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Zelda Reorchestrated [Game Overview]
Jan 22nd, 2010 by Dan

Right around Christmas of 2009, Zelda Reorchestrated completed a pretty ambitious musical project: a reorchestration of the Ocarina of Time soundtrack. The free, 82-track download is available to download here and I’ve given the songs a listen or two and they’re fantastic.

As someone who actually owns the original Ocarina of Time soundtrack, I was impressed by the high quality work that this fan group was able to bring to bring to the project. Not only are the tracks faithful to the original music, they’re actually a vast improvement from the original MIDI-synthesized tracks that we’ve all become accustomed to.

A month later I’m impressed that the work hasn’t seen some sort of cease-and-desist or been sued, but I wouldn’t wait around too long to download the collection if this kind of thing interests you. It’s really only a matter of time before Nintendo cracks down on this.

Rock Band News

This week the Rock Band Network, the service enabling non-Harmonix-employed musicians to chart their tracks for Rock Band, entered open beta for anyone interested in working with the software. Recent interviews give reason to believe that the service is within a few months of launching, which represents a way awesome breakthrough on the platform, least of which is because I’ve seen the Rx Bandits listed as a band who will be utilizing the service.

I’m just really excited to see the game move forward as a new way to experience music and not see them cash in as much as Activision has with its Guitar Hero franchise. That’s not to say that Harmonix won’t be releasing any new games this year. Both Green Day: Rock Band and Rock Band 3 are expected to launch this year, but I know I can live with a two-year Rock Band cycle, so I don’t mind too much.

My Favorite Bands/Albums/Musical Concepts of the 2000s [Feedback]
Dec 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s really been tough coming up with the music that has most resonated with me in the 2000s. Wanting to represent the entire decade is tough, since I don’t really find the music that I used to listen to before I went to college all that good. Once I had more money and exposure beyond the mainstream acts I was familiar with in high school, I feel my tastes really changed up some. This list is definitely not representative of the actual best bands of the decade, they’re just bands that had a strong effect on me and my musical development.

I’ll start with a band who I was introduced to my sophomore year of high school, Lucky Boys Confusion.

Lucky Boys Confusion

Notable Albums: Throwing the Game (2001) and Commitment (2003)

This one came to me courtesy of my friend Kristin who brought a burnt copy of Throwing the Game up to Tampa with her for a summer visit my sophomore year of high school (2002). The band isn’t anything too special that’s about to revolutionize music or anything, they’re just a solid rock band from Chicago with a great sound. My favorite songs by the band are “Not About Debra”, a Latin-infused song about a girl in the wrong relationship, “Do You Miss Me? [Killians]”, an upbeat cover of the freestyle classic by the same name (sans the [Killians]) by Jocelyn Enriquez, “Sunday Afternoon”, a nice reggae-type break from the usual uptempo beats that LBC is known for.

The band never really saw much mainstream success. “Hey Driver” was their most popular song and actually made it into some video games, movies, and got some airtime, but they broke up only moderately more famous than they were when they were first signed.

Five Iron Frenzy

Notable Album: The End is Near/Here (2003)

As a primarily ’90s act, I was hesitant to include FIF in my list of my favorite music of the aughts, but their musical swan song had a major effect on my musical development, so I couldn’t rightly leave them out. Beyond just the CD, Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, Winners Never Quit, was the first time I recognized that a live show was well worth attending. Before that I’d seen music live a few times and listened to a live CD here or there, but found them to be sub par. I was annoyed that the songs varied from the usual pace and intricacies of the album version and seemed to have lower quality. It all changed that night.

The small, intimate club atmosphere put me up close with fans for the first time (my previous concerts had been mega-stadium deals) with a band playing an emotional final tour. I also learned the best part about a live show: the new ways in which a band mixes up their music. I got to listen to the amazing FIF Medley (also on The End is Here), which, aside from it luckily being on a CD, I probably would never hear again. Ever since that night in Orlando, concerts became a part of my musical experience and the effect that FIF had on me is apparent when you realize how much of my music is upbeat, uptempo, and filled with brass sections. They may not be the best band on this list, but they’re one of the most important ones.

Rx Bandits

Notable Albums: The Resignation (2003), …And the Battle Begun (2006), Mandala (2009)

I didn’t realize what I got when my friend Daniela gave me a copy of The Resignation for Christmas back in 2004. We listened to it and she brilliantly pinpointed “Mastering the List” as my favorite track on the CD, but I didn’t get just how good the CD was for two years, a testament to how music tastes can drastically change over short periods of time. When I finally started listening in earnest in 2006, I think the best adjective to describe the experience was revelatory.

