Friday, July 31, 2015

MTG: Limited

This is the banner for my favorite MTG podcast
Limited Play:
Magic, The Gathering: Limited play is a new thing for me. I didn’t participate in this format until just a few months ago. However, I have really come to love it. The gist of limited play is that you and any other players participating buy packs, open them, and construct decks with them (keeping a pile of basic lands on hand for this purpose). This method of play adds a layer of strategy and surprise to deck construction, which takes me back to my very earliest days of magic, when I had so few cards that I had to play with the ones I had just bought, rather than pull from a large library of cards, or supplement my powerful decks with the best cards in my new packs. Additionally, limited play allows you to get more value from a pack of cards, as you get to keep the cards after you are done, so they still go into your library of cards for constructing decks. Finally, Limited play can lead you to new ideas, as you might pair cards in ways that hadn’t occurred to you to do so when sifting through your collection.

There are two forms of limited play that I’ve participated in, Drafting and Sealed games. Drafting requires 3 packs per person, whereas sealed games are done with 6 packs. Both have different strong points, which I will highlight here for the pure joy of talking about magic.  In general, I'm just sort of riffing with these posts, and they aren't designed for brand new players who don't know the rules to magic.  

Drafting has an entry fee of 3 packs per player, however, it also requires more than 2 players to work appropriately, and is generally played with 8 players (I usually draft with just 3). Each player opens a pack, picks one card, and then passes the rest to the next player. Then this process is repeated until you reach the end of the pack. Then you do the same for the remaining packs, switching the pass direction. Typically, the first few picks are very exciting and important, but by the end of a pack, mostly junk remains. It is like a mini game even before the actual game of magic, and I really enjoy it. It can be very tricky to know what to take and when, and sometimes if you are pursuing a given color or strategy, it may turn out another person in the group is chasing those same cards, and that can make it harder for you. A lot has been written on this subject, and my favorite MTG podcast, Limited Resources, is dedicated to drafting strategy.

In a sense, drafting is like a blind trade. Whenever you choose a card, the remaining cards are up for grabs, and there’s always a few other cards you have your eye on. It’s like you traded for them, but you don’t know who took them.

After you have been through all three packs, each player constructs a 40-card deck to play with. This usually means they choose about 23 cards out of 45 to go in the deck, and the rest goes into your sideboard, so there is plenty of wiggle room when making your selections. In between games you can switch out cards from your sideboard if you so choose. 

The other Limited format I’ve played is called Sealed, though not nearly as often as I have played draft games.  Sealed is similar to Draft, but different. In Sealed, every player opens 6 packs and makes a 40 card deck out of them. That’s 23 cards out of 90 this time, so there are a lot more cards, and your sideboard is huge. Because there is no draft, you play with the cards you open, which can feel a lot safer. At first I preferred this method greatly, however, I’ve found that the joy of pursuit that comes from drafting is really appealing, and, of course drafting is cheaper with just 3 packs. 
Additionally, in Sealed games I notice I often don't have enough cards in any given color to build a strong 2-color deck. 
Most agree that two colors is the best in Limited Format. It gives you variety, but not so much that you might not get the mana you need.  However, you don’t just want to take cards in your chosen color, willy-nilly. You want to take the best cards available, and craft a strategy on the fly. This strategy will inform your choices, as a new card may fit the dynamic of other cards you’ve chosen. However, you have to know when to let a good card pass by, if picking it up means going outside the colors you're focusing on, and potentially missing out on cards that are more directly useful to you, if not as powerful on their own.

Limited play a lot of fun, and there is a level playing field because everyone plays the same set, and no one knows what will be in the packs. This satisfies my first criteria of maximum fun, but it doesn't really work for the second criteria of saving money. However, this is where Cube drafting comes in, and I love cube drafting.

Cube drafting is, in essence, drafting from packs of cards you already own. A Cube is a name for a set of cards assembled for the express purpose of drafting. These cards are shuffled and dealt out in virtual packs for the purpose of drafting. I think that this is the next logical step for an MTG fan like myself, and I will talk about that more in my next post!  Thanks for Reading,


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Monthly Update: Augustus, 2015

Picture from the game: Apotheon

Hello all, this is my first monthly update for our new site.  And so, to mark the occasion, I used the word 'Augustus' because it seems to me like the ancient roman empire had a real flair for pomp and circumstance.  In fact, the Roman title of Augustus was even higher ranked than Caesar.  Additionally, I like the vary the titles of my Monthly Update posts to distinguish them from Jaconian's Monthly Updates.  Because I just don't like the idea of having two posts every month with the same names.

