Saturday, November 19, 2016

Super Contra

[Boring alert]


Contra was a thing back in the day - probably one of the top five or so NES games you'd have to call "classic". It was said to be super easy to beat, but this was clearly bunk. You had to use the Konami Code to even have a shot, and even then it would take more practice than I had time for the few times I played it. It was a two-player game, so technically I was playing when the game was beaten, but the two-player-ness plus the cheat code to start with made me think it didn't count. So back in my college days when I was collecting classic games, I skipped this one.

There was one thing that gave Contra a special place in my heart, though: the music during the ending credits is this super triumphant, super catchy tune. (So much so that every Konami game I've beaten has disappointed me with its ending.) Some time later, I realized that Contra actually has several catchy tunes. So when I racked up some Bing Rewards points, I figured Contra would be a good thing to get on the Virtual Console.

Except for one thing: it's not on the Virtual Console. Its sequel, Super Contra is, as is Contra 3 for the Super Nintendo. After much debate I got Super Contra, It's pretty cool, with pretty much the same feel as the original. Except that it doesn't have any catchy tunes. I like the overhead levels better than the fake-3D levels in the original, though. (Most levels in both games are side-view.)

Since I was going to be cheating anyway, I made shameless use of the Virtual Console's save-state feature. (After an initial run with the regular cheat code, with which I got to the midboss of Area 3 before getting running out of continues.) I didn't cheat as much as I could have, though - I only saved at safe spots, and I never saved during a boss fight. It took me a lot of tries, but I beat it. And I was proud to figure out how to beat the Level 3 boss without getting hit. (Also the Area 4 one, but that's more obvious.) Yay! Anyway, once that was done, I played it again with just the regular cheat code and got to Area 6 before running out of continues. And finally, I played it saving only at the start of each level. I still lost a few lives without reverting, but maybe not more than I would have gained in the process. So eventually I suppose it would be possible to beat it without saving state. I guess. I still don't know how anybody puts in enough time to beat it without cheating though.

Yay for saving the world from aliens!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

List of Lies

In The Screwtape Letters, there's a discussion about how the ideal lie is that you should worship the devil, but now the strategy is to ignore spirituality altogether. In Sunday school today that sort of thing came up, and I figure there are several lies that the devil would like us believe, some blatantly wrong but some very dangerous even to active disciples of Christ.

On some level, it almost doesn't even matter which of these lies you choose to believe. They're certainly different in magnitude, and the earlier ones are certainly more likely to lead you to do really bad stuff. But all of them have the effect of keeping people from accepting the Atonement of Christ. So I think it's useful to ask myself which of these I tend toward.

Here's a list of the lies, in order of preference for the bad guys:

Lie #1: There is a god, and it's the devil.
 • Not very convincing for most - not really even logically valid. But the Cane types embrace it for some reason.
Lie #2: There is a god, and it's [some other person or idol that embodies evil principles].
 • This is almost as damaging as the first option and is a little easier to swallow.
Lie #3: There's a god, and it's you.
 • This one is much easier to convince people of. Once they've accepted it, all that bad parts of their carnal nature start to talk louder. Really, this is still almost as damaging as the first option.
Lie #4: There is no God.
 • This is actually almost the same as #3, although basically good people won't do as much damage with this.
Lie #5: God is real, but he's this distant being that doesn't really affect your life.
 • It's so easy to believe in a god who doesn't expect anything from you. Not very beneficial, though. This is a very common belief.
Lie #6: God is real, but he hasn't said anything lately
 • Arguably, this comes close to implying irrelevance in a world where new issues keep coming up.
Lie #7: God is real and speaks, but he doesn't know (or care) about you.
Lie #8: God is real and speaks and cares about you individually, but you can't make it - you're not good enough to qualify for his plan.
 • Insidiously, this bypasses what the plan actually is. A key tenet is that everybody is reachable, at any given place.
Lie #9: God is real. He has an important plan, and you can qualify for it. In fact, you already have. There's nothing more to do.
 • A lot of people jump to this. I guess it's actually compatible with lie #5.