Of all the bands on this list, I think I’ve gone on and on about the Bandits the most on this blog and for good reason. They are talented, their music is rich and full, their lyrics are pretty solid, if not a little too hippie, and their dedication to an organic sound seems unparalleled in today’s overproduced soundscape. If there’s one album on this post that you choose to listen to, it should be …And the Battle Begun. It’s my favorite album of all time (as of 2009) and I don’t think there’s a single stinker on the whole disc.

Their best songs are “Mastering the List”, “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Decrescendo”, “In Her Drawer”, “Only for the Night” (my favorite on the list), “Tainted Wheat”, “White Lies”, and “Mientras la Veo Soñar.”

If there was one criticism I’d have for the band, it’s that they got rid of their horn section between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. It doesn’t mean there’s no more brass in their newer work, it just means that it’s no longer a regular part of the band. Shame that they’re losing it, but they claim it has allowed them to open up and improve their song complexity.

Green Day

Notable Album: American Idiot (2004)

Another band that hails primarily from the previous decade, but whose 2004 release marked a huge turning point for the band. Yeah, Dookie is probably their most famous album, but American Idiot went and upped their pop relevance to eleven. The rock opera heralded in the “new” Green Day and turned the band into something far beyond its punk rock roots singing about weed and bumming around. For me, it was a great concept album whose lyrics seemed bold (I’m pretty sure they were early on the Bush backlash train) and far deeper than “Longview.” I don’t listen to the album much today, since I played it out my freshman year, but I’ll still let “Give Me Novacaine” or “Extraordinary Girl” play any time they come up on shuffle.

Relient K

Notable Album: Mmhmm (2004)

When I think of my freshman year at Cornell, American Idiot and Mmhmm are the soundtrack that plays in the background. I listened to both CDs many times on my way too and from the townhouses and the engineering quad, not to mention through my computer’s speakers. Mmhmm represents the transition from Relient K from a slightly niche, Christian music band to a more popular, mainstream act with its understated message (it seems that they returned to their more obvious Christian references with Five Score and Seven Years Ago) and their sound had matured to the best I’d heard since their debut album.

The album is full of some great songs, but my personal favorites are “High of 75”, because it cheered me up in the miserable Ithaca weather, “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”, because I love sappy love songs, and “Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”, because it resonated with my seriously rocky and messed up relationship at the time. Beyond that, the rest of the album is also great, but I can’t just list all the tracks now, can I?

The Zutons

Notable Albums: Who Killed…… The Zutons? (2004), You Can Do Anything (2008)

This one comes straight from my old high school friend Michelle. A fan of the quirky, indie scene, she recommended that I check out this band of Liverpudlians and I was not disappointed. You almost can’t go wrong with me if you’ve got brass or a saxophone in your band and The Zutons have one saxophonist adding her own distinct flavor to their already distinct rock grooves. Their music is unique and just great to listen to, especially when you get Abi Harding’s voice harmonizing with Dave McCabe’s on a lot of their numbers and the band’s sound has improved greatly from Who Killed on to You Can Do Anything. Their best songs, “Pressure Point”, “Havana Gang Brawl”, “Valerie”, “You Could Make The Four Walls Cry”, “Put A Little Aside”, and “Freak” are all so different, but all so much fun to listen to, even if they’ll probably never get any airtime stateside.

OK Go

Notable Album: Oh No (2005)

There’s a reason the phrase “sophomore slump” is part of the vernacular and it’s not often that a band not only releases a far superior second album, but does so with a significant change in sound. At a live show I saw them play at Cornell, OK Go outright stated that they were going for a safe, pop sound on their first album to try and appeal to the masses. Listening to it yields some decent tracks, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to agree. It’s cautious and it probably got them a record deal, but it’s not great. In three years, they turned around, completely matured their sound, and launched one of my favorite albums of the decade, Oh No. Almost everyone has heard “Here It Goes Again” or seen the treadmill video and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would rather listen to “Get Over It.” They got that much better.

While I’m mentioning the videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Oh No also represents a creative turn for the band with it’s quirky, interesting, low-budget, high awesomeness music videos. “Do What You Want” has a more typical look, but “Here It Goes Again” and “A Million Ways” have hilariously awesome and indie videos a tradition they’ve melded with budget to create their newest video for “WTF”, which you already know I love. I don’t think that the viral video approach to music videos will take over the industry, but I don’t think you can say that they didn’t start something big with their Youtube-released video.

The whole album is pretty solid, but I’d also like to point out “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet” and “Let It Rain” as great tracks (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned). They’re two of the slower, more contemplative ones, but they just feel right to listen to.

