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GDC - Ron Moore Keynote 180

Posted by Zonk
from the sit-right-back-and-you'll-hear-a-tale dept.
Ronald Moore may have done a lot for the Trek series of shows, but recently he's been making new fans with his work on the Battlestar Galactica title. He was invited to speak at GDC to relate ways in which intelligent folks can adapt an existing franchise. He focused on not only adapting and improving the original, but maintaining the core goodness of the inspiring work. Read on for notes from his talk. Update: 03/22 22:11 GMT by Z : Fixed Adama/Psylon spellings. I need a nerd-friendly spellchecker.
I got here late, but not before the montage of Battlestar footage had ended. Ron More comes on from stage left. He's here to talk about the process of developing and adapting the original show into the popular sequel series.

What are the fundamentals of Battlestar Galactica? Cylon attack on the colonies. Original show is very dark. A show of survival, not the normal s/f pablum. Footage from the original show compared to the new show, with the attack on the homeworld. Side-by-side comparison of the old footage with the new footage of the genocidal attack. Realistically, you don't want to have 'fun' with the attack. It's not that it can't be entertaining, but there has to be a fundamental realism. With the new show, a lot of the attack was off-screen, to make it about the character's reaction rather than just special effects. Somewhat topical, as the pitch for the new show came soon after the September 11th attacks. "You know what it is to wake up one day and find that the world has changed forever." Out in the fog, terrible things are happening, an important element of the show.

The characters are the core of the show: 'The Family Adama'. Everything rotates around the Family of Adama. Footage of the family, side by side, in the old and new. In the old show 'not credible' to have his whole family on the ship. To make the show rooted in our reality, he avoided the hierarchical military state by having Apollo come aboard later in the show. You lose Athena, who had no real purpose. The role of Athena is taken by Starbuck. Instead of Zach dying in the pilot, he's part of the backstory. Welds together how Starbuck, Adama, and Apollo interact.

Footage of new and old Adama. He's key both as the father of the family, but he's also the father-figure for audience and survivors. A man of principle and true beliefs. He's a believer in democracy, and ethics, honorable person. Mixed with the realities of a ship at war, crossing some ethical lines. He's not perfect, 'a human man for a human story.'

Problem with the original story was that there was nothing to balance Adama as an authority figure. Balanced, of course, with the Madam President. Compared with the old show's aging president (weak, non-threatening). President is important in three ways: Balance of military and civil authority, Mother figure of the show (though there is little sexual tension), she is a reminder of the apocalypse. She grounds the series in the context of the tragedy that began the show.

The government: the Quorum of Twelve. The original was a bunch of straw men with stupid ideas ("Let's trust the Cylons!") This time around, a group with more of a backbone. A show about democracy, what it means to be in a society during a time of war. There still has to be a civilian government despite the time of war. Not only that you survive, but the way you survive. The decision to make Starbuck into a woman... lots of 'comment'. Comparison of old starbuck and new Starbuck. Starbuck is a 'load-bearing member' in the architecture of the show. Making her a woman was almost random. Original Starbuck was a cliche (hot-shot pilot, womanizer, gambler), only really worked because of the actor. His attitude made the character okay. The new show: Don't let things be 'okay'. Don't have fun. Everything has consequences. 'This is a screwed up person.' She's been really damaged, and is only functioning in the military environment because it's all she knows.

Colonel Ty, another part of the Family Adama. Provides contemporary for Adama, a confidante for the head of the family. He's a drinker because he wanted the character to be fundamentally different than Commander Riker. Riker's job was to say 'me too'. He wanted an XO with more truth to him, because he's the guy everyone hates. 'The captain's whipping boy'. Make him a screwed up guy so that one of the folks close to Adama can be a poor choice to listen to.

Boomer, very little thought. An extension of family and a second family unit. The part where Boomer was a Pylon suggested by co-producer. "That is fucking brilliant!" Designed to be a very human element, Cylon change made without changing any of her dialogue.

Cylons! Old and new. Comparison between old and new bad guys. The limitations of TV actually help, in ways. Real stuff out of the question. CGI was originally thought to be out of the question. 'What if they look like us?' That idea opened up a lot of the stuff that's the basis of the show. If this was a videogame, they would have spent all their time making 'really cool Cylons'. The limitations of TV actually helped the show a lot by making them do somethiing they might not otherwise have ever done.

Not just 'an attack from the black', but a betrayal. Baltar. Why did he do this? Interesting that he gave up his own race. A lot of problems from within rather than without. He sells out the entire race ... for a woman. He's not even paying attention, but sells out the race just the same. He's kept in the show, with the crew, to make that betrayal last and last. Mmmm torture. Otherwise you end up with a guy chewing the scene and twirling his mustache.

