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Of Carbon and Silicon
Thursday, 17 February 2011
What's in a name? Not much.

I recently found myself in the waiting room at the doctor's office - for what, who cares, right? Anyway, in the time I sat there, several nurses came into the room and announced the names of the next patients. Certainly, there were a few of your standard names, your Jasons and your Susans and your Brads... but, three stood out from the rest. Names I had never heard before as names. There was a Jaden (or Jaeden, Jaedan, or Jaiodhan, whichever), a Scout, and a Genesis present in the waiting room. Naturally, Jaden, Scout, and Genesis were all... guess what? Babies. And their mothers were all... guess what? Teenagers.

Some time ago, I spoke of the portmanteau. Word synthesis. The fusion of two or more words. About how prolific the portmanteau is in the realm of naming things.
This is similar in the respect that it's rather grating on the nerves.

There's a whole generation of people with names that mean nothing, at least not as names. As general words, yes. However, these new age names have no precedents in modern society.
Genesis, obviously, refers to life from lifelessness (thank you, Captain Spock). In the most well-known sense, it is the first book of the Bible, where God makes everything. A jolly nice story, but really, not a very good name.
Scout has a great many meanings. Perhaps Scout's mother was reading To Kill a Mockingbird in literature class and missed the fact that "Scout" was, in fact, the character's nick-name.
Jaden is probably the most annoying name I've ever come across. Not only is it largely unisex, it's the portmanteau syndrome: tack a random letter onto the Gaelic name, Aiden (or Aiodhan in the original Gaelic). I've seen this in many different forms: Jaden, Braeden, Kaidan (which is actually Japanese for "conference"), Raidan... what's next, I ask you. "Xaiodhan"? Let's see a schoolteacher make head or tail of that!
Still, all of that pales in comparison to the hundreds of names which were manufactured by corrupting a different name. Oddly, most of these are only used by people of African descent. Shavonn (originally the Gaelic name, Siobhan), Nevaeh ("heaven" spelt backwards), Chanté (French for "sung").  There's also the arbitrary placement of apostrophes in a name: D'Ijon, Sha'Niqua, Des'ree. Perhaps it's a western variant of the Japanese trend, where the first son is given the name "Ichiro" (which, itself, means "son") -- Ken'Ichiro and Jun'Ichiro being the most common.
But, really, the worst name anyone could possibly give their daughter would be "Jazmyn" (a corruption of "Jasmine", which itself is an Anglicised variant of the Arabic "Yasmin"). Or, even "Jazzmyn"... heaven forbid you should spell it, "Jaz'Myn". Who likes Zs enough to do that?

Of course, this has dealt largely with female names. There are a fair few unfortunate masculine ones as well.
For some inexplicable reason, most contrived male names have Gaelic or Old English roots. "Colton", "Holden", "Graeson", "Rylan", and "Slade" come most quickly to mind. But, there are also several names which are totally contrived, either through word synthesis or just plain old Simlish. Examples of synthesis would be "Jaron" and "Kyler". Examples of plain old Simlish would be "Goshler" and "Kant". Who would just make something up?
"What's the name for the birth certificate, then?" the doctor asks.
"Er, um..." Mike turns to Sarah, holding little baby 'X', "Well, we really couldn't find any really good names in the three months shy of a year that we had, so, um..." he sees a medical word on an IV pouch lying on a counter, "er... 'Morph'... 'Morph Feen Smith'."

I wouldn't be surprised if two fans got together and actually named their son "Emtarkanderundersgunderson".

What's wrong with "Kieran"? Or, "Shaun"?
Blimey! Get a clue, people!

Posted by theniftyperson at 11:35 PM CST
Sunday, 6 February 2011
TMRB: American Football Championship Game

Right at the outset, I'll say this -- I don't care about football. American football, especially. I mean, how can you even call the sport played by the Green Bay Packers "football"? The players' feet don't connect with the "ball" (if you can call a non-spherical object that name) on a regular basis.

Still, regardless of my thoughts on the matter, an event known as the "Super Bowl" took place this evening, which despite my general indifference toward organised sport, is a very good day for The Mind's Rubbish Bin.
Millions of people across the United States bought unnecessarily large televisions in anticipation of this occurrence, as well as purchasing in bulk soft-drinks, beer, crisps, and pizza (the backbone of America, yes?). The show was viewed by tens of millions of people, many of whom do not regularly watch network television. Collectively, advertisers spent enough money on the filming and airing of commercial announcements to give everyone in the world $3.47. The energy expended in shouting various phrases, figures of speech, and epithets at television screens (LCD and CRT) could have powered a small city for a day and a half.
Now, traditionally, the Monday immediately following the airing of the Super Bowl is the least productive day for American business. 25% of the entire workforce will not bother to show up for work -- of those who do, a further 15% will do very little, if any actual work. This equals a 40% decline in productivity on post-Super Bowl Monday, which is less than any other individual day of the year.

I think that's all...

Posted by theniftyperson at 10:00 PM CST
Monday, 24 January 2011
And now, for something completely the same...

Yes, it's GoldenEye Wii again. Though, perhaps not exclusively... I may end up on a completely different subject by the end of this entry.

So, I'm putting the finishing touches on my updated GoldenEye 64 page. In order to make the proper impression, I've decided to put in a few GameShark codes for those who still have one, or who use software emulation. I was rather surprised to find that there are so few GameShark sites left! Really, you only have maybe two reputable websites featuring GameShark codes anymore: GameFAQs and some bloke's Angelfire GoldenEye fansite. All the rest of them went down with the good ship, H.M.S. Fifth Generation.
Then, when you get right down to it, the very same codes can be found on both websites -- some idiot's list of a thousand glitch-codes with duplication, indecipherable descriptions ("Even worse What-The-Hell-Is-Going-On? Mode") and 3rd-grade spelling mistakes ("Sacurity camras ca'nt see you") written hastily in 1998. I tested a random selection of five of these codes on my emulator ('cos you can't brick software) -- one did what it advertised ("Metal hands"), two did nothing at all, one was clearly mislabelled ("Use N64 controler as a weopon" [sic] performed the function of "OneHit Kill" [sic]), and the other crashed the ROM. I pity the poor 10-year-old souls who bricked their N64s with those codes back in the '90s.
The thing is, there are demonstrations on YouTube of GoldenEye codes that change Bond's outfit (something I've been trying to do since '97), make all weapons gold or silver, let the user combine weapon functions to make an RCP90 fire knives or a DD44 shoot lasers, and make bullet impact-flashes red. I've seen codes in use that arm Scientists with Golden Guns, Facility guards with AR33s, and Ourumov with a grenade launcher. And, guess what? You can't find these codes anywhere on the Internet! And why? Because their creators are too snobbish and miserly to provide them! The worst of the worst of the GoldenEye hacking set is a person known as "SubDrag". Typically, this person manages to get GoldenEye to do something really nifty, but doesn't bother telling the non-hackers how to do it.

That's the second thing (and the first mention of GoldenEye Wii since the first sentence)...
After I gave up my futile quest to find worthwhile GoldenEye 64 GameShark codes, I decided to look up cheat passwords for GoldenEye Wii. Evidently, there are only three in the entire game and all of them have to do with multiplayer mode. Otherwise, there's loads of them and they're being closely guarded by a programmer at Eurocom, who, in all likelihood, will take them to the grave.
I know that Eurocom didn't want to stand in Rareware's 14-year-old shadow when they "re-envisioned" GoldenEye, but... why is it that GoldenEye 64 is the only game in the entire Bond series to have a cheat-options menu? Paintball Mode would have been a blast in Everything or Nothing! NightFire really could have used DK Mode! And, why wouldn't anyone want every guard everywhere in The World is not Enough to have a rocket launcher?
Sure it's reasonably entertaining to turn Oddjob into a karate-chopping homunculus by combining the giant-handed Melee Only mode with the Big-Heads password, but that's only nifty if you happen to have several other players about. I tend to play games alone. I had rather hoped that those two traits would be combined into a sort of re-envisioned DK Mode... sure, there would be graphical oddities as deformed characters interact with the environment, but that kind of uncanny-valley stuff is what made GE64's DK Mode so appealing! Here, in the middle of a James Bond game -- a save-the-world scenario with a serious tone -- is a bunker full of blokes with huge heads. Monty Python would be hard-pressed to come up with something more random than that!
But, I guess the world will never know if it's possible or not, since Ebenezer Scrooge over at Eurocom refuses to let anyone know the secrets of GoldenEye Wii.

Also, I noticed a rather disturbing trend with the cheat-code sites. One into which I never thought to look. About 90% of the sites I found, according to McAfee's SiteAdvisor, contained adware, spyware, malware, spamware, hereware, thereware, elseware, killware, tortureware, talibanware, and just about any other kind of nasty 21st-century leeches you can think of.
For example: Excessive popups, adware, and a potential browser exploit.
Next, Excessive popups, phishing, and a potential browser exploit.
Then, Adware, phishing, spam, and a potential browser exploit.
Noticing a theme here? According to the SiteAdvisor reviewers, many of the cheat-code sites I checked will attempt to gain control of your computer or make it otherwise unusable.
Now, as I understand it, the ultimate goal of any sensible spammer or malware writer is to gain access to a random computer in the hopes of finding some identifying information which can then be used in the process of identity theft. Sure, there may be one or two stupid people left in the US, UK, or EU who keeps that kind of thing stored on their computers, but society in general has become so wary of identity thieves that they guard their personal information with more care. Stupid people don't go to gaming sites -- people who need the services of a game or cheat site know enough about computers than to keep identifying material (knowingly or unknowingly) stored on their hard-drives. So... why spike a gaming website? If you really want to buy 32,640 dollars'-worth of electronics under someone else's name, go for a small business's accounts computer! Surely it's networked. Or are you too dumb to see logic? Home computers aren't the things to hack anymore!
Mostly, just keep away from sites where I might happen to go.