Fall Out Boy

Notable Albums: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Folie à Deux (2008)

Yeah, they’re not the greatest band in history, but they’ve got some seriously catchy songs that I can’t help but enjoy. If their songs don’t make your toes tap, I’d seriously question whether or not you have a soul. FOB finally managed to break mainstream with their sophomore album, a CD filled with a neat take on pop and rock that’s just complex and different enough to pique my interests and just safe enough to be ok with the average Joe. Since then FOB continues to push into strange boundaries with its music borrowing from tons of genres and recording some solid tracks. I may not agree with their single selection (:cough: “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” SUCKS :cough:), but I’d say that 80-90% of their albums are filled with great tracks.

My favorites: “The Take Over, the Breaks Over”, “Hum Hallelujah”, “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More “Touch Me””, “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”, “She’s My Winona”, “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”, and “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”.

Matisyahu

Notable Album: Live at Stubb’s (2005)

I had the chance to see Matisyahu my freshman year at Cornell, but I had no idea who he was. The posters were up one day advertising a Hasidic Jew singing reggae and so I chuckled and went on with my day. Little did I know that a year later I’d hear a track from his live album in my ex’s brother Bobby’s car and fall in love with his brand of religious reggae. That’s the catch, of course, if Jewish-themed music offends you, Matisyahu is not for you. Then again, aside from allusions to scripture, isn’t reggae really all about peace and love? Matisyahu’s music may be about the Old Testament God, but its a celebration of love, life, and peace that will undoubtedly make you smile. My favorite songs by Matisyahu are “King Without a Crown”, “Aish Tamid”, and “Chop ‘Em Down”

Wolfmother

Notable Album: Wolfmother (2006)

Ever feel like the days of classic rock are gone? You must not be listening to Wolfmother. We’re talking straight up 1970s, Satan’s music here. From their ridiculous throwback album covers to the solid guitar solos, these guys clearly never gave up on the past and they want to bring it to the youth of today. They sound so classic that I didn’t notice for months after playing their songs in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band that the year was post 2000. If you’re ever craving a true hard rock sound, look these guys up. They’ll rock your socks off.

Best songs: “Woman”, “Joker & the Thief”

Incubus

Notable Album: Light Grenades (2006)

I know what you’re thinking. Incubus, really? Yes, really. Light Grenades was a solid album. Their best work in the decade, really. I happen to really love “Dig”, “Light Grenades”, “Anna Molly”, and “Paper Shoes”. It’s my list, leave me alone.

Streetlight Manifesto

Notable Albums: Keasbey Nights (2006), Somewhere in the Between (2007)

Probably my favorite ska act and one with kind of an ugly history. If you’ve ever heard of Catch-22, you’ve probably heard their most famous album, Keasbey Nights (1998) and the vocals of Tomas Kalnoky. At some point Kalnoky and the rest of the members had a major falling out and the band mostly split up. Kalnoky started up Streetlight Manifesto and the band gained notoriety quickly while Catch-22 morphed into a new band, but still played Kalnoky’s old songs from Keasbey Nights. Things were pretty dicey and ugly for a time too, because the bands traded lyrical jabs on their subsequent albums and, eventually, it seems that Kalnoky decided it was worth re-recording one of the seminal albums of third-wave ska, hence the Streetlight Manifesto edition of Keasbey Nights. As the owner of both editions of the album, let’s just say that the extra time and money made an already good album great. Kalnoky’s music work in Streetlight is sharp, the horns are solid and the guitars are great, creating a sound that you can’t help jamming to. Their best work comes out in “Riding the Fourth Wave”, “Keasbey Nights”, “Would You Be Impressed”, and “Somewhere in the Between”. Ska can be hit and miss, I know that most people don’t like it, but you’ve gotta check these guys out, they’ve refined the genre to its best.

The Fratellis

Notable Album: Costello Music (2006)

The UK makes the list again with Scottish rock band The Fratellis. Their music is so full of energy and that unique, intangible British music quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band after playing their songs in Rock Band for the first time. “Henrietta”, “Chelsea Dagger”, and “Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes” are my favorites from the disc, but there are plenty more where that came from with a mix of wild rock and slower, British-sounding songs to break up the beat and calm the heartbeat. A band definitely worth checking out.

