The one thing where Wing Commander was far better than most popular Sci-Fi

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
Wing Command lacked what most Sci Fi (in TV) had at the time when WC was most popular:

The "Alien Degradation Syndrome" (ADS).

It means the aliens get dumber and inferior compared with humans each episode. Best example is Star Trek TNG, where humans outsmart everyone else. The latest series "Enterprise" is a pretty extreme case, because everyone is shown to be far more advanced than humanity at first and they manage to outsmart them ALL within a few decades or something. The Xindi seemed to have better tech than humanity in the "TNG" shows but it's implied that they get subdued by the Federation later.. Another stupid thing is that the more "alien" the aliens look, the more evil they are. Best example: Cardassians vs Bajorans. Or the Xindi primates compared to the insectoids/reptiles. Pretty funny for a show that claims to be so "enlightened".

Stargate is another big offender. In the original movie RA's species are humanoids who have the technology/ability to possess the body of other beings through some sort of "soul transfer".

In the shows, they became mere worms. Quite degrading. it goes further: they didn't even have build the stargates themselves, have stolen all their technology, are cookheads, they are getting dumber by the minute and so on. And the super mega beings of the whole galaxy, the ones who built the stargates and all important nifty tech are the "ancients", beings who just look exactly like humans!

L.O.L.Z!

"Earth: Final Conflict" was another of of those shows. In the first season the aliens, the "Taelons" were far more advanced than humanity, but in later shows they get dumber and dumber, their whole heritage gets "degraded" (it's revealed that their ancestors were evil space vampires) while humanity is shown in a pure light. It goes even as far where they say that humans have "better genes" or something.. And even though the aliens are at first millions of years more advanced than humanity, the people of Earth catch up WITHIN A YEAR and outsmart them completely in the second season.


Sick of these story lines. What's the point? It's extremely juvenile.

Seriously, can you tell what the point of these shows is? Inventing some alien races and constantly showing how fucking superior humanity is to some fictious aliens.. wow, how exciting.

Wing Commander was different and for that it holds my respect. OK, the Kilrathi were evil, but they were.. "righteous evil". Humans didn't outsmart them constantly, the cats weren't shown as stupid, they didn't have these "degradations" that I have outlined above (ok, except one: The Kilrathi have apparently stolen space tech). And the way humanity won the war was not noble: a last ditch effort involving blowing up the whole planet. Very few sci fi franchises would have taken that route.

I loved the treatment of the Kilrathi. They were a formidable enemy, "evil" but with a certain sense of honour and it came mostly without the whole "everyone is inferior to humans" subtext.

I would have changed the motivation of Hobbes' betrayal though. Hobbes turning sides because he didn't want to see Kilrah blown to smithereens by a doomsday weapon would have been better.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
I would have changed the motivation of Hobbes' betrayal though. Hobbes turning sides because he didn't want to see Kilrah blown to smithereens by a doomsday weapon would have been better.

Then I'd go a step farther and make Blair's choice be between killing Hobbes and protecting the immoral weapon... or letting him go knowing he wants to warn his hrai/clan.

I'm actually not a huge fan of the Kilrathi winning the war through WC3. It made for better individual drama for Blair, but I regret not getting to see the World War II analogy to completion...
 

Ilanin

Captain
...seriously?

Humanity fights a thirty-year war against an enemy which never seems to outnumber them less than two-to-one except for a very brief period, Human technology always retains a slight edge except in the traditional area for sci-fi antagonists of cloaking, something the noble, upstanding and straightforward humans never develop first. The closest humanity comes to defeat is through a false armisitice ploy, which despite having a strong sense of honour the Kilrathi do anyway, the Kilrathi freely use bioweapons whereas human scientists developing them are regarded as "rogues" and stopped by the hero of the story, practically every Kilrathi success is "offscreen", the supposedly greatest Kilrathi warrior and commander of the war never actually wins a battle...the list goes on.

You can say some things for the Kilrathi, but basically they're Kzinti with slightly more military smarts. They're a very traditional antagonist race.

