Sunday, 29 July 2012

Hats, hatred, sand-castles and hentai



Also known as the 11th UKitP meetup, summer 2012.


(Which, as I finally get to finishing and posting this, was about three weeks ago)
On this particular occasion, the meetup was two things which I'd particularly wanted: 1, we were extending it, with some people hanging around past the main weekend; and 2, I was hosting (Well, me and Tasroth, Hazyshade, Qwaz and Serp, but shush, let me feel special).

OK, so there were a few worries about organising the meetup, mostly on the parts of other people - I worked on the principle of "It'll all be fine, most of the details can just be sorted once people are here", which worked out well enough. Only a little bit of stress when it suddenly went from a thing in the future to suddenly "Oh **** it's in just a few days and Minion's turning up early and I'll have to just take him to my rehearsal and he'll be bored out of his skull" and so on. Apparently he was OK though, and in any case it's what he gets for turning up earlier than everyone else (He also got less in the way of dinner, because we hadn't really thought through what he'd be having like we had for everyone else on the other days).


Right, let's get into accounts of events.

Friday
There's only so much I can say about this since I missed a fair bit of it due to participating in a G&S sing-along to raise money for Dauntless Theatre's trip to Buxton to perform Iolanthe in August. But that'll be an entirely different blog post. I mean, I did hope some of the Playgrounders might come along to support it, but of the three I thought might be interested, one was arriving too late, one had to cancel her trip entirely (:sadface:), and the third eventually had to travel up on the Saturday instead as the train she meant to catch was cancelled due to flooding.
Anyway, we went round to Qwaz & Serp's, having gotten settled in had to immediately go back out to collect DarkCorax. While Tasroth and Minion changed metro at Monument, I went up to check timetables for later, then walked down and got to them only just across the road from Central Station.  Who needs metros? Having got back, it wasn't that long before I had to go out again to get to the sing-along, whileTasroth and Qwaz were heading out to meet Succubus.

Five or six hours later, I returned to a house full of people.
Not quite like that - when I arrived back Tasroth was off fetching Etcetera from the airport. But that was basically it - lots of people, playing either Mario Kart or Smash Bros. Met everyone, played some games, took some of them home. Onto the meetup proper!


Alright, first, a video containing snippets of the meetup. Of course I missed out large chunks, so you'll have to read to find out about those. Next time I need to get more into the mindset of "video everything" so it'll work properly. Also I might actually note down specific things I want to get clips of in advance so I'm prepared.
Anyway, here's the video.
And now, to fill in the gaps:

Saturday
Here, of course, is the bulk of things. This was the official meetup, the day of all the gaming. We arrived bright and relatively early at Bar Loco to meet everyone, and start games.

To the left, you may see pictures of the games other people were playing when I started playing the Order of the Stick game. Which only took about four hours this time...

I mean, we considered using some of the optional rules from the Shortening expansion, like the Wandering Xykon, but figured any time saved would probably be used up again by how long it'd take to figure out how said rules worked. The only way really to make this game go quickly is to actually just impose a time limit.













I freely admit that the OotS game can get a bit tiresome with how long it lasts. This is why I spent quite a bit of it away from the table, taking photos of other things which were clearly of much greater importance. For a start, two things which made it into the title of this post:
Hate-Boar hates you all.


Hats!



















But even more important, for the second time, a UKitP meetup had additional attendance via Skype!
She totally did make it after all!
Also, while talking to Koorly, we made a totem pole.


Now, moving forward to when the OotS game had finally finished, after 4 hours, that was when I recorded my first video clip. And then I played Braggart, which is an amazing game. Allow me to explain it to you briefly.

Braggart
In Braggart, you imagine yourselves to be drinking buddies in a tavern, the tables occupied by all manner of heroic figures (Or so they claim), from all different walks of likfe (If you believe them). And you are boasting about your many great deeds, perhaps even betting on who has performed the greatest feats of heroism in their life.
So you start with 4 cards each, and someone starts with the 'My Round' card, which just means they go first that round. Each round begins with a draft - you draw, face up, as many cards from the deck as there are players, and everyone takes one. Then each person must make their boast. If they can't think of a suitably interesting story (Don't  have the right cards or just don't want to use them yet), they can instead go to the bar for inspiration (Draw 3 more cards). But if they wish to boast, well, that's when the game becomes hilarious.
If you're boasting, you can also use Ploy cards first. These allow you to get extra cards from other players, or exchange them with ones from the deck. Once you've made your ploys, you boast, using the other cards. To brag about your deed, you must play a Deed card and a Foe card - what you did, and who you did it to/with/for. Optionally, if you have them, you may also include a Scene and/or a Result - Where you did it and/or what happened afterwards. So you play your cards, tell your story, make it sound as impressive as possible, and hope no-one calls you a liar.
If someone has a Liar or Outrageous Liar card, they can change your story, exchanging a card (Or 2 cards for an Outrageous Liar) from your boast with one from their hand, making your boast less impressive and more embarassing while also taking your impressive story elements for their own future use.
(It should be noted that you can play it well enough just reading your stories off the cards, but it can be even more amusing if you elaborate on the stories and generally roleplay the drunken prevaricator you're supposed to be)

There are a few more details, but I won't get into them right now. Instead I'll just give you a hypothetical example:
I play Braggart against myself.


Nuclear War
And at last, the time had come. The moment had arrived when all the meetup attendees would do battle simultaneously, exchanging propaganda, secrets, and bombs in competition for whatever was left of the world once we were done. Nuclear War.
As you will have seen in the video above, there were 24 people playing Nuclear War. We were in teams though. 24 individuals would not only have been confusing for those who'd never played before, but also (even if the game contained 24 different countries, which I'm not sure if it does) really boring for everyone having to wait so long for their turn. I mean, it was pretty bad with just ten teams in that regard.
Also, of course, fitting that number of people into one room to all play the same game was problematic. In the end we settled on an L-shaped table setup, which meant we couldn't always see the people we were nuking (I hoped this would allow me to avoid being targeted by Tasroth, as he might forget I was there, but alas, it was not to be. I did, however, retaliate and destroy him utterly)
Interestingly, the game was quite far advanced before any regular nukes were fired. A couple of suitcase nukes early on, and propaganda was exchanged, of course. But initially people were taken out by secrets, and then took out others using their final retaliations, so in fact, the game was down from 10 teams to 3 before anyone actually got a delivery system and warhead paired up in the usual manner, and only a few were fired so before the end of the game. At which point, surprisingly, one team actually still had some people left.
Hate-Boar hated being a mascot. He also hates winning.

Time for special photos:
This may have been the best attended meetup we've had? Certainly the best attended that I've been to.
The waistcoat brigade: Now with added hats!

And the rest of the evening for me was taken up with Guy's Burning Wheel session - though sadly we didn't actually get through that much of it. He'd decided on thsi occasion to allow us to generate our own characters, rather than giving us ones he'd made. Being able to create our own characters was actually very interesting, just also very time-consuming. Perhaps an idea for the future could be if the players arrive on the Friday, to go through character creation then, so they don't take up a lot of time which could be used for the actual session. Or just go back to pregenerated characters.
Anyway, like I said, it was rather interesting. Without really meaning to, we set ourselves neatly into the orc hierarchy (Oh yeah, I hadn't actually mentioned - we were orcs). Fred made himself an ambitious politician, hoping to succeed or perhaps even usurp the Great One. Lime was a mystic (Although where mystics fall in the hierarchy was somewhat unclear), who went around constantly naked because he ran out of resource points before getting clothes and decided to just make it a weird religious thing. Grlump was a former slave who had risen to become whipmaster (And he then started turning him into an orc version of Javert), and I was a slave who was more or less the definition of downtrodden.
Now, the adventure on which we were embarking was to deal with a mystic who had run off with the  Great One's pet human. Only a little way into the cave where he was apparently hiding, we found a powerful flow of water coming from a statue's mouth. In order to test whether or not we could cross it, Lime pushed me in and I was swept down a well and away, to be fished out of the water further down by our villainous mystic, who started trying to get me on his side, talking about some sort of new order he wanted to bring about, where no orcs would be slaves, and everyone would have a pet human. Both in and out of character, I was unsure if this was genuine or just an attempt to get me to betray my former associates. Regardless, this was perhaps the perfect way to cause my character to question his loyalties. See, my idea was basically that his slavery was so deeply ingrained, he would automatically defer to other orcs, assuming them to be right and him wrong, and it would never really occur to him that there was an alternative. Now, while this meant offering him an alternative to slavery didn't entirely work because the concept was so alien and he didn't trust that nice things could actually happen to him, the fact is that the slavery being ingrained meant he had no reasoning behind his own perceived inferiority. He's a slave, other orcs are his masters, but he wouldn't so clearly distinguish between why some orcs should be his masters and not others, so at this point, where it seemed I definitely had theoption of switching sides should I wish, it simply became a question of avoiding trouble - i.e. trying to pick the winning side.
Of course, Purple Shard (The villainous mystic) might have continued to bring me round, and of course there could have been other potential complications, since Fred's character might have ended up switching sides as well, to further his own ambitions; but the basis of my character was simply a downtrodden slave, so his prime directive would always be to avoid getting into trouble, lest he be whipped (Or otherwise punished). It all came down to fear for that character.

