Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

First of all, The Merchant of Venice is a racist play. Wikipedia debates the idea, but it seems pretty clear to me. First, there's the Prince of Morocco, who is presumably black. When he loses the game which I'll describe below, Portia hopes that all people with his colour fail to win her in marriage.

Then there's Shylock. He is a bad person, and he is a Jew. These things are not are not a coincidence in the play. Everyone refers to him as a Jew, and treats him poorly as a result. He claims that this mistreatment turned him into a bad person, but it's a facade. Even in his private thoughts in his very first line, he wants to see Antonio dead simply for being Christian, and for lending out money without interest, thereby cutting into Shylock's money lending business. He even says that he wants to see Antonio dead on behalf of "his tribe". When he leaves a scene, he's heading to the synagogue. In this play, being Jewish, and being a villain are inextricable.

Shylock has a famous speech where he says he is still a human being, including the line, "If you prick me, will I not bleed?" So if anyone talks like that, you could call them a Shylock, if you wanted to confuse them.

There's an odd contest in the play: Everyone wants to marry the beautiful Portia, and the father is being careful about who he gives his blessing to. He won't let any old Prince or Duke courting her to have her hand, he'll only let someone who can guess the right choice in a cryptic riddle. He made three coffins, made of gold, silver, and lead, respectively. Each one has a vague riddle that doesn't help on the outside, and one has a statue of Portia inside. If you choose the coffin with Portia's image inside, you win! If you choose the wrong one, you can never marry in the remainder of your life. Come to think of it, Portia's father is a bit of a dick. By the way, the lead one was the right one. This isn't really a spoiler, since we saw the other two be picked incorrectly before hand.

This play has a classic Shakespeare trick: women dressing as men. Since women were played by young men back then, this means that the actor was pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man. Shakespeare really seemed to adore this idea, since he does it so often.

In all, I thought this one was pretty good.

15 Down, 22 To Go
Next Up: King Henry IV, Part 1

God of Shakespeare, I know I don't pray to you often, but please make these plays about Kings named Henry interesting. If they're not, it's going to be a long slog. Three in a row!

Now playing: Rachmaninoff, Sergei (1873-1943) - Piano Concerto #2
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Merchant Of Venice Lesson

I'm going to do a full post on the Merchant Of Venice later, but here's a freebie:

Antonio: Would you mind lending me some money?
Shylock: Sure, but if you can't pay me back in time, you'll have to die.
Antonio: I don't see a problem with that.


Antonio: I don't have the money.
Shylock: Well, kill yourself then.
Antonio: There's no way I could have seen this coming!

A little advice to my readers: if someones offers you conditions that will kill you, don't go for it! (unless they offer something awesome).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Shakespeare: Richard II

Richard II is a good play, and it'd make a great addition to my series of space-operas based on Shakespearean plays. They'll be the Star Wars of the 2000's!

I've found that I enjoy the Histories/Dramas much more than the comedies of Shakespeare. There are often comedic moments that work even today, but they don't approach modern comedy in Humour:Time ratio. The Dramas of Shakespeare are better at reaching those things that are immortal in man, where the Comedies tend toward punning, which often ages poorly, and absurdism, which has been trumped so thoroughly by modern comedy that it is dwarfed in comparison.

I understand that Shakespeare was a bit of a political hack, who wrote to support Elizabeth I, and therefore, I would assume, the line of Henrys in the British Monarchy. Richard II is the story of a Henry usurping the throne, and the assassination of the King. There are some nobles that complain at Richard's taxes, but he isn't painted as a hideous villain, which would help to justify the revolution. It just seems odd that a monarchist would tell a story that so undermines the legitimacy of a monarch, especially since the current monarch was a continuation of that line.

In all, a good story, with real pathos.

14 Down, 23 To Go
Next Up: The Merchant Of Venice

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Scout Update Day 3

It's Day Three of the Scout Update, and it's much better than the fan maps from yesterday. The Energy Drink seems to explain itself, so I'm going to talk about the Achievements.

