Systems of the Stars is Laptop Mag’s new monthly series that pries into the systems that superstars own, whether it’s a snazzy laptop, a funky drawing tablet or a next-gen gaming console.
Miles Morales, a badass Puerto Rican and Black superhero swings through New York City — and into our hearts — in the highly praised, PlayStation-exclusive Spider-Man game released in mid-November of 2020.
The main-menu theme song features snappy, hip beats that match Miles’ culturally rich background and Brooklyn-esque vibes while still incorporating an inspirational, loud-and-proud sound that encapsulates Miles’ heroic persona. As menacing brutes like Rhino charge toward Miles, percussion-heavy music is introduced, fueling your adrenaline and excitement as you kick villains’ butts.
The mastermind behind the Miles Morales soundtrack is Emmy-nominated composer John Paesano, the musical genius behind The Maze Runner trilogy. Paesano also lent his talents to critically acclaimed projects such as Netflix’s Daredevil, Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4 and PS5), Mass Effect Andromeda (PC, PS4 and Xbox One), Showtime’s Penny Dreadful: City of Angels and more.
In the same way that Paesano studies film, TV and video-game characters to create impressive scores that perfectly capture the protagonists’ idiosyncrasies, we’re peering into Paesano’s tech tastes — from his gaming rig to his main-driver laptop — to flesh out the true core of who he truly is. Believe it or not, your laptop says a lot about you! Let’s see what Paesano’s tech tastes say about him.
What gaming laptop does Paesano use?
The Miles Morales composer recently ditched his Razer Blade 15 in favor of the Asus ROG Strix Scar III. It’s packed to the brim with badass internals, including an Intel Core i9-9880H CPU, 32GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD storage, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM. Paesano’s Asus ROG Strix Scar III configuration costs at least — brace yourself — $4,000! Cha-ching!
When Paesano isn’t blessing our ears with heavenly music, you can find him playing strategy games on the ROG Strix Scar III, including Crusader Kings 3, Hearts of Iron 4 and other Paradox Interactive IPs.
Paesano indulges in system-taxing games such as the Cyberpunk and The Division series, but he plays them on a water-cooled gaming PC that he built. It’s outfitted with an Asus GeForce RTX 3090 GPU and an Intel Core i9-9900 CPU.
He also enjoys virtual reality games via his Oculus Rift S. The Miles Morales composer admitted that he’s a total flight-sim nerd. He’s a huge — and I mean huge — fan of Digital Combat Simulator World.
“I have a crazy flight-simulation setup,” Paesano told me. “It’s embarrassing! When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a pilot. But my vision was bad, so I just gave up on it and I got bit by the music bug.”
What does Paesano like and dislike about his gaming laptop?
Paesano loves that this ROG Strix Scar III allows him to be mobile as opposed to being glued to his PC. “I can socialize with the family and sit on the couch while my wife’s watching Yellowstone or something. I can play a game, but I'm not trapped in some other room completely gone from my family,” he said.
He’s also impressed with how beastly the ROG Strix Scar III is. “My laptop is so powerful, I can pretty much do anything on it that I can do on my desktop.”
One flaw of the ROG Strix Scar III, Paesano notes, is also one of the biggest challenges of the gaming-hardware industry: heat. The Asus gaming rig can get toasty, which is par-for-the-course for ultra-powerful gaming laptops. “I think that's just the technology now,” he said. “Heat's always the big factor with all these electronics. The more you push them, the more energy they're going to put out, and the more heat they create.”
When we tested the ROG Strix Scar III for our review, the hottest temperature it registered was 130 degrees Fahrenheit! Despite its toastiness, we praised the Asus device with a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars — we called it a “damn-near perfect gaming laptop.”
What’s Paesano’s main-driver laptop?
While others may prefer to have a gaming rig that doubles as their productivity device, Paesano likes to have a dedicated laptop for his strategy games and another laptop for work. Paesano’s main-driver laptop is the HP Spectre x360 — it’s one of the sexiest convertible laptops on the market with an attractive bevel-edge chassis.
“It's awesome,” Paesano said. “I bring it to scoring sessions to look at scores on it so that I can use it as a 2-in-1. I can fold it, so if I'm at a recording session, I can have all my scores on it, mark up scores, make notes on them. That's my daily driver. I use it for everything. The stylus part of it is incredible.”
What quirks about Miles Morales inspired Paesano’s music composition?
“Don’t Give Up” is a score on the Spider-Man Miles Morales soundtrack that starts off mellow and delicate, pointing to Miles’ “hesitant hero” storyline. He lacks confidence in his superhero abilities at first, but there’s a voice inside Miles’ head shouting, “Yes, you can do this! You can be NYC’s new friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!” Mimicking Miles’ tumultuous journey, the song seamlessly transitions from a timid, bashful and unassertive sound to an optimistic, pompous “I own this city” feel.