Well, look at that... three different topics and only one of them was about GoldenEye Wii.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:46 AM CST
Friday, 21 January 2011
Clarification: Compensations for going Nintendo

Last time, I mentioned that, although GoldenEye Wii is not, on its own, worth buying a Wii console for, that there are definite compensations in owning one. Perhaps I should clarify this point, yes? Just what are the benefits of going Nintendo?

"Wait. Why do you always talk about Nintendo, Spiny? 360's the way to go!"

It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. I started gaming in 1994, playing the Super NES... specifically, Super Mario World (though, it could have been Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World, I can't recall exactly). The character animations, the colours, the backgrounds, the music, all of this led me to realise that Nintendo is a company that is devoted to making not only games, not only really good games, but really good games with an almost OCD-like attention to detail. If this pixel's colour doesn't go with background in this level, Miyamoto shouts "No way, man! Do this instead." Which leads us to...

Benefit #1: Quality. If Nintendo makes a game in-house, you'll be hard-pressed to find any glitching. Even in such an old game as Super Mario Bros., when it was only Miyamoto-san, Tezuka-san, and maybe 15 other people on the entire staff, there weren't blatantly glitchy things like floors that don't clip right, frozen animations leading to "skating" characters, stuff like that. Of course, there is "Minus World" to consider (World "space, hyphen, one")... I can't explain that. Easter Egg? Programming glitch? Hidden beta test level? No one really knows.

Benefit #2: Mario. Who doesn't love Mario? You want to know who doesn't love Mario? Al-Qaida.
Mario games are the quintessential videogame stereotype. In fact, the only videogame stereotype that existed before Mario was that games had little stick-figures with, like, a sword or something and if you got past the last level, your Amiga's sound-chip would shout "Congraturation!" at you before the game crashed. Which leads us to...

Benefit #3: The Saviour of Videogames. Before the NES was released, the game market was saturated with mercifully-released abberations. Half the games had insurmountable obstacles that the level programmers forgot to take out and you could only pass by hacking your way to the next level -- the other half were so poorly made (by a staff of three blokes in one of their parents' basement) that, if you made a bad keystroke, you risked bricking the computer. Only a small fraction of a percentage of a decimal to the hundredth power of games actually did what they were meant to do: provide entertainment and actually work in the process. Because of this, the game market crashed into more pieces than an Atari 2600 dropped from the roof of a 16-story building. Everyone assumed that games were just a passing fad that had its day.
Then, along comes the NES, which had to convince people of its legitimacy by first introducing itself as an accessory required to use a toy called the Robotic Operating Buddy (or "ROB" for short). It was only after people bought ROB, they discovered that the NES vastly undersold itself. From Japan came wave after wave of the best games since Table Tennis for Two -- Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Balloon Fight, Kid Icarus, Castlevania. No home computer or dedicated game console up to this point had such an excellent reception as the NES.

Benefit #4: Wii Virtual Console. Now, I don't live in a cave, surrounded by brainwashing Nintendo stuff. I know about Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store (though I know more about the former than the latter, mostly from researching GoldenEye 007 for TMRB). Of course, Wii Virtual Console is a collection of classic games from a host of classic consoles. On XBLA, at least, Microsoft have a nasty habit of meddling with classic games -- updating them to bring them more in line with the Seventh Generation. Nintendo have issued an outright refusal to follow them in this way. For that reason, everything you see on Wii Virtual Console is largely unchanged from their original releases. Whilst Microsoft insists on "hot-rodding" their XBLA releases, Nintendo prefers to leave the games intact, as they were in the '80s and '90s. This way, if you were unfortunate enough to have been born during the Fourth or Fifth Generation (SNES or N64), you can go back to the Third Generation (NES) and see precisely what you missed, then rectifying the situation by downloading (for a small fee, usually 5 quid) and playing what you missed, being born in 1999 and all.

Benefit #5: Be an U83R64M3X0R! Huh? "Ubergamexor?" Yes. Be one. Nintendo has the highest quantity of L337633K 64M3RN3RD (leetgeek gamernerd) series than any other console on the market today. The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Super Smash Bros., Fire Emblem, and, occasionally, Final Fantasy (though SquareEnix seems to prefer these be released on PlayStation, God knows why).
I'm sure you know at least two people who talk ad nauseam about Zelda or Pokemon... haven't you ever had even the slightest desire to interject with something? Maybe to contradict something they say about Zelda canon, then prove that you're right and they're wrong? There's no better joy in life than to pwn a 64M3RN3RD! And I am one!

Benefit #6: WiiWare and DSiWare. These are games which are made exclusively for Wii and Nintendo DSi (and soon-to-be Nintendo 3DS, too). Don't bother looking for these games anywhere else, 'cos they're only available for Wii or DSi... or both. Nothing else. Certainly XBLA and PSN have exclusive games, too... but, you haven't lived until you've built a sandcastle with a Wii Remote (and not as a spade, either).

Benefit #7: GoldenEye 007. Both of them: N64 and Wii. 'Cos, let's face it, people, XBLA ain't getting it and VC ain't getting it. The only way you can play classic GoldenEye (within the bounds of the law, that is) is to play it on N64.
"Can I still find an N64 in playable condition?" Yes. I speak from experience. I've had my N64 since early 1997 and I played GoldenEye on it yesterday. It's a durable piece of equipment, the N64. The Super NES was sort of sketchy, but during and after the Fifth Generation, Nintendo set higher quality standards for all their products.

Benefit #8: GameShark. I know, hacking is sort of outside the law, but hackers have managed to do some really zany stuff with Nintendo games, particularly on the N64 (many hackers use N64 games as practise ground for greater hacks or even an eventual career in the game industry). There are millions of lines of code that people have come up with to alter their Nintendo gaming experience in some way (like you can improve on perfection), and, granted, most of them are crap. But, occasionally, you stumble upon a code which surpasses your expectations. For example, plug this one into Super Mario 64 and see what you get:
8107EC40 0099
8107EC42 0000
8107EC38 0033
8107EC3A 0000
8107EC20 0000
8107EC22 3300
8107EC28 0000
8107EC2A 9900

Benefit #9: Glasses-free 3D gaming. The Nintendo 3DS is releasing to the world in late March. If you blew your entire paycheque going to Avatar for the 3D effects, you'll love the 3DS. Of course, if artificial 3D gives you a headache, just turn the depth-slider all the way down to completely disable 3D and play like it's a normal game. Does PSP give you that freedom? Pfft... no. PSP doesn't even have 3D (though it probably will by Q4... and guess who they'll have stolen it from).

Benefit #10: Perpetual reliability. I guess this sort of goes along with Benefit #1, in that it concerns the quality of Nintendo's console hardware. But, I think it needs to be said that Nintendo consoles have the highest degree of reliability of any other console on the market since the Fourth Generation. You can rest assured that, when you turn a Nintendo console on, it will turn on. None of this "Red Ring of Death" crap. However, on the offhand chance that something doesn't work, chances are, you can send it off to Nintendo for repair or replacement free of charge. But, hardware failures on Nintendo consoles are uber infrequent, like less than half of one per cent (that's like one console out of 400 billion). In fact, I don't think anyone's ever actually seen a Wii console's "Blinking Red Light of Death". Nintendo claims that this is how the console tells you that it's bricked, but, thus far, it's only a myth.

There. Ten benefits of going Nintendo. Now, am I going to have to come to your house and spell it out for you? Nintendo is the videogame industry!

Buy a 3DS,

Spiny McSpleen.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:37 AM CST
Monday, 17 January 2011
It's about GoldenEye again...

...So, if you're tired of me rabbiting on about GoldenEye, turn back now.

Well, I've gotten a bit further through GoldenEye Wii at this point. As I said before, it is a decent game -- after all, Wii doesn't get very many really good FPS games like N64 and GameCube did. The problem, I guess, is that Microsoft has stolen away the FPS market with the Halo series (of which I don't really see the appeal -- futuristic alien games are stupid cliches).
Anyway, action-wise, it lacks for nothing. You've got running and gunning in all the right places, plus, guards can't hear gunfights between Checkpoints, so you can blow stuff up in one room, then sneak up behind a guy and snap his neck in the next. There's a wide array of weapons to choose from -- silenced pistols to full-auto shotguns and grenade launchers. Like I said before: blow up your enemies in one room, snipe them with a silenced pistol in the next.

However, there are a few things that have been brought to my attention which I didn't know about before. For example, a rather strange glitch.
Every so often, particularly whilst crouching, the floor will disappear and Bond will fall to his death, causing the level to restart from the last Checkpoint. Now, in a small area, such as the Facility's server room, this isn't such a great problem because, well, it's short -- maybe three minutes to get back to where you were. But, in a longer area or an area with a lot of heavily armed enemies all vying for your head, such as the Nightclub's kitchen, it takes a bit longer to get through (maybe ten or twelve minutes). Falling through the floor here will definitely be a "what the crap just happened?" moment where you may end up throwing your controller to the floor and shouting, "I quit!".  Now, I've got to say -- in my 17 years of gaming experience, I have never played a game where the floor just disappears. I've found glitches where walls aren't clipped right and you fall through them, but I've never had the floor yanked out from under me before. It's quite distressing, going into a freefall for no particular reason. Plus, there's no way to avoid it, because somehow, the circumstances always change, so you can't intentionally cause the glitch ("testing the water", if you like)... it just happens, literally, at random.

