Thursday, 28 April 2016

Happy birthday to me -- 2016 edition

Greetings, fair readers! I had a birthday this month! It, uh, was several weeks ago. There has been a lot going on. That said, I received (and, er, gave myself) several gamely presents, so read on!
I'd been petrified of acquiring any 7th-generation systems for my collection because: why on earth would someone divest themselves of such a sweet machine if there wasn't something defective about it? Of course, these concerns linger for all platforms (chawesome, an NES! Hey, nothing happens when I plug it in but this blue blinking...) but the more sophisticated the systems become, the more complicated the problems (and their fixes) become. In short, I didn't want to shell out real cash in large quantities to become the proud owner of a Red Ring of Death. But we acquired a Wii under sad but unsuspicious circumstances (striking teachers needed to buy groceries, didn't WANT to sell, but NEEDED to... we only found out after we bought or we would probably have just loaned them some cash) and were given a working Xbox360 from a friend... now on the occasion of my birthday, now that its successor is well established in the market, I completed my suite of major 7th-gen consoles with a PlayStation 3. And, OK, better pick up some games for it also. (Although I hear it can go far used merely as a home media centre -- or at least as a Blu-Ray player 8) These look, by and large, like modern RPGs, meaning that I probably have several hundred hours of play ahead of me, in the event that I break both legs and am laid up for six months sometime, and decide not to further any of my numerous writing projects. Titles include: Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Soul Calibur IV, Tales of Xillia 2, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

Also we here see some "Pixelcraft" squares (colourful magnetic rectangles, first I mistook it for a DIY Tetris kit... boy am I glad we only paid second-hand price for these) and ""Super Mario Checkers". What makes checkers Super-Mario-ized, you ask? The red checkers have Mario's face on them, while the black ones... are green, and have Luigi's face on them. I, um, do not know how to play checkers. I expect that even the peppy Nintendo brand cannot blow that much wind into its sails.

That was a good start. Then we encountered a collection-liquidating garage sale that rang my price threshold of $5 repeatedly. What kind of weirdo ends up with Xbox 360, Wii AND PS3 games? Presumably they own all three machines. Just how rich were you? I own them all, but only because I'm picking them up just as everyone else is tossing them out. What's your excuse? Games included: PS3 -- Beowulf, Infamous 1-2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Uncharted 1-3; Xbox 360 -- Avatar, Prince of Persia - The Forgotten Sands, Red Dead Redemption, GTA4, and the Mass Effect series; and for the Wii, Sims 2 Pets, Playground, and a Cooking Mama title my daughter and I have already gotten good mileage out of.

On the way home I also popped by a thrift store (where I once, long ago, found a Panasonic 3DO) and acquired a 2008 Dragon's Lair comic book and the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective board game... which I'm presuming ICOM's early interactive video series was adapted from. (Also: my daughter saw the Sonic comic book in the drug store checkout and threatened to melt down if we did not purchase it... as a gift to me, her game-loving dad. Aww. SIX DOLLARS? Yes, I just paid more for a comic than I would pay for the game it was based on. Doy!) Not pictured: my eldest was enamoured of a set of dice at the garage sale, which were not for sale separately, so we also picked up a complete Mahjongg set (with dice) for $1. (Now I can pretend I'm playing Brodie Lockard's Shanghai in real life!)

One more acquisition: I saw the brand name go by as my wife was flicking through her buy&sell community and I said "back that page up! ... please." I'd never seen Neo Geo anything in the wild and thought, hey, it's my birthday... why not strike while the iron is hot? As large as my collection is, my instincts are often to let a deal go by and then regret it for weeks and months. None of that during birthday month! So: this is not a real Neo-Geo, the X is legacy clone hardware officially authorized by SNK. It's a weird little setup, a handheld machine that docks with a giant empty Neo-Geo-shaped shell for purposes of, I don't know, historical re-enactment. It can take in power and output A/V to big screens through the shell, and it can have an arcade-style attached (here included). It plays Neo-Geo games, but not in their original format -- rather, exclusively sold on proprietory SD cards. Anyhow, this machine comes with 20 of the Neo Geo's legendarily arcade-worthy games baked in, and I thought it might liven things up at my annual birthday vintage gaming party (however genuinely vintage the hardware may or may not be, it offers more play, if less nostalgia, than my Atari Flashback.)

So really, this post is just an excuse for me to talk up my upcoming vintage video gaming party, coming up on Saturday May 14th. I have ... a pile of vintage gaming hardware. Some of the piles are complete (power and A/V cords are an eternal hassle: I should actually make a have/want list somewhere here and keep it up to date, so if some altruistic reader cares to gift me with a joystick, light gun or multitap for my ad hoc museum here, or trade for a chunk of my eternal duplicate surplus, it can be something that would genuinely expand my offerings on tap), and some of those piles even have substantial game libraries associated with them. Anyhow, twice a year, I bring them out of retirement tubs in the basement and set up the machines with the fondest memories associated with them for my guests to use as time machines to temporarily revisit simpler times for a few hours. My bias is toward generation-winners and systems I have plenty of games with (plus: systems that play more than one generation of games!) so while I do own a Sega Master System, since I'm not made of outlets and TV sets I leave it in storage in favour of the N64 that gets a lot of mileage. This time around I hope to live the dream and make good on a longstanding aspiration to project games on the side of my house after sundown with the assistance of a Very Long Extension Cord. We'll see! It runs from early afternoon until ... late, so if you'd like to check it out, you will have to figure out where I live. (Asking me is the preferred avenue to that information, showing up unexpectedly is always a little creepy.)

