Friday, 29 July 2011

A Monument to Irrationality

What is a monument to irrationality, you may ask? Well, pretty much everything of any value, to be honest. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is the post which was going to be a digression in my post about Shakespeare which would then subsume the whole post and take it over, until I realised it would be much more sensible just to make this a post all on its own, and making a separate post about Shakespeare that would actually be, y'know, about Shakespeare.

Anyway. My mum is a teacher. So she reads the Times Educational Supplement, and we despair at how idiotic politicians are with regards to education, always messing it around and so on. And naturally one thing that comes up is what they think children should and should not be taught. Inevitably, a common feature is that all children should be taught Shakespeare because cultural heritage, lofty high art etc, never mind the fact they don't like it (This may be partly because it's taught wrongly, which in turn may well be down to the teachers focussing on the perception of Shakespeare as being great literature rather than considering it on its own merits).
But then, these are likely to be, or at least have significant overlap with, the people who will do their utmost to have some modern books banned because they're full of filth and smut and dear lord have these people actually read Shakespeare? Henry V has a scene the prupose of which as far as I can tell is solely to point out that certain English words sound like French swearwords, Macbeth has a doorman talk about the effects of alcohol on sexual desire and prowess, Hamlet while pretending to be mad and just before the play he hopes will uncover Claudius' guilt, makes a whole load of double entendres to Ophelia. I could go on. Shakespeare is full of dirty jokes. If these people want something less filthy, they should probably try Marlowe - I don't recall any dirty jokes in what I've read of him.
Of course I would never make this point to such people. I would contest that perhaps Marlowe should be taught, as should other playwrights, simply to give some variety instead of endless Shakespeare, but I wouldn't bring up dirty jokes as the reason. And why?
Well, because dirty jokes notwithstanding, Shakespeare still is great literature, high art, etc. And this is not in spite of his dirty jokes and the fact that at the time he was writing for mass appeal - it is at least partly because of those things. It's all bound up together - Shakespeare wrote the way he wrote, his writings have stood the test of time and they are great literature.

Now if stuff like Shakespeare were to be written today, dirty jokes and all, but in modern language, so it could be understood by the masses, well, they'd be very popular I imagine. But they might not be so critically acclaimed. I imagine some highbrow intellectual elitist critics would acknowledge the appeal and probably say that it was good for what it was, but really could not be considered a serious work, with all those jokes about sex and so on.
And those critics would, of course, be utterly wrong. Sadly they're unlikely to realise this, because they're all too up themselves. This is why so many things which are popular, well written, well presented and so on don't win awards in a great many cases. Because the establishment believe that theirs is the one true way, and while things deviating from that norm - comics, fantasy, sci-fi and other genre fiction, video games and related culture - may be nice enough and popular enough, in the end they're just nonsense, aren't they? They can't be considered as serious works.

We'll get to seriousness in a minute, but I have to rant about the 'nonsense' comment first (Which is something I've seen in a review of something I rather liked but which clearly didn't match up to the reviewer's 'refined' sensibilities).

So, something which is 'nonsense' is automatically denigrated with implication that however well it may be done, it can't match up to real literature/television/film. Which is total bollocks, and bollocks to that attitude. But let's examine the claim.
Leaving aside the rather highly rated Alice books by Lewis Carroll, which are pretty much defined as nonsense, the question arises: what makes something nonsense? Is it that the setting is implausible? Certain things the characters can do? Magic, or sufficiently advanced technology?
It's true that such things do not happen in the real world. They're unrealistic. But on the other hand, nothing in most works of fiction happens in the real world. They may happen in more familiar settings, which obey the laws of physics as we understand them, with regular ordinary humans. But the events described, in general, still didn't happen, and in a significant number of cases, wouldn't happen, in the real world. So where you draw the line seems to me to be rather arbitrary.
In any case, the thing is, as I said, none of the events you are reading about or watching, or listening to on the radio, none of them actually happened. This is why we require that key ability which lies at the centre of the enjoyment of fiction - suspension of disbelief. I don't imagine many people would disagree with me on that. You suspend you disbelief and consider the events of the story as if they were actually happening, including if they could actually happen.
As such, I submit that if a reviewer claims that something is "well done, but really it's just nonsense" or words to that effect, the failure is not on the part of the fiction in question. Rather the fault lies with the reviewer, who has failed to suspend his or her disbelief far enough to appreciate the work on its own merits.

Another common issue is bias, of course. Such people are biased towards believing that such things ('genre' fiction, usually) are inherently less worthy of critical praise and acclaim than the things they like (such as so-called 'literary' fiction). Likewise, this is rubbish. A work is good or not irrespective of what it is.
There is even hypocrisy evident in this elitist view. As I commented, such critics might well dismiss Shakespeare, if he were writing today instead of in the 16th and 17th centuries. But as it is, he did write his plays centuries ago, and they think he's brilliant. What's the difference? The difference as far as I can see is that Shakespeare has already garnered his reputation. When they read or watch Shakespeare, they don't think "Oh, this is quite well written, but all this stuff with the fairies and the magic is nonsense, of course, and really, those innuendos, pfft!" They think rather, "This is Shakespeare, see, that man really knew how to turn a phrase, he truly exalts his subjects," etc. Shakespeare is automatically on their list of things which are allowed to be viewed as worthy of acclaim by tradition, so they're able to consider him on his actual merits.
To a lesser extent, this is also true of Doctor Who. In years gone past, I've compared reviews in the Radio Times of Doctor Who to those of Torchwood, Primeval, and the like. Doctor Who gets very good reviews, the others not so much. And while Who is my favourite of them, it has had some rather bad episodes, and the others have had some very good ones. The reviews really smack of a double standard. In the heads of these people, Torchwood and the like are sci-fi shows, whereas Doctor Who is a national phenomenon.

Anyway, the point is that what a few snobbish elitists happen to think is incredibly wrong. They're not wrong about everything, of course. The things they do think are good generally are. I have nothing against artsy-fartsy deep and meaningful works - indeed I feel they are unjustly served by being the favourites of such people as I have described, because it inclines more people to think that such things are only for the educated high-brow intellectuals, that normal people wouldn't get them, and thus such works miss out on popularity which they may well deserve. But they are not inherently better than other works just because a certain class of people have decided that these are the 'serious' works.

There's that word serious again. I think it's time I dealt with it, since it's really meant to be the focus of this post, the rest being by way of a very long preamble. Well, sort of. It is all talking about the subject of the post, but I haven't precisely stated that subject as yet.

There is a phrase on the internet: SERIOUS BUSINESS. Typically "X is SERIOUS BUSINESS." Sometimes abbreviated to 'SRS BSNS'. And, well, this is generally said in a rather mocking way. For example, some Pokemon enthusiasts may be talking about how you maximise your pokemons' stats, and someone not so into the game would be astounded at the amount of thought and effort that goes into this stuff. To which, "Pokemon is SRS BSNS." The point being, it's not that serious. It's a game, played for fun, but people who like it get disproportionately serious about it, to a point where it seems ridiculous to an outsider. But this is their interest, and going further into it increases their enjoyment. So it is with anything.
Alternatively, it can be used in a derogatory sense. At one time I recall someone from the Playground's Free Form Role-Playing section, then still known as The Town, saying he was losing interest because so many people were making it all about SERIOUS BUSINESS whereas he preferred it when things were light-hearted and silly. The point in this instance of course being that these people are taking things too seriously and thus detracting from the fact it's supposed to be a fun pastime. And the difference being that this one is to do with personal interaction more. While those making everything serious are enjoying themselves, because that's the way their taste runs in roleplaying, they may also be rather unyielding, leading to a feeling of exclusion for those who have different tastes in this regard.