Non-glitch-wise, there's the Tank. To leave the St. Petersburg Archive, Bond must take control of a tank, then use that vehicle to chase down Ourumov and Natalya. Remember the tank from GoldenEye 64? Well, this is not as easy to control. Someone at Eurocom decided it would be nifty if the tank's directional controls (forward, backward, and turning) were done using different control sticks! Rather than doing all the steering with the left control stick on the Classic Controller (like you would think would be logical), you only go front and back with it. Pushing the stick even in the slightest right/left direction and you end up swirling the gun around. You can only turn left and right with the right stick! Now, what the hell kind of sense does that make? Though I am loath to compare GE64 with GE Wii, GE64's tank was much, much more user-friendly. Get in and go kick some ass. With GE Wii's tank: get in, read the instructions, press the wrong button, get turned around, crash into buildings, go nowhere, and don't kick any ass at all.

Next, the music. Written mostly by David Arnold, the composer for all but one of the Pierce Brosnan-era Bond films and both in the Daniel Craig era, his score is somewhat reminiscent of The World is not Enough... what can you do? That's his composing style -- his signature, if you like. However, though I have nothing bad to say about the music, itself, I do take issue with how little there is of it.
Again, comparing GoldenEyes: GE64 had at least a two-minute loop of distinct original music for each level (granted, the pause-screen and mission select themes were shorter than that), plus nearly the same amount of action music for several levels.  GE Wii doesn't have that. It has, maybe 30 minutes of source music for the entire game. There's a bit of overlap between levels. There's pretty much only one action theme which plays when you've been spotted and the heavily armed special forces with annoyingly-accurate guns are after you.
Then, on the subject of music, there's the Nightclub level. This level takes place in Valentin Zukovsky's Barcelona nightclub. The musical score for this level is basically overpowered by two separate 30-45 second vocal loops: one trance, one sort of new age hip-hop. If you haven't played this level yet, take heed:
Once you hear these loop twenty times, you can't forget them!
As the level takes (me, anyway) about 25-30 minutes to complete, and about 12-15 minutes of that is spent listening to a 30-second pop riff, you'll be present for at least twenty loops of both.

Anyway, that's all I've found that really stands out as being unfortunate about Activision's new GoldenEye. Considering there are more pros than cons in this case, I recommend it for any Wii owners who pine for the bygone days when Nintendo was FPS heaven. I also recommend it for all PS3 and 360 owners who went over to the Dark Side after the fall of Rareware in 2002. On its own, it's not worth getting a Wii for, but there are definite compensations for owning a Wii console that you just can't get with the other two.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:47 AM CST
Friday, 14 January 2011
YouTube: Such a thing it is

You've heard of YouTube, right? Of course you have. You haven't been living in a cave since 1996, after all... have you?
Anyway, YouTube's been around for a few years now -- long enough for millions of people to use it on a daily basis. Some to upload videos, others to simply watch videos uploaded by others.

I've been a YouTube member for a couple of years now (SpinyMcSpleen3264 -- natch), but thus far, I've only gone so far as to write comments to other people's videos. However, yesterday, I decided to actually upload something.
Not a very long, complicated thing... it doesn't even break a minute in total duration. But, no one else seems to have done it and I thought it was nifty (or, at least, interesting) enough to merit recognition.

See, on, in the Strong Bad Email, "mascot", SB provides a score (musical, that is) for the fight-song of his made-up Crazy Go Nuts University (or, CGNU, for short). I was incredibly bored last night, so I went on a "rando"-clicking spree on the website ("rando" having the meaning here of "select for me a random toon and play it"), at the end of which, I happened across "mascot".
I've seen this particular SBemail before and was aware of the musical thing at the end -- you mouse-over the notes on Strong Bad's computer screen and they make their respective pitches. So, being incredibly bored, I decided to see if I could crash "mascot's" SWF file by playing all of the notes as quickly as I could. I swiped the cursor back and forth over most of the notes, but, rather than crashing the toon, I found that I could make a new song out of the CGNU theme. So, I recorded it, made some video-cels, and put it on YouTube.
My first-ever video, bogarted from Still, considering how many copyright-infringing Super Mario 64 gameplay videos there are on the site, my little contrivance seems innocuous, really.

Anyhow, I've strayed from the point somewhat.
The thing about YouTube is that people's original videos have become what is known as "viral" (like a biological virus which wreaks havoc, then dies away -- videos are widely-circulated, sometimes for a month or more, then they become tiresome or even annoying and then abandoned). Sometimes, millions of people will watch the video (number of views occasionally total in the tens or hundreds of millions, but that's only because of the same people watching multiple times or someone writing a programme that accesses their video hundreds of millions of times).
But, the real reason for this entry (which has become a bit longer than I anticipated) is that some people have used YouTube to become famous.

Take, for example, the most recent teen idol, Justin Bieber (there's a name I never thought I'd type here).
"A feminine-looking boy with a strange German name," says I.
"Total heartbreaker!" say millions of 12-14-year-old girls.
Somehow, he sang a song for a webcam and became a cultural icon inside a week. What followed, then? Album deals, TV appearances, live performances, bio-pics, magazines, cross-country tours, agents, lawyers, late-night TV punchlines, "Ken"-dolls with his likeness, school supplies of most kinds -- general celebrity.
Perhaps, one wracks one's brains wondering how he managed a career-launch via YouTube -- not two sentences ago, I, myself, stated that "somehow, he sang a song, et cetera". The reasoning is actually rather simple when you get right down to it. It's Paris Hilton Syndrome, again. People saw the video, thought he was "hot", and its popularity for that reason brought it to the attention of television executives who decided to capitalise on it.

But, on the other side of the coin, there's another example which involves actual talent. A few years ago, a housewife from Scotland by the name of Susan Boyle auditioned on a UK talent programme, singing operatically. Sans the school supplies and dolls, her case was extraordinarily similar to Justin Bieber, however the PHS was not a factor. Some would say that she only became famous because her story was "inspiring" -- a plain British housewife going on television and singing an uplifting song about... something (I can't actually remember what it was offhand). However, I like to think that Susan Boyle became a household name because she has actual talent.
Why? Because I'm considering uploading footage of me improvising on the piano. I'm certainly not going to be the next Justin Bieber (the only "hot" that applies to me is during the summer), but if I shoot for being the next Susan Boyle, I may stand a chance.

Another odd thing about YouTube. I upload one 40-second video and suddenly, I'm a philosopher.
Well, maybe not suddenly...

Posted by theniftyperson at 9:36 AM CST
Wednesday, 5 January 2011
The Stupidest Piece of Convenience Equipment of All Time

Necessity is the mother of invention. At least, that's how it used to be. Back in the days of Archimedes, Edison, and Yokoi, there were so many inventions to be made -- mechanical water pumps, artificial light, portable 3-D displays, that sort of thing.
However, in this day and age -- the 21st century -- the Social Network Age -- we really don't need anything else. The only really groundbreaking inventions come from Japan: ASIMO, Vocaloid, and Wii to name a few. "Inventors" everywhere else create things to make our respective existences more convenient. Right now, Netflix has cornered the market on convenience, I think. They introduced DVDs by post to save a trip to the video-rental shop. Then, they created movies on-demand on your computer to save a trip to the letterbox. Now, they've made it onto the remote control as a "Netflix" button to save a trip to the computer. One wonders how they'll save you from pressing a button: voice recognition, maybe? "Computer, activate Netflix."

But, that's not why I'm writing this.
I've recently come across a mass-mailing from the Sears Roebuck Company with "mail-order only" products. Things one can't get from their chain of department stores. Most of the items therein were "combination devices", or things that serve many purposes. For example, an AM/FM radio and digital photo frame on a carabiner, so you can listen to Rush Limbaugh and see pictures of your kids whilst you rappel down a mountain. A portable digital television with MP3-player capabilities (you upload via SD card in a slot under the rechargeable battery). Oddly, also on a carabiner... they seem to be in vogue these days.
But, along with all of this conveniece, I found what definitely must be the Stupidest Piece of Convenience Equipment of All Time...

The Power Dome NX. Despite the name, it is not dome-shaped, however, it does contain the following features...

  -AM/FM/Weatherband radio tuner
  -AC-to-DC power converter with voltage metre
  -Emergency lights
  -2 plug outlets
  -260 psi compressor hose with pressure gauge
  -USB power port

The only thing missing is an iPod dock. Oh well... maybe in the next release. Also, none of this came on a carabiner. Perhaps people don't need to take their 65-pound automotive repair centres with them on expeditions to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Now, mind you, I'm just a composer and g4m3rn3rd, so I really don't have a use for the Power Dome NX. I'm certain that someone, somewhere, swears by it and can't think how he was ever able to live without it. But, really, to me anyway, the USB power port rather put it over the top. In the category of places you don't want to put a computer: garages, workshops, disaster areas, and anywhere else you might need a 260 psi compressor hose. If bogarting power from your computer is the only way to turn the thing on, you may want to ask yourself: "Is this really worth the 200 quid I'm about to pay for it?"

Perhaps after voice-recognition to stop you needing to press a confusing button, Netflix can partner with 7-Eleven and some Trek Tech consortium to provide a food replicator to save you a trip to the kitchen.
The future is starting to sound a lot like "Buy-N-Large" from Pixar's Wall-E.

Posted by theniftyperson at 10:32 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 5 January 2011 5:57 PM CST
Saturday, 1 January 2011
Seven years of Spiny McSpleen's Nifty Website!

Hm. If the website were a person, he'd be old enough to stay at home by himself whilst mum and dad are at the cinema or something. Anyway, I neglected this obligatory entry last year, didn't I? Well, let's make up for lost time, shall we? More of The Mind's Rubbish Bin!

TMRB: Nifty Website
The site went live in 2004 as "Jeff Perry's Nifty Stuff"

"Spiny" is the name of a spiked turtle dropped by Lakitus in Super Mario Bros. "Spleen" was a Nifty Word of the Day on Jeff Perry's Nifty Stuff in 2004. "Mc" was added to "Spleen" to make the name sound genuine. Hence, "Spiny McSpleen".

