Monday, January 30, 2012

An Instrumental Final Fantasy Hip Hop Album? Sure... Why Not?

Few game franchises are as straight up street as Final Fantasy. While the individual games rarely take place in urban environments (exceptions do exist, of course) there's something undeniably gritty about their usual plot involving a group of plucky rebels banding together and defeating an evil, greedy, deranged, and/or faceless oligarch- especially when they use machine guns and grenades to do so.

Perhaps this is why past experiments in merging Final Fantasy and hip hop have been so good, and perhaps this is why I'm looking forward to K-Murdock's release of Hero Muzik Vol. 1 this week...

Long-time fans of the franchise (or of my tattoo...) will correctly infer that K-Murdock's Hero Muzik will feature remixes of Nobuo Uematsu's iconic themes from Final Fantasy VI. This is only part of the reason why I am so excited about the prospect of the release- the other is because of K-Murdock's standing professional relationship with Mega Ran Random who even lends his vocals to one bonus track on the album.

From the few tracks of Hero Muzik that are available for preview on the official site for the album, it sounds like fans of both video game music and good urban hip hop will have a lot to look forward to from this release. The official debut day is tomorrow, so you may want to leave work now and chug some Nyquil to bring Tuesday morning on all the faster.
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Friday, January 27, 2012

A(nother) Study in Vocaloid: Masquerade

I can't remember the last time I actively sought out a traditional rock album. Glancing at my iTunes playlist for an answer, this last occurred on September 13th (when I picked up the Icelandic siren Soley's debut). The 781 songs added past that point have either been Vocaloid, chiptune or came from video game soundtracks. This is an expected hazard of being a child of the post-modern age who also happens to be a game music reviewer on the side, but it is still a sobering thought that can lead to some serious introspection and self-recrimination.

...especially when half of the albums I've downloaded have cover art like this:

At least, this realization would be the cause for some self-recrimination if the Vocaloid I've tracked down wasn't so damn catchy. While still undeniably pop pablum to the ears of more discriminating (and more important) music critics, I have a mighty deep soft spot for Yuu Asakawa's Megurine Luka's voice and for the production work of Mentairocker. Even if you're not a fan of Vocaloid or have never listened to Luka before, the infectiously trashy song below should win you over... as if the album art above didn't already accomplish that.

(minor NSFW warning on the artwork):

The song pops up on both Virgin Killer and Nude, justifying the purchase price of the former (a three-track EP) while mellowing out the discordant metal of the latter. Although it's something of an empowered single chick anthem, the lyrics should resonate with anyone who's ever woken up next to something/someone that they regret:

Turn off the lights and you can see a foolish game
The tears lower us to being pathetic people
I'll show skin, but not heart
though there's no difference either way
I'll just put on another mask tomorrow
Just where has my real face gone?

Again, by no means groundbreaking in terms of musicianship or lyrical content- it's still far more enjoyable, and far more profound, than most of the other pop out there... so why not earn some otaku hipster points and rock out to the song over the weekend?

If nothing else, you'll have the delightful opportunity to explain the album's cover art to whoever happens to see your MP3 player.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Harry Potter Theme Park Expands. Jaws Weeps, Needs to Find a Bigger Boat.

Those who make the trek down to Universal Studio's aging Islands of Adventure theme park to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter often leave with one of two media-friendly soundbites:
  • "It's an incredibly awesome experience!"
  • "The lines are just too damn long!" (as if that wins any sympathy from otaku...)
Good news is on the way for those who have yet to visit, since it is being rumored that Universal Studios is planning to expand the Harry Potter theme park beyond Islands of Adventure and into its main Universal Studios Florida theme park.

By closing and replacing the hoary Jaws boat ride and surrounding Amity Village attraction, Universal Studios is rumored to be making room for a Diagon Alley area complete with Gringotts roller coaster. This new rumored area may or may not be connected to the Islands of Adventure areas of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts via a train- the inclusion of which will likely do wonders to please the notoriously fickle male toddler demographic.

The news of the Florida park's expansions follows on the heels of NBCUniversal's announced renovations of their Los Angeles theme park which will soon have its own Harry Potter themed area. When reached for comment on the planned US park expansions, J.K. Rowling feigned polite disinterest whilst dining upon an expertly seasoned eagle egg omelet in her solid gold breakfast nook.

Some longtime patrons of Florida's Universal Studios theme park will be sad to see the Jaws ride go, while others will welcome the move to update the park since the only thing more godawfully boring than visiting a seasonal oceanfront community is to visit a theme park *based* upon a seasonal oceanfront community.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hatsune Miku releases a new single on iTunes, may (not) perform at 2012 Olympics

It's been a good week for Hatsune Miku and fans of Vocaloid in general. After the enthusiastic reaction to her Google Chrome commercial in Japan, an announcement was made that the single would be pre-released on iTunes ahead of the eponymous March 14th EP. The teal-haired virtual starlet's latest livetune single Tell Your World was made available for download in 217 countries today and isn't a half bad track for $1.29. The lyrics are pretty upbeat, too, and it's plain to see why it was chosen for the Chrome commercial.