Much, much more soon -- my textmode video game art archives are coming out of my nose I'm so backed up, but April has been busy -- it took me over three weeks to share my birthday haul with you. Stay tuned!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Prince Rogers Nelson has logged off

I couldn't locate any Prince ANSI artwork (Maze even turned on string searching in for me to have a look, as Sixteen Colours appears to be down indefinitely), so this piece of period teletext will have to suffice. His Purpleness isn't a great fit for this blog, as (despite presaging the Y2K bug in 1982 with "1999") he was never an icon of the (painfully white) digital underground, which may just amount to a case of bad timing: the first and biggest huzzah for his work in my memory and for those in my cohort will be his soundtrack to Tim Burton's '89 Batman film, a fault line for the '80s crossing into the '90s, a bold and jarring shot of dissonant brilliance thrown in the kitchen sink as part of Warner Bros.' spice rack. That movie got turned into a lot of video games but Prince didn't make the transition (heck, I don't think even Danny Elfman did) and computer fan-art was just in its infancy at this time -- Aces of ANSi Art just started that year, though you might find some pictures made in the earlier C64 scene (I could locate none at The Pixelling Cow.)

But even if he was denied his 8-bit glory on the NES, his genius still made its way into home computers of the era. There was a brief window there for a few years where digital audio -- before the MP3 standard became widely adopted -- could be used to share popular music on floppy diskettes using the Amiga's 4-channel .MOD music tracker format: sample brief, repetitive loops from the original song, then repeat them as needed. A kind of bespoke file compression, if you will. To combat inevitable repetitiveness (this isn't just similar to the part that came before, it's quite literally the same 3 seconds over and over again) the arrangement would be seasoned (liberally) with voice samples... because they could. In the early '90s, figuring that I would have to figure out some way of transplanting my analogue musical expertise into the digital forum, I was ravenously downloading as many public domain .MODs as I could fit through my 1200 baud modem (which is to say: not a lot) and given a Yellow Pages of files with bizarre names and no descriptions to randomly select from, I would often latch on to something whose name was a little less abstract and hang on to it for dear life. Here's something -- a 1990 arrangement (spent a year in the oven, I guess) of Prince's music from the movie the previous year. You can find BATDANCE.MOD>the original file or, if you like, I can play you an exported MP3 version of the .MOD right through your web browser:

yo there! how do you
like this tune?
i think it's rather
nice for a first try
in conversions!
you can use it in
your own demo or game
but don't forget that
it was made by :
dark knight from the
cool team called :
s y n e r g y !!!!!!!
if ya want to contact
me then write to :
rodolphe bono
8ter rue pierre neveu
61600 la ferte-mace
software houses are
of course welcomed!
hi to all my friends
all over the world!!!
-coolness is forever-
made by dark knight
in august 1990
Four years after Prince's Batman soundtrack was in the can (the Batcan), however, he made a bold artistic decision in 1993 that involved computers at a fundamental level: changing his name to an unpronounceable glyph as part of a contractual dispute with Warner Bros., anyone who wanted to write about him now had to use digitized assets contained on this floppy diskette. (That or refer to him as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, TAFKAP for short. When I was entering the computer artscene, I heard a lot from an elite dude following in his footsteps, TAFKASK, The Artist Formerly Known As Shihear Kallizad (about whom you can learn more from this ANSI of the Day post)... then he disappeared from the field altogether, forever. So it was with elites -- either they messily quit, were busted, or simply... ascended.)
Prince was quicker on the digital uptake than we'd realized, however, releasing in 1994 (only one year after those glyph-floppies, and not incidentally the golden year of nostalgia in which I founded Mistigris) a sign 'o them times -- a multimedia CD-ROM entitled Prince Interactive. We were still mucking around with textmode characters using the EGA colour scheme (not that we aren't still doing that 8) while he was pressing full motion video to mass storage devices. Now, Windows 3.11-era multimedia content is touchy to get working properly these days, but you can enjoy some splendidly bizarre screenshots over at Mobygames.

That marks the transition point following which he stopped regarding computers as a boon to his musical genius and began viewing them more as a bane; he ran hot and cold for Napster around the turn of the century, and for basically as long as there has been a YouTube, Prince had been serving legal notice to have unauthorized postings of his songs removed from it (culminating in Radiohead authorizing a contested posting of Prince's performance of their song Creep: we wrote it after all and we approve.)

I'm not going to post that here, because ... you can find that kind of stuff everywhere. But backing up a little bit to BATDANCE.MOD, here's another neighbouring file I remember vividly from my BBS download explorations: BATMEAT.MOD, an original composition splicing a little bit of the Adam West era campy Batman TV program with what sound like samples from the '89 Batman movie and some slick, are-they-Prince instrumental samples. (I think... maybe yes, let's throw it in this post anyway.)

this module was
ripped from the
best music disk out
at time of going to
press. it was coded
for effects by cecil
who loves getting his
name everywhere
Bonus! Some time after the fact, Misfit drew an ANSI portrait of Prince, released in the Blocktronics Block'N Roll collection: