Sunday, January 24, 2016

Imperial Highway III

The sign is, alas, gone now.

In any case, the Imperial Highway project is turning into my big exercise in learning how to achieve clean casts. I've made about two dozen casts now, and they continue to have problems. Air bubbles, holes, overflow...and then there's my experiments with dying the Smooth-Cast 300 with something other than the pigments the manufacturer recommends (because I don't have time to order those and have them shipped).

The side pieces are being done in a two-piece box mold, made the classic way; lay up one side with clay, pour, flip and remove the clay, spray thoroughly with mold release, and pour again. I didn't remember to add pour spouts when I was laying up the clay, but that didn't matter so much; I needed to cut over a dozen vent holes (and I'm still getting trapped air in the cast).

The top deck is a one-piece mold, and in that one, the main issue is that if I don't have the mold perfectly level, and pour to exactly the right depth, the final piece doesn't have the right (or even consistent) thickness. I took the skin off my thumb trying to sand these pieces flat.

So I've been repairing with auto putty (not Bondo, but the nead-able two-part stuff) sanding and trimming, and gluing in the super-magnets that hold the final assemblies together strong enough to support lead miniatures for table-top play but that allow them to be packed flat for slightly better transportability.

As additives, Pelican black ink appears to be working. As long as I mix it into the B part of the casting compound. Or was it the A part? The primer, on the other hand, didn't adhere properly and I spent a nice hour removing that with acetone. There goes my illusion that I could assembly-line cast and paint all of them on Saturday, and have time Sunday to start cutting out the access ramp (which, assuming I get that far, will be done in a shell mold).

I picked up several cans of Tamiya model spray (I've had good results with it in the past), Model Master colors for the stonework and detailing (which I will probably add to with my old college set of acrylics), and some cheap brushes to stick in the enamels. There's also a little blood on them as well (see above re my injured thumb).

Ah, if only TechShop was more convenient. I'm tempted to move messy projects like this out to my work space, but I'm still waiting for things to firm up a little around there before I start asking favors.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Raider of Blue Highways

I think I've found a direction to go in that fanfic I keep talking about.

I'm not either clever enough or patient enough to come up with a new mythology of the Stargate universe that is consistent with what was shown on screen but also isn't insulting to the real worlds of history and archaeology (physics will have to fend for itself). I'm also unwilling to go too far off canon.

But even as I risk turning the story polemical as I trot out straw dogs (assuming straw dogs trot), I think it may work to bring in some of the large body of Ancient Astronaut and associated theories and treat them as the hogwash they are.

In fact, I'm looking now at doing a bit of a Foucalt's Pendulum trick (always steal from the best). Lara plays along with the treasure-hunting team of "L. Lytton Peabody" in a barely-legal exploration of something a lot like Watson Brake; earthen mound systems built by early indigenous cultures of North America. Peabody has lots of theories about Vikings and Lost Tribes of Israel and the usual roster of "Anyone but Native Americans" of the alternative history crowd, and perhaps due to his tireless self-publicity or perhaps his far-right political connections he's at least attracted half an eye of attention from the NID.

He may not know who the girl with the charming accent he found at a local diner is, but the NID does, and they have a task for an adventurer-archaeologist. Possibly (probably?) off-world.

I don't know yet why she is in Mississippi or Louisiana (prime Mound Builder sites) but I have been looking at Lafcaido Hearn, who before Kwaiden was writing about (and living in) New Orleans, and was friends with a particular famous practitioner of voudon.

So at least I get to write about something I have some interest in and information thereof. Unfortunately, although I'd love to do more with the fish-out-of-water of our British peer and heiress slumming in truck-stop towns in Middle America, my personal memories of traveling the same blue highways are out of date even for the period I'm setting the fanfiction in.

And this doesn't get me much closer to the next chapter, as even if I don't start (as I really want to) in media res, I want to cut away from Lara Croft and let the SG1 crowd struggle along alone for a while. Obviously, there's a briefing room scene to be had where Daniel can pontificate about Akhenaten (and Djoser, and Imhotep, and so on). And I'm willing to give him the credit to be re-thinking his own "Pyramids were built by aliens thousands of years earlier than anyone thinks" ideas.