Sadly, that was all we really got plot-wise. We seemed to be getting towards some sort of encounter between Purple Shard (And me) and the party, but unfortunately we were running out of time before the last metro back to Qwaz & Serp's, so we had to wrap up early.

Once back there, nothing more in particular happened. More Mario Kart and Smash Bros, some short tabletop games being played in the background. We played Consequences and I started out by filling in everything with G&S references. That's the only point of real note which comes to mind.



Sunday
Sunday, once everyone was up except Qwaz, who hadn't really slept due to needing to transport someone to the train station rather early and therefore he pretty much slept through the day, began with werewolf.
Grlump put some interesting fluff on some of the games. Such as us all being zombies (Narrations consisted of "Brains brain brains brains brains brains, dead. Brains brains brains" and similar), and the one in which we were all hobos living in a small cardboard box, and the seer was a crazy naked hobo wearing nothing but a blanket.
Of course, Guy's decision to get so into character was a dead giveaway as to his identity, but it turned out he'd been killed during the night anyway.

And then, everyone having arrived, we headed off to pick up some picnic-type food before going to the beach. We wrote "UKitP 2012" in the sand, as seen at the start of this post, we ate,









we decided to build a sand-castle,
we did so,
and then we had ice cream.

And then more hanging out and gaming ensued, as it tends to.
I just really like this photo. Can't imagine why... :P
Including, during a late night game of Braggart, this wonderfuly little story from Castaras:
I told you there was hentai.
Surprisingly, no-one wanted to use Liar cards on that...


Monday/Tuesday

On monday, I got up bright and early to take Etcetera to the coach station and pick up Dragonprime from the train station, as he was coming just for the one day to catch the dregs of the meetup. This turned out to be a bit more stressful than anticipated - Etcetera's coach was really late and then it turned out Dragonprime had locked his ticket in the house and wouldn't be arriving until later than he originally said, but I only found this out after panicking for a while and then texting Serpentine.
So, reassured thatI wasn't abandoning a helpless american dragon steak priest in Newcastle all by himself, I went back home and pretty much everyone else was still asleep. Once everyone was up, at Serp's suggestion we went round to hers, taking all stuff with us so we could just all sleep over there for the final night. Also we took the remains of the picnic (Which was quite a bit of food). There was gaming , there were DVDs, I had originally planned to take everyone out to do karaoke, but that ended up not happening, there were more DVDs.
We slept, and in the morning/early afternoon Qwaz drove the remaining people two by two, hour by hour, to the train station, until the numbers finally dwindled down to only those who live in the area. Hung around with Serp for a bunch more hours watching DVDs to drag it out, but eventually I had to go home and admit it was over. And then miss everyone terribly.

Amazingfuntimes were had. Now to look forward to the next, though I know it'll be different again.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

So I guess I'm gonna fall any second now, right?

Because, you know, pride goeth before a fall and all that stuff.
So, seven deadly sins. Or seven cardinal sins is an alternative term for them which I think is more fitting. Because as I understand it the concept of the seven cardinal sins is not that they're the worst things you can possibly do (Which 'deadly' could be taken to kind of imply), but rather that they are the basis and cause for the really bad sins. And that's something I can definitely buy into as an idea. Whereas I would say that in and of themselves? They're not bad things.

OK, so a while back I think it was one of those kinda meme-y things that was going round - going through the seven sins and picking out things about yourself categorised within each. I didn't want to do that, but it's relevant to what I'm sort of saying here, because it is the kind of thing which pretty much anyone could do. Or to put it another way, everyone is guilty of the seven 'deadly sins' to some extent. They're just natural elements of the human condition. So, yeah, I have issues with nomenclature, because the seven 'sins' are not sinful. They may cause sinful behaviour but they are not sinful in and of themselves. And as far as things causing sinful behaviour is concerned, don't people also say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions?

OK, gripes about nomenclature aside, let's talk about them for a bit.

Pride
Pride goeth before a fall, as I already said. I imagine that's a phrase which could get annoying for me if it were used more, because I am prideful. And it's the kind of thing people could just throw out without thinking, as a blanket statement saying "Lol, pride is bad." Which it isn't, that being kind of my big point here.
Pride is probably the sin (Yeah, I've bitched about the nomenclature, but it's established so I'm using it) I'm most guilty of. But, is it such a bad thing? This is really the one I have the greatest issue with. I guess maybe in calling it a sin, they conflate pride with arrogance. But one can be prideful perfectly legitimately. I take pride in the good things I do, good qualities I have. I'm proud of my G&S performances and the related fact that I'm a decent singer and actor. I'm proud of my abilities at chess, however lapsed, and my abilities at video games, however minor. I'm proud of the fact I'm intelligent. Isn't all that perfectly reasonable? If you think not, feel free to explain to my why  a natural reaction to positive things is inherently bad, but... I doubt I'll be convinced.
So, yeah, I see the issue with arrogance, I can see an issue with being too boastful maybe, but pride? No. Pride is fine, and indeed I would be concerned for someone without pride. So, I can see why it's in the list of seven, but it's really another misnomer, where what it really means is arrogance or hubris.

(As a sidenote, I don't think this is really directed at anyone I've ever met. I guess it is all just the nomenclature causing me to be all like "But these things aren't inherently bad!" Whatever, I'm writing this because I feel like doing so)

Envy
Now this one I can see more how it's bad. You envy someone for something, the most direct means of resolving those feelings is to take that thing away from that person. So, yeah, that's bad. But of course, this is again a case of it being the cause of the bad stuff rather than being bad in itself. Another, better response to being envious of someone for something is to work hard to get an equivalent thing for yourself.
So, I envy people their jobs. Sometimes I envy people their relationships. I certainly envy people their facility in social situations. I envy them their opportunities. I envy people their good computers, I envy them their talents, annd I envy how things seem to come easier to some people (Though I'm sure they actually don't).
But if I come to think of all this, I just try to use it to drive me. Envy may be by nature a negative thing, but it can be put to good use.

Sloth
And again, I'm not sure how it's a sin. I mean, it's bad, sure, but... well I guess you can sin against yourself as well as against others, and it applies in that sense. I have serious issues with sloth. I mean, I said I try to use my envy to drive me? In  practice, a lot of the time I don't, because... sloth. Lethargy. Laziness. Other synonyms for this. I sleep too much, I get carried away with my leisure activities and don't stop to do more important productive things. I shy away from difficulties and take the easy, sedentary path to a life full of regrets. ****, that's depressing now I come to write it out.

Wrath
Now this one is obvious. While, like envy, anger/wrath can be directed to productive activities, acting purely based on anger is almost always a bad idea. This is probably the least applicable to me of the seven. Certainly in terms of how much they dictate my actions. I don't act out of anger a lot. In fact, I try not to act out of pure emotion that much. Of course, it does occur to me that perhaps I might feel better if I did act out of anger from time to time, just to vent it... but I'm not really interested in dealing with the situations likely to result from it. Maybe that's my sloth coming into it again.
I do get angry about a bunch of things though, most of which boil down to stupidity. Especially wilful stupidity. But generally I just seethe quietly.

Gluttony
Now, this one can get a bit confusing as to the distinction between gluttony and greed. I guess the point is that greed is more about wealth, and about hoarding things, while gluttony is about over-indulging. Again, I don't really see how it's such a bad thing. I mean, it's bad for you, if you do it too much, but just from time to time? There is no problem that cannot be solved with chocolate, am I right? (Well, except for feeling sick, I guess. Or if you were allergic to chocolate something, then you should go for ice cream instead) So, yeah. Indulging is nice sometimes. Get really drunk with friends, or binge on chocolate or ice cream when you need cheering up, whatever other indulgences you may think of.

Greed
Now, I think this one isn't quite what people think it is. Because I think (though I'm not sure from where I garnered this impression, so take it with a pinch of salt) that this is supposed to be more about, like, miserliness and hoarding things than wanting them. Since that would fall more under Envy, I guess. It's actually in what used to be the distinction between envy and jealousy - Jealousy is about things you already have, "Jealously guarding" things, whereas envy is wanting someone else's stuff. Only now people use jealousy to mean envy as well.
I DIGRESS. This one is pretty clear-cut bad if taken to extremes. I mean, it's like Scrooge pre-Christmas Carol. Hoard things enough, you are depriving other people of those things, where really you should be more charitable and spread it around... OK, that sounded potentially dirty the way I phrased it... I wonder how charity and sharing stuff featured in the days when wives were basically considered property...
I DIGRESS REALLY BADLY. While it's bad to hoard things against others, our whole culture is kind of built on the basis of people owning things, so a certain level of greed is natural and not unreasonable. I like my things. They're mine.