The truth, of course, is that God has a plan for us that applies to us and will benefit us if we follow it. It is accessible, and God is eager to help us along the path every moment of every day. Following it and benefitting from it requires that we care about God's will and have the faith to keep trying to follow it. If we give up (due to a feeling of hopelessness or a misguided set of priorities), we're actively pushing God away. But he's always eager to invite us back.
 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Shovel Knight

I had some Bing Rewards points burning a hole in my pocket, so went out on a limb and got Shovel Knight. It's a tribute to old NES-style games, incorporating elements of a bunch of them, most notably Duck Tales, Mega Man, and Zelda 2. I was a little hesitant about the 8-bits(ish) graphics - I mean, I was happy about that in Mega Man 9 and 10, but that's because they were building off the nostalgia of the original Mega Man games. Shovel Knight is a new thing. But as I played the first level, I had to admit it was pretty delightful. The feel is familiar, but the game is quite original. And when I was done, I found myself humming the first level tune. I knew I had chosen correctly.

The virtues of Shovel Knight are extolled all over the place on the Internet, but here's what I liked about it:
  • It's challenging, but not unreasonable. There is no concept of extra lives - you can restart from the last checkpoint as many times as you want. (You do lose money when you lose a life, but you can get it back if you make it back to the spot where you perished.) The only catch is that if you do back out of a level, the game forgets everything that happened while you were there (good or bad).
  • In the few situations where I felt like a particular challenge was totally hopeless, the answer wasn't "keep trying" or even "look it up". It was to obtain and use a particular item. That is the correct answer.
  • There are three or four really good, catchy tunes. Too many games these days have "mood music" that contributes to the feel but doesn't really help make the game or the situation memorable.
  • There's some pretty amusing humor stuff going on
  • The hero is pretty likeable. He's blue like Mega Man, noble like Link, etc.
And not only that, but the game has a free downloadable "second quest" kind of thing called Plague of Shadows, where you play the game again as Plague Knight, one of the villains of the main game. The plot is kind of adorable - Plage Knight is trying to concoct the Ultimate Potion so his assistant Mona will like him. (At one point you can learn to dance. This doesn't affect the game at all, but if you try to do it near Mona, you just end up twiddling your fingers nervously. Poor Plague Knight.)

The gameplay is completely different - Plague Knight fights with bombs instead of a shovel, and the power-ups can be used to configure those bombs at any time. It turns out being easier I think, but it's still challenging - really it feels like a completely different game.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Super Mario 3D Land

I got Super Mario 3D Land for Father's Day. For context, the last Mario game I bought or owned was Super Mario 64. (I have played a couple in-between though.) It was a bit of an internal struggle between that and New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Not to be confused with Super Mario Bros. 2). NSMB2 seemed more classic-Mario-y, but 3D Land seemed to do a better job of justifying my purchase of a 3DS, plus a friend had told me that he liked 3D World better than New Super Mario Bros U (sequels to both games in consideration). In the end, I went with 3D Land since reviews said it was longer, and it seemed to be a direct sequel to Mario 3 and 64, whereas NSMB2 seems to be a sequel to the other "New" games.

I'm very happy with my choice. It's not go-explore-stuff-y like Mario 64, but it definitely has a Mario-y feel - the enemies, platforms, and obstacles all translate well to 3D. And while you can play the game in 2D mode, I found it to be very difficult; the 3D capability of the console is a huge benefit in this case. The game started out pretty easy, but by the castle in World 5 it had gotten quite challenging. I did beat all of the levels without using the P-wing or white leaf cheats. Replayability was nice too - I had heard that there were "Special World" levels, but I didn't realize that half the game takes place after you beat it. (That was also a chance to revisit some of the gimmicks that had only shown up in one or two levels so far, like the colored platforms that appear and disappear in time with the music.) And while those levels were very challenging, I didn't have to go farming for power-ups or extra lives until the last three levels. (At that point, I beat 1-3 several times in order to get a Super Leaf, which makes most challenges much more manageable.)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Weird Products & Offers

More odd stuff I've run across:

Good thing my wife spotted this, because I hate it when my power failure runs out of power:

This one seems to have a way to moderate drainage by absorbing light!

And finally, for those of you who need style help and/or companionship:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Election 2016 :(

Curse.
Curse curse curse curse curse.

Here's the deal: I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton; I'm in favor of supporting the constitution and not putting huge amounts of power in the hands of a few people (i.e. executive orders and court rulings that ignore Congress). Not to mention the whole abortion thing, etc. But somehow - I haven't fully figured out how yet - the person running against her is Donald Trump. Like just about everyone else, I thought it was a joke at first. And honestly I didn't know that much about the guy. But at this point it's pretty clear that he doesn't have the moral character to deserve a political office.

