2021/05/07

Mech Data: PT-20

PT-20 Plasma Tank "Mahdi"

PT-20

Technical Data

Model number: PT-20

Code name: Plasma Tank Type 20

Nickname: Mahdi

Classification: prototype energy weapon-optimized main battle tank

Manufacturer: Xining Experimental Weapons Facility

Operator: Coalition Defense Force

First deployment: CY 20

Crew: 1 driver, 1 gunner, 1 sensor officer, 1 tech in central cabin

Height: 26.25 meters

Weight: 410 metric tons

Armor type: palladium glass/titanium/ceramic composite

Powerplant: cold fusion reactor, max output 2630 KW

Propulsion: 4x hover casters: top ground speed 98 kph; 180° turn time 1.48 seconds

Sensors: radar, thermal, optical

Fixed armaments: mega plasma cannon, output rated at 220 MW, mounted in recess in upper central hull

Special Equipment: ion field projector

Pilot: Ffasch Lohm


General Notes

The Coalition’s West China Region remained a hotbed of lawlessness into the CY 20s. When a succession of governors failed to bring the bandits, jackals, and insurgents infesting its vast deserts to heel, SOC Secretary-General Prem Naryal charged CDF Commander Ffasch Lohm with pacifying the region.

Lohm set out to implement his personal credo that any problem was solvable with the judicious use of firepower. One of his first acts was to commission a weapon platform better suited to desert warfare than the more space-oriented combat frames. Based on his own designs, the PT-20 plasma tank prototype rolled out of the Xining Experimental Weapons Facility in early CY 20.

The “Mahdi” as local workers nicknamed the awe-inspiring tank, incorporated many novel design elements. Its spherical main hull rode upon four hover casters combining functions of vectored thrust nozzles and ball bearing-style wheels. This unique drive system allowed the PT-20 to roll over rocky ground or glide across fine sand that would stymie bipedal CFs.

The centerpiece of the PT-20 was a mega plasma cannon more powerful than any energy weapon of the time. The cannon was ensconced in a central recess within the tank’s main hull, giving the PT-20 the appearance of a giant rolling eyeball. The tank’s upper hull could rotate freely, affording its devastating weapon a full 180° field of fire, while its independently adjustable casters allowed the cannon to point straight up if desired.

Already armored with cutting-edge materials, the PT-20’s defenses were further bolstered by Lohm’s installation of an ion field made possible by the tank’s enormous generator. The field surrounded the PT-20 with an ion envelope capable of repelling most energy-based attacks.

Lohm originally intended to unleash his deadly creation on a horde of hill bandits preying on trade in the Hexi Corridor. A better test of the tank’s capabilities presented itself when Coalition Customs shot down a shuttle carrying a rogue XSeed over Lohm’s backyard. The PT-20 initially mauled the jackal band that had salvaged the XCD-100, but it and Lohm finally met destruction when Zane Dellister triggered the YFS-100’s nuclear detonator.


Amazing, a must read for Japanese mecha anime fans!

Read it now!

zCombat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier

2021/05/06

Stealing the Limelight

The clearest creative vision can be thwarted if a writer's own characters get other ideas. Sometimes a secondary character can emerge from the background and steal the limelight from the rest of the cast.

These breakout characters often start out benign, but studio and network interference are notorious creative carcinogens.

Here are a three supporting characters that took the wheel and drove their franchises off a cliff.

Michael Myers
Michael Myers

John Carpenter originally wrote his now-iconic character as hardly a character at all. As originally conceived, Michael Myers was a shadowy presence no one was supposed to identify with.

He was never meant to be the boogieman that launched the 80s slasher craze.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill had no interest in making a sequel as they believed the original Halloween (1978) was a standalone movie. When the studio offered him to write the script and pay them more money (Carpenter states that to this day he saw very little earnings from the success of the original movie) he took the job so he could earn back what he believes was his owed pay.
Carpenter was so sick of Myers that when Halloween III rolled around, it didn't feature the Shape at all (except for a brief TV ad for the original Halloween). In fact, Carpenter tried to re-imagine the franchise as a horror anthology series.

In his capacity as producer, Carpenter would bring in a novice director to tell a new Halloween-themed story each year. The series would stay fresh, and several young film makers would get a potentially career-making shot at the director's chair.

Sadly, Halloween III tanked. The money men blamed its failure on the lack of Michael Myers and demanded his return in the fourth film. Carpenter washed his hands of the franchise, leaving it in the hands of producer Moustapha Akkad. Thus began a downward slide culminating in the convoluted trainwreck that is Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers.

Pinhead
pinhead

Let it be known that I like the characters of Pinhead and Michael Myers. But it's an established fact that the Halloween and Hellraiser franchises both took turns for the worse when their villains stole the limelight.