This month, I joined Twitter.  If you care to look me up, my handle is @drpottsiv.  I mostly look at gaming stuff, and I've found some cool groups to follow including @boingboing, @polygon and @offworld.   Reading a lot of gaming journalism makes me long to spend more time in the field, rather than stealing glances at work or between games of Magic Online.

Magic Online still owns my brain.  There's usually enough time after work to play a tournament, so that's often what I do when I get home.  I lose a lot.  I need help!  Lately, when my brain isn't under complete control of Magic Online,  I've been slowly amassing a pile of links to articles about interesting-looking games.  Many of them free,, interesting and experimental.  I like that kind of thing.  But after work, I rarely have the energy or will to try something new.

Other things are that I am into the fourth and final season of Farscape.  By now, I really love the show, let me tell you.  I highly recommend it as space fantasy excitement.  I also started watching Rick and Morty and Adventure time, for some smaller bites and lower comittment.  Rick and Morty is completely demented, but with a great sci fi theme.  And while I'm not crazy-into Adventure Time the way most fans I've met are,   I will say that it is a damn fine show, worthy of such dedication.  I just haven't gotten to that place yet.

I'm watching these shows via a hulu+ account for 8 bucks a month, on my roku streaming device.  I got tired of hooking up the HDMI cable every time I wanted to watch something, which turned out to be an awful lot,  so I bought a roku.  I'ts really convenient.  I like it.  But it's a little tricky.  Some services appear to be free, but then ultimately aren't.  Like the History channel.  (looking at you, Vikings).
alright, I gotta go to work, woops!


P.S.  Also, I thought I'd mention that I changed my handle back to 'Doctor Potts.'  I don't know why I do this, but I change my handle with some regularity  (Those who know me well might remember me rearranging the furniture in my various homes with a similar regularity.)  
My most regular handle, over the years, has been Doctor Potts.  Now that I've joined twitter under the same Handle, I thought it would be best to be consistent.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Simian Segue" - Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

"Simian Segue" from Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1995)
Composer: Eveline Fischer
CD Release: DK Jamz
Developer: Rare

This happy little ditty is a stage select song of sorts from Donkey Kong Country written by Eveline Fischer.  It's the music that is playing while you decide which level you want to play to earn 24,000,000 lives before moving on to the next area.  Like a fair amount of the songs from DKC, "Simian Segue" is a calming track with a simple melody that plays between the uncompressed MIDI piano and clarinet with a consistent bass and drum in the background keeping time.

For me, this song brings back a lot of memories from 1995 as well as that time that The Kid and I attempted to go through every level in one sitting without backtracking.  We made it as far as Snow Barrel Blast, which probably took well over 29 lives as we passed the controller back to the other person upon dying.  An interesting note is that Eveline Fischer was the one of the three composers who wrote "Northern Hemispheres," which is the song that's played during the Snow Barrel Blast level.

So yeah, not only good music, but good memories that go along with this 20 year old song. . .damn, two decades, as 1995 doesn't really seem that long ago.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Game Scores: Excitebike (NES)

Because of a MIDI Week Singles I did a while back about a song that lasted about 10 seconds, I bring to you a Game Scores (sadly we haven't posted one since October of 2014).  And those of you with some musical knowledge will know that the logo has spoiled over 50% of what I am going to cover here today.  

Excitebike, which came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1984 has a measly six tracks, all of which are under 10 seconds in length.  Seriously.  Go back and play the game (NES, Virtual Console, 3DS), or just listen to the video below.  That's it for music.  There are sound effects during the actual race, but that amounts to the "Brbrbrbrbrbrbrbrb" of the engine (higher pitched if you're using the boost), the "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh" of the crowd, the "bldop" when you ride over a jump/ramp, the "rdhrdhrdhrdh" while riding through a dirt patch, the "ringringringring" when your engine overheats, and the "blblblblblblblb" of the bike crashing. 

So why showcase a game from 31 years ago that has less than a minutes worth of music!?  Well, if you are at all familiar with Excitebike, you already know that those eight seconds of title music (re-used as the 2nd, 3rd and disqualifying music with subtle variations) is a damn fine bit of music writing.

So today I give you the entirety of the music to Excitebike composed by famed early Nintendo composer Akito Nakatsuka.  The tracks played are as follows:

0:00 - 0:09.8  ~ Title
0:09.8 - 0:18  ~ Select Track
0:18 - 0:26.66  ~ First Place
0:26.66 - 0:35.72  ~ Second Place
0:35.72 - 0:44.51  ~ Third Place
0:44.51 - 0:53.65 ~ Disqualified

You get the idea.  There are three songs, with one song modified two additional times, but ever so slightly that you may not even catch it if you're not paying attention or just overjoyed that you eked out a third place victory and not 13th; I don't think I've ever scored 4th place, just 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and some other double digit number with 3 in it.

