Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What are you for Halloween?

Today I'm going for a different approach, whereas I want something a little more interactive. What are you going to be for Halloween? What's been your favorite costume ever? Don't be shy! Head down to the comments section and tell us what you are this year! As for yours truly, this year I am the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, as pictured below. :)
The lovely lady next to me is of course my girlfriend Katie dressed as the Queen of Hearts. So let us know what your doing! Send pics! And have a happy Halloween! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stephen's Animation!

Hey everyone!  I decided to take a break from the History of Video Game Music series to share what has been demanding all of my time: animation!  It's been a lot of fun and is something I love to do.  Here are some of my completed animation assignments I've done thus far.

This is called the bouncing ball test.  It looked like a bunny that was hopping at first so I put bunny ears on the guy.  After changing the timing, it looks better.  As the bunny descends and ascends, he stretches.  When we lands, he squashes.  Squash and stretch are one of the principles of animation.

This is your typical walk cycle.  Arms are interesting because you have to break the joint at one point to make the animation smooth.  It's crazy, our eyes don't notice the broken joints in characters because of the illusion of motion.

This one is another walk cycle but it stays in place.  The challenge with this one was making it believable that he was staying in place.  Adding more detail, like muscles was a lot of fun.

This is the quadruped walk cycle.  Quadrupeds can sometimes have two different leg movements.  It can get pretty frustrating.  If I was going to draw an elephant, that would be a different story.

Animation has been a lot of fun.  Seeing my drawings come to life is just amazing.  Drawing all of this has also made me appreciate how much work goes into animated films.  One second of animation can be about an hour of work--and that's just one movement.  Tails, eyes, clothes, and other details is often done after the principle animation is finished.

Hope you enjoy what you've seen here.  I'll be sharing more in the future.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Walking Dead

**Disclaimer: The Walking Dead contains contents not suitable for younger viewers, including gore, adult language and content. This post will have none of those things.***

Like most twenty-somethings today I love zombies. I love their cute dead eyes, the adorable way they shuffle mindlessly, and all the pretty colors their skin turns as it rots off their bodies. With my love of zombies I also have a love for the Walking Dead franchise, evidenced by the fact that I own most of the comics, the video game, and two seasons of the show. With Halloween next week I thought I'd share my fandom for my beloved undead and talk about the critically acclaimed Walking Dead.

As my friendly disclaimer stated above, the Walking Dead is a horror story set in the zombie apocalypse that is chuck full of scary gore and people swearing, but honestly I'm pretty sure if a bishop saw a zombie shambling towards him he'd let loose some sailor language. Let me just get it out of the way that I know this is not a clean franchise, it's not family friendly, and it does nothing to invite the Spirit, but I find it worth talking about anyway because of the caliber of characters put into this thing, as well as the human element stunningly portrayed between the ewey gooey bits.

Where most zombie stories is based solely around the ultra violence, Walking Dead actually focuses on the people trying to survive the horrors, namely Rick Grimes, a small town sheriff with some big responsibilities. After being thrown into a coma before the first guy crawls out of the ground, he wakes up in an abandoned hospital to find everyone dead and the world taken over by zombies. After finding his hat and a clean pair of underpants he sets out to find the only thing worth caring about at that point, his family. After some misadventures involving a horse, a tank and some particularly angry zombies, he manages to find his lost kin. His main goal after that is keeping is wife Lorie and son Carl safe, as well as the ragtag group of survivors they've picked up along the way. He ends up the group's leader and has to make tough decisions about where to stay, who to trust, and how to find food, all while running from the remnants of humanity. To make matters even more complicated, Lorie finds herself pregnant  and with no doctors and on the run from zombies, the fact that the father's identity is a mystery becomes the least of her problems.

There's been an effort in recent years to humanize the monsters, hence vampires are reluctant of drinking human blood and Frankenstein's last incarnation could play a flute, but there really is very little way to humanize zombies any further than they already are, so Walking Dead just humanizes the humans, moving away from the stock characters and into three dimensional people. Despite being the constant hero, Rick is in constant doubt of himself and his decisions, and often he makes the wrong decision just because he has no clue what to do. He's not running around with a chainsaw and winning, he's running around with a little boy and a cowboy hat and trying to keep both out of harm. It's a human struggle story that's incredibly well told, otherwise why would it have a billion comic books and be going into it's third season? Check it out if you're brave enough and it sounds like your thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

8-bit Masochism: Difficult Nintendo Games

Many years ago, when I was young...Ok, it wasn't all that long ago.  I'm really that old.


Anyways, I was introduced to the Nintendo at a very young age of 4...or was it 5?  Either way, I was immediately hooked.  Back then, I thought that Super Mario Bros. 3 was one of the hardest games ever.  Little did I know that I was dead wrong.

I can't remember how we got the game, but soon I was introduced to a game called Battletoads.

Hopefully this doesn't make you weep in agony
The first level of the game was somewhat challenging (we had some issues jumping over an instant death gap).  Still, the first level was enjoyable.  It was made a bit more difficult by the fact that there was friendly fire (although it was good for venting frustration toward my brothers).  The second level was a blast, but also much more difficult.  I mean, how many traps can they put into a game.  Even if we thought that was hard, the third level proved to be downright impossible.