Now, there is one thing that Wing Commander does well I'd say, but it isn't the presentation of alien races. It's the presentation of humans. Forty centuries of human history hasn't removed national or regional differences, so why would another five? WC does go a bit overboard with national stereotypes, but the idea that there are still identifiably people of British, Russian, French Belgian or whatever descent and culture is much more probable than a future with just "humans". Colonising the Americas did not cause English, French, Spanish or Portuguese settlers to become indistinguishable, so I doubt future colonisation of other planets would have a different effect.
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
...seriously?

Human technology always retains a slight edge except in the traditional area for sci-fi antagonists of cloaking, something the noble, upstanding and straightforward humans never develop first. the Kilrathi freely use bioweapons whereas human scientists developing them are regarded as "rogues" and stopped by the hero of the story

Thought about this too, but this is sort of averted by the Behemoth and the Temblor Bomb.

Planet buster weapons are TEH EVIL and in sci fi only the baddies use them. Especially a planet nuker like the Behemoth which can be fired far from the target itself is considered BAD BAD.

In WC3 the humans use these planet busters without much ado.

Planet nukers > cloaking & bio weapons (on the BAD score)

And about bio weapons, don't forget WC4. Also don't forget who developed the Temblor Bomb, humanity's last ditch: a sterotypical evil scientist. That scores more points on the BAD score.


practically every Kilrathi success is "offscreen", the supposedly greatest Kilrathi warrior and commander of the war never actually wins a battle...

Agree about the offscreen. But by Wing Commander 3 the Kilrathi are winning, the only way humanity wins at the end is by the bad planet nuker. You're also forgetting that the Ariel incursion fails in WC3 and if you mess up the final Ariel mission morale takes a big hit with the whole jump-point cloaking thing.

I am not saying it's perfect, but it is better than what most Sci Fi franchises were up to regarding this. The Kilrathi also never suffered the extreme humiliating degradation over time, unlike the examples I presented.



Now, there is one thing that Wing Commander does well I'd say, but it isn't the presentation of alien races. It's the presentation of humans [nationalities]

Don't agree here at all. Star Trek and Babylon 5 were no different with this. Picard with his constant references about his "frenchness" (in the first seasons), Janeway's stories about Indiana, Chakotey's over-the-top native American heritage thing, Chekov's & Ivanova's Russian stuff.
 

Bob McDob

Better Health Through Less Flavor
Human technology always retains a slight edge except in the traditional area for sci-fi antagonists of cloaking

And the Proton Accelerator Gun, superpowered jump drives and shield-penetrating torpedoes?
 

Shaggy

Vice Admiral
There's a certain balance you need to strike in Sci Fi shows, particularly on TV, or the show doesn't work.
Stargate is a perfect example. In SG-1 they beat back the Go'Auld and new nemesis was needed so they came up with the Replicators. The problem was that the Replicators basically reproduced like cockroaches, were immune to energy weapons, and eventually took on human forms. At that point there's a bit of a logical gap when. Why don't the human form replicators infiltrate Earth and impersonate the President or other people capable of shutting down Earth's defenses? They certainly had the capability but the SG-1 writers never really addressed that obvious tactic. If they had brought that into the series it would have made the replicators too overpowered and insurmountable. Even they way they dealt with the Replicators was a little lame and a bit of a cheat.
Wing Commander had to strike a very careful balance between insurmountable odds and winnable odds because it had to be able to go either way in order for the branching missions to work.
You can't have super smart\overpowered aliens throughout an entire series otherwise the show becomes boring or a tragedy, which nobody has really done yet and I think would have made Skyline a much better film.
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
You can't have super smart\overpowered aliens throughout an entire series otherwise the show becomes boring or a tragedy, which nobody has really done yet and I think would have made Skyline a much better film.

My problem with these shows is not that the aliens aren't "super smart". It's the the subtext of childish human superiority. It's as if the writers have some sort of trauma that forces them into stories like these (abducted by aliens and raped by anal probes?)