That creates an interesting dilemma. (Not for liberals, of course - I'm sure they're loving this.) You don't want to vote for Trump. But you don't want Clinton in power. It seems that most of the Republican leaders are deciding that they have to keep Clinton out of office at any cost, and so they are endorsing Trump, even while they condemn his racist, sexist, and otherwise disrespectful comments. No doubt they hope that they can sway him, to convince him that he needs to tone things down in order to attract a broader voting base. And obviously a lot of voters are behind this.

I can't do it. As much as I don't want Clinton to be president, I can't be a part of someone like Trump getting there either. And that's not to say he wouldn't do less damage - I honestly don't know what he'd do. I kind of doubt that he'd really attempt most of what he has suggested he would. But at this point, I'm not sure it even matters. Even if I agreed with Trump on every issue (which of course I don't), I still wouldn't vote for him, because again, I think that there's a bar you have to set on morality, and he doesn't meet it. In fact, it seems to me that the only value Trump has is that he wants to feel like a winner. If that's the case, then he'd do anything to feel like he's winning. Anything. At list Hillary Clinton is clearly self-centered and cares about her image. That's not respectable, but it's predictable.

So some will accuse me of helping Clinton win. And they are probably right - I am sure that lots of conservatives will feel the same as I do, while most liberals will happily pick Clinton over Trump. But you can't set your priorities such that you will keep a particular person out of office "at any cost". Those costs can become very high. It's too high this time. I'm not sure who I'll vote for, but I'm sure they won't win. But if Trump somehow manages to become president, and if he is as destructive as it seems he could be, I'll be able to say that I had no part in it.

But still, curse.

That bathroom law thing

It's embarrassing that we have to even talk about who should go into which bathroom, but apparently we do. There's a lot of that talk going around, and it seems to me that most of it misses the point. The problem with trying to redefine genders with respect to bathrooms is not with the folks who believe they're of a different gender than they are. (I don't like the term "transgender" because it implies that gender is a changeable thing, which is not true. Even aside from any religious doctrine, science tells us that much. And if you think about it, trying to argue otherwise just ends up propagating a bunch of harmful stereotypes about how men and women should think and feel. But that's a different topic.)

The problem is the other folks, who can very easily pass themselves off as transgender. Here's the thing. Nearly all perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment are male. (Biologically male.) And nearly all victims are female. Segregating bathrooms and locker rooms by biological gender separates the perpetrators from the victims in situations where abuse is likely to occur. By definition, that has to reduce the number of abuses. If a man can say he's a woman and go into the women's locker room, and if it's not PC (or even legal) for women to boot him out on sight, you have to assume that the dregs of society will do that.

People argue that said segregation shouldn't be required because there are already laws against that kind of abuse. But that misses the point - those laws only provide protection after abuse has already happened. With the "new way", women aren't allowed to protect themselves until they have already been abused. How is that acceptable to anyone?

Of course, proponents of the change point to the feelings of the transgender folks as the point of the new policies. Their feelings are certainly important, and it's certainly important to be respectful. However, the real cause of their discomfort is a lot deeper than which bathroom they are in; it is rooted in gender identity. To use what some might call an extreme example: Imagine that I were to sincerely consider myself a Native American. Let's say I tried to drop in on a ceremony of some tribe. They might look at me strangely. Depending on the situation, they might not even let me in. This would presumably make me feel uncomfortable. But the root cause of my discomfort would be my own incorrect sense of racial identity, not their reaction. I am not a Native American, and believing myself to be one would be guaranteed to cause discomfort. Anyone concerned with helping me feel better would begin by helping me understand the real meaning of the term and that it doesn't apply to me.

I realize that this sounds like it's begging the question, since the definition of gender is part of the issue. But it's really not. Because comfort aside, the issue of protection is very much connected with "gender at birth". And as I see it, as important as it is to respect the feelings of people with gender identity issues, protecting women and girls is far more important.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fairune

I beat this Android game app called Fairune yesterday. There's actually a 3DS version (which has some extra stuff), but the app was free so I went with that.

It's worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. First, it was pretty cool. It's a simplistic adventure game, in which battle takes place by simply touching enemies. If they're too strong, you'll take damage and bounce off. If they're weaker than you, they'll be defeated but give you no experience. If they're evenly matched or a bit stronger, you'll defeat them and take some damage yourself, and you'll gain experience points, which eventually raise the amount of health you have and allow you to fight stronger monsters. It's mostly a puzzle game, where you find items and figure out how to use them to advance. It has retro-style graphics and sound, and amusing-looking enemies.