The picture of Xenia Onatopp on the GoldenEye 007 page was done using a character modifier for the Silo level.

The website has been visited by Charles Martinet at least twice.

TMRB: Super Mario
The vast majority of warp pipes in the Mushroom Kindgom and other territories are green in colour. This originates from the arcade game, Mario Bros., where Shigeru Miyamoto wanted the pipes to be a bright colour which would not clash with any of the colours onscreen.

Super Mario Galaxy was the first game in the Mario series to feature acoustic instruments in the soundtrack. Super Mario Galaxy 2 also features acoustic instruments. These are the only two such games in the series.

The basis for Donkey Kong came from an idea Miyamoto had for a Popeye arcade game. Though Nintendo held the rights to the Popeye characters at that time, they were unable to use them in the game. In an interview, Miyamoto recalled how Bluto became Donkey Kong, Olive Oyl became Pauline, and Popeye became Mario.

The Japanese version of Super Mario 64 contained much less voice-acting than the other releases. Mario says only, "Bye-bye", when he throws Bowser off the stage. Princess Peach has no dialogue at all.

TMRB: Nintendo
Nintendo was founded in 1890, producing cards for the popular Japanese game, hanafuda. The company would invest in many more business ventures, including taxi services, hotels, and toys, before becoming a dedicated videogame development firm in 1978.

Nintendo's senior engineer until 1996, Gunpei Yokoi, was responsible for inventing a number of what are now industry standards in videogaming. Yokoi's developments include the four-pointed directional pad, portable game consoles, and the ability to save game states.

The short-lived Virtual Boy, despite its criticisms, is responsible for introducing 3D displays into gaming consoles. The Nintendo 3DS contains similar functionality.

The music which plays behind the GameCube BIOS screen (accessed when no disc is loaded on startup) is a mellow new-age rendition of the Famikon Disk System's startup theme (the GCN version is has been slowed down sixteen times).

TMRB: Star Trek
The USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D has made more onscreen appearances than any other ship in franchise history, appearing in every episode of The Next Generation, one episode each of Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, and in the film, Generations. 181 appearances in total.

It was considered that one of the potential reasons for lackluster viewership of Enterprise was many Trek fans were unaware it was an official Star Trek programme. The show's title was changed to Star Trek: Enterprise at the beginning of the fourth series.

Vasquez Rocks, a park near Agua Dulce, California, has been used numerous times to represent alien terrain on all Trek programmes except Deep Space Nine. Other television programmes to film at Vasquez Rocks include Gunsmoke, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and CSI.

Deep Space Nine was the only modern Trek programme to begin and end entirely within the 1990s. Its first episode, "Emissary", aired 3 January 1993 -- its final episode, "What You Leave Behind", aired 2 June 1999. Whilst two other Trek programmes also aired in this decade, The Next Generation began in 1987 and Voyager ended in 2001.

TMRB: General information
Every possible move in the game of chess has a name.

The five most commonly-used letters in the Roman alphabet are R, S, T, L, N, and E.

The standard bleep-censor (used to cover profanity in the dialogue track of television and radio programmes) is a sine wave oscillating at 1000 hz (approximately B5 on a piano keyboard).

The scene from the 1975 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, wherein the character, "Violet Beauregarde", chews a piece of Wonka's experimental gum and turns into a giant blueberry, inadvertently created a new sexual fantasy. A subcondition of the body-expansion fetish, subjects are inflated and turn blue.

It is impossible to lick your own elbow (47% of those reading this will attempt to achieve it).

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:01 AM CST
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Eh? Crash Dummies on Wii?

At approximately the same time I was talking about Super Mario 64 Mario recolouring codes for the GameShark, a game development firm called Oxygen (not to be confused with the low-key satellite television network of the same name) had just released a game called CID The Dummy for Wii. "CID", the protagonist, is named for an acronym: "Crash Impact Dummy". The astute will notice that "CID" is also an anagram of "ICD": as in, the Incredible Crash Dummies.

Without rewriting my webpage on the subject, the Incredible Crash Dummies were the highlight of the early '90s. In fact, if you were to come up to me and say, "nineteen ninety-one", the first thing to enter my thoughts would be Slick and Spin, et. al. For some reason, whenever I lower myself to entering a dollar-store or a Walgreens, I always expect to find the recognisable orange-with-hazard-striping packaging of the Incredible Crash Dummies in the toys section.

Anyway, CID The Dummy. I'm not certain precisely why, but this game seems... well, stupid to me. A little crash dummy running about, punching enemies and crashing through walls.
Had I known about the game when it was released, I would probably have written this sooner. But, really, no one knew about it. Or they didn't care. MobyGames has nothing on it (but, of course, being wiki-like, they don't have many of the basics, either). Gamespot and GameFAQs have limited information on it, but lots of pictures. Nintendo's website has a short paragraph and the cover-art. Perhaps I just don't know enough about it, but it just seems totally unappealing to me, the Incredible Crash Dummies buff...

...and I ended up getting it for Christmas.
A friend of my mother's, whom we have known for many years, saw CID The Dummy in the 90%-off sale bin at the supermarket and, apparently, I was the first one she thought of.
So, we went to mum's friend's flat for a belated Christmas do -- something which took two interminable hours -- whereupon I was presented with CID The Dummy.
See, I also had seen that game in that bin -- I examined the cover art and the description on the back of the case, made the conscious decision that it was a waste of the 5 quid they were asking for it, and re-deposited it from whence it came. Unfortunately, this man's trash was another person's treasure... for the man who decided it was trash.
Y'know, in retrospect, it's rather likely that the very same game case that I rejected was the one that I received as a gift.

Anyway, I was presented with CID The Dummy and also a dilemma. What the bloody hell do I do with it now? I could, A) keep the game and not play it, B) try to sell it on eBay or craigslist, or C) try to sell the game to the vintage game store which, ironically, is only a few blocks away from the supermarket where it was purchased. I doubt very much that GameStop would have much use for it... if they do, it'd only be worth a couple of quid at the most -- not even enough to buy a new DSi stylus.

I still like the Incredible Crash Dummies, but CID The Dummy just seems like a cheap knockoff.
On the other hand, it could be an indicator of a resurgence of commercial interest in crash-test dummies. Perhaps, one day, my son will be able to play with crash dummies, as I have...

"Kieran, use your Test Centre. Daddy's tired of painting over the dents in the skirting-board."

Posted by theniftyperson at 6:26 PM CST
Monday, 27 December 2010
And now, as promised, Activision's GoldenEye...

As you are no doubt aware, Activision has recently released an adaptation of the seventeenth James Bond film, GoldenEye, for Wii. Not for the other Seventh Generation consoles, but for Wii and DS only (for the moment, anyway). Right now, Nintendo DS has the market's advantage as it has two Bond games: the Nintendo-exclusive GoldenEye 007 and the competing Blood Stone. But, that's a different story.

Of course, GoldenEye Wii (as it will be known, hereinafter) has been out since mid-November, but I got it for Christmas. I haven't played it all the way through as yet, but I've played enough to know what's good and bad about it (well, as good as).

The first thing that becomes glaringly obvious is the title. GoldenEye. Gamers associate that word with Rareware's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 (or, as it will be known hereinafter, GoldenEye 64) -- arguably the best FPS of the entire Fifth Generation. What most players familiar with GoldenEye 64 are likely to do is to compare it against GoldenEye Wii. This would be an error in judgement. It's rather like comparing apples to oranges -- both are types of fruit, but one has pectin where the other has citric acid. GE64 and GE Wii are both first-person shooters, both are based on the same plotline, but -- let's face it -- one is dreadfully old and the other is shiny and new.

Another major thing that one notices right off is the tone of gameplay. The adaptation (written by Bruce Feirstein -- author of the original GoldenEye film's screenplay) calls for it to be set in the modern day and for it to support the drastically revised James Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig. All of this creates for a very dark undertone, compared to other Bond games.
007 NightFire, for example. NightFire, whilst enjoyable and with high replay-value, is somewhat out of place in the Bond universe. Its predecessor, the critically-panned Agent Under Fire, played out similarly to a Connery-era Bond film -- sneaking about on oil-rigs, infiltrating foreign embassies at night, speeding through subterranean railway tunnels. NightFire wasn't like that -- even though Pierce Brosnan's likeness was featured, it really didn't pan out like a Bond film. It borrowed elements from Moonraker and You Only Live Twice, but it just lacked the proper James Bond "essence".  Even 007 Everything or Nothing, featuring not only the likeness and voice of Pierce Brosnan, but also the likenesses and voices of Judi Dench, John Cleese, Heidi Klum, and others, didn't manage to capture it.
There was recently a discussion between Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, and Mario creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, on the Wii website about the "essence " of Mario. Even though each game in the series is worked on by different people, they all manage to maintain a certain Mario-ness.  The same can be said of the James Bond games. Using the film series as a benchmark, developers should create Bond games that mesh with the films as much as possible. In effect, the player needs to believe that they are playing a Bond film, which is something that GoldenEye Wii has managed to achieve.
Perhaps because it was worked on by two Bond veterans; writer, Bruce Feirstein, and composer, David Arnold... perhaps because of the game designers' decision to incorporate the Classic Controller into the control scheme for more traditional gameplay... perhaps a combination of all of these... perhaps something completely different. It's difficult to tell precisely why, but the game seems to belong in the Bond series.
Referring back to Everything or Nothing, in contrast, it does not seem to fit in the series. Perhaps because the perspective was third-person, like a Mario or Zelda game, rather than first-person, like GoldenEye 64. Perhaps the problem was that the A-list cast sounded like they'd never done voice-acting before. I think, though, the problem with EoN was in the screenplay. What I like to do when I play a game of any kind (except, perhaps, SimCity) is to imagine how it would fare as a movie. With EoN's plotline (which seemed to be pieced together from various sources, including GoldenEye and You Only Live Twice, with a tenuous reference to Max Zorin from A View to a Kill -- which, itself, was a box-office failure), Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, and the late Gene Shalit would all have agreed that it was a waste of time.
Fortunately, as I've mentioned, GoldenEye Wii was written by the same bloke who wrote the GoldenEye film: a professional screenwriter. As a film, GoldenEye Wii (at least the bits of it I've played) has potential.

