Sunday, 30 September 2012

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 3.5

 Deep fatigue had set in as Zakalwe made to leave the fifth sector. The flight from Federation space had not been easy and it seemed as if every new planet presented new enemies and challenges, threatening the long term success of their mission.

He hoped that Flere's running repairs were going well as he activated the latest log section for checking:

Jump 1 – Zakalwe had faced another easy choice as he decided to travel through a still resisting sector of Federation space rather than risking the Slug home worlds. His previous two meetings with Slugs had both led to their demise and he doubted the Phlebas would receive much of a welcome.

Jump 2 – Rebel incursions into this sector had obviously already begun as Zakalwe encountered an unshielded Rebel autoscout. He doubted it would be much of a challenge and two salvoes were indeed enough to take out the primitive craft.

Jump 3 – Another weak Rebel target appeared on the scanners as a lumbering transport hove into view. It dispatched two boarders to attack the Phlebas but luckily for the Federation crew they beamed back off before the transport blew up. Zakalwe managed to recover 40 Scrap and Flere's hacking skills revealed star charts and troop placements for the sector.

Jump 4 – The Phlebas stopped in at a Federation refuelling station. The owners were too beleaguered to offer supplies gratis but Zakalwe carried out minor repairs and stocked up on fuel and missiles. As an afterthought he also traded in his long range scanners for an automated reloader which would grant the ship better rapid fire capabilities.

Jump 5 – Although he had sold his scanners the captain of the Phlebas had made careful notes on their previous findings first. He suspected this distress signal would be a trap and turned out to be correct. The Pirate bomber turned out to be well armed and dangerous so the Federation ship charged its engines to flee and escaped without casualty.

Jump 6 – An empty sector proved perfect for running repairs. Zakalwe and Flere put out the fires in the computer room for Blast door control. They repaired the systems and then set off again.

Jump 7 – Zakalwe chanced that the advancing Rebels would be too slow to absorb a Store they had seen adverts for. He retraced his route but cursed as he saw that the Rebel fleet had moved forwards faster than he anticipated. The Store certainly wouldn't be serving Federation customers even if it remained operational.

Jump 8 – As the Phlebus entered orbit the crew noticed crackling distress signals from a nearby planet. Scanners indicated that a killer virus, possibly a biological weapon, had obliterated much of the biosphere. They quickly left to avoid any chance of infection.

Jump 9 – Zakalwe's luck held as they came across a triple shielded scout and were not attacked. With the weakened hull he feared the prospect of a fight and so was relieved that the scout's on-board AI was occupied with guarding a Rebel supply station.

Jump 10 – Such cowardice was rewarded as the Phlebus randomly came upon a supply train of small ships heading for the base. Laser fire rapidly disabled several of the craft and the crew came away with loot of 27 Scrap and a Small Bomb teleporter. Zakalwe mused on whether this would be more useful than their current Fire Bombs. It certainly required less power.

Jump 11 – The Phlebus reached the Exit sector and traded a stack of 12 useless Drone Pieces for a worthy 48 Scrap with a passing merchant ship.  

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the game 'FTL Faster than Light'. I'm flying a Zoltan cruiser, which I had the good fortune to unlock after only a couple of plays. Again a mixed performance in this sector and I've taken a bit of lasting Hull damage but any Store in the next sector will be able to rectify that.)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 3.4

Zakalwe had been starting to become a little unbalanced as he piloted the Phlebus through vast swathes of space with no sentient company. The lack of oxygen in certain areas of the ship had probably contributed to his disorientation as had the endless hours spent carrying out repairs from damage that his understaffed ship had been unable to avoid. He was consequently overjoyed to have a new crew member even if he wasn't especially communicative.