Lust
No bad thing I don't care what any religion may have to say about it (It's totally fine by the Church of the Written Word though because I'm the High Priest and I make the rules, haha! Plus I'm basically certain Curly would back me up on this). Natural urges are, well, natural, and two or more consenting adults acting on those urges is in no way sinful in and of itself. I... don't think I actually have anything more to say about this.
Oh yeah, I guess talking about the 'sins' in relation to me was a thing. Yes, I lust after people. I have attractive friends and I'm not asexual, so, what else do you expect? As to it's prominence in determining my actions... not so much really I guess. I'm more for more meaningful relationships rather than just basically satisfying my carnal urges, much as I would like to do that as well.


So, yeah. The so-called seven deadly sins. I question outright the sinful nature of four of them, and the other three there's still some ambiguity depending on the degree of them. Misnomer indeed, though I suppose the "Seven personality elements of variable moral provenance" doesn't have quite the same ring to it. So maybe we just reclaim the word or whatever it is you  do. Go out and sin away!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

There's a hole in my bucket

OK, so this week, the Sarcaschicks have been talking about bucket lists. And it struck me,  that could be an interesting thing to blog about. This is kind of a thing - people in my youtube subscriptions say something interesting, I consider blogging about it, though then there's the issue of trying to say something they didn't. I know it's happened a couple of times with David Mitchell's Soapbox. Of course, on occasion it brings to mind further thoughts on a subject I was already considering blogging about. Though again, sometimes the thoughts are "What can I say other than just 'Watch this video'?"
You may think I'm digressing, but actually, not so much, because once I started thinking about bucket lists, I realised that it tied into something else I'd been considering blogging about but wasn't sure I had enough to say about. So let's go.

So, I started thinking about bucket lists, and what I would put on mind... and I had great difficulty thinking of anything. Which is kind of something I'd already been vaguely musing on for a couple of days - I don't know what I want. Come to think of it, I already wrote a whole blog post on that subject. But in this instance, it's kind of coming about in a different form.
OK, so in that older blog post I said how I can't easily pin down specifics of what I want once one gets beyond mundanities and trivialities. And I also covered how the opposite end of the spectrum is that I kind of want to do everything. And this is where I've been on and off for the past couple of weeks, doubting myself with regard to my intentions and desires - Is this really what I want? Or would I rather go for this? Really, do I just want both, and more? Am I just greedy like that? I've never really thought of greed as being a characterising sin for me (Probably going to blog about that some time...), but it did kind of seem to be a thing. On the other hand, I can counter myself there with - right now, I have none of these things. Perhaps it is not that I truly want all of them, but that I want any of them. And if I had one, I would be satisfied and no longer desire the others. But, maybe there might be one I'd prefer, and what if I pick the wrong one and screw everything up vis-a-vis the others? And still, do I really want this? Or is it just good enough? Would I be just settling? Am I too scared to break out of my comfort zone for something I might want more? Would I really be satisfied with this? Have my desires changed, and I haven't given it enough thought to realise, instead just going along with what I wanted before because it's already  established in my brain?
Round and round, all the doubts. I worry a lot sometimes.

Ironically, I've been starting to feel better about this lately so I don't feel it as strongly now I come to actually write about it - on the other hand, that probably allows me to write this more coherently. Also, feeling better is generally a good thing. I'm not doubting myself universally as much, though there are still some things where I just don't know my own mind.

You'll probably note that I'm being decidedly non-specific about what I'm actually talking about here. That's intentional. It's private. And also kind of multi-faceted. While I may have had these thoughts in  particular about one thing, the feelings apply equally to others. And the things in question, incidentally, may be actual things or they may be potential events in my life or whatever. This is one of the reasons I wasn't sure I could do this post - I didn't know how much I could actually say without getting into specifics, and I do not want to get into the specifics publicly on the internet.

Alright. Bucket list. What do I really want to make sure I get done at some point in my life? Thing is, mostly I don't mind that much. Not just about bucket lists or whatever, but in general. I'm very easy-going. I just want to enjoy my life. I would like to be driven, and have goals and stuff. Then I'd know what to do with my time, rather than just wasting it away aimlessly.
I guess I do kind of have goals. But for all that I kind of want to do everything, I've always had it set up in my head that I can't do them all at once. So I was like "OK, I'll get a job, and then I'll figure out the other stuff I want to do with my life once I'm set up nicely." Unfortunately, since getting a job wasn't one of the things I really wanted so much, I've never been really driven towards it as a goal, so I've never really gotten to my other potential goals, and my life just spiralled into aimlessness, with some socialising, internetting and G&S continuing just out of inertia.
OK, I guess doing all 13 G&S shows is on my bucket list. That's one specific thing. Other than that, though, I have a lot of things I'd like to do, but none that I'm really focussed on that I really must get it done or I will feel unfulfilled. If I fail to do any of the things I'd like to do, maybe. But I don't really mind which I do, and even if I don't do any, well, that probably means I found something better to do. It's just the aimless spiralling into lethargy and inactivity that's a problem.

Hm. Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I come to a much better understanding of my own feelings and opinions when I have to type them out, for a blog post or whatever? Because that is totally a thing, and it just happened with this. I do kind of think through my blog posts in advance of writing them, but often, as in this case, the process of writing them will cause the exact perfect-ish insight to just come to me and into the post goes something I absolutely never realised before about myself. THIS IS WHY I NEED TO BLOG MORE OFTEN. IT IS GOOD FOR ME. (Caps are to emphasise that for my benefit more than yours)

OK, so, again, bucket list. G&S I already said. I can say some general things which aren't really goals but still count maybe? I want to live in love - and I don't mean romance. Romance'd be awesome too, of course, but what I mean is, there's a lot of love in close-knit friend groups, and I feel I have that, and I want to maintain it. For all that I said my social life carried on mostly through inertia, it's also my best motivation. I want to decent job and stuff so I can have that comfortable life with those people. And one other thing I care more about getting done is a story I started writing for a friend - it bothers me less if I don't get round to my own writing for me, much as I like it, but I want to get back to that and finish it, because it's for her.
I guess things would become more significant as goals if I got a little bit into them - like the G&S thing is significant because I'm already way into it. But as it stands, there's not a lot in my bucket.

Things which could be in my bucket involve writing, both prose and music. Maybe making more of this blog? I dunno, it is still fine being just for me.
I still don't know what I want.
(I also don't know what labels to put on this post - a lot of things I mentioned, but the post isn't really about them... ah, who cares, who pays attention to the labels anyway?)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

If God had intended you to blog, he would not have created me!

Hi, I'm Ralph Pocketwatch, and this is a blog post about Team Fortress 2. After more than 9 months in development, and lots of... read-testing (?), I hope it's been worth the wait.
(The above is paraphrasing what Gabe Newell said about TF2 itself, only for TF2 it was years rather than months. Valve don't like to be rushed) It's about time I got around to this, since it was a post I had in mind when I first started this blog, though admittedly I was anticipating not doing it for a little while.

Anyway, TF2 is possibly my biggest time-sink, one of the reasons I don't get around to blogging as much as I might like, certainly it's the video game I play the most, so I have a lot I can potentially say about it. I may well make a bit of a project of it (Because the whole project idea has  worked out so well for me so far...), going through things in more detail; but to start with, this is just a general overview of what is so good about it. I guess it'll also serve as a kind of primer for people just getting into the game?


So. The original Team Fortress was a mod for Quake, which was of course a classic of the FPS genre in its own right. Valve remade Team Fortress in the Source engine, then started work on Team Fortress 2. While certain details changed over the 9 year development period, and have changed further since, the core basis of the gameplay remains the same: Each match is between two teams, and each player on each team has a choice of nine different classes they can play as, with different abilities to fill different roles. Now while the idea of a class-based shooter is certainly not unique to Team Fortress, the original Team Fortress may have been at least one of the first examples of the idea, and in any case I'm unfamiliar with other instances of such games.
Now, making the game class-based is an excellent way of promoting team-play, which is rather important, as the title suggests. If all the characters were the same, inevitably they would all have to be able to do everything. Whereas with class-based gameplay, whichever class you choose there will be a situation where another class is better suited to dealing with it, and so you have to work with your team for maximum effectiveness.
Another general point about the gameplay is that it's almost all objective-oriented, rather than just being team deathmatch. This introduces a greater element of strategy, and allows more for there to be uses for abilities which don't equate just to pure destructive power.
And finally, moving away from the gameplay, obviously something like TF2 does not require a plot, or characters. The concept is simply, if strange - two teams of mercenaries, RED and BLU, fight over territory, starting from bases which are remarkably close to each other. Regardless, Valve gave us, perhaps not a plot, but characters at least, and a world in which the game is set. A wacky version of the sixties in an alternate reality wherein Shakespeare invented rocket jumping, Abraham Lincoln invented stairs, and Australia is the manliest and most technologically advanced nation on the planet due to a unique metal only found there. And of course, not all of this is evident in-game, but some of it is, and that humour is another big draw. It helps keep the game fun and light hearted.


Alright, now I've said some very vague generic things, I should get into details, so I guess I should quickly summarise the game. Well, relatively quickly. Not really quickly at all, there are nine classes and seven game modes to talk about. Plus additional game-changing gimmicks. Whatever, let's go.