The next significant thing is the gameplay, itself. Without comparing it to GoldenEye 64 too much, the controls aren't as user-friendly. Of course, GE64 had just the one control stick and four "C" buttons. GE Wii has two control sticks, with one taking the place of the four "C" buttons.
Of all of the criticism I have heaped upon Electronic Arts (yes, them again) on Of Carbon and Silicon over the years, one beneficial thing could be said of them: their games were and continue to be easy to control. The Bond games under EA's supervision were no exception. Agent Under Fire introduced the control scheme where (using GameCube as an example) the left control stick always controlled Bond's body (forward, backward, turning) and the "C" stick always controlled Bond's head and feet (looking up and down and strafing). Furthermore, if Bond were in possession of a sniper rifle, the "C" stick always controlled the scope. Bond could strafe in sniper mode with the left stick, but the "C" stick would always move the gun.
GoldenEye Wii has not done this. On the Normal Pro setting (default for the Classic Controller Pro), aiming mode is a direct reversal of normal movement controls. Outside the sights, Bond moves with the L Stick and strafes with the R Stick. Whilst aiming, Bond looks left and right with the L Stick and looks up and down and strafes with the R Stick. This causes the learning curve to be a bit high when it comes to actually controlling Bond. A NightFire-like aiming system wouldn't go amiss (no pun intended).

In Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Bond is seen performing difficult tasks which would require intense concentration and manages to do them whilst injured or poisoned. This made it into gameplay of 007 Quantum of Solace as a regenerating health metre. Unlike other games where Bond must collect body armour and only has a set amount of health which means death when totally depleted, Quantum allowed Bond to be shot many times, even to the brink of death -- but, if he managed to not take damage for a while, his health would regenerate. This seems to be a permanent character trait for Daniel Craig's Bond in the games, as it makes a re-appearance in GoldenEye Wii. The only downside, relative to Quantum, is that there is not a visible stamina metre onscreen. Players are forced to guess when Bond requires a break. Of course, if his health drops below half, a red blur begins to enter the field of view from the sides of the screen. If his health drops below 25%, little lines akin to those in bloodshot eyes appear also.

If you're the type who likes to shoot everything in sight, the next significant thing is that this is the first Bond game with a semi-destructible environment. Shoot that barricade enough times and it breaks apart. Sure, there have always been things in Bond games that you can shoot and they blow up in sodding great balls of fire, but it was always unusual to me that, if you shot that wall with a rocket-propelled grenade, it didn't show any damage... as though I hadn't just wasted a perfectly good bomb on a stupid wall. As a general reference, GoldenEye 64 had a great many objects that could be destroyed by shooting them or blowing them up. Of course, fully destructible environments were unheard-of back in '97 -- too processor intensive. In terms of lousy environment destruction, that award goes to Everything or Nothing. That game's third-person viewpoint meant that you couldn't even target things that weren't objective-related unless you had the bloody loud sniper rifle.

Talking of weapons, here's the other important thing. Like Quantum before it, GoldenEye Wii does not allow you to pick up more than three weapons at a time. In Bond games of yore, you could carry as many weapons as you could find. Some would contend that this "Professional Mode", as it was called in NightFire multiplayer, presents a more realistic challenge -- I contend that it's bloody inconvenient when you're pinned down by guards with huge machine guns and you've only got a couple of pistols and an empty AK47.

And finally, GoldenEye Wii does contain a few tongue-in-cheek references to its progenitor, GoldenEye 64. I remember that people took issue with the truck in GE64's Dam and the totally nonfunctional missile battery in the Runway. In GE Wii, Trevelyan and Bond hijack the truck in the Dam and use it to blast their way through most of the territory before epically crashing it just before the dam, itself. Then, in GE Wii's Runway (called the Airfield), an attack helicopter strafes Bond with guns and explosives. The missile battery in this game works just fine, as Bond can use it to destroy the offending vehicle.
Then, I seem to recall something about a hacker finding a motorcycle in GE64's code and a great deal of speculation about what purpose it may have served at the beta stage. In GE Wii, Bond has a few opportunities to drive a motorcycle, though the player only aims the gun, rather than piloting the cycle, itself.
Also in GE Wii's Dam, there is a destructible boat docked on the pier, but looking through a sniper-scope at the river beyond won't yield sight of an unreachable island.

Suffice it to say, as I continue to play the game, more things will make themselves evident, which may cause me to make additional entries on this topic.  However, at this point, I give Activision's GoldenEye 007 a 4.5/5.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 29 December 2010 10:58 AM CST
Sunday, 26 December 2010
Hey, guess what...?

Christmas 2010 is history. Of course you know that -- you spent seventeen hours yesterday making firmware upgrades and installing computer games, all whilst Timmy and Gracie were jumping about on furniture for their epic sugar-high. Or, perhaps, of course you know because you spent yesterday entertaining relatives who only show up to criticise your decorating, cleaning, or cooking ability.

Whatever the case, it's been most of 24 hours since Christmas. At 12:01 AM (0001 hours), you were the greatest span of time away from next Christmas you'll be all year. Ain't Time something? No? Good, I'm glad we agree on that.

Anyway, this year's holiday season was an eventful one at the McSpleen residence.
First, as a Christmas gift, I made digital copies of several of my mother's audiocassettes. It may have been a trifle on the illegal side, but those particular recordings can't be found on CD. It's been several years since I've had to deal with cassette-tapes -- the last time I made the conscious decision to listen to a tape was in 1999 (not counting the time I had to play a PSA on cassette at KZUM last year).
At any rate, am I ever glad that magnetic tape is no longer the standard! The tape-player my mother provided is a very simplistic, cutting-edge piece of early-'90s technology in possession of three (just three) buttons which are marked so: "PLAY", "FFWD" (fast-forward -- my generation's "fast-scan"), and "STOP". Not possessing a built-in speaker, I had to make certain the thing worked using headphones. It's fortunate that I already have tinnitus.
So, discovering that it does still work after 20 years, it took me a bit of time to overcome the culture-shock, if you like, of operating a cassette player after so long with a CD player and various computers. I was all tense at first about making sure that I got everything right in one go, 'cos there's not a "rewind" function (for those of you who were born after magnetic tape, to rewind is to roll the spool of tape back so a part which has played through can be played back again -- my generation's "scan-back"). This was made easier when I realised that "fast-forward" on Side B is "rewind" on Side A.
Despite my advanced technological experience, I did finally manage to lower myself to the level of 1991 and operate the player efficiently enough for my computer to record the cassettes.

Next, this year, the McSpleen Christmas was mostly Mario-related. As Super Mario Bros. turned 25 in September, many retail outlets were stocking Mario merchandise other than games. This worked in my favour as a Mario and Zelda memorabilia collector. Back in October, I managed to find very large Mario and Luigi figures (approximately 10" in height) and some smaller figurines (perhaps 3"). It was a test of willpower to wait until Christmas to integrate them into my collection, but I figured I needed summat to put under the plastic tree.
Along with that went Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition and Activision GoldenEye 007 for Wii -- also The Sims 3 and SimCity Creator for Nintendo DS. A surprise, however, was Art Academy for DS, which was mum's gift to me.

Now, I talked last time about how FlipNote Studio, which I was heralding last year as the greatest invention of the Seventh Generation, was not all that it was cracked up to be.

Art Academy is vastly superior to FlipNote Studio. You can't animate with it, but it's a jolly nifty painting simulator. You have eight colours that you can mix together in nigh-infinite combinations, then apply them to a digital canvas on the Touch Screen using one of six brushes.
I rather like to paint in real life, but it takes quite a bit of time to set everything up and then to take everything apart afterwards. With Art Academy, you don't need to do anything but turn the console on and start the programme -- make a couple of selections and you're there, ready to paint whatever you want. No errant brush-hairs stuck in the paint, no need to clean your brushes between colours. Or, maybe you feel like drawing instead. Three different kinds of pencils exist, complete with eraser, which allow you to draw, rather than paint. Plus, if you don't know how to draw or paint, it'll teach you (hence, Art Academy)!
As I understand it, this application is also available for DSiWare, where it is possible to save your canvasses to SD card and, thus, to your computer (or to your nearest Kodak Imaging kiosk to print as a photograph).

As for Activision's attempt at remaking GoldenEye 007...

...Well... let us save that for another time, shall we?

Posted by theniftyperson at 4:02 PM CST
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Nintendo DSi + Stylus + Extra Time = 1 subpar FlipNote

At about this time last year, I wrote about flipbooks, FlipNote Studio, and the animator, Yoichi Kotabe. Well, Kotabe-san has no relevance to this entry, but I would like to review the rest of that post.

As three days from now will have been one entire year since I've had my Nintendo DSi, I can now say without fear of contradiction that FlipNote Studio is not my favourite programme.
I anticipated that people would not take the application all that seriously, drawing stickfigures, bouncing cubes, stuff sprouting out of the ground -- but, I couldn't have been more incorrect. I forgot to take into account the sort of person Nintendo attracts: Japanophiles with knowledge of anime. Also, it seems that more than a few people have figured out how to use FlipNote Studio as I've done with Microsoft Paint -- how to make pixel art with it. People have managed to recreate sprites from Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kirby's Adventure, and other NES games and used them to make demonstrations of their aptitude for level design. Some people use spriting to make dramatic serials involving characters from videogames.