But that's not where I'm going, as much as the Valley of Kings or pretty much any part of ancient Egypt is attractive. So I sort of need to get him out to Abingdon where Lara's aides and name-drop Atlantis on him and send him off on a largely-mistaken tangent.

Of course in-universe Daniel does eventually discover Atlantis. Yeah, that's Stargate for you. But that doesn't mean that Blavatsky was right or that Mu exists or that Atlantis ever fought the Athenian Republic...  So there's plenty of room for Daniel to actually get something wrong for a change. As long as I can manage to gather everyone together at Mount Shasta to play with a merely-dormant volcano and some inconvenient ancient technology while the very-real Norse Frost Giants attack...

The Man Who Went to Earth

I found another task at work it is easy to lose oneself in. We have a half-dozen high-tech coffee vending machines (the kind that grind the coffee for each cup they brew). Those require nearly constant maintenance. For one thing, they go through 3-4 pounds of coffee per machine every day. Plus they dispense hot chocolate and creamer and a weird powdered vanilla-cappuccino mix which is better than you'd think it would be.

Keeping the company caffeinated takes 4-6 person-hours every day, which are being shared between our shop of three or four people. Actually, over the past week it has been mostly me, as I was carrying the only working key (due to being the person willing to make the run out to Rex and help them figure out how to duplicate it).

It is oddly interesting (and doesn't feel the least bit degrading) pulling apart the guts of these mechanisms to clean and adjust them. I'm pretty sure it would pall in a couple months but I found the day passed quickly while I was doing it. And not like I wasn't a prep cook and dishwasher once. As I said before, even as a sound designer you end up rolling cables and sweeping up. All jobs, when you get down to it, have their drudge component.

On the other hand I've been feeling quite poorly the last few days and the most I've accomplished on the Imperial Highway is multiple errands for additional casting compound, paints, magnets, and so forth. Figure I've spent at least a couple hundred on supplies but I haven't been counting.

Appears my fears about full-time work are still being born out. I've gone from "struggling" to "barely managing." About the best I can say is I can now pay my bills on time.

Sigh. I remember being in Boston a decade of winters ago. Skipping lunch to save money. Walking to work in the punishing cold rather than spend even the 75-cent bus fare. And here I am...still unwilling to spend on a new pair of shoes (a tube of Shoe Goo is cheaper). I was conscious of the ticking clock then, far too conscious. And now I'm a decade closer to a retirement I doubt I can afford.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Pigeon Chess

I'm still stalled on my Tomb Raider/SG1 cross-over fanfic, and apologies to all, but I'm going to try to work through some of my issues here. So ignore this post if you have no interest in an unfortunate collision between honest science and an honest adherence to the established canon of a fictional universe.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

I Miss Theater

Five months now at the first full-time job I've had since the early 90's. Still not quite settled into the routine.

I miss theater schedules. Not so much the late nights -- I miss working in a scene shop equally, and that's basically a day job as far as hours. My major client of previous years I usually served with six hour shifts without lunch break, followed by 10 hours on the weekend (with a short dinner break). And then two or three days off. Meant you got a lot of your 40 hours over with in one bundle, and then had several consecutive days off to pursue personal projects (or just to recuperate).

More than that part of it, though, I miss the cycle of crunch and ease. Even a scene shop located miles from the theater feels the show cycle; the early days of anticipation as the first drawings begin drifting in, the solid weeks of constructing the bread-and-butter, then overtime hours and weekends as the show gets closer to load in, tech, and opening. Then time off for everyone, followed by a relaxed week or two of infrastructure maintenance; cleaning the shop, re-ordering supplies, doing odd tasks for the Box Office and so on.

We do have big orders which come in to the factory I'm at now, and we do have times when the orders are piling up. But there's not the same feeling of a goal to push towards, climb the peak of, then relax a little after.

I also miss the kind of work. I sort of gave up scene shop work because it tends towards the physically grueling. Access is limited in theaters, the tool set is small, and urgency is everything; this all means a lot of the process relies on brute muscle power. And not a little of it takes place in cramped conditions, and/or in the dark. So you sweat a lot, and your clothes (and limbs) get scratched and torn quite quickly.

