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Robert_Frazer
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The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« on: June 14, 2007, 03:56:41 am »

Salutations to all. I registered here quite a while ago, and I must confess that I haven't even been a lurker since then (0.008 posts-per-day average... postcount whore I ain't!  Tongue ), but a discussion thread on video game villains on another forum recently turned to everyone's favourite megalomaniacs, the Ur-Quan. As is my way, I ended up writing a fairly long tract on my own stance on their evil, and seeing as it was the fine fellows here developing The Ur-Quan Masters that introduced me to Star Control in the first place I thought that I'd dust my account down and share it with you. Enjoy!

THE UR-QUAN HEIRARCHY

Thwart them in: Star Control II



"...in addition, your ship does not respond to standard Heirarchy identification transmissions and is therefore deemed to be... independent. This is not permissible - only subservience will be tolerated..."

------------------------------------------------

One of the problems that has persistently dogged the depiction of alien races in fiction is the tendency towards anthropomorphism. While my own experience as a Warhammer 40,000 hobbyist and fluffist has left a great deal of frustration and exasperation in this regard (the claim that a concentration on the Imperium of Man is necessary due to the impossibility of authentically conveying alien natures smacks more of a lack of imagination than a dedication to narrative integrity), I'm willing to acknowledge a number of legitimate reasons for the trend. There are plenty of weird and remarkable human societies that have yet to be explored without needing to invoke gills and eye-stalks; television budgets can't always cover half-a-dozen gratuitous animatronic limbs for every being that steps into the captain's ready room. Nonetheless, even the vilest and most reprehensible xenogen whose visage has slithered into grotesque union from the fumes of the farthest, darkest reaches of the perilous stair in the abyssal void between the suns is somehow... tempered by his reliable possession of two legs and opposable thumbs. By making distant aberrations seem close and familiar, the effect is inevitably, however unintentionally, to similarly belittle the evil that they represent. Like someone playing behind a mask on a stage, he may give a compelling performance but there is still a dash of pantomine about the proceedings.

This problem, however, certainly cannot be said to weigh down Star Control II, a title belonging to the stable of  the quintissential 4X space adventures. Your traipsing about the galaxy in the name of the Alliance of Free Stars propogates the ideals of truth, justice and freedom but also brings the pleasure of genuine discovery of wealth of wonderful exoticism worthy of the Beagle. From muffin-men to unearthly glimmering crystals, from weird agglomerations of random geometry to coldly sentient magma plugs, genuine imagination has flourished in the rendition of the alien races of Star Control II and the broad remit bestowed by such a topic has been managed enthusiastically and inventively.

Yet as many explorers and adventurers have found oiut to their cost in this world alone, exoticism does not stand still to be admired and appreciated, and strife and grief lurks abroad as much as at home - and that unsettling characteristic is illustrated all too forcefully with the might of the Ur-Quan.

The Ur-Quan sternly advertise themselves as a threat to you before you've actually even met them - as you draw into orbit around Mother Earth, the first sign of life in the game that you encounter after a slow cruise through the empty outer reaches of the solar system is a tight, angry red dot that homes in on your vessel with unerring accuracy and rushing speed, a stark contrast to your ungainly ship which lurches about clumsily in a futile mockery of evasion. Anyone familiar with the quite hilarious pastiche of the space opera, Galaxy Quest, will immediately recall the scene:

"There's, uh, a red thingy... heading towards the green thingy... and, I think we're the green thingy"

Only now, you're the butt of the joke - and it's a sick one.

The Ur-Quan first impress themselves upon you as a singular feat of truly alien design - certainly nothing scrutable can be found in their bloated and imperturable annelid form - even their eyelids shut at odd angles to our own, and their departure from human experience is so absolute that they need another completely different being (the weird waddling brain shown in the screenshot) to do so much as facilitate communications with you! Your appreciation of the artistic design, however, is unsettled by the context - you're above Earth, a familiar land of friends, so why do these completely foreign creatures act as ambassadors, and why do they snarl at you as an "interloper"? From that very first encounter, the Ur-Quan slide down your appreciation as they become the vector which communicates to you the awful scale of the brave new world that you've drifted into.