So here we see, the main views of incredible seriousness on the internet are either that anything can be taken seriously in the cause of deriving more enjoyment from it, but this does not require any inherent seriousness; or that taking things too seriously can remove the fun from it and exclude those who are being less serious.
I feel these principles can be applied outside the internet as well, in general.

Basically, nothing is inherently serious. You can take things seriously, and sometimes you should do so, for the benefit of others, generally in the form of increased enjoyment, or alleviated pain (Which could be said to be on the same scale - pain is in the negatives, while enjoyment is in the positives). If someone is in pain, despair, under a lot of stress, etc, you should generally not make jokes about it (Varies of course - sometimes a joke will help to lighten their mood, other times it'll just be insensitive; the difficulty is in distinguishing between the two). But when the problem is not so immediate, jokes may sometimes be made - black humour is something appreciated by many, though it should be used with a certain amount of caution.
Certainly, when it comes to genres of fiction, as I was commenting on above, with regards to snobbish critics, nothing is inherently more serious than anything else. The snobbery of such people taking things too seriously, however, tends to exclude fans of the things not viewed as 'serious', when in fact they have no inherent inferiority. They can be taken seriously, or not. Jeremy Jahns comments on this in his movie reviews sometimes, joking about elitist critics with a tendency to use terms like 'tour de force' and 'bravura performance', and so on, and disregarding things which don't meet their standards of seriousness regardless of the fact they're actually very good and very popular. For that reason he and various other youtube movie reviewers set up a youtube-only set of awards, in response to numerous people being annoyed at some things which had been snubbed at the Oscars.

What does matter is enjoyment. Imcreasing people's happiness, reducing pain, etc. To put it in Vlogbrothers/nerdfighter terminology, reducing suck and increasing awesome. One can take things seriously to that end, to organise things, and to avoid hurting people's feelings by making light of things which bother them particularly. But nothing is serious, there is nothing which has to be serious, all the time. Things are often better when they're not serious, because seriousness is not important. Fun is.
I have a video link to that effect:

Thank you Hank Green.
Another Vlogbrothers example - John Green got mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal, due to the success of his new book The Fault in Our Stars, staying at the top of the Amazon bestseller list for the first however many days after it became available to preorder when it didn't even have a cover yet. This was naturally very pleasing for him, Hank, and Nerdfighteria at large, but the thing which really kind of stood out for me, and probably for a number of other people as well (Indeed John mentioned it in his blog post on the subject), was the fact that the article mentioned the nerdfighting phenomenon and therefore the websites associated with it, notably for me the forum
The Wall Street Journal included in the URL I was very pleased by this. Why?
Obviously it's nice to see that sort of acknowledgement to an internet community, since I'm rather enthusiastic about the idea of internet communities. Partly it's the thrill of doing something which is forbidden - it's not actually forbidden, but it feels like that is not the sort of URL which should be appearing in a serious publication like the Wall Street Journal. But really, well, it's that last thing I just wrote. That is not the sort of URL you expect to see in a 'serious' publication like the Wall Street Journal. The significance is that the power of Nerdfighteria, an internet community, has eroded some of the perceived boundaries between what is and is not serious. Because truthfully there is no reason why a URL like should not appear in the Wall Street Journal and there's no reason why the Wall Street Journal should not acknowledge that amazing internet community known as Nerdfighteria. Both are only as serious as you want them to be at any given moment, and it could be said that actually Nerdfighteria are a few steps ahead because they definitely realise that.

Nothing is inherently serious. Things are only as serious as we choose to take them. And when it comes to things like books, fiction in general, returning somewhat to my complaints about critics, certainly nothing is more serious than anything else. It's all a monument to irrationality.

And finally I get back to my title. This is a quote from the play Jumpers, by Tom Stoppard, about a philosopher and his wife, among other things. The relevant lines are as follows:

DOTTY: "Archie says the church is a monument to irrationality."
GEORGE: "[...]
The National Gallery is a monument to irrationality! Every concert hall is a monument to irrationality! And so is a nicely kept garden, or a lover's favour, or a home for stray dogs! You stupid woman, if rationality were the sole criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one enormous field of soya beans!
The irrational, the emotional, the whimsical... these are the stamp of humanity which makes reason a civilizing force."

Looking at it purely rationally, what is the purpose of humanity, its driving force? One might argue it has no purpose, and its driving force is simply the desire to propagate its own existence. We have our hardwired imperatives to ensure our own survival and the continuation of our species, and anyhing else? Anything else we have given to ourselves. It might be considered an act of vanity on our part as a species, estting ourselves apart from other animals by daring to think that we are different, somehow superior, that we have self-determined purpose. But that is what makes us human, that is what, to quote Discworld, makes us where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
All that irrationality. Oh, one may argue that it promotes the creation of our social bonds, forming the human community, which helps propagate the species, and so it does to some extent, but it's somewhat  beyond that at this point. We do not require these things, but we desire them, irrationally, to the point that they become the purposes of our many existences. Because were we to stick to the purely rational view, all we need to do is survive and pass on our genes, that's all very well, but the question must occur to any thinking animal: to what purpose do I survive? Having ensured our survival, what should we then do with it but enjoy it? And so, we enjoy ourselves, however we may. We read and tell stories, play games, analyse them, seek answers to questions about the workings of the universe and our own existence, ever striving for our own satisfaction in these regards, and we build endless great monuments to irrationality.

This blog is a monument to irrationality, and I'm very happy about that. It'd be terribly boring otherwise.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Voice in Speech and Writ

After my brief post about titles, I found myself thinking about communication, given what I was saying about how my odd choice of titles is partly intended to help me express myself properly.
And I came to a thought I've had before - I've talked in other posts about youtube, and vlogging, and how I'm unlikely to end up doing it, though it's possible I might. And all this leads on to communication and expressing yourself.

Now, of course when I blog, and indeed when I post on forums, I do my best to sound like myself, as it were. Of course conversely, the way I speak has also moved closer to the way I write things online, so it works both ways. But the point is, I imagine people who know me will be able to imagine me saying these things I've written - I know that I can, since I'm often turning them over in my mind, listening to myself talk within my own mind, for some time before I actually get them onto a computer. Similarly I believe I mentioned in my meetup post that for a little while after a meetup I tend to hear people's posts in their voices. This effect lasts longer the more I hear those voices and get used to them.
And even if this is read by people unfamiliar with my voice, I'm pretty sure they will be able to recognise a certain consistent idiom running through the various things I write.

An odd addition to this is the fact that one inevitably is influenced by one's experiences - I pick up mannerisms to some extent from people around me if I've been spending time with them through any means - which can include more than just interacting with people. It's certainly true that my mannerisms are influenced by my friends, but they can also be influenced by things I've been watching. I think I mentioned in my Vlogbrothers post that having been watching their videos I found myself thinking to a certain extent in their voices and trying to model my own video performances on them, which was difficult given differences in accent. Similarly, before writing the title post last night I'd been watchng David Mitchell's Soapbox, and consequently found myself subconsciously imitating him to some extent, and particularly I think the last paragraph of that post I was thinking in his voice rather than my own. As a sidenote, I do feel a certain kinship with David Mitchell in this regard, because while he is a successful comedian and I'm not, we share the fact that we are opinionated (Many of our opinions seem to be the same as well), and use the internet to broadcast some of those opinions to the world at large, albeit through different means. Likewise the moment of "Blah blah blah," you may ask, to which I respond, etc owed a certain amount to the start of Yahtzee's Zero Punctuation review of Duke Nukem Forever (For real this time). I doubt anyone would notice these if I didn't point them out, but it's an interesting observation to make, I feel.

