SOLO: A Star Wars Story

Yeah I need to finish my reviews for the other recent Star Wars movies, but I watched this yesterday and wanted to get this out while the movie was still fresh in my mind.

This will be a pretty short review, but I hope it’s pretty clear that its length doesn’t correlate my affection for this movie compared to other reviews I’ve written. In short, I loved this movie. I FINALLY got a Star Wars movie that isn’t about the fate of the whole frickin’ universe, and there’s no Jedis, no force, none of that!

It’s almost shocking how small-scale Solo: A Star Wars Story is. There’s a few key locations on a few different planets, but there’s no excessive location-hopping and scene cutting back and forth. The movie pretty much focuses on the key character, Han Solo, and only adds a dash of scenes for villains, side-kicks, etc. I think the casting was perfect; Alden Ehrenreich was great as a young Solo, channeling a bit of Harrison Ford but not trying to do an outright caricature. Donald Glover nearly steals the show as Lando, bringing style and swagger. Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson also shine in their roles, making the viewer constantly wonder just whose side they are on. Paul Bettany is great as the movie’s key villain, never ever going over the top and is more of a quiet threat that perfectly suits his style of acting.

While this movie evidently had a rocky road on the way to the theater, I think both director Ron Howard and writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan (how awesome to write a Stars Wars movie with your dad?!) have given us a very strong independent Star Wars movie, and for me it’s not only for sure in my top 3 picks, but it might just be my favorite Star Wars movie!

My Setup – 2018

My original setup post was five (!) years ago. Since that time almost as much has changed as has stayed the same. Let’s go through everything and see where things were, are, and may be headed towards…

Who Am I?

I’m still Christopher, and my day job is still in IT. Music and writing are still my passionate hobbies, but that’s where they’re likely to stay. Doesn’t make them any less important to me!

Hardware

I built another desktop about four or five years ago, and it still handles everything I need it to just fine. Like the previous system it has a dual-core processor (this time a cheap low-power Intel Pentium) and 8GB RAM (I’ve thought about bumping it to 16, but it’d cost just as much as putting 16GB DDR4 into the next eventual system). The system drive is a 256GB SSD, while /home sits on a 2TB HDD. That’s primarily for Plex server, and it’s a little over half full. At the rate we (rarely) buy any new movies and shows, it will last well into the next system. Or by then a 2TB SSD will be cheap enough, that’d be nuts. The next system may get an AMD Ryzen or Intel i5; it’ll have a LOT more cores.

After starting out on Windows 7 and getting the free upgrade to 10, I moved it over to Linux Mint 18.1 when it was released. Everything just works, and I really like Cinnamon (seriously have you tried Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 18.04? Lol what a dumpster fire). No it can’t run my audio software, but that’s its only negative. It’s since been upgraded to 18.3. I may upgrade/re-do it once 19.1 is out, but since it runs Plex it’s definitely become a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” system, while the HP laptop can be the Linux distro guinea pig. The monitor is due for an upgrade, but I don’t know if I want to jump to 4K yet; I do want at least 27″ of screen space. I’m still using a plain mouse and an Apple keyboard. The latter may one day be switched out for a mechanical keyboard with brown switches (I have blue ones at work and they’re wonderfully clacky, but my wife would kill me lol).

The 2 older Mac laptops are long gone. Their limited RAM support and dying batteries spelled the end of their days. Now we have a 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina screen. My god is that great to work on. Its battery is still going strong, it has a decent 8GB RAM, and the SSD is still fairly fast. It just recently got upgraded to macOS Mojave, and for a .0 release it’s almost shocking how smooth everything is. Finally dark mode!

We have an HP Spectre laptop with Linux Mint 19 on it. It’s much faster than even the MacBook Pro. The only downside is its battery stopped working, which I removed. A new one just isn’t worth the price and its small size wouldn’t give it anywhere near the battery life of the MacBook Pro. It’s still nice to use, and it may be good for road trips and the like.

The iPad is also gone, it was just too slow to run even the basics. The new ones look great, especially the Pro, but I’m just too cheap and I have a phone that can cover most of that stuff. I do have a Kindle (cheapest one w/o a backlight) that I like to read from, although I’m not impressed with its battery life, even with keeping it on airplane mode most of the time.

Not that long ago I moved from the iPhone 6S to 8+. The battery was starting to crap out on the 6S, and I wanted the bigger screen and newest (at the time) processor. With the newly-released iOS 12 (like Mojave it’s crazy good for a .0 release) the 8+ still feels brand new, and provided its battery holds up I won’t be in a rush to upgrade for quite awhile. But, weirdly enough, I’ll likely go back to a smaller screen, if only for the weight reduction (trying to work out with a large phone in your pants is a pain!).

We have Rokus on all of our TVs, running Plex or Netflix. The living room also has a PS4, which doesn’t see a whole lot of use. It does stay for being the back-up Blu-Ray player for those that refuse to be ripped. Besides a larger-sized TV I did setup a receiver just to have 2 nice Klipsch bookshelf speakers. To me sound is more important than visual quality (seriously we stream Netflix at 480p, take THAT data caps!) and it still blows me away how much more enjoyable films are with that setup.