Vipers basically unchanged. Why change something that works? The use of the handheld camera in space grounds a non-real moment in reality. Comparing it with shots of the Enterprise. Audiences are smart, even if they're non-technical. Tying the hands of the animators to make sure that there was always 'a cameraman' for every shot. New locations were guided by the philosophy: People actually live there. Make the controls workable. "Why did all those people in Star Trek have pictures of space on their walls?" They want things that comfort them.

The myth of Kobal and the 13th tribe: the underlying story of the show. Stayed very far away from Egypt/Greece, going for a more pagan/greco-roman element. 'What kind of universe do they live in?' They lost the Star Wars/Star Trek 'populated universe' idea. He was tired of having lots of alien races. Philosophically, he wanted a drama more than s/f. No aliens, no time travel, no evil twins. "You're forcing the show to be internally driven." The story is about the character's lives, not something from outside. The Search for Earth is the underlying driver of the show: Going to the 13th colony. A refuge from the Cylons. The challenge was to make it 'real'. "Why are you only now mentioning Earth?" is the reaction from the audience. Adama is lying, reaffirms what the audience is thinking while making the situation believable. "It's not enough to survive."

Ultimately, he didn't want to destroy the show to save it. Don't wipe the slate clean, take what was important to the show and translate that to a new audience. Telling the same story in different way. They're unique, very special shows. They're different, but they're both very much Battlestar Galactica.

Overall a nice talk by a very talented speaker. Not really sure why this was here ... the organizers may have wanted more Q&A to bring out aspects for game design, but they ran over time.

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GDC - Ron Moore Keynote

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  • *claws eyes out* (Score:1, Informative)

    by SigILL (6475)
    Aargh! The horror!

    s/Psylon/Cylon/; s/Odama/Adama/ please :)
  • by wickedj (652189) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @05:08PM (#14976017) Homepage
    Official Site http://www.game-warden.com/bsg/ [game-warden.com] Teaser trailer http://www.game-warden.com/bsg/Video/BSG_Mod_Tease r.avi [game-warden.com] It looks cool but it also looks a long way off.
    • BSG is currently my favorite show. It has even overtaken B5 as my all-time fav SF show. But I gotta say, I really hope the writers pull this next season out, because turning the whole series into a Mila 18 reprise is tedious. It would be great to see some retribution, and then exultation. Blood-and-guts as the soul of human endeavor is an apt lesson in these times.
  • Is there a video of the keynote?
  • I thought that the editors didn't bother to read this given all the errors, but it turns out that and editor wrote it, right?
  • by CrackedButter (646746) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @05:09PM (#14976038) Homepage Journal
    It shows through out the entire series, yes he pissed some of the hard core fans off but in the end, this is a quality show and thats all the matters, it doesn't try to destroy the old show, its taken the best parts and moved it on with the times. It still features the old vipers and old cylons as well which i thought was a nice touch, just without the lasers. Ron Moore i salute you!
    • yes he pissed some of the hard core fans off but in the end, ... it doesn't try to destroy the old show, its taken the best parts and moved it on with the times.

      If you've paid attention, the BSG on SciFi isn't a remake of the original, it's a continuation.

      Starbuck - You're sick. You're not a person, you're a machine that's enjoying its own pain.
      Leoben - All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
      Starbuck - Don't quote scripture. You don't have the right to use those words.
      Leoben - You kn

      • It's not at all obvious that they mean that it's a sequel. In fact, that makes very little sense to me. It probably has more to do with the weird religious kick the Cylons are on. The fact that Cylons are monotheist zealots in this version still hasn't been fully explained — and it's the biggest departure from the 70s version, where the Cylons had been created by an extinct race of lizards.
        • I think they did it because religious wars are something we (given the history of the Western world) can understand. I think it's amusing that the bad guys are the ones with the monotheistic religion and the good guys are the pagans; something that probably creates a certain amount of consternation among Judeo-Christian or Islamic religiously-minded fans of the show.
          • Except are the Cylons really the bad guys? Yeah, they're genocidal, cruel, manipulative, etc. But there are all these morally ambiguous moments. Which might be leading up to something interesting — or it just might be Moore playing silly games with us.

            I also wonder where the religious thing is heading. Maybe Moore has something clever planned around it. Or maybe it's just his way of recycling the premise of the original series, that human mythology is just a distorted version of some ancient space o

            • I think the 'moral ambiguity' is one of the most interesting parts of the show.