Lighting also is a lot of hefting heavy and awkward loads with sheer brute force up precarious ladders and is even more likely in the dark. Add to this the ever-present dangers of shock and burns.

But the lovely part of theater is the sheer variety. I have a lot of odd little skills, and theater touches upon most of them. It also almost always requires you to invent something new. So there is a lot of brainstorming and on-the-fly problem solving. As well as every now and then quiet contemplative sessions with a calculator and a blank sheet of paper trying to figure out how to pull off a particular effect.

What I'm doing now is mostly less interesting. Leave it at that. Enough carpentry to keep my hand in, enough variety to not be completely bored, and some of the tasks are wonderfully zen-like and let me drift off following archaeology podcasts on my headphones while I work away. But it ain't like building scenery, or building a sound cue.

And there's the most essential part. We make precision equipment at this my employment for five months. It is used in theater -- or more precisely, in live venues. But it isn't the same as putting up a show. There's a lot of scutwork in any job, and theater is no exception, but when I sweep up a floor at a theater I feel I am contributing to the audience's experience when that show finally opens. And when I'm actually building or hanging or writing, I am creating a jeweled crown, the facade of an Egyptian temple, the light that filters through the bare winter branches or the sound of insects and frogs in a swamp.

Creating a jig for an engineer, as interesting as it can be, is not the same.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Dancing about Architecture: Arkham City (GOTY)

This is the second game in the "Arkham" series, released in 2011. Primarily, you play Batman in third person, swooping around the scenery, solving relatively simple puzzles, and getting in a whole bunch of fights. The Game of the Year addition collects most of the DLC in one place, unlocking several other playable characters; Catwoman becomes part of the main storyline in this addition, providing a prologue and a couple of later episodes.

And, yes, the fights are amusing. And you have a lot of "marvelous toys" to play with -- batarangs and smoke bombs and so forth (no Batmobile in this one) -- but really the high point of the game is swooping around the city, gliding silently into alleys or grappling-line upwards to perch on a gargoyle.

And what a city. The back-story to the game is that Gotham City, failing to keep their increasing crowd of colorful, powerful, and generally psychotic baddies behind the bars of any traditional prison or inane asylum, has chosen to wall off part of their equivalent of Manhattan Isle and let the crazies run loose (and hopefully, one gathers, kill each other off.)

So basically it's Escape from New York, only without Snake Plisken. Okay, ridiculous idea from any kind of legal basis, penologically, financially, or even practically. I mean, really -- if Hannibal Lector style restraints can't keep a character like the Joker down, how does a high wall and some guards with guns do it?

And what is this supposed bit of low-value real-estate? One that has police headquarters (well, the cop shop is often in some part of town no-one else wants), a decaying amusement park/district (shades of Coney Island), some waterfront, a nice old theater, the courthouse where the premier District Attorney of Gotham tried some of his famous cases, a massive natural history museum, a lovely sprawling subway entrance/mall in Crystal Palace style art nouveau...

So, really, the old part of town, the one-time center before the outside investors moved in and the big financial buildings and multinational headquarters moved in. Central Boston with the old State House. Old Philly. "The City" in London. Basically, the kind of historic district even a financially desperate metropolis would be loathe to lose.

Older buildings, brownstone and brick, tall narrow windows, heavy cornices and plenty of gargoyles. Some massive statuary, too, but not taken to the extremes of the Tim Burton films. And it is all littered, half-abandoned, some boarded up, lots rusted...and add to this barricades and other modifications made in the course of the ongoing gang wars.

Several of the major figures in Batman's rogue's gallery have set up little empires and they are waging a violent turf war. But this, too, as atmospheric as it is, begs all sorts of questions. Are any of these characters, from Two-Face down to the Penguin, going to let someone else set the rules? Let outside society set the rules? Hell with entertaining their captors with a self-imposed cage match, these are the kinds of people who would team up to break out. And maybe the game designers did mean for this to come across as lobsters trying to escape a pot by climbing over each other, but it doesn't read that way in game. It reads as if many of these major figures in Batman's history are content to play king of an artificially constricted hill.