Now, communication, and expressing oneself. Essentially, in general, all forms of communication are attempts to mimic face-to-face conversation, because that's the most direct form of communication. I've considered this carefully in the past, in deciding how best to communicate something to someone where I really felt the communication should be as direct as I could make it - however I make a distinction between direct and immediate communication, which we'll come to a little way down.

Now of course the most direct and immediate is face-to-face, as I've said. You're actually there with your interlocutor, you can hear the tones and inflections of their voice, see their expressions and actions, there are immediate responses, and you can even interact physically with them should it be relevant.
Next down the hierarchy is video chat. No possibility of physical interaction, but it retains the immediacy and you can still see them and hear them, so it retains all those points, as if they were actually there. You can treat them as if they were actually there even if they are in fact several hundred miles away and you're actually just interacting with an image in a small box on your computer screen.
Now here is where it gets debatable as to how much immediacy counts for directness. Sometimes directness is important but immediacy is not. Sometiems the opposite is the case. While there is a relation between the two, it's difficult to decide how strong a link.
In any case, my next choice for direct communication was phone - immediate, still has directness of the vocal communication, which is the most important aspect, you're only missing the visuals.
And then, well, my next option is valuing directness over immediacy. If one doesn't care about getting an immediate response - indeed under some circumstances you might want to allow someone to think about what you're asking them before responding without feeling pressured - recording a video can potentially work very well. Of course, this was the idea behind Brotherhood 2.0, which spawned the whole Vlogbrothers youtube phenomenon. But it makes sense. You have the experience of saying what you want to say to whoever you're talking to (although granted you're actually saying it to a camera and just imagining it to be the person you know will eventually watch the video), and they get the experience of you saying it to them, just the same as in video chat but without the ability to respond immediately.
(As a sidenote, the whole 'pretend the person in the box on your screen is actually there talking to you' led me onto a tangent about suspension of disbelief in relation to films and so on, but I think I'll put that in a different post)
Next down is text chat, be it MSN, Facebook chat, or any of the myriad other such options. No tone or inflection, but you have the immediacy. And then texting I suppose comes in slightly above email and other forms of private messaging because your phone alerts you to texts making an immediate response more likely. But this is basically the bottom of the hierarchy. If something is important, it might well be more effective to retain some of the directness by recording a video (Oh, you could record a voice clip, forgot that as an option, that would come in above MSN, but again no immediacy, like video), and more people should consider that as an option. Granted I've only done it once, but it worked that one time.

So, the thing is, I've just acknowledged here that text is an inferior form of communication than video, and inevitably the question now arises of why I choose in general to blog rather than vlog?
I thought I'd answer that question in a video:

So that should explain my views on the matter. Of course some might argue that forcing myself to fit into a shorter period of time would help me be briefer, less long-winded, mroe to the point, but I like being as I am, and the fact is I have a lot to say, and a restriction would simply result in me saying less, rather than saying the same in less time, as you might think. If I did somehow manage to compress my thoughts into a shorter period of time, well then perhaps I could say the same thing in less time, but more importantly, it would also be less me. And I couldn't have that.

The title's the thing

I have great difficulty coming up with titles for my blog posts sometimes. Because the particular brand of eccentricity I bring to the task of blogging leads me to reject out of hand the possibility of titling a post with a simple statement of its subject, I am forced to rack my brain searching for a suitably relevant quotation from something I've read or watched, or from some amusing conversation with a friend. Failing that, some minor word-play may serve the purpose.

And yet I obsess over it, to the point where I sometimes find it very difficult to begin a blog post without the title. I sit here trying to come up with some decent line from a Shakespeare play that has something to do with the importance of certain things so I can use it to title a post I intend to write which will be ostensibly about Shakespeare, but get seriously derailed onto a tangent partway through. The irony of complaining about this problem in a post the title of which is a minor reference to Hamlet is naturally not lost on me.
You'll note that I already know it will be derailed. While I don't come up with detailed plans for my blog posts, I do think about them in advance, running lines through my head, essentially narrating bits of them to myself, and much of what I have thought to myself will end up verbatim in the finished post. So if I already know so much of what I'm going to write, why am I delayed by so simple a thing as the lack of a title?

It is of course in no small part due to the notable occasion when I decided to come up with a title after writing the post and forgot about it until about 13 hours later. I don't want that to happen again. But I think there's more to it than that.
Comparing it to titling/naming other things, I consider books and stories. Now for either of those, I would be perfectly happy to write the whole thing and come up with a title afterwards. Of course in that case it would be a sufficiently big project that I wouldn't forget the title. Fiction takes more thought than blogging, or at least more thought than the way I blog, since I basically just write down my own thoughts, which I've already had so I knwo what they are in advance.
But also, the title need have little relevance to the content of the book or story. for example, John Green of the Vlogbrothers recently finished a book titled The Fault in Our Stars. Now certainly the title must have some relevance to the content - things will be related in the course of the book which seem to be, perhaps, cruel jokes on the part of fate, which I believe is what the quote from which that title is taken really refers to, not that I remember it exactly. The point is, the title of a story mostly needs to sound good. As an important but secondary concern, it should have some relevance to the story, but it need not actually describe the events. TFiOS certainly doesn't deal with stellar structure.

But my blog post titles, say I, are different. "How so?" you may sneeringly and sceptically ask, "After all, your particular practice of these obscure titles is largely a sort of intellectual elitist snobbery on your part, isn't it? In-jokes and things, rather than usefully conveying the actual subject of the post?"
To which I respond, my, how much like me you sound. But while you have a point, this whole blog is an expression of my thoughts. I try to make them interesting to a certain extent, but mostly I just try to make them me. And while I acknowledge it's perhaps not the most helpful attitude, since anyone who hasn't been reading my blog from the start might have some difficulty locating a post on a particular subject unless they think like me, which is a mildly frightening idea. Also, I find my own thought-processes more difficult to follow in reverse. Hell, even the original way round, retrospect doesn't exactly do wonders for the clarity of my thoughts. As a sidenote, this is why I have difficulty remembering passwords for things - I can't be sure exactly which bit of free associating I may have done to reach a probably unguessable password.
Wow, that was a big digression. While I acknowledge it's not the most helpful attitude, since blah blah blah, what it is is expressive of me. Also, while it might be confusing to someone who hasn't read the posts before, I hope they'll be fairly memorable to those who have read them before, at least in most cases. And also also, where possible I really do like the titles to tie into the content of the post, to a greater extent than the title of a story. I can't always manage it, but I like to.
Which is where the difference comes in. Because my titles must be vaguely interesting, quirkily me, and vaguely descriptive of the post content all at once. Furthermore, the title does actually potentially affect the way I write, due to relating the title and the thoughts behind it to what I'm actually saying. It can sometimes lend structure to otherwise largely disparate and incoherent thoughts, or simply change the way I express them. For example, not a post, but the title of the blog itself: A Dinosaur, Not a Spaceship. I had several ideas going into creating this blog for things I wanted to write about (Some of those original ideas I have still yet to get to), but by choosing that title, it changed the way I expressed them because I thought of links to that title, with the analogy of putting boxes on one's head and pretending to be different things (Note to self: Talk more about putting boxes on my head).
In the same way, for all that I have my thoughts pretty well lined up on this one, my post not really exactly about Shakespeare will in all probability be written in a more interesting fashion if I can come up with an interesting title. That said, at some point I have to admit the possibility I may be succumbing to brain crack, bite the bullet, and choose something only vaguely relevant, as I have done on other occasions when a snappy title has failed to leap out at me.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Value of the Vagaries