He returned to his cabin with satisfaction and observed a brief moment of silence for Diziet's loss before he activated the archive computer:

Jump 1 – Zakalwe had not been happy with the prospects as he left the Engi system. His only paths lay through an Uncharted Nebula, sure to be full of plasma storms and pirates, or the Mantis home worlds. He opted for the latter as more likely to contain a few decent civilian stops. Luckily he was able to slip past Mantis border guards without any conflict.

Jump 2 - This streak of luck continued as he happened upon a sluggish Rebel transport that lacked heavy armament and seemed inclined to flee rather than fight. Two humans beamed aboard the Phlebus but the crew managed to delay them with blast doors while they finished off the transport and then used a timely oxygen vent to force a showdown in the medical bay. Once the boarders were dispatched the transport yielded a Fire Bomb launcher and 39 Scrap.

Jump 3 – The Mantis presence in the sector continued to be minimal as sensors detected no contacts.

Jump 4 – Zakalwe homed in on a distress beacon. A Mantis slave depot had erupted into rebellion and disease as a mind-altering virus spread through the enslaved Engi work force. Zakalwe suspected that this had been a desperate attempt by the slaves to escape from servitude but he reluctantly agreed to send in his crew to control the crowds. They were successful but an addled and hulking Engi exoskeleton managed to obliterate Diziet with a blow to the head. Zakalwe mourned her loss but there was little he could do to save her.

Jump 5 – Now alone, Zakalwe was horrified to find his way blocked by a triple-shielded Rebel fighter. He saw little chance of destroying the monstrosity and so resolved to hold out until the engine charged. Despite severe damage to oxygen, shields and guns he managed to get away but not before sustaining two major hull breaches.

Jump 6 – Zakalwe wiped his brow with relief as he found himself in an unoccupied zone of space. This was all the opportunity he needed to laboriously repair the damage that the Phlebus had sustained.

Jump 7 – Arriving at a store Zakalwe paid to repair his hull. He sold the Leto missile launcher. The trusty launcher had sentimental value but now he could save his missiles for use with his new as his new Fire bomb launcher. He also replenished the ship's empty stock of missiles.

Jump 8 – Engi slave labour seemed to support the economy of this sector. The Phlebus found itself in orbit around another massive slave mining complex. No wonder the Engi in the previous sector had been so sensitive about border infringements. Zakalwe avoided the colony sensors and jumped away as quickly as possible.

Jump 9 – Zakalwe dropped in at another Store in the hopes of finding some new crew to hire but none were available in the small business he located. He left without trading.

Jump 10 – The Phlebus doubled back on itself, returning to the first Store in order to head for the Exit sector.

Jump 11 – Finally Zakalwe's isolation was broken. He stopped off at another Mantis colony where insectoids on electronic mounts herded a race of horse like beings with striped orange fur. Zakalwe had never seen a reference to these aliens in Federation texts and decided that they must be native to the system. He approached a young specimen, which seemed to be gesturing for his attention with a clawed forelimb and it led him to a crashed but cloaked Engi pod. Inside was an escaped slave, Flere, who was as glad to get a ride away from his Mantis pursuers as Zakalwe was to have him onboard.

Evading Mantis patrols they set off for the next sector of the galaxy.

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the game 'FTL Faster than Light'. I'm flying a Zoltan cruiser, which I had the good fortune to unlock after only a couple of plays. Again a mixed performance in this sector but the quick recovery of a second crew member will certainly prove useful.)     

Conspiracy theorists in the Middle East

The Republicans really are completely nuts.

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 3.3

 Zakalwe cursed as the Phlebus prepared to exit the third sector. His mistakes had not ruined their chances of survival but they meant that Horza was entombed in an Engi self repair pod and he was down a crew member even if the gunner managed to pull through and receive his new mechanical prosthetics before the Rebels took the sector.

He angrily stamped into the cockpit and spooled through the latest archive tape:

Jump 1 – Zakalwe had opted to follow the Engi scouts back to their home sector rather than chance a transit through Rebel space. The scouts had already cleared any hostiles at the entry point and the arrival of the Phlebus was unimpeded.