Oh, and when you leave the rainy rooftops and perch-handy cornices you discover the street layout makes no sense at all. Blind alleys, meandering streets...even the barricades and the giant wall and the broken bit of freeway (very Oakland post Loma Prieta) aren't enough to make the street layout rational. In fact, once you've been down to street level a few times, a lot of the allure of the setting wears off; you realize that these are mostly empty facades and for all the seeming size and variety of the place there's really nothing more you are going to see.

So the basic plot works out as a whole set of fetch quests/boss battles. You end up visiting the same sites multiple times, as you go across town to get something (and fight the owner for it) then back to try to deliver it (and fight against the not-unexpected betrayal by the person you fetched it for.)

Like Snake, Batman is early on cursed with one of those medical conditions with a handy countdown timer, and is working as much as anything else to save his own life. The details, of course, make no sense biologically. Basically, the Joker took Titan Serum in the last game, and the side effects are poisoning him -- he hasn't long to live. So he injects Batman with his tainted blood, which gives Batman (despite his larger, more robust physique) exactly as long to live. And to rub it in, Joker makes anonymous donations to the blood supply of several of Gotham's hospitals, putting upwards of thirty thousand patients in the same dire straights.

These people never met Paracelsus. This is practically homeopathic (except that the weaker dose is exactly, down to the minute, as efficacious as the stronger.) Indeed, Batman gets a temporary cure from Ra's al Gul (partially answering how he can be fighting and grapple-swinging like he is if he is supposed to be a few minutes from croaking) but at the climax the Joker -- an un-athletic bantam-weight with a pre-existing medical condition -- very nearly out-survives him.

Which leads us to one of the odder moments; at the conclusion of the main story-line a sombre Batman carries the dead body of the Joker out and lays him almost reverentially on the hood of a police car. This sequence is so much "elegy for the honored dead" it's amazing they resisted the urge to stage a Pieta pose as part of it. I guess we sort of forgot Batman's one-time lover Talia, Ra's al Gul himself, a number of slain cops and medical people, and several thousand dead crooks thanks to Protocol Ten. Plus any number of living but brutalized people Batman personally delivered concussions, compound fractures, and a strong need for reconstructive surgery to during the course of the game.

Fighting is both simple and deep. A very nice touch is that it is (barely) possible to complete the game doing nothing but button-mashing. The novice is not penalized by not being able to see through to the end, instead, what rewards the expert player is better action, more balletic moves and more interesting options. Batman can fight very well if you have the skill to bring it out, and that is its own reward. The game's answer to heath is simple; you don't gain back any health during a fight, but you get it all back as soon as the field is cleared. This means you have to be relatively careful to counter blows and use stealth around well-armed opponents, because you can't just duck around a corner to recoup or drink a handy Bat-potion to heal up.

One downside to unlocking Catwoman as a playable character is that she is so much quicker. After fighting with her, Batman feels like a muscle-bound tank. And after watching Selina's slinky walk, he sort of looks like he is in need of a Bat-Laxative.

On the other hand, he does have the grapple gun, and a cape to glide on, and a lot of gadgets. In the mode of many modern games, several of the gadgets are necessary to move in certain special places; sometimes you need to make a hole with explosive gel in order to proceed, for instance. Or there is the only thing that stumped me enough to look for help online; to cross an underground river you toss a freeze grenade to make a temporary ice-floe which you can perch on.

There are both elite mooks and boss battles, with the most difficult fights being those that combine both. All of the above require special techniques to take down; you can't just hit them. The most difficult pure boss battle in this sense is Mister Freeze, who needs to be stunned before you can approach him and do damage. And he learns from each encounter; if you manage to stun him for a moment by activating one of the handy electromagnets just standing around the room (just go with it), on recovery he methodically freezes the rest of them, ensuring they can no longer be used against him.