There was a discussion recently on the Playground about Americanisms being introduced into British English. I'll not go to much into the point of the discussion itself - some stupid rant on the subject on the BBC website by some opinionated fool. Additionally, one of his complaints was a word originally found in Kipling, making it British, not American, so I guess he didn't do his research either. Anyway, if you want to know about the original discussion you can go and find it, that's not the point of this post. A little way into that discussion someone linked to the following video:

Which prompted me to a certain amount of thought on the subject of language and pedantry, which is what this post  is about.
In the audio clip that video was built around, Stephen Fry makes some rather considerable criticism of people who are overly pedantic about grammar, punctuation, etc. Since I have considerable respect for Stephen Fry and feel he makes a lot of sense in what he says there, and yet can myself be rather pedantic about SPG, this is somewhat concerning for me, and forces me to potentially re-evaluate my own views on this subject.
My own views are somewhat closer to this:

(Which someone also linked in that thread, and which set me off watching through David Mitchell's Soapbox, which I'll probably blog about at a later date)
Now I do not intend by writing this blog post to try and absolve myself of elitist intellectual snobbery. I acknowledge that there is a vein of that running through my personality. But I want to get my views straightened out.

While Stephen Fry in that clip suggests that it is rare in his experience, clarity is certainly a point. As has been so famously observed in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, misuse of punctuation can drastically change one's meaning. To avoid this potential confusion, certain rules and conventions have been set in place. Now, one might say that this moves into the territory SF speaks of towards the end of the clip - that certain language is fit for certain circumstances. To be sure, it is highly unlikely that a grocer's misplaced apostrophe will cause a lack of clarity as to his meaning, so why should we care? I find it difficult to give an entirely satisfactory answer to that question. For me personally, it's simply because it jars for me to observe such errors. I might argue that neglecting punctuation errors where they don't matter is the thin end of the wedge, that it'll just get worse and worse. Though that's unlikely, because as I mentioned, it has substantial use for ensuring clarity, so if it were removed, we would need something else to fill that gap. Of course, if some such linguistic mechanism were to be devised, perhaps punctuation could be dropped, and this would not be a bad thing. So long as it works.

But I digress. I doubt that neglecting to nitpick in cases where the meaning is clear would lead to the downfall of punctuation as we know it. So is there a rational reason for me to bother with it, or is it simply my gut feeling that this is wrong aggravating me?
I think the issue is that to which David Mitchell calls attention in the second linked video. It's because it implies a lack of effort, and a lack of caring. Whatever SF may have to say, pedantic nitpicker though I am, I love my language. I revel in it, with all its ridiculous eccentricities. Indeed, in the above-mentioned Playground thread on Americanisms, I stated my view that while I may joke that the British versions are Right and the American ones are Wrong, my actual view is that neither is inherently better, I personally prefer the British ones, due in no small part to the fact that I was raised with them, but that both should continue to exist. Such differences add to the eccentric charm of the English language for me.
Anyway, I digress again. The point is, I care about my language. I like to see it used well. And the implication of someone randomly littering a page with simple errors is that they don't care. And that offends my sensibilities.

This goes for spelling as well as punctuation, and also for simple grammatical things like capital letters beginning sentences and proper nouns. It takes little extra effort, and notably increases the readability of what you have written in my experience. Now eccentric spelling is more forgiveable, particularly since the rules of spelling in English are rather eccentric in and of themselves. However in this case, while I am willing to be more forgiving of errors, I do nonetheless still maintain the view that people should at least try, rather than acknowledge their lack of spelling ability and just give up. In this case I will use the slippery slope argument - the more such spellings, currently viewed as 'incorrect', are used, the more likely they are to become accepted. And these spellings are typically simplifications, of which I personally do not approve. Now this is getting into my own personal feelings I suppose, rather than any truly rational argument, but I will fight to the bitter linguistic end for my eccentric spellings. I suppose in this I am guilty of some of what Stephen Fry says. I dislike it because I feel it to be ugly, because I'm so much more accustomed to the current standards.
On the other hand, I could call clarity again, since no matter what, I don't think we're going to return to the kind of free-form spelling in use back in the days of Shakespeare, say. As such, any new deviations will merely create more exceptions to the already confusing rules of English spelling. It's not much of an argument, I'll admit, but it's something.

Finally, grammar. You'll note, reading my blog posts, that I typically do try to avoid ending sentences with prepositions or splitting infinitives. Now such rules as these are fairly arbitrary and were, I believe, simply agreed upon by some stuffy prescriptivist grammarians back in the 19th century. So, I can certainly understand criticism of them for stifling free and interesting use of language. And I would not enforce such rules as these rigidly - to take a famous example, "To boldly go" is supposedly grammatically incorrect, but it conveys the intended feel far more effectively than "Boldly to go" or "To go boldly." And this rather sums up my views on this particular subject. I avoid splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions, by and large, not because it was viewed as correct by some Victorian men, but because I personally feel that in general, it produces a greater euphony in the finished sentence. If I feel it would sound better to disregard such a rule, I will disregard it to hell and back.
Also, I'm fairly certain there are 'rules' (Personally I, like Ridcully, prefer to think of them more as guidelines) of which I'm not aware. I may well typically follow them, but all I do really is try to structure my sentences so that they sound nice and convey my intended meaning clearly and unambiguously. For example, stuff to do with sentence structure I have no idea about - subjects and objects and predicates, whatever they are, I couldn't care less about them. I think things like that may well be taught in more detail in America than they are here, but I'm not really bothered in any case. I know my way around a sentence, even if I don't know what to call all the bits of it.

So, in conclusion, while I agree with some of what Stephen Fry says in that clip, I disagree with some of it as well. I have no issue per se with creative use of language, so long as it serves its purpose. People can disregard the so-called 'rules' of grammar, they can make up words, or verb words (Just like how I just verbed the word 'verb', though to be fair, I was quoting Calvin & Hobbes), I don't care, so long as their meaning is clear. Hell, it worked well enough for Shakespeare. And people thoroughly enjoying their use of language is something of which I most adamantly approve.
However I see a definite and important distinction between enjoying creative use of language and just not caring about whether or not you get it right. What constitutes 'right' is hard to define, but it most definitely exists. If the idiots one encounters from time to time who seem to me to be flagrantly abusing my beloved language can give a convincing argument for their particular 'creative' choice of words, spelling, etc, and why it rings truer to their ears than the traditional 'standard' English which they so defy, then more power to them and I'll reserve my scorn. But if, as I feel is significantly more likely, they just never bothered to learn how to speak well, and so get by on vulgarities and attitude, then I shall continue to feel justified in sneering at them.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Insanity, slavery, ladders, sticks, crabs, and more insanity. All in your balanced meetup experience!

Right, so this weekend just gone was the eighth UK meetup of GitP forumites, and the fourth which I have attended. They’re excellent fun! While the internet is of course a wonderful thing, and I’ve acquired numerous friends via this medium, there is an additional level of connection that you can get through actually seeing people in person. I probably wrote stuff about this before, talking about the potential confusion of perception of internet friendships, particularly met on forums, since it’s all rather communal and it is thus tricky to pin down specific amounts of interaction with specific people, but I can’t remember for certain, and I can’t check because I’m writing this blog post on the train back from Peterborough and the wifi is only free for 15 minutes, unless you’re travelling first class. That may well even be 15 minutes total, rather than per journey, in which case I already used up that 15 minutes on the train down, checking the Steam sale and posting about how I was on a train.
OK, actually I just checked, it is per journey. So that’s something. I wondered briefly how they determined when it’s a separate journey, but I suppose it’s fairly simple, it’ll get reset between the trips the specific train takes. Anyway, I’m now going to use my 15 minutes for this journey. See you in 15 minutes, word document!

