Boba Fett and the Thundercat-Installed Stomach Mod

Random thoughts after Episode 4 of The Book of Boba Fett

It has come to my attention that the street gang in last week’s episode of The Book of Boba Fett were directly (and blatantly!) patterned on Mods, not just “vaguely European” as I’d thought. I regret the oversight. I do love that Fennec Shand explicitly calls them “the Mods” in this episode, presumably from “modified.”

(I’m also embarrassed that I didn’t come up with with calling them “Mos Vespas.” I mean it was right there and I didn’t see it).

I was also aiming low last episode, apparently, since I was delightfully surprised to see Stephen Root show up in a Star Wars franchise. In retrospect, he was bound to show up eventually, considering the demand for character actors for all the new movies and series. The bigger surprise was this week, when Thundercat showed up as a rad black market cybernetic-modification installer. Complete with a rad soundtrack during the A-Team-inspired montage where he wheels out a special cart holding his robot arm replacement. It was one of those cases where I could tell he was having a blast to be in Star Wars, and I was so happy for a complete stranger. I’m sure the make-up crew was also happy that they didn’t have to do a whole lot to make Thundercat fit into Star Wars.

Even though episode 2 is still by far my favorite, I’ve liked all the episodes so far, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. On the surface, episode 4 just seems like wrapping up act two and heading into the climax — the flashback part of the episode detailing how Boba Fett found and saved Fennec Shand didn’t seem to be reinforcing or building on ideas in the “main” story, but simply connecting the dots. It was full of great, satisfying moments, but I didn’t immediately pick up on any “thematic resonance” that the other episodes had.

But after thinking about it some more, I think it just makes explicit the themes that have been going through the rest of the series. This one is about loyalty through respect, explaining exactly why Boba Fett has been doing what he’s doing. It’s important to see him continuing to build alliances and add characters to his gang. Even past adversaries, like Black Krrsantan and that rabbit droid. I’d been wondering how they’d make a story about an anti-hero feel compelling, and they’ve done it by showing he’s got his own code of honor.

And I’ve got to admit it’s fun to have a series where the characters aren’t constantly struggling to stay true to the light side. Watching Boba Fett mow down a murderous biking gang was oddly satisfying, as was watching him and Fennec Shand take on the Sarlaac with the coolest weapon in Star Wars.

I also loved the Bantha. Through all of these episodes, I’ve been wondering how things are “supposed” to look, and how much is a limitation of practical effects, shooting scenes in studios instead of on location, or using TV-budget CGI. But the Bantha was so much more expressive and detailed than they’ve ever been shown before, and it never didn’t feel real to me. I don’t want to watch a making-of, because I don’t want to know exactly how it was done.

One thing that occurred to me during this episode is that it feels like they’re finally achieving what Star Wars has been wanting to do in live action for a long time. The train heist from episode 2 was a perfect rendition of late 70s/early 80s Star Wars action and comedy, and I think the scene in the kitchen from this episode nailed the tone that much of the prequels were trying to achieve. Hitting the right combination of goofy slapstick and action violence.

I don’t know how to write fan letters in the Modern Era, but if I did I’d want to thank Jon Favreau for delivering, over and over again, the fun and expansive version of Star Wars that I’ve been wanting to see ever since I was little.

Project Diary: Tanuki Clock Part 2

Redesigning my tanuki taiko drummer

Quick update on my project to make a Raspberry Pi-powered taiko-playing tanuki clock: I redesigned the character into a seated position, both to give more emphasis to the clock, and to make it a little bit more ambiguous where he got the taiko drum from.

I’m happier with this version, but while it makes some things theoretically simpler, it introduces a bunch of new problems. The most obvious is that it’s just so much bigger. It no longer fits on my printer, and it’s not immediately obvious how to cleanly break it into smaller components. Plus the test prints will take forever — a quick test of just the taiko drum was predicting a 15-hour print time.