The game is decent about informing you what you need to do. The two strongest errors here are ones I've seen before; first is an inability to name anything either properly or even consistently; you simply have to figure out that "Control Room" and "Monitor Bay" both refer to the same thing, and both of those mean the place that looked like a receptionist's desk. The second is more annoying; it is the way the game will prompt you insistently about the wrong part of the problem. Aka "I need to get to the Control Room," the Batman mutters to himself. "The other key must be in the Control Room. The clue to this mystery is in the Control Room." Yeah, I got that the "Control Room" is where I'm supposed to be, game -- my problem is figuring out which damned room you intended that to be!

Estimate for completing the main campaign is a mere twenty-five hours for the average player. Other campaign material adds another ten hours or so. Then there's the usual garbage of collectables; various "Riddler Puzzles" which you basically solve for raw points. Really, the major replay is to hone your combat and try to get higher combo scores, as well as trying out more inventive fighting methods.

And maybe fly around the city a bit, stopping on a gargoyle or two to brood in the rain. Because isn't that what you came to the game for in the first place?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ooh, Mu

I finally poured the first mold for the Imperial Highway. Didn't take any pictures -- there's thousands of pictures of people's two-part molds out there already. I still have no idea how well it will cast up. I suspect it will be rather thick. Alternate plan is to cast Hydrocal and try pulling sheet styrene over it with TechShop's vacuum former.

The weather is (temporarily) warming, if wet, and I have (sort of) heat in the apartment now. Between that and moving the start of my day an hour later, I seem to be doing a little better. Still was a bit of a push to pour two sides of a two-part mold in one evening after work.

The Tomb Raider story is stalled. I recently read an extremely entertaining loosely-linked set of Tomb Raider fanfics which bring a lot more real-world history and religion in, with a decidedly European sensibility, and also placed a bit more realistically in some of the (many) real-world trouble spots. And I'm humbled. For all that I'm cramming on history right now (mostly ancient world) I am not and will never be one of those people who can extemporize at length about hoplite formations or the political use of ostracism in classical Athens.

Of course this is a road that can be followed too far. No-one "reads" Umberto Eco...they struggle through him with a terrible awareness they are missing half of the references and allusions. And I'd rather not be one of that kind of writer, either. I'd prefer a shared illusion; the reader thinks I know something about the Great Siege of Malta, and after reading my story they feel that they, too, have learned something about that test run to what would the last great sea battles between galleys as the Ottoman Empire clashed with a variegated and oft-feuding coalition of nominally Christian nations for control of the Mediterranean.

And, yeah, as much as I've been trying to learn something about Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites and Kushites and early Judea and of course mighty (but often fractured) Egypt, I think I'm just as likely to be focusing the final chapters of the fic on more recent history; specifically, the tattered and contradictory set of tales told of Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu.

Oh, yes, but once you start looking into them, you realize the wealth of imagination that has crufted around those words arose from many threads going in all directions. It isn't all just Plato. You dig at all and you are looking at Blavatsky and the Theosophists, and relative late-comers like Von Daniken who synthesize that with concepts Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his friends were selling for a nickel a word, and characters like Augustus le Plongeon or Ettiene Brassard, and before you know it you've got links to Young-Earth Creationists, Zorastorianism, and once again our old buddy Hermes Trismagestis.

Which is exactly what I was talking about above. Name-drop the Dialogues, and a little Solon of Athens, on the way to Atlantis and that's fine. But start talking about Ignatious Donnely or worse yet, Francisco López de Gómara, and you are rapidly approaching the point where your reader gives up in befuddlement.

(A note. I spend way too long when I write fiction, so when I blog I don't generally bother with spell-check on any of the names I drop).

I'm working a day job now, and it is only tangentially involved with sound. But lest you feel (as I'm starting to feel) as if this blog will never be about theatrical sound again, I do have a couple shows coming up in this new year.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review of KOTOR : May the Force Serve You

Another oldie (which is seeing new life through both Steam release and release for iPad and Droid), Knights of the Old Republic is an early Bioware creation and perhaps one of the first role-playing video games set in the Star Wars universe. Rather famously, this is also a leverage of Bioware's existing "port" of paper-and-pencil Dungeons & Dragons mechanics into a video game. Lurking under all the weapon stats and Force skills is a "D20" system; critical actions are determined by rolling a 20-sided dice against a calculated value.