The "more alien, more evil!" attitude that is so prevalent in Star Trek since TNG is a great example (Cardassians/Bajorans, Son'a/Ba'ku, Xindi primates/reptiles)

The Goa'uld from the Stargate TV show are another great example. Here comes the "degradation" factor into play: If the aliens have better weapons, explain it immediately away! It's not because of their science, no, it's because they have stolen that stuff!

Earth Final Conflict beginning with Season 2 went to ridiculous extremes to paint the Taelons as literally biologically inferior to humans, which was not the case in the first season. Suddenly their ancestors were ridiculous "energy vampires", they would turn against their will into ugly monsters at certain moments, who would run through the streets craving for energy and killing people. Also the "they have stolen their stuff!" allegation would come up. Mixed with "they can't even repair their own stuff!"

The ancients in Stargate are the final expression of this predictable mindset - of course, the true builders of all the wonders of the universe are basically humans! Who else?! Man, they didn't even bother with ridged noses here! Same with the "seeders" (the original humanoids who ruled all the universe yada yada) in the TNG episode "The Chase" who looked of course far more human than klingon or cardassian.

I could write books about it.

If these shows would sell themselves as mindless shooters, I would be fine with it. But no, especially Star Trek has that annoying aura of morality around it, yuck. The other mentioned shows are also full of "life lessons", or at least they are trying.. Very grating.

I would have no problems with "evil" aliens bent for conquest who aren't super smart in a tv show, if they would avoid for the whole run the tired and juvenile "stolen tech", "biologically inferior", "the true super overlords of space are in fact ancient humans" .. cliches.

I am totally fine with the alien creatures in "Space: Above and Beyond" for example.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
the Kilrathi freely use bioweapons whereas human scientists developing them are regarded as "rogues" and stopped by the hero of the story,

I don't know about this one--I always thought it was interesting that the bioweapons were also considered distasteful by the Kilrathi (it's not until the very end of the war that planetary scale bioweapons are used and Melek is clearly uncomfortable with it... the novels also mention that there's an unspoken agreement not to use such weapons).

practically every Kilrathi success is "offscreen", the supposedly greatest Kilrathi warrior and commander of the war never actually wins a battle...the list goes on.

It's very hard to have a video game where you *lose*... and I think we have to give Wing Commander credit for managing to do exactly that in the Special Operations disks.

The Goa'uld from the Stargate TV show are another great example. Here comes the "degradation" factor into play: If the aliens have better weapons, explain it immediately away! It's not because of their science, no, it's because they have stolen that stuff!

You know what bugged me about Stargate? The rapidity with which humans suddenly developed huge secret spaceships FOR NO APPARENT STORY REASON.

I am totally fine with the alien creatures in "Space: Above and Beyond" for example.

SAaB has a weird setting where Earth is reaching out to colonize planets in traditional-looking rockets that are supposed to be incredibly special rare things... and also happening to have a fleet of giant space aircraft carriers ready at the same time. All in the pilot.
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
SAaB has a weird setting where Earth is reaching out to colonize planets in traditional-looking rockets that are supposed to be incredibly special rare things... and also happening to have a fleet of giant space aircraft carriers ready at the same time. All in the pilot.

The military has more advanced tech than the rest of the population. It's also implied later in the series that the "evil corp" Aerotech (and probably in part the UN and the governments - don't forget, the makers of x-files were behind the show) knew about the aliens, calculated the odds and provoked the war with them to make tons of money by supplying the military and getting alien artifacts. So they probably built up the military just for that several years before the main events. It's obvious though that "evil corp" thought the aliens would strike later. Yeah, the civilian rockets in the pilot were funky, but the colonists in their dusty space rockets were just cannon fodder, a bait.
 

Ilanin

Captain
It's very hard to have a video game where you *lose*... and I think we have to give Wing Commander credit for managing to do exactly that in the Special Operations disks.

