February 2005

02/28/2005

Pizza Strikes AGAIN!

by Matthew Hawkins

First off today is… oh hell….

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MK!

MK has been spending the day with her mom and dad, but the real celebration kicked off on Saturday with a visit to the mall. The purpose of the trip was to check out the AIBO at the Sony store since MK’s working on an essay about robots, so it was mainly for research. Plus I really wanted to play with a robot dog. And I did.

I also spent a good deal bothering various Sony sales rep with dozens of tech heavy/hardball questions, the kind I highly doubt they get from your average Paramus Mall shopper. Thankfully my investigative skills came in handy and I got about a solid 15-20 minutes of Q&A before the sales guy realized that I wasn’t going to buy one and that I was just some techno-dweeb. I forgot to mention that Robin, Morgan, and Andy also came along, and they found it all quite boring. Boo-urns to them.

Andy and Morgan then split to attend some fancy dinner, so the rest of us went back to MK’s house where Robin got to finally see the Basil Warriors. And again, the urge to do a sequel (either Five: What Ever Happened to the Basil Warriors? or Basil Warrior Vs. The Rock Figher) grew even stronger. Then we all watched more of that DVD that MK’s brother got when he purchased some knunchuks. The second disc features the same fat guy as before, but instead of chucking knives vikings, he throws spears at fake animals. But he still beats the hell out of car parts, rope, cardboard men, and slabs of meat.

Since it was her birthday celebration, MK decided that we should all go bowling, so once Morgan and Andy’s shindig was over, we went to Morgan’s house to pick them up. I was actually at the place the night prior, where we all just watched TV, and I also got a tour of the place. I just love how everyone’s parents in New Jersey is a psychotic packrats. If there’s one really good thing about being poor and living in a small apartment, its that it makes sure that you don’t waste money of stupid shit that can clutter your living space. The basement was easily the wildest; there wasn’t anything mindblowingly cool, like a Santa and Mrs. Claus wrapped in plastic, or an old Donkey Kong arcade unit, just an insane amount of useless crap. Christ, and I thought my mom was nuts for holding on to old Spiegel catalogs.

Anyway, we all got to an alley just in time for midnight, glow in the dark bowling. Its so nice to bowl with folks who are just as bad as you. Actually, I love to bowl, and used to do it all the time with Dave, but it just got too expensive after a while (even going to the Port Authority’s lanes was somewhat costly, but the sights and sound of our fellow bowlers at the bus station more than made up for it). And this time I totally didn’t suck. In fact, I ended up winning the first game! By the second round, everyone had fallen apart due to the beer, with the exception of MK who wasn’t drinking cuz she was driving. So no surprise, she won the second game, and we both tied with cumulative scores from both games. Awwww….

Unfortunately there is no Wawa’s near MK, so we had to settle for just chips at the 711 (hey, I’m a hot dog person, and used to live off the Big Bites when living at Bay Ridge, but I didn’t want to run a risk with the wieners that night). But I was still hungry when we got back to her place, so I fired up some microwavable pizzas to eat during a really late night viewing of Weird Science. I didn’t bother to check the expiration date… I just assumed that they were from this year (or the last), and it’s frozen microwavable pizza for fuck’s sake! Anyway, I got super sick that night and was throwing up till dawn. Man, I just have NO luck with pizza sometimes (and there wasn’t even any meat on them this time).

The next day, it was decided that the fridge would be my next target toclean out, so I tended to that while Robin and MK took care of the cupboards. Almost immediately they uncovered sauces and the such that had expired two years ago, with the high (or low) point being some BBQ sauce that dated back to 1996. Yikes. Meanwhile, I had plenty of expired meat, expired mayo, and dirty rotten fruits & veggies to contend with. After about an hour, it wasn’t exactly as spic and span as I would have liked, but I ran out of glass cleaner due to the inch thick layer of dried blood in the crisper, and at least I got rif of about 90% of the contents (all of it way expired). And again, MK was quite pleased with the cleansing. I wonder if her mom is gonna bitch about this one too (though Robin’s smarmy note to her… though completely justified… certainly won’t help).

Then we all watched Barbarian Queen, a crappy flick from the 80s featuring… you guess it…. chicks with tits and swords. The best part was hearing MK make fun of the ditzy broad of the group, whom MK affectionally described as “the fat chick” which she would be if it was set in high school, somewhere in Cali cira the 80′s (it’s assumed that there probably weren’t too many fat chicks in the middle ages due to disease, lack of Krispy Creme, and the constant need to run away from rapists.

Afterwards, the three of us hopped in the car, drove to Hoboken (with a trip to Callahan’s on the way… like I said, I’m a hot dog guy), got on the PATH, and went to city for…

I had been super psyched for this event because, like Joe, I truly loath the Oscars, and all that it represents. Aside from from video games, robots, and cute girls, there’s nothing else I like more than complaining (especially when its about those three things), and I always have a total blast bitching and moaning with Joe, simply because he complains about the stupidest things imaginable as well. Plus its always fun to mix Jay into the action since he plays such an excellent straight man to both of our inane bitching and moaning). And even though Joe and I were both very loud, crude, and definitely offensive at certain spots (hence why I have chosen to be light on the details as to what was said), I just hope Mk and Robin had a good time. Though there’s no questioning that Jay did, cuz all Jews love Jew jokes, especially mine. I mean, what’s more entertaining that watching Joe recite all the lines from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? Certainly not some snooze educing acceptance speech from a horse faced women (no, not Julia Roberts).