Also, having the taiko oriented horizontally means the arms have to rotate at an angle, and I haven’t yet figured out exactly how I can make that work. In addition to wishing I’d had some electronics classes in school, I wish I’d taken some mechanical engineering.

(I did a quick test having the taiko vertically oriented, and the tanuki standing behind it, but that would’ve made the thing even bigger).

One thing I’ve realized trying to redesign the model is that I follow some depressingly talented artists on Instagram. I’ve been hearing for years the complaint that Instagram is bad for people’s mental health, but I’ve never understood that. I can’t remember ever seeing an “influencer” and feeling inferior or wishing that I had any single aspect of their life. (Unless they’re making me sad that I’m not at Disneyland, which is something that it usually pretty straightforward for me to correct). But seeing some artist post a photo of their “sketch” that’s still infinitely better than I’ve been able to make after hours of work, just makes me feel extremely amateurish. And I am an amateur, so fair enough, but it’s still kind of dispiriting.

Boba Fett and the Eurovision Street Gang

The third episode of The Book of Boba Fett was gloriously corny, and I loved it

Considering that I’m enough of a nerd to write a whole treatise about what “feels like Star Wars,” I guess it could be surprising that I loved just about every second of the third episode of The Book of Boba Fett.

It introduces a gang of young toughs who look less suited to the streets of Mos Espa than to a Shadowrun-themed Eurovision act. With their suits and accents and brightly-colored speeder Vespas, they looked more like citizens of Paris than citizens of Tatooine. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d abandoned any pretense of being in Star Wars and just started blasting Prototypes on their speeder speakers.

The sedate car chase through the city had already won me over by the time a car actually crashed through concept art of Jabba’s palace being carried, inexplicably, across the street. That moment just sealed the deal for me. After the first episode, I’d said that I couldn’t figure out whether the hints of cheesiness were intentional; this episode felt kind of like Robert Rodriguez saying, “Bitch, I made Spy Kids!

I’d be lying if I said that no part of my enjoyment of the episode, and the car chase in particular, was imagining how angry it was going to make other Star Wars nerds. I’ve already watched a couple of nerd reviews on YouTube, and I admit it makes me low-key gleeful to see them complaining about the corniness. I’m realizing that one of the many things I don’t like about Rogue One is that it takes itself so seriously; I can’t remember any moments of comedy (or even levity) in it, and it just seemed to need the audience to think it was bad-ass.

There was a guest appearance by Danny Trejo, which honestly was inevitable as soon as they announced Robert Rodriguez was an executive producer. I was more surprised to see Stephen Root show up, because he’s just awesome and because I never would’ve expected to see him in a Star Wars project. There was also a character in the background in a flashback to Mos Eisley that clearly seemed to be Amy Sedaris’s character from The Mandalorian, which was a nice callback.

I’m enjoying all the machinations and misdirections and happily avoiding making assumptions or predictions (although come on, the main bad guy has to be Jennifer Beals’s character, right?). Instead I’m just enjoying watching Boba Fett going out and collecting friends to bring back to his castle. It’s like a Star Wars version of Suikoden.

Project Diary: Tanuki Clock Part 1

Start of a hopefully ongoing series about my process making an expensive and over-complicated version of a cheesy novelty item

I’ve always been ambivalent about developer diaries, for a few reasons. First is that it always seems cooler to preserve the mystery and wait until I can say, “look at this thing I made.” Second is that I’ve got a lousy track record in terms of actually finishing projects, and it’s a lot more demoralizing to have to abandon something once you’ve talked about it, rather than letting it drift off unmourned by anyone other than me. And finally, there’s a question of expertise. I hate the idea of presenting anything I do as the “right” way to do it.

But that’s kind of selfish. Any time I’ve tried to take on a new hobby or skill, I’ve used tons of online tutorials, blog posts, YouTube videos, and GitHub repos, all from people who’ve taken the time to share what they’ve learned. Plus, I’ve often run into a frustrating disconnect when looking for information online: tutorials often skip over the details I need, presumably because they’re assumed to be so basic as to be common knowledge.