In D20 fashion, you have character classes (which control your starting points, which skills you are allowed to take, etc.), you have characteristics (the old Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Charisma etc.), you have skills (which unlock certain options and add bonuses to various rolls), and feats (which do the same, only generally more globally; a feat might give bonuses to a half-dozen different skill rolls).

Oh, and of course you have magic...err, Force powers.

It is role-playing, with early iterations of what would evolve to become the (in)famous Bioware Dialogue Wheel, and the superimposition of a sliding scale of morality (Light side versus Dark side, naturally). A great many of the critical decisions in the game are made via dialogue choices, and these will truly shape the game -- and in more than determining whether you stay Jedi or turn Sith.

An interesting aspect to the dialogue choices is that you generally have equally "light" and "dark" choices available. Which gives you more options in each encounter, and gives you more of a feeling of freedom, but I think this mechanic gives you something else as well (perhaps unintentionally); even when you are playing at the lightest of the light, trying to be the kindest most helpful boy scout of a Jedi possible, there is always this temptation to just tell the squabbling couple to shoot themselves and save you the trouble of dealing with them anymore.

And I'm not giving away any spoilers (probably) to comment how appropriate this lurking temptation is for the character you will be playing!

The dialogue is generally strong; but above even the voice acting, there was someone on the development team who could really, really write dialog. I am humbled. I could not write some of that dialogue. And I'm talking not about the necessarily formulaic set-pieces of the grand plot, I'm speaking of the banter that occurs with several of the stand-out characters.

Jolee Bindo: imagine Morgan Freeman doing a True Neutral version of Ben Kenobi. A master of snark, a true guide, and refuses to admit he is teaching you or get into any of that mentor foolishness. Exasperating and warm all at the same time.

Canderous Odo: taking the Extended Universes' fondness for the Mandalorian to the ultimate extreme, he is a Manly Man doing Manly things. It is the voice acting that sells this one; he is so over the top (yet so utterly committed and serious) it is totally worth spending the time to talk to him. Frequently.

HK-47: A droid with an attitude that has to be heard to be believed. Where Jolee is an artist of the snarky retort, HK-47 employs them like a stiletto.

Carth Onasi: every conversation with him goes haywire, until he is left practically unable to form words. Someone studied at the feet of the great playwrights here, because the dialog scenes with him have that avalanche in motion effect of an argument in a Neil Simon -- everything each of you says ends up coming out wrong, he takes offense, tries to apologize for taking offense and only digs himself in deeper...well, I just can't describe it. Like I said; this is the sort of thing I wish I could write (and can't.)

And, yeah, I turned to Mission Vao a lot of the time, as her Rogue skills were essential in cracking computers and disarming mines. She was the first in my party with good sneak stats, too, so I more than once sent her out alone. And since I hated to break up the pair, Chew.., err, Zaalbar usually went with her. Although the wookie was practically useless in combat until I figured out I actually had to equip him with a decent sword before he'd stop trying to pound everything with his furry fists. Why he never uses the bowcaster he's dragging around, I don't know. It's probably somewhere down in some nested menu.

Although you are eventually traveling with up to nine (depending on choices you made, such as whether you both spare Juhani and turn her from the Dark Side), you can only take two at a time. And it is often worth taking specific ones (like bringing Zaalbar to Kashyyyk), even when the game doesn't explicitly require you to.

One major change from, say, Mass Effect is that your own dialog isn't voiced. This made for me a small emotional disconnect. I didn't always feel as if I was part of the conversation. Over half the dialog is in various alien tongues (subtitled) which is very cool and adds to the feeling of the Star Wars universe -- but the aliens also always speak long. It takes Zaalbar longer to say "no" than it apocryphally does for Wotan to sing it (Wagnerian opera joke there). And if you page through, you risk hitting the key just as the dialog ended and accidentally selecting a response on the next screen.

Related to this is, once again, major fights and, worse, mini-games that are placed directly behind an un-skippable cut-scene. Worst is one where you take off in the Ebon Hawk (really?) and there's a long scene on Darth Malak's flagship...and then a scene on your ship...then you are trying to win a frustrating and quirky turret mini-game. Which means if you miss, it's back to fifteen minutes of cut scenes for you before you can try again.

