Returning to Outer Wilds

I picked up Outer Wilds again now that the Echoes of the Eye expansion dropped, and finally finished the endgame. (No spoilers since the game is all about discovery. I’ll just say that it involved revisiting one of my least favorite mechanics in order to get to it, which is why I set it aside for so long).

The ending is a perfect, bittersweet coda to the story you uncover over the course of the game.

Space Wilderness

It’s a space exploration game that starts in a forest next to a campfire. The first thing you can do is toast a marshmallow. (You can do the same at campsites on all the planets.)

You explore the other planets in your tiny solar system using a ship made of plywood and sheet metal, with duct-tape repairs. The system is trapped in a time loop, and you need to figure out why, and what happened to the ancient aliens who visited the system eons ago and died out, leaving only ruins.

Each planet is wildly different – one’s a hollow shell around a small black hole, one’s an ocean world with constant storms, one’s a rocky world with a deep equatorial canyon that shares an orbit with a world covered in sand, one’s been shattered into pieces by a giant space-capable bramble. Events during the loop change the environments too, blocking some areas and revealing others.

Vs No Man’s Sky

In a sense, Outer Wilds is the opposite of No Man’s Sky.

  • One’s a tiny cluster of carefully-crafted worlds, each unique, each requiring different ways of exploring.
  • The other is an infinite galaxy of auto-generated worlds, but when it comes down to it, the differences are mostly in the aesthetics and labels. A high-radiation world and a high-temperature world don’t really differ except in which resource you use to recharge your shielding.

I mean, I like No Man’s Sky, I’ve got something like 180 hours on it since I finally picked it up this spring, but a lot of the game play is the same thing you’ve done before a zillion times, just dressed up differently and with better equipment or more inventory slots as you go along.

Campfire Songs

I’m listening to the soundtrack now. Most space games don’t use banjos and harmonicas as key instruments, but each astronaut in the game also plays music on a different instrument while sitting by their own campfire, each on a different planet. Though I’m not sure how the ocean one stays lit.

So here’s a toast(ed marshmallow) to the travellers from Timber Hearth.

Next goal: figuring out how to get to the new planet in the expansion!

Cello Goodbye

The kid’s gotten interested in playing music and has been trying out various instruments over the last few months. (Yay for rentals!)

The latest is cello. As soon as he heard Bach’s cello suites, he was convinced.

We lined up lessons with the same teacher he’d had for violin earlier this year. Then we went to a music shop to measure what size he needed and rent a cello.

Only one problem: when we got it home he noticed the bridge was tilted instead of perpendicular to the body of the cello. He can replace a string just fine — he actually had to replace the E string on the rental violin when it snapped during tuning — but we all agreed to wait until his first lesson and let the teacher adjust it. It’s held in place entirely by the tension of the strings, and not something that they recommend beginners mess with.

He had his first lesson a few days later. The first order of business was to adjust the bridge. So she started carefully loosening the strings while holding the bridge until she could shift it into place. And as soon as it moved, we all heard a loud *THUNK* from inside the cello.

“Oh no!” the kid said. “SOUND POST!” And we all looked at each other in sudden horror.

Wait, what’s a sound post?

The sound post is inside the body of the violin or cello, connecting the top and bottom. (Or front and back, I suppose.) I wasn’t sure exactly what it did aside from maybe structural support, but I knew it shouldn’t be rattling around in there, and it was clearly not something that could be fixed on the spot.

And they were both certain that you couldn’t play the instrument without it.

I looked up its acoustic function: the sound post is aligned with one end of the bridge to provide a fulcrum for the bridge to vibrate around. This causes the bridge to transmit the sideways vibrations of the strings (constrained by the bow pressing on them) to vertical vibrations in the body, making it actually sound good. Plucked instruments like guitars don’t need that because the strings can vibrate in all directions.

So you definitely wouldn’t want that to be missing.

Or rattling around inside the cello.

Plan B

The teacher immediately had to retool the lesson. He couldn’t play the instrument we’d brought. And he couldn’t play her full-size cello. So she introduced him to reading bass clef and some of the basics of how violin and cello differ, and assigned some practice lessons, just in case.

Amazingly, we were able to make it to the music shop in time to swap it for another one that same day. It was half an hour to closing, and could easily take anywhere from 15-45 minutes to get there depending on traffic. And it was a weekday at 5:30. We made it there with 10 minutes to spare!