Well, it seemed that way at first.  The third level consisted of a series of platforms over what looked like a giant ball pit from McDonald's, except that you would instantly die when you fell in.  Somehow, this didn't traumatize us the next time we went to a McDonald's with a ball pit.  For the record, I would still play in a ball pit.  To add the difficulty of the stage, the second half was a ... how would I put it?  One of the most difficult gauntlets that I have ever seen in a video game.  It consisted of jumping on a high speed bike, then dodging walls, enemies, and making extremely difficult jumps.  If I had a more extensive vocabulary back then, I'd probably get my mouth washed out with soap.
He is not smiling.  He is screaming in terror
After a year or two, I was finally able to practice the stage enough to solve it, only to discover that the rest of the game was full of crazy similar challenges including dodging whirlpools on an extremely bouncy skateboard thingy and running away from a giant ball of death.

Battletoads had some pretty crazy and over the challenges.  I don't think I've ever finished the game, even when we used Game Genie to jump to the last level.

I'll only speak about one other game that I found to be extremely difficult while growing up, but for entirely different reasons.  Exodus: Ultima.  While Battletoads difficulty was in being able to think fast and react quickly, Exodus: Ultima's difficulty lied in the fact of lack of information and an extremely long grind to finish the game.

Exodus: Ultima is an example of a classic RPG.  A group of four heroes are sent by a king on a quest to save the world from Ultima, the ultimate evil or whatever.  As I first set out in the game, I discovered that the world map was rather large.  To add to my excitement, there were a number of explorable dungeons and strange way gates that would teleport the party across the world.  I had no idea how they worked.

I soon discovered that all this fun had a dark side.  As the characters would level up, more powerful monsters would appear.  At the same time, characters would only receive new hit points at each level.  Essentially, the characters could take more punishment, but there overall ability would not increase at all.  I remember many times feeling frustrated at running into super high powered monsters with only the most basic of spells to use against them.  The dungeons proved to be deadly because enemies of any level could appear, regardless of the characters level.  As an added frustration, it was possible to completely miss attacks by accidentally attacking or firing off a spell in the wrong direction.  to add to the frustration, I had no idea how to actually beat the game.  I guessed it involved finding marks or a horn, or something.

After a few years and the joy of the internet, I was able to find a guide.  Apparently to power up the characters, I had to take gold to a secret alternate dimension (which I had stumbled onto before).  The fact that I could only save in 2 or 3 areas in the game made treks to this alternate dimension even more deadly.  Defeating the game required hours of careful grinding, putting together items scattered throughout the world, and navigating an extremely difficult final area (part of which involved fighting invisible floor panels).

Anyways, I'll spare you any more horror stories about the game.

What was the most difficult game you remember growing up?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Joe's top 10 Disney villains

So I'm not quite sure how Disney villains got attached to Halloween, but they are, I love Disney villains, I love Halloween, so here we go.

10: Yzma  (The Emperor's New Groove)
For me, Yzma is what made the Emperor's New Groove such a surprise hit. Here we have this incredibly old stick woman who is completely bent on killing the emperor, all so that she can rule the kingdom. Despite the fact that she looks like someone left Maggie Smith in a food dehydrator, she is convinced that she is the hottest thing since toast. What's interesting too is that when see does take over, despite the fact that she is "scary beyond all reason", people like her better than the Cuzco, which shows that Cuzco was so full of himself that his people would actually prefer a mummified evil sorceress with a 20 year old man/boy to him.I know they're are plenty of scarier villains, but none are quite as funny as the bumbling ineptness of this would-be usurper to the throne.

9: Hades (Hercules)
I know Disney villains have done some messed up things, but Hades is definitely one of the worst. He sends his minions to kidnap a baby, force feed it poison, then kill the poor thing by the side of a road. Later, he makes a woman who sold her soul to him try and seduce Hercules in order to find his weakness, and then uses her as bait when Hercules falls in love with her. He's a maniacal god of the underworld with a short temper with the goal to conquer Mount Olympus, definitely a formidable enemy.

8: Mother Gothel (Tangled)
I bet you didn't even know she had a name. Like Yzma, this chick is obsessed with how she looks, so much so that when the magic flower she was using to keep young ended up turning into a cute little baby princess, she did what any reasonable person would do: Kidnap the child and lock her in a tower for the rest of her life. What I love about this character is that she seems to actually love Repunzel in some way, even if it's just for her magic hair. She takes good care of Repunzel, minus the whole prisoner thing. Repunzel even loves her back until she finds out who she really is and shows her true colors. In the end though she's a selfish and vein monster, and get's just what she deserves in the end.

7: The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Now for a classic from the original animated Alice in Wonderland. Ruling over a mad world is the evil and crazy Queen of Hearts. She's so fickle she'll kill her servants for changing her mind about an order she herself gave them. She plays croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs and her favorite form of entertainment is a good beheading. Combined with her hairline trigger she's not the most stable political leader, though they're have been worse.

