Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

After a long wait and a lot of anticipation, the new Star Wars movie has been released to the eager public. Now that it's been out for a week, it's time to finally talk about it. So, here is my review. And be warned, it does contain spoilers (this is your final warning).

What I Liked

I should start by saying I loved this movie. It was a lot of fun, filled with adventure, excitement, and all the things a Jedi craves not. It had just the right balance of action and humour, without being campy or over the top.

Let's start with the technical. The pacing was spot on. It was fairly long for a Star Wars movie, but never felt like it was dragging. Sure there were some scenes (perhaps a better statement would be moments) that felt a little superfluous, for example Finn using a lightsabre against a Stormtrooper with an anti-lightsabre weapon that he just happened to be carrying, despite there not having been any Jedi for decades. But overall the movie had felt like it had a good balance of dialogue, action and character development that progressed at a rate that kept you engaged without overwhelming you.

I also loved the new cast. John Boyega surprised me - having only ever seen him in Attack the Block I didn't know what to expect, but to me he has the look of someone doing comedy. I'm not sure I can explain that; to me he just looks like a funnyman, and I was concerned I would have difficulty taking him seriously. I'm glad to say my concerns were suitably alleviated. Sure, he had his slapstick moments, but he delivered them well in between bouts of real emotion and believable action.

Next up is Rey. And wow, did Daisy Ridley deliver. Prior to this I hadn't seen her in anything (I hadn't even heard of her), so I really had no idea what to expect. But she was fantastic. Rey is a complex character; an adventurer, a scavenger, someone with a traumatic childhood background and obvious abandonment issues. And also a force-sensitive just starting to feel out her new abilities. Ridley portrayed all of the nuances of these various traits, riffing off Harrison Ford for some banter and recoiling from the visions given to her by Luke's lightsabre with equal comfort.

Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, is an interesting new villain for the new Star Wars era. Unlike previous dark side villains, Ren is not a cool, collected almost Zen like force wielder who dispatches his foes with cold precision. Instead, he is teen angsty, has daddy issues, and is prone to fits of uncontrolled rage. He feels he is incomplete and can never measure up to Darth Vader, who he holds as his idol. Driver is another unknown, but as it turns out he's an ex-Marine and an actual badass, and brings these aspects to the character when he needs to while also deftly displaying the childlike anger that underpins Ren. Also interesting is Ren's new lightsabre. Instead of the smooth neat blade of a normal lightsabre, Ren's flickers and sparks, and is scrappy and erratic, which reflects his personality. At this stage this may be purely symbolic, but as we're learning in this movie, lightsabres are far more than just inanimate weapons (Luke/Anakin's lightsabre calls to Rey and give her visions), so there may be a deeper meaning here yet to be revealed.

I think the thing I loved most about it, though, was that it felt like a Star Wars movie. Everything from inclusion of classic Star Wars phrases ("we got company" and "I got a bad feeling about this") to the look and feel of the technology, costumes and architecture. A lot of this had to do with the minimal inclusion of CGI effects and heavier reliance on sets and props. But also the design aesthetic was faithful to the originals in a way the prequels never were, and that made this feel like the first new Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi.

Finally BB-8 was awesome. No more need be said on this subject.

What I Didn't Like

OK, I'm going to start this off with something so minor it seems almost petty. But here it is. Since Lucasfilm has been sold to Disney, this was the first ever Star Wars movie not to open with the 20th Century Fox drum-roll and fanfare. I know that seems minor, but to me it's such a quintessential part of the Star Wars experience that I really missed it. That sound immediately means to me a Star Wars movie is about to begin. I can't see or hear it now without expecting the immediate darkness and silence of the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." followed by the blaring opening fanfare of the main Star Wars theme. To the point where I'm a little bit disappointed any time I watch a 20th Century Fox movie that isn't Star Wars. Like I said - minor, but I missed it.

And now for my one major gripe about this movie. The storytelling was so lazy and unimaginative that it was borderline offensive to me as an audience member. It's almost as if they took the script from Episode IV and crossed out the name of a planet here, the name of a character there, and re-used almost the entire thing. This movie was unashamedly a remake of Episode IV, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's a bit disappointing that we didn't get a new story.

While not a shot-by-shot, this was an act-by-act remake. Secret plans (sorry map) being hidden in a cute droid, cute droid being hunted by the Empire (sorry, First Order). Young farm boy (my bad, scavenger girl) on desert planet has a Force awakening and is convinced to leave her home behind and join the Rebellion (sorry, Resistance). Daring rescue and escape from the Death Star (no wait, Starkiller Base), team inside to deactivate the tractor beam (or was that the defensive shield?), attack on mega-weapon with small X-Wing squadron, with one hero pilot blowing up the whole thing. There you have an interchangeable synopsis for either movie.

