Thursday, September 27, 2012

The History of Video Game Music: The 16 Bit Enlightenment

1991.  One year into a new decade.  With a new decade comes a new video game system and a new step in game music.  Enter the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  The Sega Genesis had already started making headway into the homes of consumers.  In a few years to come, the Sega Saturn would make it's release.  All three of these systems stepped up from the capabilities of sound from the NES.  However, the Super Nintendo is where the really good music was at.

With the improvement of technology came less restricted ways to express yourself in music.  This was great for Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu who took the opportunity to shine.  Granted, it was still all synthesizers but a wider range was available to them.  The music from some of the games of this gaming system had a big cultural influence that will be talked about in a later post. Until then, let's take a look at what some people did.


Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo

Nobuo Uematsu shined the most in his contribution to the Final Fantasy series.  Final Fantasy IV through VI were released for the SNES.  IV came to United States as II and VI came to the U.S. as III.  Confused?  I don't blame ya.  Final Fantasy VI is a favorite of mine.  The music in this game blew my mind.  Listen to this one:
 
Compelling, no?  Even in just synths, it's catchy and somehow beautiful.  Nobuo Uematsu did a great job not just because of his talent as a musician but as a storyteller as well.  He knows the right mood for situations and different characters.

Nobuo also worked with Yasunori Mitsuda (more on him later) on another game called Chrono Trigger.  Here's one of his works called "Sealed Door."


While Nobuo had his hands tied with the Final Fantasy games.  Koji Kondo was working on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and a game called Star Fox.  Koji's later work would be more impressive then what you'll hear here but I thought I'd share some stuff from this time anyway.



Beginnings of Other Musicians

As previously noted, Yasunori Mitsuda began his musician experience with Chrono Trigger.  You'll see in later posts that he would write music for other big hits as well.  Mitsuda's style is often thought of as minimalistic.  He also has said he's come up with songs while asleep, like this one: 


Another musician that started off at this time was actually located here in the United States.  His name is Jeremy Soule.  Jeremy Also worked for Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix) like Uematsu and Mitsuda.  Except, he worked for them in the United States not in Japan.
He would later work for other companies and become a influential figure in Video Game Music culture--especially here in the United States.  The above song is a rearranged composition from the game he wrote music for called Secret of Evermore. (The quality for the original song isn't as good as what you're hearing above.)

Most of these musicians like writing music that is simple but catchy or makes a lasting impression.  It's why they can make lasting impressions with the limited synthesizer technology that they have.
"I think [game music] is something that should last with the player. It's interesting because it can't just be some random music, but something that can make its way into the player's heart. In that sense, this not only applies to game music, but I feel very strongly about composing songs that will leave a lasting impression...What I must not forget is that it must be entertaining to those who are listening. I don't think there's much else to it, to be honest. I don't do anything too audacious, so as long as the listeners like it, or feel that it's a really great song, then I've done my job." --Yasunori Mitsuda
As we'll see in my next post, this lasting impression of video game music helped create a culture.  Until then, I invite you to explore some of the other works of these musicians and see what good tunes are out there.
-Stephen
  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lego maniac!

So unless you grew up under the sea, you probably owned Legos at one point in your life. But if you're old enough to rent a car you probably haven't bought a Lego set for yourself in a very long time, to which I say "Why not?" I'm happy to report that as a twenty-something male adult, Legos are still just as much fun as when I was being yelled at for putting them in my mouth.

As a kid I had a pretty impressive collection, but due to moving across creation I lost the whole set. Fast forward ahead to two Christmases ago when my girlfriend decided to buy me a Lego Buzz Lightyear. After I threw it together in about ten minutes she took it as a personal challenge to find me a Lego set that would pose a challenge. We ended up with nearly the entire Lego Harry Potter collection, a few Star Wars pieces, and the Justice League before the Lego Death Star kicked my trash with a three day build time. I swear after I finished the two foot monstrosity everything I saw was in Lego and grey. I thought I was done at that point until Lego teamed up with Peter Jackson and came out with Lego Lord of the Rings, a set I had to buy if I wanted to keep my Lego geek membership card. I ended up only buying the sets that got me the entire Fellowship, which meant I also ended up with like 5 Frodos. It made sense since with the Harry Potter set I now have like 15 little Harrys.

Now I can jabber on all day about my Lego sets, but I don't they can be fully appreciated unless they're seen, so here's some of my favorite pieces.