...And, of course, there's a website to showcase all of this. When one finishes one's animation, one can connect to the Internet and post to FlipNote Hatena.

One year ago, I anticipated using FlipNote Studio in my spare time (that is, any time I'm not composing or improvising music). It seems to me as though more than a few people's lives have been wholly absorbed by FlipNote Studio. Me, I've done some stage-falling stickfigures and a lip-synching crash dummy. Someone else, they've done dramatic tales of Mario embarking on a Legend of Zelda-like quest to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser or Wario (or Luigi doing the same for Princess Daisy).

It's rather like hearing about so-called "homebrew" software for Wii. You know it exists and you've seen demonstrations, but you can't possibly fathom how it was accomplished, as the skill level required to make it is far above your own. There are things that I will never understand that others can do in their sleep.

Now that I've had a year to try it out, I've decided that FlipNote Studio is very much beyond my grasp.

Posted by theniftyperson at 10:52 AM CST
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Addressing a reader's concern

I've recently received an e-mail from an Of Carbon and Silicon reader, expressing a concern about the advert banner. The issue at hand was the item/service shown there -- the banner's content was not, shall we say, "family-friendly".

Foremost, I am not in control of the advertisements you see on the blog or the website. Google Ads is used to show advertisements on this and most other websites. If I had it my way, there'd be no adverts at all, but that would require spending $X0.00 per month on the website, which is not something I'm prepared to do at the moment.

Anyway, back on topic. I should like to mention at this juncture that Google Ads' primary tool in determining what adverts to show you is your temporary Internet files folder. There are cookies there which tell the Google robots what sites you visit, allowing them to guess at the adverts to which you are most likely to respond. If you've been to, say,, you'll get adverts for gaming sites and software emulation. If you've searched Google Images for "Leonardo diCaprio", you'll get links to movie sites and rumour-mills. If you've gone to (is that even a real place?), you're going to see adverts for dating websites and certain 3D chat services (I'd mention which, but the robots would find it and display the particular advert which generated the concern in the first place)

My best advice to you, if you're using a household computer, is to clear out your temporary Internet files folder after every session. This can be done in Internet Explorer through Internet Options (Tools > Internet Options). I'm sure it's possible on Firefox, also.
On the Wii Internet Channel or the DSi Browser, this can be done from the Settings menu (on Wii, Settings > Delete Cookies; on DSi, the same and History > Delete All -- Wii Internet Channel does not keep a browser history list).

Posted by theniftyperson at 2:50 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 22 December 2010 11:25 AM CST
Thursday, 16 December 2010
On this, the 20th day of inactivity on here...

I thought I rather ought to post summat, as it's been ten days shy of a month since I posted last. Not that the last entry was all that interesting, of course... nothing you didn't already know.

Mostly, this entry today concerns Nintendo (as per usual -- though none of the usual things I talk about).

For several months, I had been tussling with a malfunctioning R button on my super-ultra-über M4D 1337 nifty Metallic Blue Nintendo DSi. Around-about the end of last month, I figured that, since I've gotten myself some DS games for Christmas, it would be in my best interest to have the console functioning within optimal parameters. So, I file a repair ticket with Nintendo and send it away for maintenance. Fast forward a couple of weeks. I get a notice from UPS that a parcel has arrived from California (where Nintendo's repair contractors have their HQ), so I get to the UPS customer centre and find that I have indeed received a box of the approximate size and shape of a Nintendo DSi, and that it is indeed from Minilec Systems LLC, and that the receipt that came with it has all of the necessary markings to prove that it was an authorised Nintendo shipment... however, it is not my Nintendo DSi. Oh, yes, it is a Limited Edition Mario Metallic Blue colour, it does have all of my DSiWare on it, it even has my screen name and motto. But, it is not my console. Someone saw fit to, presumably, dispose of the console I sent and then post me a new, identical one. Rather than send away to Nintendo's Chinese manufacturing house for new parts, they just replaced the entire console.
I don't claim to know how a DSi works, never having seen one with an open chassis, but are the shoulder buttons really so integrated into the console that they cannot be individually replaced?
Fortunately, as I had registered my original DSi with Club Nintendo, I had the extended warranty, which meant that I paid naught for anything -- the UPS shipping label, handling charges, repair charges, nothing. And, everything that I had sent to California returned to Nebraska: DSiWare, DSi Sound recordings, saved data of most kinds. It was just rather unnerving at first -- like I was in possession of someone else's DSi, which is a cardinal sin among 1337633k 64m3r n3rd2.
My mother put it best, I think, when she said this about it:
It's like, someone comes up to you, takes your handbag and empties it into an identical one, then gives you the new one and makes off with the old, empty one.
Not that I would know, of course, but I imagine there are parallels between the two scenarios. If one's attachment to one's handbag is anything like my attachment to my Nintendo stuff, then she's rather hit the nail on the head, I'd say.
Anyway, in retrospect, I do think that I've come out on the top end of the deal. My old DSi was looking a bit worn -- an adhesive blemish from where I applied and then later removed a Mario sticker, a scratch on the Touch Screen from the time I accidentally dropped my keys on it at KZUM last year, uber-fingerprints on the chassis -- and Nintendo were considerate enough to replace the entire console with a shiny new one, completely free of charge, mostly on my claim that the R button wasn't working.  Does your manufacturer do that? Eh? Eh? Five green asterisks for Nintendo! *****

Next, if you've seen the homepage recently, you'll be aware of my change-over from wired broadband to Wi-Fi. With this new change (summat I should've done years ago), I can now use my DSi and Wii consoles for their intended purposes! I must say that I've been hitting the DSi Shop and Wii Shop Channel rather hard lately... on Wii, I've recently acquired Super Mario Bros. (and 2), Super Smash Bros., and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. On DSi, I've only gotten another bad music editing programme (which is not Nintendo's fault so much as the developer, HB Studios'). I don't suspect anyone realises that there are composers out here who have DSis, rather than iPhones. Where are the notation apps for DSiWare?! NoWare! Er... nowhere.
Anyway, Wi-Fi has done wonders for my Wii console. Apart from the Shop Channel, I'm finally making use of the News, Forecast, and Internet Channels. The former two came with the console back in '07 and I downloaded the Internet Channel with Super Mario World, 1080, and Ocarina of Time back in March '09.
Also of note is the Netflix Channel. I've used it to watch several episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers, and Stargate Atlantis. Then, last night, I discovered Wallace & Gromit in a Matter of Loaf and Death on the Channel, too (which, I might add, is not quite as good as A Close Shave or The Curse of the Were-Rabbit -- still, it's the best we're going to get until at least 2015).

Right, then. Perhaps I'll have a new entry for January 1st...

Posted by theniftyperson at 11:23 AM CST
Friday, 26 November 2010
Trek Tech: It's here, so how do we use it to make our lives better?

First, a retrospective.
The year is 1964. The Cold War is in full swing and communist paranoia is at a fever pitch. The USSR and the USA have been competing for domination of Outer Space. Now, I'm sure that every politician from that era (were they not all dead by now) would tell you otherwise, but the spoils of the so-called "Space Race" was, indeed, to have been military conquest of Earth from Space. Of course, the scientists' main focus (at least those scientists without security clearance) was development of new technologies which would allow Man to explore Space, which, at this point, was the only thing Man could see which hadn't been completely explored and colonised. Propaganda films were being made on both sides, concerning the importance of launching new spacecraft before the other side.
However, in a strange land known as Los Angeles, far away from Moscow and Washington, D.C., a screenwriter by the name of Gene Roddenberry was in the process of creating what would become the single greatest  source of inspiration for inventors and innovators --Star Trek. Little did he know that, upon its premier two years later, it would eventually commandeer the entire genre of science-fiction, usurping such titles as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lost in Space, even The Jetsons.  Not only that, but people such as Steve Jobs (president of Apple), Will Wright (creator of Spore), and Stephen Hawking (possibly the smartest man on Earth) have all looked to Star Trek for inspiration.
Whilst many advances in medicine, theoretical physics, and sociology have Trek origins, the most well-known examples of Trek science-fiction-turned-science-fact involves computer technology. This will be the focus of this entry (which is bound to get a bit long at this point, so brace yourself or turn back now).

You can probably name three common electronics whose origins can be traced back to the original Star Trek or one of its spinoffs. For example, the standard-issue "clamshell" mobile phone. This design was clearly derived from the appearance of the original Star Trek's communicators, as well as both devices' tendency to make a sound when opened or closed. Many mobile phones (clamshell or otherwise) feature a set of navigation keys arranged in a round or ovoid configuration in the same general area as the dial on the communicators (though smaller and not at all knob-like).
Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced devices called PADDs (standing for "personal access display device"). PADDs came, mostly, in two sizes: general usage PADDs were the approximate size of a paperback novel, engineering PADDs were the approximate size of a DVD case. In 2001, Apple unveilled the iPod -- a device which bore distinct similarities to a general usage PADD (if somewhat smaller). Eventually, the iPod gained a touch-sensitive screen, making it more PADD-like. However, any Trek fan will agree that Apple's most recent invention, the iPad, is more like TNG technology than anything seen before -- right down to its name (amongst Trek fans, it has occasionally been referred to as the iPADD). Other PADD-like devices include the iPhone, most kinds of mobile phones, eBook readers, Palm Pilots, Nintendo's Game Boy, and electronic day-planners.
The voice of the Starfleet computer was provided by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry fairly consistently throughout the entire series (ending with J.J. Abrams' Star Trek in 2009, where she finished recording the computer's announcements mere months before her death). Many mobile devices, GPS devices, and automobiles are equipped with female speech synthesisers -- most of which are, tonally, quite similar to Mrs. Roddenberry's voice.
Other examples of Trek technology-turned-real technology include the Bluetooth earphone (TNG combadges, relocated from the chest to the ear), Skype (subspace video communication), PC and SD cards (original series's record tapes), and Actroid (TNG's Lt. Cmdr. Data).