6: The Shadow Man (The Frog Princess)
Here's a dark character: after selling his soul to dark forces for magic, he needs some good deals to get out of hawk with the forces of the netherworld. His magic is some of the darkest Disney has ever shown, and his villain song is one of the best in the company. For me his lowest point is when he steps on the little hick firefly and kills him. It's one thing when a villain tries to take out the hero, but when he starts taking out comic relief characters you know he's serious.

5: Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
What can you really say about a woman who happily enslaves her stepdaughter for no adequately explained reason? With this type of behavior it should be no surprised she named her cat Lucifer. My favorite part about this villain is that she doesn't have a whole lot of good one-liners, but she has the perfect sneer with her quiet, proper little laugh. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities, she's just a cold hearted irredeemable woman who wants nothing more than to break one person's dreams.

4: Oogy Boogy (Nightmare before Christmas)
As I've stated before, I love Halloween. What I may not have stated is that I cannot stand Christmas. The fact that this film features a song by the Boogey Man about how he's going to torture and eat Santa fills my little black heart with glee. I love how in a town completely devoted to the celebration of werewolves, skeletons, and vampires, the guy who really freaks people out is a giant burlap bag full of bugs. Like most of the other villains I also love his song, it's catchy, groovy and just fun.

3: Jafar (Aladdin)
If you want to talk about dangerous and evil, let's talk about Jafar. The cliche'd evil vizier, Jafar takes the role to a whole new level. From manipulating the Sultan to trying to murder Aladdin, they'res just no low too deep for this "cowardly snake". I know most of Disney's sequels are abysmal, but I loved Return of Jafar. Jafar as a genie is even more terrifying then him as a sorcerer, and I love that he's still doing what he did before, sewing seeds of discord from behind the scenes until the big reveal at the end. He's an awesome character, with more than enough scary to handle two movies.

2: Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
As far as villains go, Gaston is an interesting study. I heard another internet blogger say that in most other Disney movies he may've been the hero, but here he's the bad guy. He's a self-absorbed manipulative jerk who will take what he wants no matter what. What's interesting too is that I'm never sure if the reason he's going after the Beast was because it would be the ultimate hunt or because Belle was in love with him, or a combination of the two. I think either way is interesting, one because he's so absolutely jealous and the other because he's so absolutely ignorant.

1: Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty, Kingdom Hearts)
I have to admit, as much as I love Sleeping Beauty (A friend once said the movie was about Maleficent and everyone else was just extras) to me she really comes alive in Kingdom Hearts. In the game she rallies a cabal of villains in order to control the Heartless and systematically conquer all the worlds. I don't even really know why she was doing it, either she was trying to rule the universe or she was just doing it for kicks, but I honestly don't care. I also love how she keeps talking about how someone needs to be able to control darkness inside and that's why the other villains keep failing and she keeps winning. She even corrupts Riku, one of the main characters, and turns him into a little minion. It's a really dark move, and I absolutely love it. Maleficent  queen of the bad guys.

I want to give special honor to some that just didn't quite make the list but whom I still love. Let me know if your favorite didn't make either list.
Syndrome (The Incredibles)
Scar (Lion King)
Ursula (Little Mermaid)
Cruella DeVille (101 Dalmations)
Captain Gantu (Lilo and Stitch)
Wicked Queen (Snow White)
Judge Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The History of Video Game Music: PlayStation Chorale

Welcome to another post in my History of Video Game Music series.  Today I talk about the music that came with the Playstation console.  A lot of fun stuff to listen to.  Today's post is a little short because there's a lot to cover.  I'll be covering the Nintendo 64 and rhythm games next week.  Last week we talked about the Remix Renaissance and cultural movement happening on the glorious interwebs.  We are now going to back track a little bit in history back to the mid to late 90s.

Voices on the PlayStation

Sony made a splash in the home game console market when they released the PlayStation in 1994.  Originally the Play Station was going to be an add on for the SNES to play CD-Rom games.  After a lengthy bureaucratic mess, Sony decided to make the idea a stand alone product and made the "Play Station" the "PlayStation" thereby cutting off Nintendo's legal right of involvement.

The CD format increased storage formats that appealed to a lot of developers such as Squaresoft and Enix.  (Which is now one company called Square Enix.)  This meant more room for higher quality graphics and higher quality music.

Here's the thing, a lot of developers still used synths instead of recording actual instruments.  (That did come later though!)  That said, these were some high quality synths and it did open up some other new possibilities: voices and singing.

When Nobuo Uematsu worked on Final Fantasy VII he decided to create a very special theme for the video game's main bad guy, Sephiroth.  Sephiroth had the long silver hair, insane teal eyes, and impossibly long sword.  So bad and so cool.  So what does Nobuo do?  He gives the guy his own personal choir and calls the song "One Winged Angel."
What?!  Video game music has human voices now?!  This marked a transition in the storytelling aspect of video games.  Now they were becoming more like movies--only a movie you interacted with.

Nobuo used a choir again in Final Fantasy VIII.  I actually like this one better then One Winged Angel.  Just to give you an idea of how influential a song from a video game can be, this song was played during the women's synchronized swimming in Athens in the 2004 Summer Olympics.  