Meet the Classes

Of course, that video is a fan-work (Based on a thing from a Strong Bad Email on www.homestarrunner.com, if you're not familiar with it), and written from the perspective of the Spy, so it's not necessarily a fully accurate representation of the classes, but it describes the basic nature of most of them pretty well.
If you already know TF2, you'll probably be aware of the Meet the Team videos. I considered including them here, but I don't want to overly fill this post with videos so I thought I'd save them for future posts on the individual classes.

Scout - The Scout is, indeed, a quick little bunny. His character description says that due to having numerous bigger, stronger brothers, the only way he'd get into a fight was if he got their before them, so he got really fast. Has an ego considerably bigger than himself.
Gameplay-wise, the Scout is one of the light classes, with only 125 max HP, but makes up for being relatively flimsy by also being very fast and hard to hit, and having weaponry which can be lethal up close - he's what you might call a 'glass cannon', fragile but devastating, and his speed and ability to double jump can allow a good Scout to dodge enemy fire getting in to destroy someone and then get out again safely.

Soldier - Once again, the Spy has it right. The Soldier is absolutely insane. Supposedly he wanted to fight in World War 2 but couldn't due to mental instability, so he paid for his own flights to Europe and went around killing germans until someone told him in 1948 that the war was over.
Gameplay-wise, the Soldier is the second toughest class in the game, with 200 max HP, but also the second slowest. His lack of running speed can however often be made up for by the ability to rocket jump - that is, to jump while firing a rocket at the ground or a nearby wall, allowing the blast to propel him forwards and/or upwards to a more advantageous position. Of course this entails taking some damage to himself, but the positional advantage or getting to the battle quicker is frequently worth it, especially with health packs and Medics around. This combination of being tough and dangerous but still manoeuvrable makes the Soldier possibly the most versatile class, good in any fight.

Pyro - Yes, the Pyro likes setting things on fire. That's all we really know. The Pyro is the one class without a 'Meet the...' video (Though it's promised to be coming this year), and his or her appearance is concealed and voice muffled by the gas mask and fireproofing.
Gameplay-wise, the Pyro's an odd one. Much more complicated than it at first appears. Primary weapon is limited in range, so you have to ambush people. But then when you have, being on fire tends to distract people, so you can cause chaos that way. On the other hand, fire is a good deterrent and the flamethrowers also have an airblast ability which deflects projectiles and knocks back enemy players, allowing Pyros to defend areas very well. These two roles don't really overlap.

Demoman - A drunk, one-eyed black Scottish demoman. This sounds like the setup of a joke. Despite his tendency to get very drunk and possibly smoke around his high explosives, he is one of the saner members of the team.
Gameplay, though the Demoman is listed as a defensive class, he also excels on offense, just at more of a distance. None of his non-melee weapons are that great up close, but if he has space to work, he can put out a massive amount of damage with them. Also the best at destroying (Or, indeed, demolishing) Engineer's buildings, and sticky bombs can easily be used to lay traps for unsuspecting players.

Heavy - Or Heavy Weapons Guy, in full. Big and simple. He likes to shoot his gun. Is all you need to know.
The gun in question has the highest damage output in the game up close - catch someone point blank and they will be dead twice in the space of a second. At longer distances, the damage drops off and the bullets spread out so you won't be hitting all your shots, but the rate of fire means it still works rather well for basically suppressive fire - you probably won't kill a lot of enemies, but they will be reluctant to walk into that line of fire. Besides his massive damage, the Heavy is also the toughest class in the game with 300 max HP, and the slowest. In a direct 1v1 confrontation, the Heavy will always win, so to deal with him you have to fight with a numbers advantage or indirectly - using cover and other terrain features to take advantage of his lack of manoeuvrability.

Engineer - Another light class. But while Scouts compensate for their weakness with speed, agility and bullety deaths from all angles, the Engineer does so by building things - a sentry gun (shoots people), dispenser (heals team-mates and restocks their ammo) and a teleporter (self-explanatory). The sentry is really the defining feature. When fully upgraded, it's the next highest dps after a point-blank Heavy. And unlike the Heavy, there is no bullet spread. A sentry never misses. So Engineers are really good at holding areas, shutting down avenues of approach - but the sentry should not be overestimated. Once the enemy team know where it is, they should be able to destroy it easily enough if you don't have team-mates around to deal with them.

Medic - Although the above video was created before Meet the Medic, the Spy's comments about the Medic were proven spectacularly right by Valve. The Medic is a bit of a mad scientist, as well as possibly being a sadistic ex-Nazi. Though, those aspects of him don't come across so much in-game as in supplemental stuff.
In-game, the Medic is slightly tougher than a light class, with 150 max HP, but not as tough as the 175 HP Pyro or Demo. Additionally, the Medic's health slowly regenerates over time. The Medics actual weapons are perhaps more useful than they may at first appear, but still not that useful. The big part of Medic play is, as you would expect, healing people. You use you medigun to heal people up to a maximum of 150% their usual max HP, and build up an ubercharge to grant temporary invulnerability. The Medic is, of course, the clearest instance of a class really designed for teamwork purposes - you can't deal with the enemies on your own (unless you're significantly better than them), but you can help your team do so much more efficiently.

Sniper - Another light class. Snipers are pretty much what you'd expect: you stay at a distance and shoot people's heads off. If they get up close to you, you're in serious trouble. Not much else to it for a basic description.

Spy - May not be sleeping with your mother, but he is apparently sleeping with the Scout's mother...
Anyway, the Spy is possibly the most interesting class in TF2, as it's something you don't really find in any other FPS. Equipped with a disguise kit, an invisibility watch and a knife which causes instant death on a backstab, the Spy is expected to get behind enemy lines and take out some crucial target or other.

And one more... sort of. One of the ways Valve has kept the game of TF2 fresh is by adding new unlockable items to the game - different weapons with different stats to introduce greater variety. Some people dislike the idea, preferring the days when TF2 was simpler and you knew what to expect from an opponent. I never got to play fully vanilla TF2, but personally I like the variety, though it can be very confusing when you're new to the game, or when a new item is released.
Now, mostly I want to save talking about these for posts about the specific classes, but there's one instance I have to bring up, because it changes things so much:

Demoknight - The majority of the Demoman's unlockable weapons are not for the traditional explosives expert of the original game, but rather for a berserker-type who charges at people and decapitates them with a sword. Shields which grant the charge ability in addition to some damage resistances are the crucial element in this.
Now, I don't exactly mind the existence of the Demoknight. It's a fun gimmick, which fits in nicely to the silliness of TF2. The gameplay mechanics of it can be interesting. The problem is that Demoknight really is  different class entirely to Demoman. One stays at mid ranges and puts out mass amounts of damage to anyone in range. The other picks off individual targets when they're distracted. Demoknight is actually closer to Spy in terms of class role, and this is the issue. If I join a server, I look at what classes there already are and see we already have a couple of Demos on the team. I think "OK, that's covered, I should do something else." Then I find out they're both Knights and I don't know what to do. Worse still, if there are class limits on the server, I may be unable to switch to Demo even though we may be in dire need of some sticky spam to hold back the enemy team.
And of course, competitive play (Which I'll be talking more about later). Now, some would say a Demoknight would be useless in comp anyway. Personally I think that like a lot of things, it could be useful, but only in certain situations. But if a situation comes up where you think "Actually, a Demoknight would be really useful in this situation," (Hey, it could happen, maybe) the only way you can get one is to give up your regular Demoman. And that is pretty much never worth it.


Game modes

I don't have an amusing vdeo for this heading, sorry.
TF2 originally started out with 3 game modes, but Valve has added more over the years.

5cp - There are 5 control points. Each team starts in control of two, the middle point starts out neutral. You have to capture them in order, so until you've captured the middle (3rd) point, you can't cap 4th, and until you have 4th you can't capture last. 5cp has become the biggest, most iconic TF2 game mode, with the most maps. It's  the favourite mode of competitive 6v6 play, and also my favourite - controlling areas (such as control points) is something for which TF2's gameplay is eminently suited, and the push and pull back and forth between points keeps things dynamic and interesting.

Attack/Defend - Has control points like 5cp, but in A/D, as the name suggests, one team attacks and the other defends, so the defending team can't retake points once the attacking team has captured them. After each round the teams swap. Of course, it's generally to be expected that both sides will successfully take all the points on offense, so in competitive play the Stopwatch mode is used, whereby the round is timed, and the team who attack second have to either capture more points than the team who attacked first (If they didn't take all the points) or take the same number of points faster. Whoever takes more points or is faster wins.

King of the Hill - Just one control point, in the middle of the map. Once a team has control of it, their timer starts counting down from 3 minutes, if the other team takes it that timer stops and their timer starts instead. Winner is the team who get the timer down to zero and fully control the point (If the point is partially capped it goes into overtime until one team has full control).

Payload - BLU pushes a cart (By standing next to it). RED try to stop them. If no-one pushes the cart for too long, it starts going backwards, there are some slopes which it will fall back down anyway if no-one is pushing, but there are also certain points on the track which it will never roll back past (These are the points counted for competitive Stopwatch Payload).

Payload Race - As Payload, but there are two carts, one for each team, and the winner is the team who get their cart to the objective fastest.