OK, that was a bit longer than 15 minutes. Handily, once something’s loaded, there is of course nothing to stop me reading it even after the free wifi runs out, so I loaded up a few pages at the last minute and just read through them. And then I accidentally switched on my camera by sitting on it, which prompted me to look through my photos. Some of which will be in this post once I’ve gotten home and uploaded them. Anyway, I’m back now.
(Yes, I realise that when people read this this will seem a rather pointless interlude, but I’m sticking to my stream of consciousness!)

Warning: This is an incredibly long blog post. I’ve tried to avoid the wall of text feel by breaking it up into sections and paragraphs and so on, and including pictures, but the fact remains that this was a really wonderful weekend for me and I have a lot to say about it.

So, the meetup. After months of planning, we were all set. We would go to Peterborough and play games. There would be merriment, and baked goods provided by the divine Curly. But then disaster! Her cooker broke somehow during the first batch of cookies. So, I quickly rushed out to Sainsbury’s and bought some baking ingredients. I had a friendly cashier who wished me a good time at the meetup. I would say good times were had. And by ‘quickly’, I mean ‘A few hours later after checking several recipes, though I didn’t actually make note of how much of anything I needed, nor of what was for which recipe. But it worked out well enough. I baked shortbread, sultana and lemon cookies, and chocolate chip cookies (With dark, milk, and white chocolate). I was also going to make something along the lines of a teabread, but it was getting late, and then I didn’t have enough time on the Friday, especially since you’re supposed to leave the fruit in the tea overnight.
In retrospect, I should have taken photos of my baking once it was done but before I let anyone eat any. But I still have a few bits left, so I guess I can take photos of those when I get back, for your viewing convenience.


Anyway, on Friday I packed up all my stuff. Some clothes, a few games, and the baked goods. And my laptop. Train down was fine, 15 minutes free wifi, which I carefully saved for around 6pm so I could check the  new Steam sales (Not that there was anything which  interested me, as it turned out). And of course in that time I also posted on the Playground to say I was on a train, and on facebook to say I was en route to Peterborough, and demanded the people in the GiantitP facebook chat say something interesting in the 15 minute period. I can’t remember if they complied or not. (This time round, incidentally, the responses to a demand for interesting stuff were “I just started TF2.” “My dinner is delicious.” and “I now has a broken 360.” And then Serp proceeded to talk some more about her dinner, leading into a general food conversation and then my time ran out)

Train was a bit delayed due to power outages caused by lightning strikes, but nothing too bad. Arrived in Peterborough. Noted that cars seemed to get into the surrounding environs of the station fairly slowly, so looked around for anything nearby more convenient. Ahah! A car park. Call, KuReshtin, he’s at the station already picking up Archie. So that was a bit of a waste  of time, oh well.
To the Holiday Inn, where we then sat around for a while chatting, more internetting, etc.

Come to meet online friends in person, so naturally the first thing we do is go on the internet.
Fred dealt 258 SAN (Sanity, for the uninitiated) damage to Archie by talking about space squid using nitrates in cucumbers to turn humans into shraks, which are sharks with fur and guns for fins. You know, your standard sort of hanging out. 
The face of a man who causes sanity damage.
But then!
Around 2100 hours, we began consultation regarding an important mission we believed we should undertake. We considered awaiting the arrival of the Dutch contingent, and contemplated problems regarding volume of transit facilities. There was an option that one might remain behind as our contact at base. We requested assistance from other units but they were without necessary resources or local knowledge. At 2200 hours, we decided the matter was becoming urgent, and asked assistance of a helpful local regarding possible target areas. Having chosen one, we checked the suitability of our projected entry time, and set off, one group securing an area while our driver returned for the remaining pair. Primary and secondary mission objectives were achieved, the Dutch contingent were contacted, and we returned to base to rendezvous with them.

“Ooh,” I’m sure you’re thinking, “fancy-pants faux-military terminology. What the hell is he talking about?” Well, allow me to reiterate, recapitulate, and elucidate. That is, let me say that again, a bit more clearly:

Around 9pm: “So, we should probably go get some food.” “Well the restaurant here closes at 9:30, so we might want to go somewhere else.” “DD said he’d be here around 9, should we wait for him?” “We’ll wait for him to arrive, then eat him!” “Wait, if we’re going into Peterborough, the car only seats five, and there are six of us. Someone’ll have to stay behind.” “Or I could do two trips.” “No! Fred stays behind!” And so on. I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist. Then there was something about how Fred was going to mastermind the mission from back at the base.
Yes, it had become a serious mission at this point.
Primary mission objective: Find food.
Secondary mission objective: Eat food.
We were also consulting with other Playgrounders via the facebook chat. Cassie was unhelpful. Avocado offered to air-drop food if he had a plane. Which he doesn’t. The Dutch contingent were still yet to arrive.

Around 10pm: “OK, seriously, food. Ask someone at the reception desk where’s good.” “OK, there’s an Italian here, ring to see if they’re open.” ... “OK, yeah, this Italian, we’ll ring to see if they’re still open?” Around 10:20 I think, we headed out, and were there by 10:30ish, having made the two car journeys. Mission objectives were achieved. DD called partway through the meal, we told him he was late and therefore terrible.
Oh, did I mention Archie doesn’t know how to use his new phone? Well, he does for some things. He can search for restaurants and stuff, but he is as yet unfamiliar with how to use the phone to phone people.
Oh, also Fred is now called Fish. I forgot to mention that.
Hmm, this is going to be a long post... also I’m not going to finish it in the space of the train journey. We’re at York already (Bye, Kobold-Bard), and I haven’t finished talking about Friday yet. This is still just the pre-meetup meetup. Or that might be the morning, in which case this is the pre-pre-meetup-meetup meetup. Anyway, I digress. Digressing further, it occurs to me that one logs in for the free wifi using one’s email address and I have 3 different email addresses. So... I think I’ll see if I can get another fifteen minutes. I don’t think anything else of particular note happened on Friday. Oh, Archie’s SAN damage got up to at least 372 (355 by Fred, 17 by Korli). There may have been more, but he was away from his dice and I didn’t bother adding on numbers that were just being picked out of the air. Apparently the count by the end was 832 SAN damage. Unless more was dealt after we left them to get on our train.
Right, back in another fifteen minutes or thereabouts.
OK, it doesn’t work, presumably because all my other details are the same, so it knows it’s still me. Or maybe it knows that this is the same laptop, either way, no more internet ’til I get home, ’cause I’m sure as hell not paying for it.


Rising early in the morning, We proceed to light the fire­-no! This is not Gilbert & Sullivan time. Oh, I had another G&S moment on Saturday night, because Kurly used the word ‘contemplative’, so naturally my brain started looping In a contemplative fashion.
The concealed face of a Goddess who drives me to contemplation, and G&S earworms.
Rising early in the morning, at least by my standards (I am not much of a morning person), we went down, chatted a bit, then had breakfast. Breakfast at the Holiday Inn was too expensive in my view, but Tasroth insisted on it, and since it was paid by the room... on the plus side, it was a self-service buffet, so I loaded up on food in the hopes it would last me through the whole day and I wouldn’t need to pay for more food later on. Again, two trips to get everyone there, also we picked up a Spanner from the train station. And, once again, the Dutch contingent was late. Started off playing Munchkin.
Also we stole DD's hat.
A very long game of Munchkin. I mean, Munchkin does start off slowly, but it was even worse for us, because we kept getting reverted back to level 1 once we reached level 3. So about an hour in, we were all still low-level. Eventually we did rise to higher levels, but seriously, really long game. I’ll have to ask someone else exactly how long once I arrive back at the internet. That is, once I arrive home. Though I guess you could say the internet is my home in a way. Finally me and Spanner won jointly, by co-operating to kill a monster and me being an elf (Munchkin players may feel free to question the rules-legality of this, but we decided it was fine).
Oh, other rules dispute we had – a wizard can charm a monster by discarding his hand. If he has no cards in his hand, can he still do that, discarding his zero cards for the charm spell? We let it work, of which I was glad since I was the wizard. Though it did then prompt someone to curse me to lose my class (For those who don’t know, jokes about the players having no class are standard in Munchkin. It’s even in the rules).

