Archive for September, 2008

Zen and the Art of Galaxy Maintenance: Orbient vs. Orbital

Spencer at Siliconera points out that today’s surprise WiiWare downloadable, Art Style: Orbient, is pretty much bitGenerations: Orbital. Since there are at least two more Art Style games scheduled for release via WiiWare, Spencer rightly speculates they’ll be updates of bitGenerations games. Maybe.

The bitGenerations series of games were high concept/low-bit carts for Game Boy Advance, released only in Japan, in 2006 or so. Each bitGenerations game is essentially a tiny, playable art installation with a retro bent.

Including Orbital, I own three bitGenerations titles, which I play exclusively on my Game Boy Micro. This is to say, I don’t play anything else on my Micro; I only play these three bitGenerations games on it.

Stranger still, I’ve never played a bitGenerations game on my DS, my GBA SP, or even on my Game Boy Player. I think this is because at some point I read, somewhere (God knows where), that the bitGenerations games were specifically created to better market the Micro. I believe it. To me, GBAs are decidedly SNESy little 16-bit handhelds. My Micro, however, is disguised as a Famicom; therefore, only 8-bit games will suit it.

Of the three titles I own, Dotstream has the best music. It’s chippy and forceful. Dotstream is a racing game, except that each of the racers is just a pulsing line, sort of like a heartbeat.

There’s Soundvoyager, which Kohler gave me. I don’t remember his logic in gifting it to me, exactly, but it had something to do with how we are each deaf in one ear, which in turn makes the game nearly impossible to play.

Not least, there is Orbital, my favorite.

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LTTP: Mega Man 9 theme music on ukulele

I am still humming along with ukulele covers of video game theme music. Tonight, for instance, I was trying to remember where my favorite Kid Icarus theme cover had come from. I’d first heard it on Ray Barnholt’s excellent Famicom muxtape, which is now—and for the foreseeable future—nonexistent. Fortunately, one quick, successful google revealed that the musician I was looking for is none other than the Tanguy Ukulele Orchestra.

And while what follows apparently made some web-rounds back in July—I hate it when that happens!—I nonetheless feel vindicated in reposting it, thanks to yesterday’s North American WiiWare launch of Mega Man 9. So! Here is the Mega Man 9 theme music, as lovingly realized by the Tanguy Ukulele Orchestra:

The musician’s entire oeuvre is available for both listening and downloading at the official Tanguy Ukulele website (see below).

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Happy first anniversary to The Hacktory

I’m kind of loving Philadelphia lately. I love Geekadelphia, from whom I have borrowed liberally (shout-out to Eric!). I love the lads at Gamervision. I love the Liberty Bell and all it represents, which is liberty. And then there’s the VGXPO, which is something that is also in Philadelphia.

And now I am completely in love with The Hacktory.

While I was questing through current.com in search of the Gaymers video, I came across “Geeks and Toys Go Wild,” a viewer-created video of a Hacktory-sponsored event. The tiny DIY fest is so rough-around-the-edges and charming, just magical LEDs and chip music and, probably, alcohol. The Hactory video at Current may never make it all the way to TV, so—for now at least—you’ll have to check it out online, either here or embedded here:

I feel like there is this incredible nerd culture in Philadelphia that the rest of humanity doesn’t know about. Specifically, the goings-on at The Hacktory—classes on how to design circuit boards, or events with chiptune musicians dimly lit by demoscene graphics—remind me, bittersweetly, of the art collective gatherings and events that so captured my imagination when I was some college kid having her first brush with adulthood in her first real city. These community events were sincere, earnest, and wholly unmarketable. They were, to quote the Philadelphia Weekly, “Authentic Geek.”

Incidentally, The Hacktory turns one year old this month, hence the illustration of a layer-cake with LEDs that I am ‘borrowing’ from their blog.

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“Gaymers” now playing on Current TV

It’s no secret that racism, sexism, homophobia, and colorful swears are all hallmarks of online multiplayer gaming. It’s the sort of thing, in fact, that gamers laugh about, albeit uneasily. But the first time you hear a truly earnest slur, the blood runs cold: something about the experience feels distinctly like being trapped in a small-town Chainsaw Massacre kind of nightmare.

As I was channel-surfing tonight, I flipped past Current TV—that’s Al Gore’s young adult -oriented “citizen journalism” cable channel—and I was pleasantly startled to catch the end of “Gaymers.” It is a short video that, in the span of four minutes, concisely explains the homophobia and hostility that often occurs, whether on Internet forums or inside of in-game chat, within the very insular gaming culture. Of course the video is intended for a mainstream audience, but it approaches the issue in an intelligent way. It is, in short, the video to send to your non-gaming friends.

The video is also a very abbreviated profile of games journalist Flynn De Marco, and his site, the excellent GayGamer.net.

“Gaymers” is framed by credible explication from Dr. Benoit Monin, a professor of psychology at Stanford. Near the video’s beginning, Monin gives this fantastic, succinct explanation of the relationship between anonymity, information technologies, and hate speech:

The problem with anonymity on the web is that everyone’s anonymous. It’s not just the people engaging in the prejudicial action that are anonymous: they’re anonymous, the victim is anonymous, the bystanders are anonymous. And it’s like this perfect storm of social… disinhibition, if you will.

Although “Gaymers” focuses on the problem of hate speech in both online co-op and within the internet-centric gamer culture, the video concludes itself optimistically. After all, as Monin points out, the technologies that facilitate anonymous hate speech and actions are the very same technologies with which we create safe virtual spaces for other communities.

“Gaymers” was recently added to Current TV’s continuing rotation of viewer-created programming, so congratulations to everyone who participated in the video’s making. You can chance across it in syndication on satellite or cable, or you can watch it online here.

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Used and retro video game store opens its doors in San Francisco

I live in San Francisco. Recently, I was walking to the grocery store to buy some avocados, when suddenly I saw a giant sandwich board advertising something called “Star Games.”

That seemed new. I looked around. I didn’t see any game stores anywhere. Also, the last time a sign lured me into a “game store,” it had turned out to be one of those D&D hangout places. I’d marched right in with palpable confidence and decisiveness, and then I’d suddenly stopped just inside the door, completely frozen in place as I stared at shelves full of rulebooks. Then I realized all the preteens at the back table had stopped playing—now, they were staring at me in silent horror. And then I went, “Oh,” and slunk out miserably… not because I dislike tabletop gaming, mind, but oh boy do I dislike being sheepish in front of preteens.

Anyway. I walked past Star Games again on Friday. This time I was on my way to the Ninjatown DS Sneak Peek at Double Punch. But there Star Games was, cozily glowing in the dusk, just like a cottage in a Thomas Kinkade painting. I was already late to Double Punch, though, so I hurried past.

And though I’ve never actually walked into the store, I’m already really fascinated by Star Games: I have never seen an independent videogame store in San Francisco before.

Sure, I’ve been to retro and import game stores in New York City and in Chicago. I’ve heard of mythical game stores in New Jersey and Seattle. Even Corpus Christi, Texas, has Play Again.

I’ve also heard a pretty believable rumor that one of the Bay Area EBs or GameStops does more business than any other franchised game store in the United States—a credible claim, because our area is chock-full of video game developers, PR, journalists, bloggers, publishing companies, tech industry people, and… well, you know, gamers. Since there’s such a huge, well-informed (and generally well-paid) crowd of gamers here, why hasn’t San Francisco had any notable import game stores up until now? Or, if we ever did, why do they all close down? Isn’t this a primo market for that niche?