Jump 2 – The Phlebus came upon an Engi archaeological colony on an abandoned moon. The mechanical diggers had come across a Federation weapons cache and the Engi swiftly followed official guidelines in handing it over to the crew. Among the scrap was an outmoded Defence Drone. The Phlebus lacked the docking bays to launch it but it should fetch a good price.

Jump 3 - Zakalwe followed a distress signal and found an abandoned craft in a frozen asteroid field. 1 Missiles, 1 Drone Part and 30 Scrap were recovered from what turned out to have been a terminally unsuccessful pirate shuttle.

Jump 4 – Another distress call led to a Federation ship that had run out of fuel during its flight from the Rebels. Zakalwe gave them 3 Fuel from his large stockpiles and received a moderate cash payment. The two ships opted to split up in order to have a better chance of sneaking through enemy lines.

Jump 5 – Zakalwe groaned as another distress signal sounded. Obviously a lot of ships had suffered Rebel of Pirate attacks before the local Engi had taken charge. Diziet took charge and again succeeded in guiding a civilian ship through an asteroid field. The Phlebus took a few hits but received 4 Fuel and 35 Scrap as a reward.

Jump 6 – A Mantis craft angrily hailed the Phlebus as it arrived, “You'd better stay out of this” clicked the mandibles of the translator as his ship chased down a fleeing Engi craft. Horza didn't wait for Zakalwe's order before blowing the shields off the pursuing Mantis. He then switched to Halberd and missiles so Diziet could power three shields as they finished off the fighter. The Engi scientists were overjoyed at their lucky escape and rewarded the crew.

Jump 7 – Stopping off at an Engi store, Zakalwe purchased minor repairs and Long Range sensors with the scrap he gained from selling the archaeologists' Defence Drone.

Jump 8 – With every mission, Zakalwe knew, there came a point when you briefly lost focus and paid for it. The next two jumps would strongly reinforce this lesson. A Rebel fighter with two shields blocked their progress. As they engaged a human Rebel beamed abroad the Federation vessel and was engaged by Diziet and Horza. Preoccupied with directing weapons fire at the Rebel ship, Zakalwe delayed gaving the order for Horza to retreat to the medical bay. The Rebel raised his rifle and blasted Horza between the shoulder blades as the gunner tried to diengage. Diziet rushed in and finished off the intruder but Horza was too far gone and had to be put into a cryogenic chamber. The fight was won but this was the hardest blow yet for the Federation crew.

Jump 9 – As the Phlebus arrived they were hailed by an Engi ship. As they approached it activated its guns and scans indicated that it had been taken over by Mantis warriors. A Mantis beamed aboard and Diziet attacked it. Remembering his mistake against the previous Rebel, Zakalwe concentrated too much on this fight and while Diziet subdued the attacker with the help of some timely oxygen venting it was at the expense of the hull shielding. Zakalwe failed to notice that the Engi had a ship drone that was taking out missiles and wasted a significant number before realising his mistake. Further the Engi craft's accuracy in taking out the guns of the Phlebus meant that it took a long time to breach its developed shield system with burst laser fire. Further time was lost as the attempts of the crew to repair the guns consistently slowed their charging process. The Phlebus came through but its hull was in tatters and Zakalwe admitted that they had been lucky to survive.

Jump 10 – Smarting from the previous encounters the Phlebus arrived at another Engi store. Repairs were expensive but without them the Federation craft would have had little chance of survival. The crew reluctantly left Horza's corpse at the Engi facilities. The doctor-mechanics there were confident that they could reanimate him with the assistance of nanotechnology and artificial organs but feared that Rebel advances would force them to abandon their equipment before they could complete the process.

Jump 11 – The final stages of the journey through the sector provided anti-climatic. Zakalwe piloted the ship through populated and peaceful areas of space and opportunistically purchased 5 Fuel for one useless Drone Part.