When it comes to struggles with The Other, mankind is usually engaged in a valiant endeavour against invasion - a thorough, direct challenge, mettle against mettle and mind against mind across a clear battlefield where the lines, whether they be traced across the length of a single screen or a hundred stars, are nonetheless clearly defined. The Ur-Quan, however, promptly turn these comfortable conventions on their head - you're not only late for the war, you lost it, and a new order, one as alien as the being which confronts you with it, has arisen.

This is also no uncertain or unsettled character to this new order - there's no King Alfred burning cakes whilst he builds up support amongst the marshes or Hereward the Wake secure in his Fenland fastness - you're the only one who can fan the flames of freedom, and you're just one miniscule blinking pixel amongst an awfully large galaxy map. The Ur-Quan aren't Palpatine-analogues who've spawned a Galactic Empire which, for all of its overblown portentuousness, is a ramshackle and rickety construction riven with rebellion from its very inception; instead, their dominion truly dominates - their power is absolute. Return to the screenshot which introduced this post - "disobedience will be punished". No bold bravado of "defiance will result in your destruction!" or savagely grating threat of "a challenge will be met with extreme force!"... it's a coldly level statement of fact, and it's worded - 'obedience' - as a sterner sort of parent might discipline his child. When you finally encounter a fellow human soul, he doesn't announce himself as Commander Hayes of the Starship Enterprise, nor the United Earth Commonwealth Harbour Station, but rather the "slave planet Earth". Your splutters of surprise and perplexity are met by astonishment on his part that you could think anything different, and this only serves to ram home to you the terrible crushing might that the Ur-Quan have exerted. These creatures are foes to be reckoned with, and prising off the locked fingers of their iron fist will be no routine task. This sense of power in the prime antagonists is awesome and in many ways unique.

Due to various factors associated with the plot which I shall not reveal here in the interests of preserving spoilers (it is well worth the time to experience them yourself), you may actually not cross paths with the Ur-Quan again for literally years of game time, while your quest takes you to all manner of different alien societies. Yet this does not diminish the fearsome power of the Ur-Quan - as the game never opened with some easy victory against them for the sake of a tutorial session, there's no crack of fallibility in their monolithic presence to exploit - and no matter what race you encounter, whether they describe themselves as Fallow Slaves or Battle Thralls, all are always casting one eye back over their shoulders, ever filled with trepidation for the booming reverberations of their returning masters' tread. The Ur-Quan Heirarchy casts a long, dark shadow.

That shadow is deepened once you have the opportunity to understand the motors which drive the Ur-Quan on their long and endless road of destruction and subjugation. For much of their earlier game, they come across as straightforward megalomaniacs - unaturally effective and forceful ones, definitely, but at least playing to type in their ambition if not their realisation. A fuller understanding of the Ur-Quan character, though, brings with it revulsion at their utterly reprehensible nature and twisted hearts.

The Ur-Quan desire to ensure their species' freedom and preserve a hard-won liberty from a long age of enslavement. That hardly sounds terrible, right? No-one is keen on the idea of oppression in these enlightened days, surely? True - but the Ur-Quan's method of maintaining their own liberty is to deprive every other being in Creation of it! There are no redeeming qualities to their nature, and they are inherently no more than an organ for the propogation of violence - even from their most very primitive days they were the bottom of the food chain and fought their way to the top, all the while riven between themselves by their innately territorial nature as much as ravaged by their predators who found them tasty snacks. The period of interstellar slavery which defined modern Ur-Quan society might be expected to leave something of a chip on anyone's shoulders, but once it was over instead of dusting themselves down, celebrating a righteous victory with acclaim and aplomb and forging on to make a future for themselves the Ur-Quan are marooned in angst, imposing a defeat on themselves even at the point of salvation. The weird talking pet that the Ur-Quan speak through is an atrophied remnant of their old masters, and as much a sign of their fantastic power it's an open sore in the Ur-Quan character, and, ironically, a shackle slaving them to their consuming obsession. The Ur-Quan have coiled their wormlike forms around the memory of past suffering with a mordant masochistic misery - they're a pugnacious race, surly and sullenly screaming and shrieking against the very cosmos - so much so that they even formalise their colossal self-centred childish petulance into an overbearing formal dogma, ominously titled "The Path of Now and Forever".

