Sunday, 27 March 2011

Who has seen the wind?

Title is a poem by Christina Georgina Rosetti:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

But while I do enjoy some poetry, that is not the subject of this blog post. Because the place wherein I came across the title-quote was not the poem. In fact I had to google the quote to find out about the poem. Because I came across it in the video game Braid.

The quote may be found in the credits. In fact, it is the credits. No, seriously, you go to the help & options menu, go to credits, and all you get is that quote. From what I've read about the creator, it seems fairly in character for him. Guy sounds like he's kind of odd, but also rather cool. Certainly has good ideas with regards to making really good video games. A link from his wikipedia page took me to something he wrote about how games shouldn't have to rely on false rewards to keep people interested, or words to that effect. That some games people keep playing simply to gain all the arbitrary rewards like leveling up, getting items or achievements or whatever, rather than because the games are actually that good. Because we get that feeling of achievement, but it's kind of a false achievement, because in a lot of cases all we get for the effort we put into the game is either a little image which says we did it, or, often, something which helps us put even more time and effort into the game to get more false achievements. I'm not going to get too into this point because it's not so much the point of this post, but it's an interesting thing to think about.

OK, so I got this game because it was on sale for cheap, and I like things which are cheap. It looked and sounded interesting, I did a quick google search and it seemed to have generally positive reviews, so I got it. Then I was looking through the Zero Punctuation archive and found Yahtzee had done a review of the game and he actually thought it was good. Now that's rare. He had a few complaints which are reasonable, but in general it is a really brilliant game.
Incidentally, a quick search on Steam indicates that you can get a demo for free, or the full game for £6.99, which is more than I paid for it but still pretty damn worth it. So, if you have Steam...

So the basic premise of the game: Standard platformer, but you can mess about with the flow of time. As you can see from the image above, the backgrounds are kind of arty. They look like paintings and it's possible that that's what they actually are? Only, y'know, digitised. So it's visually appealing. And then the background music I also liked - nice strings, I think the term I'm looking for is chamber music? I don't know for certain if it actually qualifies as chamber music, but that was the impression I got. It fits with the arty backgrounds, it's quite nice and relaxing, and it doesn't distract from the game itself. So far so good. Oh, also for each world (It's split into multiple worlds), there is a jigsaw puzzle, and you have to collect the pieces in the levels. Well, you don't have to, you can just go through the levels without getting the jigsaw pieces, but obviously it's more challenging if you go for the jigsaw.

So onto the game mechanics. It starts out as just a basic platformer, only you have the ability to reverse time. That in itself could make for a decent enough game - it can be an issue in some platformers that when you die you have to go back to an autosave point and they're not very frequent, so you have to keep doing a load of stuff you can do easily over and over again in order to keep retrying a harder bit that keeps killing you. Now Braid doesn't get that much into the really hard platformer stuff, but if it did, it would be so much easier because you could just rewind time and redo only the last bit that is actually causing you problems. So, yeah, that's obviously fine. I believe I've mentioned that I rather enjoy old-school platformers, and this is pretty basic. You can run, jump, kill enemies by bouncing on them, pick up keys by walking into them and then use them to open doors, and that's it.
But then, rather than get into the process of making the platforming more difficult (Which has, of course, been done before many times), Braid gets into the time manipulating mechanics which are it's big innovation. You get some things which are immune to your time reversal. In one world you have a ring which massively slows down time in the surrounding area when you drop it, with the effects lessening as you get further away (It also makes me think of Lord of the Rings a lot). In one world, when you rewind time, a shadow-you will then redo what you just rewound, while real-you can go and do something else, and there are some things which can be affected by shadow-you and some which can't and you have to co-ordinate things with your shadow self. There's a world where time for the rest of the level flows forwards as you move to the right and backwards as you move to the left. I think I've described all the time mechanics except the last one, which I will leave a mystery for you.
Sidenote: the background music follows the flow of game time, so if you rewind, the music goes backwards, and in the world where time depends on your movement through the level, the music does too, which can be very weird, especially if you stand still a lot.

So naturally, this makes for some very interesting puzzles. Yahtzee's major gripe that I remember was lack of imagination in level design, with some later levels being identical to earlier ones but with a different time manipulation mechanic - but personally I found it kind of interesting going back to a level you'd already done and realising that your original solution wouldn't work any more so you'd need a different one. My major gripe is that the mechanics aren't explained very well. Now, I am very much against lengthy boring tutorials in games, but I'm not against game tutorials in general. You just need to avoid the 'lengthy' and 'boring' parts. Braid doesn't really tell you anything, it just expects you to figure out how everything works for yourself. OK, there are occasional hints, but not enough. For example, I mentioned some things are immune to your time rewinding? There are also certain platforms which confer that immunity on you when you stand on them (So you stand on them and rewind and you stay in the same place instead of going back through your own timeline). But I only found out about this when, exasperated with a seemingly impossible puzzle, I checked an online walkthrough which gave me that crucial piece of information which makes said puzzle not impossible.
There's one other bit I'm going to mention which I can't decide if it's good or bad. I mentioned the jigsaws - in each world there is one level with a panel showing your progress with the jigsaw and you can move the pieces you've already got around. In this particular instance, you can move a jigsaw piece such that a monster will actually walk onto a platform in the jigsaw picture, and you can then move the piece so it falls off and stuff. Or similarly you yourself can jump onto this jigsaw platform. And you need to do both those things to get two other pieces of the jigsaw. Now on the one hand, that's rather innovative, actually using the jigsaw in the game mechanics as well as just as a pretty thing to do as you progress through the game. But on the other hand, it's another big instance of the lack of explanation I was complaining about above, so my feelings are mixed.

Finally story: Deliberately confusing and ambiguous. I wouldn't be surprised if the creator didn't actually know precisely what the little story bits were supposed to mean. Either way it doesn't really matter because it can be interpreted in multiple ways, probably. The rather ambiguous story is revealed through little snippets in books, a few for each world, all about a guy named Tim and his search for his Princess. Pretty sure Tim is the guy you're playing as, though it's hard to be 100% certain about anything story-wise in this game. It all has to do with the time manipulation as well, stuff about fixing mistakes in the past, the ring is mentioned (In such a way as to slightly feed the LotR thoughts imo...), and towards the end it gets into the point that Tim sees the world differently to how most people do - 'cause of the time stuff. And then there's an epilogue level, which is very much story though there are no words to explain it, and that very much gets into the thing of how things seem different from different points of view, especially where time manipulation is involved.
Pretty sure a lot of analysis could be put into the story of this game, and certainly I had some thoughts to that effect while playing it, but I'm not going to go into it partly because I can't remember it all and partly because I'd prefer if people just got and played the game and thought about it themselves.

So, thoughts on how it could be even better: As I said, it chooses to focus more on its own time manipulation mechanics rather than the basic platforming elements, so I think an interesting idea would be to go the other way, more challenging platforming but with time manipulation, and then bring in all the later time mechanics as well. That'd be really interesting. For that matter, just being able to mix some of the special mechanics together, rather than just having one per world, would be interesting. Shadow-you and the ring and movement-dependent time. And, as I said, a tad more explanation of how things work would have been good. Explanation is especially helpful when you're doing something which has never really been done before.
But overall, even leaving aside the fact I really like fiddling around with time in fictional media, it's a really really good game, if somewhat confusing at times.

Friday, 25 March 2011

I will take my chances TO THE MOON!

Honestly, I don't know what this title has to do with this blog post, it's just a thing I said on the Playground on a random impulse (I mean, there was context, but still a random impulse). Which, actually, I guess sort of is a link, because this blog post is going to be fairly random. In the past couple of days, I've thought of a few different things I could potentially write blog posts about, and then I haven't written any of them and the inclination is fading a bit. But I feel I should write something, so I'm going to do this blog post basically just about whatever comes to mind, which may include some of the things I was considering doing posts on, but in less detail than if they had posts to themselves.

OK, so I've been watching through more vlogbrothers videos. In fact, our internet is back up to acceptable speed (It's been having some difficulties of late), so I can actually watch them as they load, rather than clicking on one, pausing it, and coming back a while later when it's loaded. I'm fast approaching the present day, and have passed VidCon. In which was announced Dan 3.0. This struck me as a very interesting idea, particularly for a reason which turned out also to be one of Dan Brown's reasons (That's not Dan Brown the author, it's Dan Brown the video blogger, who is considerably more awesome).
I'll explain the idea. In Dan 3.0, Dan Brown is literally putting his life in the hands of the community of people who watch his videos. For one year, which started shortly after VidCon, that community is voting on suggestions of what he should do, on day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month bases.
Now on the one hand, this is a bit of a crazy stunt sort of thing. But on the other hand, it's also a serious demonstration/experiment on the kind of things that can be achieved by a truly global community, united by the internet - which is a very interesting subject. And on the other other hand (Yes, three hands at least), Dan Brown, like a considerable number of young people which definitely includes me, doesn't really know what to do with his life, so allowing that to be determined by people on the internet isn't such a big deal. And that's the part which resonated with me.
I'm pretty sure I've mentioned on here before that I don't know what to do with my life. This can sometimes lead to me not doing that much. Whereas, if some set of people on the internet decided things I should do instead, that would probably lead to me doing more things, getting a wider range of experiences, and increasing the likelihood that something would just grab me enough for me to pursue it further. Of course, I can't realistically do a Dan 3.0 thing, partly because my name isn't Dan, but more importantly because I don't have a large internet community following my blog. All the same, it serves as something of a reminder to myself, that I should do more things.
Actually I guess that could kind of link up with the title (Yay serendipity) - while I'm not literally going to take my chances, or anything else, to the moon; I should nonetheless remember my general axiom that if I really want to do something, I should just go for it, and I'll figure out a way to make it work.