I’ve long held a theory about import stores, and it is this: many of those stores manage to scrape by and stay open by not selling their inventory. If a store has valuable retro and import games—WonderSwans still in their packaging, for instance, and unopened Zelda CD-i games—those shelves full of priceless, unsold relics turn the establishment into a kind of museum, into a beautiful paean to dusty basements and wasted Saturday mornings. What, then, will Star Games’ shelves look like after everyone in San Francisco has taken off with their HoneyBees?

Location, location, location: I am already worried for Star Games because the store is in an accessible location. The game store in Chicago is clever because it is so geographically inaccessible—so, by the time you’ve finally geared up for a weekend trip to the store, you’re only too happy to blow all your money.

But I am a loving pessimist. Star Games, the Bay Area is ready to love you. You will be the one to turn the tide. You will be the greatest game store to ever open its doors in San Francisco.

Star Games has been open for just over a month. I will visit sometime this week and return with a full report.

Star Games
1657 Powell St., between Green St. & Union
San Francisco
(415) 398-4766

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Low-res Aquaria: awesome.

The internet has definitely contracted retro demake fever. Perhaps the mania reached its highest pitch in late August, when TIGSource announced its Bootleg Demakes Competition. You probably already know that the demakes are now available online—in fact, you can download 68 of the 69 playable contest entries in one easy-to-swallow torrent.

One entrant submitted his demake, Aquarium. It is a short (but totally functional) proof-of-concept demonstration of what Aquaria would look like on the NES.

I love the squat, chibi Naija sprite. I will now commence my download of Mega Man 9.

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Just in time for next month: WoW costumes

Last night, the conversation briefly turned to Halloween costume plans. “What are you thinking of going as?” Greg asked me.

I admitted I probably wouldn’t do it, but I’ve certainly paid it a lot of thought (and research) since early summer: “My Second Life character,” I told him.

Greg was startled. It seemed a little obscure, didn’t it? Wouldn’t I get tired of explaining it to everyone who wanted to know what I was supposed to be? He didn’t say it outright, but I think I knew what he was getting at—isn’t it too nerdy? Wouldn’t I be embarrassed?

“I am not ashamed!” I said to him. And in fact, if I were feeling especially bold, maybe I would rollerskate everywhere. Just like Jennatar, my Second Life avatar, who is pretty much me, except she always wears a flight cap and rollerskates everywhere and flies away from awkward dance parties on a dirigible.

I don’t play World of Warcraft, but I certainly understand what it is like to develop a deep attachment to your avatar, and also the subsequent desire to dress up as that avatar for Halloween. So, somebody, anybody, please, please, please buy one of these and get dressed up and take photos and post them to your Facebook.

While the Night Elf makeup isn’t entirely convincing, the Orc mask really nails the WoW aesthetic.

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Would you like to play a game?

A little something in my inbox from my friend Dave Gottwald:

So I’m a huge fan of the film WarGames, and they just did a very limited release of the soundtrack for the film’s 25th anniversary this year. The whole disc is filled with great moog-ish synth early 80s stuff.

Attached is the synth-pop track off the album called “Video Fever” about arcade games. Great vocals and keyboards. I thought you would really enjoy.

And Dave’s right: I did really enjoy it, and you might, too.

Midnight PST edit: Thanks to Doctor Popular’s contribution in the comments, we now know that the composer of WarGames was also in a band called The Beepers. “Video Fever” is a Beepers single.

The WarGames OST is limited to only 2500 copies, and it’s priced to move at US$20. You can buy it (and listen to the movie’s theme music!) here.

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Handmade, one-of-a-kind Nintendo jewelry

This guy makes Nintendo jewelry, hand-wrought from gold and sterling, for himself, his girlfriend, and less often, for very close friends. Most of these pieces—including the heartbreakingly beautiful D-pad necklace—are one-offs, never to be forged again. Look, and weep.

Edit: A friend just asked me what “the thing in the middle is supposed to be.” It is so obviously a metroid, hello? So I just thought I’d clarify here, too: it’s a metroid.