Not only does Paesano nail Miles’ personality on the soundtrack, but his music evokes countless emotions out of gamers, including adrenaline, caution, suspense, anxiety, fury and sympathy. As such, I asked Paesano to tell me the quirks, idiosyncrasies and traits about Miles that helped him to compose such a fitting soundtrack for the game.
“I started off with Daredevil and then I jumped into The Defenders. Both those series were for Netflix,” Paesano said. “Then I jumped into Marvel’s Spider-Man for PlayStation and then into Miles Morales. I had this run of dealing with a lot of Marvel superhero stuff. I feel like Miles is the younger generation's way into the Marvel world because all of these Marvel characters were taken from ‘the old guard.’ Miles is this new character that represents the newer generation of superheroes that are coming up.” As a result, many songs on the Miles Morales soundtrack have a sprightly, frolicsome sound to them that parallels Miles’ youthful aura.
The Emmy-nominated composer also discovered depth in Miles that more established Marvel characters can’t compete with. “Miles has a rich background. His mom’s Puerto Rican. His father’s African-American. There’s just so much more diversity to him. How deep can you go into Thor? How deep can you go into Iron Man?” Miles’ multicultural background inspired Paesano’s music-writing process, prompting him to add snappy beats that match the diverse pulse of Brooklyn.
Paesano was also influenced by the storyline. “Peter Parker encourages Miles to carry on the mantra of Spider-Man, but he tells Miles to make it his own. He’s not just supposed to be a Spider-Man replica. I think throughout the game, Miles grows and he finds his place among the Spider-Man lineage.”
How did Paesano feel about listening to his own soundtrack while playing Spider-Man Miles Morales?
Before Paesano could tell me how it felt to play Miles Morales with his own music jamming in the background, he gave me some insight into the composing process for Spider-Man.
“I'm not writing to picture when I’m doing video games; I’m writing to suites. For example, they may tell me, ‘The story behind this suite is that Spider-Man is leaving town for a while and he's going to hand over the reins to Miles. Miles doesn't have his footing and he's got to learn.’ Or ‘Spider-Man's just cruising and there's not a lot of people around. We just want the low strings playing with the trumpets and the French horn. If he runs into a villain, we want all the percussion to come in.’ They give me all this story-based information, and sometimes, they give me some concept art of what those scenes may look like.”
The folks at PlayStation take Paesano’s music tracks and plug them into the game where they see fit. “So the coolest part is that once I get the game and I start playing it, it's almost like I’m listening to the soundtrack for the first time because the player is controlling when the music is firing.” In other words, Paesano is always taken aback — in a good way — to suddenly hear a score that he wrote for a suite after “triggering” it in the game.
Does Paesano prefer writing music for films, TV shows, streaming platforms or video games?
Paesano has dipped his toes in every industry you could think of, including streaming platforms (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+), TV, film and video games, but which one captures his heart the most? Video games!
“I've always been a big gamer,” Paesano said. “I've always been big into that world and I always wanted to get into that world scoring them, but I had to score a couple films and a bunch of series before I was able to break into that world. It's funny that I had to reverse engineer myself into the gaming world and that's how I ended up getting into that world.”
Despite his accomplishments in the video-game industry and beyond, Paesano admits that he still feels self-conscious about his work. “I'm not the first person to do a superhero score,” he said. “John Williams, Michael Giacchino, Hans Zimmer — you're talking about titans of the business that you're going to be judged against. And then you get social media and everyone’s going, ‘Oh, did you listen to the new Spider-Man score? What did you think of it?’ It's a natural instinct to feel that way when you're putting yourself out there to be judged.”
Speaking of gaming, as per Systems of the Stars tradition, we asked Paesano what his dream gaming laptop would look like
“I'm a big, big fan of the way Razer builds its laptops because I had a Razer Blade for a long time,” Paesano said. “If I had to do a dream laptop, it would look like a Razer.” In other words, Paesano would prefer a subtle, low-key, dark-colored chassis with a hint of RGB lighting. “I don’t want it to look like a disco or anything,” Paesano joked. Here are the other must-have specs for Paesano’s dream gaming laptop:
“We run these server-class computers in the studio that can run 2TB of RAM.” Paesano said. If only he could have a laptop that’s just as robust, he told me. Paesano also reasoned that his dream gaming laptop doesn’t necessarily have to be the most stacked, high-end machine ever known to man, thanks to the existence of cloud-gaming services. He’s a huge fan of Nvidia GeForce Now and Google Stadia.
Analyzing Paesano’s dream gaming laptop, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how it matched him perfectly. Paesano’s preference for a low-key, yet beastly laptop speaks to his own character: he’s practical, logical and down-to-earth, but he’s a powerhouse in the film-scoring industry who lets his work speak for himself. Like his subdued dream laptop, Paesano is a powerful undercurrent of Marvel’s Spider-Man video-game franchise, plucking the heartstrings of millions of PlayStation gamers with his evocative soundtracks.
Stay tuned for our next Systems of the Stars feature to take a peek into the lives of high-profile men and women through the lens of technology.