There were also stylistic similarities (which in fairness I've argued above are a good thing) that made the movie somewhat predictable in places. The obvious example being Han's Obi-wan moment with Kylo Ren. As soon as he stepped onto that catwalk, it was inevitable what was coming next, and the scene played out almost exactly like Obi-wan's death in a New Hope.


There was a lot to love about this movie. It was first and foremost a lot of fun. I enjoyed watching it, will certainly watch it again, and can't wait for Episode VIII. Despite it's shortcomings (and there are more than I have listed here, in particular plot holes, unresolved mysteries, etc., although a little bit of patience will see these resolved in subsequent movies), this movie was a lot of fun, and will no doubt provide joy for current and future generations of Star Wars fans. It's well deserving of it' place in the saga, and has made me believe again that we can have new Star Wars movies which will not only not suck, but actually be enjoyable and entertaining.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Halo 3: ODST? Halo 3: MLIA.

Bought this game a couple of weeks ago, not long after release date. Left my local Blockbusters with it in my hand at about 5pm-5.30pm. Got home, stuck it on and played it constantly, with a one hour break for dinner and a little TV. Went back to playing, and by 12.30am-1am I had finished it. Great value for money.

Now don't get me wrong, I understand that the on-line experience, plus the challenge modes, are what add value to a game these days, and that playing through the actual story mode of a game is considered only scratching the surface. But frankly, that bothers me. It used to be the case that the story mode, or campaign, or whatever the developers choose to call it, but effectively the actual game, would be what you purchased and what you paid your money for.

Take for example the Wolfenstein series. Return to Castle Wolfenstein was released in 2001, and followed not long after by the release of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. W:ET was an on-line, multiplayer version of the game. And it was given away absolutely free. I'm sure Activision were probably kicking themselves over this, as W:ET proved to be the far more popular of the two. I think the vastly disproportionate success of W:ET over RTCW represents the beginning of the end of the old game model, where you buy an intensely playable, longevous game, and having paid £30+ for it, expect it to last you a while.

Not any more. Now, when you buy a game, you can expect to finish it in no time, and get your money's worth shooting strangers in the face on-line. This kind of quick-fix, pick up and play for five minutes, throwaway gameplay is what has always been associated with arcade games. Now this model is rapidly becoming the norm, while settling down on your own to get stuck into a good old fashioned bit of gaming is on its way out.

Obviously, I realise there are many exceptions to this, but nonetheless, I think the reason I feel so strongly about it is that it's symptomatic of the way most computer games are developed today; style over substance. The challenge, as perceived by games developers today, seems to be by and large to push the boundaries of the platform they are developing for, as opposed to developing a truly engaging experience for the consumer. In contrast, refer for example to Martyn McFarquhar's article, who notes that adventure puzzle games seem to be a dying breed. Don't get me wrong, these games are inherently floored by today's standards, namely, in that they are linear by design, which a lot of gamers find restrictive, and also this fixed nature severely limits their replayability. In spite of this, those of us who played the Monkey Island games, or Broken Sword, or Beneath a Steel Sky, or Flight of the Amazon Queen, or countless others, will always shed a nostalgic tear and mourn the genre's departure.

But that's not to say we can't learn the lessons they taught us. These games challenged you mentally as much as other games do your reflexes, requiring you to solve complex puzzles in order to progress through the game. There are still games with puzzle elements, but in these games the puzzles were incredibly finely interwoven within the overall tapestry of the game, not just a case of walking into a room and working out the correct positioning of some boxes to open a door or reach a window. But far more relevant, especially in the context of the Halo franchise, were the rich storylines, the rounded and engaging characters, the twisting plots, which drew you into the game world, and made you really care about the outcome of the game.

The Halo franchise has always been loved for this. The story about a lone super-soldier fighting for the destiny of not just all mankind, but all life in our galaxy, in a hostile universe, not to mention the shameless political euphemisms, elevated this game to a level above most other FPS games (the notable exception being, of course, Half Life). So when ODST was announced, I was excited. Bungee had already stated that they would not be continuing the Halo franchise in the form of any more Master Chief games, and the lacklustre Halo Wars was a sorry excuse for what was promised to us years ago; an actual, full scale on-line war, consisting of RTS style players on their PCs guiding and commanding individual battles and campaigns, while the troops they commanded would be FPS commandos playing on their Xbox 360s, where each campaign or mission would have a genuine effect on the tide of the overall war. If this sounds like a glorious combination of all the best elements of RTS, FPS, and MMORPG, that's probably because it is, and while this may seem like an unachievable 'Holy Grail' of internet gaming, the technology and capabilities for this are well within our grasp.