While writing this short article, I was unable to locate any interviews that Akito Nakatsuka did regarding either Excitebike or other early compositions for Nintendo, so I am unable to elaborate as to his choices for the music presented here.

The only negative thing I can say about this music, is that I don't feel it as music that is associated with a motorbike race.  It works perfectly as an arcade intro as the music does for so many early video games, but when listened to by itself, I don't conjure the image of multiple racers riding over dirt ramps and through mud pits trying to knock over the person behind them all while carefully monitoring your heat gauge.

But hey, it's still damn catchy all by itself.

Maple Nut Crunch

Friday, July 24, 2015

Full Review: Half-Life (PC)

You know, I did not realize that I had started playing Half-Life almost two years, and I just recently finished the game after playing for roughly 20 hours, but more on that in a bit.  To get it out of the way, when I gave my first impressions, I felt just sort of "whelmed" and I can now say that that feeling lasted for most of the game and let me break it down for you in the only way I feel that I can without going into Full Review mode, but no promises.  (By the way, I lied, but you already knew that).

I got lost a lot in this game.  As in, I would have to look up walkthroughs on youtube because my brain turned me into stupid when I tried to read a walkthough on Gamefaqs.  Most of the time it was because I wasn't taking a ledge that I did not know existed so that I could get to the area that I was positive that I needed to get to.  I would say that becoming lost happened at least once a twice a chapter (there are 15 chapters).

Becoming lost aside, it was a pretty standard shooter with shooting guns at bad guys and what not.  There was even the conventional stock up on items and health right before entering a room that was obviously designed for a mini/boss fight;  or you know, a portal to another world/realm/dimension.

Health packs and ammo refills. . . I'm going up against a boss aren't I?
One thing that I was definitely not prepared for the first time was having to take down an attack helicopter despite just picking up a rocket launcher.  I think I wasted a rocket or two before realizing that you can direct the path of the rocket by using the laser sight on the rocket launcher.  It definitely took me longer than the six seconds it took AdamSpencer87 in the video.  I just felt mentally unprepared to think that shooting down a helicopter would be a thing in Half-Life.

I actually kind of liked the inventory system.  Having the types of weapons grouped together using the 1 - 5 keys or by using the scroll wheel on the mouse was nice too.  I like having options.  My biggest gripe though about the controls though was how Mr. Freeman moved.  Whenever I moved in any direction, Mr. Freeman (May I call him Gordon?) always seemed to slide forward an extra step.  Now this would not be a problem if there were not any platforming elements in this game.  There are platforming elements in Half-Life.  Even at the end of the game, I was still having issues with running, jumping (performing the long jump was its own struggle which resulted in another Gamefaqs lookup) and landing on a smallish platform and not falling off took a fair amount of patience.

These platforms are moving.  Fuck these platforms.
Another aspect of jumping that I found annoying was having to jump on boxes a number of times throughout the game.  Now I am not sure if it was just my poor jumping skills (it wasn't), but there were a number of times that the only time I could jump on said box, was to jump and while in the air, press the crouch button (left control) to bring my legs up high enough to be able to make it over/onto the box.  Now I know this makes sense in the real world, but when you have a character shooting a shotgun at an interdimensional multi-eyed sonic blasting dog creature while lugging around 184 lbs worth of gear, I do not think that the jumping mechanic needs to be on par with QWOP.

Oh, and god damn those ladders!  Almost every occurrence of a ladder demanded that I save, less I lose 20+ hp from falling damage.  I easily fell down I cannot count how many ladder-shafts trying to climb down a ladder.  Getting off of ladders took its own skill to accomplish on occasion, which more often than not resulted in launching off of the ladder a few feet before (hopefully) landing on the platform I was climbing towards.

Another thing that possibly caused me to like the game a lot less than a good portion of the internet feels that I should, was that I would often get motion sickness (on a very slight level) after about 30 minutes into playing.  If I played the game on a daily basis, by the middle of the week I felt that I could get by playing about an hour and only feel a little queasy.  I was also making sure to drink a lot of water.  What was odd though was that I didn't notice Mr. Gordon bouncing a lot when he ran/sprinted, although the non-firing gun animations got a little annoying when the gun covered the crosshair.

