Thursday, 9 October 2014

Starfinder Strikes a "Balance" with Episode Two

Would you believe that the first episode of this audio series was released back in March 2013?

For many months now I've been pestering exec producer George Silsby about when we could expect the release of episode two and each time I've been told to hang-fire, wait, be patient. Now it's finally arrived. Balance has launched.

Since that initial release 18 months ago it's been a long journey punctuated by audio vignettes introducing additional characters and graphic novel stories to ensure that the Starfinder name has survived and in many ways has expanded from the pilot. Our review picked out a lot of good stuff within the structure as well as some areas of improvement and since then, there's been a ton of events behind the scenes which have affected projected release dates and forced the team's hand to make some massive changes.

"It was actually easy - ideas come easy to me, almost too many ideas," said George in relation to adding in the vignettes;  "The overflow of ideas spill into side stories like the minisodes, short stories, and comics. They [the comics] are simply additional side content to enjoy. They will never be required to read to tie into any episodes, but they can enhance the story for those that read them."

On the positive side this has meant that a lot more work has gone into the production of not just episode two but also three (previewed at the end of Balance) and four which, we are assured are pretty much ready to go although those Starfinder peeps are holding them back to make sure we get just enough of this long-awaited second episode before we can hear the next stages. From what I know we can expect them before the end of the year.

"It was more a case of personal problems myself or the audio engineer had going on behind the scenes, not the actual work that delayed it." said exec producer, George. "We got past our problems, and resumed work, we also had the issue of having to re-record lots of material and re-cast some of the characters coming into episode two. Over the long months these things just kept flip-flopping and that's why we got behind. We finally got our act together and here we are!

As we noted time has brought about a few changes within the structure of Starfinder but George seems to be happy with the current status quo; "I now have a "team" and some of the team (from the pilot) left. My new number one, so to speak, is Adrianne Grady who is a talented actress. She voiced characters for Star Trek Online and plays Lt. Valor, she also plays our upcoming female Q in episode five (spoiler!!!). She's a good friend and now my exec."

And what about those next episodes? 

"We are just doing some extra add-on content we call "bookends"," continued George; "Episodes three and four,  expertly produced by Michael Medeiros,  are woven into a four-part crossover story with our brother podcast Gates of Stovokor also by Busy Little Beaver Productions."

There's a lot going on as you can see and the Starfinder team certainly haven't been sitting around twiddling thumbs and playing dom-jot. So what do we think of Balance after one two listenings? 

Running at a slightly shorter 56 minutes it's a better fit for a single sitting although we have to remember that the first "pilot" episode was feature-length to introduce the many aspects of the Starfinder experience. For me and a commute to work this fitted precisely door-to-door so I can give it a thumbs up if you're looking for some Star Trek to entertain you on the daily voyage. But let's look at it in a bit more detail than that.

With the USS Starfinder heading into the Outback there's a lot going on around the ship. Our holographic captain is taking onboard a time-travelling, drunkard Vorta named Kenai who has dealings with the Breen and there are a couple of relationships taking shape too. Key to this episode though and the main story focuses on T'Kayla who was introduced in one of the shorter vignettes last year and has travelled through time to deal with this errant Vorta and help Starfinder stay out of too much trouble. Her presence isn't really explained too well in Balance and I'd suggest you download the earlier additional snippets to get to grips with some of the new arrivals and situations that take place here. It's not a bad thing to have continuing storylines but with Starfinder I can see that there are going to be a lot of threads going on and the more info you can get, the better your understanding will be.

Aside from this temporally-challenging story the focus on relationships flourishing is more than I had expected with both T'Kayla/Stark starting off their "thing" in this timeline and Sergeant Byrnes (voiced by exec producer George) also trying his luck with Vulcan security officer Valor.

Byrnes, the lead MACO on Starfinder does come across as a little too relaxed and almost comedic which I'm not sure totally suits the character however the twist that he puts in as part of his romancing technique did raise a smile and I look forward to seeing how this gets developed over the coming episodes since we know (thanks to T'Kayla) that they will become an item and start a family. Nothing like a good bit of pre-destination to make you raise the game.