Fans of Miku in the US and Europe will have to content themselves with Tell Your World for the rest of this post and try not to be too jealous of Vocaloid fans in Japan, as the release date of the Nintendo 3DS Vocaloid rhythm game Project Mirai (March 8th, aka International Women's Day) edges ever closer without news of a possible international localization planned. It seems unlikely that the incredibly cute game will ever be released outside of Japan but hey- a fan can dream. Dream, and order the Miku-themed 3DS skins which are being marketed alongside the game, that is.

So cute... and they finally justify the chic 1980's teal 3DS color!

Finally, in another longshot for Miku fans abroad, ZDNet is reporting that Hatsune Miku is at the top of an online poll of performers that fans would be interested in seeing headline the 2012 London Olympics. Although the poll is by no means official and will probably have no bearing on the actual, inevitable outcome (a hoary pastiche of U2, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Sir Paul McCartney) having Miku perform at the ceremonies would certainly be a sight to see. Unfortunately, it will likely have to wait until the games return to Japan... so get on that already, IOC!
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Indiana Jones Engagement Ring - fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.

A few weeks back, I posted on the incredible Legend of Zelda wedding band (designed by no less an artist than the bride herself) which I thought was the coolest and geekiest piece of wedding jewelry to date. This all changed last night when a reader who knows my love of 1980s Harrison Ford movies sent over an email with a link to what could be the most Nazi-punchingest engagement ring ever.

...that didn't belong to Simon Wiesenthal.

It belongs in a museum!

Redditer Homerliwag had the whip-themed ring designed for his now assumedly fiancé, an avid Indiana Jones fan, and set it with a yellow diamond (her favorite color- note those buying engagement rings: always check to confirm this first!) to represent the "idol". He posted pictures of the engagement ring on imgur over the weekend along with the incredible story of how he decided to present the ring to her:

"I made a custom ring box out of a 1920's steel soap bar box and used sculpting clay to create the look of ancient ruins inside. I then presented the box mixed with 4 other interesting boxes. Now, with the theme of 'You must choose wisely...' from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I used a magician's trick to make her 'select' the correct box. I asked her if she "chose wisely". Then I opened her selected box revealing 'The Whip'." (source)

This presentation came after he gave her a ring box with a tiny bag of sand on it for the initial proposal. This man know how to stick to a theme!

Although the ring itself sort of looks like something you'd expect to find in The Noble Collection, I cannot help but admire the time, energy, and money this man put into his choice of a unique wedding ring that resonates with his girlfriend's interests. I may have mentioned elsewhere that I had my girlfriend's engagement ring designed from sketches, but I skipped game and movie inspiration and elected instead to go for an organic Art Nouveau theme. After seeing this and the Zelda wedding ring, I feel like I really missed an opportunity to give her something special.

Then again, considering that her favorite game is Katamari Damacy it's probably for the best that I skipped a geek-themed ring for her. Na naaaa na na na na na na...
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Monday, January 23, 2012

A new year of renaissance faire hip hop?

Falkor isn't the most typical dragon... but I love this picture so I'm using it anyway.

It's the Lunar New Year, loyal readers, and so a very happy Year of the Dragon to one and all who choose to celebrate! Traditions for today include wearing as much red, yellow, and orange as you can muster, pausing to solemnly reflect on what you want out of the new year, stuffing your craw with as much roast duck as possible, shooting off fireworks, and- of course- exchanging gifts!

Because the internet has yet to provide me with the means of distributing lai see to my friends and readers across the world, I hope you'll accept the following gift of a video from the deranged Baltimore-based hip hop duo Captain Whammy and the Beard which highlights exactly how much fun two white men can have at a renaissance festival (with a liquor license)...

Truth be told, their rapping isn't half bad, and this video almost makes me nostalgic for the years of my life that I spent acting at local renaissance faires. At least, it would if the faires in question served alcohol and had elephant rides. Rest assured that if such were the case, I would still be shouting huzzah and living the dream- long after the gates closed for the season.

Captain Whammy and the Beard appear to be an upcoming (or perhaps defunct?) nerdcore act, so finding more of their stuff online might be difficult. If you can't content yourself with this video, check the halls of Otakon or the various taverns at the Maryland Ren Faire this summer and you just might be able to coax a live performance of My Gamertag from them.

Until then, be sure to celebrate the new year today with as much duck and small-caliber explosives as you can manage. Gōng xǐ fā cái, to one and all!
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Friday, January 20, 2012

Author Jim C. Hines recreates sultry fantasy novel cover art. Hilarity, herniated discs ensue.

