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8-Bits Never Rocked So Hard: Anamanaguchi [Feedback]
Jun 2nd, 2009 by Dan

Kids are stupid. It’s really not their fault, how can they know anything about the important things in life without any real-life experience. Take my music-habits as a kid as a prime example. It’s not like I was listening to The Wiggles or anything so terrible, but among the real musical gems that I was listening to (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones) on Majic 102.7 (WMXJ) was some questionable material. Sure, Alvin & the Chipmunks singing country music (Urban Chipmunk, lovingly referred to as “a piece of shit” by Rolling Stone magazine), Bugs and Friends Sing the Beatles, and Kermit Unpigged may have featured music by legitimate artists or actual classics in their genres, but, did you notice that it’s all marketing trash?

That was what I spent most of my time listening to, laughing like an idiot and thinking they were the greatest thing ever. Little did I know that I was far closer to musical perfection than I realized by another way I wasted my time. Of course, I apply that phrase liberally, because we all know that spending hours playing video games certainly seems like a waste of time, but is 100% legit. The year was 199X and I was manning the controller to save the world from Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters as they threatened humanity in the year 200X. Did you know that, with an easy gap of a decade between when I last played Mega Man and back in January of this year I can still remember and point out tunes from that game? Wait, did Dan just go and say that the soundtrack to Mega Man 2 is equivalent to great rock music? Just roll with me on this one, I’m making a point (a correct one).

It’s been said that necessity breeds innovation and nowhere was necessity more evident than the 8-bit sound processors encased within the video game systems of old. Ok, it was more evident in the previous generation of sound processors, but I wasn’t alive then and I don’t really care. Necessity bred one of the most kickass soundtracks ever to grace the 8-bit era. Takashi Tateishi, Manami Matsumae, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi made the Nintendo sing. Sure, they’re not quite as iconic as the works of Koji Kondo or Nobuo Uematsu, but they were really catchy, hip, and cool tracks.

That spirit of innovation was a requirement during the days of the NES and SNES, but by the time the Playstation hit most developers had moved onto Red Book audio and if they weren’t shelling out for full orchestras they were using MIDI synthesizers and the like. The art of what would eventually come to be called chiptunes was no longer necessary. We were better for it, right?

Last year I remember listening to an episode of Retronauts and the subject of video game music came up. The hypothesis was posited that in-game music had actually declined in quality and had become somewhat same-y. Iconic tunes were a thing of the past. There are a lot of things that could really affect this, I mean, do we ever really think that new media we come across as better than what we discovered in the past? For most people the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia prevent new, quality media from being better than what we used to watch/listen to/read in our youth. Things just aren’t the same anymore. To tell you the truth, that argument doesn’t even really matter in the context of this post, so we’ll move on.

All I was trying to say is that we, the video game-consuming public, have strong feelings of nostalgia with respect to chiptunes. So much so that musicians began to voluntarily restrict themselves just to see what they could musically produce. The chiptunes scene was born, social networking allowed it to grow, and we’ve arrived at Anamanaguchi.

Let’s face it though, just how much can a genre of music that involves 8-bit chirps, bleeps, and bloops penetrate the mainstream? I love video games and video game music, so something that sounds like it is naturally going to be attractive to me. Anamanaguchi can’t get around the fact that there are 8-bit samples in their music, but what they can do is try to broaden their sound by adding in real drums, guitar and bass. It’s brilliant. Limiting yourself to 8-bit samples will keep the audience equally limited.

There are definitely two names mentioned far too often on this blog, but I’m going to still mention Leigh Alexander of Sexy Videogameland, Kotaku, and Gamasutra fame, because her SVGL and Kotaku articles are the ones that alerted me to this band rising in the Brooklyn indie music scene. Her article mentions that the band has been listed as an up-and-coming band and not just among other chiptunes (or bitpop) artists. They cite their influences as real rockers, not 8 Bit Weapon, and it shows.

Of course, it’s still on the awkward side to share with random individuals who you can’t be sure will jive with chippy music. I picked up the albums this weekend hot off of watching a video, but I balked at exposing my visiting friends to it and opted to play it quietly in the background, but all that did was let the occasional muddled chirp sound through. Definitely not what I wanted anyway, so I just put on some FOB when I got tired of quiet bitpop.

Once I had some privacy and the ability to listen in depth, I found a great punk sound that totally blew me away. There are two small albums available on Amazon.com: Dawn Metropolis and Power Supply EP, with the former being the more recent release. At their website, Anamanaguchi.com, you can listen to all of Dawn Metropolis and you can also check out an interpretive video that plays in the background of their shows at this site. The little videos show an interesting mini-epic that the music is trying to convey and are pretty cool and trippy.

The best tracks to check out on each album are:

Power Supply EP

– “Video Challenge”
– “Helix Nebula”
– “Air Base”

Dawn Metropolis

– “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”
– “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

There’s just a great sound to these discs and I think it would be a definite challenge to keep your toes from tapping to these beats.

Below are some videos, one of “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” and another from Blip Festival 2007

Anamanaguchi – Jet Pack Blues, Sunset Hues from Dr. Limelight on Vimeo.

Anamanaguchi // Blip Festival 2007: The Videos from 2 Player Productions on Vimeo.

Game Overview Special Tuesday Edition: Obsessive 100%
Apr 22nd, 2008 by Dan

If any of you clicked over to Leigh’s post at Sexy Videogameland about obsessively completing games, then you already know where I’m about to go with this post. If you didn’t, here’s yet another link.