So I’m going to try to detail my progress making my current project, which is a Raspberry Pi-enabled clock, with a taiko-playing tanuki.

Continue reading “Project Diary: Tanuki Clock Part 1”

Blender Sculpting Experiments

Revisiting some earlier attempts at sculpting and modeling in Blender

Back in 2020 I started in earnest trying to learn Blender’s sculpting and modeling tools. Last night I was reminded that I only posted the results to Facebook-owned platforms, and I should get them up on my own site.

The one I had the most success with was a simple version of one of the dogs from P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go!, which was my favorite book as a little kid. Another one I like, although I didn’t get very far at all, was a sculpt of Cousin Eerie from Eerie magazine, designed I believe by Jack Davis. (Even if he didn’t design the character, his version is my favorite).

I’ve been playing around with Nomad Sculpt for the iPad quite a bit lately, and having a ton of fun with it. The other night was the first time I tried importing a model from Nomad Sculpt into Blender, and it was eye-opening for just how forgiving Nomad is to people new to sculpting. Probably just because of the material and default lighting it uses, it hides all the blobby imperfections and rough patches and mistakes that Blender puts into full relief. (As it should, as it’s all stuff you need to catch in a more professional environment).

It’s less accurate, and possibly even reinforces bad habits, but it’s a lot more fun and a lot more encouraging to keep practicing, since it seems to do everything it possibly can to give you a good-looking model. At least in screenshots. I could stand to keep practicing with Blender’s sculpting and modeling tools, obviously, but I’ve got a feeling my first drafts are going to be coming from the iPad from now on.

Boba Fett and the Nasal-Induced Vision Quest

I can remember seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time1At the Northlake theater, and my dad checked me out of school early to go see it, and being so disappointed that they not only introduced another Death Star, but immediately went back to Tatooine. It was deliberately supposed to be a lifeless backwater where nothing happens! That was the whole point!

Obviously, Star Wars went back to that moisture evaporator many, many more times over the years, turning it from the planet farthest away from the bright center of the universe, into the place where just about everything happens. It’s been one of my biggest annoyances in a franchise that includes Dexter Jettster and Caravan of Courage. But after seeing the second episode of The Book of Boba Fett, I’m finding myself thinking, “No, Tatooine is good actually.”

The Mandalorian already often felt like a Lucasfilm-sanctioned fan film, finally making live-action versions of exactly the things that Star Wars-obsessed nerds have been wanting to see for decades. The Book of Boba Fett is that, doubled. When the subtitles identified a character as “Camie,” I had a momentary nerd freakout when I realized that we were seeing Luke Skywalker’s friends at Toshi Station. (Or maybe Anchorhead?) Including characters from deleted scenes and the novelization was a masterfully-executed deep cut — if you’re a nerd of a certain persuasion, you appreciate the reference, but the story doesn’t depend on your getting the reference at all. The moment earlier in the episode, with the Rancor pit, works similarly: another bit of interesting dramatic irony as the audience is wondering what’s changed since we last saw it.

It’s not just “fan service”2Although people are always going to complain about “fan service” whenever they see creators working within franchises they love because it doesn’t stop the action for the sake of a nerd reference. It’s also not fan service because it’s awesome. The train sequence in this episode is one of the best sequences in any Star Wars thing ever. It was a perfect blend of action and comedy, old west and sci-fi, with all the elements working perfectly with each other. Even if this had been the one notable scene in the episode, it would’ve made this episode a stand-out.

But all the other details were so well-done, too. The sequence with the mayor, menacingly speaking through a calm translator device. The showdown with the Hutt twins, with one of them wiping the sweat off of himself with some kind of rat creature. Boba Fett realizing he was more effective with a practice gaffi stick than with his rifle. The Tuskens immediately trying to scavenge the speeder bikes instead of riding them. The whole speeder bike training sequence. And Boba Fett’s whole vision and the following ceremony. It was all filled with concepts that were more interesting, more clever, and more original than they needed to be.