Capture the Flag - A traditional game mode. Different to other ctf in that the traditional flag is replaced by an intelligence briefcase, and once the intel-carrier is down, the intel stays where it was dropped for a certain amount of time before being automatically returned, rather than a team being able to return their own intel by touching it.

Arena - Basically short team deathmatch. No respawning, just whichever team kills the other first. There is also one control point in the middle of the map, which is locked for the first 90 seconds of each round and caps rather slowly. Basically it's there to force the issue, so a team who have clearly won don't have to run around for ages trying to find one or two remaining enemies who may well be hiding, or invisible. They can just cap the point, and either the remaining enemies lose, or they come out to stop the capture and fight.

Territorial Control - Despite being one of the original game modes in TF2, there is still only one TC map, probably because they're kind of complicated. How it works is, the whole map has 6 control points, each team starting with 3, but only 2 points are accessible at any given time, one belonging to each team. Depending on which points are currently being contested, different routes open and close between mini-rounds. There is one custom TC map I know of, which set it up as a CTF rather than CP style, but then that's it.

Additionally, there are some kind of gimmick modes, one of which is official and several which aren't:
Medieval mode - The official one. Everyone is restricted to melee and a few other things which are suitably medieval. Very silly, totally throws off the class balance.
Versus Saxton Hale - Like Arena, but one team consists only of Saxton Hale, the uber-manly CEO of Mann Co, who kills anything in a single punch, scares people and sentries by yelling at them, can super-jump, and has HP scaled according to the number of other players.
Randomizer - Every time you spawn, you are given a random class, with three randomly selected weapons for any class. So you can be a Spy with a rocket launcher, or a Scout with a medigun, or whatever.
MGE - A training mod which puts you in 1v1 battles in certain arenas of significance in competitive play, such as mid points of a lot of maps. Upon someone dying, they instantly respawn and both they and their opponent are returned to full health (Or possibly slightly above).
Jump maps - Special maps designed specifically for people to practice rocket/sticky jumping. Basically obstacle courses, and your health and ammo are constantly restocked so you can keep retrying jumps.
And more of which I'm not so aware.


I think I have amply made the point that there is a great deal of variety available in TF2, which is certainly one of the big points in its favour, along with the whimsical style and unique gameplay.
It does have some issues as well, though. Since I just went through the game modes, it seems obvious to mention that there are some definite issues with CTF and Payload Race. Not issues with the mechanics of the game modes in general, but in the design of the available maps. TF2 CTF maps tend to have too many confined spaces easily defensible by sentries, too few (or no) ways around said confined areas to reach the intelligence (Or worse still, the intelligence room is itself such a space), and I feel they're mostly too small in general. Payload Race... similar issues with confined spaces which easily become spamfests, overuse of the bits of track which the carts will immediately fall back down, and so on.
Part of the problem, I think, lies in that one of the ways TF2 is neatly balanced is that respawn times change accordding to situation - the offense always get faster spawns than the defense. But CTF and PLR are two-way - there is no offense and defense, so the timers have to remain the same for both teams. Except in practice there generally is an offense and a defense within the teams, and since both spawn at the same rate, the defenders have a much easier time of it because they spawn very close to what they're defending, while the attackers have to run halfway across the map to reach their front line. As a result, stalemates are common.
That's the most common way TF2 can become tedious, really - lengthy stalemates, often caused by Engineers, since sentry nests can sometimes require a bit more team co-ordination to take down than is generally found in your average pub server. It's unfortunate, but I wouldn't want to remove Engineers from the game, because the area control of a sentry fits in so well with the general gameplay (Though if I had to remove a class, Engineer would probably be the one I'd pick).

OK, so I've gone through the variety of gameplay with different game modes and classes, the solid mechanics and so on, and I've touched on the whimsical, light-hearted nature of the whole thing, with the rather insane characters in their ridiculous world. On top of which, of course, there's the fact that Valve continually releases updates (Handily done automatically via Steam) with new items and amusing comics and stuff, which has definitely played a crucial part in the longevity of the game.
Speaking of which, I guess I should talk about hats.
Now, obviously, with regular updates, it would be rather hard for Valve to keep releasing new weapons with different stats while keeping everything balanced and avoiding it seeming overly cluttered with wacky different mechanics (Some would argue that it already is cluttered, and I would definitely say myself that not everything is fully balanced, but it'd be a lot worse if they kept bringing out new weapons all the time). So instead, a lot of the time they just add cosmetic items - most notably, hats.
This has kind of become a joke about the game. Hat Fortress 2. I think somewhere on an official site it is described as the world's premier war-themed hat simulator. I personally still don't really understand how some people can spend such significant amounts of money on blinging out their video game character, but on the other hand, if one spends a significant amount of time playing the game, is it that different to spending money to look good in real life? In any case, they can be required without spending money, as well. And I do in fact  have an extensive list of hats and miscellaneous items I want, though that's kind of just a thing about me being sort of completionist. I want to collect the cool-looking things. Plus the whole hats thing made for an amusing addition to the lore of the ridiculous world of TF2.



And on the more serious side of things, let's talk about competitive TF2 (Though I should mention that seriousness in terms of being competitive does not preclude being ridiculous, messing about doing wacky things and wearing cool hats).
There are two main types of competitive TF2: 6v6 and Highlander. 6v6 is generally higher level and more competitive, while Highlander is closer to the kind of play you might see in a pub server. I can never decide which I really prefer. In addition to the established formats, class and weapon restrictions, competitive TF2 is always played without damage spread, bullet spread or crits. With those things, there is a random element in the precise amount of damage done by a given shot, bullets spread in a random pattern rather than a uniform one, and there is a small chance of any shot you fire being a critical hit, doing three times its base damage. A lot of people like those features in regular play, but obviously if something is to be competitive it's better to remove the random elements so everything is down to skill.

Highlander - There can be only one! (Of each class) That's the team composition of Highlander play - 9 players on a team, one of each class. I like it in that you guaranteeably have all 9 classes being used, but I potentially dislike it in that you're stuck with your class, even if it's more or less useless in a certain situation you find yourself in, though on the other hand that can be an interesting challenge. Of course, there's also the point that pairs of a class can be notably more interesting and effective than only one, which you're restricted to in Highlander.
As I said, Highlander is less competitive than Sixes. Partly I think because it's newer. Partly because of the nature of it - 9 players on a team means things get a lot more chaotic and hard to keep track of than Sixes, which can throw a wrench in your strategising. Highlander also tends to allow more unlockable weapons than 6v6, partly because they want to allow every class to show off their full range of abilities, partly because some unlocks are better balanced if you have 18 players rather than 12, but also partly because perhaps they are less careful about balancing. In general, however, I like to have the variety of unlocks available, so that's a definite point in favour of Highlander for me.

6v6 - Traditionally, a 6v6 team consists of 2 Scouts, 2 Soldiers, 1 Demoman, and 1 Medic. However they are allowed to change class, so long as they remain within the class limits - 1 Demo, 1 Heavy, 1 Engie, 1 Medic, 2 of anything else. Now, my initial feelings about 6v6 were hostile to the apparent elitism of the typical structure, with hardly any use of the other classes, but I've come around to it. Because the point is not that Scouts, Soldiers and Demoman are universally better classes than the others - rather that they are better in the context of having fairly small teams, and that they are consistently useful, while other classes are more useful in some situations, but less in others. I saw someone say somewhere this was actually intended - that the main 6v6 classes were intended to be generalists, while the others were intended as specialists. Whether it was intended or not, it's certainly true. And in the particular situations where the other classes can be useful, they are used.
I still sometimes feel the effectiveness of off-classing may be underestimated, but I like the flexibility of being allowed to switch up your class line-up to suit the situation.  Makes things more tactical, and of course tactics are easier with the smaller team sizes as I already mentioned. Finally, of course, the highest level of play is found in 6v6, and it is amazing to watch. I could write a whole blog post just on the current state of the ESEA Invite division.

Really, I would love to see a competitive format with larger teams - up to the full 12v12. I realise co-ordinating and keeping track of teams that size would be really difficult for the strategy of it, but if it could be done, I would love it, with the combination of what I like about Sixes and Highlander - flexibility and use of all classes.


So, yeah. That is my favourite video game. It's taken me quite a while to write this blog post, because whenever I came to look at it, I'd end up feeling like playing TF2 instead of writing about it. Further posts will come at later dates, breaking down the different classes, and really getting into what makes this game so appealing.
Just to round off, if anyone stumbling across this has an interest in TF2, it is free to play on Steam if you want to play, or if you want to see how it plays, there are some youtube channels I might direct you to:

For competitive play:
www.youtube.com/CommFT (Also the stream www.twitch.tv/extvesports)
www.youtube.com/Fatmop

For general play, ranging from competitive Highlander to messing about doing ridiculous stuff like this:
www.youtube.com/Niichts

Enjoy. Now I really feel the need to go blow up some people.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The view from the other side

That is, from the audience rather than onstage. Well, I've kind of wanted to avoid writing blog posts about shows I've seen rather than performed in (Though since I don't think I've seen any shows until recently since starting this blog I guess it was kind of a moot point), but I do have some definite thoughts, and this is my standard means of articulating my thoughts.
Also, one of the issues I have is that I don't know if I'd have that much to say just about one show I'd been to see (As I abhor incompleteness, I abhor brevity). This problem is neatly avoided by making one blog post about all three productions for which I was recently in the audience.