It's no secret that sex sells- especially when it comes to the cover of sci-fi or fantasy novels. For years, the publishing industry figured that the best way to guarantee sales was to put a tattooed warrior chick in bikini mail or a midriff-bearing tube top on the cover of a book. It's worked pretty well for them in the past, but the practice has offended a great many women who have since protested the (idealized) female form being objectified in such an obvious and trashy manner.

Many writers have joined the hue and cry against the demeaning art of bikini mail, while a rare and intrepid few defend its usage. A rarer few, like fantasy author Jim C. Hines, attempt to help readers understand how unrealistic and unnatural the poses of the objectified women of fantasy cover art are by... recreating them himself.

This man is the living definition of the word "confidence".
(image source: Jim C., used by permission)

There really isn't enough good than can be said about Hines after this photoshoot. As an author who has written several excellent fantasy novels replete with strong female characters, Hines knows how to establish a strong female protagonist. After searching his soul (and for examples) he has come to realize that the poses of women in fantasy cover art are not only unnatural, they're distracting and exploitive fan service.

As he attempted to recreate some of the more tawdry examples of women in cover art poses, Hines came to a rather sobering- if obvious- realization:

"To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being sexual. I can totally see Snow from the princess books flaunting her stuff, for example. But posing like these characters drives home exactly what’s being emphasized and what’s not."
It's not as if anyone doubted what was being conveyed by the stereotypical treatment of women in fantasy cover art- the earliest examples of bikini mail made it abundantly clear. Yet after the findings of Hines's exploratory and self-deprecating photoshoot, readers will no longer need to question exactly what aspects of their female protagonists are being broadcast to them through cover art illustrations.

If the readers begin to question other things about themselves after seeing Hines's pictures, that's rather understandable. He does look quite fetching posing with a pair of foam swords...
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Obligatory fan service serves no one

Few things have helped, and harmed, the gaming and anime industries quite like fan service has. When a tough anime protagonist loses her top to a well aimed punch, even the most jaded of viewers can see it as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the baser side of fantasy story telling and they might smile in spite of themselves. A series full of fan service can be quite fun to watch- or play through- when one is in the right mood (silly, horny, tipsy) for it not be offensive, but it's something that the viewer should know to expect.

A problem occurs when a title, most often a video game, engages in something that can only be called forced fan service- that is, injecting an obvious bit of light fan service (read: boobs) into an otherwise serious game that a player cannot avoid if they want to progress through the plot. Dating and cross dressing scenes are a prime example of this, but more commonly encountered are skimpy outfits or fetishistic costumes... much to the chagrin of the female characters in a player's party.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a silly or revealing bit of armor in a video game for the sake of fan service... provided that it's strictly optional. These indulgences offer players the chance to wear a cute outfit that offers poor stats surpassed by the cheapest of level 1 armor. Seasonal costumes in MMORPGs- some innocent others decidedly less so- are a prime example of how this can be inoffensively integrated. Players will don these pieces of armor when they want to blow off a little steam, and will switch back to regular, more thematically appropriate armor when it's time to do serious raiding.

In an RPG, forced fan service occurs when a piece of armor offers excellent (often unique) stat bonuses but changes the appearance of the character's armor until it looks like something that even the drunkest sorority girl would be ashamed to wear to a Halloween party. In an otherwise dramatic title that strives for a realistic atmosphere, this seemingly innocent bit of fan service can ruin the mood of the game or seriously underwire undercut the ass-kicking gravitas of a female character. There's a time and a place for bikini mail, and in the middle of an otherwise good survival horror game is not it.

The problem with forced fan service is that many games, series, and artists include it as a capitulation to their fan base. These artists are- in a literal sense- servicing their fanbase and drawing what they expect their fans will want to see. If there was no market for gratuitous bikini shots and revealing outfits, they wouldn't be included in a game or series in the first place. Of course, when fans start demanding skimpy outfits or risqué scenes between characters, artists and game designers are in their rights to say no (as bluntly as possible).

It's unlikely that fan service will ever go away completely, and I truthfully hope that it never does. Many a great and silly ecchi title has been carried by the allure of its fan service, and if that's what fans are looking for then more power to them. Just keep the Battle Panties out of our RPGs, thanks.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tim Burton's Dark Shadows movie might be the best (or worst) thing to happen to shadows in 2012.

The gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is one of the most criminally underrated television dramas of all time. I happened across it by chance while home sick from school after finding nothing entertaining on Comedy Central (no real surprise there). I clicked up to the Sci-Fi SyFy Channel when I heard a warbly, spooky theme song that had me hooked for the next hour. As my fever-addled brain tried to follow the plot, I learned that the actors on screen were portraying vampires, witches, Satan, possible werewolves, witches, and British people in Maine... all in a familiar soap opera format.

It seems like the exact sort of thing Tim Burton would want to make a movie out of, and this year he's assembling one of the biggest casts in Hollywood to do just that.

Picture this with Johnny Depp, Christopher Lee, and Helena Bonham Carter. But don't picture Corpse Bride. Or Sleepy Hollow. Or Sweeny Todd.