Two ideas stood out to me: one was how interesting it was to see a more expansive — not “inclusive” — take on Star Wars. The Tuskens are shown here to have a society more inspired by native American, aboriginal, and at the end Maori cultures. In just about every other depiction, they’ve just been the Star Wars equivalent of “The Injuns,” backwards, violent, dangerous savages. It could’ve been handled so much more clumsily, but here they’re given a more interesting depiction that makes them sympathetic without losing any of their weirdness, or denying the fact that life in this type of environment would be really brutal.

Which fits with the second idea: seeing the depiction of crime syndicates and gangs on Tatooine gives an idea of how the Empire could’ve been appealing to people if Star Wars planets were real places. To be clear, I am 100% a believer in the idea that Star Wars is about good guys and bad guys, and it’s actually worse for the stories when they try to make the villains nuanced or relatable. Whenever they’ve had villains trying to justify mass genocide and slavery and all of the other stuff the Empire does, by insisting that there needs to be order, it’s come across as unnecessary at best, or clumsily tone-deaf at worst. But showing it from the perspective of regular people trying to go about their day-to-day lives and having to deal not just with monsters everywhere, but gangs and crime syndicates, you can kind of see why they’d be in favor of a Law and Order platform. Plus, all their stuff is newer and shinier.

I liked the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, but I didn’t love it. Even if I end up being ambivalent about the rest of the series, I loved the second episode. It alone justifies the existence of the whole series, as far as I’m concerned. I want to see an entire spin-off series about the sweat rats.

  • 1
    At the Northlake theater, and my dad checked me out of school early to go see it
  • 2
    Although people are always going to complain about “fan service” whenever they see creators working within franchises they love

Literacy 2022: Book 1: Moonflower Murders

Anthony Horowitz’s sequel to Magpie Murders extends the premise of a murder mystery within a murder mystery

Book
Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Series
Book 2 in the Magpie Murders/Susan Ryeland series

Synopsis
Susan Ryeland has left her job as editor of the best-selling Atticus Pünd detective novels, settling into her new life running a hotel on Crete with her fiance. She’s pulled into another adventure when a wealthy couple from England hire her to help investigate the disappearance of their daughter. They believe that clues to her disappearance — and a murder that happened eight years earlier — are hidden in one of the mysteries that Susan edited.

Pros
Cleverly extends the premise of the series, as two separate but inter-related murder mysteries.
The Atticus Pünd story embedded in the book (Atticus Pünd Takes the Case) is a good, well-constructed, and satisfying “old-fashioned” detective novel on its own.
Good at subtly changing voice between the two books, making the “real” characters feel more complex and nuanced, without taking too much away from the characters in the book-within-a-book.
Expands on Susan’s personality as an actual character, instead of just the protagonist of the mystery.
Once again, makes the key break in the case something that Susan as an editor and devotee of murder mysteries was uniquely suited to find.
Avoids many of the elements that were starting to feel a bit formulaic and over-used — especially “hapless amateur detective gets in over their head” — after Magpie Murders and two of the Hawthorne & Horowitz mysteries.

Cons
The Atticus Pünd story is inserted into the middle of the book, after we’ve been introduced to all the players in the framing mystery. It feels like the intent was to invite the reader to draw comparisons between the two, but in practice it just meant returning to a murder mystery after forgetting all of the character names and clues.
Horowitz lampshades the absurdity of detectives in books gathering all of the suspects in one room to recount the events of the murder… but then does it anyway, without doing much to make it seem less absurd.
The denouement recaps everything as a multi-page information dump, when it seems like it would’ve been more satisfying to have Susan piece together most of these details earlier.
Even after that, the book goes on for most of another chapter to point out all of the clues embedded in the novel, which feel less like satisfying a-ha moments, and more like Horowitz wanting to make sure the reader appreciated how clever he’d been.