Here we have the Death Star, freshly completed. The little guy at the bottom is Ron Weasley by the way. At nearly two feet tall it was definitely worth the three days and loss of sanity it took to build the thing.
Here we see the Justice League of America has taken on the Death Star, and for good reason (Note the Lego poster above the Death Star and my action figure collection on the mantle in the back:))
No wonder the League was after it! What's Gollum, Lex Luthor, Dracula, The Joker, Davy Jones, Emperor Palpatine, Voldemort and Magnito planning?
This is me, fellow Mormongeeks writer Stephen Larsen and our friend Chad Mosher in Lego Hunger Games style. 
The Hobbits went on a joy ride, though I think the only one who's enjoying it is Pipin in the back. 
The Toll Sheriff is my Lego bar and has everything that a bar needs: A Steampunk bartender, live music, and a dragon on top. 
The bad guys aren't the only ones who hang out, though after I put this together I decided I need the rest of the Avengers so that Cap there can have his buddies too. And for those who don't know, that's Robin showing off behind Superman. 
Hogwarts is actually a bunch of little sets, but I decided to combine them and build one big castle. 
An enchanted little forest, including a Steampunk hunter, Little Red Riding Hood, and Poison Ivy. Oh, and Harry and Ginny kissing on the tower. AWWWW!
All my other sets are awesome, but this one is definitely one of my favorites. Joker's fun house today features Robin tied up on the tracks with Harley ready to run him over and Batman being lowered into a barrel of Joker's Parana. Riddler is just there to chill. 
Last but not least: Here's just a pile of a bunch of my stuff. Shown here: Hogwarts Express, the Batcave, the Death Star, the Black Pearl and the Queen Anne's Revenge.

-JOE





Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is This I'm Eating?

The other day at work, our manager brought in a strawberry cheese danish for us in celebration of a milestone on our project.  It claimed to be sensational (and it was!).  One of our other co-workers decided to read through the ingredients to see what they all were.  I decided it might be interesting to decipher some of the more technical sounding ingredients.

Niacin: also known as vitamin B3.  It's good for you!

Thiamine mononitrate: a synthetic form of vitamin B1 - also good for you!

Riboflavin: vitamin B2. I'm sensing a theme of big scary names for healthy things.

Folic Acid: Vitamin B9

Vegetable Monoglycerides: an 'emulsifier', used to help mix ingredients (like oil and water) that don't mix well together

Soy Lecithin: easily extracted substance from things such as soy beans. Also acts as an emulsifier.

Sodium Benzoate: Widely used food preservative - inhibits growth of many bacteria involved in food spoiling.  Typically works in an acidic environment.

Citric Acid: a weak acid used to add sour tastes to foods

Beta Carotene: a red-orange pigment found in plants - also a 'precursor' to Vitamin A.

Lactic Acid: also known as 'milk acid', responsible for sore muscles, tooth decay, and sour milk.  Foodwise it is found in sour food items.

Apocarotenal: carotenoid found in spinach and fruit.  Precursor to Vitamin A..

Propylene Glycol: commonly used as a solvent.  Can be toxic if consumed in large quantities.  It also can be irritating to the eyes.

Potassium Sorbate: naturally occurs in berries.  Produced industrial and often used to restrict the growth of mold and yeast.

Sodium Citrate: A form of citric acid

Propionic Acid: preservative that inhibits mold and bacterial growth

Phosphoric Acid: used to provide a tangy or sour flavor in food.

Tapioca Dextrin: dextrin naturally occurs in baking processes.  acts as a 'crispness' enhancer in food and also is used for water soluble glues, including the stuff on envelopes.

Microcrystalline Cellulose: wood pulp - used to texturize, add bulk, etc.

Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate: food additive found in baked goods, ice cream, and gravies among other things

Casein: a protein found in mammalian milk.  It is used in glues, paints, cheesemaking, protein supplements, and plastics.

Calcium Lactate: used in food.  Can help aid in the remineralization of tooth enamel, and in keeping freshly cut fruits firm.

Dextrose: commonly occurring sugar

Agar: made from boiling red algae.  Used as a medium for growing bacteria. Typically used as a thickening agent in foods.

Ascorbic Acid: fancy name for Vitamin C.

Well, it sure does surprised me at how many preservatives are in food, as well as how they disguise the name of some things, like vitamins, with big scientific names.

Remember, we are what we eat!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nerdy Names

Yes, I know I am not that great at keeping up with my blogging lately. Shoot, I am supposed to be writing for 3 different blogs right now. I have one blog I wish I could write and another that my friend Casey and I have discussed starting. Regardless, I have a lot of writing I want to do and like 0 time to do it, it seems. I apologize to my huge fan base of three people. I do appreciate and love all three of you.