While this had been going on, various other games were played. Everyone arrived, some people were taking over the universe, others were shooting the sheriff, but not the deputy. Song reference aside, actually they weren’t shooting the sheriff because he had a special ability that made him more or less invulnerable (Seriously. While fun, that game is a tad unbalanced). Oh, they also put the sheriff in jail, despite the fact is says in the rules you can’t do that. There may have been other games played – I know that Once Upon a Time and Fluxx were played at some point while I was otherwise engaged, but I’m not sure when.
Oh, and of course, Nuclear War. Wherein Cassie, the resident cockroach, was defeated. By propaganda.
Turn 3. Cockroach is dead. No nukes fired.
Now, onto the big stuff: RPG sessions began.

First, Archie’s 4th edition adventure. I wasn’t in this, so I don’t know all of what happened. But despite Archie having made threatening insinuations about demiliches and dracoliches to his players (The characters were level 2, btw), it all sounded fairly reasonable. My impression is that it was your fairly standard kick in the door hack and slash D&D adventure, just exploring a dungeon and fighting monsters, so there’s not that much I can say. Main point of interest – they found a black dragon. Kobold-Bard (Playing an actual kobold bard) defected to the dragon’s side (Presumably under the assumption the party would lose, and not wanting to die). Subsequently he ran away and fell into a spike pit.

Oh, prior to that, apparently kobold throwing was a rather effective tactic.
Oh yeah, also there was talk of bottomless pits (Though I don’t think there actually were any in the dungeon), and the false bottoms of said bottomless pits. Not really false, just you never get there, because the idea was that on reaching the bottom of the pit you’re teleported back to the top again. Portal discussion inevitably ensued. also I think a certain amount of immature amusement about the false bottoms.
More on the immature amusement front later, but first!

Right, we’re getting close to Newcastle, so I’m going to have to leave this and come back to it once I’m home.

OK, it’s now several hours later because I’ve been doing other things, like checking the internet in general and uploading my photos. And playing video games (Last day of the Steam sale, I have to). Vaguely interesting point – it being so soon after a meetup, I’m much more prone to hearing people’s posts in their actual voices in my head (People who were at the meetup that is). It’s a tad odd, because of accents.
Incidentally, returning to the point of this mentioning of leaving and coming back to writing the post. I’m really not sure myself what purpose it serves. I guess you’re getting some level of insight into the creative process of me writing a blog post? That is, I think of a subject, start writing, periodically getting distracted and doing something else.
Now, as I was about to say before I was so rudely interrupted by the train approaching my station (How very dare it):

Lensman’s Star Wars Session

Now, Star Wars is not necessarily my favourite thing, but I can certainly see how the setting can be cool for adventuring in, and I had been reliably informed that these were really good. Also last summer I overheard Lensman doing funny robot voices and stuff, and Ku using his MOST COMMANDEROUS VOICE, which sounded amusing. I was not disappointed, though I didn’t get as much into it at first, simply because my dice rolls were terrible early on.

OK, first, I’ll briefly go through the characters:
Canraki, smuggler. Played by KuReshtin. Good in a fight, and seems to rather enjoy fighting as well. Also has a massive amoral streak, particularly when it comes to dealing with Imperial stormtroopers. There were mentions of a few gruesome fates he’d inflicted.
Torgul, engineer. Played by Hamishspence. Not so assertive as the other characters, but really good at his engineering. Droid programming and such. Less good at fighting, or anything physical really.
Drake, mercenary. Played by Spanner. Modelled somewhat on Jayne from Firefly, down to ad-libbing into the game start script “This is my very favourite gun! I call it Vera.” Likes his fighting, very good at it.
Koorly, senator. Played by Coorli. As a senator, naturally particularly good at negotiating and suchlike, but also surprisingly good in a fight.
Oren Sinclair, pilot. Played by me. Really good pilot, fairly nimble, moderately strong, and decent in a fight if I actually rolled any decent numbers. The description on the character sheet Lensman gave me says “He joined the rebellion because the Empire was too grey – TIEs have no style!” Which left me briefly tempted to play him camp and fabulous. But I didn’t.

I’ll briefly describe the system. For each of a bunch of different skills (e.g. Blaster, Climb/Jump, Hide/Sneak, Pilot, etc) you have a stat of xD + y. So whenever you have to do something you find the relevant skill, roll x d6s and add y, then the GM tells you if that’s good enough to do what you wanted to do. Bad things happen if you roll all 1s. If you want to do more than one thing in a round, you subtract one die from each skill before rolling it. So for example, if I’m fighting and want to dodge my opponents attack as well as shooting him, instead of rolling 3D+1 for my shot and being automatically hit by his attack, I would roll 2D+1 for my shot and 2D+2 to dodge his attack (My base dodge being 3D+2).
Oh yes, and you have force points. We had one force point each. By using the force, you get to double all your skills. So 3D+1 becomes 6D+2, for example.

Got that? It’s not overly important if you haven’t, I suppose. I won’t be mentioning the  mechanics a great deal.
So the scenario began in medias res. We went through a provided one page pre-game script to get us into it. To summarise, we need to blow up an automated sensor station within the next three days. Our airship was struck by lightning or something (It was definitely Canraki’s fault somehow), we’ve crash landed in a jungle, and because of some technobabble, our guns won’t work (This is why the sensor station is two kilometres up). There is a ground station forty clicks away that should have an emergency zeppelin we can use. And then we were attacked by spiders.
The others apart from Torgul (Who as I mentioned, isn’t great at fighting) do fairly well, attacking the spiders with fists, knives, and the butts of their useless guns. I try to brawl and miss. And miss again. Third round I land a hit! ...on Koorly (I rolled two 1s). And the next round I somehow managed to submerge myself up to about the armpits in mud (Two 1s again). So much for my smart, stylish clothing. Le sigh. I was joined in my critical failure this time by Koorly, who managed to hit Canraki rather than the spider he was grappling with. As I recall she actually injured him as well (Whereas my hit on her was weak and ineffectual). So, not the best combat, though we did beat the spiders in the end, and all damage was able to be healed.

On our way towards the ground station we saw another ship crash down and went to see if it had any useful salvageable parts. Whereupon we were ambushed by native people who spoke a language which only Koorly and Torgul could understand. Variant of Old Galactic or something. They took us to their leader. Koorly explained we simply wanted to get to that ground station, and transport and stuff would be helpful. So, trading. She offered whatever was left in our ship but the chief didn’t place any value on it. Instead, he wanted Koorly herself. (Lensman has said subsequently that he would have wanted me had it not been for my muddy misadventure – apparently Oren is pretty? – which only reaffirmed my thoughts  on how I could have played my character as camp...)
So, the rest of us being completely oblivious, Koorly negotiated to sell herself into slavery, claiming to be a princess to get a better price, including a guide (Which surely would have been problematic had this idea gone through, since the guide could hardly fail to notice her rejoining us after escaping from captivity). But at that moment we were surprised by the appearance of a recurring villain! Well, she hasn’t recurred yet, but she probably will. Apparently Canraki shut her brother in a box and left him to burn to death. After briefly gloating at her stupidity in trying to shoot us, which of course wouldn’t work due to the technobabble at the planet’s core, we attacked, Koorly having quickly renegotiated with the chief to sell this woman and her two thugs into slavery instead of her. Canraki dealt with one thug and the woman herself, but Drake and the other thug seemed fairly evenly matched (Though as I recall, this was at least partly just because Spanner wasn’t rolling so well). The chief announced that this must be solved by law. Which in their culture means trial by combat.