And then another thing, in a later video, was spelling and grammar. Now Buttercupliffy did a post on that subject a while back which we were kind of slightly discussing yesterday, so the thoughts were fresh in my mind from that as well. On the subject of that post, incidentally, it is rather odd that it wasn't me who said the thing about teh communicating not being worth it if I didn't do it properly, because more than it just sounding like something I would say, I have a fairly distinct recollection of having said such a thing to someone over MSN. Though I suppose it's possible this is the result of a faulty flashbulb memory (Another thing I learned about today from the Vlogbrothers, but an explanation of it would take too long).
Anyway, it occurred to me that with maybe a few exceptions, like not splitting infitives or ending sentences with prepositions, the accuracy of my grammar is just an automatic thing on my part. It's like how Buttercupliffy said that she plays the flute because she was able to get a note out of it naturally on her first attempt, so while she can do it, there's no way she could teach anyone else. It's the same for me and grammar other than those odd points. I assume I must've been taught these things in school at some point, but I don't have a set of grammatical rules in my head - they've just turned into an inherent feel for the euphony of it. I don't mentally check my sentences to see if they're grammatically correct - I mentally check them to see if they sound nice. It just so happens that the Venn diagram of what I think sounds nice and what is grammatically correct is pretty much a circle.

Aaand... I just got a skype account, which is a thing I'd been kind of meaning to do for a while. It was a whole thing, I was intending to try and be more sociable and stuff with my friends, make more connections. Starting this blog was also partly supposed to be part of that process, because it's allowing people to take a look into the inner workings of my mind. Sort of. Why do I never seem to manage to get things like that done all in one go? I mean, I pruned my facebook friends and started a blog, but then it took me over a month to get to the 'get skype' stage of the plan, and I still haven't  reached the 'maybe add more MSN contacts?' bit I was thinking about. And I started thinking about this around new year.
I'm undisciplined. It's a problem. Also, while I do feel to a certain extent that I should just do things if I want to, the reason I have to keep reminding myself of that as a principle is because my natural inclination is more towards the "Think extensively about things for ages and ages" approach to activity.
I spend altogether too much time in the contemplative phase. I think too much and act too little. Sometimes I need to just take my chances to the moon.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Words, words, words...

Another random probably short blog post on a topic which just randomly entered my head: Getting words wrong.

In songs, specifically. More common there, because one's concentration must be split between the words and the notes, whereas when just speaking you only have the words.

Actually, to be honest, I don't have much to say about the subject, I just feel like giving examples of occasions on which it has happened to me, in the hope that people will be at least mildly amused.

Of course, there's the obvious possibility of simply singing the wrong verse to a song. Most notable example being in the Act 1 finale of HMS Pinafore, when it's gone into 'A British tar'. Having been spending the time while the girls were singing concentrating on doing the hornpipe right, suddenly switching from that to "Ahh! We have to sing!" has problems and, yes, sometimes I sing the wrong verse. A couple of words in I'll probably be going "Wait, isn't this wrong?" but switching verse mid-line is really hard.

Then, naturally, due to our summer shows, which take music from G&S (And other sources) and change the words, sometimes I will mix up the summer show words and the actual words. e.g. In The Grand Duke, 'Your Highness there's a party at the door'. During the actual song I was fine, but when I heard the relevant excerpts in the overture, I was always internally going "The Marquis of Torpenhow? The Marquis of Torpenhow! Good gracious a plan that is sure to be seized at..." etc. Conversely of course, while reminiscing about How to Marry an Aristocrat during a rehearsal, I tried to sing the version from that, but switched to Grand Duke words partway through because they'd sort of over-written the HtMaA ones. And then back again a bit later.
On a similar note, I once, a day after seeing a production of The Mikado, while I was rehearsing HMS Pinafore, tried to sing part of the Mikado Act 1 finale, but found I was singing it to the tune of the Pinafore one. Specifically, I was singing "With joyous shout, with joyous shout and ringing cheer/ Inaugurate, inaugurate their brief career," to the tune of "This very night with bated breath and muffled oar/ Without a light as still as death we'll steal ashore," and it fits perfectly. Which was a tad confusing.

But of course the strangest examples are just odd word substitutions, frequently involuntary (If not involuntary, then usually rude). Examples which I have persistently come out with (Though fortunately never in performance):
In Iolanthe, 'A shepherd I'. The actual words are "Betrothed are we," but for some reason in my head it kept turning into "Deposed are we," or on one particular occasion, "Dispose of me," which, granted, a lot of the lords might be happy to do at that point, but still.
In Yeomen of the Guard, Act 1 finale, 'Oh mercy'. Actual words, "Of all immured within these walls, the very worthiest falls," but for some reason I keep thinking 'nerdiest'. If anyone is to blame for this other than me, it is the Vlogbrothers, but in any case it's rather odd imagining Colonel Fairfax as a total nerd.
I'm sure there must be others - in fact I have a vague recollection of making such a substitution and then checking myself because it reversed the whole meaning of the song... but I can't remember what song it was. Oh well.

Do any of my intrepid readers have any comparable examples they would like to share in the comments?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

"That goatee is a death sentence."

Sidenote, I had to flip briefly through the Darths and Droids archive to find the title-quote, and I spotted to my amusement that the translations include Pirate and Poetry. Sadly Pirate has only been done for the first 2 strips, and Poetry doesn't go very far, but still.

It's interesting that goatees are associated with villainy. I think it could be for similar reasons as the fact a number of villains tend to be upper-class British: It implies refinement, which for whatever reason is a good thing in a villain.
(Note: I'm not saying people who aren't British can't be refined, but we're stereotyped as it, probably thanks to our large amounts of period drama, and also the Victorians)
Similarly, a goatee sort of implies that, because it indicates the beard has been carefully maintained, whereas your trustworthy manly heroes will most likely be clean-shaven or have rugged-looking beards or stubble.

In this regard, I prefer the villainous attitude. For many years I was entirely opposed to the idea of me ever growing a beard. I changed my mind, but I still must insist that my facial hair be carefully regulated. Which gets a bit frustrating, because this means even though I'm growing facial hair I still have to keep shaving, possibly more often, because stubble alongside a partially grown beard looks weird.
Incidentally, I'm not sure why I'm writing a blog post about my beard. It just occurred to me as an idea.

So, of course, all my growth of facial hair was prompted in some way by Gilbert & Sullivan. Beard One: Sir Roderic Murgatroyd.
Intended to make me look older (Since I was supposed to be a middle-aged ghost) and maybe a bit villainous. I'd say it worked.

Beard Two: I was going to shave the beard off, but thought I'd stop partway through to try a different style of facial hair. Originally I had this in mind as how I'd have my beard if I got cast as Ernest in The Grand Duke. I didn't get the part, but decided to have the beard anyway.

At the most recent winter UK Playground Meetup, a friend of Spanner's mentioned she's bad at names but just gives people descriptions. Apparently I, in her head, was 'Villain Beard Guy'. On the other hand, one of the other men in Iolanthe took to calling me d'Artagnan.

And now Beard Three is underway. I don't have any photos of it, but basically it just extends along the rest  of my jawline, chin to sideburns. I remain resistant to cheek-beard and neck-beard. I mentioned a couple of observations about how it was growing in my last post.
This is again to make me look a bit older, for Yeomen of the Guard. Not sure if I'll keep it after that. When I mention the possibility of shaving off my beard, people tend to be against it, because I look good with facial hair apparently. But at some point it's definitely going to have to go, because I never intended it to be permanent. Also because it does what it's meant to do - makes me look older. At some point I will want to look younger again. And I've noted that despite the fact I've been growing it since last June, my mental image of myself is still clean-shaven.

One more thing: When I do remember that I have facial hair, I think it may affect the way I act to some extent. Like how you act differently depending on how you're dressed, but while that has a more tangible impact on you, my facial hair is actually part of me so I can more easily just forget about it. But I find this interesting.
Actually it may just be partly because I associate the different forms of my facial hair with the different characters I grew them for, so with Beard One part of me wants to act a bit imposing and devilish, whereas with Beard Three I kind of feel like I should just be solid and dependable.

Funny how things work like that.

Monday, 14 March 2011

"Life. Don't talk to me about life."

Actually, I don't mind being talked to about life. But I like the quote, and right now I'm going to talk to you about life. Sort of. I have observed in the past that I don't exactly have a real life. In the sense that I do have a life off the internet, yes I do, but I don't have a job or anything that normal people are kind of expected to have. In some ways I feel that G&S doesn't exactly count as real life somehow. Anyway.

Facial hair: Growing more of a beard. It's interesting to observe, because of course last summer I was growing it all at once, whereas now I already have an existing beard to which I can compare the extra that I'm growing. And so I can observe that while, yes, I can grow a passable beard in two weeks, it's not that impressive a beard compared to teh bits which I already have. Also I've noticed that my facial hair grows more densely on my chin than it does on the rest of my jaw.