Again, I was just sort of "meh" with the events in the story.  Part of me liked that the story was told in one long continuous string of scientists and aliens amidst a storm of bullets and guts while trying to either save the world or escape from all other violent sentient lifeforms.  Yeah, there was the break when Gordon was unconscious, but for the most part there were no breaks.  No chance to catch my breath.  I think the part of me that did not like this was this was the part that was feeling queasy from motion sickness and just wanted to have a moment between levels, but I guess that's what the pause/Esc button is for.

In my First Impressions article, I talked about ways the game broke immersion.  The biggest way this happened was with how often I reloaded from a previous save, which happened pretty frequently.  During the stages when I was fighting off military personnel and not crabheads, I found myself saving after nearly every kill, just in case I took what I thought was too much damage.  This was especially the case in the end game with whatever the hell those floating heads that shot fireballs were called (they're called Alien Controllers); the Half-Life equivalent of Doom's Chocolate Demon.

By the end of the game, I was a little bit more invested in the story, but that could also be because of that odd suited man who sounded like he could only talk while inhaling.

Yeah, that's the guy.  Somewhat reminiscent of the Smoking Man from X-Files, but only because he wore a suit and knew stuff that Dr. Mangor did not have fore knowledge of.

You know, the quality of the graphics did not really ever bother me.  I could tell the general shape of the creatures that I was killing and basically guess at what they were.  The humans looked like humans, the headcrabs looked like headcrabs.  Sure the textures didn't look anything like a modded-up-the-rectum Skyrim, but having played nothing but GoldenEye 007 for six months straight back in 1997, I did not feel that I was playing something more akin to E.T.

I will say however that I was very impressed with the lighting effects, especially while shimmying through tunnels and air ducts.  The light would not illuminate all of the surrounding area, but instead would light the area where the beam was focused so often times you would have to point the flashlight closer to the ground or the wall to see what was around you.

Music & Sound
I honestly could not tell you anything about the music.  I know there is music in the game, partly because the soundtrack is available when you buy the game on Steam (one of the few times the soundtrack comes packaged with the base game) and there was music during the end credits.

The sound effects were pretty standard FPS game sounds.  There was different sounds based on the type of floor Mr. Gordman was running on.  The weapon sounds were weapon sounds and I think that is where my critique of the sounds in Half-Life shall end.

Final Thoughts
In the end, I am glad the game was finally over.  I really felt that I was trudging through most of the game not having a great time, even though I sunk 20 hours into the thing.  And I cannot tell you how long it actually took me to beat the game in in-game time (minus all of the times I reloaded or times I died or committed suicide just to spite the game.  The Internet tells me that it takes, on average 12 hours and I definitely was not going for a completionist time either.  I was going more for a survivalist/not dying time.

Now people have said that Half-Life 2 is really where the series picks up and that the game does not hold up very well.  My response is that it apparently held up well enough in 1998 to warrant all kinds of praise.  Oddly enough though, I just started Half-Life: Blue Shift, which is the same setting, but told through the eyes of one of the security personnel of Black Mesa Research Facility.  The controls and whatnot appears to have the exact same effect, which makes sense.  Maybe I will feel different about this shorter 3.25 hour story (read: 6 hours for me), knowing that ahead of time.

I do not know why I do this to myself.  Perhaps I found the story more interesting that I allow myself to believe.

My Lovely Red Blood

P.S.  Because I couldn't find a suitable place for this picture but still wanting to include it, here it is:

Valve Headquarters?
Near the end and probably the last time I had 100 Health and 100 Armor.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Nascence" - Journey (PS3)

"Nascence" from Journey on Playstation 3 (2012)
Composer: Austin Wintory
Producer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: thatgamecompany

This deliciously moody track is the opening to the game Journey, originally for PS3.  This song serves as something of a Leitmotif in the soundtrack, and I think it stands on its own even at under 2 minutes.  The strings are sweet and melancholy, and they really resonate for me.

I haven't played Journey since the first time, three or so years ago.  It was a great experience, and the music is very important to the game.  Clearly, I'm not the only one who thinks so-- Sony released the soundtrack on vinyl.  This is the first time I've heard of a vinyl record for a game soundtrack.  I plan to do a game scores post on Journey at some point, and will be looking into more music from Austin Wintory.    And if I ever get a PS3, Journey will be the first game I buy.