Call it a personality disorder, but I have an obsessive need to unlock the full 100% potential for video games that I enjoy. I know what you’re thinking, if he’s gotta include the “enjoy” caveat, it’s not really obsessive then, is it? Let me tell you, that caveat did not come easily. It took years of mental conditioning to be able to realize “Hey, I want to play too many other games to go at this pace on such a crummy game…” Once I did finally realize that forcing myself to 100% complete a game that, honestly, wasn’t worth it, I’m was able to log off of Gamefaqs and get onto another game that will eat up my time. You see, since I’m a university student, I do have more time to play than 9-5ers, but I don’t have as much time as when I was in high school because of classes, exams, homework, and trying to maintain a social life (kids, stay away from World of Warcraft).

Where do I draw the line? Mainly wherever it’s going to just take too much time to be worth it. I loved Final Fantasy X, but when the game asked me to dodge lightning something like one hundred times in a row to get an ultimate weapon, I said screw it. My party was tough enough that I wouldn’t need that one ultimate weapon just to kill Sin. If it wasn’t, I would train up and make do. There were other, less time-consumingly stupid sidequests that I could go waste my time on.

The advent of the Gamerscore on Xbox Live! has brought up some really interesting issues too. Before achievement points and worrying about increasing my Gamerscore (I know it’s low, but I don’t have the time to be a real achievement point whore), I honestly never worried about fully completing an action game or a music game. I’ll tell you which achievements I can resist though – Guitar Hero 3’s asininely stupid ones like playing through the career mode on a controller instead of the guitar (really? play through on my controller for ONLY 15 achievement points), winning 500 matches (grind, anyone?), or even playing through a song on expert with the sound settings turned down (no sound in a MUSIC GAME?). The Rock Band achievements are much less idiotic. Fully completing cities, completing career modes, achieving milestones in the World Tour mode, these are all acceptable to me.

My first Xbox 360 JRPG introduced a new dastardly trick to entice me to get full completes on games that don’t deserve it. Lost Odyssey, mind you, is not one of them, but my progress to the end of the game has been halted by the achievement point list that includes optional bosses and leveling up all the characters in my team. It’s definitely brilliant because those side quests, in other RPGs, usually include neat story details about the characters that you wouldn’t see otherwise, they give you sweet weapons and armor, and they also satisfy my need to fully complete an RPG that I love.

Just because I’m able to resist these urges more and more nowadays doesn’t mean I’m fully out of the woods. I was trying to burn through MGS and MGS2 to complete the series before MGS4’s launch in June, but now that I’m on MGS3 and June’s far away, I’ve taken it upon myself to hit up Gamefaqs to find out where all the Kerotans (strange little frog thingies that you have to shoot) are and all the different types of food so that I can get a whole bunch of sweet bonuses after I complete the game. Persona 3: FES launches today, but will be in Gamestop waiting for me tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about all the Social Links. After reading Leigh’s article, I convinced myself that I should just play the game naturally, but then I went and watched the 1UP show and learned that the Social Links that you max out contribute to your ending. How could I not try to max them out and get the best possible ending now?

I will admit that part of my completionist nature comes from the fact that I have a lot of games on my plate and I want to get to them all. If I can beat them all 100% the first time through, then I don’t have to play them again to see the stuff that I missed. People usually ask me about this when they see me browsing Gamefaqs or another walkthrough when playing a video game, either asking “Why don’t you just finish the game if you can?” or “Why are you looking at the guide? Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”

The answer to both has to do with enjoying the storylines of games oftentimes a lot more than the gameplay. If it’s a good game, I want to see as much of it as possible, so I bother with the sidequests to learn more about the characters. Anyone who has ever wandered through the Phoenix Cave in Final Fantasy VI knows how incredibly moving (maybe this is just me) it is to see Locke passionately search for the one thing he has heard can save Rachel. Most people, I like to think, were moved when (SPOILER ALERT) the Phoenix failed to revive Rachel (/SPOILER ALERT). It’s little touches like this that go to flesh out just why Locke is so committed to protecting Terra and Celes once he meets each woman.

If it’s a bad game, heck, I just want to be done. I don’t care about figuring out the strategy to kill a poorly designed boss with a character I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about figuring out the proper path through a bland Zelda-ripoff temple. It’s just not satisfying since by that point I’m playing the game only because I like to finish what I start.

Adventure games are the exception to this. I oftentimes love the game, I’m just not willing to try and figure out how I’m supposed to use the chicken with the tree to save the monkey in the swamp. The game type just asks you to think too much like the designer to complete mentally unnatural and unintuitive tasks. Yahtzee makes some good points about Adventure game design in his review of Zachkand Wiki that I totally agree with.

In the end, I guess I’m not that bad about obsessively completing a game, but when the design is just so well-done as to encourage the player to do it, I honestly can’t resist. When you have a screen full of little glass windows to smash open for Super Smash Brothers Brawl, who can resist the urge to just go for the unlockables? Those trophies and stickers are also so cool…

Sony: Persona 3: FES and SVL
Apr 20th, 2008 by Dan

I totally forgot that I was meaning to post this great article I read over at Sexy Videogameland by Leigh Alexander about obsessive video game playing and Persona 3: FES. What are you waiting for? Click the link…

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