Verdict
Anthony Horowitz’s mysteries have all been extremely readable and cleverly constructed, even when the pieces don’t all fit together in a completely satisfying way. Like Magpie Murders, Moonflower Murders is another three-books-in-one: an old-fashioned detective story, a modern murder mystery, and a meta-commentary on detective mysteries themselves. It comments on the somewhat ghoulish dichotomy in trying to write “modern” murder mysteries, attempting to create more realistic, complex, and believable characters in stories that demand the reader to treat those characters’ lives and tragedies as nothing more than clues in a fun crossword puzzle. I hope the series continues, since they’re clever, fun takes on the Agatha Christie-style detective story.

Literacy 2021: Recap

Assessing my attempt to rekindle (see what I did there?) my reading habits

My experiment to read more in 2021 was a success, I think. According to this blog, I read 24 books, which is better than my average over the last few years, which was none books.

The idea was both to get into a cadence of reading again, since I’d mostly fallen out of the habit, and to help organize my thoughts after finishing a book. Core to the blog series was stealing my former co-worker Joe Maris’s concise book review format, so I could still have an outlet for my thoughts about what I’d read, without falling into my usual trap of spending hours writing meandering essays as if I were still in school.

Goal
15 books in 2021

Final
24 finished. (Goodreads has a different count since it counted all the Sex Criminals volumes as separate books, and I didn’t include the Eternals collections I read).

Comics
3 of the 24 books were comics collections. I made the self-imposed rule that I’d only include comics if they were collected as a complete volume or storyline. And also if I got something “literary feeling” out of it. I read 2 volumes of a Doctor Strange comic by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, for instance, and they were excellent, but gave no sense of being self-contained works.

Favorite Book of Literacy 2021
Probably Fahrenheit 451. It was so much more insightful and sophisticated than I’d expected from a work I’d assumed was just a dated, dusty classic.

Best Book of Literacy 2021
Probably Slaughterhouse Five, followed by The Lathe of Heaven. Reading each one felt like my brain was being slightly expanded in different ways.

MVP of Literacy 2021
The Kindle Oasis. My dislike of Amazon as a company is starting to rival Bo Burnham’s, so I hate to come across as a shill. But obviously, getting something that removes the “friction” of reading was key to making me read more. I was actually looking forward to being able to get back into a book, which was a feeling unfamiliar to me since around college. In addition to being overpriced for what it is, though — even at the refurbished cost mine was — I’m annoyed that the Kindle Paperwhite would be perfect for what I need, and at half the cost, if they’d just add physical page turning buttons to it.

Runner-Up MVP of Literacy 2021
The Libby App. It let me get a library card and start checking out books to my Kindle, without ever having to set foot in the Oakland library. That’s helped me be a lot less hung up on the “literary value” of what I read, so not everything has to feel like this epic investment of my time and brain power. Reading “trash” is A-OK!

Goal for Literacy 2022
I’m bumping up my modest goal to 20 books in 2022. Spoiler: the first book is a murder mystery that I’m currently about halfway through. Recommendations are still welcome, even though I haven’t gone through all the ones from my last call for recommendations!

My Favorite Games: Dark Castle

Along with Uninvited, the game I played incessantly on my Mac Plus in college was Dark Castle. (And then, Beyond Dark Castle). Unlike Uninvited, I can call Dark Castle a classic without any qualifications or reservations.

It’s easy to fall into comparing the two games, not just because I played them both around the same time, but because they were very much of an era in Macintosh games. I was late to the Mac because they were so expensive, but even in 1988, there was still a novelty to a home PC with a mouse and a GUI. The standout Mac games are the ones that capitalized on the novelty.

Dark Castle ran in full screen, so it didn’t adapt the Mac Classic UI (but its sharp 1-bit display made it look 100% Mac-like), but it did embrace the mouse. Even though it was ported to other PCs, using the mouse to aim your character’s arm and throw rocks made it feel made for the Macintosh at its core.