A look at the Dark Shadows cast list is like looking at a list of movie stars most likely to appear on the Hot Topic fleece throws in a goth kid's bedroom. Staring Johnny Depp as the vampire Barnabas Collins with Eva Green as Angélique and Helena Bonham Carter('s boobs) as Dr. Julia Hoffman, the movie is already a surefire hit with the eyeliner and emo crowd. But with the added star power of Michelle Pfeiffer, Kickass's Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, and- oh yeah- Alice Cooper also on the roster, it's next to impossible for this movie not to be awesome.

Although it doesn't have a trailer as yet, there is a full cast photo up (which I won't publish for fear of SOPA/PIPA retribution. Go here to begin your protest!) along with a rather expansive narration of who's who in the film.

Slated to be released on May 11, 2012, this looks like a great- if unlikely- film to kick off the summer blockbuster season. Apparently, it is impossible to keep Johnny Depp out of the summer box office...
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Legend of Korra is here to kick butt and pet lionturtles

...and the world is all out of lionturtles.

Over the weekend, i09 posted a leaked fight scene from the upcoming series The Legend of Korra, and it looks pretty fantastic. Since the weekend, they have published three more additional leaked scenes which- while pretty heavy on the spoiler department- look equally fantastic. Despite my initial reservations about the 1920s Shanghai steampunk aesthetic of the show, I must admit that I'm pretty excited about it now.

Just by watching these clips, one can see that Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have done a wonderful job updating the feel of the show to a slightly more mature audience. Gone is Aang's mercurial, non-confrontational style of fighting and in its place is a 16-year-old girl who's not afraid to smash a thug's head into the front bumper of a car or throw in a headbutt or two. What's not to like?

The fact that it will be on basic cable for one (I'm hoping this will change, although I'm not entirely hopeful) and lack of the original cast characters, for another. Fans of the first series will be happy to know that a certain hair-loopied heroine from Aang's time does make in appearance in the third clip posted by i09, but odds of others popping up are relatively slim. Then again, just because Aang is dead doesn't mean he can't appear in Avatar dream sequences. Take a hike, Kyoshi and Roku!

Assuming a last minute deal with Netflix doesn't materialize, all that remains is to set aside my functional alcoholic tendencies and convince my friends to let me babysit for them on whatever nights this show is on. I'm not above changing diapers if it means I can steal their Nickelodeon for a precious half hour or so!
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Zelda's Gerudo language is finally translated (sorta, kinda...)

Ever since the original Final Fantasy launched in 1986, video games have used constructed languages to add a level of realism that they would otherwise lack. For example, when the four Light Warriors make their way up to Lufenia- a city isolated from the rest of the world for hundreds of years- they are confounded by the fact that the townspeople do not speak their language. Thankfully, the Lufenians still accept the Light Warrior's currency and haven't adjusted their prices to match whatever global economy FFI's game world had in place- but that's neither here nor there. For perhaps the first time in video game history, designers used a constructed language as a tool to punish players with.

It's small wonder, then, that avid gamers would obsess over created video game languages wherever they would pop up. Incredibly talented Deviant Artist Sarinilli is one such obsessively dedicated gamer who just so happened to translate Ocarina of Time's Gerudo language into a usable font...

This linguistic wonder follows on the heels of her impressive translation of the Ancient Hylian alphabet from Skyward Sword (also available as a usable font here) and is something that most Zelda fans will be quite excited about. The only nagging concern with her translation methods is that they are expect the constructed Zelda languages to be simple substitution ciphers (wherein one letter/symbol is used to represent another), similar to Final Fantasy X's Al Bhed language, which may or may not be the case. In all reality, she's probably correct in assuming it is a substitution cipher since constructed languages that follow distinct rules of grammar and syntax are remarkably difficult to create and require a positively Tolkien-ian level of linguistic effort wheres a substitution cipher requires nothing more than a sequence of pretty symbols and a translation key.

Another great example of Sarinilli's work

Another problem with translating languages straight from the in-game graphics is that there is no guarantee that the intended substitution language for the symbols was meant to be English. Considering that Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time were both created in Japan, there's a strong case to be made that Japanese would be the source language used in the cipher. Of course, it's possible that Nintendo replaced the in-game font on the Japanese and international releases to provide linguistically correct content (10 to 1 odds say that all Garudo signs translate to "Join the Nintendo Power Fun Club!") but it's not altogether likely considering the amount of hours that would be involved in such a graphical overhaul.

Whether accurate translations or not, Sarinilli's work is still quite impressive for its dedication, artistry, and turnaround time. While I wouldn't use them to encrypt sensitive information, they would make for a fun code to be used between friends or as the groundwork for a pretty sweet Zelda tattoo...
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Red Sword gives you werewolves, fairytale violence, and... gratuitous nudity?