Pit fight!
Drake fought the thug on these walkways above a pit containing a Jabberwock (I don’t know if it was ever intended to be something from the Star Wars universe, Lensman was just calling it a Jabberwock). Drake chose a spear, the thug a club. There was some manoeuvring around the walkways, and we got the impression the thug planned to try and break a walkway to drop Drake in the pit. Drake first managed to stab him, then to avoid the walkway smashing, threw the spear as a distraction and charged the guy, who dropped his club, and they just started grappling. Drake got put in a rather precarious position, half off the pillar, but managed to get back up again. Tried to force the guy back and out the side of the arena, which would cause him to forfeit the fight, but poor rolls put paid to that plan and necessitated a retreat. Got back to the other pillar, thug charges. Drake tried to dodge out of the way at the last minute and leave the guy careering onward into empty space and falling in the pit to be eaten. Didn’t quite work, Drake ended up lying down half off the pillar again. Finally good rolls, managed to drag the thug down like that as well, and then pushed him off.
And so we left the woman (Her name was Calya) and her remaining thug as slaves, she vowing revenge on us, got some jewellery and stuff in addition to what was originally bargained for as compensation for the fact the thug cheated by throwing a grenade at Drake during the fight.

We got to the ground station, took the zeppelin, flew up to the sensor station. Our guns started working again, about which Drake was very pleased. Managed to bluff our way on past the security droid. Inside we were greeted by a very polite robotic voice informing us that the internal security systems had been switched off for only five minutes, then they would be reactivated, which would regrettably result in our deaths, and have a nice day. We managed to get the elevator open, and were informed that while the elevator was unfortunately not working, ladders had been provided for our convenience and the security systems inside the elevator shaft had been switched off temporarily. Me, Torgul and Drake headed up to the top level, while Koorly and Canraki headed down.
It was at this point we had our most trying encounter of the whole adventure. Though we took no damage, it seriously slowed us down by catching first one and then the other of the downward-heading group, and tying up all three of the upward-heading group at once for some time. I am of course referring to our epic struggle... with the ladders.
Due to a series of bad rolls, Koorly snagged her clothes on the ladder, forcing Canraki to climb back up and detach her. Then he got his foot stuck through the rungs, forcing  her to come down and help him out. Meanwhile my group of three initially all tried to climb the ladder simultaneously, with understandably ineffective results. But eventually we all got to the top and bottom of the station and planted explosives, also Torgul got the R5 droid at the top to switch off the self-repair system and completely switch off the security systems – none of this ‘only 5 minutes’ stuff we’d been having before.
Glancing outside at this point we noticed the arrival of an Imperial ship, which by our reckoning would probably have 24 stormtroopers on it... Also I noted the puzzling absence of our zeppelin, and the strange burning thing a little way below where it used to be...
Shortly thereafter, Commander Landig ordered us to surrender and come to the middle section to be arrested, otherwise we would be tortured painfully before we were killed. Though he seemed somewhat unclear on how he was going to get to us to torture and kill us if we refused to comply. But of course we knew we really had to get off soon before the station exploded.

Possible shenanigans with the security systems were proposed and shot down – we could only switch it on and off, we couldn’t specifically switch on the security systems in the middle section to kill the stormtroopers and leave us alive. And there were apparently external security systems as well, so we couldn’t tell the droid to switch the security back on, then off again ins a minute or so, and just wait out that minute while hanging off the outside of the station (In retrospect, it occurs to me this may have been some quick thinking on Lensman’s part to prevent the encounter from being too easy). So first, Drake rappelled down the elevator shaft to the middle section, threw in a thermal detonator, slammed the door shut and dropped down to the bottom. 6 dead (As I recall this was what he used his force point on). They retaliated with a grenade of their own, but shutting the elevator doors left us safe so they only succeeded in destroying our archnemeses the ladders.

Next, we climbed up and down the sides of the station. Drake and Koorly came up below a pair of stormtroopers who they shot while hanging off the station (I think this was Koorly’s force point?) and then got up onto the walkway along with Canraki. Torgul IIRC spent his force point to ensure he climbed down safely, while I was fine normally, and we came down on the opposite side – in fact, the side where we’d originally entered, and also where the Commander was. So we co-ordinated our assault. The three good fighters entered from their side all guns blazing, distracting the stormtroopers. Thus the Commander was left with only a solitary guard. Me and Torgul entered quietly, and at this point I used my force point to allow me lots of dice for three actions all at 4D+2 (3D+1 base, doubled for using the force, minus 2D for two additional actions in the round). I sneaked up behind the two of them, shot the stormtrooper point blank in the back of the head, and held up the Commander, ordering him to tell his men to stand down and drop their weapons.

Canraki came round to see the Commander, who, as it turned out, was another recurring villain – last summer they apparently somehow convinced him to cover their escape and his unit were slaughtered by giant mechanical six-legged spider things. How did he survive, you ask? Well, they rebuilt him. They had the technology. He was now some sort of cyborg thing. He leaped at Canraki, and I think this was when he used his force point. Slammed the guy against the wall, where he exploded his power source. Station starting to lurch, we ran off, Canraki shoving a couple of stormtroopers off the side in his hurry to get to their ship, which we flew away. Behind us, the station started to fall out of the sky and then exploded. Mission successful!

Well, that was rather long (Quick check – yep, this is already my longest blog post so far). The writing of this post having been slowed already by other internetting, tiredness, photo uploading, gaming, sleep, gaming and a rehearsal, I think it will now be delayed once more by sleep. This is how one takes more than two days to write a blog post, which I’m sure you were all dying to know.

The rest

At some point during all that, the baked goods were broken out and given to people.
And now, we move on to a momentous occasion in UK Meetup history: For the first time ever, we played Kubb.

Kubb has, thanks to the Troglanders, basically become the official Playground meetup game (For the benefit of any non-Playgrounders still reading – Trogland is what we call Vespuccia (Vespuccia is what we call the USA)). So finally getting to play it at a UK Meetup was of significance. A detailed description of the rules is not really necessary – basically, you throw sticks at other sticks and try to knock them over. In general, we weren’t very good at it – though, if you got points for getting really close, then I would have done rather well.
So close...
After a couple of games of Kubb, several of us took a break, had a drink, chatted, and also in a couple of cases ran off to the nearest cash machine to get money. After a while, Kubb finished, and a bit later, the 4th edition session finished. At this point, we were back to the general series of various games. Some people tried out a couple of games Ku had just bought two days before – first, Wolsung, a game in which one builds steampunk machines. Apparently quite complicated, but very fun once you get used to it. And then, from behind me I had the immortal quote: “Can anyone give me crabs?”
I told you the immature humour would be back.
This was the game Kung Fu. Wherein you can make various combinations with these different animal things (Which include crabs, as well as things like tiger, bird, etc). Also, it’s fairly free-form, no turns or anything most of the time. Also sounded fun.
Meanwhile I was constructing Frankenstein’s monsters, changing history, and making an abortive attempt at bean-farming. That is, we played It’s Alive! and Chrononauts (Vuldus started World War 3, while Lensman repeatedly assassinated and un-assassinated Hitler) before attempting to play Bohnanza, but giving up because the rule were a bit confusing in our state of tired-ness. And then Once Upon a Time. Sadly there were no mechanical trees. I attempted to restore my Goddess to her former glory, but the story got taken away from me and also I was stuck with a stepmother I didn’t know what to do with.
Final point of note for me – there was a game of Munchkin going on, which saw some rather epic screwing over of people to stop them winning – to the tune of the Thief card being passed around the table to give everyone a chance to backstab them and steal their items. Sedracus tried several means to get people to help him win, including offering to kiss Corly’s feet, but to no avail. But then eventually, he was successful in forming another Elven alliance to win jointly with Crown of Thorns (Oh, sidenote: While playing Chrononauts, a few of us were tempted to try and win by collecting two of the artifacts on our mission cards and then getting the third by running across the room and saying “Look! I’ve got the Crown of Thorns!”)