Musical instruments haven’t changed at all, and I don’t foresee any new additions or such. I still like my Yamaha acoustic, but admittedly haven’t played it very much. I also rarely play the Strat, even after having its bridge fixed. I still like the feel of the Les Paul Studio the most, and aside from experimenting with heavier strings and tuning in D standard it’s pretty much set as-is.

The Stingray bass is also still fun to play. I tried a set of tapewound strings and loooooved the feel of them! Unfortunately the G string wouldn’t stay on the tuning peg so I left it off. I’ve since gone back to roundwound strings, and hate them. I’ll eventually get another set of tapewounds and have the luthier give it a full setup. Otherwise the Stingray is a joy to play on, even if it weighs at least twice what the Les Paul does (no joke, holy shit). I did replace the small guitar amp in the living room with a larger Fender bass amp, and it’s unbelievable how light it is! Yeah it weighs less than the Stingray, jeez. I still have the other bass amp in the garage, and like the drums would prefer to donate rather than try to sell it.

I still have the drums, but I’ve had no urge to play them. It may be worth it to try to sell it for at least a little money, but honestly I’d rather donate it to a school or church.

While I’ve posted twice about searching for a synthesizer, I don’t foresee ever purchasing one. It’s gonna take up too much of what little room I have or could make, and since I already use headphones for Reason I just won’t want to be so “closed off” in the house. It’d bad enough I have to keep the door closed because I can’t trust the cats! I’m likely just going to get a nice compact 25-key MIDI controller to use in Reason. It already offers enough instruments and sounds, and I did also purchase MiniBit for some retro goodness.

Software

For writing there’s a mix of writing in plain text as well as formatting, whether for short stories (and perhaps novels) and screenplays. While I championed doing as much as possible in plain text for years, I’ve recently relaxed and used what I feel is the best tool/software for each aspect. For plain text I use just about anything, switching daily between Notepad++, Sublime, Visual Studio Code, and iA Writer. Due to all the writing for Basic Fantasy RPG being done in LibreOffice, that’s what I’ve tended to use for short stories (and that novel fragment); I even uploaded a short story template for it. I also made one for Apple Pages; if I’m using the laptop for an extended period of time I’ll use that instead of LibreOffice; it just runs so much smoother and really isn’t that overkill for basic writing needs. I do want to try it out on the phone as well.

For the little amount of screenwriting I do, I’ve honestly gotten tired of Fountain, despite the enthusiasm I used to have for it. I didn’t mind writing in a text editor (Visual Studio Code even had an extension for text highlighting), but I grew weary of the little things in Highland that didn’t work, and the newer 2 release didn’t fix them. It also pushed itself more for other kinds of writing, which I didn’t agree with. Yes it can be good to write “distraction free”, but the page structure and length DOES matter in screenwriting, and in Highland particularly I was constantly switching back and forth to the preview. Plus, in 2 it now by default centers character names and dialogue, so it’s already contradicting itself. ANYWAYS, I spent more time testing out Fade In Pro, and my goodness I can’t believe I didn’t go with that sooner. Plus, when I had an issue with something I emailed Kent and he not only replied within a day or so, he incorporated some changes in the next release, which didn’t come too long after. Amazing! Oh yeah, it’s also the ONLY screenwriting program to run on Linux. Boom.

For file syncing I’m still on Dropbox. It’s never had a problem, and again it’s the only one in its category to run on Linux. I don’t have my pictures on it anymore, so I have more than enough space for documents.

For web browsing I’m pretty split between Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. The latter is just due to the battery life on the laptop, while I prefer Firefox overall for its open nature, plug-ins, and bookmark syncing.

For audio I’m still Team Reason. I finally upgraded to 10, and overall have been pretty happy with it. It is a bit hard to work on the laptop’s smaller screen, while at work it’s amazing to have it all showing or still split off parts of it to hide when not immediately needed. It still looks meh on a high-res screen, and there is a lot of newer items that can put off those new to Reason and DAWs period. But, it’s still the easiest for me to work with, and I hope to spend more time with it.

Bandcamp find: Matthew S. Burns

Like most of my interests, my enthusiasm in programming ebbs and flows, usually in pretty lengthy periods of time. In my most recent flow I’ve been looking into a growing category of games that either have some programming aspect to it, or even entirely focused on it. One game company that has taken this type of game and run with it is Zachtronics. They have released multiple games, including Infinifactory, Shenzhen I/O, and the upcoming Exapunks. While looking into these games I found a Bandcamp link for the composer of these games, Matthew S. Burns. While I initially started listening because of Exapunks, his soundtrack for Shenzhen I/O has actually grown the most on me, and it’s a wonderful ambient electronic album to play when working on coding, writing, or just relaxing and taking a moment to forget everything.

SOMA

Note: spoilers ahead!

Introduction

Originally this was a game I didn’t play myself; my wife and I watched the Markiplier playthrough of SOMA, twice now. However it was on sale in the last GOG Halloween sale, so I finally gave in and plunged myself into this game and world.