There is an undeniable appeal to the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Although a bit grimm, the story of a vulnerable female protagonist being literally set upon by wolves is something most audiences can follow. Last year, Warner Brothers attempted to cash in on the American moviegoer's Twilight-fueled obsession with werewolves by combining the beloved fairy tale heroine (Amanda Seyfried doing her best Christina Ricci impression) with wolfmen. Also, the director of Twilight. The results were nothing short of disastrous and it seemed that the world was done with Little Red Riding Hood.

All of the world, except for Japan that is...

Bloody, I will grant you- but erotic? Oh Hansel, behave! has a trailer up for Red Sword, a low-budget Japanese chambara film which envisions Little Red Riding Hood as a katana-wielding avenger who must defeat a cabal of evil werewolves intent on raping and killing her schoolgirl friends. Also, she can't seem to keep her shirt- much less cloak- on and loves doing high kicks in a short skirt. Hmmm.

Following in the footsteps of Oppai Chanbara: Striptease Samurai Squad, Red Sword looks to be full of abysmal action scenes, terrible acting, halting fight choreography, and plenty of exposed, flopping breasts. In fact, the studio is so proud of that last bit that they openly advertise pin up girl Momoka Nishina's 40 inch breasts as a selling point of the film with the literal, if unimaginative, tagline of 40 INCH BREASTS! (edited by still NSFW screen cap here). Hmmm, once again.

Despite the obvious flaws and pandering ecchi nature of the trailer, it looks like Red Sword captures the "so bad it's good" chicksploitation charm of Oppai Chanbara and might actually be worth watching if you can turn your higher brain functions off for 90 minutes. Also, it has no problem flashing Little Red's riding hoods all over the screen... which is also, coincidentally, pretty much the only reason to include Amanda Seyfried in a movie these days.

Advantage: Japan.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Study in Vocaloid: Double Lariat

It's difficult to overcome the shadow case by Hatsune Miku these days, and nobody knows that better than Megurine Luka. Despite being one of the more versatile Vocaloids (with an English and Japanese vocal bank), Luka was still relegated to a five song mini-set at the Live Party 2011 concert. Perhaps this is because she's not quite two years old yet, but judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the fans in attendance- particularly when they lept to their feet during the first few notes of Double Lariat- she's destined to become as big a star as Vocaloid could hope for...

If anyone really, truly loves this site... I'll be very happy to receive this figurine as a gift when it's released. Just sayin' (source)

Double Lariat can be a bit hard to track down on an album. The excerpt version that appears on the Live Party 2011 CD set is only 1:14 long, so spending $48.00 (plus shipping) for it might be a bit much for even the most fervent fans. Of course, the set does come with a rather nice poster of Luka but for those looking to save some coin, the song can be downloaded in its entirety from a myriad of locations.

Written as a retrospective piece with appropriately world-weary lyrics, it makes sense that AgoAniki would choose the more mature voice of Megurine Luka for Double Lariat. Her lispy, almost breathy alto vocals stands in sharp contrast to the sometimes inhuman pitch that Hatsune Miku frequents and they add a perfect, quintessentially human element to a song about how we never really judge ourselves to be good enough.

The lyrics translate a bit roughly into English, but focus on a woman's look back on where she came from and what it took to get to where she is:

It was fun to spin aimlessly, and I wanted to stay that way
If I kept on spinning aimlessly, I believed something could come of it

My pals around me could spin so much higher than me
So I pretended to sulk when my neck grew sore from watching from below

A 5200 cm radius* is as far as my hands can reach

I'm going to start flying around now, so please stand back

What do you think? If my former self could see me now, would she be proud?'s sort of like that insufferable Jennifer Lopez Fiat commercial. Only, the exact opposite of that.

*- the radius measurements are repeated and grow throughout the song from 86cm to 250cm, before rocketing to 5200cm and finally 6300km before returning back to 86cm. This is intended to represent her broaden perspective from childlike to superhuman.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can't wait until December for The Hobbit? Watch it here, now!

Bilbo, Captain Crunch, and Princess Meatbag load the Arkenstone into a giant crossbow to fire at the sleeping dragon Smog Slaag. We'll get to this...

When Peter Jackson began his work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy twelves years ago, many wondered why diehard fans of J.R.R. Tolkien weren't more enthusiastic at the prospect of a major film release of his Middle Earth epics. Their cautious enthusiasm was the result of the previous, campy adaptations of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings which had been released before the fall of the Reagan administration. The folksy 1977 Rankin & Bass version of The Hobbit with its warbly vocals and pantsless people of Laketown adheres to Tolkien's story without any major deviations, as does Ralph Bakshi's uber-campy Lord of the Rings rotoscope masterwork from 1978- but while passably accurate, both lack any sort of thematic fidelity to the grand and sweeping world that Tolkien set his stories in.

Yet both of these cult classic cartoons look like shining cinematic gold when compared to Gene Deitch's 1967 abandoned adaptation of The Hobbit...