The other novelty was digitized audio, which Uninvited also used to a more limited degree. The first thing players of Dark Castle are likely to remember are the Curly noises from the one-eyed goblins, or the sound your character made when running into a wall or falling off a platform. (And in Beyond Dark Castle, it’s like the sound of the torturer cracking his whip at the hanging prisoners).

Another aspect of the game that I didn’t fully appreciate until reading The Secret History of Mac Gaming was how fluid and detailed the animation was. I hadn’t played Karateka or Prince of Persia at that point, so having a characters move in ways more like traditional animation instead of simple Atari 2600-era sprites was completely new to me. If I remember correctly, the animation for Dark Castle was first done analog before being converted to Mac pixel art. It really paid off, as the game felt more like an interactive cartoon than the flashier but more limited Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace.

It only occurs to me now how often games go through the same cycle — new hardware brings an initial burst of creativity as developers make games tailor-made to take advantage of it, and then everything gradually becomes more homogenized as it’s streamlined, simplified, and cross-ported. Some of the first and best games for iOS took advantage of everyone on the planet having a touchscreen with an accelerometer, resulting in games like Flight Control and even Fruit Ninja. But people still were eager to just slap a virtual joystick on the screen and keep making the same types of games they were already familiar with. I think that’s another part of the appeal for the Playdate to me — yes, the crank is a novelty gimmick, but it also tempts developers into thinking of novel ways to use it and entire game mechanics based around it.

My Favorite Games: Uninvited

One of the first games I played on the Mac was one of the most influential games I ever played

If for some reason you get cornered by a gang of hostile media critics1Redundant? demanding a good example of the difference between format and content, show them Uninvited by ICOM Simulations. I can’t in good conscience call it a “good game,” but its interface and presentation were amazing and hugely formative for me.

The premise is that you’ve crashed your car outside of a haunted house, and you have to go into the house to find your brother. There’s really not much more to it than “random haunted house things,” although I do vaguely remember a wizard being involved. There’s one unforgettable jump scare near the beginning, and it is well-rendered and pretty well-executed; I showed it to some friends in my dorm, and they screamed out loud, and it was the first time it occurred to me that a video game could get such a visceral reaction out of anyone.

But it’s also full of puzzles that aren’t sufficiently set up, obstacles that you can only get past from dying the first time you encounter them, nonsensical additions, and a long, tedious maze in the final act. The ending is also the ultimate anti-climax: you find a static drawing of your brother sitting on a balcony against the sunrise, and as a MIDI version of Ode to Joy plays, there’s a 10×10-pixel, one-frame “animation” of him giving you a thumbs-up. Then you got a full-screen certificate of achievement that you could print on your ImageWriter. I played the game with my college roommate, and that became a running joke: we said “congratulations” by sitting stock still for a minute, and then raising a single thumb.

But the interface was entirely ingrained in the Mac GUI, in ways that made me think “this is how all video games should be.” Everything was point, click, and drag between separate windows. One showed the current scene, one showed push buttons for your verbs, one with the available exits, one for your inventory, and a mysterious one called “self”2The full ingenuity of that one only became clear once I started trying to design adventure game puzzles.. The Inventory was the best, since it adopted the “Clean Up” menu item from the Mac Finder, but also added a “Mess Up” option to make everything disorganized again.

As a HyperCard devotee, I immediately tried to recreate that interface with my own adventure game. As I recall, I only made it about three screens into the project, but it says a lot that I was so quickly inspired to make my own.

If I like the format but not the content, then it seems like I’d like one of ICOM’s other games, Deja Vu and Shadowgate. I’ve only tried them in the past few years, and they were already so dated that I couldn’t get very far before being too frustrated. Once I played The Secret of Monkey Island, I embraced the SCUMM philosophy and never looked back. Puzzle games with fail states just seem like bad design now.

  • 1
    Redundant?
  • 2
    The full ingenuity of that one only became clear once I started trying to design adventure game puzzles.