Jump 12 – The offers in the Exit point proved less tempting and the Federation ship declined to purchase Fuel for Scrap.

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the game 'FTL Faster than Light'. I'm flying a Zoltan cruiser, which I had the good fortune to unlock after only a couple of plays.This sector was certainly a set back but the prevalence of Stores meant it was not disastrous and I should be able to come back from it.)     

Friday, 28 September 2012

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 3.2

 Zakalwe heard the faint hum of the Engine charging sequence finishing as he carefully disattached a deactivated missile from its firing tube. He opened vox communication and ordered the space-suited crew of the Phlebus back to their ship. It was a pity these civilians hadn't made it but he couldn't conceal his satisfaction at having crossed another section without taking serious hull damage.

As he arrived back in the cruiser's cockpit and jettisoned his stuffy atmospheric helmet, he archived the second section of the mission log:

Jump 1 – Zakalwe had cursed as he had seen the strategic forecasts of Rebel movements. It seemed the Rebels had quickly encircled the Federation outpost, leaving him a choice between Rebel space and that held by their Pirate auxiliaries. He moodily decided to head for the Pirate sector as he figured it was more likely to be poorly guarded.

With damnable efficiency the Rebels had already blockaded this Entry point. A crewed Rebel rigger sounded alarms and instantly attacked the Phlebus. However, it proved little threat and Zakalwe rejected its surrender before destroying the craft.

Jump 2 – The Phlebus almost collided with a fast moving civilian ship as its engines powered down. A Slug interceptor was barrelling after the fleeing craft but quickly turned to attack the Federation ship. A quick scan of the interceptor's markings revealed that it was from the same clan as the arms dealers they had destroyed in the last sector. Slugs were notorious not only for telepathy but for bearing a grudge.

The Phlebus rolled out of firing range and took out the charging interceptor. Horza danced around the crew's lounge with glee as the civilian ship teleported over a surplus Burst Laser Mk 3. They would have to upgrade weapons systems to simultaneously fire it with the missiles but its high firing capacity and heavy damage would surely come in useful.

Jump 3 – The Phlebus dropped in at a Store located in the patched together bodies of several discarded shuttles. The Rastafarian owners hadn't managed to get oxygen working in all areas and after a cursory look at the goods the crew of the Phlebus left without buying anything. However, local mechanics were happy to assist in upgrading the craft's shields.

Jump 4 - The friendly Rastafarians directed the Phlebus to their sister station. Zion patrols kept the area clear of Pirates and while the Phlebus had no need for their offered repairs it made a convivial stopping point.

Jump 5 – Zakalwe took a gamble and headed into a nearby Nebula. An Autoscout guarding a Rebel space station was quickly despatched. The crew recovered 22 scrap from the drone but the station turned out to be mothballed and loot free.

Jump 6 – Going deeper into the Nebula the sensors disengaged and an eerie silence descended. However, no attackers emerged and the Phlebus moved on.

Jump 7 – Leaving the Nebula, the Phlebus took a detour to explore an Asteroid field. This proved profitable as an abandoned mining site yielded 21 scrap and a drone part. The Phlebus moored itself to the pithead and upgraded its power systems.

Jump 8 – The Asteroid field thickened and the shield impacts started to become dangerous. Zakalwe was just considering a judicious retreat when a Mantis fighter emerged from behind a rock and launched an attack run. Luckily it was not sufficiently shielded for such a perilous conflict. A Halberd blast, missile and asteroid collided with the Mantis simultaneously and blew out its shields and guns. Horza targeted its engine as it made to escape but asteroids ripped it apart before another missile could land.

Jump 9 – An Engi patrol immobilised the Phlebus with ion blasts. The crew scattered to combat station but some quick translation work by Diziet persuaded them that the Federation crew were not Pirates. The Engi freed the trapped craft and left to continue their sweep across the fringes of the sector.