Vlogbrothers: Still watching them... I'm up to the videos from 2010! I was somewhat heartened by John's mentions of NaNoWriMo from when he tried to do it in 2009, since he mentioned being way behind on it. Doesn't entirely make me feel better about all the writing I haven't been donig, but at least I'm not the only one, even if I am separated from the person I'm identifying with by about a year and a half.

Speaking of which...
NaNoWriMoWroMo: Even worse than before! I've barely written at all this week. 9089 words total. So, I'm still behind where I should have been last week, let alone now. Though I have noticed the important point that I really can write quickly when I know what I'm doing. Of the 2000-odd words I have written this week, about half of them were written in one short burst when I just knew exactly what I wanted in a scene. (I suppose I should have already realised that was possible from my ability to write a 1000+ word blog post in an hour...) And today I started work on the one of my four projects I hadn't done anything on hitherto, and found it somewhat easier to get words down, so hopefully that'll speed  me up?
Oh, and I can bring up since I've done the WW post now that WW narrations are another thing which it's occurred to me I could theoretically include in my wordcount to reach it more easily. They'd be more legitimate than my blog posts, since they do actually involve, y'know, a narrative. But for the moment I'm not counting them.

Internet: Occasionally cuts out for no apparent reason. Most annoying. Especially because this signs me out of MSN, and it just really annoys me that for some reason when I sign in or out of MSN, the window automatically moves to the end of all the windows at the bottom of the screen. Why can't it just stay where I put it?

Chess: Played in a match on Friday against a friend of mine I hadn't seen for quite a while. I kind of want to go through a couple of bits in the game on here (And I think I could do so in such a way that it would be understandable even to non-chessplayers). Maybe I will, but not in this post.

Rehearsals: Seem to be going fine, except for Starfish, which kind of didn't go at all this week. But there will be more time.
OK, I also skipped out on Gosforth rehearsal on monday to go sing karaoke, but meh. Karaoke is fun! I was finally able to sing Here Comes the Sun, since we finally had a karaoke night in spring.

My books: OK, this one should really have been last week, but I forgot about it. Recently, I sorted some of my books, in order to get them out of the bags they've been in since I moved back from Fenham to my parents' house. This involved reorganising my books in general, which may not sound that exciting, but for years my books were sorted on the principle of "This has always been here, there is space for this here," etc, and I just had to remember where everything was.
But now I've actually categorised a bit. There's still some feeling of "This has to stay here because it's always been here," and bending the categories to fit around that, but it still works, though I did have to come up with an odd pair of categories: 'Books set in the real world (more or less)' and 'Books set in a different world'. Though there can be some ambiguity. So, like, Harry Potter counts as this world, because that's a key idea of the setting, that wizards co-exist with the world we know; whereas the Bartimaeus trilogy doesn't, because while it's all in more or less Victorian London, the existence of magic in the setting has changed things out of recognition to a certain extent.

Blogs: I noticed yesterday that I've acquired my first follower who I don't actually know IRL. Which was a bit unexpected. I think she must have followed me back from BetteonToast (You with your popularity...) This prompted me to look around at some other people's blogs, which I've then been reading.
It's occurred to me that I don't read anything like as many books as I used to, because I have some trouble detaching myself from the internet. It's an issue. But on the other hand, I do read a fair amount on the internet sometimes at least.

On the subject of my own blog, it's occurred to me that some posts I make, like for example the one about WW games earlier this week, can feel a bit like massive information dumps. I try to avoid this and include at least some content that should be interesting to read, but to be honest, that sort of post serves as part of a sort of primer. Like a beginner's guide to my life, so when I later talk about these things, you know what I'm talking about, and what sort of point of view I'm coming from. This is my excuse for when I'm boring. Well, also there's the fact that some things will interest some people and some things will interest other people and you can't please everyone all the time, etc.
Oh yes, and I went back and added labels to all my blog posts. Introspection is easily the most common label, though it's not as universally applied as I expected.

Edit: Gnahh! I've just checked and discovered that in fact, saturday was the third anniversary of me joining the Playground. I really feel I should've made some sort of post to mark the occasion, but I missed it. Perhaps there will be a belated one at some point in this coming week.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Weredinosaur, Not a Spacewolf

...or something like that.
OK, so one of the things I've gotten rather into on the Playground is all the Werewolf (WW) games in the Structured Games subforum. I think I may have mentioned them in passing once or twice already, but I've been trying to avoid doing so until I made a post explaining what they are and how they work. This is that post.

I'm not entirely sure if it's technically Werewolf or Werewolves. Anyway, it's sometimes also known as Mafia, including, notably, on wikipedia, but I'm going to use the werewolf terminology because that's how I know it.
Werewolf was originally created as a party game. The basic premise is that the players are in a village infested with werewolves. Only these werewolves are a bit different to normal (That or the moon's doing something weird) because they transform every night. So every night the werewolves will kill someone. The villagers would obviously prefer them not to, and the only way to stop them is to kill them. So each day the village will lynch someone and hope they're a werewolf (They also transform upon death, so you do find out afterwards).
In real life play, one person acts as the Narrator - they run the game, determine who is a wolf and who is a villager, tally votes, etc, and narrate people's deaths. Each day phase, the players discuss who to lynch, try to figure out who's a wolf by observing their mannerisms and whatnot, psychology etc. Once a consensus is reached, the person dies and it becomes night. Everyone closes their eyes. The Wolves then open their eyes and vote who to kill by pointing at them (Obviously they can't discuss it since their voices would be recognised). The Narrator tallies the votes, announces the death and we go back to day, and so on.
In forum play, you still have a Narrator (Though they can possibly put more thought into their narrations since they don't have to be completely on the spot), but other aspects are different. Each day and night phase has an approximate time limit. During the day, the players vote who to lynch by posting their names in red text. If they change their minds, they can strike through their previous vote and make a new one. At the end of the day, whoever has the most votes is lynched. Then, the Wolves' night kill is done by sending a private message (PM) to the Narrator. Of course, PMs can also be used for private discussion between players on both sides (Though Villagers have to be careful, as they will not in general have a means of knowing whether or not their confidant is a Wolf). Also, since there's a risk of people vanishing in forum play, it's usual to auto-lynch anyone who doesn't vote for a certain number of consecutive day phases, though they may be replaced by someone else, at the Narrator's discretion.
Villagers win if they kill all the Wolves. Wolves win if they reduce the Villagers' numbers to equal theirs (Since then they can't be prevented from killing the rest).
I've left out some details, but those are the basics.

Then there are other common roles, like Masons (Villagers, but they know each others' identities), the Seer (Each night can learn someone's role), the Baner (Each night can protect someone from the Wolves) and the Devil (Like the Seer, but on the Wolves' side). There are many more possibilities, but I don't want this blog post to get too list-y.

There are quite a number of these games played on the Playground, and I've gotten quite into them. In fact I've played... hang on, I've got this recorded in a Word document... 43 games so far. I've also become the person responsible for maintaining the schedule (Because we don't want all the games starting at once and not having enough players). And I've run three games (Also currently running a fourth). So, while I'm not one of the high-profile, big reputation players, I've become at least relatively known. (It's always kind of weird for me when I realise that I've become one of these people the newcomers to the Playground will think is an 'oldie'. Of course, others probably feel much the same when it happens to them)

Now, while the basic, original idea is werewolves in a village, different games have wildly differing fluff: vampires, assassins, gangsters, pirates, ducks (I kid you not), and so on. And then of course often people will set WW games in pre-existing settings, like Harry Potter, Discworld, Star Wars and so on. Since so far this blog post isn't that long, I think I can fit in briefly detailing the games I've played, as well as my own ones which I've run. Mostly chronological order, but where the games are in a series I'll comment on the whole series all in one go. Here goes:

Fears 2 - Pretty much the basic, but with things called 'fears' rather than werewolves. I was a Villager, didn't really get into the game. Didn't play Fears 3, I think I was busy.
Jack the Ripper - What it says on the tin. I was a Mason, which in this game meant I was a prostitute. Oh joy. We won, though I was dead by that point. And at the end Jack actually decided to commit suicide.
Alchemists III - Based on Fullmetal Alchemist. I was Lust, and basically I only existed to stop Gluttony going insane. We lost.
Classic IX, X, XI, XII - Classic is a regular fixture. Basic rules, actual werewolves, etc. In IX, we had a family, some of whom were werewolves, squabbling over a relative's will. I was a Wolf, and we lost, though I wrote myself a fairly amusing death scene. X had werewolves IN SPACE! I was a Mason, we won. XI was so much back to basics PMs were mostly banned, to try and emulate the real life game more. XII was back to normal, I ran it myself, setting was a small town in 19th century British Colonial Africa, more or less

Phantom of the Opera II, III - In II I was Firmin. Someone made a stupid mistake which got me killed early on. In III I was a Cast Member (Villager), lost track of the game after a while, but I think we won?
Memesville II - Based on all manner of internet memes. Sadly I died really early.
Thursday Next - Based on the books by Jasper Fforde, though I hadn't read them before the game (They're very good, by the way). Villager, we won, though there was a lot of player drama at the end and the final narration never got written. Still annoyed about that.
Assassins III - Basic idea, assassins trying to take over the country, but some of them are Sleepers - they only find out they're assassins if another assassin tries to kill them or a previous assassin dies, until which point they think they're just regular Villagers. Was won by a neutral role. Assassins IV is currently recruiting. There's a role named after me!
Mafia X, XI - Another regular fixture. Again, basic stuff, but with two competing Wolf teams, who can kill each other as well as the Villagers. Also they have the option of abducting people rather than killing them outright - in which case the abductee may no longer post, but their death is not revealed until two day phases later. Both times I was a Villager. X we should have won, but apparently the Village took leave of their senses after I died. XI I lost track and got autolynched.