One is reminded of jihadis wilfully galling themselves with wrongs over a millenium old to perpetuate the massacres of the present day.

But surely an advanced spacefaring race is not so... single-minded? Indeed, you'd be right - the Ur-Quan readily acknowledge that their philosophy could well be flawed - and so the faction that oppresses you, the Kzer-Za, perform ritualised battle with their estranged cousins, the Kohr-Ah, to determine whether their doctrine of galactic enslavement shall prevail... or the Kohr-Ah's vision of galactic extermination.

One expects meek submission to wormy might; the other expects you to be grateful for being killed so you can be reborn as an Ur-Quan. After all this, the Ur-Quan think that they're doing you a favour...!

If that's a joke, then no-one's laughing.

------------------------------------------
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Lord above, this consumed entire evenings. I almost felt like a slave to the Ur-Quan myself when writing it...! Wink
« Last Edit: June 14, 2007, 03:59:50 am by Robert_Frazer » Logged

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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2007, 04:14:26 am »

Quote
A fuller understanding of the Ur-Quan character, though, brings with it revulsion at their utterly reprehensible nature and twisted hearts.

Actually, I sympathize.  They've had a long, hard, terrible history--the Dnyarri did unspeakable, unforgivable things to them--and I don't believe it left either of the subraces particularly sane.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2007, 04:55:57 am »

They were very badly traumatized. It wasn't just years of enslavement that messed them up. They were also forced to kill the only race they had ever truly befriended and were wracked by the pain of an excruciator (you can tell from the way they talk about excruciators that the torture of using them had a lasting effect). When you talk to either type of Ur-quan after you get the Dnyarri, they are genuinely terrified. Even the manual says something like "most xenopsychologists think the Ur-quan once suffered a severe trauma..."

Also, the Kzer-za still have some humanity (I mean this in a figurative sense, of course) left in them. They genuinely fear for the future of the galaxy if the Kohr-ah win the war. They think of themselves as merciful protectors (mainly from the Kohr-ah, but also from other dangers).   There's a lot of dialogue that shows this. Just one of many examples:
Quote
Because you are doomed if you remain here!
Our Doctrinal War is over. We, the Kzer-Za, have lost.
RUN HUMAN!
Because if you do not run -- do not find somewhere to hide and nurture your species
you are extinct, and we, who have tried to protect you
are now powerless to stop the killing frenzy of the Kohr-Ah.

Learning about their their past makes me and most other people who have played the game feel sorry for them. They are still ultimately an evil menace that must be stopped, but they are truly a tragic villain.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2007, 05:01:06 am by Mormont » Logged
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2007, 03:56:48 pm »

I don't remember them ever being the bottom of the food chain, unless figuratively; but that was only when the only two things on the proverbial food chain were them and the Dnyarri.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2007, 04:33:42 pm »

If you're speaking about the actual food chain (i.e. non-figuratively), heed this Melnorme quote:
Quote from: Trade Master Greenish in command of the Melnorme starship Inevitably Successful in All Circumstances
Since they had to compete for survival against many physically superior species
the Ur-Quan evolved intelligence and tool use, in much the same way as your own species.
Not necessarily the very bottom, indeed, but still down enough.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2007, 09:26:35 am »

Not even the Kohr-Ah are evil - they too think that they are helping those they exterminate: they view non-Ur-Quan races as inferior and, as they say themselves, "Before we destroy other thinking beings we share with them this comforting fact: This life of yours... which shall end immediately following this statement, is but one of many lives you will live. Perhaps, in your next incarnation, you will be born an Ur-Quan.".
So they are in fact helping others to ascend, to become Ur-Quans.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2007, 04:06:23 pm »

The Kzer-Za just need to work on their marketing skills ("boon of slavery" doesn't sell it very well...) - their demands are pretty simple and generally quite attractive as a general idea.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2007, 05:09:03 pm »

They have much to learn from the Druuge.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2007, 03:40:39 am »

I always enjoyed how the Kzer-Za and Kohr-Ah were not just two dimensional villains but had their (very deep) motivations for why they did what they did.