Jump 10 – Zakalwe headed back into the Nebula for one last exploration. A hiding trader offered to exchange his drone parts for missiles but Zakalwe declined politely.

Jump 11 – Arriving at the sector exit the Phlebus again detected a Pirate ship pursuing a civilian craft. Zakalwe banked to intervene but a laser blast from the Zoltan fighter opened up its victim. The last of the ship's oxygen and surviving crew members were ejected into space.

The pre-ignited weapons of the Phlebus were sufficient to knock out the Zoltan energy shield in a single bombardment. The Pirates fought back but failed to breach the shield of the Phlebus before succumbing to Halberd fire. A loot of their ship recovered 2 Fuel, 1 Missile and 18 Scrap. A search of the mangled civilian ship revealed a further 1 Fuel, 2 Missiles and 12 Scrap. They retrieved the goods and then torched the gutted hulk.

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the game 'FTL Faster than Light'. I'm flying a Zoltan cruiser, which I had the good fortune to unlock after only a couple of plays. I've not yet reached the boss or even the final sector but hopefully such a promising start bodes well)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 3.1 - See Rock Paper Shotgun for another game report. Extremely entertaining and with far more jokes about cats than you will find below. 

“That was almost too easy”, mouthed Zakalwe as the Zoltan cruiser Phlebus powered up its engine to travel to the next sector of the galaxy.

The Phlebus had set off from an outpost of the Federation just days before Rebel bombardment had obliterated the space station. The final electronic scream of the station A.I. had reached the fleeing ship as it powered engines for the first jump away from the encroaching fleet. Upon successfully completing that jump Zakalwe had started creating a mission log, ready for broadcast to Federation bolt holes if this, frankly, suicidal effort ended catastrophically. How did he always get into these situations?

He tapped a button on the console and skimmed through the tape in order to check for interference or audio corruption:

Jump 1 – Zakalwe had been fairly certain this would be an uncontested jump and he was not surprised. No enemies awaited the fleeing Phlebus.

Jump 2 – Pirates had responded quickly to the loss of the Federation base and had swooped in hoping for scraps. A Zoltan energy fighter covertly approached the cruising Phlebus and attempted to hack its engines. Horza responded with Halberd fire and, after venting a few rooms to put out fires, the fighter was brought down. Looting recovered a princely 6 Fuel and 22 Scrap. “That should come in useful” broadcast Zakalwe over the intercom to answering whoops from the gunner and shield technician Diziet.

Jump 3 – In answer to a distress call, the Phlebus pulled up beside a battered-looking Rock scout. Upon discovering that its navigation systems were out they agreed to guide it – then discovered that the destination was on the other side of the system.

Jump 4 – Another distress signal led to a small ship that was being ripped to pieces by asteroids. Diziet did what she could with the cruiser's shields but the Phlebus took a few hits as it manoeuvred through the belt. However, they were generously rewarded with 4 Fuel and 20 Scrap.

Jump 5 – A civilian abandoned in a lonely scientific space station operated a Store and the Phlebus responded to its repeating advertisements. 2 Missiles were purchased and some minor repairs made as the watchman prepared to abandon his station to the oncoming Rebels.

Jump 6 – Zakalwe winced as he piloted the ship into a Nebula. The sensor masking detritus would hinder pursuit but such regions could hide dangerous foes. True to expectations they were immediately met by a Rebel autoscout. Luckily it was unshielded and Horza blew it to pieces with a single volley even as it tried to flee.

Jump 7 – The Nebula continued to prove dangerous as the Phlebus ran into a manned Rebel rigger. A plasma storm drained power from the engines and forced the crew to disable the oxygen and healing unit in order to power shields and weapons. However, the crew's luck held good and they quickly finished the enemy before asphyxiation became an issue.

Jump 8 – Yet again the Nebula parted and revealed a hostile ship. Zakalwe could have avoided combat with the Slug weapons dealers but he saw no use in leaving them to provide arms to the rebels. The black market dealers showed little intelligence as they tried to flee despite the severe damage that had already been inflicted on their engines.