              I don't think it's particularly subtle that the Cylcons think themselves to be more pure and moral than the humans (and therefore justified in their actions). I mean it probably all comes out of the budgetary decision to have them look human, but of course it's an interesting idea to change it from just a territorial war.

              The one thing that I think was a big mistake was making the inside of the Cylon mothership the typical 'organ
              • You're right, that change obviously came from budget constraints. As did many others, starting with the decision to have mostly humanoid Cylons. And probably those mothership sets you hate so much: by the time they'd built all the other sets, they probably didn't have much money to spend on a set that they weren't going to use much.

                Then again, there's this whole compulsive organic thing going on with the Cylons. For example, they build their Raiders out of organic parts, even though a simple machine would

                • You do have to wonder what the centurions think of the new guys they created.
                  • I don't think the centurions are supposed to have created anything — they're pure warriors. You might recall the conversation where Baltar first discovers that his lover is a Cylon. He asks why she doesn't look like a toaster, and she refers to "old models" that "have their uses". My inference is that there were once mechanical cylons that specialized in intellectual chores, but these have been replaced by the biological cylons. Centurions haven't been upgraded because they're fine for what they are:
      • It can't be a continuation. If this happened before then wouldn't the cylons be like the original cylons? But we are not even talking ideology here either. In the original series, the cylons were actually lizards who forced themselves to become robots or the cylons that are seen during the course of the original series. They are not lizards in this show nor did the humans create the cylons in the original show like they have done here.
    • Basically, Moore just did what he had to do. The fans of the old show wanted a sequel to the old show, but they would have been the only ones who watched it.

      It's an OK show, but not a great work of imagination. Basically, Moore just took everything that was done wrong on Star Trek when he worked for them and did the opposite. The result works fine, but it's not the most memorable piece of SF I've ever seen.

      I am very curious what will happen when they get to Earth. I'm guessing that the Cylons got there

  • Spelling corrections (Score:4, Informative)

    by saforrest (184929) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @05:15PM (#14976079) Homepage Journal
    Erg, all the spelling errors were driving me insane...

    =====
    Ronald Moore may have done a lot for the Trek series of shows, but recently he's been making new fans with his work on the Battlestar Galactica title. He was invited to speak at GDC to relate ways in which intelligent folks can adapt an existing franchise. He focused on not only adapting and improving the original, but maintaining the core goodness of the inspiring work. Read on for notes from his talk.

    I got here late, but not before the montage of Battlestar footage had ended. Ron More comes on from stage left. He's here to talk about the process of developing and adapting the original show into the popular sequel series.

    What are the fundamentals of Battlestar Galactica? Cylon attack on the colonies. Original show is very dark. A show of survival, not the normal s/f pablum. Footage from the original show compared to the new show, with the attack on the homeworld. Side-by-side comparison of the old footage with the new footage of the genocidal attack. Realistically, you don't want to have 'fun' with the attack. It's not that it can't be entertaining, but there has to be a fundamental realism. With the new show, a lot of the attack was off-screen, to make it about the character's reaction rather than just special effects. Somewhat topical, as the pitch for the new show came soon after the September 11th attacks. "You know what it is to wake up one day and find that the world has changed forever." Out in the fog, terrible things are happening, an important element of the show.

    The characters are the core of the show: 'The Family Adama'. Everything rotates around the Family of Adama. Footage of the family, side by side, in the old and new. In the old show 'not credible' to have his whole family on the ship. To make the show rooted in our reality, he avoided the hierarchical military state by having Apollo come aboard later in the show. You lose Athena, who had no real purpose. The role of Athena is taken by Starbuck. Instead of Zak dying in the pilot, he's part of the backstory. Welds together how Starbuck, Adama, and Apollo interact.

    Footage of new and old Adama. He's key both as the father of the family, but he's also the father-figure for audience and survivors. A man of principle and true beliefs. He's a believer in democracy, and ethics, honorable person. Mixed with the realities of a ship at war, crossing some ethical lines. He's not perfect, 'a human man for a human story.'

    Problem with the original story was that there was nothing to balance Adama as an authority figure. Balanced, of course, with the Madam President. Compared with the old show's aging president (weak, non-threatening). President is important in three ways: Balance of military and civil authority, Mother figure of the show (though there is little sexual tension), she is a reminder of the apocalypse. She grounds the series in the context of the tragedy that began the show.