The second reason is that my daughter is a huge fan. She doesn't like video games in general, but this one is fairly adorable. I think the narrator at the start hooked her with this proclamation: "Even monsters won't attack girls in cute dresses!" What's not to like?

There were a few times I had to look up what to do online. None of these situations were necessarily unreasonable, but you really have to pay attention to the pixel art to catch some of the clues. The boss battles gave me trouble also. It would have been much easier on the 3DS (i.e. with a real controller); it was hard to have precise timing with the onscreen buttons. But it was pretty satisfying when I beat it.

Please don't ask how you're supposed to pronounce the title.

Non-stupid dragon rider travel algorithm

I'm not a fan of Eragon - see the Books page for details. One (not the largest) of my complaints involves a moment where a couple of people (or maybe three) have a horse to carry their baggage, and of course they're traveling with a dragon. Since the dragon can't carry everyone, they decide to walk from one town to a distant one.

Stupid.

Of course the most straightforward thing would be for the dragon to carry one person (or however much she can carry) in one trip, then return for the next load, and so forth. Presumably a dragon could make several trips between towns in less time than it could take a person to walk. But for some reason I found myself thinking a little harder about this - specifically, how to optimize things for the shortest possible trip.

I started with a few constraints, which may or may not be valid in the book, but that's fine. For the sake of simplicity, let's say that on a given trip the dragon can carry one human, or all of the luggage, or the horse. (Granted, the horse would weigh more than two humans, so the dragon should be able to carry them both, but maybe the humans don't feel comfortable being dangled by just one set of claws or something. Or maybe the dragon can't carry the horse, but that makes this problem less interesting.) Another possible constraint is to ensure that you don't leave the luggage or the horse unattended. If it's okay to leave the luggage alone, and if there are two humans, then we have a fairly simple way of shortening the time even more:

  1. The dragon carries the luggage to the end point. At the same time, one human starts off on the horse while the other starts walking.
  2. When the dragon drops off the luggage, it returns to pick up the walking human. 
  3. The dragon drops the human off with the luggage and returns for the horse. (By this time, the horse and remaining human have covered a lot of distance, so the dragon doesn't have nearly as far to go.)
  4. The dragon drops off the horse and goes back for the final human.

We can optimize things a little further, because at step 3, the dragon doesn't have to carry the human all the way to the luggage - just close enough that the human can reach it before the final trip is over.
It might be possible to advance things even further,  if we can assume that extra trips for the dragon are offset by less time spent with a human on foot. At step 3, the dragon drop the first human off at an even farther distance from the end. Then at step 4, the dragon carries the horse from the second person to the first, then goes back for the second person. This way, more time is spent with the slowest traveler on horseback rather than walking. Like I said, this might (depending on relative speeds and distances) offset the need for some extra partial trips for the dragon.

Things get even more complex if we add the constraint that the luggage must always be in the company of a human or dragon. (Maybe there are lots of thieves around.) In this case, the luggage becomes the limiting factor. Again, assuming two humans:

  1. The dragon takes human #1 far ahead, but not quite to the goal. The human starts walking. At the same time, the other human begins walking the the laden horse.
  2. The dragon takes the luggage to human #1's position. That human must now stop. But human #2 can now ride the horse and move faster.
  3. The dragon takes the horse to human #1, who can now move. Human #2 continues on foot.
  4. The dragon takes human #2 very near the end point
  5. The dragon takes the luggage to the end point, arriving at the same time as human #2. Human #1 can now ride.
  6. The dragon takes the horse to the end point. (Unfortunately, the horse's extra speed is now wasted.)
  7. The dragon takes human #1 to the end point.
Again, we might be able to optimize this by having the drop-off point for the luggage at step 5 some distance from the end point. That way human #2 can continue with the horse and luggage while the dragon goes back for human #1. But this would also mean that the human is stationary in-between receiving the luggage and receiving the horse, which might offset this. Of course, adding a third person would really free things up and allow the horse to continue running right up until the end, similar to the first scenario. (Although of course that would also add additional trips.)