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Snack or Die’s Monkey Ball cupcakes

Snack or Die is, without a doubt, my very favorite recipe website. I am always in awe: Jocelyn is the MacGyver of pastries.

Her newest confection is a jarringly apt likeness of the Super Monkey Ball mascot, its visage rendered into a perfect little cupcake. The monkey’s most salient feature, curly-cue ears, is cleverly reproduced using cinnamon cereal puffs. And the miniature pompadour is simply a Tootsy Roll that has been painted over with chocolate frosting.

So adorable!

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“Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is in Another Castle,” by the Mountain Goats and Kaki King

John Darnielle specializes in melancholy, sometimes sparse narrative-songs, so no real surprise there, right? But nothing could have really prepared me for this.

Darnielle, better known as the band The Mountain Goats, collaborated with fellow singer-songwriter Kaki King on the video game -themed single, “Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is in Another Castle.” It’s the final track from Darnielle and King’s upcoming vinyl-only (?!) EP, Black Pear Tree.

Apparently this song debuted on Pitchfork late last week. In the accompanying blurb there, Darnielle explains: “The song is sung from the point of view of Toad.”

Stereogum helpfully posted the dates of Darnielle and King’s “Last Happy Night of Your Life” autumn tour, which includes stops in major metropoleis like SF, Chicago, NYC, Austin, and Brooklyn. Concertgoers will be able to pick up the Darnielle/King EP at the shows.

(Via 61 Frames Per Second)

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Spore T-shirts and posters

Youngest of 436 Kids Spore promo poster

Via Laughing Squid: Feast your eyes on these high-contrast Spore Creature Silhouette designs, which are available on both T-shirts and promotional posters through zazzle.com.

Because the official Spore store is powered by Zazzle, you can also upload your own Spore creature, then make a custom T-shirt, coffee mug, or postage stamp.

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“Still Alive” ukulele covers

Scott Sharkey’s favorite kid on YouTube plays ukulele. So does mine. Scott Sharkey’s kid does a cover of “Still Alive.” So does mine.

So of course S.S. and I compared videos.

And we’re in agreement: we have to get these two kids together. If there is a god, these two will meet and fall in love.

And they even both do a twee little thumbs-up at the end of their songs! Which makes me wonder whether the boy had never seen the teenaged girl’s YouTube video—but more likely than that, their love is simply meant to be.

Sept. 13 edit: Regarding the charming thumbs-up punctuating each ukulele performance! One Roo Reynolds captured a still of each thumbs-up, which now lives at his Flickr account here. Aww!

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Pixelicious ‘Owl Boy’ to be playable in early ’09

Yesterday, indie dev team D-pad Studio announced their 2D platform/adventure game Owl Boy. In development now, the boys at D-pad expect to have a playable build by March 2009, just in time for the Independent Games Festival.

Guessing only from preliminary screenshots, Owl Boy’s splendidly retro art has that rusted-cog aesthetic everyone likes so well. Can’t wait to hear more as it unfolds.

(Via the inimitable TIGSource)

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Test your button-mashing speed with this replica Hudson ‘Shooting Watch’!

The Shooting Watch, I have only just learned, is a pedometer for your fingers. Which would make it a… well, a digitometer, actually, except that doesn’t sound quite right. So we’ll just say ‘Shooting Watch,’ then.

According to 1UP’s Ray Barnholt—the go-to man in all things obscurely Japanese—NCSX is now accepting preorders for their brand new Shooting Watch, a replica of the original 1987 Hudson design. At US$19, it’s a steal! But this fan-servicey offering is sure to sell out, so if this sort of gadget is your bag, act now!

Still, should you miss the preorder window—or if you just can’t wait for that numinous, revelatory button-mashing experience—you can also nab Shooting Watch DS, a homebrew downloadable that turns your Nintendo DS into one fierce digitometer.

The Shooting Watch, available from NCSX, ships December 18.

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