Nobuo used singing in songs for future games as well.  I can't say I'm a fan of all of them.  Some of them sound pretty sappy or cheesy.  But others are quite nice.  Here's a cheesy one called "Eyes on Me."
*Yawn.*  Yeah, I'm a bigger fan of the choral arrangements.  Still, I appreciate Nobuo stretching himself by trying different genres out.  It shows his talent as an artist and composer.

The Cinematic Experience

As I mentioned before games at this time had a stronger cinematic experience then before.  The talent behind this hasn't really been recognized by the general public until today.  (More on that in the final post.)  Just to help give you an idea of this, here's a clip from Chrono Cross--music composed by Yasunori Mitsuda.

This cinematic experience, in some ways, caused developers to shoot themselves in the foot.  Take the game Chrono Cross for example.  The Marketing suggested a different game then what most consumers expected.  They were thinking of something closer to Uncharted then the RPG that they bought.  Because of this, a lot of copies of Chrono Cross were returned and it hurt the sales big time.  It was a bit of a shame too because some of the best work Yasunori Mitsuda has ever done has been with Chrono Cross.

There is a lot more music here from the PlayStation that isn't shared here.  A LOT more.  I may revisit this again in a future post.  Until then, enjoy the music and do some exploring on your own.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Atari: A Classic

Something you may not know about the Mormon Geeks is that I'm almost 3 1/2 years older than the 2nd oldest geek, 4 years older than the 3rd, and over 5 years older than the youngest of us. If you did....well...meh...don't care.

Does this matter much? No, not really, other than I believe I'm the only one that ever had a house with an Atari in it. 

 "What's that?" you may ask. Well, let me show you.

This is what an Atari 2600 looks like. I believe we had an Atari 2600 and an Atari 5200. As a really young kid, this was an awesome device. I mean, it hooked up to the television and you could sit about 4 feet away and hold that controller with that button on the side. I loved it!

Today, I wanna share some of my favorite classic games. 

Ah, Pong. All you have to do is play pseudo-tennis with someone and get the ball past their paddle/goalie. Such a beautiful game. Look at those graphics! Let's count them. There's the 2 scores, the 2 paddles, the 1 ball, and I'm gonna count the dash line as 1 graphic. All in all...there are 6 things on this screen. Just beyond awesome.

Asteroids here is a little more hi-tech than Pong. You've got some poorly drawn circles that float around the screen and a Star Trek Insignia-shaped spaceship that moves around pinging the asteroids to bits all while avoiding the debris of the mess it's making.

Let's add some color with Space Invaders. Now, this could be the 5200 series game, but still. Space Invaders added some complexity to the game. You're a little LDS-temple-looking guy who goes around shooting amoeba-looking space aliens while using arches as cover. But, to be honest, I really loved Space Invaders as a kid. It wasn't an easy game to play. There was a lot to avoid, especially when the little invaders shot back.

Now, here's everyone's favorite little guy. Before Pikachu, before Kirby, there was Pac-Man. (I used a cartridge pic here because I really remember owning one that looked like that.) To this day, Pac-Man seems to be a well-beloved gaming character, I know he is to me. Seriously, I think there need to be more Pac-Man games today. Eating little dots (being a larger one) while being chased by ghosts and then eating your fruits gives you a bonus while eating the larger dots lets you eat those ghosts. Awesome. 

Pitfall is a game I'm not sure who recalls it and if a newer incarnation has been created re-popularizing the game somewhat. Regardless, I remember seeing Pitfall as the most complex game of the day. Probably wrong, but still, it was the most complex one in the house. My oldest brother got it for his birthday and my other brother and I played it a lot. You went across the screen avoiding, obviously, pitfalls and collecting gold and silver and other things along the line. You actually had to jump and grab on to the vine to swing across the screen. Each screen brought you something different and the game never ended (much like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Asteroids). 

I miss the Atari and it's simple games some day. Give me Halo or WoW and confuse the crap out of me. But give me Pac-Man and Space Invaders and I'm a happy camper. 

What's the oldest video game you remember playing when it was new on the market? Mine's actually Pitfall.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are schedule.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