Jarabe de Palo

Notable Album: Adelantando (2007)

I’ve listened to a lot of Spanish music in my lifetime. It’s a byproduct of my heritage, but most of what got airtime when I was a kid was salsa, merengue, the occasional bachata, and (nowadays) reggaeton. While they’re all plenty fun genres to listen to, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be found in the strict confines of their musical definitions. Then Daniela went and introduced me to yet another great band, Jarabe de Palo. They’re not what you’d call typical Latin music, in fact because they’ve gone and formed a rock band and it’s actually not half bad. It’s actually pretty common to see other countries try and adopt American musical styles, but the results are usually pretty ghastly. Thankfully, Jarabe de Palo avoids this common shortcoming of foreign rock and is actually some pretty great music. His best tracks (that I know) are “Me gusta como eres”, “Dejame vivir”, and “Estamos prohibidos”.

Jonathan Coulton

Notable Albums: Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004), Thing-a-Week 1-4 (2006)

In 2007 I played a game by Valve called Portal. Aside from being one of the best games in the history of gaming, it also featured one of the greatest songs in gaming at the end, “Still Alive”. That same Christmas, my ex-girlfriend’s brother (he makes a reappearance) showed me a youtube video of Coulton playing “RE: Your Brains”. Both were great, but in the hustle of the season, I failed to take notice of Coulton until about April or May of 2008. On a whim, I decided to check out Coulton’s work and bought his entire collection off of his website without listening to most of it. That day I took notice of the greatest Internet folk sensation to ever grace the web. Coulton’s music is mostly nerdy love songs and he himself has claimed that he needs to make an effort to write fewer melancholic love songs, but he’s also got songs about completely random things, like a tall tale about baseball’s first commissioner and how he dealt with the Black Sox Scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a song appropriately titled “Kenesaw Mountain Landis”) or one about the trials and tribulations of being a clown (“Bozo’s Lament”). Perhaps his greatest undertaking was his Thing-a-Week challenge, where he took it upon himself to write and produce one song every week, which actually produced some of his most famous songs like “RE: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey”.

Other than the songs I’ve already mentioned, my favorites include “Screwed”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Madelaine”, “Mandelbrot Set”, and “When You Go”, but I could list 10 or 20 more songs that are just as fantastic. Even better is that Coulton is all about Creative Commons and he understands the internet. He’s got an option to pay him some cash if you’ve already stolen his music and he’s more than happy to let you remix it or use it however you want, so long as you credit him. He’s truly a product of the Internet and a great musician to boot.

2007/2008 also brought two big concepts that changed the way I dealt with music and time. One thing, podcasting, is arguably not music, but it’s audio-related, so it’s worth mentioning. Before I had an iPod, I occasionally walked around campus with a CD player, but I mostly didn’t listen to much at all. After I got one and started getting podcasts, the way that information was relayed to me made a fundamental change and now I was learning about all of my hobbies and passions during my dead time walking around campus (and driving to work once I graduated). It’s pretty amazing to see that in a few short years which podcasts I’ve settled on and which ones I’ve moved on from as I struck a balance between too much (and a diminished ability to listen to anything but podcasts) and too little.

The other major musical revolution of the decade was the rise of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I first played Guitar Hero back in the summer of 2007 and I immediately fell in love. When word started to trickle in about Rock Band, I was initially skeptical, since I believed it to be a knockoff (I later learned that it was the true evolution of the series put forward by the true innovators behind the magic, Harmonix), but I eventually came around and pre-ordered the special edition for my xbox. That game meant a lot to me and it even changed some fundamental things about me. It’s also been one of the best ways for me to gain access to new music and has widened my musical tastes considerably.

Back to bands!

Anamanaguchi

Notable Album: Dawn Metropolis (2009)

I get why people might be skeptical about chiptunes. It’s 8-bit music coming out of retro sound chips and nine times out of ten, people use it to just remix video game music. Imagine my surprise when I read an article about Anamanaguchi on Kotaku by Leigh Alexander detailing how this Brooklyn band was making great strides. Their music is top notch and stands out from the crowd because they don’t just play a 1985 NES, they’ve also got a drummer, guitarist, and bassist thrown in there. The music may take its cues from some of the conventions set forth by the game composers of the 1980s, but their music is completely original and super catchy.

My favorites: “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”, “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

Sambomaster (サンボマスター)

Notable Albums: サンボマスターは君に語りかける (Sambomaster is Talking to You) (2005), 僕と君の全てをロックンロールと呼べ (Call everything that we (you and I) are ‘Rock n’ Roll’) (2006)

What’s an article on this blog without some sort of tim rogers mention? It was this year that I read “changing the world in japanese” on his blog LargePrimeNumbers, a treatise on rock music, Japan, and, most importantly, how Sambomaster was one of the most important bands playing in Japan. Listening to the track he had posted on that article, Romanized as “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”, I saw precisely what he was saying and became an instant Sambomaster fan. From that sandpaper, gravely voice to the emotion that is so obviously apparent through the language barrier, Sambomaster’s music speaks to a deep part of me. The guitars are stellar and interesting, the drumlines are solid, and Takashi Yamaguchi’s vocals just resonate and feel so right.