Monday, July 20, 2015

MTG: Constructed

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. He's pretty cool 

Constructed play
As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been playing a lot of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) after a (decades) long break, and I'm going to be sharing what I've learned. I want to start by talking about Constructed play, as it is the MTG format I am most familiar with, and until recently, the only format I knew. In brief, Constructed play is a game where players construct decks of no less than 60 cards, no more than 4 of any one card (except basic lands), starting with 20 life. The cards in the deck come from the players collection. This interfaces with the collectible aspect of Magic cards, both in good and bad ways.
Problems with constructed play
One of the pitfalls of constructed play is that there is a severe economic slope. If you spend more money, you are more likely to win, it’s as simple as that. This has always been the case, but when I was a teenager back in 1994, it didn’t come up quite as often, because most of us didn't have much money to speak of. But these days if you focus your spending, you can construct a $300 deck with nothing but amazing cards and wallop your friends. This approach is not good for the game, in my opinion. It’s not fun to get your butt kicked all the time, and it’s not cheap to try and compete in that way. I am not about to get into an arms race for the biggest and baddest. Not to mention, it is a boring way to construct a deck, and it takes away the randomized fun of opening packs and seeing what you get.

Another problem I have with constructed play is akin to the above – instead of playing a variety of cards, the "best" decks are constructed of 4 copies of the best possible cards. This leads to a major drop in variety, and a generally boring deck that yes- wins a lot. Zzzzzzzz. Out of the thousands and thousands of possible magic cards, people like to construct decks made up of 10 different cards in multiples of 4. I hate this method, I find it insulting.

Fortunately, there is a style of play that cuts right against that. It’s called Singleton, and to have a singleton deck, you are required to have no duplicates at all (basic lands excluded, as always). I really appreciate this variety, it is challenging, and leads to interesting variation. Not to mention, if you really don’t want that much chaos in your deck, a great number of cards in the dozens of MTG sets have reasonable facsimiles, or out-and-out duplicates with different names.

terror, doom blade: pretty much the same thing

Another solution is to play Pauper decks. If you have a friend who drains the fun away with a huge collection of obscure and overly powerful rares, challenge them to a pauper game. That means only common cards. 10 out of 15 cards in every pack is a common card. These cards are typically worth .10 or less. It’s worth noting that spendy jerkoffs can mess this up to, as there have been, over the many years of magic, some really excellent common cards printed. So it is possible to create an overpowered pauper deck, though I doubt this happens as often. In the most level playing field, a Standard Pauper deck should work for everyone, drawing cards only from the most recently released sets. Without ever buying a pack, you can make a decent Pauper deck for about $5.00.

*Just for your information, a deck made up of only Uncommon cards is called a Prince deck, and a deck made with Uncommon and Common cards is called a Peasant deck.

As I mentioned above, there's another form of constructed play called Standard. Standard is made up of the last three blocks of cards released. A block is usually 2-3 sets of cards, and about three sets are released every year. This helps to limit the pool of cards, and can help to faze out some of the absurd, overpowered cards of past sets. Depending on your play style, this can be a curse or a blessing, and there will still be those who just buy up all the very best, and most expensive rare cards.

As I've illustrated above, Constructed play has some key pitfalls that can make it hard for beginners or even experienced players on a budget, but there are ways to get around these pitfalls, such as Pauper or Singleton play. Another way around these pitfalls is Limited play, which I will get into in detail during my next post. Limited play forces you to construct a deck out of a very small cross-section of cards, making it impossible to stack the deck with only majorly over-powered cards. However, the building of the deck is also part of the game, and adds a new dimension. Limited has become my favorite way to play Magic, and I can't wait to tell you all about it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Do I Want To Play Fighting Games?

Why indeed!?

I personally have never "gotten into" most fighting games out there.  I did fall in love with Killer Instinct back in the mid 90s when the only other real choices were Street Fighter, Tekken, or Mortal Kombat.  I had played SF and MK a bit, both on the various consoles and in the arcade, but there was such a massive following with those games that joining in without a skillful background meant that I would lose that precious quarter in less than 30 seconds when going up against a fellow homo sapien and on the rare occasion, I could last until the third round against early computer AI.   The problem was that I was never particularly great at any of them.

So when Killer Instinct came out in the arcades touting that it would be released on the "Nintendo Ultra 64" I was pretty excited.  Nintendo Power even sent out little bookmark-type cards with character information and a short list of moves and the newly introduced C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!  I even took Jago's card with me the first time I went to the local arcade (Tilt) to play and I think I only played a couple of times due to the line and the $0.50 startup fee.  Plus, Robin Beanland's score for the game was amazing.  I played the SNES version that Dr. Potts had quite a bit and I eventually bought the watered down Game Boy port (parent's didn't like the idea of a game where you can fight against women) so I had some experience in a very limited capacity (from six attack buttons down to four along with a reduced roster and move list as well).