Nonetheless, back to the point at hand. Following these disappointments, ODST was announced and subsequently released. I wasn't expecting the all-singing, all-dancing spectacle described above, but what I was expecting was a playable, engaging game, that would at least last me longer than a day. Described as the events of Halo 3, but from the point of view of an ODST, I thought this game would give us a lot more background, and insight into what life is like for an ordinary (well, ok not quite) person living in the Halo universe. And ok, to an extent, this is what we got. Actually, I'll admit the game was a lot of fun, despite being somewhat disorienting to start with (the game is set in two time periods six hours apart, and jumps between them at the end of each level). But it was disappointing. It was highly repetitive, on a level not previously seen in the Halo games, and for such a short game this is astounding.

In sum, yes, it was a fun game, and yes, I enjoyed it. But realistically, I found the entire experience very disappointing. This game would have been better off as a cheap (or even free?) download on Xbox Live, not a full priced game, with all the hype and anticipation attached to it that you would expect with the release of another Halo title. It is, after all, nothing more than a highly refined expansion pack. Nonetheless, I don't want this to seem like a review; it's not, it's a rant about the exploitation of consumers by profiteering publishers. But none of this compares in this regard to the PSPGo. More on that to follow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Woke up this morning, as I do every day, wondering how to fill my currently unemployed life with seemingly meaningful activity and thus avoid the necessity of any kind of real work. Or even the kind of pretend work you do while at home, like re-organising your DVD collection and such. But then I remembered I already had items scheduled into my diary today. I was due at the dentist to have a tooth pulled out.

I won't go into detail about the actual experience to avoid offending the sensitivities of my more squeamish readers (ok so to my knowledge my audience currently consists of myself, but you never know!). Nonetheless, the experience wasn't entirely unpleasant, and the drugs which had been administered to my gums actually completely dulled my senses and precluded any possibility of physical pain. The following few hours were however a little odd, as although I wasn't in any pain, the strange feeling of numbness was quite disconcerting. I also felt overwhelmingly tired, and having had a very good night's sleep, I realised that the bodyshock was almost certainly responsible for this.

Jump forward a couple of hours, and the anaesthetic has worn off. Oh joy. Actually, the dull ache in the side of my face is more an annoying distraction than anything else, but I think the source of my frustration lies in the fact that I would have liked to either sail through the entire experience in a pain-free, manly way, enjoying my heroic victory over physical trauma (if it counts, I've turned my nose up at the offer or painkillers), or to have a dramatic, agonising battle with severe facial injury, and bask in the deluge of sympathy that this would have necessitated. As it happens, I got neither. Another reminder that life is in fact just that, and that for those countless millions of us making up the vast majority of the population of civilised Western society, even an out of the ordinary and novel experience rarely results in the kind of adventure we will regale future generations of our offspring with.

But moving on, I let the fatigue overcome me, and put my head down for a nap. No sooner had my head hit the pillow did a reminder pop up on my phone, alerting me to the fact that I was minutes away from an appointment at the doctor's surgery. Flu jab. Nice. In fairness, my visit to the surgery consisted of 99.9% sitting in the waiting room, 0.05% pleasantries with the nurse who was about to impale me and invade my body with a hostile organism, 0.01% said impalement, and 0.04% goodbyes. Again, an unexciting and completely uneventful part of my day.

Which more or less brings us up to now. This blog entry has been more an exercise for me than anything else, but nonetheless, I live on in the vain hope that someone out there may have derived some small pleasure from reading this.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Japan Announces Orbital Death Ray

Japan unveiled earlier this week plans to build an orbital solar power station. The ambitious plan, costing approximately $21billion, will see a satellite launched into orbit, which will use photovoltaic technology (the same as that found on your calculator) to harness solar power and beam it back to Earth, providing enough electricity to power 294,000 homes over a 15 year lifecycle.

Hold on a minute. Let's break this down, shall we? This project is going to cost $21billion, which is going to power 294,000 homes. That's about $71,429 per home. Over a 15 year lifecycle, that works out at $4,762 a year, and that's nearly $400 a month. Who the hell spends that on electricity? And that's at cost!

Effectively, what we're saying here is that Japan are going to put into orbit a device capable of firing 1.21 jigawatts of electricity at the planet from space, at a cost that they can't possibly justify as being recoupable through their domestic electricity market (which is what they are claiming).

We're doomed.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wake on LAN: A step by step guide for Windows Users

Sometimes it is extremely useful to be able to turn on your PC remotely. For example, you may be out of the office with some urgent work to do, and although you have VPN access, being the environmentally conscious person you are, you switched your PC off and now can't get access to it.
Well, provided you can gain access to another machine on the network, the steps below will show you how to get around this. This is a first draft, so any comments, additions or questions are openly welcome and encouraged.