Pinhead's rise from a part described only as "Lead Cenobite" to series front man can be credited to actor Doug Bradley, who portrayed the character with panache and absolute control.

There's a world of difference between silent masked slashers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface, who were played by stuntmen; and the Cenobites, who were portrayed by trained actors at Clive Barker's insistence.

Barker's quality control may have been Hellraiser's Achilles' heel, because Pinhead ended up stealing the show from Barker's original choice for the series' main villain.
This element was meant to underline the story of Frank (Oliver Smith) and Julia (Clare Higgins) and their corruption by lust, with the latter intended to become the ultimate villain of the series. Pinhead, however, proved much more popular with audiences, and thus became the center point in further sequels.
The decline set in with the very next film, wherein Pinhead was warped from a depraved yet rule-bound manipulator to a slasher-style chaos demon.

Hellraiser: Bloodline completed the series' downfall with the dreaded In Space episode that is the perennial kiss of death for every horror franchise that manages to limp that far.

Homer Simpson
Homer Simpson

The Simpsons justly takes flack as the archetypal zombie show that staggers on despite having lost the spark of life decades ago. An early warning sign of the show's impending decline was the elevation of Homer Simpson to main protagonist.

Hardly anyone remembers that in the early days, The Simpsons focused on Bart. A given show would revolve around his edgy-for-the-late-80s antics, with Homer as his straight man foil.

The focus shift from Bart to Homer even predates the show's widely accepted season 9 shark jump. Pop Cultists will tell you that was when the show got good, so that's how you know it's really where things went wrong.

Not that the show's downfall was immediate. You had a couple seasons of Homer as an average Joe thrown in over his head. But his character quickly devolved into the oafish lower middle-class white dude who's now the laughingstock of all media.

With that devolution complete, The Simpsons became just another vector of the coastal elites' war on the folks who grow their food and power their cities. And it stopped being fun.


The lesson, as always, is don't give money to people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2021/05/05

Final Fantasy IV Retro-Spective

Final Fantasy IV Retro-Spective

A quick reminder to all my readers that my new live stream series, Final Fantasy IV Retro-Spective premiers tonight on Geek Gab's channel at 10:00 PM Central.


We'll be playing through the JRPG classic on the original SNES hardware. That means all kinds of fun glitches to exploit, so tune in to Geek Gab tonight at 10 Central/11 Eastern to watch me almost cheat at this legendary game.

2021/05/04

Shadowrun (1993)

Shadowrun

We've documented Gen Y's vices in copious detail these past few years. But if Gen Y has one virtue, it's a knack for remembering what the Pop Cult would prefer stayed memory holed.

For example, the AAA video game publishers really don't want you thinking about pre-Ground Zero 2D video games. If you did reminisce about them - or worse, go back and play them - you might realize how artistically impoverished AAA's ubiquitous mud genre offerings are.

One forgotten touchstone of High 90s gaming was the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo. Gamers didn't split along hardcore vs casual lines back then. Instead, you identified yourself by your gaming hardware. The vast majority of households only had one gaming device, and with PC ownership still relatively rare, that meant you were either a Sega Genesis kid or a Super Nintendo kid.

The two industry giants' console war played out on TV, at department stores, and in school cafeterias nationwide, where competing versions of the latest games fed ammo to both sides. Titles released for both consoles gave Sega and Nintendo kids the chance to directly compare their machines' performance. 

Every Y remembers the debates over Mortal Kombat and Aladdin.. But another controversy, almost totally forgotten now, divided vidya gamers and tabletop RPG fans into two intractable camps. That memory-holed battle of the console war raged over the Genesis and SNES versions of FASA Corporation's sci-fi urban fantasy TTRPG, Shadowrun.

As with most titles shared by the Genesis and the SNES, gamer consensus generally favored the Sega version. But today I'm breaking from the pack and reviewing the criminally overlooked Shadowrun on Super Nintendo.

What makes the debate over the Genesis and SNES versions of Shadowrun stand out is that unlike other shared releases, each console got a totally different game instead of slightly tweaked ports of the same game.

Shadowrun for Super Nintendo debuted in 1993. It was published by the now-defunct Data East but produced by Australian startup Beam Software. In contrast to the Genesis version's more standard 3/4 third-person view, Beam went with a 45 degree isometric environment. They also chose a point-and-click interface, both of which give the SNES version more of a PC feel.

Shadowrun SNES 1993
Super Nintendo

Shadowrun 1994 Genesis
Sega Genesis

A color palette replete with grays and earth tones adds to the SNES version's gritty, neo-noir feel. Yes, both of those terms are hackneyed clich├ęs in Current Year, but they were all the rage at the start of the High 90s.

In keeping with its noir influences, the main plot and game play of Nintendo's Shadowrun revolves around amnesiac Shadowrunner - game universe slang for a gun-for-hire - Jake Armitage tracking down the shadowy forces behind an attempt on his life. Along the way, Jake will pick up firearm, hacking, and even magic skills to aid him in his search.