World Of Warcraft-A Beginners Journey

It won’t surprise anyone when I say that the people who originally got me into gaming were my parents. My dad introduced me to the idea of PC gaming, he being a flight simulator engineer at the time, and a game we all loved gathering around his office and playing was Warcraft. The game was one of the first Real Time Strategy games ever and I loved it. As soon as Warcraft 2 came out and it’s little expansion pack we bought it up immediately. Unfortunately when Warcraft 3 hit shelves my computer at the time was the unfortunate victim of a power surge and burst into flames.
No that wasn’t a joke.
So my adventures in Azaroth had to end there. Since then though, Blizzard has come out with World of Warcraft, one of the most popular games of all time and with each expansion I’m tempted a little more to hop in and see what happened to my childhood playground. With the latest piece, Mists of Pandaria throwing its enticing trailers all over the internet, I was finally convinced to pick up the 20 level free pack and try the thing out for myself.
Here we go.
Before I even loaded the game, I announced on Facebook that I’d be hitting the Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Game soon, and the responses I got were interesting to say the least. I have of course heard the same rumors of people being lost in the game; I myself once had a friend who forgot to eat for several weeks during play, so I knew the risks. It was actually this phenomenon of the game being compared to drugs that added to my curiosity. I’ve played hundreds of games in my time, and while some were fun, I don’t know any that I would leave my job over, certainly not forget to bathe or eat.
The download was simple, only took 5 hours to get the thing on my computer, and about an hour in a little alert popped up on my screen saying that even though the game was still downloading it was apparently downloaded enough that I could play it. What? If the game is downloaded enough to play it then what else is it downloading? Does this thing come with Microsoft Time-Turner 4.0 or something? And what is so great about this game that people can’t even wait for the stupid thing to properly load before having to jump into the action? My curiosity was peaking already, but I had dinner plans so I just let the thing sit.
I ended up with a Blood Elf Hunter named Jexo that had blue hair and big floppy ears. The first twenty minutes of play were interesting, since I had to keep switching back to my desktop to ask a friend how to control my character. There is absolutely no tutorial level whatsoever, like they just assume that their game is so popular that humans have evolved a natural sense of how to play it and can work their dumb game from birth.  
Once I stopped slamming into things I found myself adventuring in the Blood Elves base, a city called Silvermoon. Along with skipping a tutorial WOW skips story and context as well, so I had no idea who I was or why I was there. The NPCs (Non-player characters for the non-gamer folk, meaning characters built into the game) I talked to kept telling me to be careful of magic and how their race was once addicted to magic but now wasn’t. It was like if Lord Elrond was hosting an AA meeting. I found their words of warning hypocritical, considering it was mages, warlocks, and guys with pointy hats who was telling me all this straight faced. When I saw the towers with giant floating crystals I just stopped listening to them and went on my way.

Adventures in WOW are pretty simple: You walk up to a guy with a giant glowing exclamation point sticking out of his head and he tells you to go kill X amount of whatever monster you’ve killed on the way to get to him. Sometimes you have to bring back items that the creatures only drop when you’re looking for such items, but that doesn’t make any sense since you don’t always need them, and the quest givers seem keen on taking your word for it if you don’t have to bring back purple hats from the Purple Death Penguins inhabiting the area. Occasionally you get something like “Hop in this giant Steampunk robot suit we ripped off from Alien and go get firewood”, which can be fun asides, but most of your game is hunting whatever wildlife is handy.
Speaking of hunting, I said I chose the Hunter class earlier. Later I chose to specialize in pet training, which essentially turned the game into World of Pokemon collecting. I started out with some cross between a sting ray and a dragon, but his big obnoxious wings kept blocking my view of the enemy, so I swapped him for a velociraptor. My main battle strategy from that point on was to point at an enemy and my dinosaur would attack it, while I stood in the back and pecked at the thing with my gun. At one point I started wondering if my pet dinosaur was helping me on my epic journey or if I was tagging along behind it.
It didn't take me too long to reach level twenty, and I had been having enough fun with the game that I bought the full version (That and they offered it to me for half off). Overall it’s a fun game, but I’m still waiting for the boom. I just can’t see why so many people are addicted to this game. Some say its social interaction but in my entire time playing I only talked to two people in game and both of them just wanted me to join their guilds. At one point I started getting guild invitations from random strangers that I’d decline every time because the last thing I need is to join the “Pink Ponies” guild and have government agents question me about my connections to the KKK or something.
If anyone plays, come find me and we’ll play. J

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The History of Video Game Music: The Remix Renaissance

Hey there Ladies and Gents!  Another week and another look into the History of Video Game Music.  Before I begin, let's review what's been covered thus far.  We had the release of 8 and 16 bit video games to both Japan and the United States.  Like I said before, the songs from these video games had a lasting impression on a lot of people.  Now I'm going to tell you how.

We're going to jump a few years ahead into the future.  We'll come back to the days of the Playstation and Nintendo 64 in a later post.  Today, is all about the Remix Renaissance.

The Year 1999

DJ Pretzel at a conference.
In the year 1999, the U.S. and Japan were both enjoying the Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Dreamcast.  This was also a time when the internet had become available for personal use across the United States.  With this came downloading of music and also emulated games.

David W. Lloyd was an enthusiast who liked emulated games.  He celebrated this in an online comic he created.  Later on, he started OverClocked ReMix, a website where amateur remixers and musicians would arrange and remix their own covers of songs from Video Games.  Hundreds of these artists would submit music, djpretzel (David Lloyd's alias), would review the submissions before releasing them to the website.  When that became too much work he collaborated with a board to review submissions.
Not all submissions are from retro games.

This is where I got all of the music I started listening to.  It was free.  A lot of it was techno.  But a lot of it was also nothing short of brilliant.  And there was some pretty great techno in there too.  OverClocked Remix essentially became a community not unlike a geek version of Vienna online.  All of this creative work was going on and being shared among other geeks.  It was made because they loved games and they loved the music.  It was made by nerds for nerds.