Jump 9 – Zakalwe left the Nebula and dropped off the Rock scout at its destination. In gratitude they offered to repair the undamaged hull of the Phlebus and sell some goods that the crew could not afford. Still Zakalwe could at least feel virtuous for his assistance to the friendly aliens.

Jump 10 – As the Phlebus headed for the sector exit point they were again cut off by a Rebel rigger. Putting pecuniary instincts before ideology their challenger offered to let them past for a toll. Zakalwe didn't have the scrap and even if he did he probably wouldn't have felt inclined to pay them.

The ensuing fight again proved swift although Horza abandoned his use of missiles after the rigger's independent defence drone shot down the first Leto fired. Fearing destruction the Rebels offered surrender and Zakalwe accepted. 4 Missiles, 1 Drone Part, 11 Scrap and a Weapon Pre-igniter was definitely enough to buy them a truce.

Jump 11 – The Phlebus reached the system exit and prepared to fly. An offer to sell their missiles for scrap was summarily dismissed. The holds were bursting with fuel and the hold was almost unscarred.

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the game 'FTL Faster than Light'. I'm flying a Zoltan cruiser, which I had the good fortune to unlock after only a couple of plays. I've not yet reached the boss or even the final sector but hopefully such a promising start bodes well)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sudan through Chinese eyes

So apparently the BBC are now going to Chinese state television for their sources on Sudan business developments. I'm not sure whether to be worried or impressed that they are trusting enough to eavesdrop on authoritarian regimes for accurate information.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Dr Who and the Phase-shifting Cyborg

So I'm enjoying how the new Dr Who series is shaping up:

Episode 1: Good twist and nice to see a take on the Daleks that isn't the usual Earth invasion or covert operation. However, Dalek asylum could have been so much more awesome. I was expecting an entertaining smorgasbord of gibbering sadists and nutty prophets rather than slightly beat up derelicts with an egg obsession and crackly voices.

Episode 2: Dinosaurs in space! Good although the talking robots were about as (un)funny as the Transformers characters they were ripping off. Mitchell and Webb surely could have been used to better effect.

Episode 3: A little underwhelming considering the awesome potential of a half-machine, alien bounty hunter taking on Eichmann II (I knew I recognised the metal-framed glasses from somewhere). The horse named Susan was pretty funny although the Doctor knowing horse (or baby or whale) is a joke that'd been done a million times. My main problem with this one was the stale underlying moral question. The 'Is it worth killing a few to save the many' question is a staple of science fiction and I like a bit more novelty in my Dr Who episodes. Intriguing that they didn't mention who the 'enemy' that the androids were created to destroy was though!

However, if it did tickle your fancy and you want to see similar themes handled better try 'A Dry Quiet War' by Tony Daniels. One of the best short science fiction stories I've read and, with the honourable exception of Firefly, the best blend of time travel, science fiction and western themes.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Dark Knight Rises to biff dirty commies

So given the choice between dog-sitting and getting out of the house on Wednesday evening I went to see the latest Batman film.

It was OK but I found it a little disappointing, especially from such a great director as Christopher Nolan. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War and with the last communist insurgencies trundling on in Nepal, Peru and India and we are still worrying about the possibility of revolution (at the point of a nuclear bomb, no less).

Bane made a good nemesis and I liked the (slightly predictable) twists regarding the escape from the pit. However, Batman has always had the potential to seem like an especially right-wing superhero since his power is basically having a lot of money. Restoring the dead spectre of communism for another couple of smacks round the face reinforces such impressions and seems very contrived in terms of contemporary politics (even for a Batman movie).

There weren't many laughs and not much that was memorable about this film - with the honourable exception of the genius cameo by Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow as a resigned but sardonic people's judge in the style of Andrey Vyshinsky .