Princess Meatbag issues a passionate plea for help to Bilbo in Bag End, while a nearby sleeping pirate seems singularly unmoved.

Clocking in at a little under twelve minutes, this charming bit of 1960s pop culture is probably best forgotten- not unlike Leonard Nimoy's The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. At least, that's the sentiment of the writer and director Deitch (famous for his work on Tom & Jerry) who scrapped plans of giving this short an official release after Tolkien's Lord of the Rings triology was published. Perhaps afraid that fans would seek his death for the myriad of liberties that he took with the story (Bilbo is a prophesied dragon killer, the 13 dwarves are replaced by Thorin, a gatekeeper, and an honest to Smog Slaag Princess, the Arkenstone is a giant, sparkly heart, etc.) Deitch wisely realized that while his adaptation was a cute reimagining of The Hobbit, it was all but a slap in the face to the more serious subject matter of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I wonder how he feels now that the short has once again seen the light of day...

While the short is an abysmal telling of the story of The Hobbit, it is interesting to see what facts Deitch seized on and what details he got right. While perhaps a bit too literal in his animation of The Arkenstone as "the heart of the mountain", Deitch is likely to score pedantic points for his proper pronunciation of Thorin (Tor-in, not Thor-in) throughout the short. It's just a pity that he animated him to look like so much the love child of Captain Crunch and a Prussian General...
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wizards of the Coast crowdsources 5th edition of D&D

Despite nearly going bankrupt in 1997, Dungeons and Dragons has endured in a way that few intellectual properties have managed. When its upstart gaming rival Wizards of the Coast purchased D&D's parent company, TSR, it seemed that Dungeons and Dragons would be simplified down to an almost childlike level. Although that fear has (mostly) been unrealized, the 3rd and 4th editions of Dungeons and Dragons saw revisions that alienated veteran players as familiar rule mechanics were tossed aside to make the once beloved game more closely resembled an MMORPG.

Still, the 4th edition was a commercial success and breathed much-needed life in the almost cultish hobby of tabletop gaming. This spring, WotC will be releasing D&D's 5th edition of rules and they're turning to you for help.

Sadly, you won't get your face onto this cover art.

The New York Times, of all places, reported yesterday that Wizards of the Coast will be incorporating player feedback into the codification of the upcoming release of the 5th edition rules. By keeping up with the developments on WotC's website, players can help "chart the course" for the future of Dungeons and Dragons by engaging in open playtesting, scheduled to launch sometime this spring. As Wizards of the Coast asks for player input for their new release, many can't help but wonder if this is the last gasp of a dying genre.

It's no surprise that sales of tabletop games have been slumping in a major way. With players encouraged to modify rules and settings to suit their needs, there was little need for a group of dedicated gamers to buy more than two or three source books and share them with one another. This is hardly the marketing model that a successful industry is based on, but it has been the mainstay of tabletop gaming for the past forty years or so. In return for the ~$30 spent on a core rulebook, a group of gamers purchased a means to engage their imaginations and escape the mundane real world in favor of a fantasy realm of their choosing (or creation).

Yet with the surging popularity of electronic fantasy games like Skyrim or MMOs like World of Warcraft (and the thousand of RPGs that came before them), players no longer need to invest hours of their time traveling to their friend's gaming table to achieve a bit of escapism. They simply need to turn on their console of choice and are transported away from the dreary reality in which they exist. As gamers age, they turn to video games for escapism when their families and careers begin dictating life decisions. The ability to spare an dedicated evening or afternoon for tabletop gaming begins becomes increasingly more difficult to coordinate with a group of adults, and so it has been weal for video games and woe for the tabletop gaming industry.

With any luck, Wizards of the Coast's bold decision to open up the 5th edition rules to player feedback will prove to be just what the tabletop gaming industry needs for a comeback. Even if it isn't, and publication of D&D source material should cease after this edition, core groups of dedicated gamers will still gather in secret around hoary tomes from yesteryear- hurling their dodecahedrons in the dim lights of basements and forgotten college meeting rooms, enjoying a level of pure fantasy bliss that few outside of their group will ever come to know.

...and yes, I hate myself a little more for using the word "crowdsource" in the title for this post.
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Monday, January 9, 2012

Sweet Android High turns global tech giants into schoolgirls

Since 2006, Hetalia: Axis Powers has delighted otaku and history nerd alike by imaging the nations of the world as precocious teenagers trying to work out their respective national identity issues and massive bro crush on the Roman Empire. Now, the mobile titans of the world are receiving a similar treatment thanks to a weekly comic, "Sweet Android High School", which focuses on the world's most high profile Android vendors and envisions them as nubile Japanese schoolgirls.

...Nokia must be feeling so left out.