I enjoy predicting what the achievements will require just by the name and picture. With the heavy update, the picture's file name had descriptive text, but this time we're not so lucky. So here we go with my guesses:

I'm Bat Man:

Probably just grinding Bat kills. I'd guess 100 kills, unless this is the epic grind, then I'd say 1.000

Moon Shot:

Hitting someone with a ball from the Sandman when you can't see them.

No Hitter:

Cap the intel without being hit, or without hitting anyone else. Probably requires both.

Out of the Park:

I have no idea for this one. Hitting someone out of a level, so they fall to their death? It'd require a new piece of equipment for the Alternate Primary weapon, since as of now, the Scout can't do knockback.

Pop Fly:

Something about double jumping, obviously. I can't imagine them awarding an achievement for merely double jumping a lot, but that's all I got with this picture.

Quick Hook:

I'm guessing stunning someone with the Sandman, then killing them before they recover.

Race for the Pennant:

Be the first person in a game of CTF to grab the Intel.

Retire the Runner:

Drink 100 sodas?

Round Tripper:

Capture three intels in a single life.

Set the Table:

Be the first on your team to get to the CP, identical to Vanguard.

Side Retired:

In a map like Granary, your team captures all the points without losing any.

Stealing Home:

This looks like the good-old "scout cap" to me: capture the second point within a few seconds of your team capturing the first point.

Strike Zone:

Stun someone for the maximum possible stun duration.

The Big Hurt:

Kill someone entirely with baseballs? I was assuming that the baseball only did stunning and no damage, so maybe reduce someone from full health to zero while they're still stunned.

The Cycle:

Kill someone underwater, on the ground, and in the air, in one life.

Triple Play:

Capture three CPs in a single life?

Triple Steal:

I got nothing. Steal three Intels in a single game?

A Year to Remember:

Capture a total of 365 CPs.

Artful Dodger:

Dodge 1.000 shots with the Bonk! Energy Drink.

Batter Up:

Bat someone to death whilst you are both in mid-air.

Batting the Doctor:

Bat 10 doctors to death.


Return a baseball with your own baseball bat.

Belittled Beleauger:

Kill Five people while holding the Intel.

Block the Plate:

Defend 50 CPs.


Stun 25 people with the Sandman while they are next to the cart.

Caught Napping:

Unless this has something to do with the alternate shotgun, I'm guessing this entails killing someone while a drowsy scout.


I'm hoping this isn't an achievement rewarding Scouts for taking Teleports, although that would be funny. I'm betting it involves destroying teleporter entrances/exits. Let's say 25.

Doctoring the Ball:

Stunning people with the Sandman while being healed by a medic? That seems super-lame.

Dodgers 1, Giants 0:

Bat a heavy to death whilst he's eating a Sandvitch.

Fall Classic:

Use a second jump to avoid falling to death.

First Blood:

Be the first person to kill someone in a round.

First Blood, Part 2:

Be the first person to kill someone in a round, but with a Bat.

Foul Territory:

Fall so far that you'd die if you didn't double jump.

Gun Down:

Kill 50 people with the pistol.

If You Build It:

Wreck 25 engineer buildings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Valve Missives

There's some news on the TF2 front: the first alternate weapon for the scout. Do me a favour, read it before you read the rest of the article.

Now that you've read it, do you feel that you know what The Sandman does? I think anyone can tell what its purpose is, but no one can tell exactly what they mean.

This is pure Valve communication. Obtuse, vague and confusing. I am going to try my hand at being their PR man for a moment:

  • The new Scout Bat is called The Sandman
  • The Sandman can hit a baseball at an opponent, which causes stunning.
  • The farther the ball travels, the longer the target is stunned.
  • This stuns even players that are invincible.
  • Equipping this item means that you cannot Double Jump. (It's not clear whether holding the bat or equipping the bat costs you the second jump)
I think I've described it clearly, and without relying on pictures. (Valve, if you're hiring, I'm available).