Simply Werewolf 3 - Twenty players, Villagers, Wolves, Masons, and nothing else. Villager, we lost.
Bounty Hunters 1, 2 - Wolves are Bounty Hunters, who get a certain number of points for killing people. The first one who reaches a target no. of points wins. 1, Villager, we won. 2, Bounty Hunter, we lost, though I swear the point target was far too low.
Hunting of the Snark - Based on the wonderful poem by Lewis Carroll. Also Jabberwocky. Strange variants on the rules, odd roles, items, and all the narrations written in poetry. Who was crazy enough to run such a thing, you ask? Yes, it was me.
Arkham Asylum - Na na na na na na na na BATMAN! Based on the video game I think? Villager, lost. Had an interesting thing with the Joker - the Joker had no particular abilities, was known to everyone, but couldn't be lynched until the other villains were all gone. His purpose was simply to try and confuse everyone.
Discworld 2 - Set during the events of Night Watch. Some odd rules which I won't go into. One or two narratorial slip-ups, but it still worked out alright. I was an Agent of the Tyrant (Wolf) alongside Carcer, and we won. So much for the self-correcting history...

Kingdom Hearts - Well, actually it ended up as more just Disney. Two opposing Wolf teams who can recruit the neutral Villagers. I was Jafar (Baner/Recruiter), but really everything went wrong for us pretty quickly in this one.
Ye Olde West IV - Usually western themed, but this time it was Star Wars. Two sort of Wolf teams, one who kill people and one who steal money (Oh yeah, there's money which you can find and also use to buy things)
ReBoot - Based on the excellent TV series of the same name. Sadly the game died part-way through.
Reverse WW 1, 2, 3, 4 - As the name suggests, things are reversed. You have a village of Werewolves against one undercover Villager. Each night the Villager can kill someone, or every 4 nights (Starting on night 1) they can cure a Wolf, making them another Villager. And each night a random Wolf gets to kill someone. 1, I was the original Villager and I won. 2 and 3, I was just another Wolf. 4 is ongoing.
Camelot 0.5, 1, 2 - Pretty sure these were actually based on The Once and Future King, but at the time I hadn't read it. The power roles had an interesting thing where by refraining from using their abilities to gain points to be spent on more powerful abilities. I think. 0.5 was just a test run basically. I think I was a Villager in all three. Sadly the guy who was running these vanished a while back.

Vampire 3, 4 - Vampires! Usually Dracula-type, Victorian England sort of thing, but 3 was Buffy-themed. Designed to mess with people's expectations by having various events departing from standard WW rules. This combined with narrator issues and me being busy means I've never gotten so into these, sadly.
Playground Squares WW Edition - Mixing WW with Playground Squares (Based on Hollywood Squares), this allowed people to potentially survive being lynched if they could answer a question in such a way as to trick the other players into thinking they were wrong/right rather than right/wrong.
Abhorsen 1, 2 - Books by Garth Nix. In 1 I was the Devil, and in one of the most annoying narrator errors ever, I was lynched when I shouldn't have been. My team went on to win, though I'm not quite sure how they got everyone to believe the outrageous lies they told, but I missed out on it anyway. 2 I was just a Villager.
Monster Mash III - Craziness. Multiple teams who can recruit and kill. It's impossible for the Villagers to win. A game more for enjoyable insanity than serious tactics/strategy.
Llama Llama Duck III - Pretty much the king of ridiculous games. You get to choose your own role, though not your team, and it's all crazy.

Mad Science! - Kind of based on my 22nd birthday party. Like Hunting of the Snark, designed partly with the express goal of confusing the players.
Harry Potter - 'Nuff said.
Convoy 2 - Trucks carrying soft drinks or something. I died early on. Rules are strange. Also notable because while there are seven Convoy games listed in the WW archive, only 3 of them have actually happened, namely 2, 4 and 7. Not in that order.
Pirates V - Pirates! Another big name game. Items and things. Kind of served as a history lesson in Playground WW games, representing different series as islands.
Alien Invasion III - Aliens abducting people. I was the Devil again! We won. It was a good game.

Rebellion V - Medieval, peasants, nobles, rebels. Complicated rules for the interplay of the sides, I don't remember, I was a bit swamped with stuff at the time and got autolynched.
Titans 4 - Six pantheons of deities. One on the Villagers' side, five against (But also against each other). Roles not revealed from night kills.
The City - Bleahh complicated I don't remember I was busy. Something with mafia and street gangs and possibly Batman. I mean he wasn't named as Batman but he was pretty much Batman.
itP: Battle for Alarra - OK, background: there was a game based on Magic: the Gathering called Battle for Alara. The Playground has a moderator called Alarra. You can see how people could get confused. So the idea was that Real Life was trying to steal Alarra away from the Playground and we had to stop it from doing so. I think we failed (In the game, that is, Alarra is actually still around). Man I hate Real Life.
Breaking the 4th Wall - Trolls or hackers or something invading the Playground and we had to get rid of them.

And finally,
L-Space WW - I was originally planning on running Mad Science! 2, but the rules for that are complicated and I haven't finished them yet. So I thought, "Just use basic rules and pick a setting!" And I decided to use the idea of L-Space, from the Discworld books, with some references to The Ink Thief thrown in. (Does anyone else remember The Ink Thief? Did anyone else even watch The Ink Thief?) Slight variant, the wolves have no power roles, but they gain abilities from the Village power-roles when they kill them. Ongoing.

OK, now this post is plenty long. I'll probably do individual posts about the games I've run at some point, but in general this serves as background, so when I mention WW games, you know at least vaguely what I'm talking about. Now I think I have to write a narration for about seven hours ago. Whoops.

Monday, 7 March 2011

So 13 hours later I realised I hadn't given this post a title...

OK, so I came up with this idea. A lot of my blog posts are me talking about things, like books, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc. But beyond the fact that these are things which I like and which interest me, and that I'm obviously giving my thoughts and opinions, those posts are not particularly about me.
Naturally, my ego simply will not stand for this.

So, the idea is that maybe once a week, I make a blog post that's basically just about me. Stuff in my actual life. OK, mostly I came up with this idea because it allows me to mention my wordcount for NaNoWriMoWroMo (National Novel Writing Month in the Wrong Month) without detracting from whatever else I'm writing about, but there could be other things I might want to mention that don't actually merit separate posts.
The potential drawback of this plan is that maybe I won't do enough interesting things in a given week to make a decent sized blog post, and you know I hate to write blog posts that aren't massive walls of text. But I think I'll manage. And hey, maybe this will prompt me to do more interesting things just so I have stuff to write about.
I kind of feel like I should have some sort of neat alliterative name for this, like Buttercupliffy's Wishlist Wednesdays. Only ideas I've come up with so far are Status Sundays or Me Mondays. I'm considering using both and trying to post each one of these as close to midnight as possible.

So, stuff in my life.

NaNoWriMoWroMo progress: Terrible. The first day was pretty good, but then the second I did literally nothing, and then a few fairly unproductive days. Today has been a bit better, but I've got a lot to catch up on at this point. I'm currently at a total of 6940 words. After six days out of thirty one, I really should be at 9678. So that's not so good.
Part of the issue is that while I can get over the issue of wanting everything to be perfect, I can't get over the issue of not knowing what to write at all. For each project I'm working on I have some ideas which I can get through pretty quickly once I get going on them. But when those are gone, I'm left with the difficult point of deciding what happens next so I can write it.
It has occurred to me that I would be able to meet the required wordcount really easily if I counted my blog posts towards it. But that would be cheating. When the month is over, I might give a total wordcount including blog posts as well as the one without, just to see how much of a difference it makes.

Looking for a job, and considering postgrad: I had to go to a 'back to work' session at the North Shields job centre on thursday. It prompted maybe one or two thoughts, but to be honest I think it was much more helpful (From the point of view of my life in general) for the fact it forced me to go to North Shields. While there, I went to the library and got out some books on physics and stuff, as part of the process of looking into things I might want to do for postgrad in applied maths. So I've been reading through those.
Also, I made the excellent decision to walk home. Now, some people might think me crazy for that, but I like walking, particularly because it helps me think. In this instance, I managed to think through a bunch of stuff for my NaNoWriMoWroMo projects, some of which I still have to actually write out.

Watching youtube videos: Still working my way through the Vlogbrothers backlog. I'm about halfway through 2009 at this point. Once I am finished getting through those, I will watch HAWP, Buttercup, but not before. Though I did watch the first three, and the one about Braid.

Games: Haven't been playing any, but I bought Braid, because it was cheap and looked interesting. Then I was looking back through old Zero Punctuation videos and found there was a Braid one. Yahtzee actually liked it, so it must be really good.
Oh, games of the non-video variety, I lost at chess on friday night to the Isomorphic Bakery. But it was a really interesting game, and to be honest, our results against each other probably break down to something like 49% he wins, 49% I win, 2% draws. Any game with us could go either way.