Freespace/Freespace 2. Every CRPG with an unwinnable fight in, which is most of them. Of course, Freespace 2 did it far too much, but it's not exactly a difficult thing to do. Have the player fight a losing battle, holding the line, leading counterattacks, protecting evacuations, yes, that would have been worthy of credit. Little victories, big defeats. The player lands after an epic carrier defense mission with a real sense of achievement because his home base is still intact, but as the captain points out, "Brilliant work, $PLAYER, you'll be up for a Medal of Honour, but since now we've only got four fighters left, we've got to retreat." Standoff does this pretty well on occasion, mostly in Episode 4. Can you buy the Moskva enough time to get its crew off? Can you break out of the Kilrathi encirclement and reach Earth?

I don't feel any requirement to give Wing Commander credit for the Special Operations storyline. You don't lose. You win a battle which turned out to be irrelevant. As I said, all the Kilrathi successes are offscreen.
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
As I said, all the Kilrathi successes are offscreen.

Not all though. The "onscreen" Confed Ariel attack fails, the destruction of the Behemoth was a big one. OK, traitor plot, but still. The official version is that Hobbes was a plant by Thrakkath, that was quite a successful military intelligence operation.

In the novelized "canon" story of WC3, Blair fails to save Locanda and screws up even his first mission. The player can screw these missions too and the game would carry on. In fact, when I played it for the first time, I screwed up Locanda, too.

But I agree - the games almost never force the player to play unwinnable missions, that's true.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
I don't know if that's fair -- the Kilrathi can "win" Wing Commander I and II and still have the series continue, too.

... and Wing Commander is full of missions like you described in Freespace. Except good. BAM! No, seriously, though, just think of all the transports we haven't been able to rescue over the years (evacuees in Hell's Kitchen, the two Pelicans in Prophecy, the rigged ones in WC3, the liner in WCSO and so on...)

... and then scenarios where you can win one thing or the other in the FMV games!
 

Farbourne

Rear Admiral
I'm not sure I agree with the basic premise in this thread.

First, you kind of cherry pick in your sci-fi selection. How about Babylon 5? Humans do not "outsmart superior aliens" there...humans are shown as technologically inferior to several races, who continuously kick humans butts when push comes to shove. I'm sure there are other sci-fi counter examples, but I'll keep this post short. But your main thesis doesn't seem to be "WC is better than sci-fi on TV of the 1990's", but rather "Wing commander is better than Star Trek , Stargate, and E:FC".

Actually, it's not even Star Trek you're harping on, but Star Trek TNG and Enterprise. The original Star Trek constantly had humans being outsmarted by superior races who were both technologically and morally more evolved (in fact, this was a central theme to several episodes: "Errand of Mercy", "Arena", and "Spectre of the Gun" all come immediately to mind). Similarly, TOS breaks your "the more evil, the less human looking" idea. The episode "Is there in Truth No Beauty" specifically refutes that.

I'm not even sure I buy your "the less human-looking, the more evil" argument in 1990's TV sci-fi. In TNG, Romulans look way more human than Klingons, but Klingons are allies and Romulans are the subtle nemesis. In Babylon 5, the Centauri look way more human than the Minbari or the Narn, yet are duplicitous while the Minbari are noble (the Narn are initially portrayed as evil, but the perceptions shift until they become "good guys" at the end, while the Centauri are villified). Even in Stargate SG1, one of your main examples, your hypothesis breaks down. The Goa'uld are evil, we're told...except then we run across the To'qura (sp?), who are also little worms...and are not evil. We discover that the Goa'uld are not *fundamentally* evil, but most of them are just corrupt because they possess too much power (as happens even to humans with too much power). We meet the Asgard, who are decidedly *not* human looking, and yet are strong strong good guys.

And in Wing Commander...I don't get the Kilrathi being noble. By human standards, they are barbaric. The point is that by *their* standards, they are not barbaric (just as I'm sure the Cardassians are not evil by their own standards, for example). The Kilrathi have no concept of surrender, so they offer no quarter to humans. But to us that looks barbaric. Slaves are a fundamental part of their society, so they don't have any moral qualms about enslaving people. You're right that they sometimes do seem a bit sqeamish about planet killing weapons (Jukaga is appalled by the use of Strontium-90 in Fleet Action, and Melek seems squeamish about bioweapons in Locanda), but they still use them readily (in addition to the above two examples, don't forget the PTC used against the Goddard Colony in SM1). I saw the development of the Behemoth and the Temblor as humanity "sinking to the level of their opponent".