Now playing: Elvis Presley - (You're The) Devil In Disguise
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fallout 3 Melee Run

A little while ago, I decided to beat Fallout 3 only using the Unarmed skill in combat. I managed to do that almost exclusively, although there were a couple times I used grenades on people on high unreachable ledges.

(At the end of the game, I did a little posing with the Fat Man, a portable nuke launcher, one of the more endearing items in the game.)

One thing I noticed during the run is that I tended to get hurt only on the optional sidequests. After that, I largely stuck to the central story. I managed to win the game at only level 11. If I do another challenge run, I'm going to see how low level you can be at the end of the game. You can skip a great deal of even the central quests, and you can get an ally to fight for you in the first major city of the game.

I'm not sure, but I think the only real source of XP would be the rewards for completing quests critical to progressing the story. It's impossible to avoid that, so that'd be the minimum XP progress. Since I would have an ally, the already easy battles should be no trouble at all.

Now playing: The Cast Of Sweet Cuppin Cakes - Sweet Cuppin' Cakes Theme Song
via FoxyTunes

Friday, February 13, 2009

Success Comes From Organization

Why is it that the Republicans are successful at controlling the narrative, and can uniformly vote against the Obama recovery plan in a political scene where their party has been soundly rejected?


When we had a president who lost the popular vote, Democrats couldn't bend over fast enough to pass any bill he wanted, even before 9/11. After that, even objections to Bush policies were beyond the political pale. Even when the Democrats retook Congress, there was no intention of impeachment, or even of a legal inquiry, despite obvious illegal activities in the administration. They had no organization, and no courage of their convictions.

Now that the Republicans are out of power, they've rediscovered the idea of fiscal responsibility. When they were in charge, the deficit was a non-issue. Now that Obama is proposing an expensive bill, even John McCain, supposedly a bi-partisan operative, has discovered that a deficit is like a "tax on our children". The blatant hypocrisy works only because every single Republican in the House is speaking the exact same words.

Only a political machine can produce these results, not people that believe in anything. If the Democrats were organized and had no ideals, they could annihilate the power structure of the Republican Party, but they won't.

I guess I'm not really getting at anything in particular.

Now playing: Joe Cocker - Hot Town Summer in the City
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin's 200th

Today is it: the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, and roughly the 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species. I can't really think of anything to do to celebrate the day, other than the regular stuff that we do at parties. Processes that take multiple generations to become apparent aren't very easy to have a party about.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Darwin Day Soon!

It's only three days til the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the most influential scientists in history. That's right, February 12th is Darwin Day! His work wasn't completely groundbreaking, you could say it was...evolutionary.

In case you're curious, here's a brief list of the scientists that come to mind when I think of the most influential:

Francis Bacon
Albert Einstein
Galileo Galilei
Isaac Newton

These names should mean more to humanity than any number of athletes, actors, writers, or generals. No one has done more to improve the state of man than those that do pure science.

Now playing: The Beatles - Back In The U.S.S.R.
via FoxyTunes

Fallout 3's interface compared to World Of Goo

First, a couple things about World Of Goo. World of Goo is a fantastic game that took anti-DRM people seriously, and included no DRM whatsoever. This was a perfect test of people who said they wouldn't have stolen Spore if it hadn't had DRM, that their theft was a symbolic act. It turns out that there are lots of people willing to steal World of Goo, since they ended up having a 90% piracy rate. That is to say, only 1 in 10 copies of World of Goo was purchased. This may have something to do with why the company that makes World of Goo has recently declared bankruptcy.

World of Goo does something truly impressive from a metagame standpoint, it's a fully featured game that only requires a single button. On the PC, you can play the entire game with Mouse1. I don't know of any other good game that can make that claim. (There's at least one bad one.)