During the Pine Tree Year, I played a bit of X-Men: Mutant Academy, which I do not recall being any good at either, but we played it for fun.  And I guess I could count Bushido Blade in this group too (which I later bought), but that was an odd combination of fighting game, and something else that I cannot place.  Bushido Blade I did alright with, managing to finish a couple of the storylines, but the "Kill 100 enemies of progressing difficulty without dying to get the super duper ending" was just a bit beyond my skill (read: impossible).  Years later when I bought Chreekat's PSP from him along with a Tekken: Dark Resurrection I thought I would give the genre another go. That lasted about a year before I ultimately gave up.  Again.

I know what my problem is too with fighting games.  It's all of the moves that characters have and being able to link moves together to perform combos.  I get flustered, then I become frustrated and all of those (as in maybe three or four) moves that I have memorized in my brain becomes mush and the rest of the fight turns me into a button mashing idiot not at all wondering why I lost.

And now, for some inexplicable reason, I have the urge to play/acquire a fighting game.  Maybe it's that Mortal Kombat X and Dead or Alive 5 have been released seemingly back-to-back, but I feel like I will fall into the same hole of loathing and despair.  I will be drawn in by the good lookingness of the game, the moves that people are able to pull off are, to say the least, a bit on the amazing side.  I would like to be able to play a game like that, but I know that I lack the skill and calmness, which is probably for the best.  It's probably better for my blood pressure too since I know that I will become upset to the point that I might have to break a controller.

And murdering that controller?  It's a real and legitimate fear.  It's something that I would rather not put Conklederp through.  Plus finding a corded Xbox 360 controller is getting more and more difficult to find. . .nevermind, it's not.  But I would rather not have to fork over another $30 because I felt that, without any practice, I could jump right in and kick some digital ass.

Peace out bitches. . .I'm out. *Kerplünk*(sound of the mike being dropped into the toilet).

It's The Circle of Life

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: File Select (remix) - Mario 64 (N64)

"File Select (remix)" from Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64 (1996)
Composer: Koji Kondo
Remix Producer:  Krys$hun
Developer: Nintendo

Okay, so I got really excited about our last MIDI Week singles post and I decided to look for more stage select music.  As it turns out, Megaman rules the Youtube Stage Select music scene, coming up in the results about eight out of every ten choices.  However, after sifting through the Youtube search results for a while, I came up with a winner:  Super Mario 64, file select menu!

I decided to do something different this week, and I chose a remix track of the Mario 64 file menu.  This remix is a labor of love, and I think it adds to the song without getting in the way.  This is a very pleasant track, I think.  It has a certain hollow sound that makes me think of a water level, and it has very positive nostalgia for me.  Mario 64 was the start of a new era, It's a colorful and bright game, and I think this music plays well with the overall aesthetic.  It makes me happy to listen.  Also,  for purists, here's the original track


Monday, July 13, 2015

R.I.P. Satoru Iwata

I admit that I do not know a lot about the late CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata.  Before the announcement of his death on Saturday July 11th, I could tell you that he was the president of all of Nintendo and that he frequently was on the Nintendo Direct videos that seemed to crop up every other week.  That's pretty much about it.  I could not have told you his age or even what his direct impact was while heading Nintendo; or even when he started working for Nintendo for that matter.

Sadly his passing has lead me to do a lot of reading, both in the form of obituaries and Wiki articles about his accomplishments, which you can read on his oddly short Wikipedia page.

Some things that stand out to me, was that in 2011 he took a voluntary 50% pay cut to help the company stay afloat with Microsoft and Sony and their respective systems and market share; Shigeru Miyamoto also took a paycut, although the exact percentage was not mentioned.  Iwata was also responsible for helping to bring about the DS system, and the Wii and their sequel-systems.  He also played a role in the Pokemon games as well as Warioware, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, and Animal Crossing.

If not the most tragic aspect of this all, is that Iwata was only 55 when died.  That's only 20 years older than me and 10 years younger than my own father.  And it was from something as potentially benign as a tumor on his bile duct, although death is not an uncommon result.

See, I'm no good at writing these and rather than turn the last part of this into something about me, I'll leave with the words of Lorik, King of Tantegel, Ruler of Alefgard, "May the light shine upon thee."


Friday, July 10, 2015

My MTG Origin Story

Lilliana, a planeswalker from the upcoming Origins set

The next Magic, the Gathering set, to be released July 17th , is called Magic Origins.  From what I understand, the overarching theme of this set is to explore the origin stories of several planeswalkers (very power cards) in the magic universe.  As part of a promotion for the set, Wizards has been asking fans to tell their own origin stories.  To that end, I’d like to talk about my own discovery of Magic, The Gathering (MTG). 