The most likely reason why Trek technology transcended the fiction/fact boundary is because most of it has a practical function that doesn't require a starship to be useful. Trek isn't solely about space travel, meeting new species, and fighting the Borg. It's also about humanity's own advancements. Science, mathematics, the arts: how people use technology for things other than preventing warp core breaches. PADDs can show the schematics for a particle fusion generator, or they can display the text of Dante's Inferno. Combadges can be used to call for an emergency beam-out, but they can also be used to call people for naught but to see how they're doing.
That could also be used as an explanation for why the series is so popular -- it's not only about danger and problem-solving, but also the human condition.

And right now, in the 21st century, the human condition is "bad" to "worse" than it was in Roddenberry's time. However, the technology which he helped create (thanks to microcomputer research and development firms, such as Apple and Sharp, and communications development firms, such as Cisco) can now be used to make our own lives better, increasing the quality of life of every human in the process.

Consider, if you please, a school in middle America. Their most recent mathematics textbook was printed in 1969, a surplus consignment of which was acquired in 1970 through the passage of a 5,000-dollar bond. Through normal wear-and-tear, each book has been damaged. Some have pages missing, some have bindings held together with duct-tape, some have been damaged beyond repair, and a few have been stolen. The original consignment of 150 books reduced to 75 by 1990. By 2000, that number went down again... there are now only 60 books of the original 150. Not everyone who needed a book had one, causing lessons to become unclear for more students with each passing term. With the passage of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act, which, in effect, punishes the school for the student body's failing aggregate test scores, most of this school's funding has been minimised. Bond issues have been put to the city council for years and have been defeated each time by a mayor who wants to improve the city libraries and parks. The school board convenes and decides that, if something is not done to help this hypothetical school by the beginning of the 2011-'12 term, the school will be shut down.
Now, consider the following. Through a grant from a philanthropic organisation, the school receives a consignment of iPads: one per student, adjustable per semester. Each iPad comes preloaded with eBook versions of texts for mathematics, American and world history, grammar, and foreign language, and also the eBook versions of several books which are on the school's required reading list.
Alongside the iPads, the philanthropic organisation has also provided a computer for each teacher. Using the iPads in tandem with the computers, students are now able to access, complete, and submit assignments electronically. Teachers no longer receive a pile of papers, but emails of assignments from their students' iPads.

Consider this. The director of a symphony orchestra struggles to find all of the parts to the pieces he has selected for the orchestra to play this season. The second violin part to the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila is missing. The trombone part to the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet is damaged beyond recognition. Someone stole the conductor's copy of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.
Now, amend your consideration with this. A software developer has created a music practising programme for Nintendo DSiWare. Through MIDI, the programme is capable of separating songs into their individual parts and only displaying the relevant part to the instrumentalist. Also, the software can detect, through the DSi microphone, where the player is in a song and turn the page automatically.
Now, a conventional Nintendo DSi would be too small to see properly on a music stand, so a Nintendo DSi XL would need to be used.

Consider the following. A doctor admits a patient, Mr. X, complaining of chest pain. He manages to get Mr. X's pain under control, but is uncertain what medicine to prescribe because Mr. X can't remember the name of the medication to which he is deathly allergic. All he can remember is that his last doctor's name was Dr. Jones from Lincoln.
Now, consider this. The doctor goes to his computer and accesses a nationwide patient registry and looks up Mr. X's name. He sees that Dr. Jones noted Mr. X had adverse reaction to codeine.

These are only a few examples of how Trek technology can improve our existence. However, at this stage, even the situations described in these examples cannot, in fact, transpire. The principal problem is one of money. Whilst the technology is there, the means by which to obtain it is nigh unattainable for most people and organisations.
Short of doing away with money altogether, the most plausible and immediate way to make high technology available to the poorest areas is philanthropy. There are a number of philanthropic organisations with the necessary funds or resources to make feasible, at the very least, the first example (involving the school). At the most, these organisations can provide the same technology and the means by which to run it to the poorest areas of third-world countries. However, in this case, the organisation would also need a way to be alerted in case any of the technology requires repair.

Though it may sound simple, there are major obstacles to overcome before Gene Roddenberry's technological utopia can be realised. The first is security, both within the computer and in the physical plane. Security from hackers who seek to create unrest and security from those who are unwilling to see humanity move forward.
The next is sustainability. Though, in the United States, this is more of a political obstacle. The uber-wealthy oil industry spends millions, if not billions, of dollars every year to ensure that any alternative energy proposal is quashed before it can gain momentum in the political process. Of course, lobbying of this kind is not the only obstacle to sustainability -- there are some who believe (though in error) that alternative energy is a waste of resources ("solar energy fails when the clouds come in", "windmills are a danger to birds", et cetera).
The greatest obstacle, however, is philosophical. Are we, in the developed countries, really entitled to dictate how the rest of the world conducts its affairs? Do we have the right to barge into a so-called "third-world" country and force technology down their proverbial throats? Is technology the stock in which we really want to invest our planet?
Until these problems can be solved, Trek technology will remain fiction to billions of people.

Posted by theniftyperson at 5:15 PM CST
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
March 20th, 1964

I've always thought that I would prefer going back to the beginning of my life (1988) and starting over, doing everything again verbatim. However, I've started to think, perhaps, I should go earlier.

Why, exactly? Well, the thought occurred when I was researching Koji Kondo and the Super Mario Bros. aboveground theme last week. Another reason why the theme was so instantly contagious and, thus, eternally catching is because of its novelty. Nowadays, we take videogame musical scores for granted... there's even a specific set of awards given for excellence in videogame music.
Back when Kondo-san was a new hire, music wasn't a priority for arcade game developers. There was only so much memory available for storage of sprites, backgrounds, physics programming, and sound effects. Any music in the game would have been very, very short -- perhaps one or two measures and certainly only one "instrument" (typically a triangle wave).
Super Mario Bros. was, as far as I know, the absolute first side-scrolling adventure game the world had ever seen. Compared to Donkey Kong, the six songs in Super Mario Bros.' soundtrack would have seemed like Vivaldi's Four Seasons. No one had ever given serious thought to original music for a game before.
Without totally rewriting the previous entry -- suffice it to say, novelty did play an important part.
So, the thought that had occurred to me was, perhaps I would do better as a composer in the very early days of videogaming... say, early '80s?
I decided on this when I found myself striving to get my Roland Fantom X6 to faithfully recreate the original Mario theme, as performed by the NES's sound processor. In this day and age of stereo sampling and acoustic modelling, I managed to achieve the old square and triangle waves from the 1980s on a synthesiser containing a velocity-sampled acoustic grand piano sound. I daresay my recreation is passable, right down to the whitenoise cymbals (except I used an electronic pulse instead of a square wave for the melody line... but, I digress).

See, if, when I shuffle off this mortal coil in seventy years or so, I decide that I'd rather restart from 1964 (providing I still had the same environmental factors to lead me to composing music), I would be 18 in 1982. I could move to San Francisco or even Kyoto, then I could give 22-year-old Koji Kondo a run for his money! I wouldn't want to be better than Kondo-san, but I think I could compose fairly memorable music for games, too.

I guess the reasoning behind this is purely selfish in nature. I'm not making a satisfactory mark in the world as a self-published composer of new age music in the 21st century. If I manage to retain my music skills the next time 'round, I could achieve u83r m4d 1337 notoriety amongst g4m3r n3rd2. The only drawback is, I wouldn't have the advantage of my current musical influences -- Junichi Masuda, Jerry Martin, Mark Mothersbaugh, even Kondo-san, himself, 'cos all of the songs I like to reference in my own work will not have been written yet! I would still have my classical influences: Mozart, Chopin, Dvorak, Debussy, and Wagner -- I would have to draw from them almost exclusively (though I can think of a few disco and classic rock songs to reference, as well).

There is something to be said for starting over from 1988, though... there are still a few bugs need ironing out, some mistakes need righting.
Maybe the time after next...

Posted by theniftyperson at 10:30 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, 11 November 2010 9:38 AM CST
Friday, 5 November 2010
Ah... so that is how that works!

As has been mentioned before, Super Mario Bros. is turning 25 on the 11th (six days from time of post).  This is a rather nifty time here at SebasTECH -- it's not every day that the world's greatest game turns a quarter-century, after all.

Anyway, rather a lot's been going on concerning the Mario Brothers recently.

A. The new Luigi page went live a couple of weeks ago,
B. I'm currently working on the new Mario page,
C. Nintendo are re-releasing Super Mario All-Stars (that old Super NES game with the entire NES Mario series on it) for Wii
D. Thanks to the miracle of music pirating, I've been able to find seven new Mario game soundtracks... I wish I'd known about them last year, when I still had a radio programme (and one that didn't need to be micromanaged by SoundExchange at that).
E. The Super Mario version of The Mind's Rubbish Bin is coming along swimmingly.

Amongst other things.
But, the main reason why I'm writing this is the Super Mario Bros. Aboveground theme (also called the "Overworld theme", the "main theme", and the "Mario theme"), composed by Koji Kondo.

Yes, again.

I began this artistic quest to learn all there is to know about game music composition shortly after I had written my first song, Murder Mystery, back in 2002. I decided that the best way to go would be to learn how Koji Kondo wrote the Super Mario Bros. theme.

