SID-licious #3: Zoids

SID-licious is a series of blogs where I post Commodore 64 SID tunes every week. They'll be available for download until the next entry goes up, when I'll be pulling the previous week's files down. I'll probably have the mp3 floating around, though, so if there's some tune(s) you're reading about in a past blog and want to grab a copy, shoot me a PM.

In a digital world where its meaning and usage have been distorted (and even ridiculed), I never use the word "epic" lightly*. But that's exactly how I would describe Rob Hubbard's stirring tune for Zoids. Listening to it today, it's almost as triumphant and moody and futuristic and mysterious as the first time I heard it.

Of course, back then I didn't know that Hubbard had based the music on "Ancestors" by Synergy. These days, even though I'm aware of the pedigree, I still like the Hubbard version more. I don't know if it's because I grew up with his take, linked as it is to one of my all-time favourite formative systems, or if it's just because I prefer the actual sounds of the SID, but his is just the more engaging version to me.

The actual gameplay of Zoids itself was nigh-impenetrable to me as a young boy, and a lack of instructions didn't help matters. The screen is filled with dials and weapons and systems and icons and buttons, all with no text to inform you of their functions. But dammit, the music was so good that it didn't stop me trying. Occasionally, I'd wrestle with the joystick and actually manage to win the battle subgame, and Rob Hubbard's majestic industrial march was there to make sure I truly felt like the victor.

*That said, I'll probably use "epic" again when I talk about Parallax. Don't worry, stick with me and you'll hear it for yourself soon enough.

[ Here's where the music was. I've probably still got the mp3 if you wanna PM me! ]

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SID-licious #2: Arkanoid

SID-licious is a series of blogs where I post Commodore 64 SID tunes every week. They'll be available for download until the next entry goes up, when I'll be pulling the previous week's files down. I'll probably have the mp3 floating around, though, so if there's some tune(s) you're reading about in a past blog and want to grab a copy, shoot me a PM.

This week's snack-sized SID song is Martin Galway's bitchin' title music for the C64 conversion of Arkanoid. It's actually got a bit of history attached to it, too: it was the first piece of published C64 music that contained samples. From the man himself:

I figured out how samples were played by hacking into someone else's code... Ok, I admit it... It was a drum synthesizer package called Digidrums, actually, so you could still say I was the first to include samples in a piece of music. [...] Never would I claim to have invented that technique, I just got it published first. In fact, I couldn't really figure out where they got the sample data, just that they were wiggling the volume register, so I tried to make up my own drum sample sounds in realtime – which is the flatulence stuff that shipped in 'Arkanoid'.

Going back further, Galway actually stole the idea for Arkanoid's main theme... from another song he'd written himself. Galway's tune for Cobra on the Spectrum may not sound as good as the C64 offering it gave birth to, but they're obviously pretty much the same song.

[ Here's where the music was. I've probably still got the mp3 if you wanna PM me! ]

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SID-licious #1: Mutants

I made a list a while ago with a bunch of my favourite Commodore 64 SID tunes. Obviously not everybody can (or can be bothered) to get hold of the wonderful SIDPLAY application, nor the High Voltage SID Collection where a lot of C64 music is archived. To this end, I thought I'd start up a weekly thing where I share my favourite C64 songs, giving peeps an easier way to get hold of them should they want to. Sometimes I'll just be posting one single song from a game, other times I'll probably get altogether too carried away and post a few because I can't nail down a true favourite.

EDIT: I think I'll only make the song(s) I post available for only one week, and then I'll take it down to make room for the next entry. So if you want to take advantage of this cheap 'n' easy way to download some SID goodness, you've seven days to act on it!

This week, as per my aforementioned list, I'm kicking things off with Fred Gray's twin tunes for Ocean's Mutants. I got this game as part of a six pack that came on the magical format of cassette tape, along with Head Over Heels, Wizball, The Great Escape, Parallax and Double Take. (Side note: some of those games will no doubt be featured in my blog at some point.)

Apart from its interesting gameplay and sleek sense of design, another thing made Mutants stand out against the other five titles. While the data slowly dribbled from the cassette's spools and onto the C64, all the other games had the usual Ocean Loader (version 2) accompanying the loading image. This was not the case for Mutants, though, with the game's main theme replacing Martin Galway's classic pre-game tune. For me, this only served to add to the strange alien atmosphere that already oozed from Mutants.

Fred Gray's musical contribution to this quirky game only consists of two tunes, but they're both hypnotic gems. The main theme is an evocatively epic song, with some unusual sounds used so cleverly you'd swear that more than 3 channels were being used. The other offering is a very driving song, full of urgency and menace but laced with brilliant subtleties.