OK, so first, back in February, before Pirates, I went to see a local Patience, with some of my friends in it.
So, let's first start by saying that I did enjoy the show. Since I was previously in the society for Iolanthe last year, I did at least vaguely know all the principal cast, and I think all of them were better than I expected. And some of them I was expecting to be very good. Compliments to Angela on her singing, which has improved greatly in the years I've known her, and to her and the Duke for their acting during the sextet in the Act 1 finale. Big props to Lady Jane for hilarious facial expressions throughout. Oh, and massive congratulations to all the ladies for managing to prevent their hats falling off. I was also impressed by the fact that the society membership was such that they actually had twenty lovesick maidens onstage, where I think in a lot of productions and certainly when I did the show in 2009, one would have to suspend disbelief and refrain from counting them...
There were some issues with it, however. Orchestra too loud, and sometimes out of time (I have been informed by people who were paying attention that they were out of time with the conductor as well as the singers, who are of course all I pay attention to). Now I think it was better when I saw it than when most of my friends did, since they went on the first night and I went on the last. But it was still an issue, and really, the orchestra should not be working out these issues during the week of performances. These issues should have been worked out in advance.
Issue the second was a directorial decision. From the director's message in the programme:

"Production of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas often these days allow the introduction of contemporary targets to be broad-sided as Gilbert's satire could be equally effective when aimed at the 'Teddy boy, Teddy girl' era of the 1950's or the 'pop idol and swooning teenagers' of the 1960s onwards. But why always forward in time? Why not go back in time for ideas?"

To quote Yes Minister, "Why not indeed, but why?"
Now, I should say before getting into this that I am something of a traditionalist as far as G&S is concerned, so my bias in this area is obvious. But what does the production gain by being taken backward in time? If you bring it forwards at least you acquire a greater degree of relatability for the audience, who are more familiar with popstars than aesthetic poets, though you may run into some issues given that the text is rather couched in the original setting. However, taking it backwards carries the same issues without the potential benefit. Alright, you don't have to bridge the gap between contemporary pop music and fin-de-siecle aestheticism, but you will, and this production did, run into definite issues in the form of anachronisms. To my mind, when doing anything, but particularly something like G&S which has so much in the choice of words, one should be very careful and cautious  about any alteration which necessitates changing the script. And you can only change so much before you have to change the script lest it become something of a nonsense (And not such precious nonsense in this case).
I admit to having been quite impressed by the effort put into avoiding anachronisms between the script and the chosen setting, but that doesn't change the fact that they were entirely unnecessary, mildly detrimental to the audience's ability to follow the words, and in the end, insufficient to achieve the end they set out for.
The first I've already outlined. The obvious example for the second, changing 'heavy dragoon' to 'chevalier du reine' - the latter is somewhat more difficult to pick up on (It took me until the end of the song to realise what he was singing), and frankly the last thing we need is to make G&S more obscure. As to the third, the plain fact of the matter is that after all that effort, there were still some anachronisms left in. Perhaps we may suspend our disbelief over small lapses such as brief allusions to Japan despite the fact a 14th century english court would not have been particularly familiar with that country. But there really is no ignoring the anachronism of a purportedly 14th century poet singing an entire song about magnets.
Shifting the setting around can be interesting, certainly I'm sure there are some interesting settings one could use. But really, I feel it is more important to let the work you are performing be itself. It's all very well wanting to make your own directorial mark on something, but not to the detriment of the pre-existing show. Make it make sense and have a point to it, or drop it, as far as I'm concerned.


Next, in March I went down to Bradford to see an internet friend of mine, Grlump, in Iolanthe.
Now, obviously I am somewhat biased in Grlump's favour, him being a good friend and all, but that said, actually I got a little worried when I was going down - what if he wasn't actually that good? Given what he'd said to me previously about his society's difficulties in finding good singing men, sub-par casting could have been a thing, and it would've been kind of awkward if I'd gone down to Bradford specifically to see him in this show only to find he wasn't so good. Fortunately he was far and away the best actor in it, so my fears were alleviated.
On the show itself, I certainly enjoyed it, but the difficulties they'd had certainly showed as well. The scale of how they were putting it on was more akin to a NUGSS summer show rather than a main show. Not such a big theatre, accompaniment only piano and a couple of instruments rather than a full orchestra (Though they did at least have a trumpet, which is the most important thing for Iolanthe). I have to give credit to their MD for managing to hold everything together, including sometimes adjusting to get the instruments back in time with the singers. And this while he was also playing the piano.

The biggest offender for getting out of time was the Lord Chancellor, however Grlump told me afterwards the reason for this is that he's deaf in one ear - specifically the ear closer to the band. Combined with the fact he was wearing a wig... it's understandable. His acting was pretty good, though his singing was also a tad quiet.
Tolloller and Mountararat similarly had quietness issues, but then they were women having to sing male parts, and allowing for that, they did rather well. Acting again rather good in general.
The next best actor in the show after Grlump was actually a part they added - Nigel, the Lord Chancellor's PA. Purely silent part, which may in fact be partly why he was so good - when you don't have any lines, you have no way of expressing your character except by mannerisms, and so you focus more on them. In that respect, I think some of the speaking parts could have taken inspiration from him as it was something sometimes lacking from their performances. When they'd thought of some particular movement or mannerism to accompany a line, it was good, but when they hadn't... there wasn't anything. Obviously. Leaving things a bit bland.

Despite these problems, as I've said, I did enjoy the show. And I can give you one definite reason why, beyond my general love of G&S. Enthusiasm, and potential. While they may not have done as well as they perhaps could have, I could see that the people in the show were enjoying themselves putting on the show - which can go a long way - and I definitely feel that they have it in them to do better, with more experience and perhaps a change of directorial styles or something. Comparing again to NUGSS, what it reminds me of is what I've heard about the state of the society two years before I joined - by all accounts, not that great, but a whole group of enthusiastic freshers joined all at once, and stayed in to see the society grow, and the members improve, to what it is, and they are, today. With that in mind, I sincerely hope that in two or three years time I could go back and see a much better and larger scale production out of BUSOM (Damn, totally missed the opportunity to make a joke about large bosoms...) I wish them luck.


And onto perhaps the main event, the primary reason I felt I had to put ideas to screen, the opinions literal ones, perhaps even multiples of people have been waiting to hear - The Grand Duke. Performed recently at the Finborough Theatre in London. The first fully staged professional UK production since the original run in 1896. No way I was missing this, and inevitably, I have numerous opinions on it.

OK, so let's start with the cut of the script. It was astoundingly complete, which made the few cuts there were more surprising. Strange the views was still left out, which is not that surprising. I was disappointed that in a production coming so close to uncut, they still skipped half of As o'er a penny roll we sing, as I love the full version of that song. They cut the second verse of  At the outset I may mention, which potentially works, although personally I would want to precede the third verse by something to give a reason for Ludwig to reconsider in that case. Lisa's act 2 song they cut straight all of the second verse apart from the very end, which I think works rather well, since that's the only part of that verse which really works for me, but it works very well and I'd think it a shame to lose it by cutting the entire verse. And finally, Julia's act 2 song. Now, I can quite understand the thought process behind cutting the song entirely. And I can understand leaving it in. And I can understanding leaving it in and cutting it down. I can't understand leaving it in while cutting it down this much, and in particular removing the line "If today is a day of illusion and sorrow, then viva tomorrow!" Since that, to my mind at least, is pretty much the core sentiment of the song. The only explanation which occurs to me is that they wanted the melancholy bit, all is darksome, death the friend or death the foe, etc, but didn't want the more upbeat number which follows it, but couldn't cut it entirely because the one flows into the other, so they just cut as much as they thought they could get away with.
Dialogue-wise, I think I noticed a few omissions, but not many (Though I just remembered a noticeable one, the Prince's little speech about roulette before his song was mostly cut. Rather odd, to my mind. And the brief bit of dialogue afterwards, which also didn't really work for me - as it was, they went straight from the roulette song to "Why you forward little hussy, how dare you?!") , and one or two may actually have been the actors forgetting their lines...



On which note, the performers:

Ludwig - Stefan Bednarczyk. Someone on SavoyNet made the point that this actor was definitely more an actor than a singer. I would certainly agree - I was somewhat put out by his omission of a few high notes, including some which were note noted in the score as being optional. And this despite the fact he clearly could hit a top F, since he did so at the end of the sausage roll song, so I can't understand the decision. In any case, yes, more an actor than a singer. So his acting, then.
I appreciate his performance more now, in retrospect, but at the time it didn't do that much for me. I've mentioned previously that Ludwig is a character defined almost entirely by his ego, and that didn't come across to me so much in this performance. He was more understated, which may have been deliberate, to make things more subtle, but in practice simply allowed them to be missed, passed over. And in fact, my greater appreciation in retrospect may be because I'm remembering the good bits and not the bland. Ludwig being such a large part, it's understandable if an actor can't give the fullest of performances to every single line - but it's still disappointing. I'm also certain he was forgetting a few of his lines, though I doubt it would've been noticed by anyone not familiar with the script and the stage. I will say that he definitely got better as the show went on, and his performance in the second act I had few issues with, if any.

