Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the tag “Discworld”

Guards! Guards!

Last Friday night I went to see Guards! Guards! As performed by the GemCo Players. I was excited, looking forward to seeing a giant dragon setting things on fire all over the stage, and to see our Chair, Carmela, playing Sybil Vimes.

Well, I got to see Sybil!

If you haven’t seen (or read) Guards! Guards! then… well, I think this review will be almost completely meaningless to you. But basically, it is the story of Carrot, a human raised as a dwarf, come to the big city to join the Watch – he had heard it would make a man out of him.

And then, there’s a bloody great dragon terrorising the city.

The show was an outstanding success. It is always a bit of a gamble, watching Pratchett plays on stage. A director with no sense of humour, or a cast with no comic timing can really destroy the master’s work. This was not the case in this production. The crowd were roaring with laughter in a number of places, and chuckling for most of the rest of the show. I was infatuated with the stage, the costumes and the actors. They have a fantastic little group there and I’d love to see their next show.

The biggest bones my wife and I had to pick with the show were the length (it started at 8 and the first act finished at 9.30. The second half dragged a little as the jokes thinned out and the hour got later) and the Asterisk.

I get it. The Asterisk is a very difficult plot device to use on stage. It is completely necessary when trying to put across the essential Pratchett-ness of a show, but as a completely written device, it often doesn’t translate well.

But it was overused in this production. The actor (I’m sorry, you’re probably a fine actor!) wasn’t comfortable in the role, was very forced in her humour and folded her glasses one too many times. The director could have easily dropped at least half-a-dozen of the interruptions, letting the cast take some of the exposition, or letting the audience fill in the gaps.

Apart from that one little “*” the cast were mostly excellent. There were a wide range of ages involved, but for the most part, age had nothing to do with talent.

Obviously I thought Carmela did a great job, especially when we first saw her – or the heavy dragon armour that surrounded her. She had a good relationship with Vimes* and a great stage presence.

I was surprised to see that four of the characters were played by a Grade Four student, but happily, he was one of the stand-out comedy parts in the show. His Brother Dunnikin especially had me in stitches as he mumbled about chastised thurribles and the three dollars he would never see again.

Dibbler was my next favourite. During intermission he mingled with the audience, selling chocolates (sometimes for double the price) and assuring us that he was “cutting his own throat”. He had a real presence on stage and played three very different characters. My wife felt that his Thieves’ Guild Head was a little over the top, but I was happy.

The Guards were (again, mostly) well-cast. Colon was very amusing, Vimes had a great physicality and good comic timing. Carrot took awhile to get used to because of all of the guards he is the one that is described the most in the books. But he had a goofy, innocent expression that was instantly endearing and he played off against the other characters with a real skill. Nobby was a case of mis-casting rather than bad acting. He was out of place in the ensemble, but wasn’t a bad actor, just a bad Nobby.

Vetinari and Wonse were both well-cast and Wonse’s range of expression was excellent as the play progressed. He worked well with his secret brotherhood, who in turn, played a number of bit parts throughout the play.

Who have I missed? Of course, the Librarian! His costume wasn’t the best, and he forgot that she was a mon- er, an ape, some of the time, but he was hilarious, especially when playing charades. He made Ook mean exactly what he wanted it to mean, every time. Apparently he also doubled as Death – a seven foot robed skeleton with glowing blue eyes and scythe. Very effective.

And the dragon puppeteer! The swamp dragons were characters in their own right. Very cute, very well designed. Lots of personality. But no jolly great, mechanical, monstrous dragon head lumbering onto the stage! Still, maybe that was for the best. The devices the director used to get around that were very clever and sometimes funnier than if there had been a real dragon on the stage.

The costumes were delightful. I found myself eyeing off the Guards’ costumes and will have Carmela ask leading questions in that direction once the show’s over. And Death was great, glowing in the darkness. The sets were very detailed, very clever, with swinging scene changes that made fantastic use of the stage. The team that put it all together should be congratulated. And then given presents.

All in all, I enjoyed myself immensely. My seven-year-old daughter loved it. My wife loved it. It was definitely worth the drive out to Emerald. Go and have a gander. They finish up on the 24th November.

http://www.gemcoplayers.org/

* Oh, I’m doing this out and about without access to a programme. Please insert the names of actors into your brain as I talk about their characters.