In short, I just don't see that Wing Commander was that different from other sci-fi.

One final thought...of course sci fi is going to usually portray humans as "superior". One of the points good sci-fi will point out is that aliens are, well, alien, and as such likely would have a fundamentally different morality. (Look at the Shelliac in Star Trek: TNG, or the "buggers" in "Ender's Game"). Therefore, they can do actuions that are moral to them and look immoral to us...but because we, the audience, are human, sci fi that represents this will always apparently show the aliens acting in a way we perceive immoral. And in order for the "good guys" to "win", the human characters have to end up coming out on top (with a few notable exceptions...the recent movie Avatar and the somewhat older movie Enemy Mine both did a very nice job of role reversal and getting the human audience to root against the evil humans and the good aliens).
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
I'm not sure I agree with the basic premise in this thread.

First, you kind of cherry pick in your sci-fi selection. How about Babylon 5?

I haven't mentioned Babylon 5 for a reason. B5 was the big exception, with the very human looking Centauri opressing the much more alien looking Narn. Humans weren't so damn smart either. Actually here I noticed the other extreme - I've found it a bit odd how the Minbari were shown as total heroes and "righteous good". The same Minbari who had no qualms exterminating helpess people with no remorse because of a misunderstanding basically.

Babylon 5 was great, but with the admiration of the Minbari they hit the other end of the scale. Still, fresh air.


Actually, it's not even Star Trek you're harping on, but Star Trek TNG and Enterprise.

And DS9. Yes, I always said it's about the TNG era. TOS didn't have this element, at least not to such an extreme.


I'm not even sure I buy your "the less human-looking, the more evil" argument in 1990's TV sci-fi. In TNG, Romulans look way more human than Klingons, but Klingons are allies and Romulans are the subtle nemesis.

Romulans had never that much of a prominent role though. But The good/bad schema applies here: Romulans and Vulcans share a common ancestry, the Vulcans are good, the Romulans are evil. And the Romulans have the more alien look than the Vulcans. Much more pronounced facial bone structure, "evil" eyebrows etc. in the TNG era.


Even in Stargate SG1, one of your main examples, your hypothesis breaks down. The Goa'uld are evil, we're told...except then we run across the To'qura (sp?), who are also little worms...and are not evil. We discover that the Goa'uld are not *fundamentally* evil, but most of them are just corrupt because they possess too much power (as happens even to humans with too much power). We meet the Asgard, who are decidedly *not* human looking, and yet are strong strong good guys

The Tok'ra were something of a fig leaf excuse, when they noticed that they have shown the Goa'Uld to be over-the-top bad.

Whatever points SG1 scores with the Tok'ra, it loses twice as much with the ancients (and to some extend the Tolans even). Yeah yeah, the mega bosses of the universe were humans all along, woopey doo! And of course the Asgard are way more human than the worms.



And in Wing Commander...I don't get the Kilrathi being noble. By human standards, they are barbaric. The point is that by *their* standards, they are not barbaric.

In short, I just don't see that Wing Commander was that different from other sci-fi.

The difference was, they had no "degradation". They were evil bastards from the beginning. But cunning and swift bastards. It didn't change, unlike in other franchises, like the "downgrade" from awesome but evil shape shifting genius gate builders to stupid literal parasites who can't invent stuff if their life would depend on it and aren't even evil in their own right, but because they are dopey cookheads actually.

An "evil" race like the Kilrathi or the aliens from War of the Worlds are completely fine by me. The TV show Goa'Uld, the EFC Taelons (post season 1) or the Borg (it looked like as if their fingers were constanty on the self-destruct button in Voyager) are a lame no-go.