Towards the end of the game you can almost find yourself sympathizing with the Kzer-Za since, in a way, while subjugating your race they were also trying to protect you from the Kohr-Ah.

Call me crazy, but I almost started to *like* them at that point.  The Kohr-Ah had beaten them and they were the underdogs like you now.  They had been twisted, manipulated and mutilated in ways we cannot possibly hope to begin to understand, and yet in their own little way they were showing us mercy by not obliterating us outright.

I always imagined that, had the Captain sat quietly in Earth orbit and waited for a Kzer-Za vessel to come around, he would have been given the option for he and his crew to go peacefully down to the Earth's surface without trouble.  Of course he probably would have had to, in exchange, given away the information on where Unzervalt was, which would have ended up slave shielded as well (which it does anyway, but not because the Captain told anyone its position).  In other words, I always felt like the Kzer-Za would have given him an easy way out as long as he cooperated.  They did not seem very bloodthirsty except to those who openly opposed them.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2007, 02:06:58 am »

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Not even the Kohr-Ah are evil - they too think that they are helping those they exterminate:

*Clenches eyes shut and mutters to himself* I will not invoke Godwin's Law... I will NOT invoke Godwin's Law...!
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2007, 04:02:37 am »

Yeah exactly, its so easy to excuse evilness. I can foresee someone using this thread to justify the WWII holocaust. What is evil if it’s not doing bad stuff to innocent people? There is always a reason for doing bad stuff. Otherwise you might as well say there’s no such thing as evil. Clearly there is though otherwise there wouldn’t be word for it.

Just in case anyone was deluded to the contrary, the Ur-Quan may be complex but they are also EVIL. They kill and enslave innocents – which is bad. No, really it is.

The Druuge also are evil as they would gladly do mean stuff to people for economic gain (think McDonalds)
The Ilwrath are evil because the do mean stuff to people to appease their gods (think catholic inquisition)
The Kohr-Ah are evil because genocide is their favourite hobby (think khmer rouge).
The Umgah are a little bit evil because their practical jokes often result in very bad staff happening to other people (“big waves, big waves har har har”) (think that bastard at school who enjoyed inflicting pain at someone’s expense for his own entertainment – yes he was a little bit evil).
The VUX are a little bit evil because they are aggressive and imperialistic (any number of examples)

As endearing as some of these races are, they are still EVIL. There are reasons for their evilness, but nothing mitigates their evilness. The Ur-Quan are indeed villains.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2007, 09:19:38 am »

Quote
Not even the Kohr-Ah are evil - they too think that they are helping those they exterminate:

*Clenches eyes shut and mutters to himself* I will not invoke Godwin's Law... I will NOT invoke Godwin's Law...!
See below: "Doing" evil does not mean "being" evil. Just as you must argue against one's beliefs, not against one's person.
Similarly, we are evil to the Ur-Quan because we have destroyed their Sa-Matra. But our intent wasn't to make the Ur-Quan suffer, but to protect other races. Intent is what matters.

Yeah exactly, its so easy to excuse evilness. I can foresee someone using this thread to justify the WWII holocaust. What is evil if it’s not doing bad stuff to innocent people? There is always a reason for doing bad stuff. Otherwise you might as well say there’s no such thing as evil. Clearly there is though otherwise there wouldn’t be word for it.

Just in case anyone was deluded to the contrary, the Ur-Quan may be complex but they are also EVIL. They kill and enslave innocents – which is bad. No, really it is.