And finally, we took group photos, eventually managing to get everyone to be seen in them,

And packed up and left. Though since once again two trips were required, there was some time spent waiting around in the function room talking about the temptation to jump up onto the stage and proclaim something. Also about people looking younger than they are.
Plait hair - reduce apparent age.
And also Shakespearean and similar period insults.
Finally finally, back at the Holiday Inn, we had one last game of Munchkin. As it progressed, people were getting rather tired, and given some of them had to leave fairly early in the morning, we speeded up the game by saying that once combat was over, the next person should take their turn, other things being sorted out during other players’ turns. Eventually, I won. Having reached level 9, the others naturally put massive amounts of effort into stopping me winning... and then DD drew Divine Intervention. And unlike Ku, when he specifically retrieved it from the discards in the earlier really long Munchkin game, I was still a Cleric. Victory is mine!

Really finally finally, the following morning my breakfast was considerably less – only a bowl of cereal and several glasses of orange juice, to maximise the amount of time I could spend with my friends at this point. Headed off to the train station a bit early. Wandered off with the others to find their breakfast, but weren’t quick enough so had to wander straight back,  following a slight NUGSS in-joke regarding a trip hazard. Met Kobold-Bard back at the station (He’d been staying elsewhere), said farewells at some length, and departed.

Sadface. I miss you guys.

Got on the train, started writing a blog post...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

This one time, at Steam Camp...

So, from the 30th of June to the 10th of July is the 2011 Steam Summer Sale, and while it's on, I'm going to write about it (Though I'm thinking of changing my 'Date-appropriate post' tag to 'Opportune moment', which would allow me more leeway for just writing about things within a couple of weeks of significant related events).
They're referring to the sale as the Steam Summer Camp. There are Summer Camp activities, in the form of 6-7 themed achievements each day which get you prize tickets which can be exchanged for downloadable content for games and also get you entered into the Grand Prize Giveaway whereby 100 people will be given the top 10 items on their Steam wishlist.
Also, of course, it's a sale. It's a Steam sale. Things are really cheap. Various games each day, also reductions of up to 90% on certain packs of multiple games, and various publishers have their entire back catalogues reduced. Of course, sometimes some of these publishers' games are among the daily sales, so then they're reduced twice. So in general it's probably best to wait until the last day of the sale before buying any of those, just in case they're on daily sale later.

So, the combination of all these factors means I've been playing a lot of video games these past few days. I mean given the Grand Prize Giveaway I thought I'd actually put some stuff on my wishlist. So I had to look around at things to decide what to put on it, and also I looked around the games that were on sale, and some I bought and some had free demos, so, yeah. So far I've bought four games - no wait, technically five, but one of them was free - and downloaded four free demos.

Specifically, demos:
Audiosurf - select a track from all the music on your computer, travel along it picking up coloured blocks which you have to stick together to get your score up. Simple and fun, demo consists of the full game but it only lets you play three songs and then you have to buy the full game if you want more. I quite want this.
Bioshock - Haven't actually played this one yet. But I've heard it's supposed to be kind of good?
Dwarfs!? - Basically, you are the overseer of a dwarven mining colony. The diggers dig randomly, getting gold and minerals, but sometimes they will dig their way into caves, which may contain treasure, or nothing, or bad things, like water, lava or monsters.
For more of a look at this, watch this video: WTF is Dwarfs?!?
Demo doesn't allow you to play the bonus modes, you're supposed to only get 2 of the campaign missions, but actually you can get round that by completing a previous one and then clicking next mission rather than selecting the later missions ffrom the main menu, and in arcade mode you can only play 5 minute sessions.
I definitely want the full version of this game.
Psychonauts - You're a young and highly gifted psychic and a summer camp for psychics. It's pretty cool. Demo is just what I assume is basically just teh first mission. This definitely grabs me as well. Particularly because this is that most rare of things in the video game world. This is a game that Yahtzee actually liked.

And, full games:
Toki Tori - Puzzle game in which you're a little yellow bird searching for eggs. Doesn't sound particularly inspiring when I put it like that, but it's fun and some of the puzzles are actually rather difficult. Also it had one of the Summer Camp achievements and also it was 87p. That's within pretty much anyone's price range.
Sonic Adventure Director's Cut - All of Sega's back catalogue is reduced, but the other Sonic games on Steam I have in the Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PS2. But this I didn't, and Sonic is good. £4.01 as I recall, more than I generally pay for games on Steam, but still not bad. Haven't actually played this one yet.
Alien Swarm - I've heard it's fun, and it's free, so why not?
Magicka - You're a wizard! Naturally this is something which appeals to me. Basically, you have access to eight magical elements which you can combine for different effects, also you can learn specific spells called magicks separate to this. So that's fun, being a wizard is cool as expected. What was unexpected is that the game is also hilarious at times. I'm probably going to end up writing a full blog post about his one at a later date. It was £2.71 I think on Sunday. Also had a Summer Camp achievement and I'd heard very good things and I was not disappointed.
Trine - Another fantasy game. You have three characters - a warrior, a wizard, and a thief. You can switch between them. Basically the warrior can hit things with a sword, the thief has extra mobility thanks to a grappling hook, and the wizard solves physics puzzles by levitating blocks. Or at least, that's my impression so far, from playing the demo (I downloaded the demo first, then decided I was willing to pay £1.69 for the full game, also Camp achievement. I may have lowered my standards slightly for that and the low price, but it's a fun game nonetheless)

So, back to the sale in general, this sort of thing is one of the things I love about Steam, that they allow you to get games this cheap sometimes, and also randomly basically give stuff away. Yes, you need Summer Camp achievements, but each day they've had one achievement out of game that basically anyone could get no matter what games they owned, so anyone who wants can get a minimum of 10 prize tickets (Well, 9 if they don't have facebook, since one of the achievements was to link your accounts). And then more if people do have the relevant games, which have included the now free to play Team Fortress 2 (Which I will be writing a post on soon, hopefully), and also some things which were on sale and therefore very cheap, like Toki Tori.
Of course, it also comes with a downside - you buys lots of games because they're cheap, and then don't have time to play them all. This is an issue I have. But, on the other hand, since I pretty much only buy games which are on sale, the cost of games I haven't gotten around to playing yet is probably somewhere in the region of £10, which isn't that bad, really. Of course, if loads of people do this sort of thing... it's probably a rather shrewd and effective means of making more money. Getting people to buy cheap games which they wouldn't buy if they weren't cheap.
But I don't begrudge them that either, because they're providing loads of people with all these games for cheap. Also Steam itself is just really useful.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the full version of Trine just finished downloading, and I think we're into a new Steam day, so I need to check the new daily deals and achievements.
Edit: My impression of Steam time was out by a couple of hours. But still, Trine.