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Diary of a Beta Tester

I was absolutely stoked when I received the Beta Test invitation to Mists of Pandaria. I’ve always wanted to be a panda, and now I could be. More importantly, I could be a panda before a whole heap of other people!

I downloaded the test client, almost installed it, solved a number of installation issues through combination of Google searching and WoW forum posts. I created a character on a US server, which crashed and wouldn’t let me back in. I created a character on a Korean server which was full of spamming lunatics who were trying to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to get anything done. And then I created a character on an EU server which worked quite nicely. Not to crowded, not too crashy, just right, says Goldi-Panda.

It’s a weird experience, playing the Beta of a game. It’s obviously good enough for us to test, but it’s not quite there yet! For example, I can’t make Pandaimo tell jokes or dance. He doesn’t have a voice. There aren’t any cinematics. But it looks phenomenal.

What really impresses me with Mists is that the Pandarens aren’t aligned with the Horde or the Alliance. I’m only at level 5 at the moment, but I can see that this is going to be an extremely interesting change to the game.

So, Pandaria. Apparently, we’re floating around on the back of a giant turtle. I’m going to go for a swim soon, to see if I can confirm it. It might even be turtles all the way down…

Pandaren starting area
Where the curious pandaren lives.
Do the crane, Daniel-san!
Do the crane, Daniel-san!

Pandaren are cute, fluffy, round and apparently quite deadly. Even the little kiddies have beards. As in Pratchett’s Interesting Times, Pandaria is a mish-mash of a number of different asian cultures. I helped an old pandaren collect wood so that he could smash his head above it. I’ve balanced on one leg in the crane formation – and then been chased by a crane after I fell into a cursed pool and was changed into a frog.

The only thing ruining this experience, apart from the bugs, are the people. I’m not sure who’s giving out beta passes, but I think they need to use a little bit of discrimination. Quests are being run one at a time at the moment. I’m assuming we’ll eventually be able to complete a few quests at a time, but I’ve been stuck a couple of times with only one quest to complete and one major problem to overcome: idiots.

Yes, even pandas can be idiots. When I arrived in the world, I needed to talk to a wise old monk who would tell me what to do. Surrounding this wise old monk was a throng of bouncing, shuffling pandaren n00bs and trolls, yelling obscenities and coming up with the panda equivalent of Chuck Norris chat (“blizz really shouldn’t panda to these people!” “OMG, it’s panda-monium!”). To get a quest from the monk, I needed to find his wise old black-and-white form in amongst all of the dropkick black-and-white forms smothering him. It was like finding a needle… in a stack of needles. Black-and-white, furry, obscene, illiterate needles.

Pile-o-pandaren
Pile-o-pandaren

I did it. I found the monk, got the quest, completed a few others, and then: “Snatch this ball of flame from my hand. Climb to the top of the temple. Find the Edict of Temperance. Burn it.” Yeah, OK, old man. However, you didn’t mention the OTHER throng of stupid pandaren weirdos who, for some reason, found it incredibly amusing to stand in a pile around the edict, stopping anyone from clicking on the quest item and completing the quest. They’re still there. Every time I log in. Mountains of them on a tiny balcony not really designed for that many pandas.

What is amusing is the view of the inside of hundreds of pandas, as I tried to shift the camera view to a point where I could see the Edict to click on it:

Inside a massive pile of pandas
Inside a massive pile of pandas

It’s not impossible. I did it. I moved on, and got to see some wonderfully impressive examples of Pandaren architecture. The quests, for the most part, are basic WoW fare – collect this, kill that, return, repeat. There are a couple of exceptions, including playing games with a water spirit and learning to balance on a pole in the middle of a cursed lake surrounded by hungry cranes.

My God, it's full of Pink!
My God, it’s full of Pink!

The fun part of playing a Beta game is finding and reporting on bugs. It reminds me of good old Vanilla WoW when I’d play with Mel and Corey and every now and then would get trapped behind something or laugh at a monster who was walking around up to the waist in solid ground. Here, I’m discovering the aesthetic joy of pink blocks. Every now and then I’ll come into a new zone, or log in, to find the buildings or chunks of landscape replaced with huge pink blocks. It’s easy to force the game to re-render the area and fix the issue, but sometimes it’s fun to walk around, or through, these huge pink cubes.

Don't get too close!
What happens if I… oh.