[ Here's where the music was. I've probably still got the mp3 if you wanna PM me! ]

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A blog as confusing and long-winded as Nier (SPOILERS)

I haven't finished Nier, but I've played enough to know that I still truly don't know what to think about it. It's a game that evokes wildly differing emotions, depending on what you're doing at the time. Sometimes, it's the most generic, run-of-the-mill title you've ever popped into the console of your choice. But with the acceptance of a single mission Nier can flip and turn into the most bafflingly interesting experience, if only in short bursts.

There are a lot of other games where you can noodle about and do mini-quests that have nothing to do with the main story; these menial tasks are usually the thing you do to fill in time between bouts of playing the "real" game. In the earlier stages of Nier, however, I had the realisation the opposite was true. It felt like I was only occasionally dipping into the main game and casually killing a boss when I felt like taking a break from all the questing.

It's not like the quests are anything special, mind. In fact, most of them are downright dull. They're usually very uninspired rinky-dink activities such as fishing or retrieving an item from a location (and there's no fast travel at first). And some of these fetch quests require you put in a lot of work to find the multitude of items required. So why am I so invested in them? Well, like Mr Vinny Caravella, I've got that weird need to do every-fucking-thing.

There are aspects of Nier that I genuinely enjoy, though, and the first I'll mention is going to sound like the faintest praise: it's like a PlayStation 2 game. It looks like one, and it plays like one. It reminds me of early PS2 titles like Summoner or Smuggler's Run (bear with me) that felt a bit sparse, and you could tell people were still getting to grips with the technology, but you could also still see what the developer was trying to do and you went with it. Some of this PS2 feeling is obvious just from looking at it – the graphics aren't sock-knock-offingly good by any stretch – but for me a fair bit of it is just that intangible feeling some games give.

Shit Fuck Fuck Shit Tits Arse Motherfucking Bitch Shit Fucker Edgy

The other reason it reminds me of a PlayStation 2 title is that a lot of the game's trappings flat out remind me of Ico. The languid pacing in places, the rolling green hills peppered with ramshackle architecture from a future past, the black shadowy enemies that attack you en masse... hell, you even have a female companion with elfin features and silver hair. Granted, this one is slightly different (read: totally the opposite) because she constantly curses in a jarring and forced way, but the comparison's there to be made nonetheless.

I also like the music in Nier. It's all pretty much the same theme presented in different ways, and some of the loops aren't as long as others, but I find it really pleasant and perfectly suited to adventuring your way through a fantasy setting. The female vocals are quite nice, too, and I'll probably investigate getting hold of the soundtrack in some format or another at some point in the near (dammit) future.

Okay, so far all of that doesn't make Nier sound as strange as I'd made out. Well, I'm about to change that. I'll begin gently, with more of a "huh" revelation.

PEW x 134

Nier occasionally strays into bullet hell territory. Bosses and even lesser enemies can start hurling dozens upon dozens of large crimson spheres that form interesting, almost hypnotic matrices as they fly towards you. And here's where Nier gives you the first inkling that, for better or worse, it doesn't know what to do with itself: sometimes the bullet hell action takes the form of a top-down twin stick shooter. Yup, that's right. And it's useless trying to expand upon that point because I can neither refine it to a simpler explanation nor adequately inform you, dear reader, of the context that it exists in.

Now, I'm really about to enter spoiler territory here, so don your best Peril Sensitive Glasses if you're thinking of playing Nier. Or maybe just close this window/tab. Y'know, if you don't have your Peril Sensitive Glasses handy.

The first moment I really couldn't come to grips with what I was playing comes when you take on a mission that your character's daughter asks you to embark on. A boy she is pen pals with sounds like he needs help, and you've got to travel to his mansion to see if you can offer any assistance. When you enter the mansion, NIER TURNS INTO A RESIDENT EVIL CLONE. I don't mean it feels like a Resident Evil game with a different coat of paint. Nope, I mean you enter a main entrance area with stairs that looks just like the first game in the Resident Evil franchise. And you go into a long dining room with a fireplace at the end and a doorway in the far right corner. And you collect keys with moons and stars on them to open doors with moons and stars on them. And you fight giant spiders in hallways with incredibly familiar wallpaper. And you find a room where a piano is being played. And... well, you get the idea.

You were almost a Nier sandwich! Ha ha ha.