Anyway, today, I'm gonna be a true nerd. Have you noticed that the 4 bloggers here at Mormon Geeks have something in common with their first names? No? Of course not, my name shows up as initials. Let me state our four full first names: Andrew, Joseph, Stephen, and Timothy. Anything significant yet? No? Let me point out that all four of our names can be found in the bible, more specifically, the New Testament. So, today, I'm going to go alphabetically with our names (cause you know, that way I save the best for last).

Andrew: In the Bible, Andrew has a brother named Simon, who later was called Peter. Andrew became one of the Twelve Disciples and was one of the earliest called to that work. There is little said about Andrew in the Bible, but to be given the calling of a twelve apostle by Christ must mean there was something very special and righteous about him.

Joseph: There are four men with the name of Joseph in the LDS canons: Joseph of Egypt; Joseph, brother of Nephi; Joseph Smith; and, of course, Joseph the carpenter, Christ's father on this earth. So, for New Testament continuity, I'll refer to the carpenter. Joseph was in love with Mary. In order to protect her dignity as she carried Christ, he married her. He raised that child as his own in a very humble setting despite knowing who that child was. The man must have had a lot of humility, patience, and love in order to take on such a task.

Stephen: He first appears in Acts. Stephen's life seems the saddest out of the four. He was challenged the most by the Jews during the 6th and 7th chapters of the Acts. Eventually, Stephen was stoned to death for following Christ and for standing up for his beliefs. That has to take a lot of faith to not deny what you know to be true.

Timothy: So, something interesting about Timothy was he was the son of a Greek father and Jewish mother. I am the son of a Jewish father and Hungarian mother. No real connection between Greek and Hun, but the half-Jew thing is still there. Timothy was also an assistant to Paul and seems to have been one of his closest assistants. I also really like that Timothy means "honored of God".

Anyway, there's some nerdy thoughts for you. I had hopes to do a similar thing with our middle names, but someone's doesn't have a biblical reference (won't name names). Regardless, when I saw the connection between our names and the Bible, I knew I had to write something random like this.

I apologize that there are no pics on here; but...oh well.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Following the Cowl


Batman is an imposing dark figure of the night, designed to inspire fear into the superstitious and cowardly lot, so then why does it seem that the Bat Cave is full of impressionable youth doing everything they can to follow in his footsteps? Let’s take a look at some of these little praised, often criticized or even sometimes disliked sidekicks of the Dark Knight.
Robin
Due to several factors, Robin is the most controversial and probably most disliked of all the sidekicks, no matter the incarnation. The problem is Robin was first created to lighten Batman and make him more approachable to kids. The result was a campy cheesy Batman with pedophilia and homosexual undertones towards his kid sidekick in bright green briefs.
What a lot of people don’t know though is that this lightening was later written into the Batman story. When Tim Drake, the third Robin, noticed news stories showing that Batman was becoming more dark and violent, he decided that Batman needs a Robin to keep him balanced. Drake brought this to the Dark Knight’s attention, as well as the fact that he had singlehandedly figured out his secret identity, and Batman made him his new Robin.
Tim Drake is probably the best Robin in my opinion. Untainted by the “make Batman lighter” campagn, he’s not dark but just cool. With his detective skills he’s probably the closest sidekick to actually being able to succeed Batman permanently one day.  Plus, unlike his previous Robins and the one that followed him, Drake is the most mature, and seems to be the best at his job, since he frequently went on solo missions without Batman looking over his shoulders. Don’t let the histories fool you, just because one Robin was a wuss doesn’t mean they all were.
Batgirl
I think my favorite sidekick Batman has ever had is Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. She’s such a unique character, even among Batman’s flavorful life. Barbara isn’t haunted by some terrible tragedy, she doesn’t have a dark agenda, she saw what fighting the scum of Gotham did to her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and she just wants to help. She’s a fun, light-hearted character that even Batman couldn’t help but brighten to be around.
What’s really interesting is what happened to her. One morning, the Joker decides he’s going to try and drive the Commissioner to madness, so he shows up at Barbara’s apartment and shoots her in the spine. Batman rounds him up but it leaves Barbara paralyzed from the waist down, thus unable to be Batgirl anymore. Rather than disappear into obscurity, she reinvents herself as the computer savvy Oracle, and helps heroes with intel and computer hacking skills. She even gets a cool little base in Gotham clock tower, where she forms her own girl super hero team to go run missions for her. Barbara has probably the most coherent, as well as realistic, story arch of anybody in DC.
Now I should mention the other Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. She’s from the time when DC wanted everything to get darker, and is evidence that it didn’t really make for good storytelling. Cain was raised by her assassin father to be a ruthless killing machine, but was then taken in by Batman and Oracle for some reason, where she learned how to not kill and put her talents to good use. It was hinted early on that she may have some kind of super power where she could see her opponents next move, but it never was explored very well. They never really did a whole lot with her, she almost never worked with Batman and whenever she would team up with another sidekick or hero it always seemed like she was trying to find a way to kill them. Her costume with the all black and mouth cover was cool, but in the end she was flash without substance.
Nightwing
A grown up version of the first Robin, it’s hard to classify Nightwing as a sidekick, but with as much as he hangs out with Batman some days it’s hard to call him anything else. Once upon a time Dick Grayson got sick of being Robin and wanted a job where he could wear pants and not dress like a human target, so he became Nightwing and at first dressed like a male stripper. Once the artists figured out a decent costume for him, Nightwing became one of the coolest heroes to jump around Gotham.
Nightwing is the conclusion I would’ve loved to see Batgirl reach. I know we have a Batwoman running around, but she’s a whole other thing. I like the idea of the sidekicks eventually growing up and taking on their own legacies, like Nightwing. It’s interesting to note that he seems to be a combination of both Batman and Robin, between the acrobatics and black-and-blue look he’s got going on.
With most other heroes the sidekicks either have to endure the same freak accident they went through or be from the same planet or whatever, with Batman’s though all they have to do is be people who for one reason or another want to improve their world, and were inspired by someone who already took it upon themselves to do just that. As bad as the mistakes were in the past, I still think Batman’s sidekicks have plenty of redeeming qualities, and shoudn’t be discarded as quickly as they have been.
-JOE