I started my game as a Scout with no intentions of being dragged into the whole Jedi thing. I specialized in blaster combat, meaning to keep my enemies at a distance. Well, you get that lightsaber whether you want it or not. And it did so much more damage than anything else I had, I quickly found the best combat option was to place myself in front, soaking up enemy fire, while my buddies Canderous and HK-47 poured down blaster fire from a safer distance. Making lots of gleeful comments all the way -- the fun with these characters, really, with all your potential party members -- is not just in your interactions with them, but the way they comment, butt in, and otherwise act out in public.

And, yeah...with Blaster Deflection droids and mercenaries and the like are a little less of a drain on your health packs. And Blade Throw is even better than grenades for doing area damage; an incredible leveler for when you have close-packed enemies. But for all of that, it is a bit annoying to be forced into lightsaber for everything. Thing is; over half the baddies are animals or Sith or otherwise things that close to melee range. Sniping at them from a safe distance only really works when the path-finding AI can't figure out how to get to you (I had Mission shooting a Rancor in the ankle for about ten minutes once until I finally figured out how to take it down.)

So embrace the lightsaber. The Force? Not so much. Force Whirlwind and Force Push are a lot of fun -- the latter was exceptionally useful for getting distance to use a lightsaber throw -- but pretty soon everyone you meet is Force resistant. For that reason, Force Persuade is totally useless (plus always seemed to me a pretty horrible thing to be doing to people). Sink your points in Charisma et al instead.

Oh, yeah. And using the Force to heal. This is very much video game in that who wins a nearly-equal battle basically hinges on who has the most health packs available. Although you can cheat a little in this game; you can instantly zap back to "camp" (aka the Green Pigeon) and have health fully restored, then zap back to wherever you were. And if you want to really abuse the camp mechanic, go around the Canary Canary and sponge extra grenades et al off your crew. Zaalbar will groan and roar for five minutes but at the end of it will have created a brand-new grenade out of spare parts. And you can keep going back until he gets tired of it.

The sound design is excellent. On the few minuses, background sounds sometimes come close to covering up dialogue. Tweaking the sliders didn't seem to help. On the plus side of the ledger, the music is excellent orchestral simulation with a very strong John Williams flavor (including direct quotes, which fortunately are not abused). It is subtle as well as martial; there's an great little bit that plays sometimes when you are heading to a new world that combines something very much like the famous opener in the skies over Tatooine with a subtle shimmer of glockenspiel that evokes the "here we are at a new planet" opener in original series Star Trek.

Graphics are decent for when they were. Kudos for bringing so many of the creatures from Star Wars across, although I did tire eventually of seeing Twilek everywhere. Limitations of the number of character models did lead to some odd moments of the "Wasn't I just talking to you on Dantooine?" moments and sometimes the face really didn't match the voice actor. One oddity that may be a artifact of the number of models and the color space or may actually be a refreshing choice is that unlike Billy Dee William's practically solo performance, a seeming majority of the human characters are dark-skinned. Perhaps one of the developers had been reading Ursula K LeGuin's essays?

Another graphical amusement was a bar scene where I presume they either couldn't spare the polygons for drinks or even chairs, or hadn't written an animation for drinking, because all the patrons could do is bob up and down "drinking bird" style -- so much so the first one I saw I thought was trying to throw up.

The planets were generally excellent -- the forest floor of Kashyyyk being the major disappointment (but how could any game match up with the lush complexity of the Star Wars Comic Book?) There is also in the Steam version of the Mac port way too much bloom being used to demonstrate the hot deserts of Tatooine...quite enough bloom to hide any number of Tusken Raiders, whether or not they chose to ride in single file.

But otherwise the settings were distinctive, and I welcomed each new world and the chance to immerse in the deep, surprisingly subtle stories (the wookies, in a clear echo of the Ivory Coast, are selling their own people into slavery in trade for weapons to use in local conflicts), and all the little stories and problems you will find yourself involved in (basic RPG tip; don't turn down any side quest. It might just get you a couple credits, but it also might be the only way to get the key you need to complete the mission).