For the next half hour or so, I don't doubt my girlfriend (who was playing the wonderful Super Scribblenauts on the couch beside me) couldn't understand the mystified and confused noises I was making while playing through this section. I just couldn't grasp why I had suddenly been thrown into a lampoon of video games, a la Eat Lead, where everything leading up to this had been relatively serious. I mean, Nier has actually has a nice, gentle sense of humour running throughout, but nothing that would foreshadow this sudden and blatant spoof of the survival horror genre.

This Resident Evil "tribute" continues when you go into the complex hidden beneath the mansion where (you guessed it) scientific bio-experiments have been conducted in the past. But wait! Nier's got this mission's second curveball, because you and your companion will now travel through the multitude of steely subterranean rooms in... a long-shot-not-quite-top-down dungeon crawler! Only without all the cool loot!

So through this and other shifts in gameplay style ( text adventure, anyone?) Neir officially has me intrigued, even hooked. But the thing is that although these bits are great, they ultimately only serve to fracture the focus of the game. Basically, Nier feels less than the sum of its parts; that some of those parts can be bloody fascinating only serves to make the emotional schism I feel towards this game even deeper and wider.

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Things I learned over the weekend - Monday, 2 May 2011

I haven't done one of these in weeks, and while my weekend was relatively low-key there were still some revelatory moments.

Playing Dead Space 2 can be scary...

This thing isn't as terrifying as my girlfriend - FACT.

...when your girlfriend is asleep on the couch behind you.

In the wee small hours of Saturday morning my girlfriend and I came home from a party, and I decided that would be the perfect juncture to start my first game of Dead Space 2. Lisa, on the other hand, decided she'd fall asleep on the couch behind me. I fired up the 360, perched on the edge of the ottoman, and eagerly (if somewhat blearily) waited to dive into the sequel to my personal 2008 GOTY.

While creeping around some corridor or another, pensive about what spring-loaded creature was to assault me next, I felt something brush lightly and quickly against my lower back. I yelped and fucking jumped a mile. Somehow I'd managed to keep hold of the controller – by rights it surely should have flown across the room – so I paused hastily and turned to see Lisa still shifting in her sleep, her foot still near my lumbar region.

Thing is, she fell asleep on the couch behind me the next night. Second verse, same as the first. God dammit.

Dead Space 2 isn't as instantly addictive as the first game...

...but I've got a good feeling it'll be awesome overall. My boss said he also found the start to be a bit slow (ironic, considering the cracking pace it starts off at) but by the end of it he considered both the action and story to have unfolded pretty masterfully. I'm not at the point where work was just an obstacle in the way of playing more Dead Space, but I can sense it coming.

Noodle auflauf is bloody tasty.

Courtesy of the boys over at the DnA Foodcast, I had a stab at making this dish and it turned out really well. Lucky it was yummy, though, because the recipe made three nights worth of dinner for my lass and me! One of my favourite parts of making it was the fact I got to use fresh rosemary and thyme from our wee herb beds out the back - convenient and delicious!

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Four Titles in One Day

Today I realised that, for whatever reason(s), yesterday saw me playing a lot of different games on different systems. It was something I hadn't noticed at the time, but my retrospective look at the day made me feel like I'd accomplished a lot. Well, a lot in gaming terms at any rate. Walk with me through the day's events, won't you?

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure

Stop looking so happy with yourself, you fucker.

So I started the day as I have been every morning for the last couple of weeks, with a tram ride and a copy of EA's monocled puzzle platformer wedged into my DS. I'm up to the fifth and final world, and if you've been listening to recent Bombcasts you'll know there were times that I had to struggle through an unholy vortex of unjust fuckwittery to get there. As reported, the boss that awaits you at the end of World 3 is an especially taxing battle and is sure to drag combinations of expletives from your mouth that you never thought you knew.

Don't get me wrong, there's some good puzzling and platforming to be had here, albeit with more of a disconnect from each other than the developers had probably hoped. But man, you'll bite into the dark, hard nuggets of anguish all too often while you're trying to enjoy the smooth and creamy nougat the rest of the game has to offer.

On top of that, on the tram ride back home from work I discovered two secret levels, both of which are forced scrolling affairs where a single collision with an enemy or its bullet can mean instadeath, causing you to restart the whole level again - did I mention this game's checkpointing is bullshit unfair at times?

Anyway, as it stands I can't tell whether I want to finish this game because it's a reminder of platforming days gone by, or if I'm doing this out of pure pigheadedness. Either way, I will make that game doff its bowler hat to me or go insane trying. Unless Monster Tale comes into my life and ends up successfully building on the promise that Hatsworth held.

Mortal Kombat II

I got the sparks to fly without a problem.