    The government: the Quorum of Twelve. The original was a bunch of straw men with stupid ideas ("Let's trust the Cylons!") This time around, a group with more of a backbone. A show about democracy, what it means to be in a society during a time of war. There still has to be a civilian government despite the time of war. Not only that you survive, but the way you survive. The decision to make Starbuck into a woman... lots of 'comment'. Comparison of old starbuck and new Starbuck. Starbuck is a 'load-bearing member' in the architecture of the show. Making her a woman was almost random. Original Starbuck was a cliche (hot-shot pilot, womanizer, gambler), only really worked because of the actor. His attitude made the character okay. The new show: Don't let things be 'okay'. Don't have fun. Everything has consequences. 'This is a screwed up person.' She's been really damaged, and is only functioning in the military environment because it's all she knows.

    Colonel Tigh, another part of the Family Adama. Provides contemporary for Adama, a confidante for the head of the fa
  • BSG Rules (Score:4, Interesting)

    by moochfish (822730) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @05:18PM (#14976108)
    Well, aside from the already noted mispellings and lack of grammer, I must say your summary only reaffirms what I tell my friends when I try to convert them to BSG-ism. The characters are all flawed. The universe emphasizes realism over sensationalism. Most of the plot twists are not due to, as I like to describe it, "bullshit last-minute oh-my-god that's-impossible" moments.

    I can't think of very many other shows that have all of these elements together. And I love how the stories are unpredictable because the writers are willing to put the main characters through pain and suffering without a "happy ending" at the end of each episode. Without spoiling anything, I can the last 3 episodes of the second season totally proves this point.

    So long as they keep the show driven by the characters and not by special effects or plots written from the big surprise ending first, it will only gain more mindshare.
    • Despite the corrections he still missed that Col. 'Ty' is spelled Tigh.
    • Not "grammer", "grammar". Sorry, couldn't resist.
    • Well It was my favourite show last year, but this year it is taking on shark jumping proportions.

      From "Deus ex machina" cures for cancer, to the totally surreal (not in a good way) final thirty minutes of the finale where every character seems so untrue to themselves, that any suspension of disbelief is shattered.

      I felt like I was watching one of those "evil opposite universe" story lines from other sci fi. Or a self indulgent wierdness for the sake of wierdness episode like the twin peaks finale. At least
      • I felt like I was watching one of those "evil opposite universe" story lines from other sci fi. Or a self indulgent wierdness for the sake of wierdness episode like the twin peaks finale. At least in Peaks that wierdness was self consistent.

        It could get worse. It could all be a dream of Adama's, his sleeping on the decision to let the election stand. Yeah, I know, Six shoots down that theory. I did like how she was responsible for their discovery. Although I would expect a search of any reasonable large
        • At first I thought it was Baltar's dream - I found it strange how the flash forward occurs when Baltar puts his head down on his desk, then it starts by him raising his head. Almost everything in the dream was something Baltar feared would go wrong during his presidency... he doesn't have a lot of self confidence.

          Of course the producers have said it wasn't a dream, so shrug.
          • I wish it was a dream, that is the only way I can reconcile the startling inconsistency after his head hit the desk.

            With Baltar in mad dictator Caligula mode (complete with drug addiction and his own harem) running them into the ground, and Adama doing nothing about it. This is the man that put Roslyn in Jail for less. Now his only passtime is moustache growing.

            Starbuck playing house in the shanty town, complete with hair extensions.

            That last half hour was completely sureal and that is not a good thing for
    • That's why I like The Shield. It's not about crime and punishment, but the people -- realistic people with believable motives and roles which directly affect the plots. It's the exact opposite of CSI really, which, while a good show in its own right, is focused almost exclusively on the details with very little character development. Of course they both have some amount of BS, whether its zooming in on crappy video or the chief believing a patently obvious lie. Overall though, they present plausible sce
  • Not joking here for a change. The show takes itself seriously, unlike most Glen Larson franchises, and it does nothing to try to be a cute family show.

    Proven actors, unproven actors, deliberate reflections of our own society and its issues, and really good action sequences.

    This is what Enterprise should have been in some respects, a show without tethers to expectations.

    Oh, and Katee Sackhoff smuggling hollowtips.
    • The show takes itself seriously, unlike most Glen Larson franchises

      Oh come on, you didn't think Buck Rogers was serious? One look at Gil Gerard's chest hair should have told you "Hey, this show is ALL ABOUT seriousness!"

      And you can't tell me you weren't touched by the poignant love affair in Knight Rider between a man with gay hair and a car with a gay voice.

      -Eric

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @05:29PM (#14976177) Homepage Journal
    To steal a line from a review Bruce Sterling wrote about Haldane's The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, the new BSG is . . .