One of the great joys of starting a character in a new race is running through the emote system to see what the developers have for us. /sleep, /lol, /dance, /flirt, /train, /chicken are only a few of the emotes that can be typed in for humorous effect. Most of these aren’t in place just yet. I’ve checked. But PanDaimo does love a good snooze.

zzzzz
zzzzz

I’m really looking forward to trying some of the high-level content as the beta test progresses. At the moment, I’m simply enjoying the view, the fuzziness and the crowds of inept, annoying teenagers with nothing better to do. More soon.

n00bs
n00bs

Fanboy

kiss me I'm IrishI’m writing this one on the team on the way into the city. I’m wearing a green shirt and a clover pin and should be quite inebriated by midday. The Pogues are broguing away on my iPhone and I feel like potatoes. It’s the one day I can match Dave in alcohol consumption without needing hospitalisation. The spirit of the Irish rises up within me.

Did the Pogues just sing the word puir? I think they did! I’m in green heaven.

If course, for a man who painted himself blue for a Discworld con, the green shirt and pin are a little mellow.

Various images of me being a fanboyD’you like what I did there? I neatly changed the topic from St Patrick’s Day to me being a little over the top when it comes to enjoying certain works of fiction.

My name is Damian, and I’m a fanboy!

But it’s not that bad. I’m a social fanboy. I don’t dress up by myself. I… I can stop whenever I want. Seriously.

Let’s analyse this.
Damo is a fanboy:
– I am on the organising committee for next year’s Nullus Anxietas convention (Discworld Down Under – I love a sunburnt turtle).
– I almost bankrupted our theatre group to put on a production of Terry Pratchett’s Mort.
– I painted Death Riding Binky o the back of my denim jacket and had it signed by Terry and embroidered by my friend Shereen (not my fiancé Shereen and NOT to be referred to as ‘the other Shereen’).
– I’ve been dressed – at varying times and amongst many others – as a feegle, the Cheshire Cat, Uncle Fester and Wolverine.
– I own a Stuffed Murloc that goes grlglgglglgl! When you squeeze his mouth.
– I own Red Dwarf on VHS, DVD and iTunes, all of the books and assorted badges and pins.
– I have photos riding a Nimbus, flashing a light saber, and of me trapped inside the Pandorica.
– I’ve been to 221B Baker St and platform 9 1/2. And indeed went to London with the specific aim of going to said places.

OK. Damo is not a fanboy because:
– There is not one sci-fi poster in the house… Hung up in the house. Of course, that will change in the new place.
– I’ve never worn a star trek uniform or forehead ridges. Hmm, that’s now on my bucket list.
– I’ve never spent more than I can afford on sci-fi merchandise. I’ve regularly spent more than a sane person would, but never more than I could afford.
– I don’t collect signatures. I’d much prefer to have the memory of talking to a personality than the physical bit of paper with a scribbled name on it. That’s not to say I don’t have signed books. And a couple of DVDs. And of course the jacket… OK, can I retract this statement? It’s not all my fault. You can’t be a fan of Terry Pratchett without signatures popping up all over your books. It’s like magic.
– Worst of all, I have no real feelings on Star Trek vs Star Wars. Or Star Trek DS9 vs Babylon 5. It seems sacrilegious. But there you go. Although if pushed – no. I won’t get that debate happening here.

Conclusion:
I’m a pop culture enthusiast with a penchant for dressing up and a borderline addictive nature that manifests in the collection of stuff.

I like to be involved in things because if I’m not there’s a chance I might miss out on something.

And my imagination leads me to immerse myself in worlds rather than just taking a quick dip.

But I think a true fanboy would laugh at me if I tried to call myself a fanboy of any particular genre or world.

Time for a Guinness. Begorrah!

Addendum: The morning after, wondering why Guinness always seems like such a good idea at the time, I realise that St Patrick’s Day has a lot to do with being a fanboy (or girl) as well. I’m not sure how many of the people at Dan O’Connell’s had even the slightest amount of Irish blood in them, but we all got together to celebrate the Irish – or we all got together to have a huge pissup and dress in ridiculous costumes. Sounds very much like a number of conventions I’ve been to. There was a girl in a Guinness suit, many many guys with fake sideburns, a lot of green hair and a few Vulcans… hang on, wrong convention. And you have to think, these people – even if they weren’t sober when I met them – were sober when they put the costume on in the morning.