My favorite story about the band is that I’d actually heard their music back in 2005 as the fifth opening to the Naruto anime. I had no idea what the band was called or what the song was, but when I heard it, I immediately called it my favorite opening of the series and filed it in the back of my mind. Imagine the joy that returned to me when I was reading about Sambomaster on tim’s site and I downloaded and listened to “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”. As I recognized Yamaguchi’s distinct vocals and guitar style, I immediately began researching whether or not the same group was responsible. I was right and I’ve been smiling about the band ever since.

Remixed Objection, No Yakuza 3?, L4D2 (Again), and Pokémon Cosplay [Game Overview]
Jul 31st, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Guess what guys, it’s the slow season. Not much is going on…at all…

Let’s celebrate the start of this week with some Phoenix Wright!

The folks over at OCRemix have put out some mixed versions of the songs from the soundtrack.

Man do I love this series. OBJECTION! Classic.

No Yakuza?

In some seriously sad news, it seems that Yakuza 3 won’t be making its way to Western shores. SEGA smartly cites the 40,000 units of Yakuza 2 as a valid reason not to bring the sequel stateside. Can’t blame them, I guess.

EDIT: The interview where this was stated has been amended with claims that SEGA America’s statements were not an “official SEGA statements”

The Examiner further said

SEGA still hasn’t made any mention of an upcoming release or revealed plans to release it stateside.

Minor News

Fat Princess finally came out this week. I’ve yet to try it out.

Dragon Quest IX is up to 3.2 million units sold in Japan. Keep on rolling, you can hit 5 if you really try Squeenix!

Declining Rock Band sales have accounted for an 8% drop in revenue for Viacom. If you recall from last week, Rock Band and Guitar Hero sales are down almost 50%, resulting in this huge decrease in revenue for Viacom.

If you’re the type of person who cares (I’m not), Uncharted 2 will not have a mandatory install.

World of Warcraft sales are reported to be somewhere around 8.6 million. Just in the US! That’s insane.

L4D2

Obligatory L4D2 mention of the week!

Common Uncommon (or are they calling them Uncommon Common?) will feature bulletproof horde or zombies who were cops in riot gear before they were infected. Since they will be bulletproof (thanks to their riot gear), you’ll have to melee them down and then shoot their exposed backside.

On a totally different note, Rochelle can be seen in artwork wearing a Depeche Mode t-shirt. Why? The band asked to be in the game (and probably shelled out some cash). Not a bad idea. The whole story is that Valve was soliciting a few labels and bands and DM came through in a big way, allowing the use of their music, likenesses, and merchandise. If we get to shoot Depeche Mode zombies, I’m going to call this one of the greatest games of 2009.

Who am I kidding? This will probably be my game of 2009 like L4D was my game of 2008.

20 Years of Mother

The Mother series is 20!

It’s a terrible shame that we haven’t seen more than Mother 2 hit US shores. Perhaps I’ll pick up a Mother 3 cart while I’m abroad…

Comic-Con Cosplay!

Who’s that Pokémon?

Jessie Nigri Hot Pikachu Cosplay San Diego Comic Con 2009

It’s PIKACHU!

Speaking of Pokémon, Platinum players will be able to get the Member Card through Wi-Fi gift from 3 August to 13 September. Be sure to get it or you won’t be able to catch Darkrai!

And that’s all he wrote for this week folks! See you next week!

Pew Pew Pew [Game Overview]
Jul 3rd, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

The most amazingly adorable Mega Man ever.

Sweet Brothers Art

Ever wanted to see some great renditions of the Mario Bros.? Well, BAM!

SNES!

It’s kind of old news, but here’s a neat way to use an old SNES to connect to a PC and play your carts on an emulator.

SNL Hilarity

Ever wonder what a game based on a depressing drama would be like? Wonder no more.

Floyd-tastic!

Daniel Floyd, with Leigh Alexander’s help, has put out a new video! Check out “Video Games and the Female Audience”

Red, White, and Blue!

The Fourth of July is tomorrow! If you love Little Big Planet and you love America, you’ll no doubt love the new Sacktue of Liberty Sackboy skins to celebrate your love for both.

Blizzard Gets Chilly with Audience

Do you love to play Starcraft at LAN parties? Too bad! According to Kotaku, Blizzard has decided to completely remove LAN support from Starcraft II.