Using modern technology, I can determine that I started playing sometime around 1994, when the Revised edition was released.  I must admit, reviewing the list of release dates for sets really throws me off, as my perception of this timeline is far different from the actual timeline.  Before consulting this list, I would have presumed six months to a year between set releases. 

I remember that I was of Jr. High School age. I had my friend Cortez over on some random weekend,  when we would typically play video games.  Instead, he had brought these cards he called ‘Magic Cards’ and offered to show me how to play.   I was game, and we sat on the carpet in my bedroom and laid the cards out.  I remember showing him cards from my hand to ask him what they did or how I played them, and slowly but surely, through that first game, I learned how to play cards out of my hand.  

After a very slow progression through the game, we came to a point that I now know as parity.  This is when a game is just a line of creatures on one side and a line of creatures on the other side, staring at one another.  This happened a lot in my early days of magic, but this first time was different because I didn’t have the first clue what I was doing.  I remember that Cortez had a Cockatrice out, a creature with an early form of what is now known as deathtouch.  I would just sort of pick a creature to attack out of my lineup, shrug and see what Cortez would do.  ‘I block with Cockatrice.  It dies.”  … “oh, yeah.”  And then I would do the exact same thing as I furrowed my brow trying to figure out what to do.  “Umm, this creature attacks.” … “I block it.”  … “oh, yeah…”  

it's that second line I didn't quite grasp

Back in those days, you could buy a starter deck, which was 60 random cards in some set amount of rarity.  These decks were supposedly playable, but they didn’t necessarily have the mana you needed to even cast your cards.  You just pulled the card off the top of the deck and hoped you could do something with it.  I recall that in that first game, we didn’t play with a  hand size, so I was holding an absurd number of cards, staring, reading, furrowing my brow (lots of brow furrowing in this story).  Cortez was kind enough to let the game carry on this way, so that I could familiarize myself with the cards.

Thinking back on it, that doesn't sound fun at all.  And I recall being frustrated that I couldn’t accomplish anything.  But, on the other hand, I was enthralled by the whole of it.  A card game with cool fantasy themes and tons of different art and creature designs.  It was very stimulating just to read the cards and look at the art.  The only artist I can remember is Poole, he did really nice watercolors of islands.  Technically, the art is higher quality now, but it will never give me the same feeling as the Revised edition art.  There were also miscellaneous pieces of flavor text, often about mysterious characters named 'Urza' and 'Mishra.'  

I don’t know when I decided I wanted to collect and play my own cards, but I think it may have been when I saw some games start to pop up at school.  “Hey, I know those!” And then it turned out that I could buy cards at the comic shop I was already frequenting for Spiderman and X-men comics.  Booster packs were $2 and starter decks were $8.  Later we learned that Starter decks weren’t as good a deal, because they didn’t include as many rare cards, but they got the job done early on.  (it’s worth noting that I’ve bought more cards in the last 6 months than I did the entire time I was collecting then).  

It’s also worth noting that Magic Cards are the only thing that I collected during that time that has maintained and accrued value through the years.  All my comic books, baseball cards and star trek cards are worth about what I paid for them.  A harsh lesson about marketing to children.  


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: Mission Briefing - GoldenEye 007 (N64)

"Mission Briefing" from GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 (1997)
Composer: Graeme Norgate & Grant Kirkhope
Released: No Official Soundtrack Release
Developer: Rare, Inc.

As my first MIDI Week Singles here on the new site, I wanted to do a little piece of menu music that I could not only recall from memory, but was music that I actually enjoyed listening to and had fond memories of.  I also thought it appropriate as it's music that plays while your selecting which stage you want to start.  See what I did there?

And as far as who wrote this bit of music (Grant Kirkhope or Graeme Norgate), information from the below 2013 interview points to Mr. Kirkhope.

But the music, for it is which why we are all here today.  What I love about "Mission Briefing" is that it's unobtrusive and just there in the background.  And it still sounds like James Bond-type music, and it has that gongy-brake-drum-banging-on-a-hollow-pipe-sound (or apparently a tuned down tambourine hit) that is very GoldenEye (movie and game).  "Mission Briefing" probably didn't win any awards for Best Music in a Video Game, but it's exactly what needed to be played while doing a bit of on screen reading before you're thrust into a world of flying bullets and shaken martinis.