The Rise and Fall of KFSS Studios

Album Art of  the Gold Version
DJ Pretzel wasn't the only innovator who had an appreciation for video game music.  Stephen Kennedy  created KFSS studios.  One of the works of KFSS Studios were a few albums that featured arranged video game music.  Kennedy, a big fan of Nobuo Uematsu, created Project Majestic Mix.  He invited remixers from OverClocked Remix to contribute covers of Uematsu's music and sold 3000 silver (standard) versions and 1500 gold (deluxe) versions.

Kennedy later organized a follow up album called Squaredance.  (Squaresoft + Dance but then it's like Squaredancing.  Clever, right?)  Squaredance was used a lot more synths and was closer to Euro Club music.  I actually got my high school to play some of the songs from this album for some of the dances.

Unfortunately, the creative output at KFSS Studios eventually came to an end.  In 2008 Stephen and his wife, Jana, closed the doors to KFSS studios because they couldn't put the time and energy into it anymore.  Still, we got some great music from it.
One of my favorite songs from the game and from this album.

Remixed Albums

The original of this song was a hit among gamers.  This arrangement does it justice.
OverClocked Remix took a page from KFSS studios and started creating their own albums too.  No, they weren't packaged and sold.  But they've all been fully available online with artwork too.  Remixers would come together and take the whole soundtrack to a retro game and completely redo it.  From this idea, we've gotten Relics of the Chozo, a cover of the Super Metroid Soundtrack and Kong in Concert, a cover of the Donkey Kong County soundtrack.
Remember this song from last week's post?  Now with lyrics!

All of this creative work has all been inspired by those bleeps and bloops.  Whole albums and all of this impressive music all came from some talented guys working with limited audio resources.  Their work inspired more creative work and a whole community.

The coolest thing about this is how it's come full circle.  In 2008, Capcom came to the OCRemix community to have them remix the soundtrack of their digital high definition release of Super Street Fighter II for the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3.  A professional gaming company came to the fans to contribute to a game they were working on.  How cool is that?
"Working with the OC ReMix crew has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working on SF HD Remix, truly making the game a community effort. These guys are part of the meat and potatoes of what makes the Street Fighter fanbase such a lasting part of the gaming industry. Upon contacting them, they were able to turn out product on short notice, with high quality, and were very open to any changes that we required. They worked above and beyond our expectations and I'm hoping that we'll be able to work together in the future." – Rey Jimenez, Associate Producer, Capcom Entertainment
This wasn't the only way things came full circle for OverClocked Remix.  When Jeremy Soule found out about this little community he submitted one of his own covers of a popular Nobuo Uematsu song!  This would be like John Williams submitting his own version of a Howard Shore song to an online community of aspiring movie composers.

If this is good stuff to you, I recommend perusing the websites and see what they have available.  There are a ton of gems in here of some good music.  The best part is, it won't cost you a cent!

Still more to come in the history of video game music!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


This is my favorite time of the year! Not for the leaves, not the chill in the air, just one thing... HALLOWEEN! I love Halloween more than any holiday ever. I become a little kid this time of year, just waiting for that magical night where witches, zombies and vampires come to life.

The fact is Halloween is simple. There's no confusing mash-up of Pagan/Christian ideologies, no social obligations forcing anyone to make massive trips across the earth to see people they wouldn't talk to the rest of the year. It can be as cheap or as expensive as anyone wants. A white sheet with some holes in it can be just as good a costume as a $600 dress. I also love how grown up or little kid Halloween can be. Dress up as Mario or paint a doll and make it look like a zombie is bursting from your chest, both work. Tell me a holiday that's as versatile as that?
Yah I thought so.

So with midterms crawling all over me, here's a few of my favorite Halloween scenes. Don't worry, like everything else on Mormongeeks, they're family appropriate.

This is Halloween- The Nightmare Before Christmas

Halloween- The Worst Witch

P.S. I'm going to be the Mad Hatter this year, what are you going to be?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guild Wars 2 How Do I love Thee? O Let Me Count The Ways

One of my fellow bloggers sent me an instant message the other day, inquiring how long I had been playing Guild Wars 2.  When I replied, he responded, wondering why I hadn't put up a blog post about it.

I then realized that I was having a lot of fun with the game, and hadn't put up a raving fanboy post about it.

So here it is, the many ways that I love Guild Wars 2.

Way #1: The Game Inspires Cooperation

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the game is that it inspires players to work together than that compete.  It does this in a whole number of ways.

First off, any player that makes a significant contribution to defeating an opponent will get a reward for it: both experience and a chance at getting loot.  As opposed to many other online multiple player games where the first 'party' or player that hits an opponent will get the credit for defeating it.

Second off, parties seem to naturally happen in the game.  Often times, I would be wondering through an area and I would stumble upon a rather difficult opponent to face (the game has a number of 'veteran' and 'champion' opponents that can't be defeated one on one very easily).  Partway through struggling to defeat the opponent, one or more other players would join in to help me defeat the opponent.  Many times, I find myself also rushing to the aid of other players to help them defeat the monsters.

Third: the game has a number of dynamic events.  Sometimes, a merchant needs to be escorted across a dangerous patch of land.  Other times, a city gets under siege by invading mole people.  Most often, the event can not be done by a single player.  A single player can begin the event and the game notifies nearby players about the event.  This often results in a group of players converging on an area to fight and struggle together toward a common goal.  It inspires a sense of camaraderie with random strangers.