Rehearsals: First rehearsal for the Dauntless/NUGSS HMS Pinafore was on wednesday. Only a few people there - as I recall I wasn't specifically asked to come, but I felt like it. It's not like I had anything better to do. Well, other than writing. And I missed monday's Gosforth rehearsal, so I was starting to go into G&S withdrawal. Anyway, it was a good rehearsal. Nice and friendly, just going through some music, taking a look at some of the stuff for the stage. Shame our Ralph had a cold and couldn't sing as well as usual though - having been in a position to observe the improvement of his singing voice since he was 15 or thereabouts, when he joined Swing Bridge, at which point I was the tenor, and even to help him out a bit, I suspect my feelings on him now playing this excellent role will be not un-akin to those of a proud parent.

And then yesterday there was a Starfish rehearsal. Except it turned into a barbershop rehearsal due to a shortage of ladies. It was a rather productive barbershop rehearsal however, and we're getting the group back together - we haven't rehearsed since the end of December, and we really should.
Of course this then prompted me to think that I should try and arrange some more songs, and I do have a few ideas (In addition to one sort-of completed arrangement, only I wanted to possibly do something different with the end but have forgotten what), but I am trying to focus mostly on the writing that I'm supposed to be doing, leaving little time to be arranging songs. But I'll try and fit some in.

It has occurred to me that I seem to be ever so slightly trying to do everything all at once. But I find that that works reasonably well for me. It's like how it's said that if you want something done you should ask a busy person - if I want to do something, I should try and do several things. Because if I think I should just focus on the one thing and I don't have time for the others, I'll end up procrastinating and only doing some of that thing. Whereas if I'm trying to do multiple things, sometimes I will procrastinate on one by doing another, and in general I will be thinking "I need to fit in all these things," and while I may not manage to fit in all of them, I will fit in some of them, so I will be overall more productive. It kind of works, though it has just occurred to me that I've had a job application open in a tab in this firefox window for several days and I still haven't finished filling it in...

Sunday, 6 March 2011

"Strange the views some people hold"

About a week since, I was in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's last collaborative operetta, The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel. It's rarely performed - many G&S enthusiasts have never actually done it, though I may end up doing it twice in one year - but this is not really justified. One might assume that since it was the last, and the pair were by this point getting a bit sick of each other, it would be less good, less polished. But it still contains some brilliant stuff. It's true that in its entirety, it is somewhat long and unwieldy. A certain amount of editing is, if not actually required, then at least highly advisable. But if you do that editing, you can come up with a highly enjoyable show. My mother even said she thought The Grand Duke was the most professional looking production she'd seen me in. I am sceptical on this point - I think she may have been partially influenced by the set, which certainly did look rather professional - but regardless, it is certainly true that once the production came together and we got the energy and enthusiasm going, it was a brilliant show.

The characters are a bit odd - there is only one really big male role, and then the others simply have their own particular bits - some of them very good bits, but still just bits - whereas there are, I'd say, two or three sizeable enough female parts (Subject to what songs and dialogue get cut, of course). None of the female parts are as big as the main male part, of course (This is a general pattern in G&S, sadly), but they are fairly well up there.
Of course, as I recall from wikipedia, the reason for this is partly because Gilbert and Sullivan were writing for specific performers at the time. IIRC, the part of Rudolph was originally going to be a bit bigger, but then they couldn't get the actor they originally had it in mind for, so the part was reduced in size.

More detailed look at the characters:

Rudolph - Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig. Exceedingly miserly, and generally hated by the people. Supposedly somewhat despotic, though the character we see in the show gives no particular indications of any malice, so perhaps it's simply that he has an unpopularly miserly approach to public spending. Appears for the last third or so of act 1, leaving partway through the act 1 finale, and then the very end of act 2.
Ernest Dummkopf - A theatrical manager. His company are all involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Rudolph, in which case he will be the new Grand Duke, on the condition that his company fill all the positions in his court, ranked according to their position in the company. Somewhat exasperated by the difficulties of organising the company. Appears for the first half to middle of act 1, one scene mid-act 2 and then the end.
Ludwig - Leading comedian of Ernest's theatrical company. Very egotistical. Apparently Gilbert based him on a type of performer he disliked, because they were too prone to improvising rather than sticking to the script - as such, Ludwig gets into a certain amount of trouble in the show due to him improvising. On the other hand, he is the central character of the show, and things do turn out well enough for him, so perhaps Gilbert did not quite succeed in humbling such performers, if that was his goal. Hardly ever offstage.
Notary - Solicitor for the conspiracy to overthrow the Grand Duke. Mostly exists to explain the crucial plot point of the statutory duel. On for slightly longer than Ernest's initial period, comes back for the act 1 finale. There is then no particular reason why he couldn't be onstage for a few of the act 2 chorus scenes (Though he is not specifically required for them), so long is he is off for a while before the end.
Prince of Monte Carlo - His daughter was engaged in infancy to Rudolph. However he has been bankrupt for years and therefore unable to leave his palace for fear of arrest, until he invented roulette, as he explains. Though in the original run of The Grand Duke Gilbert cut the roulette song, despite the fact it's one of the best pieces of music in the show. (This is perhaps the main indication of declining quality due to the decline of the writing partnership - Gilbert perhaps made some unwise directorial decisions because he didn't really care so much any more) Appears for the second half of act 2.
Herald - Has one song, announcing the arrival of the Prince of Monte Carlo. But it's a really good song. Appears just before the Prince, but doesn't necessarily have to remain onstage to the end - as such, could possibly be doubled up with Ernest, Rudolph or the Notary. Was played in our production by me.

Lisa - Engaged to Ludwig, and adores him. Gets rather distraught when he has to leave her. Rather shy and retiring. Not a great amount of spoken lines, but a considerable amount of singing (Though a certain amount of it can be safely cut out), and she's certainly onstage a lot (Most of the time that Ludwig is, except for a couple of scenes).
Julia Jellicoe - Ernest's leading lady. Supposed to be english, while the rest of the cast are supposed to be german. As such, Julia is traditionally done with a thick german accent. Personally, I'd much rather do without it. Very confident and forthright, with a fiery temper. On for most of Ernest's section of act 1, plus the act 1 finale, and then most of act 2.
Baroness Caroline von Krakenfeldt - Engaged to Rudolph, as she shares his views on extreme economy. Also has something of a temper. In our production, she spent quite a while drunk, starting from her song about the wonders of good champagne. Only has one scene in act 1, but then comes on early in act 2 and only goes off for one scene in the middle.
Princess of Monte Carlo - Engaged in infancy to Rudolph, but has been unable to fulfil that marriage contract (See description of the Prince). Onstage for the same period as the Prince.
Olga, Gretchen, Bertha, Elsa, Martha - Members of the theatre company and conspiracy. Only have particular lines in act 1, so could potentially double up with the Princess, costumier and/or supernumeraries (See below).

Also a couple of bit parts, the Viscount Mentone (A couple of spoken lines) and the Costumier (One sung line and a few spoken ones). Additionally in the entry of the Prince there are five supernumeraries in addition to Mentone, as well as the main chorus. Originally supposed to be all men, as was the Costumier, but there's no reason why they can't be female. Rudolph, Ernest and the Notary can also potentially double up as these parts. While the supernumeraries are in a sense just a mini-chorus for that scene, they should be a bit more than just background.

Rapid plot summary! Conspiracy, may only be discussed once one has both given and received the secret sign - eating a sausage roll. Unfortunately the Grand Duke's detective rather likes sausage rolls, so he finds out about the plot. Notary provides a solution - a statutory duel. Laws in Pfennig Halbpfennig last 100 years unless revived in the meantime, so in fact the law about statutory duels will expire tomorrow afternoon. By this means, Ernest and Ludwig will duel, by drawing cards. Whoever draws the lowest card is considered legally dead and the survivor takes his place. The survivor confesses the plot to Rudolph, blaming the dead man for it, and is pardoned. The following day the dead man returns to life, with a clean slate, as though nothing had happened. Ernest draws a king, Ludwig an ace. Ernest dies.
Rudolph explains to the Baroness about the Princess, nice scene, Baroness leaves, then he reads his detective's report and panics about how he's going to be deposed and killed. Enter Ludwig. Rudolph continues panicking, so Ludwig offers to save him with another statutory duel - so Ludwig will be deposed and killed instead (Naturally he neglects to mention that he was responsible for the plot).
Act 1 finale - They have the statutory duel (Fixed, cards up their sleeves). Rudolph draws a king and Ludwig an ace, again. Rudolph dies. Ludwig announces that he's reviving the law about statutory duels, and will keep Ernest's promise to fill his court with members of the theatrical company, according to professional position. Therefore, as the leading lady, Julia must be the Grand Duchess and marry Ludwig. Lisa is distraught.
Act 2. Ludwig and Julia have certain disagreements. The Baroness arrives, and of course since Ludwig has taken Rudolph's place, he is now engaged to her. Lisa is still distraught and Julia is enraged.
Ernest discovers from Julia that the law's been revived and so he won't be coming to life in an hour or so. He panics.
The Baroness sings a song about how great champagne is, so long as you don't pay for it yourself. Then the Herald arrives to announce the arrival of the Prince of Monte Carlo and his daughter. Ludwig of course has no idea what's going on, but decides to have a bit of fun with them. Exit Ludwig and chorus, enter Prince, Princess, Herald, Costumier and supernumeraries. The supernumeraries, it turns out, are standing in for the nobles who would be expected to accompany the Prince and Princess for the Princess' wedding. Ludwig and the chorus come on and do some sort of dance in which the supernumeraries, and possibly the Herald and Costumier (Depending on how the director feels) get kicked offstage. It is explained that, of course, Ludwig is now also engaged to the Princess. But just before they can go get married, Ernest, Rudolph and the Notary arrive. The Notary explains that in fact, in statutory duels, the ace counts as lowest, so in fact Ludwig is the one who is dead. Ernest is restored to Julia, Rudolph gets the Princess, the Baroness may pair up with the Prince, though this is not specified, then the statutory duel act expires, Ludwig comes back to life and is restored to Lisa, and everyone is happy!