This Will Be My Testimony

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Magic: The Gathering - what I've learned so far

Serra Angel by Greg Staples, 2013

Through most of the past year,  I've been playing Magic The Gathering at an increasing rate.  It's come to occupy a significant portion of my mind and a good chunk of my spare cash as well.  It's a habit pushing addiction, but I love it.

I first started playing Magic in 1994, with the Revised Edition.  I was in Jr .High, and I had a pretty good pool of peers to play against during lunch hour.  Back then, my cash flow was very limited, as were the cash flows of my peers.  We played with the few cards we had, and we were competitive, but not on a professional level.

I was pretty serious about it while I was in school, but eventually I dumped all my cards except three or four decks*.  My peer group shifted after high school, and I didn't find I was playing  much, if any Magic.  Every few years, my friends Ramsden and Ghost would break their cards back out, and we'd buy a few packs whatever set was out at the time, and then marvel at all the changes that had happened between sets.  Then, about 9 months ago, those two split an entire box of Magic 2013, and asked me to play.  I had no cards, but my neighborhood Target did!  So I rushed to catch up, purchasing starter kits and packs when I would buy my toothpaste and socks.  

This latest run is the deepest I've ever gone in Magic since the original round of play.  Deeper, in fact, since the game itself is deeper, and the number of informational resources are greater.  And the game has changed a great deal.  I've learned a lot, and it is to my great pleasure that I will attempt to explain what I've learned, and outline what I hope for from the future of Magic: The Gathering and me. 

It has been tough leaping over dozens of sets and thousands of cards into the modern era of Magic, but I think I've done a pretty good job.  My progression has been aided by regular play, a podcast called Limited Resources and Magic Online.  Magic Online was my first taste of playing magic against anybody but my two friends who got me back into it.  Limited Resources is a fantastic podcast for people who love the game, and consistent play with Ghost and Ramsden has facilitated much learning and conversation about the game, past and present.  Through the last few months, key vocabulary words have changed from obscure to well understood.  I'd like to talk about a few of these today, and then get into further detail in a forthcoming series of posts.

Serra Angel by Douglas Schuler, 1994

Because of the incredible wealth of magic cards out there,  Wizards of the Coast has begun to group them into different categories, called Format.  There are a bunch of formats, but ones I'm most interested are Constructed, Limited, Modern, Standard, Singleton, Draft and Sealed, Cube.  You know, not many.  Today I just want to talk about Constructed and Limited, but other terms may pop up along the way.   

Constructed is the form of Magic I have always played.  You have your collection, and so do the other players.  You go through ALL of your cards (give or take) and construct a deck out of them, and play them against one another.  For years, this was the only form of Magic I knew about, and it was tough for me to think of magic in any other way.

Within Constructed, there are other forms, such as Modern, Legacy and Standard.  Legacy allows you to use all of your cards from any time period (minus those on the restricted or banned lists).   Modern is a collection of all the Magic cards after a certain point in time.  (coincidentally, Modern seems to start shortly after I stopped collecting originally.) Standard is constructed only of cards released in the last year or two.  There are further specifics if you care to read about them.  I originally rejected Standard, seeing it as money-making scheme, but it's actually come to be my favorite way to build a constructed deck.  I'll tell you more in exhaustive detail with a future post

Limited is a really interesting and different way to play.  It relies on good analytical skills and a familiarity with the latests MTG sets.  There are two forms of Limited Magic:  Draft and Sealed.  And the gist of it is, everyone buys some packs and builds a deck right there on the spot.  

What attracted me to limited play is that it reminds me of my earliest days of playing magic, when I didn't have any collection to speak of, and I did just have to make decks from the packs and starter kits I bought.  I would read every single card, having no idea what it might do, and put my favorite ones in a deck.  The key difference is that limited play is highly competitive, whereas those early days were anything but.  Sometimes we didn't even have the necessary cards to build a functional deck, but we played it anyway.

Many years and many dollars later, Magic the Gathering has come a long way, and so have I.  I plan to detail my understanding and opinions on each of these formats I have mentioned, and when I'm done with this project, my intention is two fold:  To find the best way to introduce new players to Magic.  To find the least expensive way to maintain maximum fun with Magic.  I've got a pretty good idea how to do this, and I'm ecstatic at the opportunity to share with you. 


*for the record, the main deck I kept was a back/red/white deck full of royal assassins, vampires, serra angels, lightning bolts and seven dual lands!  Of course, I never used plastic sleeves to protect my cards, so all of these are in very poor condition.

**If you'd like to read more, here's a link to our previous references to Magic.