Unlike the Genesis version, which places heavy emphasis on combat, Jake's weaponry - and even his emerging shamanic powers - are tools in the service of the detective work that drives the SNES version. To progress on his quest, Jake must unearth hidden clues and interview often reluctant witnesses to unlock crucial keywords. If you've played PC detective games, or even the Japanese version of Final Fantasy II, you'll be familiar with this game mechanic.

That doesn't mean Shadowrun for the SNES falters in the action department. Jake still has a price on his head, so would-be assassins lurk in dark alleys, behind flophouse windows, and even on rooftops, providing random encounters that pay out in karma and nuyen. You use the former to improve Jake's skills and the latter to upgrade his hardware - including cybernetics that can turn him into a veritable killing machine.

Like any good RPG, Shadowrun for the SNES features pre-scripted battles in the form of action set pieces and boss fights. None of them feel like violence for the sake of violence. Instead, all constitute authentic action arising from the story. It turns out that Beam Software loosely based the game on a novel by frequent Shadowrun TTRPG contributor Robert N. Charrette, and it shows. The plotting and characterization are remarkably tight, especially considering the game's technical limitations.

Speaking of characters, Jake needn't go it alone. This is a Shadowrun game, after all, which means you have the option of recruiting a motley assortment of mercs to your cause - for a price. More than just walking arsenals, the SNES version's shadowrunners boast specialized skills to help Jake slice through megacorp data mazes and gain the spirits' favor. They're even willing to adjust their fees if Jake pumps some karma into his negotiation skill.

All of these elements gel to create an experience that's as close as vidya gets to your high school buddy's Friday night Shadowrun game. Pick up a copy of this lost SNES gem if you have the means, and grab a few slap patches; you're gonna need 'em!


For a quick demo of Shadowruno (1993), watch me playing it on my original SNES hardware on this Geek Gab test stream:


And don't miss the main event: Final Fantasy IV: Retro-Spective! Stop by Geek Gab's channel on YouTube tomorrow, Wednesday May 5, at 10:00 PM Central to experience FF IV as it was meant to be played: on a 30-year-old Super Nintendo with no glitch or bug left unexploited!

2021/05/03

OG #StarWarsNotStarWars

Spacehunter starwarsnotstarwars

Now that #StarWarsNotStarWars has secured its place at the apex of newpub, it's worth looking back at what made the original Star Wars successful. I've long maintained that George Lucas achieved his genre-redefining opus by solving old storytelling problems in fresh and exciting ways. Specifically, he presented refined expressions of the pulp tales that had thrilled audiences for over half a century.

That's what the slew of Star Wars imitators that popped up to chase Lucas' puck all missed. They only looked at the surface and mistook Star Wars for a paint-by-numbers pastiche. The studios were sure they could cook up a blockbuster by bashing space opera and Westerns together - and do it on the cheap.

The results ranged from the campy to the grotesque. And tellingly, Hollywood producers always concluded that the one missing piece of Lucas' wholesome formula was gratuitous smut.

As you'd expect, Hollywood's Star Wars imitators are now forgotten. Perhaps the most forgotten, and the least deservedly so, is 1983's Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.

Produced by a pre-Ghostbusters Ivan Reitman, Spacehunter suffered from a troubled production. Rumor has it the original director was fired and filming restarted from scratch. Nevertheless, the movie stars some name talent like Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, and a young Molly Ringwald.

The writers kept the plot of Spacehunter simple, which is another element everybody else who aped Star Wars ignored. Three girls are kidnapped on a savage planet. A down-on-his-luck freelancer sets out to claim the reward. That's the whole setup.

And it's worthy of any Western or Lester Dent pulp yarn.

Rich and Jay from Red Letter Media recently sat down to review this forgotten 80s time capsule. Their take on Spacehunter makes for entertaining and informative viewing - in large part for what they don't mention.


What somehow goes unremarked-upon by Rich and Jay is the main antagonist's back story. The zone into which Wolff must venture is off-limits because of a plague outbreak shortly after the planet was colonized. Earth dispatched a team led by three scientists to cure the disease.

The medical team succeeded in producing a serum for the virus. But instead of curing the whole populace, the team's leader betrayed his colleagues and leveraged the cure to become a global dictator.

If that's not topical enough, Spacehunter depicts its main villains restricting travel depending on who's received the serum, running biological weapons labs, and experimenting on their own people.

The result is a species of Mad Max in space, with a warlord whose power base is medical technology instead of oil.

Which raises the question: Was Spacehunter forgotten, or memory-holed?


For a fun read that does for Gundam and Battletech what Galaxy's Edge did for Star Wars, check out my hit military thriller saga!


Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier