This is Sacred Icon, a blog posting Top Ten lists, opinion pieces, reviews and other content related to many different sci-fi franchises, including Doctor Who, Halo, Star Wars and Star Trek. This blog also features reviews and Top Ten lists of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays, and also occasionally hosts showcases for my own custom Dalek collection. Feel free to browse the category list, or click the categories in the menu above, to browse posts on the site, and don’t forget to follow the blog for updates on new posts and leave a like on any posts you enjoy.

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Have Microtransactions ruined Star Wars: Battlefront?

After the controversial release of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II in late 2017, the game has recently seen a revival thanks to the release of several free expansions. However, with EA being mired with complaints about the microtransaction system, the short campaign and the poorly designed level progression system, there are clearly still fans out there that are not happy with the newest installment in the Battlefront series. In fact, there is a significant portion of the Star Wars fan community that staunchly prefers the original Star Wars: Battlefront II that released in 2005 over the EA-branded remake. But are the two games in any way comparable?

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The original Battlefront II

When it was released in 2005, the sequel to 2003’s Star Wars: Battlefront aimed to improve on just about everything that had featured in the original by adding in space combat, more classes, a better rewards system and countless other gameplay, aesthetic and layout changes that helped to firmly establish Star Wars: Battlefront II as one of the most popular Star Wars video games out there. In the eyes of many fans, the game takes its place alongside other Star Wars classics like Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as one of the best video games of its era, and thanks to a dedicated community that has seemingly only strengthened in the wake of the release of the EA Battlefront series the game continues to be one of the most popular Star Wars releases to date.

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EA’s new Battlefront II

Following the decision by EA to use the name ‘Battlefront’ for their new series of Star Wars first-person shooters, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II had a lot to live up to. Fans were cautious of the game when it was first announced due to the disappointment many had felt following the release of EA’s first Star Wars Battlefront, which promised much and yet delivered little in terms of maps and content. Early signs for Battlefront II seemed more promising, with the inclusion of the prequel and sequel eras as well as more customization, heroes, space battles and the single player campaign mode. In many ways, EA’s Battlefront II did deliver on what was promised, at least in terms of content – but the controversy surrounding microtransactions coupled with the vast amounts of playtime needed to progress through the levelling system led to many players writing off the new Battlefront game early on, particularly since EA had already failed once.

One of the most glaring weaknesses in the new Battlefront games compared to the Battlefronts of the 2000s is the significant reduction in the number of maps and modes, and the lack of customization options compared to older releases. For many players these features helped define the Battlefront games and for some the use of the Battlefront name on EA’s new games is little more than brand association.

However, the biggest and most controversial issue surrounding EA’s Battlefront II was the inclusion of its microtransaction system. Having started as a means for free mobile games to generate revenue through in-app purchases, microtransactions have gradually seeped into the mainstream console gaming market and the increasing numbers of publishers that have turned to this system has been criticized by children and parents alike. Those against the system argue that it comes across as an attempt by publishers to squeeze as much money out of the consumer as possible, and when the system is paired with randomized loot-boxes that have also become popular in the first-person shooter genre of games the result is something akin to child gambling, as children can spend real money on a random selection of in-game content without knowing what content they will actually receive.

This was particularly controversial in the case of EA’s Battlefront II as it was proven that, without using real money to purchase randomized loot-boxes, it would take hours and hours of playtime to earn enough in-game currency to unlock heroes like Darth Vader despite the inclusion of the heroes being one of the game’s main selling points. Ultimately, the controversy surrounding microtransactions in EA’s Battlefront II contributed to a growing movement against the system led by activists and politicians that particularly target the randomized loot-box system. Progress has already been made in some parts of the world, most notably the Belgium Gambling Commission that has made the inclusion of randomized loot-boxes that can be bought with real money illegal.

Despite the assertion from many Star Wars fans that microtransactions ruined the new EA Battlefront, the game has seen a small rise in popularity following the suspension of the loot-box system and the release of several free sets of downloadable content. Whilst there is no way to know for certain exactly how many active players there are in the game, the release of content related to Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Clone Wars era has been met with positive response from what players the game has, so it could be that with the removal of the microtransaction system the game stands a chance of turning over a new leaf and winning back the disappointed fans that are flocking to Star Wars’ rival brands in their droves.

Comic Fans Split Over the Future of Comics after Death of Stan Lee

marvel vs dcIn light of the recent death of comic book legend Stan Lee, many comic fans are wondering what the future will bring for the industry in light of the loss of a major figurehead in the industry and changing times with the rise of the internet.

Stan Lee is best known for his work as creative leader of Marvel Comics, as he transformed the business from a small publisher to a multi-million-dollar corporation that created some of the most iconic comic book characters in history.

Although it is certain that sales figures for physical comics have fallen significantly in recent decades, what is less clear is the exact reason why this is the case.

Many long-time comic fans, like Rob who was interviewed at Worlds Apart, have blamed the internet for the decline in sales – particularly since online comics are proving far more popular with millennials than the physical copies.

However, others argue that the online section of the comic book market is an excellent way of getting young people into comics, particularly since physical comics are more expensive and intangible online versions of comics are better suited for younger readers. In the video Jon discusses the plethora of comics he’s bought online.

As local comic shops begin to evolve with the times, focusing as on merchandise and collectables as much as actual comics themselves, the clear shift in climate in the comic industry presents a worrying change for stalwart fans – but also a promising development for younger readers.

How the 2019 Picard TV Show could change how we look at Star Trek

The Star Trek franchise is perhaps best known for its optimistic depiction of a diverse, harmonious and utopian socialist human society in the future, and the series was founded on creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a peaceful and enlightened future. However, in recent decades the long-lived series has seen a dramatic shift in the tone and feel of its releases to the point where modern interpretations of the iconic brand have lost many of the fundamental themes and morals that defined Star Trek for the first thirty years of its existence.

Fans of the show need not despair, as there is a shining beacon of hope on the horizon – the Picard TV show, set to release in late 2019, has many Trekkies hoping that Star Trek may finally return to the more philosophical and plot-driven stories of The Next Generation as opposed to the action-orientated nature of the newer Star Trek films and TV shows. The fact that Patrick Stewart is returning to the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard after so long suggests that there has been some serious decision-making going on behind the scenes as to what the direction of the newer Star Treks should be, and the kind of messages that the franchise should send to younger audiences.

First seen as the captain of the USS Enterprise-D in the first episode of The Next Generation, Picard soon became a dynamic figurehead of responsibility, reason and ethics in the Star Trek community, even rivalling fan-favourite Spock for best character in the history of the series. Played masterfully by Patrick Stewart for all seven seasons of TNG’s run, Picard embodied the most honest and desirable traits in mankind – passion, mercy, intellect and willpower. Often acting as a mediator and always able to see the bigger picture, Picard became legendary for his ability to uphold his values and principles in the face of adversity and always seemed to take the moral high ground.

In the current political and social climate, it seems there is no better character to return to the front and centre of the Star Trek brand than Jean-Luc Picard. Whilst TNG will always be the keystone Star Trek series and perhaps even the essential Star Trek experience, bringing Picard back for a new show aimed at modern audiences certainly seems like the logical thing to do – provided it is done right. Many fans have criticised newer Star Trek for changing not only the feel but the look of the show, suggesting that the producers have little respect for the show’s history, which has many more fans worried that the new Picard show will be mishandled. It is no secret that the character of Jean-Luc Picard has been mishandled before – the infamous TNG movies from the late 90s and early 2000s depicted Picard as more like an action hero than a morally upstanding life coach, and the state of the Star Trek universe catapulted the once peaceful Federation into several bloody wars before the ‘post-TNG’ plotlines were unceremoniously abandoned by the end of the 2000s in favour of prequels like Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery.

Hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose and with some proper science fiction stories to tell, the new Picard show will stay true to the roots of the character and the franchise to deliver less action thrillers and more thought-provoking stories. Ideally the show will find the effective middle-ground between the two and will deliver something more akin to TNG and less like Star Trek: Discovery. Whatever the direction the producers choose to take it in, there is no doubt that the Picard show will change how we look at Star Trek.

 

Halo MCC – January 2019 Winter Update Adds New Skulls to Halo: CE

Halo: The Master Chief Collection just got a new update for the winter of 2019, and it pays clear homage to the past whilst also looking forward to an exciting future for this under-appreciated title.

Despite having been out since 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has seen a recent revival thanks to renewed efforts by development team 343 Industries to ‘fix’ the game after the fan backlash to the game’s broken state at launch. By altering their perspective on the game from a failed release title to a killer app in dire need of maintenance, the development team are making fast progress on winning fans back over with the new features that have been added to Halo MCC in recent months, including the updated social multiplayer system and an updated UI. Whilst this recent update is not nearly as glamorous, The first and most obvious change to the game is the new menu, new sporting a nostalgic winter theme depicting a Warthog on the Halo 3 multiplayer map Snowbound, surrounded by animated snow, a welcome addition to the app.

Another subtler but no less significant addition is the new ‘Modern Aiming’ feature for the classic Halo games. As Halo MCC features 5 Halo titles from across 2 previous consoles and over 15 years of video game engine development, several of the classic games felt sluggish and slow compared to their more modern counterparts. With the addition of the Modern Aiming setting, the aiming is smoother and auto-aim is tweaked, so  players can choose to use either the original aiming system or the revised version that is more suited to what many younger players will be used to from a shooter game.

Perhaps the most exciting feature for classic Halo fans is the inclusion of more Skulls to Halo: Combat Evolved. Since the release of Halo 2, Skulls have been hidden in levels throughout various Halo games and, when activated, they change how the game plays. With the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in 2011, ten years after the release of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, 343 industries took the opportunity to add skulls into the game, but were limited in how many they were able to test and implement before the game was released. Fans have already discovered evidence within the code of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary that more Skulls were going to be implemented into the game, but were cut. In 343 industries’ recent blog post on the Halo MCC January update, Sean “Scoops” Cooper, a programmer who currently works on Halo MCC, said:

“There are of course more skulls in Halo 2 which have not made their way over to Halo: CE yet, but some of them with good reason. Some have no equivalent features to change (eg, there’s no vehicle boarding in the first game so Jacked is off the table). Others require data or code which did not exist originally and would risk breaking the baseline game trying to make them work. Then a few others haven’t been brought over yet as they require more time and testing.”

Sean also mentions in the blog that he eventually plans to add more of Halo 2 Anniversary’s diverse range of Skulls to other Halo titles in Halo MCC, an exciting prospect for players who now find replaying older Halo campaign levels to be a bit stale. The new update also features, among several other bug fixes, a fix for the Bandana (Infinite Ammo) Skull on Halo: CE and Halo 2, so energy weapons now have infinite ammo as originally intended.

The last of the major additions included with this update is the ‘Super Duper Fiesta’ mode, a compilation of many of Halo’s popular Fiesta multiplayer modes into one easily accessible playlist. This addition is only for social matchmaking, not competitive, and replaces the usual Team Action Sack setting for the match composer, though the announcement blog post does reassure Team Action Sack fans that this is only a temporary change.

Having recently entered its fourth year, many Halo fans might have given up on Halo MCC following its shabby launch and proceeding spat of abandonment. However, 343 industries have proven before that they are listening to fans via social media, their blog posts, game reviews and their occasional live events. As such, much of the fan feedback that was received about MCC is now being implemented, and future features that are either announced or all but confirmed range from a Custom Games Browser that allows players to search for games created and hosted by other players to a fix for the infamous duel-wielding glitch in Halo 2’s campaign. 343 industries have even stated that the team has been discussing adding Halo: Reach to the MCC, as it is now the only Halo title to not be re-released for the Xbox One in some form, although it has been made backwards-compatible. Halo fans should hold back from getting their hopes up about Reach just yet, however, as the team did stress that it is at this point little more than a remote possibility for the future. Still, the January 2019 Update gives Halo fans lots of hope for the future of not just Halo MCC but the future of Halo as a franchise.

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