Compared to Frictional’s previous game, Amnesia, SOMA is quite different, and not just in genre. There’s still some traces of horror, mainly when navigating areas with a roaming creature, but the overall tone is somber, reflective, and philosophical, and with a near-future setting it brings in aspects of technology, cyberpunk, trans-humanism, and more.

The Beginning

SOMA begins at a very interesting point in the main character’s life; Simon Jarrett is suffering the after-effects of a car crash that killed his fiancee and left him brain-damaged. After futile attempts at self-medication, he has finally agreed to work with David Munshi, a graduate student, to have his brain scanned for a possible treatment. He arrives at the facility and sits down in a special chair, and the scanning device is lowered around his head.

After the scan is complete, the contraption raises, but Simon realizes that something happened. David has disappeared and the surroundings, as well as Simon himself, are not the same. What happened, and how did it happen in the apparent blink of an eye? At first Simon thinks he’s been transported to the future. He doesn’t question this nor can imagine any other alternative, but as events unfold and he begins talking with Catherine Chun, he realizes that it was only his brainwave that survived, not his physical body.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Simon wakes up in a similar scanning chair, but immediately notices it’s not the same place. Before too long he discovers it’s not even the present, but rather about 100 years in the future. There’s no-one else around, and there are just terminals and glitching robots. As he begins to explore it’s pretty obvious something bad has happened, as there are broken machines, mutilated cybernetic creatures, machine tendrils, and black goop everywhere.

There is apparently no-one else around. A few voices come from robotic forms in various states of decay and corruption. After reaching a radio and restoring power, he finally makes contact with someone who seems to be at least as cognizant as him: Catherine. She tells him to make his way to the shuttles and meet her at Lambda.

So What Am I?

Upon finding Lambda and looking for Catherine, Simon has another disappointing moment: she’s not human either, but another surviving brainscan. Catherine tries to help him come to terms, both for what she is as well as Simon’s own existence.

As Simon goes through the game, talking with Catherine as well as interacting with the environment, can he actually come to terms with his present self, what happened to his past self/body, and what will actually survive beyond this planet?

Humanity’s Last Chance

Simon must deliver the Ark to the Omega Space Gun to complete Catherine’s mission to save what is left of humanity’s accomplishments/etc.

The initial plan is to get to Delta and fire up the DUNBAT, a deep-sea exploration vehicle that will be capable of taking the Ark into the depths where the space gun is. Unfortunately when Simon finally is able to power up the DUNBAT it is already infected with the WAU and is unusable.

I Just Can’t Get It Through My Head

While Simon wrestles with his own predicament throughout the game, his first major hurdle comes when he has to find a diving suit that can handle the depths of the ocean to make it to Site Tau with the Ark. At first he still thinks he can just take off his current “suit” and put on the new one, but Catherine has to hammer it into his head that he won’t be moving to another suit, but rather copied, yet again.

Catherine manages to get him back on track, at least enough to get through Site Tau and find the parts needed to get the diving suit working. This may not be all that realistic, but in a game you can’t have the main character whining about his existence for so long at a time without frustrating or at least boring the player.

Simon has quite the wake-up call and somber reflection on things when he encounters Sarah Lindwall. She is literally the last person alive, guarding the ARK, and she is sick and dying. Simon stays with her for her final moments, and upon her death he gets a final wake-up call for how important the ARK is and how critical it is to send it out into space.

The biggest hurdle of all is when Simon arrives at Site Phi and sits in the scanning chair next to the space gun so that he and Catherine can make it onto the Ark right before it’s launched up through the ocean and into outer space. Simon watches as the count-down finishes and the ARK is successfully launched, but then is immediately distraught when he realizes he’s still sitting in the scanning chair.

Simon can’t realize his copy/mind/memories survives, not his body or “self”. The question Catherine keeps asking him, and what the game asks us is, does that matter? If your physical self is left behind but you retain your mind/memories in the new copy, is that good enough? Are you less of a “person”?

A New Beginning or a Peaceful End?

The game ends with the third copy of Simon walking through the ARK’s simulated world, coming upon Catherine (presumably her second copy) standing at a precipice looking at a city in the distance. Right as she turns around the screen fades away, teasing us as to how Catherine would respond to seeing Simon “in person” and what might happen next. The game doesn’t hint much towards a romance between Simon and Catherine, and there’s an earlier hint from Catherine that she had either feelings for or even a relationship with another woman. We are left to ponder how we would react and go from that moment, whether it’s in a relationship (romantic or platonic) with Catherine or exploring the ARK’s virtual world on our own.

Conclusion

Both watching and then playing SOMA was a surreal, sometimes terrifying, somber, and even uplifting experience. That’s everything a great game, actually a great story (no matter in what medium) should do for the reader/viewer/player. I couldn’t help but reflect upon my own experiences and feelings, as well as those of us (the human race) in general and what will and may come in the future. I personally enjoyed this game far more than Amnesia, and I really look forward to what Frictional Games will bring us next!