I understand why they’re doing this. They’re trying to curb piracy. No doubt you know tons of people who totally pirated a copy of Starcraft or Warcraft 3, so now this cuts out one of the major draws, since players will have to connect to Battle.Net to play other people.

There’s also the fact that Battle.Net is ad-supported. Guess what you don’t see when you play a LAN game? This is one of the best ways to completely milk all of the money that they can out of Starcraft.

The one downside: super-low latency games will now be impossible.

I usually have so much goodwill for Blizzard, but this reeks of Activision. I don’t like it and I think it’s an awful idea. I’m not mad enough to not buy the game, but this is definitely uncool. Online petitions are pretty dumb, as I’ve said before, but feel free to sign!

Ero-Banning

There’s been a developing situation on the Internets involving the Ero-Game industry in Japan. Again, according to Kotaku, due to the controversy over RapeLay, an increasing number of Japanese H-Game developers are blocking any and all foreign IP addresses from accessing their websites. This seems like a rather drastic response to the recent threats of legislation upon their industry that have resulted from an increase of sexual crimes in Japan coupled with poor international press from the rest of the world.

I can see where Japan is coming from here in trying to insulate themselves from the rest of their world that doesn’t “get” their hentai games, but I really can’t support segregation on the internet.

Emulate!

Sony seems to have patented a software emulation technique to run PS2 software on non-PS2 compatible PS3s (thanks again Kotaku!)

Too Hard? Just Cheat!

Is Guitar Hero too hard? Here’s a control that will play the game for you!

New FF

Kotaku reports that a new Final Fantasy side story is coming to the DS. Story details are light at the moment, but I’m definitely supporting all of these DS games by Square Enix.

That’s all for this week!

PC: What Would People Do If They Knew That I’m A…
Aug 28th, 2008 by Dan

In what is probably the most interesting news story I’ve seen in a while on Kotaku, it seems that there is a new game called Guitar Praise – Solid Rock that revolves around the Guitar Hero concept, retooled to have a tracklist of entirely Christian music.

It’s both a hilarious and good, I suppose, to have such a popular gameplay mechanic ripped off (stolen, if you will) and put in play for God. It’s (religious games) been done before with hilarious result and mocking by the AVGN here and here.

Regardless of how you feel about the religion, I suppose it’s not so bad after all. It’s a market whose fans might not get to play the other versions because they don’t like the music, so why not broaden it and allow them the fun of music they enjoy. Those of you at home keeping score realize that I’m just waiting for someone to independently make some sort of ska music game and realize that I know this is a good sign, even though it could be a cheap knockoff. Follow the link for the full tracklist.

Game Overview: Current Gen All-Stars
Jun 27th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Due to some poor life decisions, I find myself stranded for five weeks without any video games. What’s a guy to do, right? Well, rather than just giving you some of the headlines from the week’s video game news in lieu of what I was planning to be gameplay impressions, reviews, and the like, I’ve instead started a five week “All-Stars” feature. Each week we’re going to look at a video game era and spotlight my top three games from that era. Each of these games will also receive a place setting at the prestigious “Table of Honor” feature that I’m working on. Here’s the weekly plan:

Week 1: 8-bit Console Era
Week 2: 16-bit Console Era
Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation
Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games
Week 5: Current Generation

Yeah, the categories are broad, particularly weeks three and four, but it’s how I want to do them, so get off my back!

Wow, we’ve finally made it to the last week of my all-stars feature! Beginning back in November of 2005 with the launch of the Xbox 360, this generation has seen some of the biggest shifts and changes that the industry has ever seen. Again, starting with the 360, consoles finally began to be a match for the PC market with online matchmaking services rivaling the best on the PC drawing gamers to the consoles in droves, depleting the once very robust leader in innovation and technology’s user base. Not a group to sit on its haunches, Valve re-invigorated the PC market with its Steam platform, a release and matchmaking mechanism that has recently started to rival Xbox Live in terms of functionality.

The PS3 launched about a year after the 360, promising much, but struggling to deliver any worthwhile software for a full year after launch. Its online service also leaves much to be desired, with no cross-game integration to help it out, it pales in comparison to XBL, even though it is free.

The greatest shift in gaming has come from the revolutionary Nintendo Wii and the Big N’s “Blue Ocean” strategy. Nintendo, understandably weary of being in last place for the last two generations, decided to take their console in a totally different direction, emphasizing the casual through an accessible control mechanism, affordable system, and lighter gameplay fare. While their strategy has succeeded, selling out systems each and every month and given them a greater install base than the Xbox 360, even with a full year’s delay in launch dates, many a “hardcore” gamer feels like Nintendo has forgotten about them with their new strategy.