I suppose that wasn't particularly rapid. But it's one of the more complicated plots.

OK, so on possible issues with the show. Rudolph mentions that the marriage contract with the Princess is void "at two tomorrow" (That is, the day that is the second act). This seems pointless if it's not invoked, and matches up neatly with the expiration of the statutory duel, so one might expect Rudolph to get out of it and return to the Baroness, to whom he does seem rather well suited. Of course this leaves the Prince and Princess on their own, so it's not such a good solution. Then there's Julia and Ernest. Julia indicates clearly enough that she doesn't like Ernest that much, but just wants to be the Grand Duchess, so why does she pair up with him at the end? These issues can be overcome by good performances, but it's still curious. I once saw mention of a rewrite of the final scene to deal with these problems, but it seemed rather convoluted. I think it's best to leave the ending as it is, and just accept the oddities, but I mention them anyway.
And then there's the big one - the length. Much of The Grand Duke is somewhat superfluous, as is indicated by the fact that when I saw our director's cut of the script, I didn't notice most of what he'd removed. The story flowed perfectly well without it. Of course, some of these bits could be added back in without damaging the quality. Not all of them in the same production, perhaps, but some of them. And I imagine some of what he left in could be removed, similarly. I don't want to go on too long, so I'll just pick out a few bits which were cut from our production on which I have some thoughts.

1. The song from which I took the title of this blog post. About duelling. Very much superfluous. Though I do quite like the lines before it. "It’s not like a duel with swords. I hate a duel with swords. It’s not the blade I mind – it’s the blood" "And I hate a duel with pistols. It’s not the ball I mind – it’s the bang" "Altogether it is a great improvement on the old method of giving satisfaction."
But then, I don't know if those lines work as well as a cue for the next song.

2. Ludwig's recit and song immediately after the opening of act 2. I love the recit, but you can't really have it without the song, which basically just reiterates something already mentioned in the act 1 finale, then waffles on for three rather lengthy and pointless verses. I've heard that some productions put that recit in place of the one before the following song, but on the other hand, I've heard some rather negative views of that song, and it was cut from our production as well.

3. Some more lines, but the main one which springs to mind is one of Ludwig's when he has just been claimed by the Princess: "Here’s another! – the fourth in four‑and‑twenty hours! Would anybody else like to marry me? You, ma’am – or you – anybody! I’m getting used to it!"

4. Rudolph's song just before the final section of dialogue and the finale. I really like the song, but I can definitely understand why one would cut it - having just had the line "The law forbids the banns," one should proceed to explain it directly and build to the climax of the show. It's somewhat counter-intuitive to say something astounding and then pause to sing a song before explaining it. But it's a very good song, and gives Rudolph more of a part in act 2. Having thought about it a bit, my considered opinion is that there should be an extra scene somewhere in act 2, somewhere around 'Come bumpers', to serve as essentially Rudolph's equivalent of Ernest's scene in act 2. Include the song, Rudolph outraged that his money is being frittered away and to discover that the law has been revived - thus giving him a reason to be consulting the Notary about it as well as Ernest. Also gives more of a reason for the separation of Rudolph and the Baroness, since in the second verse he describes her as a flibberty-gibberty kind of a liberty.
Of course, there is a significant problem with this solution, namely that someone would have to write this hypothetical scene, and W.S. Gilbert has unfortunately been dead for some time.

... I was going to record a video of me singing that song, but I can't really be bothered at this point.

One thing I wanted to comment on - economy. Brought up of course by both Rudolph and the Baroness, it's a point which struck something of a chord with me. Because, other than the fact the two of them do in fact have plenty of money with which they could buy things if they wanted, it is essentially the student mentality - spending no money unnecessarily, lest you run out. Thus the Baroness singing about wine:
"Old wine is a true panacea for every conceivable ill,
If you cherish the soothing idea that somebody else pays the bill"
"But there's a distinction decided, a difference truly immense,
When the wine that you drink is provided, provided, at somebody else's expense..."
(I love it when other people buy me drinks)
But the biggest bit of it is of course Rudolph and the Baroness' duet (In which I was generally slightly confused in our production since we cut from the start of the first verse to the middle of the second - understandable, but I'd rather have the whole song). I just particularly love the chorus (Perhaps that's the wrong word, given the chorus are not in the song. Refrain?)
"Then let us be modestly merry,
And rejoice with a derry down derry,
For to laugh and to sing no extravagance bring
It's a joy economical very!"
I just love that as a sentiment. One should certainly be careful with one's money - pragmatism is only sensible - but to laugh, sing, and rejoice costs nothing, and the pursuit of joy is something to be lauded.

I like to try and rejoice where I can.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

"Hic jacet Arthurus Rex quondam Rexque futurus."

So, a little while back I read through T.H. White's The Once and Future King. I'd seen someone asking about the Arthurian legend and having it recommended, which aroused my curiosity, also it's supposed to be the favourite book of Professor X in X-Men, and who am I to argue with a character played by Patrick Stewart?

It's notable that while the Arthurian legend is an important part of British culture, there aren't that many details of it that are especially well known. Partly because adaptations of it will often pick and choose which elements they want to use, and generally mess around with it, of course. But in any case, I think I can list the main elements of the Arthurian legend of which most people would be aware:

1. Arthur is raised not knowing he's to be the King.
2. Merlin.
3. Arthur becomes King by pulling the sword from the stone.
4. Excalibur (Note this is not the same sword as 3)
5. Morgan Le Fay.
6. Camelot.
7. The Round Table.
8. Knights with names such as Lancelot, Galahad, Gawaine, etc.
9. Queen Guenever.
10. Quest for the Holy Grail.
11. Lancelot and Guenever have an affair.
12. Mordred.

Well, I suppose a decent number of people will know about Uther and Igraine as well. But that's still not a great deal. There are vast swathes missing from what could be considered common knowledge.
My own knowledge of the Arthurian legend, prior to reading The Once and Future King, was derived, in reverse order, from the Babylon 5 episode A Late Delivery From Avalon, the 1998 TV miniseries Merlin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the Disney Sword in the Stone. And maybe a little bit of general cultural osmosis. I haven't seen the new Merlin TV series, but from what I've heard they're playing all kinds of havoc with the original course of the story anyway, so it wouldn't have been a great help in that regard. (Note this is not a comment on the quality of said series. I actually assume it's pretty good, since people seem to like it and Anthony Head is in it. It's just not the original Arthurian legend by any stretch of the imagination)

Of course, The Once and Future King also has gaps. White frequently refers to Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and mentions events which occur in that work which he has not bothered to adapt for his own. For example, early on in The Queen of Air and Darkness Arthur mentions Excalibur, but White never describes how he got it. This is rather frustrating, partly because I don't have a copy of the Malory, and partly because I love White's writing style and don't know if Malory's will hold the same charm for me.
So you know, The Once and Future King is split up into (And I believe was originally released as) four books, The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind.

The Once and Future King is a good example of what I mentioned in my post about Nerdfighters and the Vlogbrothers - about the difference between books for adults and books for children. Because in the The Sword in the Stone, the story starts out very innocent, with the simple joy of Arthur as a child seeing all the wonders Merlyn shows him. The kind of simple joy, indeed, which is suitable to be made into a Disney film (Though oddly, according to wikipedia, they originally bought the rights to The Ill-Made Knight, which is nothing like as Disney-esque). But then as the story goes on it loses those simple pleasures and instead becomes steeped in the pathos as things start to go wrong. But it still retains much of the same charm and is just beautiful at the end.

So onto details. The book starts out with an interesting view of pre-Arthurian England. White uses some mild anachronisms in order to portray the events in terms familiar to his readers, but of course this remains nonetheless a somewhat unfamiliar, somewhat fantastical world, in which one may hunt unicorns and be captured by fairies, and in which it is a normal enough thing to talk to your friend over drinks about how you did some good questing today. For the first chapter I was interested to see how the setting was established, including some information about the way Sir Ector's castle was run, but in the second chapter I was truly enchanted by the storytelling. From the moment King Pellinore entered the story I fell in love with him just as the Wart did, with his good, if at times ineffective, nature and his endless quest for the Beast Glatisant. And of coursein the following chapter we meet Merlyn, who is to a great extent the driving force of the story while he is in it, and also rather steals the show with the anachronisms caused by his backwards aging and resultant memories of the future.