Fourth: shared crafting nodes!  I can't say how many times in World of Warcraft I've been frustrated by another player arriving and 'stealing' a bit of ore or an herb that I was intending on harvesting.  Guild Wars 2 does away with this entirely!  Each player has their own 'copy' of the same node.  It often leads to hilarious moments when multiple players are mining the bit of ore or other players chopping down 'invisible' trees.

Way #2: Crafting is Fun

I've played a few different online games where items could be crafted.  Most of the time, it involved going to a bank, grabbing crafting items, then going to where crafting could be done or my inventory getting clogged up by crafting ingredients.

In Guild Wars 2, the bank has special slots specifically for common crafting items.  These items can be directly deposited into the bank from ANYWHERE!  That seriously blew my mind because it is so incredibly different from other online games.  As an added nice tough, items can be crafted directly from the bank at crafting stations.  No more running to and from banks in order to gather up that random bit of copper ore or the head of lettuce that I need to make something.

Finally, crafting has a built in 'discovery' system for different recipes.  For things like making weapons and armor, the system is very simple.  However for cooking, it is very entertaining (and often mouthwatering).  For instance, a ball of dough and cherry pie filling could be combined to make a cherry pie.  The same ball of dough could be used to make a loaf of bread or even something else entirely!  The craft of cooking in the game makes a variety of very tasty treats ranging from grilled mushrooms, to rosemary meat dinners, to lemon bars.  Yum!

Way #3: Combat is a Blast

Having played a lot of World of Warcraft, I was blown away by how different combat in Guild Wars 2 was. In World of Warcraft (and other online roleplaying games), the combat system seemed to devolve into standing in place and hitting things till they died.  Having played a spell caster in World of Warcraft, I was used to standing in place to cast spells.  With Guild Wars 2, I was surprised that I could move and use abilities at the same time! (Wow what a concept!)  In fact, the game encourages players to move around.  Standing and 'taking it to the face' usually results in a player getting downed rather quickly. (Note I said 'downed' and not 'dead').  Every class in the game from the scholarly Elementalist to the plate-wearing Warrior has the ability to dodge and move around in combat.   Against computer controlled monsters, it is quite interesting.  Against other players, being about to outmaneuver the other player is a must!

Tazz busy burning a grawl.  His hand is on fire!

Rainhagelada chopping down a tree while watching something die

Way #4: Underwater Combat
Allow me to rave about something entirely awesome in Guild Wars 2: underwater combat.

Yes, you heard me right.  Fighting underwater!
Rainhagelada shooting superheated exploding rocks at people during an underwater event

First off, the every character in the game can breath indefinitely underwater (using a 'aqua breather').  Personally, I am quite terrified of drowning and deep water.  In games where I had a limit amount of breath, I would feel real panic when my character started to get even remotely close to drowning.  It was nice that Guild Wars 2 removed that.

Second: different skills!  Underwater, the character use different weapons and skill than they do for dry land combat.  Being forced to use different skills and techniques makes underwater combat a highly unique and interesting experience.

Way #5: Dying Isn't All That Bad

Remember earlier when I said 'downed' and not 'dead'?  In Guild Wars 2, when a character runs out of healthy, they initially become 'downed'.  In a downed state, they have access to four skills that they can use to 'fight for their life'.  One skill is basically a call for aid to nearby characters that heals yourself.  The others can vary from attacks to various escapes.  While in this downed state if a character manages to defeat an opponent, they immediate 'rally' and are back on their feet for more action.  However if they run out of health in a down state, they are defeated.

Unfortunately, falling from a great height means immediate defeat
In other games, running out of health means immediate death.  If someone who can resurrect you isn't nearby, then you are out of luck.  In World of Warcraft, this meant a lengthy and annoying run back to your body.  However, in Guild Wars 2, any character can revive any other character.  If they are simply downed, the process is rather rapid.  If they are defeated, it takes a bit longer.  The game even allowed multiple people to assist in the process!  As an added benefit, any players that helps to revive another player or NPC gets a small bit of experience for helping out.  How's that for encouraging people to work together?

Santa Claus reviving my character
Oh, what if no players are nearby?  A defeated player can always revive at full health and fighting capacity at a nearby Waypoint.

Way #6: Fast Travel

In Guild Wars 2, there are no mounts, nor are their 'flight points' between different places in the world.  Instead, the game uses a series of Asuran gates and waypoints to facilitate fast travel between locations.  A particular section of a map could have well over fifteen waypoints, which makes travel through the zone quick and easy.  All the major cities in the game are linked by Asuran gates, which allow for immediate, and free, travel between all the major cities.  Waypoints cost a small fee to use (unless used from within a major city to another location in that major city).  No need for horses or giant flying beats here!  Although I do miss my bronze drake from World of Warcraft.