For quite some time now, I've been doing research into not only the theme, but the composer. Kondo-san, apparently, had no formal classical training in music. He had been interested in the electronic organ since he was five (1965) and had been taught how to use it, but apart from that, he had no particular dedication to the playing or composing of music. His primary course of study was in Osaka University's art department. Evidently, the only reason why he was hired by Nintendo in the first place was because they were desperate for new hires in the sound programming department and had to set their sights fairly low (no insult intended to Kondo-san, but Nintendo didn't even require any demo tapes -- as a composer, I pride myself on professional demonstrations of my skill). Regardless, he was hired in 1984 and was instantly immersed in scoring and SFX programming for the NES game, Golf... if you could call it "scoring" (meaning, drafting a piece of music involving several different instruments -- the Famiri Konpyuta could only produce three sounds at any given time, music or effects.

Still, despite all of this: technical constraints on sound programming, the man's lack of training in music theory -- he mananged, in 1985, to compose what would become the most popular theme in the world. In all of my research, my question remained the same...


The answer to my question came in the form of an interview on the Super Mario Bros. 25th Anniversary website between Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, and the three composers in charge of Super Mario Galaxy 2: Ryo Nagamatsu, Mahito Yokota, and Koji Kondo. According to the website, the Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition (the one that you have to pre-order) comes with a soundtrack CD containing several of the Mario franchise's most influential pieces of music. Needless to say, the primary focus of the first part of the interview was how Kondo-san writes music. One of his methods, once he thinks he has finished a piece, is to put the MIDI sequencer on infinite loop and listen to the piece indefinitely, sometimes for hours. If, after that time, he can't find any problems with it, the piece is finished.
Also, speed and environment of gameplay is important as well. If the level in which the music is heard is meant to have a lot of running and jumping, Kondo-san will compose what he calls "athletic" themes (viz. the music to Yoshi's Island #3 in Super Mario World). If the level is to take place on an island, the music should reflect a tropical island atmosphere (referencing reggae, perhaps). He also stressed the importance of the first two measures of a song. In videogames, particularly those of the Third and Fourth Generations, the player wants to know what to expect from an unexplored level before he does any exploring. Particularly in Super Mario World, Kondo-san ascertained that the player could deduce what was coming simply by listening to the first one or two measures of the level's background score. A leisurely walking pace in Donut Land #1, a speedy jumping pace in Yoshi's Island #3, a stately swimming pace in Forest of Illusion #2. Plus, if something special was happening, such as a bonus level being reached, he wanted the song to reflect that as well. The Switch Palace themes, for instance.

Finally, after all of those revealing statements about how he composes music, Kondo-san addressed the Super Mario Bros. aboveground theme directly.
The beta gameplay demo for Super Mario Bros. involved Mario walking about in a wide-open (albeit, two-dimensional) field in front of a blue sky. The prototype aboveground theme which he composed for this setting was, as he described it, like a brisk stroll. However, once obstacles began to be added to the field, the strolling music no longer fit the environment. Ultimately, Kondo-san wanted the music to time well with Mario's necessary jumps. He wrote several more prototypes before arriving at the final score, which was heard in the game, itself.

So... my research has yielded the following answer to my question: "How does a man with no formal training in music compose the most popular theme in the world?"

He let the course designers dictate how the song should sound, simply by their placement of obstacles within World 1-1. If the first Goomba were placed on the other side of the first pipe, the song would sound drastically different. The song also needed to time well with Mario's necessary jumps, to clear walls and pipes and things. Next, the first measure of the song needed to convey what the player was likely to find in the level: were they going to be jumping a lot? Yes. Then, the song needed to be short enough to loop at least twice in a level that should take two minutes to clear, but long enough to stop it being repetitive. Finally, the song needed to be catchy enough, in the event that Mario should be defeated at the home stretch, for the player not to throw their controller to the ground and shout, "I quit!", but rather, "Okay, almost -- let's do that again!"

My artistic quest has come to an end. I now know enough about Koji Kondo's composing style to write game music, myself. Hopefully it's inspired you as well.

Posted by theniftyperson at 8:45 AM CDT
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Oh, good graphics...

Hey, guess what, my astonished reader? Someone in California is making a great scene over "violent videogames" again. To borrow a phrase, "well, lah-dee-freakin'-dah!" It seems to be a regular quarterly cycle for these people: every holiday season, some new blockhead crawls out from the skirting-board and starts giving the standard outdated complaint about how violent games are corrupting our children... well, not my children -- I haven't got any. But just a few short years ago, I did qualify as one of the impressionable minors who was having his mental abilities suppressed by the playing of interactive gaming devices.
I suppose, in that respect, the argument has changed somewhat. What was, in the '80s and '90s, an umbrella attack on gaming in general has become more specialised to target only the "violent" ones.

Anyway, I shan't go into a great, long manifesto defending games and debunking bad science, 'cos I've already done that, probably twice in the past. A quick perusal through the nether pages will yield my thoughts on the matter.
Suffice it to say, there are just some people who are anti-gaming: typically middle-aged men of religion or science whose most recent gaming experience was the original Pong back in the '70s. Basically none of the people who come out with these decidedly one-sided anti-game studies or who support them in ill-fated legislation have any idea what they're talking about. They wouldn't know Mario from Master Chief. My suggestion when you consider getting your son that game for Christmas: don't listen to your priest or your congressman. This situation is exactly what the ESRB rating is for. What's in the game? The "E" or "T" or "M" will tell you exactly what you need to know, without divulging any of the game's plotline.

Don't let a faceless panel of pediatric psychologists and clergymen make your decision for you. End mannequinism!

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, 6 November 2010 11:53 AM CDT
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
The sword on my wall

The sword on my wall, 
The mark of the otaku.
I'm now a true geek.

Though only plastic,
A Halloween costume prop,
A sword, it remains.

The status symbol
Of the nerdly pinnacle,
The height of geekness.

A greater effect
Even than the Post-It Notes,
The notecards and tacks,

The Sims advert leaf,
The crash dummy that I drew,
Violin keychain,

Mario pictures,
Tacks placed in star shape patterns,
Passwords on notecards.

The geekish icon,
Which nothing can hope to match.
Straight out of cosplay.

Cost but seven quid,
Still, I wrote haiku for it.
The sword on my wall.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:23 AM CDT
Friday, 29 October 2010
Quarter-Century for Super Mario Bros.

In the United States, it will have been 25 years since the release of the original Super Mario Bros. on November 11th. For those who aren't keen on figures, that puts the US release date on November 11th, 1985. Since that time, the game has been re-released several times. In 1993, its graphics and sounds were updated (along with those of its two direct sequels) and released as Super Mario All-Stars on the Super NES. In 1999, it was ported to the Game Boy Colour with a few extra features as Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. In 2005, to co-incide with its 20th anniversary, it and several other NES games were ported to Game Boy Advance. And, most recently, it was re-released in its original form to Wii Virtual Console, where it is currently the service's most-downloaded game.

Now, one may think, "Twenty-five years? That's a quarter of a century! Two and a half decades! A Third-Generation antiquity!" Nonetheless, Miyamoto-san's ground-breaking adventure game remains mainstream in one form or another. For this reason, almost everyone of any age group is mostly familiar with either the original game or one of its innumerable spin-offs. I can prove it. We shall use my recent Halloween costume as an example.

Now, even though I wrote on Of Carbon and Silicon a few days ago that I would be the musical entertainment at a local Halloween party for kids dressed as Luigi, I changed my mind at the last minute and went as Mario, instead (sorry, Luigi mate -- I'll dress in green next year). I didn't need to explain my costume to anyone, I didn't need to explain why I was imitating Charles Martinet in speech, I didn't need to introduce my signature musical piece for any reason at all. Literally everyone in attendance (parents and pre-kindergarteners alike) immediately identified me as Mario and the piece of music I was playing as Kondo-san's Super Mario Bros. Theme.  And, yes, I was doing my impression of Charles Martinet's "Mario" character voice, rather than imitating, say, Bob Hoskins or Lou Albano or Toru Furuya. The kids all recognised the character voice because they weren't around for the pre-Martinet era (the oldest attendee, I worked out, was born in 2006).

But, the thing I really want to address is Kondo meijin's theme to the Super Mario Bros. overworld (informally known simply as the Mario Theme). In 25 years, many composers have had an opportunity to re-arrange the theme in some way (with Kondo-san, himself, being the most frequent contributor). In an official capacity (meaning, anything heard in a Mario game), I know of several games with at least one remix of the theme. I can recall eleven offhand: Super Mario All-Stars, Super Mario 64, Mario Golf, Super Smash Bros (64 through Brawl), Super Mario 64 DS, Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi's Mansion, Super Mario Galaxy, and Paper Mario. That doesn't count the number of times the unaltered Super Mario Bros. version has appeared. Sometimes Koji Kondo is the arranger, other times another composer is (Mahito Yokota was in charge of arrangements on Super Mario Galaxy).
Apart from that is the Starman's theme (informally known as Invincibility), which also originated in Super Mario Bros. The only times to my knowledge that this theme was not used in any capacity in a Mario game was in Super Mario Land and Super Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy (Super Mario Land's invincibility theme was the "can-can" from Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in Hades; Mario Land 2's was a remix of Totakeke's Super Mario Land 2 theme). Otherwise, it has made an appearance somewhere in most games which bear the Mario franchise name.
That's the mark of a good videogame composer -- that he can write music that everyone will recognise for years, decades, centuries after the first release. Most game music just falls into obscurity. A jolly decent tune to whistle along with whilst you play the game, but once the connector pins on the cartridge break and you don't play for years, are you going to remember the overworld theme to Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom? Rather unlikely.
Huh? "Toejam & Earl"? They were a pop group from the '60s, right?

One quarter-century after the first four noise banks were heard to squelch out the Super Mario Bros. theme, it's still recognisable and fairly popular. 25 years after Mario picked up the first Super Mushroom, people still know who he is.
Amazing stuff, really.

Posted by theniftyperson at 10:40 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, 30 October 2010 12:45 AM CDT

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