WHO is 'The Astra'?

A few weeks ago, I was approached by Pretzelcast’s xwcg and Serious_Creeper to make a cameo appearance in the finale of their Survival Island “Let’s Play” series. They wanted me to play “The Astra”, a parody of “The Doctor” (given that both of them are big fans of Doctor Who). I was thrilled to be asked, and very amused by the concept, so I was more than happy to accept 😀

Fast forward to this past Monday, and I joined the two of them on their private server to help finalise the setting-up of the interior of The Astra’s time/space machine (unofficial name: The RETARDIS), and to get in some rehearsals of the scene. So while Serious_Creeper was setting up redstone circuits to make the lights flash and the central column move up and down (thank goodness for the introduction of pistons!), xwcg and I set about making the place looked more “lived in” – within the confines of Minecraft items, that is…

I proved to be a rather dangerous set-builder – I decided The Astra should have an ice sculpture inside his time machine, but it melted within seconds, flooding the floor of the room… Then I made matters worse: I placed a bed for decoration, then decided to “sleep” in it, so that I could set my spawn point in case I was killed during set-up. But I’d forgotten that xwcg and Serious_Creeper had constructed the interior of the RETARDIS in the Nether… BOOOOM! I was mortified, and rushed to help reconstruct the set – thankfully, my two friends didn’t seem too bothered by my clumsiness, even when it turned out that the blast had ruined the redstone circuitry…

Rehearsals went pretty well, and I managed not to blow up anything else for the rest of the meeting, so we adjourned until Wednesday, when filming was to take place.

But when I returned to the server, I found that my duties as guest weren’t simply restricted to hitting my marks and getting my lines out without flubbing or corpsing… Oh, no – and it was going to take some coordination to make sure I didn’t mess up!

I’d hoped to watch the two of them in action – at least on the surface of Survival Island – but without getting in the way. It turned out that I had WorldEdit permission, and so I transported myself upwards about 30 blocks, so I could more or less see what was going on while I listened to them over Mumble (with me on push-to-talk, so I didn’t interrupt them while they did the actual “Let’s Play” part).

My lofty vantage point over the Survival Island exterior set.

My lofty vantage point over the Survival Island exterior set. No way could I do this in real life...

And it was then that they told me what they needed me to do… First of all, I had to set off lightning to add atmosphere to the rain (thank goodness I use a key-macro program to do admin commands, and already had the lightning command programmed in). Then, once they were far enough underground so as not to see my name-tag, I was to come down onto the surface of the island, build the exterior of the RETARDIS, run to their house, plant TNT (and at this point, I wasn’t sure if The Astra was a good guy or not!) and later, on the given cue phrase (“fish fingers” – that’s “fish sticks” to any Americans unfamiliar with the British term), set off the TNT, get out of the house and to the front of the RETARDIS before they reached the surface… without me knowing how close to the surface they actually were! And we were to do it all in one take!

Despite my intense trepidation, I was prepared to give it a go – but I was going to have some fun with the first part, at least… and there was nothing that either of them could do about it without ruining the take! After a few false starts, where Serious_Creeper was rather less than serious – he kept corpsing when xwcg was trying to be all dramatic and serious (“I’m not used to you being serious!”), the episode got under way, and I got busy, throwing down the lightning. I did deliberately aim the crosshairs so that the lightning would hit a pig and turn it into a zombie pigman, and I aimed directly at xwcg as he was leaving the house to head for the mine… *bwahahahaha*

It's raining outside, Sven...

xwcg: "It's raining outside, Sven..."
Serious_Creeper: (spluttering laughter)
xwcg: "Are you going to be serious or not?"

Once I felt that they’d had a decent amount of time to venture back down into their mine, I got to work – though I’d forgotten to re-enable “god mode” when I logged back into the server… which was to prove problematic later… First up: compass down off my glass block, and head for the spot where a hole had been dug with a ladder in it – which had had to be covered up with a dirt block to match the garden (they prevented me having to search for the right spot, by placing a torch on the block itself). Some quick WorldEdit jiggery-pokery, and the first few blocks down from the surface were changed to purple wool, to match the interior set, and then I could build the RETARDIS’ exterior.

It was when I was about to place the TNT in the house that I realised my first problem: no TNT! I’d forgotten to spawn the stuff before shooting began, and I couldn’t do it while filming, because multiple appearances of “Astragali has spawned item 46” would give away my presence in a big way… A quick dig in my inventory reminded me that I had some white wool left; their version of the server plug-ins didn’t allow spawning of coloured wool, but bizarrely, I could use the block-replace tool from WorldEdit to change white wool into any colour I needed… So that went down onto both floors of the house, and then I turned it into the required TNT. I had to do the same thing when I realised I also had no lever to detonate the stuff!

Then I had to wait out their playing, my crosshairs over the lever block, listening out for “fish fingers” while a litany of steps played out in my head like a broken record: throw lever; turn left; compass through window; run to the RETARDIS, get there before they do… And I waited for over 30 minutes, getting more and more nervous…

Finally, it came – xwcg said “fish fingers”, and I swung into action! Or, rather, I tried to… I threw the lever, turned left, but there wasn’t enough time to escape the blast, and with god mode off, I was killed! I respawned under water, not knowing where I was, plus the compass was lost in the explosion, so I had to run manually to the right spot while hoping like hell that they wouldn’t emerge from the mine before I got there! As it turned out, I was a fraction of a second too late, but it apparently didn’t seem to matter! (Because xwcg’s trailing Serious_Creeper as they ascend, you don’t see me sliding to a halt on his version of the video.)

The Pretzelcasters meet The Astra.

The Pretzelcasters meet The Astra. But is he a force for good, or evil?

And it wasn’t until my gaze followed xwcg that I realised I’d managed to completely destroy their house… I didn’t even think the lower TNT blocks would be detonated!

Overall, the scene was completed without any difficulty – and then I got to have a nice little “rant” about what I’d had to do to accomplish what they’d wanted, finishing with, “YOU TWO HAD IT EASY!” (I wasn’t actually upset about it, though – as nervous as I was about fouling up the filming, I was still having a great time :D)

Soon, it was time to log out, wait for them to switch to the “interior set” map, and come back to finish off… Thanks to their planning the interior scene as a separate take, it meant I could mess things up without ruining all that went before. Just as well, because I messed it up many, many times… And as a consequence of their nifty editing, you can’t even see the transition between the two sets 😀

A little more recording, and my evening with the Pretzelcasters was done… You can see their “dual cammentary” videos on their YouTube channel; xwcg’s is this one, while Serious_Creeper’s is this one.

UPDATE (August 20): The Season 2 teaser has been released, along with a “Bonus Pretzel”: the bloopers from the Season 1 Finale – including my rant… Even though I was laughing at the time the bloopers happened, they still make me laugh, now 🙂

Thanks so much to xwcg and Serious_Creeper for inviting me to appear on their video – it was awesome, even though it was tricky to keep it a secret! 😉 And you may be seeing more of The Astra before very long…

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