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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Or more technically – today, early access for SWTOR’s Knights Of The Fallen Empire expansion begins, for those who have subscribed since July and can download and install nearly 9GB of patch. I’ve had the description, but given what passes for broadband speed around here I might just finish patching some time tomorrow. Ho hum.

This is especially galling because I went on something of a SWTOR binge over the weekend, family commitments permitting. I’ve had that sub running since July to get the expansion goodies, but I didn’t actually patch the game up and log in until Saturday evening. I’ve returned to The Old Republic on a previous occasion and now, as then, I’ve been struck both by how in theory the game has so many things I think should be “wrong” and how, in practice, it just works for me. I spent three evenings, once the Tremaynelettes were safely tucked in bed, sitting with a great grin on my face.

I’ve been grinning at the way my Sith Marauder Force leaps to his enemies and scythes them down with lightsabers that make that perfect thrumming sound I remember from the films.

I’ve been grinning at hearing the polite, cultured tones of my Sith Assassin in conversation, the very image of a cultured, upper class killing machine.

I’ve been grinning at the graceful ballet of close quarters carnage as my Imperial Agent, having stealthed into position and set things up so he has every possible advantage of position and crowd control, finally wades in with vibroknife and blaster carbine to take the targets down in a swift sequence of swish-thunk-BLAM!

I’ve been grinning at the banter between my Bounty Hunter and Mako as they taker on the galaxy in style.

And of course I’ve been grinning at the accelerated XP, which let me take the Bounty Hunter and Sith Marauder through their story quests without any pauses to level up. When I logged back in on Saturday the BH was level 43 and on Belsavis, while the Sith had reached level 45 and was on the homeworld of the ever-annoying Voss. By last night both had dinged 50, giving me the full set of 4 Imperial level 50s, with the BH story done and the Marauder on the verge of his final showdown with Darth Fatso. In between I had introduced my Imperial Agent to Makeb, and started on the Revan storyline with my Assassin. When I do get to log in I’ll be spoilt for choice with all four of them to press on with, or a free insta-60 alt to sample the new story once I’ve decided what that new alt will be. And there’s still the Republic class stories to play through at some point.

For now though, there’s still 7.78 GB to patch. I hear there’s a new trailer for The Force Awakens – I can only hope that when the film releases I will be sitting grinning at that too.

I don’t usually do movie reviews on this blog. I do, however, do recommendations. So I’m recommending – head to the cinema and see The Martian. Or pick up the novel by Andy Weir that it’s based on. Or both – I’d somehow missed all the publicity about the book, and ended up reading it just before seeing the film. Which isn’t a bad way to do things, but you can see the movie quite happily without reading the book. My other half, who hasn’t a geeky bone in her body, was actually the one to suggest we go see the film (which probably had something to do with Matt Damon being in it) and absolutely loved it, despite her not having read the book and being unlikely to ever read it. I won’t go into her reasons for loving the film (which weren’t ALL Matt Damon) , but I can tell you mine.

Firstly, it’s a rare example of Hollywood, with a big budget no less, doing proper hard SF. I understand the reasons for not letting science get in the way of story, but far too many scriptwriters seem to take unholy glee in going out of their way to make things wrong when they could just as easily have put the right detail in the same place. I seriously suspect that at least some of it is done deliberately, for shits and giggles at the resulting nerd rage or out of contempt for the audience. This film, with one glaring exception (that’s also in the book, and does serve a story purpose) gets the science right. And tells you about the science. Somebody actually realised that you can treat an audience as if they’ve actually taken high school science and still earn your money back at the box office. More please, and while we’re at it can we now have a movie that shows that computer programming isn’t about Hugh Jackman typing on four different screens while receiving a blow job

Secondly, it’s accessible – as mentioned above, non-nerds can enjoy the film and even learn something from it. It makes fun of nerdish types but still makes them come across as sympathetic figures. It shows smart people as, well, people with good motives even when they disagree (a lot of writers would have made Jeff Daniels’ boss suit character to be an obstructive asshole, the antagonist the film didn’t really need). It explains both the problems, and the solutions, to the audience without ever feeling like it’s lecturing them.

Also, it’s damn well made. Well, what do you expect with a veteran like Ridley Scott at the helm and stalwarts like Chiwetel Ejiofor in the cast? The running time is quite long, at 2 hours 21 minutes, and at that leaves a number of events from the book out, but it never feels over-long. The 3D is done impeccably, and actually adds to the experience, unlike some movies I could name. Props also to the script adaptation, which reworks some of the gags from the book in a way that works better in an audio-visual medium but never loses the sense of the original… for example, Watney’s frustration with the 70’s disco tracks that are the only music available on Mars is shown differently on screen from the way it’s put on the page, but it comes through loud and clear both ways.

Finally, the movie has a message, not one that it overtly preaches (apart from in Watney’s little speech right at the end), but one that we don’t see enough of in my view – when you’re faced with problems you get to work, think about them and solve them. And if the solution (or just the fact of continued survival) throws up more problems, then you get to work on solving those as well. and you keep working, and solving, until you get through to the end. Too many Hollywood movies feature blue collar heroes who get through on their indomitable will to survive, but only use their heads as a hat rack. Far too much of what is sold as ‘SF’ both on screen and on paper is about grim dystopias where the characters just accept that that’s the way things are. The idea that we should, to quote The Martian, “science the shit” out of problems, is one that’s worth getting people to take onboard again. We CAN put people on Mars. And if something goes wrong and one of them gets marooned we CAN get him home again. Yeah, there are all sorts of difficulties. So what? Get to work and science the shit out of them.