Lisa - Victoria Byron. Honestly? Not impressed. Good actress, good singer, played the part wrong. Now, I've tried to allow for the fact that perhaps I am biased towards my own conception of the part of Lisa, and perhaps they had a different idea of her. But there's only so much leeway I can give, and what it comes down to in the end is something of a pet peeve of mine, particularly in regard to G&S, noted from recordings I've heard - people delivering lines and singing songs without regard for the character and emotions they're supposed to be portraying. When Lisa sings her solo in the act 1 finale and her song in act 2, I don't want to be impressed by her strong operatic voice; I want to see her distress at losing the love of her life to a woman she thought of as a friend. Prior to that, a stronger, more confident Lisa is an unexpected idea, but one which could possibly work, but at that point, in those songs, it must be shattered. The emotions are right there in the words, GIVE THEM TO ME. I'm sorry, Ms Byron, but by and large, your crying did not convicne me.

Ernest Dummkopf's company. OK, so for starters, this was a relatively reduced company production (Relatively because you can only reduce the Grand Duke cast so much), and to allow for that, rather than having five minor principal women there were two women and three men, thus covering all the chorus parts. It worked. Now these guys I really liked. Having a chorus this small gives them much more opportunity to sell themselves as characters in their own right, and they really did that well. Through the different ways they interacted with the principals and with each other separately to the principals, they made it easy to believe that they all had their own stuff going on in their lives, which just wasn't ever the focus of the action onstage.
In particular, they also did an excellent job of acting drunk, not only during Come Bumpers, but also after it, which is an easy point to miss - once the song about drinking has passed and you return to the plot, it's natural enough to sober up your acting again, but it makes little sense to do so, and these actors remained convincingly tipsy for the rest of the show (Which particularly worked during the Dance).

Chamberlains/Herald, Costumier and Supernumeraries. OK, so there's little to say about the Chamberlains, other than the Lord Chamberlain (later the Herald), who I wasn't that convinced by. Having him put upon, struggling to keep the other Chamberlains in line, in particular the most junior (later the Costumier), who seemed to be away with the fairies quite a bit. And panicking at the fact Rudolph was giving orders to more Chamberlains than there actually were (They had 5 rather than the originally scripted 7) and consequently giving three jobs to the most junior, while the others edged away to avoid it. So far so good. But the business of him being hard of hearing, and the tremendously over the top use of the ear trumpet? Funny once at most, and afterwards rapidly descending to tiresome and pointless. Was not particularly impressed by his rendition of the Herald's song either.
The Supernumeraries of course had more to do, and were perhaps not quite as good as Dummkopf's company, but then they had less stage time. They were perfectly fine. And I loved the delightfully camp French Costumier.


Since  I've just gone through essentially the chorus, this seems a relevant point at which to mention some of the staging and choreography. Now, the stage itself was rather small, but this worked in general because so was the cast. It only appeared crowded at the very end, when finally the entire cast were all onstage at once. The only entrances were down the sides, which worked quite effectively, allowing entrances to be made across more distance than could really be fit on the stage. The curtains at the back of the stage were only used once, before the Dance, since the Princess had to see someone behind one before they jumped out.
Now, choreography. Ironically, by and large, the choreography worked better the less choreographed it was. Now this should not be taken to its logical conclusion - the show would not have been better without choreography. But it seemed to work better when the choreography was looser, general directions still allowing scope for the chorus to play their characters, which they did very well as I already stated. For example, the Dance obviously had some specific directions - burst out, grab supernumeraries, spin them round, drag them off, drag them back on, etc - but the details were down to the actors being drunk and the supernumeraries being initially panicked before deciding to just roll with it. By contrast, Ten minutes since had the actors sitting, then rising alternately when they started singing between Ludwig's verses. It looked far too obviously staged, too stiff, and too silly. It detracted from the effect of their panicked entrance (Which was again much looser).


Onward with the performers.

The Prince and Princess of Monte Carlo - Martin Lamb and Jane Quinn. I have little to say about these two. They were both very good, the dynamic between the two of them worked, they  were good at being prideful and proper. I'd like to see these two play bigger parts, as I'm sure they'd do them well.

The Notary - Bruce Graham. To my shame, I almost forgot about the Notary. He was good. Again, there's only so much one can say about him. The Notary exists almost entirely to deliver or prompt exposition, and Bruce Graham did so very well.
I suppose the point to note with the Notary, the Prince and the Princess is that while I had no stunning praise, I also had no criticisms.

Rudolph - Richard Suart. Good. Definitely focused somewhat on the fact Rudolph is supposed to be somewhat constitutionally fragile as a result of his cheap diet, and that worked very well, also working as an indication of age. The downside, however (And I think it was down to this), was that it detracted from the crispness of his diction, particularly in the songs. It was fine enough for me, but then I know the words already. For someone not familiar with the libretto, I think it would have been more difficult.

Baroness von Krakenfeldt - Sylvia Clarke. Good. Certainly impressive in the aspect of being formidable and overwhelming. Perhaps a little less so in the particular propriety expressed in her first scene, and I can't remember quite what I thought of her drunk acting for Come Bumpers, but I don't think it grabbed me particularly.

Ernest Dummkopf - Philip Lee. Loved this guy. With all due respect to my friends, I'd say he was the best Ernest I've seen. An excellent balance between puffed up and pathetic. Perhaps could have put a bit more into his haunting of Julia in the act 2 duet, though I suspect that may well have been more down to the direction than the acting. All-round brilliant performance.

Julia - Charlotte Page. Absolutely stole the show. If I had to criticise, I would say perhaps her hysterical madness in the duet with Ludwig could have been more extreme. That's it. Everything else was just stunning.
Unlike the two Julias when I've done the show, she had the german accent, as in the original production, and while I've been sceptical of it in the past, I am now entirely convinced of how well it can work. Not to say it should never be removed, as it obviously requires your Julia to be able to do a very good german accent, and find the balance between being sufficiently accentuated to work for the jokes about german/english, but not so much that it interferes with the meaning of the dialogue or becomes difficult for the audience to understand. Charlotte Page did it superbly, and was far and away the best performer in this production.


In summing up, by and large, I loved the production. I've seen a number of rather scathing reviews of it. To be honest, I feel some of the reviewers just don't get how G&S works. I also recall clearly reading compliments for the efforts of the company in general and Charlotte Page in particular, but can't recall what precisely any of the reviews said was bad, merely some sweeping statements that it was, and suggesting there was no reason to revive the show. Best guess would be that they took issue with the convoluted plot, but if that is the reason for their condemnation of The Grand Duke, well pooh-pooh to them, I do not care a fig about them, and I return to my initial feelings on the matter - they just don't get G&S.
For my part, as I've outlined, there were some choices in direction and the cut of the script which didn't make sense to me and some casting I might question. Furthermore the production did seem less polished than I would have expected, seeming more like an amateur production than a professional one - actors having difficulty remembering lines and so on. But for all that, they did a fantastic job bring the show to life, including some bits of it I no longer thought could be made to work, there were some fantastic performances, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I thoroughly deserve all the envy I received from my friends when I posted on facebook about going to see it, because it was fantastic.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

We're called Gondolieri!

It has been almost a week now since I finished performing The Gondoliers. Probably over a week by the time I finish writing this post (Later edit: Yep), which I guess is somewhat overdue. I WAS COPING WITH POST-SHOW BLUES OKAY. Also waiting for people to upload their photos so I could include them.

The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria was Gilbert and Sullivan's twelfth collaborative work (eleventh of the thirteen which survived in full and are therefore still generally counted). To my recollection (Which admittedly may be flawed), it was after the two had been separated for a while, Gilbert had gone off and done The Mountebanks with Alfred Cellier, and while I personally think it's rather good, Gilbert felt Cellier was not up to the same standard as Sullivan, and so was perhaps quite keen to make things up - hence why Gondoliers starts with a 15 minute or so musical number for the entire opening scene. (Edit: I was wrong. Mountebanks was after Gondoliers, not before. The thing about Gilbert wanting to make things up to Sullivan I think was still true though)
The other notable point I remember about the writing of Gondoliers is that Gilbert was apparently tired of some performers putting on airs and rating themselves above the others, so he wrote a show in which all the nine main principal parts are pretty much equal. And had the two gondoliers sing a whole song about how they'd make everyone equal in the act 1 finale to really drive the point home. I'd say he succeeded pretty well, though the two titular gondoliers are still definitely more important as characters than the other principals.

Anyway, onward to the usual things:

Dramatis Personae

Duke of Plaza-Toro (A Grandee of Spain) - Comic baritone. Of high lineage and very proud of the fact, but recently fallen on harder times (i.e. he's broke), much to his frustration. Although by act 2 he has resolved this difficulty by establishing himself as a public company, The Duke of Plaza-Toro, Limited (An idea  which Gilbert would revisit in Utopia Limited). Very puffed up and self-important, but also very much in the thrall of his wife.