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What is too much?


Being a video game enthusiast, I often feel defensive about how much time I spend playing video games. I honestly spend about an hour, maybe two a day, depending on how much homework I have and what else I’ve got going on. Some say any video game time is a waste, while others love playing for upwards of 6+ hours a day, so what is too much time spent on video games?
For those who don’t play many video games, the question is why would someone spend so much time on a game? The arguments about people escaping their lives and forming fantasy lives instead of real ones have all been explored, but I think part of it also has to do with the games themselves. Nutritionists talk about portion control and how restaurants serve massive amounts of food, thus making it hard to put down the fork. The same can be said for video games. Some games like Skyrim can have over 100 hours of gameplay. Between long missions, side quests, and just plain goofing around in massive game worlds, it’s hard to feel any sense of accomplishment, even after the credits roll. Other games like World of Warcraft come out with one expansion after another, expanding the gameplay even further. The fact that these games are just plain fun combine to make putting down the controller a huge challenge.
But why pick up a game then, if they’re so addictive? Rumors of people in other countries collapsing at their computers from malnutrition are accurate, and people in America have been known to lose jobs, destroy marriages, and even injure children due to neglect because the parents were too busy playing to take care of their children’s needs. These occurrences are extreme rarities, some only happening less than once a year, and varied throughout the country. Violence in children or anyone else has never been positively linked to video games, and has in fact been proven to provide cathartic release to those in high stress situations.
The real problems come when one overindulges. As the church says, participating in any activity to the exclusion of family and God is unhealthy. The idea for me is moderation in all things. Video games are fun, not in excess. I usually have one game I work on a piece at a time, a level or a quest or whatever, and I play about an hour a time, then an hour of chores or homework or whatever else needs to be done for an hour, then doing something fun for another hour, maybe a video game or something else, just whatever is fun to relax, then I do it again. I also try to add other people to my gaming, beyond just online interaction. I have a ton of fun hanging out with someone while one of us plays a video game and we just make fun of how silly these things can be. I love an evening where I have to stop a video game because I’m laughing too hard.
The idea, as I said before, is moderation and incorporating other things and people into your entertainment, as well as making sure that you get everything done before play time. So remember, not everybody who plays video games is an addict, and playing video games doesn’t have to make you an addict.
-JOE

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The GenCon Chronicles Final Part


18 August 2012 
Most of the morning was spent spending time with the friends I was visiting with while in Indianapolis.  Here are some fun pictures:
Some kind of Lego robot rally.  Apparently people tried to program the bots to  earn points

One of the Dungeons and Dragons rooms had little things we could fold up

We had a lot of fun with the dragons.

Maybe a bit too much fun...

A Resident Evil opponent!
They had a costume parade!
One of the many link cosplays.  Also, characters from Assassin's Creed!

I got a lot of photos of costumes from the side

I'm not really sure what these are supposed to be...

Some things from Minecraft

Something from a horror game called Silent Hill

Random?  Yes.

Final Fantasy XIII characters: Lightning and Fang

Snow from Final Fantasy 13! You can also see Fang and Vanille

Kingdom Hearts!  Riku and I think Roxas.  Or is it Sora?  Hard to tell.