One final thought...of course sci fi is going to usually portray humans as "superior". One of the points good sci-fi will point out is that aliens are, well, alien, and as such likely would have a fundamentally different morality. (Look at the Shelliac in Star Trek: TNG

That's not "good sci fi". That's the opposite actually, because "these" shows ( the ones who carry that subtext) show the humans as completely right, end of story. The Sheliak episode is a good example, the foreign looking aliens are villified to the extreme. Finally, after a long time, non-humanoid intelligent aliens appear in Star Trek and they are shown as mega arrogant cocks. In TOS, it would probably be the opposite. "Alien looking" aliens were shown in a more negative light in TNG.


Oh, and it's not like humans had a consistent "morality to begin with". 16th Japan has a different morality than 21st century Europe for example.


Therefore, they can do actuions that are moral to them and look immoral to us...

I've seen tons of instances in the late Roddenberry shows where the aliens where villified not for what they did, but because they weren't human basically. The best example was in the third season of EFC where the main dolt dares to give a moral speech about how bad it is that the aliens use "Skrills" as weapons. The Skrills are some creatures from another planet that have the intelligence level of a dog or a cow.

Quite rich! This from someone who lives on a planet that is overfilled with slaughterhouses and animal testing labs. I am not a card carrying PETA member, I am not even a vegetarian. But I was still baffled. The hypocrisy was just astounding. And no, it was not even an analogy, because in the same episode they praise how great and moral the humans are compared to the aliens. WOW.

The latest Enterprise was the most extreme Trek with its "humans are superior" ideology. The Xindi stuff is just one example. Worse was this episode:

Archer also rants that as alien as they might look .... they're still human, so they have to be careful. So, what, if they were aliens you'd give Tucker a six-pack, a coon hound, and a hunting license?

http://sfdebris.com/enterprise/e106.asp

Human = more worth. They have gone as far to directly state this on air. Wow. As I said, I would be fine with it, if they wouldn't act as if it's still a "morality play". And I know, the humans are "young" in Enterprise and what not, still, when they argue with the Vulcans, the show most of the time gives the winning points to the humans, specifically Archer. So they act as if he IS the moral authority.
 

Kyle Maverick

Rear Admiral
An "evil" race like the Kilrathi or the aliens from War of the Worlds are completely fine by me.

The Aliens in War of the Worlds weren't evil, they were desperate. Their world was dying and they needed a new home. As they were more advanced than Humanity they didn't see them as being more than vermin. And the book ends with a note about the Martians landing on Venus, and the narrator hopes that when they meet next, it will be on friendlier terms, as Humanity will have advanced by then

And if you include the TV series (first season only) they were planning on wiping out humanity for a second reason as well, for how badly we'd treated our own planet. They weren't exactly "evil" there either, they figured we'd wasted our world and they wanted to put it right,
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
And if you include the TV series (first season only) they were planning on wiping out humanity for a second reason as well, for how badly we'd treated our own planet. They weren't exactly "evil" there either, they figured we'd wasted our world and they wanted to put it right,

So the true name of the aliens was Algorians?
 

boringnickname

Rear Admiral
By human standards, they are barbaric. The point is that by *their* standards, they are not barbaric (just as I'm sure the Cardassians are not evil by their own standards, for example)

You've watched too many SF shows man (me too, by the way).

The Cardassians aren't evil by North Korean standards either. Is Kim Jong-il an alien?

You seem to imply that the standards of Hollywood SF writers are the universal standards of all mankind through all times. Quite naive.

Speaking of naive, one cliche that really annoys me in Stargate and Star Trek (yeah I know..) is the "not deserved" accusation. Closely aligned with the "You haven't invented your stuff!"

Notice how the really big baddies (the ones who can't be reformed) never develop their own war machinery. They can't even copy stuff, the info must be literally sucked out from victims. The Borg have assimiliated everything, not invented. Same with the Goa'Uld basically. There are other examples. It follows the naive thought that "the evil ones" never can have technological progress on their own. It must have been stolen, always. this is a very romantic and unrealistic thought.

Quite funny stance for a genre that is so obsessed with nazis and war war II though.
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
The bad guys are stupid and inept so the good guys can win. It's ubiquitous in fiction. The only difference is that in sci-fi they tend to be weirdo space-lizards or whatever... It might not be the most clever way to do things, but it's preferable to the alternative.
 
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