The brilliance of this strategy has caused many a developer shift as both Microsoft and Sony attempt to develop motion sensitive controls to mimic the Wii and the huge blockbuster game releases of last gen start to tone down some of their production values in favor of appealing to the mass market. Minigame compilations flood the market as countless companies try to tap into the previously unreachable markets. Most find failure as Nintendo continues to milk dollars out of the Nintendo DS and Wii, causing concern for third party developers on both systems.

While the music gaming phenomenon technically began last generation, both Harmonix and Activision have enjoyed unprecedented success with their Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises. It seems that music gaming is one of the next big things, with Activision basically saturating the market with GH products and Harmonix releasing track packs every week to expand the already robust playlist of the party-friendly Rock Band.

Yes, the new generation has advanced gaming by leaps and bounds, with the 2007 holiday season being one of the best gaming history has seen in a long time, but the new generation has also drawn new lines; created new schisms. All of a sudden the terms “hardcore” and “casual” have divided a once unified user base. Nintendo’s radical decision to eschew high definition graphics in exchange for cost-effectiveness has split third party developers who now have to choose to develop for the HD systems or the system with the highest rate of ownership, but smallest attach rate (average number of games owned). Many claim that this will be a long one, unlike last generation, since Nintendo has proven that low-tech can still bring innovation and sales. All I know is that it’s still early and it’s still anyone’s ball game. The slow start of the PS3 is turning out to have been a slow boil while the 360 is looking like a flash in the pan as it peters out. Nintendo’s massive onslaught of sales still hasn’t even shown signs of slowing down, baffling everyone who said it was just a fad. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out when the dust settles, but until then, I’ve been enjoying some great games. Let’s take a look:

This first game revolutionized the gaming world last year by proving that a cohesive, well-thought out, well-written, but incredibly short game can top a robust 20 hour experience simply through the power of brilliant game-design, hilarious dialog, and a little bit of cake. Yeah, it’s Portal.

#3 Portal

Many of you know the story of how Portal came to be developed at Valve, but for those of you who don’t, here goes:

Up in Washington there exists a game design school called DigiPen. Since Valve is a Washington-based company as well, they tend to send people to check out the work done by students to find potential new hires and ideas. Cue Narbacular Drop, a project by students that featured the portal jumping gameplay we know and love in Portal. The story goes that someone from Valve saw the brilliant idea, brought them over to Valve headquarters to show Gabe Newell, and Newell hired them all on the spot, which was a brilliant move on his part.

Portal is a shining beacon of game design because it does everything that it sets out to do perfectly. It’s just the right length, has just the right amount of humor, has just the right difficulty curve, etc. Valve takes forever to produce games, we all know this, but Portal proves that our patience is definitely worth something.

There’s not really much else to say about this brilliant game, it has to truly be experienced to be understood as the masterpiece that it really is. Go out and buy it, seriously…it’s only like $20 on Steam

Here’s the ending credits, complete with the super-famous “Still Alive.” DO NOT WATCH IF YOU HAVEN’T BEATEN THE GAME!

International “Still Alive”!:

My #2 game would actually make a better Indiana Jones movie than the abysmally stupid Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It currently tops my most anxiously awaited sequel list based on the promise of another adventure with its hilarious and cool protagonist. Last clue: the PS3-exclusive company that produces these games seems to have an affinity for main characters sharing the same name that starts with ‘N’. These obscure hints may lead you to realize that I’m talking about Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

#2 Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

I bet you didn’t realize that the best action movie of 2007 was actually a video game. Uncharted follows Nathan Drake, supposed descendant of Sir Francis Drake, as he searches for the hidden treasure of El Dorado throughout the South Pacific. Joined by his partner Sully and the requisite sassy reporter Elena (yet another example of a restrained female character design that is STILL cool despite not having huge knockers. Take that sophomoric game designers!) Drake faces off against a plethora of pirates and puzzles as he discovers the dastardly secret of Drake’s fortune.

It sounds pulp-y, but that’s the point. Uncharted is the first time I’ve ever played a video game and thought “Well, this could actually be a movie without very much changing about it at all.” Play it and you’ll get the same impression. Voice acting is superb, the story is pretty cool, there is very real chemistry between characters, and the game just looks beautiful. Along with MGS4, this is one to show off your HDTVs to your friends. (Quick MGS note: I haven’t beaten MGS4, so it’s not eligible for this list).