1. Download some WOL software. If you don't have admin rights and you can't install it, you need to find one that's an exe that runs without installation. A great one can be found here.

2. Open a command prompt (Click Start, Run and type 'cmd' and press enter)

3. Type


and press enter

4. Type


where computername.domain.local is your computer name, and press enter. If you don't have the fully qualified name of the computer (e.g. the domain.local bit), you can try it without this; it should still work.

5. This will give you your computer's IP address. Write this down.

6. Type


and press enter. This will take you out of nslookup and back to the command prompt.

7. Type

arp -a

where is the IP address you wrote down in step 5.

8. This will display a one line table of information. Write down the 12 digit entry under Physical Address.

9. Keep your command prompt open; you will use this later.

10. Run your WOL software. It will ask you for the IP address and physical (MAC or Ethernet) address. Enter these using the information you wrote down in steps 6 and 8, and click 'Go' or whatever the option is to send the WOL request.

11. Go back to the command prompt. Type

ping -t

where is the IP address of your computer, and press enter.

12. Keep an eye on this for 5 minutes or so. If over that period the output changes from

Request timed out


Reply from

then your WOL attempt was succesful and you have turned on your PC. If however after this time the output still says Request timed out, then your attempt to turn on your PC has not been succesful. If you want to continue watching it for a while, then you can do, but at this stage it's safe to assume the attempt has failed.

13. Press 'ctrl-c' to end the ping. Type


and press enter to close the command prompt.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Out of Mind

So far all I've come up with for my latest post is the title, so I'm gonna just randomly type words into my keyboard and see what comes out. Apologies for any randomness.

It's been a weird Christmas this year. I've had my heart broken for the second time this year (it really wasn't that bad - I'm just being dramatic; it was still enough to put a downer on Christmas though) and had a rather awkward and uncomfortable Christmas day too. The entire thing has been accompanied by far too much drinking and me ending up in a state that I am extremely unproud of.

It's funny, but it's a relief to be back at work, even if it is so quiet that I've actually got time to sit here and write this.

Something that made me laugh this Christmas: a message from my sister that ended with '...let me know your number so I can call you'. Top class! She had her 25th birthday yesterday, but is over in New Zealand at the moment, so I'll have to celebrate with her when she gets back. Which works out quite well for her because she always finds that Christmas and her birthday are pretty much over in one fell swoop.

Oh, and some exciting news! My boss got two emails, randomly and completely unrelated, telling how good I am and praising me for my helpfulness. :D

Anyway, I'm gonna end on that happy note; I fell much better just for having finally gotten around to writing something.

Love and peace y'all!

Friday, November 09, 2007


I've decided (with some encouragement) that I don't post often enough, so I've decided to write something on here as often as I can. In the past, I've posted random things on here just to keep the old fingers clacking away at the keyboard, and although that's exactly what I'm doing now, this time I'm not going to tell myself it was a pointless blog entry and not post anything again for ages.

So anyway, the new version of Mac OS X came out recently; it's called Leopard. Incidentally, if Apple decide to carry on releasing new versions of Mac OS X before they release OS XI, I can't help wondering what they're going to do when they run out of big cats. Anyway, I've been playing with Leopard at work. At first I thought it was great; it solved so many of the problems in Tiger for Active Directory (Microsoft's enterprise network management tool) domain administrators. So many things seemed to work straight away, and I didn't have any problems upgrading over the top of our existing Tiger installation. I installed it on our IT department's test Mac, a low spec Mac mini, and seeing how wonderful it was, immediately recommended the upgrade for some of our other Mac users. Only once I installed it on machines being used by people day to day for their work did the problems start to show themselves!

The users started complaining about extremely long log in times, sometimes of over three minutes, and also of extremely slow reaction times from the network. After trawling through the Apple forums, I found out why this was. Apple have a little tool called Bonjour which automatically sets up any attached devices for you. This includes printers, so is obviously quite useful for our users who want to connect to all the network attached printers. The problem is, Bonjour is designed to work in an Open Directory (Apple's AD equivalent) environment being administered by an XServe. As such, the .local suffix, used by probably millions of AD administrators over the world, is hard-wired into Bonjour, so if your domain uses it, your Mac will be trying to do all your network authentication through Bonjour rather than through the Directory Utility.

Hopefully Apple will release a patch that will fix this, but in the meantime, the workaraound is to rename your domain and use a different suffix. This is obviously not a viable solution for network administrators running a predominantly Windows environment with just a handful of Macs, so the only other solution is to disable Bonjour. This is also not a problem if none of your devices depend on it, and I think at this early stage in Leopard's life, this is a fairly safe assumption to make.

So, anyone out there having this problem, download iservebox and use it to disable Bonjour. This will solve your problem until Apple find a more permanent solution.