    "Totally lacking in comfortable bullshit."

    Last week, when Sci-Fi started running Doctor Who, I actually felt a sense of relief at not having a new episode of BSG to watch at Ten. Not because I don't like the show, but because it is so damn wrenching. There's no feel-good sci-fi bogostity there. People die and suffer and doubt.
    • There's no feel-good sci-fi bogostity there. People die and suffer and doubt.

      Which is why I hate, for example, Stargate SG1 & Atlantis. They're the antithesis of BSG. It's not that the acting is bad, per se, but it's hard to present a believable character when everyone's doing and saying things you'd never expect someone to do/say in real life. They don't even really have a plausible motivation for what they're doing. And to top it off, any sense of risk is negated by the fact that you know everyone
  • Pile on (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @05:31PM (#14976202)
    The part where Boomer was a Pylon suggested by co-producer.

    I'd sure like to pylon Boomer too!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Greatest show on televsion right now. Hands down. I would encourage everyone to watch it, as it's going to be in hiatus from new episodes until October.

    Might be one of the greatest television shows I've ever seen. Can't remember the last time I found myself actually EXCITED to see something on TV, ANTICIPATING it coming on each Friday/Monday.
  • ways in which intelligent folks can adapt an existing franchise

    Answer: You can't. It's copyrighted, patented, and trademarked, and will remain so until you are worm food. Only medialopolies have the money and connections needed to get rights, and they do their square best to avoid hiring intelligent folks (BSG was a regrettable accident - they had planned to hire the drooling neanderthals that did Enterprise), so piss off before you get yourself sued. :)
    • You can't. It's copyrighted, patented, and trademarked,

      That pretty much goes with the term "franchise". Like McDonalds, if you want to sell Big Macs, you have to sign a contract with the McDonald's Corporation.

      But it's not like there is any patent on space opera in general; there's a huge body of work from the 30s pulp magazines up to the present you could licence for almost nothing; or just write somethng original, there's a thought.

  • First off (Score:4, Funny)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @06:56PM (#14976925) Homepage Journal
    "Starbuck is a 'load-bearing member' in the architecture of the show. "

    So StarBuck was the Pylon, not Boomer? ;)

    That said, I hope Boomer being a Cylon wasn't a critical plot twist.

    MMmmm Starbucks..I'm going to get me a coffee....then a whale.

  • by Darth Maul (19860) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @07:54PM (#14977345) Homepage
    "News for Nerds" and you can't spell Tigh, Cylon, or Moore?

    For some reason Slashdot just doesn't seem like the place for me anymore. I'm a total geek and want editors of stories that actually know how to spell, especially in a story about the best sci-fi on tv.
  • Just go to Vancouver sometime, there are Starbucks everywhere!

    *ducks*
  • Zonk, I'd like you to meet Complete Sentence. Complete Sentence, this is Zonk.
  • Berserkers (Score:2, Informative)

    by Illbay (700081)
    Did Fred Saberhagen [wikipedia.org] ever get an ounce of credit for the essential germ of that show?
  • I have many problems with the new BG series. The show is too close to the Western Earth military, clothing styles, culture, etc. The original built a whole culture based on a connection to ancient human civilization such as Egyptians and Toltecs. Also the Galactica was a very old ship, on the order of 500 years and had been updated over the years. It was multigenerational ship. The new one is only about 50 years old and was to be mothballed at the start of the series. Visually the Galactica looks like a you
    • The new series is meant to resemble us because it's COMMENTING on us. They ARE us and are facing the same issues we are facing with 9-11, the "War on Terror" the Western world vs. Muslim world, etc. Like all good science fiction, BSG really isn't about the future, or aliens, or other worlds at all.

      -Eric

      • So, I'd be better off watching the news? Well... I get tired of hearing about the whole 911, War on Terror, War in Iraq (= just another Crusade to take the holy lands and they're resources), etc. Sometimes I like sci-fi escapism. Sci-Fi isn't always about commenting on the human condition, sometimes it's about a platform for presenting new ideas, and sometimes it's just meant to entertain. It would have been possible for the new BG to be a comment on the current world situation and still maintain the define
  • Esp ones that suddenly pop up on the large plasma screen tv wearing fake ears and start speaking English.

    I guess technically the wild life on New Caprica are aliens.

    If they do encounter intelligent life I hope it is on the order of "what the hell is that?" instead of "gee your forehead is wierd want to come over for a drink and have sex... as you do seem to have a giant and gorgeous rack."

    Not that I have a problem with chicks with huge tits wearing rubber ears... but I usually pay for that in Vegas.

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