Way #7: Downleveling

Hypothetically speaking: let's say Mormon Geek's blogger Joe decides to get a copy of Guild Wars 2 and start a level 1 character.  He finishes the introduction area/story (which is a total blast) and wants me to come run around a play with him.  I have a level 80 character (max level).  In World of Warcraft, if I came and helped him kill things, he would get reduced experience and I would probably get a little bored of looking at things and killing them.  In Guild Wars 2, however, my stats would get reduced to that of a more level appropriate character and we would both get similar experience for romping around and causing chaos with the low level monsters.  Fun for everyone!

 Way #8: All Around Fun

At the end of one of the Beta Weekends, the developers took all of the players and transported them into a strange 'Hunger Games' sort of game.  Each team had to eliminate the others while slowly dying from hunger.  At the end, they spawned in a number of boxes that would randomly transform characters, turn them temporary into stone, or let them shoot of fireworks, etc.  It was great fun!  Sadly, I haven't seen them do a big event like that since the game started.
Oh, what is this?

A present?  For me?!

I'm a pig!
I'm little!
 In Guild Wars 2, you can say good bye to the 'fetch me 50 vials of cow spit' or the 'kill 10 rats' quests.  Instead, Guild Wars 2 has 'renown hearts'.  You go into an area, help out the people there, and get recognized for your contribution.  For instance, one of the early human quests invovles helping on the farm.  I could help by watering the crops OR feeding cows OR killing giant grubs OR fighting off bandits OR I could do a combination of them all.  For once, a game that gives players options on how they want to do things!  I tend to try to do everything I can to help out.  Also, doing renown hearts often leads characters to the dynamic events (as I mentioned earlier).

For this renown heart, I had to test fire a canon at targets.  Difficult, but fun!
 The game also has a number of jumping puzzles.  We did one where a ghostly pirate captain was trying to get his revenge on the living.  I ran this one with the awesome online community called Mormon Battalion (website here, trust me, they are great people!).  We had a blast with this jumping puzzle.  The game also has a number of others ones to perform.  One that I did involved carefully dodging winds while being miles above the ground. All of them were great fun! (Well, my tendency to fall to my death on accident often leads to even more amusement).

Entrance to the pirate's revenge
I somehow managed to catch the lip of the hole and I died in the water.
We meet the pirate captain, who begins leading us through a maze

We made it!

Apparently the First Mate died

Spooky underground jumping puzzles!
Moments before I had to find out if this drop would kill me

We made it! Rainhagelada decided to do a victory dance on the throne

Still rockin' out, Gangnum style might want to stop dancing and pose


Perfect shot!
 The game also gives each character a 'Personal Story' that follows the characters development   Along the way, there are difficult decisions and often times deaths of other characters in the story.  The personal story made me feel like I had an actual impact on the game world, rather than being 'just another hero'.

Rainhagelada, staring into the distance rather than fighting zombies

Personal story battle with zombie!

Zombies use nasty poison gas

Way #9: The Game is Pretty

Pictures say a thousand words:
Underwater shot
From the surface
Rainhagelada enjoying the view! (Before I accidentally send her plummeting to her death)
Tazz lounging
Nice doorway!
Random Funny Glitches

For your enjoyment!  Screenshots of some random glitches I found while playing.
He was really happy about leveling, that Mishalan ran around like this for awhile
Rainhagelada is that awesome
From inside Kydd's head

See above caption
Taz somehow glitched through the floor, and ended up in a giant underwater lake
Also, in closing, a YouTube video comparing an actual dancer, the human dance in Guild Wars 2, and the new panda dance in World of Warcraft.  Enjoy!

Feel free to leave comments, post, share!  We might also accept gripes and complaints about how you are missing out on Guild Wars 2!

P.S. Looks like I forgot a few things!

Dye system: each character comes with a set of dyes that they can use to dye their armor.  Throughout the game, they can get unidentified dyes that they can identify to unlock new dyes (or sell) to use on their armor. The best part: this can be done any time and as many times as a player wants.

World vs World vs World: The opportunity to step into massive player vs player battles.  It's not simply running around and killing the other teams, but an attempt to seize and maintain towers, keeps, and strongholds.  There's nothing more exciting than getting in a battle with 30 people on each side firing off attacks on each other.

P.S.S (added 2Oct2012 around 10:30 AM)

A friend of mine reminded me of another hilarious glitch that we found in the game during one of the beta weekend events.  After helping protect an NPCs famous hotsauce, we discvered you could taste it.  I decided to try tasty it again, after all, it boasted that it was really hot.  I was amused by the fact my character was knocked back and lit on fire.  I then decided to try if I could die from eating the hot sauce.  After repeatedly rushing and partaking, my character finally succumbed to the flames.  Then I discovered a hilarious glitch.  See these screenshots:

Tazz is now a floating ball of fire

As you can see, my character is lit on fire, and curled up in a ball.  I found that by repeatedly partaking of the hot sauce, that the characters would levitate while being lit on fire.  Eventually, the characters will succumb to the flames.  We decided to have a little bit more fun with it.
Another character had something funny to say about our newly found amusement

Tazz and his friend Lohrin, despite being downed, reaching desperately for more of the hot sauce
Tazz finally succumbs to the powerful hot sauce
Needless to say, this had me laughing for about 15 minutes.  That's pretty impressive.