I brought up this single button interface to compare to Fallout 3's less intuitive interface. Suppose you're in a menu checking your inventory, what button do you press to leave that menu? Depending on which menu you're in, you could press Tab, X, or A. To leave the Esc. menu, only hitting Esc. again will work. To make it perfectly clear, To simply exit a menu in Fallout 3, you have to hit one of four different buttons. This is terrible design. This still doesn't make the game bad, but it's another sign of how the game needed a few more rounds of polish.

Now playing: Simply Syndicated - The Right Stuff
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fallout 3 Review

As part of my ongoing Fallout 3 commentary, here's a review.

Fallout 3 is a good game, but only for people in the right mindset.

If you're looking for instant FPS action, in the mode of Halo or Call of Duty, this is the wrong game. This game is about Roleplaying. You can win much of the game without shooting, although shooting is often the easiest way to get through a situation. There are lots of options with dialogue and choices that effect the game world. In fact, a completionist would have a difficult time with this game, since it offers so many options, many of which are decisions that cannot be reversed, that it could take dozens of replays to get all the possible major quest differences.

Exploration can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your attitude. There are so many places scattered on the map, you can explore without a goal for hours. If you like the feeling of being alone with your dog as you walk across a wasteland, only hearing distant noises, then it will work. If you just wish games would just get you to the next city or fight, then this may drive you insane.

Visually, it's a great improvement above predecessors like Oblivion. Bethesda's terrain has improved enormously since Morrowind. Where aritificial barriers to the horizon were everywhere, now we can stand on a high point and see beautiful scenery, if you have the processing power for it.

There's good writing and humour. Although many of your dialogue options have little to no effect, it's still nice to be able to cuss out the people who irritate you. For a game with this level of language and violence, (heads explode regularly, and if you get the Bloody Mess Perk, [which I don't recommend] entire bodies exploding into disgustingly explicit gibs becomes the default death) the sexuality is extremely tame. There's a woman who is apparently a prostitute, assuming prostitutes sleep in a bed while you sleep in the same bed. There's another prostitute that "services" NPC's, and that's it. The ethical code that doesn't mind brutal murder and cannibalism but cannot accept consensual sex is a strange product of our times.

For the rating proper, I turn to the Ron Perlman system, of course.

The narrator is Ron Perlman. He only speaks at the beginning and end of the game, and he does a fine job, despite the stupidness of the ending.

2/5 Ron Perlmans

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Shakespeare: The Taming Of The Shrew

I'm often reminded of Goethe's saying: "A man's faults are of his time, but his virtues are his own." This is certainly the case for The Taming Of The Shrew. The play features all the excellent writing of Shakespeare, but it also displays the monstrous misogyny of the time. The titular "taming" is a prolonged string of spousal abuse, which culminates in an wife suffering from battered spouse syndrome. This abuse is celebrated by all the husbands present.

It's unfortunate, because, as I said earlier, the writing is very good at times. Shakespeare pulls some more of his cross-dressing and role-shifting silliness in this one. One problem I had was the fact that almost every character's name was both unfamiliar and ended in 'O', leading to more than a little confusion on my part. This is compounded by all the people pretending to be other people.

The central play is actually another of Shakespeare's favorite tricks, the play within a play. The first act of the play is about a noble who tricks a poor man, Christopher Sly, into believing that he is a noble who has been sick and delusional, only now emerging from his illness. Sly has a great line when introduced to the man pretending to be his wife:

'Tis much. Servants, leave me and her alone.
Madam, undress you and come now to bed.

Anyway, the nobles go to watch a play, which is the "actual" play about taming a shrew. Only once in the remainder of the story do the original characters act, and that is just to mention that the play isn't over yet. There's no resolution there at all.

I enjoyed this one. More than a few moments that were genuinely funny, and I think a couple more would have been funny had I known the old-timey usage of the words.

13 down, 24 to go.
Next Up, Richard the Second

Now playing: Yo-Yo Ma - Suite No. 6 in D-Major - Sarabande
via FoxyTunes