All the recent MK fervour (and the fact I can't just buy it) has caused me to revisit the game that my mates and I may as well have hotglued into our Mega Drives. After arriving home from the tram stop – a walk that saw me muttering hell on Henry bloody Hatsworth – I popped the MKII cartridge in and gripped my 6-button controller.

Turns out I can remember a lot of the moves, although I had to fumble around in my memory for some of them. The one I couldn't remember for ages was Baraka's Slice 'n' Dice, which I eventually ended up pulling off by accident. I didn't notice what I'd done to activate it, and then spent another few minutes trying to emulate the mash that saw me perform it the first time. I got there in the end but I don't remember it being B-B-B-LP, that's for sure.

I think I'm going to get back into MK II over the weekend and try to return to the standard I was at back in 1994. Can't wait! Gotta remember there's a block button, though. Oh, and in a shocking and horrific turn of events, Mortal Kombat II on MD/Genesis uses Credits. Yep, that's with a C. How on Earthrealm did that slip through the QA process?

Animal Crossing: Wild World

It is happening again... It is happening again...

In a seemingly-random-but-probably-fuelled-by-Hatsworth-hatred manoeuvre, I put Animal Crossing into my DS after dinner. Long ago I had played this game for a year and a half solid, every morning and every evening, until I had caught every fish and collected every fossil. I'd not been back to the town of Xanadu (my girlfriend's idea, she was playing it too) for about a year though, and I was morbidly curious about the state of our tiny digital village.

Weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. And our house was full of bugs. Also, I'd walked out of the place after cramming a bunch of mismatched furniture into it, possibly in a misguided and desperately slutty attempt to squeeze more points from the Happy Room Academy.

I wasn't planning on getting back into Animal Crossing, but this morning while waiting for the tram I discovered I'd left the cartridge in the DS. I like to think it was my subconscious looking out for me after all the vitriol that Henry Hatsworth had induced. I spent the rest of my commute pulling weeds and reconnecting with hazily-familiar faces. And I'm about to do the same once I finish up this blog and head home. What are the odds I'll get hooked again?

Fallout 3

Speaking of hooked, we've arrived at the most important part of our meander through the day's events. Yes, at 2:30 this morning, after 190+ hours and 313 saves, I have finally nabbed the final two Achievements and S-Ranked Fallout 3. I'm sure the game itself needs no further commentary from me – you'll likely know by know if you love it or hate it – so all I'll say is that Fallout 3 is one of my favourite games ever. That's despite the fact that by the end of my (incomplete) second run through the sheen was starting to wear off just a shade.

As a small aside, I also saw Megaton explode for the first time ever in all of my hours with the game. After I got the last cheevo, I loaded up the third save I ever made in the game. I then set about levelling up so I could get my Explosives skill up to 25, enough to prime the shabby settlement's explosive centrepiece. I've gotta say, it was worth the wait.

My long term goal now – Rayfield has called me "DERANGED" for even thinking this – is to go back to the wasteland and clean it all up, removing every last piece of collectable bric-a-brac. Each scorched book and each rusty tin can is cluttering up the place, and I don't think the world can truly rebuild until all the refuse is stashed in the TARDIS-like locker of my Megaton home.

Ha! Only kidding... or am I?

All good things must come to an end...

(...which may mean this blog entry will go on forever.)

So there you have it, a day chock-full of joy and anger, and overtired but satisfied yawns by the end of it. I can't remember the last time I got through so many games in a 24 hour period, and this was even with a full day at work to deal with. Luckily it's getting into the more wintery months here, so there may be even more cause for staying at home and settling in with some new games, and revisiting some more cherished favourites while I'm at it. It's a thought that warms my heart.

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Star Wars Episode IV - abstract version

Last week, for whatever reason (possibly this wonderful short from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) I had the idea of making an abstracted retelling of Episode IV. I've plugged away at it for a while and I think I've finally settled on the design. I'm not sure if I'm entirely happy with the colour palette – the more it went on the more various hues insisted on being introduced – so I may tinker with that soon. But as it stands, this isn't such a bad start.

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Things I learned over the weekend - Monday, 7 March 2011

After missing a few weeks where I still did learn things (the existence of Royal Tennis; this art deco city called Napier; and the butler guy from Magnum, P.I. not actually being English in any way - all of these gems gleaned from my father) I'm back with a for-realsies edition of my not-at-all-popular blog. Here are the choice knowledge nuggets that I plucked from the laconic slurry of the weekend:

Some musician types are as amazing as they are crazy

So, there's this psychotic mutant remixed-to-all-hell version of the Mario theme that I occasionally like to listen to for a giggle.