Speaking of which, yeah, the Oscars sucked big time, perhaps more so than imaginable. No stupid joke on my end could ever sum up the entire evening any better than Sean Peen get all pissed off with Chris Rock’s Jude Law jokes. Though I have to say once more that it was fucking ridiculous that they didn’t even bother to play any clips for the animated categories. They the show did a great job of economizing time, like having many of the winners of the “non-important” categories give speeches by their seats… and of course, all that saved time was totally blown by the next Karate Kid.

But who cares, I just had a blast yelling at the TV while getting drunk and eating Joe’s delicious deviled eggs, which no one else wanted to touch, Once again, boo-urns to them.

As for today, it’s been relatively low key. Been following up on some game related business (of course) that I will disclose later, plus finished up some last minute birthday present shopping. And also, I came across, a hilarious cartoon about Bill Cosby clones, some person’s attempt at recreating the A-Team, and an awesome pic of Keanu Reeves puking his guts out.

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02/25/2005

“THE UNIT HAS BEEN DESTROYED”

by Matthew Hawkins

Last night at the Deitch Projects gallery was another Corey Arcangel related event. This time he was host to the Low Level All Stars, an evening of chiptune music assembled by Corey and the Radical Software Group.

Unfortunately I arrived a bit late and missed the opening, which included an explanation of the demo scene by Nullsleep, but I was just in time to see the start his brief set. In the crowd I bumped into Bit Shifter, who wasn’t there to play but to lend support to a fellow 8bit person and good friend. In addition to giving me the lowdown on what I had missed, we chatted a bit about the Japanese chiptune scene (naturally, YMCK was brought up), plus I found out the tour that he and Jeremiah are going on will start every soon (I’ll pass along dates as soon as I get them).

As for the set, Jeremiah played mostly his hits and standards. His instruments of choice are the NES, which is played via a keyboard that he wears on stage via a strap (and which he rocks with, sorta like how the old 80′s nerd rockers used to do with keyboard guitars, but this of course is the real thing), and a Brick Boy (old, old school Game Boy) that he controls directly. The last song was another brilliant chip-redux of an 80′s hit (not Depeche Mode as expected, but Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me ‘Round). There’s nothing better than being in a large crowd of people all grooving to a chip song and watching them realize that it’s something they all know. The “hey, wait a minute, is that…” expression right in the middle is the best part.

Next up was Treewave, a male and female duo from Texas that utilizes a combination of old technology, including a 2600, two Commodore 64s, and… I swear to God, you have not heard real electronic music till you’ve heard a song with the rhythm and the beats produced by a dot matrix printer.

When I tell most folks that I listen to chiptune music, they think I’m nuts, so I don’t expect them to take me seriously when I say that Treewave’s music was simply beautiful. Though of all the songs that evening, Treewave’s probably does the best job of fitting into people’s concept of music. Nullsleep for example relies on just one set of sounds produced by one instrument, which in his case is the NES. It’s easy to enjoy his complex and kinetic melodies, so long as one can doesn’t have a hang up with “listening to Nintendo sounds”, but to understand it all, one needs a true familiarity with those harsh beeps and buzzes. Whereas Treewave’s tunes mixes and layers of machine noises to create a unique, not so mechanical but actually organic sound, which in turn gives it a more traditional feel. But just because I couldn’t recognize the devices didn’t make any of the songs any less sweet. Plus Lauren Gray’s vocals were quite complimentary and not at all awkward, unlike most attempts to fuse live singing and chip music.

Along with the sounds were visuals produced by the 2600 directly via a special cart which contained unique videos for each song. One was a session of the classic game Combat going faster and faster, and more and more messed up. Another was just a deluge of angry multi-colored pixels, resembling the huge LED board in Close Encounters but on speed. But the true highlight of the evening was the duo’s main musician, Paul Slocum, playing a modified version of Dodge’Em, in which music was produced as he played. The song was racked with emotion; Paul had to play a perfect game without crashing to further the song, so as he went on, the game got faster (and harder), the music harder (and faster), and all of us were on the edge of our seats (even though everyone was standing; there were no actual seats anywhere). It was simply amazing, and the first instance, at least to my knowledge, of a superplay musical.

After Treewave’s set was a brief demonstration of game modding via the classic Wolfenstein 3D. Corey showed off a game editor and showed how to create levels and the ability to replace enemies with pics of Paris Hilton and a crudely drawn unicorn. And for the third and final act, what do you get when you mix chip music, Germany, and comedy? You get Bodenst?ndig 2000. It wasn’t chip tunes, it was chip metal.