Pfff. Fanboys.

To be sure, they're fanboys all roight!

Lies to Children

Andy Riley's Great Lies to tell Small Kids

This went straight onto the toilet wall...

I was listening to someone talking to my (almost) step-daughter the other day, wondering at all of her missing teeth and asking about the Tooth Fairy. The TOOTH FAIRY! The supernatural creature who comes into your room at night, takes your teeth and leaves money in return. Now I have no problem with the concept of fairies (see the Money Fairy blog entry) but I can’t help but be disturbed by the concept of a creature that wants my child’s teeth. What does she/they do with them? Anybody who has read (or only seen – heathens) Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather has a pretty good idea. But maybe there’s a thriving economy in children’s teeth in fairy land. We all know what rhino horns are used for. We should maybe be glad that the fairies aren’t just coming and taking teeth by force! Or maybe we should be preparing against the inevitable Tooth Recession of 2012. Our kids do eat more sugar than is good for them, after all.

20120308-132757.jpg

Ho ho Damo.

But that’s not my point (it’s just what’s going to keep me up at night for the next couple of weeks). We create these incredibly complex belief systems for children. Of course, children are wonderfully gullible. They’ll believe anything, and it is an endless source of amusement to me.

NOT A SMURF!

Definitely not a Smurf.

They won’t, however, believe that vegetables taste good. But they believe in Santa. They believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Smurfs and Pokémon. And we encourage this belief.

I’ve gone from child to parent with Christmas these past couple of years co-habiting with my soon-to-be step-daughter. It changes everything! I ate three mince pies before I was satisfied with the “santa bite mark” I left on the pie left behind for him. Oh, the sacrifice! And my reindeer dental print in the carrot had to be seen to be believed. For Easter one year I created massive bunny footprints on the carpet.

A point. I have one. Ah yes, my point being that to maintain these beliefs for our credulous offspring (or step-offspring, or random children on the street) we lie to them. Unashamedly and with delighted malice (or is that just me?).

“You must go to bed early tonight. And straight to sleep. If you wake up, Father Christmas might not deliver the presents!” Translation: “Will you PLEASE go to sleep so we can get the pressies under the tree before midnight? We know you’re going to be up at 5am.”

“It’s time to write a Christmas letter to Santa. Write down everything you want. He’ll choose one or two things that he knows you want most!” Translation: “I have no idea what a 7 year old wants for Christmas. And I need a loophole in case the child asks for something that’s sold out or costing a bajillion dollars.”

Paul Kidby's version of Death as Hogfather with Albert

HO HO HO?

Why do we do it? Pratchett’s answer, again from Hogfather, is this:
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Calvin's dad explains science

Calvin’s dad would say, and I agree wholeheartedly, that it is just more fun to tell an imaginative lie than explain the boring truth. It’s a defence mechanism against the dreaded, all-powerful question “why?” Anybody who has ever dealt with a young child will know the question “why?” and the mind-melting implications of infinity it brings with it.

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because we have to get home.”
“Why?”
“Because your mother’s waiting for her dinner.”
“Why?”
“Because she’s hungry after a long day at work.”
“Why?”
“Because the human body burns food the same way cars burn petrol.”
“Why?”
“Because, um, look. Have you had the God talk yet?”

A far easier response goes as such:

20120308-133026.jpg

What if I wasn't lying?

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because a velociraptor has escaped from the dinosaur park and if we don’t get out of here soon, he’ll burst in through the door and eat you, one leg at a time!”
“Oh. OK.”

See? Much more fun. Only slightly more therapy needed as an adult.

My grandfather used to say the best way to find out whether a cat was a boy or a girl was to pick it up by the tail and swing it. If the eyes popped out, then it was a boy. He then offered to demonstrate on our cat Pepsi, who he well knew was a boy cat. It is one of the ways Perry men interact with children. Tease them until they completely lose it.

Lies-to-children is a term I first read in Terry Pratchett’s Science of Discworld (written with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. It describes the simplification of reality to help children understand the reality beneath. Things like “The Domino Effect started the Vietnam War” and “the sky is blue because of light refraction” are lies-to-children. Lies to Children are more along the lines of “the dog has gone to live on a farm where it will be happier.” or “if you have any more ice-cream it will leak out of your eyeballs and freeze your brain.”

I know which I prefer.

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