From left to right: Apple-Kun, Kashio-Nko, Fuji-Toru, Elle-G, Sam-Sung-Chan, Sharp-Chan, Soni-Eri-Chan, H-T-Syee-Chan, and Moto-Laura-Chan. I, uh, kinda feel the urge to invest in Motorola now. (source)

The gender of the characters is an interesting departure from the all-male* Hetalia example above, and it will be interesting to see how the female stereotypes will apply to the corporations. The latest conflict present in the story, for example, revolves around Moto-Laura-Chan marrying a teacher at the high school named "Google" while others lust over Ice Cream Sandwich- which are not exactly the character arcs that feminists dream of.

Fittingly, Apple's role as the non-Android outsider is emphasized by it being the only male character pictured who isn't a teacher or the headmaster. This means that Apple will likely be the guilty crush of every other girl tech company at the school, but will also likely be left out of the gossip circles and after school clubs. It's also likely that he will be visiting the Ramen restaurant by himself after school, since Apple isn't the most social of company these days.

In sum, Sweet Android High School looks to be a cute comic with a purpose. If you're looking for tough, multi-dimensional female protagonists, this probably isn't the comic for you... but if you like hamfisted technological commentary with a good deal of humor, you may want to check it out.

...just don't expect any locker room shower scenes- they are smartphones, after all.

(via Asiajin)

*Lichtenstein, Ukraine and Belarus are the most notable female characters but for the most part all major characters are male.
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Friday, January 6, 2012

Hatsune Miku is... the Dragonborn?

The experience delivered by Skyrim is as immersive as it is profound. Barely a few weeks old, the game has provided ample contributions to the collective gamer meme cache- at least, it did before it took (a tattoo of) an arrow to the knee. Yet there will always be those who are not happy with the finished product of a game, and these intrepid souls are often the kind to tinker with something to the point of breaking it just to make their experience with the game a little bit different.

Thankfully, these people are inclined to share the fruits of their labors, so with a bit of tinkering on your end you, too, can bring Hatsune Miku to the lands of Skyrim. The end result is a too-cute teen, great camera angles, and scads of orgiastic violence. It's like Sucker Punch only, it's actually fun to watch...

The tinkering in question requires a bit of DAT swapping, so like most all things DAT-related this only really applies to those who choose to play Skyrim on the PC. To those unfamiliar with the practice, every virtual item in a game (weapons, armor, skin, eyes, hair, etc.) draws on a DAT to show the appropriate graphic on screen. Once a community figures out which DAT maps out to what item, it's a simple matter of swapping in a new (custom) set of DATs to make the changes visible to the player. Indiscriminate or extensive DAT mods can cause problems with game animations and cutscenes, but for the most part the practice is safe and allows players to force a game to display a new or favorite piece of armor, sword, or Vocaloid icon.

The mod above comes from a Japanese DAT mod community and delivers exactly what it promises: Hatsune Miku as the Dovahkiin. A full, bandwith-annihilating 1080p video of the mod in all of its glory follows next...

If the first lady of Vocaloid doesn't tickle your Fus Ro Dah, perhaps the DAT swaps for Megurine Luka or Final Fantasy 13's perpetually pissy protagonist Lightning will. Luka looks a bit chunky and Lightning is a bit more subtle than the Miku swap in that it doesn't involve a Panda backpack, but both are still pretty nifty endorsement to sink a couple of hundred hours into Skyrim this year.
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddess announces tour dates!

2011 was a very big year for Zelda fans. The Wii's likely swansong- Skyward Sword- surprised the gaming community by being almost universally praised as one of the best games of the year and before that, Ocarina of Time 3D brought some much-needed life (and aesthetics...) to the ailing 3DS. The success of both of these games pales in comparison to the unbridled exuberance that most Zelda fans felt at the announcement of The Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddess, an orchestral concert series to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the franchise.

Today, Jason Michael Paul Productions, Inc.- the company producing Symphony of the Goddess- announced the first round of North American tour dates, to the delight of those who live in... the southwest?

Details on the tour were posted on the Zelda Symphony Facebook page earlier this morning, and cover dates from March until September with plenty of space between cities. So far, the posted schedule of dates sees the tour landing in cities which are often overlooked by larger videogame orchestras tours such as Dallas, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, Austin, and Orlando (among others). Surprisingly, no East Coast dates have been announced, but given the rather large gap in the schedule for early June and all of August, it wouldn't be surprising to see a Baltimore, Boston, or DC-area announcement coming in the weeks ahead.

From what I've heard of the arrangements for the concert, they're not the most complex or inspired offerings from a videogame concert series... but they're instantly recognizable as the music which most of us spent a good amount of our childhoods listening to, and for that reason alone one can expect the tour to be a huge success.
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Vita sales drop, Bravely Default Flying Fairy... soars?

For those not following the handheld gaming console struggle between the 3DS and the Vita, it seems that Sony's latest offering has been tanking fairly hard in the sales department. Reasons for this vary (proprietary memory cards with ridiculously high prices, the Christmas-week sales doldrums, no real launch titles to entice gamers with, etc) whereas the 3DS is (finally) hitting its strong sales stride thanks to lower prices and legacy titles like Ocarina of Time 3D, Mario Kart 7, and Super Mario 3D Land. Also, Monster Hunter 3G. That probably didn't hurt the 3DS's sales any.