While reading The Sword in the Stone I was surprised by how much from the Disney adaptation was in fact, in the original. Like the fact Merlyn has a pet owl named Archimedes, and that he uses magic to make his housework do itself. Likewise the sound of music when Wart touches the sword, getting turned into animals, and the phrase "Blow me to Bermuda!" Though in the book the full phrase is "Castor and Pollux blow me to Bermuda!" Also it comes earlier in the story and is resolved quicker.
In fact the only notable differences between the book and the film are what animals Wart is transformed into, length (Some sections obviously were removed from the film to keep it short), and most notably that in the book Ector and Kay are very much the Wart's family (adoptive, but very fond of him), rather than the mean-spirited and selfish characters they are in the film. Oh, and of course in the book one can clearly see political subtext in the 'Wart is turned into an animal' sections, rather than it just being purely for the fun of it. Because of course the actual purpose of Merlyn transforming him is not for him to enjoy himself, but rather to prepare him for being King of England, and to ensure he will be a good King, by teaching him to think. Arthur later advises Lancelot and Guenever never to let anyone teach them to think, because it makes one's life so hard (Or at least it did in his case), but I don't think he would truly condemn the idea.

In The Queen of Air and Darkness, we get a look at how the morality of Arthurian Britain was different to now, though we do still have to be reminded of this. The big point in The Queen of Air and Darkness  is that the world largely operates on the principle of Might is Right, and, after being prompted by Merlyn to think about such things, Arthur conceives the idea of the Round Table to redirect Might so that it is only used for Right. Perhaps a subtle distinction, but an important one. The other point is that The Queen of Air and Darkness is only maybe half about Arthur. The other half is instead introducing us to the Orkneys - Queen Morgause (Who in more recent versions may be conflated with her sister Morgan Le Fay) and her sons Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth, all future Knights of the Round Table.
This is highly important for the same reasons that, as White mentions at some point, "Malory called his very long book Le Morte d'Arthur, the death of Arthur." It all becomes relevant much later on. And the reason for this is down to the familial links. Morgause is the daughter of Igraine and her first husband the King of Cornwall. She then also had Arthur by King Uther Pendragon, making Arthur and Morgause half-siblings, but also, given the circumstances of that coupling, creating something of a vendetta between the Orkneys and the Cornwalls on one side and the Pendragons and the English on the other. At the end of The Queen of Air and Darkness, because Merlyn absent-mindedly forgot to tell Arthur who his mother was, Arthur is seduced by Morgause, and nine months later Mordred is born. Which leads to all sorts of problems.
Incest is bad! (Actually it's really not that simple, as I will discuss later. I mean, incest is generally regarded as bad, but in this it's not a case of a heavy handed 'Mordred is evil because incest is bad' moral as you might expect it to be)

Onto The Ill-Made Knight. The Ill-made Knight, or Le Chevalier Mal Fet, is a name Lancelot gives himself while he's growing up. This book is almost entirely focussed on Lancelot. It's still part of the overarching story of Arthur, but The Ill-Made Knight is really about Lancelot.
Interesting points about White's portrayal of Lancelot (Which apparently were original to White and do not appear in other accounts): Firstly, Lancelot is kind of ugly. Physically 'ill-made', something about his face is just supposed to be oddly malformed. Secondly, he is apparently slightly sadistic. He enjoys winning his fights for this reason. But the crux of the point is that because of these two traits he has something of an inferiority complex. He feels compelled to make up for his own failings, and the way he does that is by becoming the best knight in the world. In particular, it is mentioned that it is because of his mild sadism that he is always merciful to his opponents where he can be, because he is always holding himself in check in that regard. While certainly the character would work without these elements, they do add a certain something to him I think. He is a very compelling figure as White writes him.

OK, next point - I realise I have certainly been influenced to some extent by the fact I have friends who read lots of fanfiction, including a fair amount of slash. This has influenced me to spot the potential for such sometimes in things I'm reading. But in the early parts of Ill-Made Knight, you really don't need to be looking for it. White talks explicitly about how Lancelot is in love with Arthur. And while one may bring up the fact that love had different connotations in those days, there is then also the fact that White also mentions that on meeting Guenever, Lancelot is jealous of her.
Given the extent to which Lancelot's love of Arthur is built up, it seems odd that he then falls in love with Guenever, but it does work well enough in the book. I remember feeling that Lancelot's inner conflict about it could perhaps have been brought up more, and then a couple of pages later it was. Perhaps that would have been better placed a bit earlier, but it was nonetheless there. And in some ways I feel it's an interesting and effective way of structuring something - it means we have a reaction to the events without an explanation of the internal reasoning of the characters which led to them, then get that reasoning and have to re-evaluate our opinions. I'll be bringing this up again later on.
Now, I don't want to get into the complications of the Lancelot/Guenever relationship, particularly with regard to Elaine. You can read the book yourself. Suffice to say that Lancelot performs a miracle, saving Elaine from a curse which could be lifted only by the best knight in the world, and she falls in love with him. By deceit, she manages to seduce him, and she bears him a son, Galahad. While much more could be said about Elaine, the only reason I brought her up at all in this instance was to explain Galahad's origins.

So now, the morality. Because that really gets noticeable in this one. You have to get used to the fact that, basically, everything is resolved by fighting (Civil law has yet to be invented, so we have trial by combat, and generally disputes are solved with a sword), and death seems to be viewed as the standard end to a fight, or at least a fairly common one. As such, killing has less of an impact. One initially becomes used to the fact that basically the bad knights and barons and so on, who are trying to keep going with their viewpoint of Might is Right are stopped primarily by killing them. (OK, this isn't plan A. Plan A is to make them join the Round Table and put their Might to better use. But failing that, kill them) But then it transpires that this can also be applied to characters who are at least nominally 'good guys', as it were. Members of the Round Table. First, King Lot, father of the Orkneys, is accidentally killed in a joust by Pellinore. Now, this is shocking, but Lot is generally indicated to have been a bit of a bad sort, it is stated to have been an accident, and one is sure it must have been, because Pellinore is the kind of man who wouldn't deliberately harm a fly. But nonetheless one is shaken by this turn of events. And of course this becomes another vendetta, and Pellinore is eventually killed by one or several of the Orkneys (Who I believe have by this point been joined by Mordred) in revenge. At this point, different morality or no, I kind of lost respect for Arthur. Because, as I mentioned, I fell in love with the bumbling King Pellinore just as he did, and yet he does nothing about Pellinore's death. I regain my respect for him later on, but at this point I was just apalled.
A further and extensive exploration of the morality of The Once and Future King can probably be done while looking at the quest for the Grail - in the way people go about it, the way they react to how other people go about it, and in particular the way they react to Galahad. Likewise of course the way the reader reacts to Galahad is interesting. To be honest, the full details might be more fitting in a post on religion, since it's very much connected to their religion (Which makes sense, on the quest for the Holy Grail). I may well do such a post at some point, so I'll restrict myself to discussing Galahad at this point. Actually I may not even say that much about him.
So, Galahad is generally disliked by the other knights who come back having failed in the quest, basically because he's inhuman in his rigid adherence to what presumably is basically Biblical morality. Now, I'm not wholly opposed to the idea, but I do feel he is inhuman beyond that, simply for his described tendency not  to actually speak to people. There are a few mentions of him turning up, doing some good, though possibly annoying, deed, and then riding off without so much as a word, barely if at all even acknowledging the people he has just helped. And it seems that when he does speak he is insufferably self-righteous and superior. Now for one thing it just occurred to me that I'm not sure how this meshes with traditional christian morality, since surely he is thus committing the cardinal sin of pride? Shouldn't he be humble? But more significant (Especially since I personally have issues with the fact pride is considered a sin) is simply the inhumanity of it. When Lancelot is asked about this, he says, as I recall, "Are angels supposed to be human?" And I feel this sums up the point of Galahad's character in the book (Incidentally, we never actually meet him, we merely hear other people's accounts of him), and it's not a character which appeals to me. Because he does perhaps fit a traditional view of an angel. Without getting into a debate about to what extent I agree with the espoused morality, Galahad quite clearly appears to follow it, to the letter, not because he has chosen to be this way, but rather it seems because he simply is this way. Like an angel, he embodies the ideals but has no free choice in the matter, and as such I don't feel he can be held up as a great hero the way Lancelot can. It'd be like considering a cat to be a hero because it chases mice. Whereas Lancelot has found his faith to a greater extent than ever before through this quest, but he remains irrevocably human; to quote Terry Pratchett, "where the falling angel meets the rising ape." Lancelot doesn't embody christian virtues as his son did, he had to choose them, and to struggle against the lesser elements of himself, the weaknesses of his human nature, and that is what makes him a more interesting character by far.

As a sidenote, since I brought up Discworld, there was one other bit in this book which made me think of it - at one point there is another miracle which it is said can be performed only by the best knight in the world. And while Lancelot was very keen to perform his first miracle, rescuing Elaine, at this one he is much more fearful. Because what if he can't do it? The precise reasoning for his fear is because due to Elaine and then the affair with Guenever he feels he is no longer pure and will therefore be unable to perform any more miracles, but it does also evoke to a certain the point that the price of being the best in the world is that you always have to be the best in the world.