You'll notice that I've left the math out of this completely, which is why it's not possible to come up with a definitive optimal solution. I guess this would be a good interview question if math were relevant. Maybe someday I'll write a program to simulate the situation - it would be pretty cool to have little icons representing the different elements and let you tell the dragon which thing to pick up and when to drop off. In the meantime, though, please don't make stupid choices like walking somewhere you're in a hurry to get to when there's fast and free transportation available.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Return of the King

[Spoiler alerts] I finished reading Return of the King the other day. (Well I've read it before of course, but not in the last fifteen years or so.) It's pretty epic. By this point, I guess I know Tolkien's world well enough that even the rambling details seemed pretty relevant to me this time through. And again, the parts about Mordor seemed extremely vivid to me. I think that's because the experience that Sam in particular goes there resonates with me. He doesn't do very many things that are outright heroic, other than fighting off Shelob (which was in the previous book), but the author switches to Sam's perspective for that journey and makes it clear that his constant dedication to Frodo is as much a pillar of the quest's success as anything else. Not surprising that I would connect with the consistent, loyal guy more than the dynamic warriors and royalty that make up the other plot line - I guess most people would, and that's probably intentional on the author's part. In addition to Sam as character, the journey through Mordor itself is a lot like life I think. You keep putting putting one foot in front of another, half the time not necessarily knowing where you're headed or what you'll do when you get there. (Fortunately Frodo did have some sense of direction for most of the time he was conscious.) Sometimes you only succeed because things have been arranged for you (like Sam rescuing Frodo from the Cirith Ungol tower). Sometimes your trials are what propel you forward, like how Golumn covers the Hobbits' tracks so the orcs can't follow. Somehow things are just outright painful for no good reason, but you keep moving forward anyway. And while Frodo and Sam get rescued by eagles when their work is done, the book still would have been valid (if not as satisfying) if they had perished in the eruption of Mount Doom, because they succeeded. I guess it's also relevant that following their world-changing feats, most of the characters end up going back to normal life. Fortunately they're humble enough to see the value in that rather than trying to live in the past and make everyone see them for what they have accomplished. The ending is really wistful and poignant and all that stuff. I know the "Scouring of the Shire" bit was cut from the movies because it was deemed anti-climactic (not to mention time), but it really does a lot to tie things back together, showing how the Hobbit characters have changed, and that Hobbits in general have character even when things aren't peaceful. Incidentally, it's also the part about Sam that I relate to least, in some ways (besides gardening) - that he becomes a leader as restoring the Shire becomes the new quest. It's fitting that the book ends with him coming home to his family, since I guess the point of any defensive war: to make sure that families can raise children in peace. But more than that, the reader once again connects with Sam in that the epic journey and magical world have passed for him, and the reader has to close the book and go back to the real world. I guess I can't really say I've finished the book, since I think the chronology in the appendix is nice - I remember it telling how the different characters visit each other and stuff. Not to mention that it once again underscores the fact that Tolkien had a whole world apart from the story. It's amazing. Go read it if you haven't already.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Link Between Worlds

At long last I started playing A Link Between Worlds last week. It is glorious. It’s intended to be a sequel (in style and plot) to A Link to the Past, and the nostalgia started flowing from the moment I started it up. The look and feel are very familiar, not to mention the landscape. And the 3D effect (which is new to me) is a nifty addition.

Like most Zelda games, this one has a “gimmick” to set it apart from other games: after the first main level, you can “merge” into walls and travel horizontally, i.e. through narrow gaps or over pits. This is a very important change, especially in such a familiar-feeling world, and there have been many times where I got stuck just because I forgot I could do that. It definitely introduces involves some clever puzzle-solving situations.

There’s also a distinctive change to the game mechanics. A Link to the Past has stood out as the longest game in the series, with 12 levels (although some are quite short). It also preserved a now-rare feature from the original game: you can often enter and even beat levels out of order. A Link Between Worlds appears to have the same number of levels, but it takes the level-reordering feature a step further in that in most cases, there is no order. To facilitate this, the levels often do not contain required items. This is a jarring change and a departure from the series. At first I was a little taken aback when the game just handed me a bunch of items near the start. (You have to “rent” them, but money is pretty plentiful in the game.) After playing it, though, I think it works. Each level does sort of focus on the use of a particular item, so you have a similar feel of solving unique puzzles in each level, and the levels do have important optional items to find. There's also a healthy supply of items to find as you explore the overworld.

Another thing I noticed is that, while the game is clearly supposed to be set in the same world as A Link to the Past, it does reinterpret the ending of that game a bit, since the Master Sword is back (despite the fact that the ending credits said it was to sleep again forever), and Ganon has apparently not been completely destroyed, as the Essence of the Triforce said he had been. But I can’t really complain about that, since those are both key elements of A Link to the Past (and Zelda in general).