While 3DS sales surge past the 4 million unit mark, PS Vita prices plummet and will likely continue to do so until the Vita can show a strong title or two to entice consumers with*. Nintendo, by contrast, has several strong titles to debut in 2012 with highlights including Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Metal Gear Solid 3DS, and- of course- Square Enix's bafflingly named roleplaying game Bravely Default Flying Fairy whose official trailer was just leaked recently...

The trailer shows precious little about the game play past what gameplay footage Square Enix has shown previously. Also, it's in Japanese so the amount of information you can glean will be somewhat limited but all of that said, the game looks to be fairly intriguing mostly for its use of augmented reality. If BDFF rolls out and proves to be a popular and fulfilling game, SE might want to consider dropping "Final Fantasy" from their new roleplaying game projects to ensure commercial success.

*: If this sounds familiar, it's exactly what people were saying about Nintendo's 3DS back at its launch in March. So, the Vita isn't doomed necessarily- it's just off to a similar, rocky start.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A toast to the Professor!

No, not that professor... the professor! As any geek worth their mithril shirt well knows, today (January 3rd) is the birthday of the grandfather of all geeks, J.R.R. Tolkien. Less well known is the fact that it is a time to celebrate by raising a glass to the man who made hobbit a household word...

Fun Fact: J.R.R. Tolkien was the man responsible for popularizing the "tweed craze" that swept through academic fashion magazines in the 1930s

Born 120 years ago today in South Africa, J.R.R. Tolkien would be proud to see his name and birthday celebrated almost forty years after his death. The Tolkien Society created the custom of the Birthday Toast nine years ago to pay homage to the the literary titan, and the tradition continues to this day as a means of giving thanks and pausing for reflection rather than a cheap excuse to lift a pint with friends. Of course, since it *is* an excuse to lift a pint with friends- and involves elves- it is one of my favorite things to celebrate, so here are some details for those new to the tradition.

I, uh, don't drink much beer these days...

*At 9pm GMT, it is customary to stand, lift a drink and say the words "The Professor" before imbibing. After the first sip, you may sit down so as not to draw strange looks from other bar patrons and passerbys. The idea is that Tolkien fans around the world will toast at the same time, so whether you're at a bar or lifting a water bottle to your lips at the gym, be sure to synchronize it with 9pm GMT (4pm EST, or 1pm PST)!

*While the drink you toast with need not be alcoholic, the traditional toast is done with a proper, strong libation. Many choose beer or wine, but if you're in the mood for something more adventurous and geeky The Drunken Moogle will be your friend for videogame-inspired drinks.

For this year's birthday toast, I'm in something of a quandary since I lost my taste for beer around the time I found my taste for martinis. Still, it seems a shame to let The Prancing Pony pintglasses go unused this afternoon so I many need to find something more suitable to fill them with than a can of PBR, a bottle of Sam Adams from six months ago, and a dodgy bottle of sugar-free margarita mix.

Sometimes, I wonder why I even still have a beer fridge...
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Monday, January 2, 2012

Some of the best FFIX cosplay you'll ever see

Final Fantasy IX holds a special spot in the memories of most RPG fans. After the highly futuristic worlds of Final Fantasy VII and VII (and to a lesser extent, FFVI), fans felt that the franchise had lost its sense of... well... fantasy, in moving away from the tradition of sword and sorcery that had made it so popular. Before Squaresoft moved on to the new aesthetic of FFX, they decided to throw their fans a bone with the stylized, almost cartoony, world of Final Fantasy IX.

Considered something of a b-side by Final Fantasy fans, the game still commands a relatively small, but intensely devoted, fanbase and has been responsible for some of the best Final Fantasy cosplay I've ever seen...

She once killed 100 knights with single-handedly. That oversized belt is for all of her notches (source)

Above is Deviant Artist Rose0fMay doing the character of Beatrix some rather alluring justice with her incredible cosplay, and a full gallery can be found here. Everything about her costume is spot on, from the goofy and oversized bracers (Sony never quite got the hang of how to animate hands smoothly on the original Playstation...) to the impractically oversized belt buckles that is roughly the same size as her head. It's absolutely incredible, especially when one considers the Beatrix appears in a handful of cutscenes in the original game.

Careful readers may recall that Beatrix has popped up on this site before as the badass pseudo-villainess who single eyededly inspired a proud tradition of assertive, female cyclops characters in the franchise. Still, it's good to see that for a game that's turning 12 this year can still inspire cosplays like this. What is perhaps most amazing about Rose0fMay's cosplay is that it was completed back in 2003, but she still pulls it out for the occasional convention or photoshoot.

Here's to hoping to see some more of her in 2012!
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