Gameplay is pretty simple and mostly revolves around third-person shooting coupled with a cover system a la Gears of War. This part does get a little old sometimes as enemies continue to spawn at some points, but it’s well-done enough to not be too tiring. There’s also some platforming tossed in as you explore ruins that feels very satisfying. In fact, a great deal about what makes Drake such a cool protagonist stems from the fluidity of his movements both in combat and exploration. The way that he jumps from ledge to ledge, stumbling as he lands gives you that all important “Yeah, I think I could do that” feeling that makes up a successful everyman protagonist.

If you’ve never even seen Uncharted before, go rent it or buy it or come over my house. I’ll let you try it out.

E3 2007 Trailer;

Gametrailers Review:

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, my #1 game of the current generation. My choice may surprise you, but I think that at the end of the day, it has to be number one based on how much time I’ve put into it compared to any other game in my entire library. There’s no good way to hint at it, so I’ll come out and say that my top game of this current generation (so far) is Rock Band.

#1 Rock Band

Rock Band and I had a strangely hostile relationship when I first learned of it. Not being as well-versed in video game news as I am nowadays, back then I had no idea that the original developers of Guitar Hero II were behind RB, I just saw that someone else was trying to make a music game and that it was really, really expensive. As a fake-guitar player, I also didn’t quite see the allure of drums or vocals.

That all changed when I started to see footage of both games and learn about the pedigree of both series. Concerns began to crop up in my mind as GH3 coverage showed the game design to be stagnant, note charts a bit asinine and arbitrarily hard, and art style to be ridiculously ugly. This was also about the same time that I learned of the very ugly breakup between Harmonix and Red Octane and EA/MTV’s partnership with Harmonix. There was an immediate shift at that point where I realized that I was siding with the wrong company and antiquated game design. The music game future lied with Rock Band, its new digital distribution system, and four instruments.

As a quick aside, I actually actively hate Activision and the GH franchise over stupid stunts like this one. There’s no reason why they should have screwed over PS3 GH3 owners who just wanted to be able to use the same guitar peripherals over both games. No one needs as many plastic instruments as Activision is going to force upon us very soon…

Back to Rock Band: it’s yet another one of those casual games meant to open up the market. How does it do this? There’s the simple four-player multiplayer aspect that makes the most sense in this context. Gathering up four friends to play music on fake instruments has turned out to be a tremendously appealing concept. I can honestly only think of one or two of my friends who doesn’t enjoy Rock Band at all. Friends of mine who live thousands of miles away are excited to get some Rock Band in next month when they come to visit. It has that much draw, especially to people who typically don’t game at all, including older gamers (NOT my parents) and women. While being able to shred on expert isn’t about to impress any of the ladyfolk, it’s still a good game to bridge the gap between the gamer and game-hater, since most people who have never played video games can understand music within a few minutes.

The other real innovation in casual gaming is that Rock Band is not as ridiculously hard as Guitar Hero 3. Activision went the totally opposite direction, attempting to create a hardcore experience with note charts that made no sense, but were harder to play. Rock Band’s more intuitive note charts seem way easier by comparison, but they still provide tons of fun and, most importantly, they generally won’t fail an appropriately skilled player during multiplayer play, the main draw of the game. Yeah, Rock Band is a lot less fun solo than with friends (still way fun though), but it’s meant to be played with friends, not alone. I’ve spent countless hours with large groups of friends handing off the guitars, drum sticks, or microphone as we shredded the night away (and probably made our dormmates hate us…bwahaha).

Rock Band is, by and large, the only reason I turn on my Xbox anymore and it gets playtime at least once a week from me as they launch new tracks each and every week. As it introduces me to new, sweet music (Boston being my favorite discovery so far), it’s impossible for me to not rate this as the best thing to happen for me since I started gaming. I’ve always loved music and had some aptitude for it, but never really learned to play anything. RB gives me the freedom to love that music using a medium that is friendlier than actually picking up a guitar (although I do aspire to actually start playing at some point in the near future). Detractors will say, “Why don’t you just play real music?” I will say, “Because I love music, but don’t have the time or money to devote to learning a real instrument right now. Besides, this is fun for me and my friends, so stop being a jerk.”

At the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters with a video game? Aren’t we just supposed to be having fun?

“Margaritaville” Guitar and Drums:

“Rock and Roll Band” (one of my favorites!)

Another funny Rock Band-related PA comic.

And with that, I officially close out the Game Overview All-Stars feature on this blog. I’m sure you readers have pretty different opinions from me, so feel free to let me know what you think. I’m not planning on doing any runner-ups for this generation, but keep an eye out for game reviews in the future receiving the prestigious all-star award.

Remember guys, video games are all about fun. I spend a lot of time gaming, so it’s good to know that there are such fine specimens of gaming to make deep, lasting impressions on me. Keep it up game devs and I’ll keep picking up that controller.

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