Yesterday morning I was listening to "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash and suddenly the penny dropped for me: the trumpets towards the start of the Mario Dirty Mix are the same trumpets from the opening of the Johnny Cash staple! My mind was completely spun that someone actually heard those two things and knew they were the same notes played with the same timing. Bloody brilliant.

Side note: one of the people responsible for this barmy ditty is the very rad Binster, who is also responsible for this amazing remix of one of Tim Follin's C64 Ghouls 'n' Ghosts tunes.

Black glutinous rice with mango and coconut milk is delicious

One of the perks of going out with an Asian lass is that I am forced* to eat stuff I never would have even known existed had I not met the love of my undeserving life. This happened again last night when, after a meal of pork belly and noodles, my partner's mother decided we should go the establishment next to the restaurant to get dessert.

I'd never eaten black glutinous rice, but I've learned by now not to fret about this kind of thing; these days I just shut up and try the new stuff. Besides, it was one of the treats this place specialised in and the joint was busy, so that many people can't have busted taste buds, right?

I ordered my BGR with mango and coconut milk. When it arrived, I saw a bowl of thick, rich and deeply dark red soup, for want of a better description. Atop this gluggy maroon stuff was a dollop of bright orange mango pulp and a healthy drizzle of equally bright white coconut milk. I tried the elements separately and thought it was nothing special. However, once I'd vigourously and thoroughly stirred the contents together... well, that made it one of the most delicious and refreshing desserts I'd eaten in a long time.

Mine had more BGR / less coconut milk and mango, but you get the general gist.

Man, I can't wait to get back there and order it again.

*Don't worry, gentle reader! I assure you that my arm remains completely untwisted when faced with new and interesting Asian cuisine.

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I am yet another wizard, and this looks effed up to me also.


So I thought I'd have a crack at making a shirt design for this hot hot Giant Bomb meme. While I was making it, I think I totally had a couple of things in the back of my mind. One was the wizard from Gauntlet, and the art from the series' older games in general. The other was the illustration style of Gary Chalk, which was very influential to me as a kid.
 
Also, for those who can't suss it out for themselves, the runes down the bottom spell out the rest of the catchphrase. I just thought it might help to have a shirt design you can wear in public without being all cursey in people's faces. Plus it's a nice little in-joke for those who can delve into it.
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Things I learned over the weekend - Monday, 7 February 2011

I guess it's about to I returned to a regular what-passes-for-a-blog, eh?
 

Sometimes life is more difficult than it has to be...

 Relevant!
My parents are visiting from up north soon, so a blind has to be put up in the front room window so the world can't see in. It's a job my girlfriend and I have been putting off for ages, but with my parents coming to stay with us it kinda has to be done now. I'm going to truncate a very long story and just say that I lost my cool and threw the drill down on more than one occasion.
 
In other news, my research indicates that women still don't like it when men lapse into their patented "shouting and stomping around the house" act. Just keeping you up to date on the latest, lads!

...but in the next instant, life can turn around and be great.

My girlfriend and I were out and about in the car, as we needed to purchase more tools for our blind-related folly. While we were stopped in traffic at the lights, I noticed the number plate on the car in front of us and my simmering grumpiness seemed to evaporate immediately.

If you are unaware of the true importance of this, I suggest you pop off and watch this video.

Rogue Warrior's a bit rubbish...

Apparently, this man does not give "a rusty fuck."
Yep, I know this is a huge shock to everyone, and that you were waiting until I gave the final word on this title, but Rogue Warrior is a completely average slice of first person genericism that lasts for a few hours and is truly entertaining for far less time than that. Mickey Rourke sounds like a somnambulist trapped in a recording studio, and we all heard that song long ago, so not even his (admittedly faded) star power could salvage too much from this middle-of-the-road production.
 
I finished it a few times for the cheevos, and it's not the worst game I've ever played, but man it didn't set its sights very high. I guess in that way it's a total success.

...but Heavenly Bodies is amazing.

Yesterday afternoon was spent having some (read: many) drinks with dear friends, the Talbots. As the day slipped into darkness, and yet another beer slipped down my throat, it was suggested we watch the celebration of movement and music that is Heavenly Bodies. This is a film from 1984 that largely revolves around aerobics, and has more montages in it than every other 80s movie put together - the film opens with three back-to-back montages before we're even introduced to the main players! Of course, there's an epic dance-off (aerobic-off?) at the end, and by that stage I was simply dazzled by how 80s-ass that movie is. It's a staggeringly cheesy and camp B-grade presentation of the era, and I thought it was magical. Thanks for the viewing, Chels! Top pick.
  
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