Defiant fleet” as it was called in the Federation press, was put on patrol duty until more conventional Federation starships were constructed. After the duties of defense could be handed over to the normal Federation starships, the Defiant class was more or less retired and mothballed. However, the concept of a purpose-built Federation warship class was still favored by some of the brass in Starfleet, but rebuffed from the Federation council.
From the opening of Season two until the end of DS9, the Defiant and other members of her class were hallmarks of the Dominion War. Rapidly, the Defiant became a fan favorite despite the awkward appearance of the little ship on-screen and in models. It would appear in a Trek film, many video games, as toys and models, along with being featured in an episode of ST: Voyager. Why was the Defiant added to the series? Deep Space Nine met with some issues in story telling being that the series was based around a space station. The Defiant gave the series and the core characters more “legs” to explore and get into fresh trouble, adding flavor to the stories. It was also the likely outcome of the aggressive nature of the Dominion and the strategic position of the DS9 station. Simply put, Runabouts were not enough for the scope for the show.      

The Nelson/Hermes Class Type 1 Scout Class from Star Trek Universe
Until Trek made the jump from a television show to an major movie franchise, there were very few ships seen on-screen due to the budget. In the 1975 Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph, the classic Federation starship architecture was expanded on with about four classes of TOS era warships. Two of these shared identical hulls: the Saladin destroyer and the Hermes scout classes. The major difference lay in the armaments: the Saladin class destroyer got photon torpedoes launchers and the Hermes class was just outfitted with forward phasers. An single nucella Federation scout class starship was used by FASA for their Trek combat tabletop games: the Nelson class.
According to the Federation Ship Recognition Manual by FASA in 1985, the Nelson class was involved in more first   While these classes of Federation starships with a single nucellus are semi-canon since Roddenberry laid down the "equal" nucellus rule, they have been on computer screens and in serve during the Dominion War.

The Dutton Class American Coast Guard Orbital Patrol Spacecraft from the ALIENS Universe
Way back in 1988, Dark Horse Comics would unleash the next chapter in the ALIENS universe via a black-and-white original six-part limited series that was everything we wanted...eat it ALIEN 3! In the opening pages, the 2190's Coast Guard Patrol vessel Dutton is tasked with searching and destroying abandoned deep space ships that are left after their nuclear engines are exhausted, too expensive, to be burned up in the Terran atmosphere. That plan worked until one of these old nuclear engine ships survived the hell of reentry and crash landed on Hawaii! Kona coffee was impossible to get after that. The US Government tasked the US Coast Guard to tag-and-bag these junkers and destroy them with nukes demo charges via a drone vehicle. Little did the two man crew of the Dutton understand that when they intercepted the Bionational owned Junket, they would alter the course of human history. Onboard the Junket was Xenomorph and within the Junket nav-computers was the location of their homeworld. One of the only survivors of Junket was James T. Likowski would be inflected with an Queen and allow Bionational to possess an new bio-weapon when his escape capsule landed on Earth. With the species on Earth, the clock was ticking... 


The Romulan "S-11 Bird-of-Prey" Class Scout from FASA's Star Trek RPG Universe
FWS often discusses a unique feature of Star Trek starships in these Ships of the Line blogposts: the FASA years. I grew up with a very different Trek than today. Back in the 1980's, there was the canon Trek films, the fully licensed FASA Trek RPG games, and the DC Comics For those of involved in all three visions of 1980's Trek, we formed a unified universe of all three of these works into some special that was eliminated by the pulling of the license by Paramount during the first season of TNG. That being said, to me and those of the same time period, the FASA Trek universe was part of our understanding of Trek and one of the more interesting ship histories in the old FASA Trek RPG universe is the "S-11 Vas Hatham" of the Romulan Star Empire or "the other Bird-of-Prey".
During the initial envisioning of the 3rd Trek film story, the enemy vessel was planned to belong to the unseen Romulans instead of the Klingons at the Genesis planet with an updated Bird of Prey design. Then it was switched to a band of Klingons that hijack an Romulan Bird-of-Prey class vessel to sneak into Federation space and steal the secrets of the Genesis Device. Then the Romulan were dropped from the script entirely and we have the movie we know today. To help us from confusing the name "Bird-of-Prey", the Romulan warships became known as "warbirds" during TNG.
It is believed that elements of the original Romulan story elements echo into the final film with the bird-like design on the Klingon scout ship, the bridge design, and with character of Valkris original being an Romulan in the employ of Kruge that helps him commandeer the Romulan cloaking device enabled ship.
I only realized the Romulan connection to the new Klingon badass ship from ST III when I flipped through the FASA 1985 Romulan Ship Recognition Manual and witnessed the S-11 Bird-of-Prey. According to the text, the S-11 and the K-22 Bird-of-Prey scouts were a symbol of the brief Klingon/Romulan alliance that best exemplified with the vas hatham predatory bird art painted on the belly of an Klingon D-7 seen in the original series and cloaking technology used by the Klingons (all later undone by ST:Enterprise). These Romulan D-7 cruisers were known as the"V-11 Snowbird" class cruiser and featured in FASA magazine ads.
It is likely that since FASA had to invent things as they went along and FASA, via their relationship with Paramount, had access to early versions of the ST III script and art, they have mocked up the K-22 and S-11 Bird-of-Prey ships prior to the finalization of the story. While the two Klingon Bird-of-Prey types ships, the K-22 Scout and the L-42 "Great Bird" Frigate, were made into FASA gaming miniatures; the S-11 was sadly not. Some inventive gamers took the Klingon ship and mocked up what they believe the Romulan Bird-of-Prey would have looked like.
In the FASA Trek Universe, the Romulans shipped unfinished starship hulls to their Klingon allies to forge their variant of the S-11, the K-22 or B'rel. With the proven design, the Klingon Defense Force took the K-22 and developed two larger variants: the L-42 Great Bird and the D-32 Stronger Bird. This was not untaken by the Romulans, who never developed any variants to their S-11 scout. The addition of the chin-mounted photon torpedo launcher is due to the Klingons and was not present in the prototype S-11s. In terms of gameplay in the old FASA Star Trek Starship Tactical Strategic Simular, both the K-22 and the S-11 have the same stats and play the same. Pity.       

Next Time on FWS...
While the research and interview stage of the Marine Corps blog article is undergoing, I am pushing a new Top 10 blogpost with a topic that will be spread out over at least three blogposts entries: Forgotten Military Science Fiction video games. FWS will be cataloging and discussing a number of lost military sci-fi video games that are not all classics or even good. I was inspired by my favorite video game Youtuber Metal Jesus Rocks for this one!