"I'm biased over Sgt Byrnes because I play him," noted George; "but that's because he represents the "soldiers" that never got to exist on the show before Enterprise, I feel they represent a unique and interesting part of Starfleet. I also love writing the Vortas, the whole cloning line is full of opportunity to mine for stories, I like all the characters, really."

The Vorta character reminded me somewhat of Keevan from Deep Space Nine's Rocks and Shoals thanks to the slightly slimy and flippant nature of the voice used to portray him. He annoyed me to hell which was perfect as the role was one that didn't require one to like him at all. While this is very much a character building episode it does feel that it's in the middle of something with a lot more to give. The conclusion, which does have a couple of nice little twists in it, does seem to be over fairly quickly and the end credits roll (with the addition of an episode three preview). 

The pilot was very action packed, pretty well-paced and here, Balance is a lot more relaxed and in that respect shows off that Starfinder isn't a one trick pony. There's more depth to it and we get a lot more layers added to the background rather than heading off into a Star Trek Online style shoot'em-up. While that first episode was very choppy in places, attempting to introduce and set up a whole host of new and diverse characters, here we have more time to explore certain individuals than just get a sharp bio and a few lines. The Outback too has been set up to be a weird area of space and I look forward to seeing this expanded upon in future episodes as here we've got familiar faces such as the Breen, Vorta and Cardassians showing up to play off against the Starfinder.

"I have a very set story arc and sub-arcs mapped out for all of season one; the minisodes are the random ideas made live as we go." confirmed Starfinder creator George, "The story is the start of two arcs--a shadow war between Section 31 and the Department of Temporal Investigations and a new temporal war. It just sort of gelled from the start as the next story to begin."

On the side of audio quality it's still obvious that different cast have used different equipment to record their parts to then be spliced together by George. The inclusion of background noise into the scenes does help to detract but the tone change between actors makes it clear that they are using different equipment - it's a shame but probably unavoidable and I wouldn't want this to stop anyone from listening.

Having an audio series of Star Trek isn't something new but in the era of blogs and podcasts wishing to critique the show or fan films taking us in new directions, is Starfinder the right way to go, after all it's based on the online Star Trek universe?

"As a genre, audio series are underestimated and I feel we can help change that. it's a unique format of storytelling that goes back to the days of radio plays before TV came out. I've been very happy (with episode two) as the feedback and traffic for it has dwarfed episode one by a mile. If I had to change anything i'd have split up the number of romances begun in this episode (SKoST: I agree!)."

Looking ahead, I hope that this slower pace isn't a sign of things to come and that subsequent episodes regain the pace, potential and edge that the pilot showed 18 months ago.  There's also some great little references to a certain timelord (Captain Hartnell for one) which are fun to look out for and one thing we haven't mentioned at all is the ominous mention of The Choir and the War Monks, both of whom we will be coming up close with in the near future.

I am reassured by George here that this is all actually going somewhere and not thought up on the spur of the moment - there's a Big Plan, a mission and a vision. with this resolve I can see that the future for Starfinder is certainly bright and optimistic. Further to that, there's a new minisode coming out which takes a new twist on the Vorta (intended to be with us for Halloween if not before) and more graphic novel material is on the way.

Having heard the teaser from episode three (at the end of episode two and also available at the Starfinder website on its own) I'm curious if nothing else. As with all good teasers it tells you absolutely nothing but sounds enticing.To top that off I was very privileged to get a chance to hear an exclusive clip from episode three, Gorn of a Different Colour and what I can say about that is Klingons, Klingons and Klingons. 

It promises to be very different, take the action away from Starfinder and expand upon the mystery and happenings within the Outback. Beyond that I was sworn to secrecy about the events of episodes four and five but what I can say is that this is going to be worth keeping up to date with and following as the story unfoldsin the next few months. I don't even question if this will all make sense because we know that the eleven episode first season is mapped out. That must be some map.

All images courtesy of Star Trek: Starfinder

Episode Two of Star Trek: Starfinder is available now for download or streaming via the Starfinder website right now. You can also locate their minisodes, graphic novels and episode one to catch up on all the events taking place in and around this new chapter in the Star Trek universe.

Have you listened to Balance? What were your favourite parts? What are you hoping for with episode three and the two-part arc? Drop us a note below!

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