Luiz (His attendant) - Baritone (Though a fairly high one - he effectively acts as a tenor in the SATB of the Ducal party). Noble despite his apparently lowly origins. Secretly in love with Casilda, the Duke's daughter.

Don Alhambra del Bolero (The Grand Inquisitor) - Baritone. Basically acts as an upholder of the status quo. He wants things to remain as they are, and this desire on his part is the cause of the plot as it stands at the beginning of the show.

Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri - Tenor and baritone, respectively. Venetian gondoliers, republicans, loved by all the ladies in Venice (Or at least all the ladies who appear in the show), fun-loving brothers. The two are not exactly the same - as is typical of G&S tenors and baritones, Marco is more romantic and poetical while Giuseppe is more roguish and down-to-earth. But conversely they are not as dissimilar as the typical G&S characters. Each does have some of the qualities of the other, and of course the two are never (Well, hardly ever) onstage separately from each other. (To be precise - as written the two are together throughout the show, but in this production each left the stage briefly during the act 1 finale and Marco left the stage during my song. Oh I didn't mention that I was Giuseppe, did I? I was Giuseppe)

Antonio, Francesco, Giorgio, Annibale - Citizens (Usually also gondoliers, but as our director pointed out, that's not actually specified). Bit parts. A few little solos and lines of dialogue, but otherwise chorus.

The Duchess of Plaza-Toro - Alto. Middle aged and domineering, as is traditional for altos, though also mothering to Casilda. Similar to her husband in feelings of self-importance.

Casilda (Her daughter) - Soprano. Somewhat flighty and impetuous, though still with the familial pride. Secretly in love with Luiz.

Gianetta and Tessa - Soprano and alto, respectively. The gondoliers' wives. Much like their husbands, they are very similar and yet different, in ways generally matching their respective husbands. In general I feel the wives are perhaps more similar than the gondoliers, but in the end it's down to performances in any case. Both very emotional, ranging from beaming joy to tearful sorrow to giving full voice to their fiery tempers, depending on the circumstances.

Fiametta, Vittoria, Giulia - Contadine. Bit parts entailing a few small solos.

Inez (The King's foster mother) - Only appears at the very end of the show to resolve the plot.

You may well note, as I have, that these descriptions are mostly quite short, which I think is down to the construction of the cast. With Gilbert's aforementioned intention to make all the parts equal, I feel they each have perhaps less individually, but are much more interesting when treated as groups together. Hence of course I did group the gondoliers and the wives together, but similarly one could talk about the quartet of the gondoliers and their wives; the Ducal party and its component couples of the Duke and Duchess and Luiz and Casilda; Don Alhambra in interaction with both quartets, and then when Casilda is introduced to the gondoliers and their wives. I'm not going to write whole paragraphs about them, though I possibly could, I merely point out that that's really how the show works. The whoole is far greater than the sum of the principal parts.
On that note I will point out one other interesting point about the characters, which our director pointed out to us at the read-through: Gondoliers is the only G&S to show a family group in which both parents are alive. Iolanthe has Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor and Strephon, but the LC and Strephon don't know they're father and son until the end of the show, so we never see them really as a family group, as we do the Duke and Duchess and Casilda in Gondoliers.
The Ducal party and Don Alhambra
The Gondoliers and their wives.















(I couldn't get the photos to stay next to each other if they were the same size, and if one had to be bigger than the other, of course it had to be the one with me in)

Rapid Plot Summary:
All the ladies love the gondoliers, to the consternation of the other men. The gondoliers determine to choose their wives at random, by being blindfolded and marrying whoever they catch. After some cheating (Precise amount at the director's discretion), they marry Gianetta and Tessa, the ladies they actually wanted. Everyone's happy! Off we go.
Enter the Ducal party, who have come to visit the Grand Inquisitor. While Luiz is off-stage informing Don Alhambra of their arrival, the Duke explains to Casilda that she was wed in infancy to the son of the King of Barataria, and since the former King was recently killed, they've come to Venice to ask the Inquisitor where his son is, so Casilda can be Queen. Before they go in to see him, Luiz and Casilda are left alone long enough to be romantic and then sad because they can no longer be together now Casilda knows she's married.
So they go to see the Don, and he explains the crucial plot point - when the King of Barataria became "a Wesleyan Methodist of the most bigoted and persecuting type", he stole the Prince away to prevent this being passed on, and brought him to Venice, leaving him in the charge of a gondolier. Unfortunately, this gondolier got drunk a bit too often, and forgot which boy was the Prince and which was his own son. So, to quote the following lines which are among my favourites lines in the show:
"So, you are telling me that I am married to one of two gondoliers, but it is impossible to say which?"
"Without any doubt, of any kind, whatever."
And he's going to send Luiz off to fetch his mother, Inez, who was the royal nurse, to identify the Prince (Because obviously she will still recognise him despite not having seen him since he was a baby). Quintet about how life is complicated, exeunt all.
Meanwhile the gondoliers and their wives are generally enjoying themselves being married until Don Alhambra turns up and tells them that one of them is a King, and they are to reign jointly until they find out which - but that they can't take their wives with them to Barataria (He neglects to mention Casilda). Cue Act 1 finale. Planning out how they'll rule, make everything republican and so on, then tearful farewells and off they go.

Now, Act 2 nothing really happens plot-wise until the end to be honest. Everyone's just waiting around for Inez to turn up and resolve everything. But in the meantime there's some excellent character stuff, so it remains highly enjoyable. We see how the gondoliers' republican plans have in practice led to them doing all the work for their courtiers, who are just living it up treating their monarchs as servants. The gondoliers are pretty happy with this though (Or, depending on how you play it, they may just be trying to convince themselves that they are). They miss their wives though. No sooner has Marco finished singing about how wonderful women are (and accepted his applause) than the ladies turn up, having gotten tired of waiting after three months. Everything is happy, but the Don turns up, breaks down why their republican monarchy can't work and thenexplains about the marriage to Casilda, leaving the quartet broken up and dejected. The Ducal party arrive, The Duchess gives Casilda some advice on how to deal with having to love difficult men, the Duke explains to the gondoliers how to be noble, Casilda and the gondoliers discover their common ground of not wanting to be married to each other because they're in love with other people, the wives turn up and onto the act 2 finale.
Inez reveals that when Don Alhambra came to steal the Prince, she substituted her own son, and instead raised the Prince as her son - Luiz! So everyone is actually married to the person they were in love with, the monarch will be someone more suited to it, the gondoliers can go back to being gondoliers, and everyone's happy. Who would've thought it? Other than anyone who had ever seen any G&S, I mean (With the exception of Yeomen, I suppose).

Let's see, what insights on Gondoliers do I have left. I've said the thing about the characters working more as groups than individuals and Gilbert's whole thing about making them equal. I've mentioned the lack of plot in act 2, just looking at the characters instead. Oh, there's a song in act 2 which was cut from this production for the Duke and Duchess, in which they basically explain how they've been exploiting their titles to make money Come to think of it, it's similar to the kind of stuff Pooh-Bah talks about doing in The Mikado, only the Duke and Duchess are rather smug about it rather than being disgusted by the idea. On reused ideas, I already mentioned that the public company thing comes back in Utopia - also the idea of monarchs effectively acting as servants to their subjects appeared in an early version of Pirates with the Pirate King. It didn't work there, but it works here. Oh, and of course baby-swapping happened back in Pinafore as well.

Let's see, things about this production in particular. While the Duke is often portrayed as the kind of genial buffoon that a lot of comic baritones are, the Duchess says in her song that "his temper was volcanic," and I think we tried to have a bit of that in. Oh, I think it's fairly common for the gondoliers to have different costumes for being kings in act 2, and then go off and change back during the act 2 finale once they discover they're not. We didn't have that - the only indication of us being royal were a medallion each. I felt this lent a certain humour to one of my lines: "We quite understand that a man who holds the magnificent position of King should do something to justify it! We are allowed to buy ourselves magnificent clothes, ..." It goes on, but that's the relevant bit. We're allowed to buy ourselves magnificent clothes apparently, and yet we're still wearing our gondolier outfits. Sadly I don't think anyone laughed at it :(
Oh! We had gondolas! Those were cool.

Oh, Kayleigh said I was the best she'd ever seen me, which is not entirely surprising since this is the first lead role she's seen me in since my first HMS Pinafore two years ago, which was my first ever principal role in a proper G&S, so I've definitely improved since then. But it was still really nice to hear. In general my feedback was very good. And I think someone else in the society said others had commented on how I really come alive onstage or something? Which I can definitely believe. So, yeah, basically I'm great ;P

Other than that, there's little I can say about the production other than to say it was fantastic, I loved it, I miss it now it's over, I really feel more a part of the society now having gotten to know more of the people, and I miss them as well now that I won't be seeing most of them for a few months. Post-show blues, like I said.
While there were some worries, with forgetting lines and moves and stuff, and the show being sooner than really expected, as it always is, it all came together brilliantly at the end. I had some great times and look forward to many more great times.