GLaDOS!  From the Portal game.

Another shot of GLaDOS

Not sure who this is supposed to be.

Wolfwood from the Trigun anime series

Sackboy from the Little Big PLanet games.

Jace and Chandra from the Magic the Gathering game

Batman and a Batmobile!

Iron man followed by...random animal thing?

Strange jackal and the wizard from the game Magicka

Riddler and Catwoman?
Captain America, Nick Fury and a random guy

Weskar from Resident Evil!

Link and Majora's Mask...I didn't know they were dating

Ichigo from Bleach
Also on Saturday I went to a recording session for the Writing Excuses podcast.  It was a great deal of fun.  I also worked on some puzzles from a thing called the 'False Dungeon' (a playoff of another event at GenCon called The True Dungeon).  It was  series of difficult logic puzzles.  I enjoyed the time I spent trying to figure some of them out.  I saw one that was based on sound, and another based on scent.
A funny comedian.
We went to Colt's grill for dinner.  They had a special menu for the people at GenCon.  They renamed all of their menu items to be more geek themed.  Even the 'categories' for food were geeky.  One that I can recall of the top of my head was called 'Limit Breaks'.
The Sephiroth burger. (Sephiroth is from Final Fantasy 7).

Kratos salad (Kratos is from the God of War series of games)
Of course, the highlight of the GenCon trip was finishing up a Dungeons and Dragons game that had been going on for over 8 years over e-mail.
One of my friends sculpted a mini of my character: Simon

Here we were fighting the second to last boss of the campaign

Poor guy died pretty fast

All the necessary gaming supplies!
The game was a blast!  The heroes managed to triumph in the end.  It was a good way to end the evening.

19 August 2012

The last day was relatively uneventful.  Mostly it was occupied with playing a one time Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and a bus ride back to Green Bay.

I tried to take a picture of a double rainbow. Still, the east is very green!
20 August 2012

A quick drive to the airport and a flight home.  I got home relatively early and I was exhausted.
Inside joke for one of the Mormon Geeks authors

Synthia was happy to see me!

I felt pretty tired after all that fun

Still happy to be back with my dearest Synthia!
Some random last minute things.

I got a chance to play test the next version of Dungeons and Dragon.  I have some good feelings for how it will turn out.  It feels like they've balanced the system well and that it will be an enjoyable system for years to come.

Also, one of the most entertaining things that I did at GenCon was called Cards vs Zombies.  It was a voluntary convention-wide game.  Each person who signed up was given a green strip of cloth that they would tie around their arm or leg, designating them as a human.  They were then given 3 'dart' cards. (It was a card with a nerf dart on it).  Zombies, who had the strips around their heads, would try to tag the humans.  The humans would then have to give the zombie one dart card to stun the zombie for 10 minutes.  If the human had run out of dart cards, they would become a zombie.  Humans could refill their cards.  As an added element of danger, zombies could 'level up'.  Beginning zombies only took one dart to kill and had green cloth.  Next level zombies had yellow cloth and took two darts to kill.  Max level zombies had red cloth and took three darts to stun.

I had a blast with the game.  I spent a sum total of about 2 hours as a human.  I got mobbed by two of the yellow zombie after coming out of the bathroom.  I then turned into a zombie and took to nabbing other humans.  I ended up with a total of about 21 dart cards in the time I played.  Some other funny stories.

I was walking down a hallway when I noticed a woman suddenly move to lean against the wall.  I turned and stared at her, and noticed she was hiding her arm.  I stared at her for about a minute before she pushed off and I saw that she was a human.  I tried to give chase, but she was too quick for me and escaped.  The next day I was near the dart refill station when I saw here.  I carefully hid myself behind a crowd of people and watched her, waiting for her and her friends to leave the station.  I then moved in behind the back of 'humans'.  One of them turned around, saw me, and gave the alarm.  All of them scattered, except for her.  She had the misfortune of backing into a pillar and I was able to capture her.  I simply couldn't resist the opportunity to get 'the one that got away'.

Some other funny stories include moving to cut off humans as they escaped from other zombies.  Unintentionally hiding from humans and scaring them when they saw me.  Overall, it was an enjoyable and fun game.

I really enjoyed my trip to GenCon.  I'd like to give a special thanks to Gnome Games from Green Bay for their help with coordinating the bus and hotel rooms.  Made the stay a lot more enjoyable and simple for me.
I hope you all enjoyed these posts!
The characters from Journey - a rather interesting game

I'm sure someone will enjoy this picture of Harlequin with her hammer