My favorite thing about the game is the enemies. Pretty much all the enemies from A Link to the Past are back, and while they’re more detailed, they’re not restyled; they look like they were pulled right off of the Super Nintendo and rendered in 3D. Some of the monsters are absolutely adorable.

I’m not done with the game yet, but I imagine I’ll rank it right near the top of the series.

[Update, with spoiler alerts]
I finished the game! I'm very happy with it. I did manage to skip some should-be-obvious stuff early on, most notably the Pegasus Boots, which I didn't get until just before the last level. Likewise, I didn't know I could purchase (or upgrade) Ravio's items until that point either. At least there was still the Treacherous Tower left to do, and of course the final level, so I did get to use my stuff. I was a little weirded out that they had done nothing to explain the inverted Triforce symbol that's so prevalent, but fortunately they do explain that in the ending sequence, which was very gratifying. The game was definitely easier than most Zelda games; the only game over I saved was in the first level, where I hadn't saved intermediate progress. Later, that wasn't very necessary. I even skipped the red tunic - mainly because I think the blue one looks better, but also I suspected that I could handle the rest of the game without it. (Actually I probably could have done it with the green tunic, since I only used two blue potions in the final battles.

I will say that A Link to the Past is still my favorite Zelda title. And while the graphics in A Link Between Worlds are delightful, I doubt that people who haven't played A Link to the Past will fully appreciate their glory. Same goes for the many parallels between games. But this was definitely a wonderful sequel. Eventually I'll play it on Hero Mode and see how knowing stuff in advance balances out the harder enemies and stuff.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Shelob and other Two Towers stuff

[Spoiler alert for the book and movie]

Several years ago I got a nice hardback set of the Lord of the Rings books. It was a long time before I started (re-)reading them though, and after the first book the set stayed in a box for a while. I just finished The Two Towers. I remember that it was never really my favorite, largely because it starts with a huge departure from Frodo’s story, which was what I really wanted to hear about. I guess I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for the other stuff. I guess the movies helped me care more about Aragorn and company – in fact, it found that I generally pictured the movie actors as the characters. That’s not surprising, I guess, but I don’t necessarily do that with books I read before seeing the movie. (For instance, when I reread Jurassic Park, I didn’t picture the people like the actors.)

One thing Tolkien does really well is paint a very vivid picture of the locations. I had a particularly vivid picture in my head of the whole Imlad Morgul / Cirith Ungol part, and it fit pretty well as I read it again. (Side note: I looked up pictures online, and some of the maps I saw were clearly wrong: They had Minas Morgul on the north side of the river, and the road crossed the river a couple of times.

Shelob is a cool enemy. It’s strange to say that, since I loath spiders. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that she’s a compelling enemy, since nothing could be more terrifying than a giant spider lurking in a murky cave. I may have pictured her a little differently this time, since the book says that her eyes are “two great clusters of many-windowed eyes”. I think I had missed the part about them being in two groups and pictured them in rows, more like a normal spider. At first I thought that maybe Tolkien was saying that they were compound eyes like a fly. That didn’t sit right though, and I think that’s wrong: “Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight” I don’t think that compound eyes could really convey purpose or delight. Also, it says that they go out one by one as she turns away from the phial of Galadriel, and Sam stabs one of them. So they must be individual eyes.

Incidentally, Shelob’s face is one thing the movies get very wrong. Aside from not glowing and being arranged in a random, asymmetrical way, the eyes are just black dots that don’t really convey anything at all except nastiness. Certainly not intelligence. I remember from the special features that Peter Jackson showed a bunch of options to his kids and asked them which one was the scariest. That was very much the wrong question. I also disagree with their choice – nasty isn’t the same as scary.

One last thing – I’m not quite sure about the mechanics of on thing. When Sam slashes at Shelob, he can’t damage her. But when she tries to crush him, she impales herself. Yet, Sam manages to stay on his feet. It says this is because Shelob’s own strength is driving her bulk down onto the sword, but I’d think that it would drive Sam down before it would pierce her. But I think Tolkien has earned the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll trust him on this.

Oh, one other really last thing: I missed that when Sam attacks Shelob, he wields both swords at once. I thought that was pretty cool. Especially since he has to wield Sting left-handed (since he doesn’t have time to switch them). Yay Sam!