And so we move onto The Candle in the Wind, wherein everything falls apart. Well, in fact, they were already falling apart a little bit. The point of the quest for the Grail was to try and keep the Table working for good. Because once it was established, after a while, the kind of injustice it was created to stop, the Might is Right thinking, was more or less eliminated, leaving Arthur with the problem of 150 knights, most of whom still believe to some extent in their Might, for all that it's been redirected. Hence the quest for the Grail, to encourage the knights to be better, more holy. But in the end, the less holy knights failed, while the most holy succeeded and never returned, leaving the Table worse off than before, with some of the old Might, and other, social, fashions introduced by the likes of Mordred. And so at this point Arthur begins to develop the idea of civil law, to be constructed purely on the principles of Right, without Might. Thus to hold the whole thing together and make it work.
It doesn't work, as the first use of the new laws is to convict Queen Guenever for treason, in the form of her having committed adultery with Lancelot. Of course he saves her from her execution, but in doing so it seems that he has killed Gareth and Gaheris, both his friends, who though they stood among the guards, were unarmed and unarmoured. Though it's never stated, I feel it's by far more likely that Mordred killed his half-brothers himself, in order to spark the war which then ensues. While Arthur and Gawaine are fighting against Lancelot in France, Mordred is left as Regent, since, illegitimate and son of an incestuous union though he be, he is Arthur's only child. And he takes the opportunity, after some time, to declare Arthur dead and attempt to marry Guenever himself. Thus prompting all to return from France for an ensuing civil war, and thus all falls apart. I know some of what happened from Babylon 5, but White ends his narrative the night before the battle, with Arthur simply musing on his life. It's a scene full of beautiful pathos, and now I want to go back to the start of The Candle in the Wind and explain how I regained my respect for Arthur.

This is another instance of judging an event before you know the reasoning for it, and re-evaluating afterwards, because this definitely impinges on the death of King Pellinore and Arthur's lack of response. The crucial information is regarding the life of Mordred.
Arthur actually says that Mordred  is not too unlike himself. With the differences that Mordred is physically weaker, which left him somewhat out of place with all the jousting and so on at the court of Camelot; and also that Mordred was raised by Morgause, and she corrupted him. And that this is the reason for how he turned out, far more than the simple fact of the incest. As such, really, Morgause becomes the only true villain of the piece, since she is responsible for how Mordred turned out - and indeed, towards the end it is strongly indicated that Mordred is actually insane. He becomes a rather sad, if still frightening, figure.
Well, this explains Mordred, but what about Arthur? Well, while Mordred was not inherently evil just because he was the child of incest, some of Arthur's advisors convinced him so. As such, Arthur panicked, basically, and felt he had to kill the baby Mordred. But Morgause had gone into hiding, so he didn't know where Mordred would be born. So he ordered that all babies born within the appropriate time frame be taken, put on a ship, and the ship sank.
An utterly reprehensible action, to be sure. And it didn't even work, since Mordred survived. Only most of the other babies died. But like Lancelot's sadistic tendencies, this then served as a driving force for everything else Arthur did. Of course, it naturally led to him being a bit cautious about doing anything against the Orkneys, since he didn't want to go too far, as he did then in that time of panic. And in general, I think since this action was taken in panic, as an emotional and instinctive overreaction to the fearful urgings of his advisors, I feel this further galvanised him to think everything through. Because his instincts had failed him that time, and why should they not do so again?
So while he did what he did in the rest of his life because he felt it was right, but also because he felt he was a bad person and he needed to try to make up for it, even though in his eyes there was no way he could make up for it. And to this end he tried to codify everything, because if the rules were right, and he followed the rules, then he wouldn't make a mistake and go wrong again as he did then. And this is why he did nothing when Pellinore accidentally killed Lot, when some of the Orkneys (Probably deliberately) killed Pellinore, and why he followed the laws he had laid down and tried to ensure that his wife would be burned for treason, despite the fact that he hoped in himself that Lancelot would save her.
Now, I don't agree that he is a bad person. Like Lancelot and Guenever, I feel he simply made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, and since he was an absolute monarch, he had more power so it makes sense that his mistakes were correspondingly larger.
But this is what grants the final scene, in which Arthur speaks to a young lad who is supposed to be Thomas Malory, its great beauty and pathos. Because here is the tragic figure of the old man who made one mistake, and who tried to make up for it all the rest of his life. Who always wanted to do the right thing, but was never quite sure how. Who spent ages upon ages thinking through how to ensure that the right things would be done, by him and by others, only to have all his great efforts crumble around him. And who, at the very end, only wanted nothing more than that it should be remembered that he tried to do the right thing, and that at least some of his ideas survive so that others might have an easier time of it than he did.

As I said, in chapter 2 I fell in love with Pellinore as the Wart did. In chapter 3 I was enchanted by Merlyn and remained so as long as he remained in the book. Throughout The Ill-Made Knight and particularly at the point of the quest for the Grail, when comparing him with his son, I felt Lancelot to be perhaps one of the greatest heroic figures I had ever read. But thanks to that final book, and in particular the ending, Arthur still remains my favourite character of the work as a whole. The most touchingly human, the most sympathetic, and the best of them.

Here lies Arthur, the Once and Future King.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Chasing Dreams

So, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I always kind of wanted to be an author, and that's one of the few ambitions I remember from my childhood that I retain today. So it is kind of a dream of mine. Additionally, plotting stories could be nicely and poetically described as 'chasing dreams'. You chase after the dreams, trying to capture them within the pages of your work... hmm. That's good. I might use that.

When I have written things, I've been told they're good. In fact, frequently the people who've read my stuff have a much higher opinion of it than I do. Like one time a friend of mine said "You obviously put a lot of effort into this one, and it shows." I didn't like to mention that actually I pretty much just wrote it off the top of my head. And then there are times when I'm trying to portray something, and maybe I don't want to take too long over it, and so I think I've done a passable job, but then other people are like "Wow that was so interestingly done, it really played with your mind, you write madness so well," etc, and I'm all like, "Seriously? Huh."
I suppose part of this may be that I'm on the inside and can see the workings of my own mind as I'm doing the writing. So I know exactly what's going on and can entirely follow my own thought processes as I try to figure out how to portray it. Whereas the readers come in without that prior knowledge and just get the finished effect. So maybe that explains it. On the other hand, it's also possible that I just hold my self to a rather high standard, and if I ever write anything with which I am absolutely satisfied it will make my readers' brains explode from all the awesome. Or at least they'll be incoherent for a while and then load me down with praise.

It must be said, I may well have difficulty writing novel-length stuff. When I've written things in the past, they've tended to be either short or at least partly adaptations of existing works rather than wholly original, or rather whimsical in nature. Also, one of the main places I get to flex my writing muscles is with WW narrations, in which case of course the progress of the game determines what I have to write - while the details are mine, the significant events are determined for me. While I can come up with interesting ideas, I sometimes balk at the required level of thought to get from the basic framework of a story to the story itself. Once I know what I'm writing the words can feel like they're just flying out through my fingers, but first I have to get to that point.


Sorry for that little outburst.
So there's the thing. I want to write something long, original, and serious. I mean, not serious like nothing humorous can happen at any point in this story because it is OMG SRS BSNS, but without passing over problems and inconsistencies with whimsy, or lampshading them, not falling back on quoting and referencing my favourite TV shows, not breaking the fourth wall, and in all probability, not using phrases like "OMG SRS BSNS."
Actually, it occurred to me that one thing I started almost two years ago now could possibly be turned into a novel. It started out as an adaptation, but the thing is my plans for it turned it into effectively an adaptation of at least four different things, all with my own twists on the original stories, all mixed together. So if I developed it further I might be able to just write out the direct quotations of the original source material (And of other things which I just happen to like) and pass it off as original. Well, it kind of would be original. The amount of things I'm drawing on, I think I could justify referring to them as inspirations rather than actually things I was adapting.

But still, I want to do something that's all my own. I'm not going to deny inspiration, of course, everyone is influenced by things they've read except the illiterate, but the fact remains that that story I mentioned did really start out as an adaptation and actually for some of the earlier bits that couldn't be completely disguised, though it could be justified. Equally the other thing I've been working on for about half a year less is sort of my own work (Interestingly, both this and the other were originally conceived as birthday presents for people but I never even got close to finishing them. Oops), but it's me specifically trying to imitate existing works, only with a bit of a twist. But for purely original stuff? I have had some ideas over the years, but I don't know how many of them would actually work as well as I originally thought they would when I came up with them, and none of them are particularly fleshed out.
Such are my tribulations, but I'm willing to try and overcome them. I may have issues with the amount of effort I'll have to put into thinking through plot and stuff, but I have to get the hang of not being lazy sometime, and I may as well do it for something I really want to do.

Anyway, this whole post is really just a preamble to its closing statement, which is that I intend to attempt to sort of effectively do NaNoWriMo in the wrong month, specifically this month. I won't be adhering to all the rules - I'll be spreading my hopefully 50000 words across multiple things I'm wanting to work on, most of which I have already started writing, but I do want to try and do the 50000 words. I'm hoping that by dint of having announced it over the internet to people, I will feel myself a bit more obliged to actually do it, unlike back in November when I thought maybe I could, it might be a good idea, but then never got round to doing anything.

So starting after I get up later today, I intend to try and write things. I'll let you all know how that works out for me.