First off, you have two Germans computer geeks that are simply hilarious, acting all wacky to the point that they’re damn nearly cuddly, but they also rocked liked crazy. So hard and heavy in fact, that at times the music made the mouse arrows on their computers move (and they were using laptops with trackpads). Their instruments were old workhorse sound programs that they called “soundtrackers”, like Music Mon, which are years and years old but are still popular in the German rave scene, and were coded by hackers with cheesy names like Dark Angel. The programs were running on laptops that emulated the Atari ST and old Yamaha sound chips, and both men were quite proud and enthusiastic when explaining the finer details of the technology (justifiably so IMHO… they made those ancient chips hum like no one else).

It was also fun just hearing about the stories behind the songs; most were autobiographical and told tales of young boys entranced by computers, and the trials and tribulations that would ensue. Drx always played the part of the youth and Bern assumed the role of some despicable record exec or something equally loathsome. The messages behind the songs varied, such as how all anyone wants to buy from the internet is bread, power, and porno, but you can only seem to find crappy wallpaper and ringtones for your mobile phone.

They also touched upon Jamster and called them Nazis for apparently ripping off one of their tunes to make into a ringtone. I wonder if anyone has told them most of America already hates their guys for their goddamn annoying singing bird ringtone? Both men are also scientist and explained that after studying countless phone sex ads produced via teletype machines, they concluded that it takes precisely 128 pixels to make a person horny.

Back to the music: for the most part it was loud and angry (well, that’s no surprise since they are afterall German), but it had a nice Euro techno feel… actually, a very Euro chip feel for those who are familiar…. plus a delicate softer side at times. One song had them just singing sans any computers, though Bern would add in a line spoken in MacTalk speak (and controlled via a PDA) here and there. Perhaps my fave song from them was Funghili that had Bern with his PDA saying “The unit has been destroyed”, the Music Mon blaring up front, and Drx playing along with a flute. But the song which Jeremiah had specially requested, one that they had never officially recorded called Sobistdu, was also fucking amazing. Man, I gotta ask that guy to share some of his bootleg chip music…

The only scary part of the night was when some big drunk guy start doing the Hitler hand sign, grabbed poor Bern by the arm, and started going on about the Fourth Reich in his face, but he handled himself well. Hey, no one said playing in New York (it was their first appearance here)! Otherwise it was an outstanding three hours of pure chip rock, and my first ever chiptune concert.

EDIT: I have two good pictures from last night, which you can see here.

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02/24/2005

Surprises Indeed

by Matthew Hawkins

WARNING: Again, tons of pics ahead.

This week has seen a crazy influx of noteworthy game related pics, so I figured that I might as well share the best…

- First off, everyone knows how ga-ga I go over prototype/unreleased game hardware. Well here’s some pics courtesy of ASSEMbler; the first is a Japanese magazine spread featuring a portable Famicom (NES) on the upper left, a prototype of the Wondermega (the JVC produced Genesis/Sega CD hybrid), and on the lower right, another drawing of the original PlayStation, back when it was still the Super NES CD. From the looks of it, the unit was one of the Sony produced all in one models, which looked far more Sony than Nintendo, hence why Nintendo go so nervous (for the full details, you can read about the whole saga in Steve Kent’s awesome book on game history.

Here’s a scan from an old EGM featuring a portable Super Famicom from Bandai, which also comes with a TV tuner and could even interface with the CD-ROM drive, a printer, modem, and other stuff. This was when Bandai was producing about 30 different game systems all at the same time. I’m assuming that they figured at least one would be a hit; they were wrong.

Hey look, it’s playing Dragon Ball Z game! Gee, what a surprise…

This here is a bizarro Sega CD development unit. Note how it’s a retail Mega Drive unit and a off the shelf Sega CD unit (what’s with the mixing of regions?) connected together with a custom interface. It’s so strange on so many levels, that I almost want to say it’s fake. It’s hella cool nonetheless.

- In addition to Rana, I also made another friend this week; a person who worked on one of my favorite games of all time, Rez! I’ll skip the details and just say that I will be interviewing him soon about his experiences, so keep any eye out for that. Plus I hope to share some ultra rare concept and work in progress artwork from Rez, Space Channel 5, and other UGA projects.

But real quick, here’s a snapshot of some ultra rare (and ultra awesome) Rez t-shirts which for some you had to actually work on the game to be able to get.

- Here is a guy who creates his own custom box arts for games. In some cases the changes are rather subtle, but for the most they’re pretty dramatic, and in almost every instance, its a major improvement. Though for most domestic titles, in which the original cover has either been butchered up or totally replaced for something for suitable for “American” tastes, almost anything is an improvement.

But what’s most amazing is that he’s managed to compose a boxart that in some ways is actually superior to the original Japanese version!

- Now that Katamari is so popular, everyone’s hopping on the bandwagon and creating all sorts of wacky stuff like hats and full costumes. I guess cutsey/creepy drawings should be no different.

- Here’s some college kids who created huge Super Mario characters out of post it’s.

- And finally, on an non-game related note, check out this archive of old school hip hop show flyers. This one has to be my favorite…

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