The Druuge also are evil as they would gladly do mean stuff to people for economic gain (think McDonalds)
The Ilwrath are evil because the do mean stuff to people to appease their gods (think catholic inquisition)
The Kohr-Ah are evil because genocide is their favourite hobby (think khmer rouge).
The Umgah are a little bit evil because their practical jokes often result in very bad staff happening to other people (“big waves, big waves har har har”) (think that bastard at school who enjoyed inflicting pain at someone’s expense for his own entertainment – yes he was a little bit evil).
The VUX are a little bit evil because they are aggressive and imperialistic (any number of examples)

As endearing as some of these races are, they are still EVIL. There are reasons for their evilness, but nothing mitigates their evilness. The Ur-Quan are indeed villains.

Good reasoning, but the Ilwrath and Umgah are "psychologically programmed" to do evil; the Umgah are not capable of judging good and evil (they're like young children), for example that very quote with "big waves": for them it's just a good joke; the Ilwrath are a bit traumatized too, since they have "wrapped around" from their initial, strict, "good" religion. The Ur-Quan are mad, they're not mentally sane. The VUX and the Druuge are debatable - the Druuge really don't have excuses (the society?).
So, if someone does evil, (s)he is not necessarily evil. Only if you do evil on intent you are evil too. So the Druuge may be eligible, also the VUX.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2007, 09:25:13 am by Valaggar » Logged
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2007, 09:35:06 am »

Quote
Good reasoning, but the Ilwrath and Umgah are "psychologically programmed" to do evil; the Umgah are not capable of judging good and evil (they're like young children), for example that very quote with "big waves": for them it's just a good joke; the Ilwrath are a bit traumatized too, since they have "wrapped around" from their initial, strict, "good" religion. The Ur-Quan are mad, they're not mentally sane. The VUX and the Druuge are debatable - the Druuge really don't have excuses (the society?).
So, if someone does evil, (s)he is not necessarily evil. Only if you do evil on intent you are evil too. So the Druuge may be eligible, also the VUX.

Sorry, um, the Ilwarth wrapped around from good to what exactly? EVIL!  No excuses! They're evil.
I'm am not sure how you figure Umgah can develop hyperbiotechnology and starflight and not have the intellectual capaicty for morality. Have I missed something? where does it say they have the emotional capacity of a child?

I guess your arguement is that there's no such thing as being evil - only doing evil. Sounds very catholic - hey lets do all the evil we like, we can just say "oops sorry wont happen again" on our deathbed and then we wot be evil! . I would say that the more evil you do, the more evil you are.

Arg I need more hours of sleep me thinks.

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« Last Edit: June 20, 2007, 09:37:28 am by Cedric6014 » Logged

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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2007, 01:07:24 pm »

Whee, Cedric has jumped on the slipperly slope of trying to use absolute morality! Grin

Let's put a bit of quantitative information in: what the SC2 races themselves say about evil.

The Chmmr Kohr-Ah Kzer-Za Melnorme Umgah say that the Dnyarri are evil.
The Dnyarri say that the Ur-Quan and Taalo are evil.
The Ilwrath say that they and their gods are evil.
The Pkunk say that the Ilwrath are evil.
The Spathi say that the Evil Ones are evil and Ultimate Evil is evil.
The Melnorme say that the Druuge are evil.
Tanaka calls you "Evil murderer" and "evil Ur-Quan pus-dogs."
The Yehat rebels call the Ur-Quan evil.
The Captain has the option to tell the Slylandro and Spathi that the Ur-Quan are evil.
The Captain has the option to call the Umgah and Spathi evil.
The Syreen call the Mycon evil.
The Utwig say that both kinds of Ur-Quan, especially the Kohr-Ah, are evil.
The Arilou say that the Dnyarri are "one of the most evil... as you judge evil."


Narrowing that list down a bit, and removing the less reliable sources:

Chmmr, Kohr-Ah, Kzer-Za, Melnorme, Umgah -> Dnyarri
Utwig, Yehat -> Ur-Quan
Pkunk, Ilwrath -> Ilwrath
Utwig -> Kohr-Ah
Melnorme -> Druuge
Syreen -> Mycon


I think the only ones we can say for absolutely certain are the Dnyarri and Ilwrath.
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Re: The Villainy of the Ur-Quan
« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2007, 01:57:53 pm »

Woops forgot about the Dnyarri. I thought I'd jump off the fence for a change (I'm still agnostic though)
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