Monday, April 30, 2012

A Study in Vocaloid: The Madness of Miss Venomania

This post is going to be a bit convoluted, but it involves a pretty epic Vocaloid inside joke, a hefty dose of barely SFW Megurine Luka yuri footage, and a damn catchy song... so I hope you'll read this one through to the end!


This was one of the more SFW stills I could find...

Back in 2008, the incredible Vocaloid talent Mothy (Akuno-P) uploaded Daughter of Evil to the internet beginning a series of songs based on the seven deadly sins. Each of the seven songs focuses on a fictional character from history who typifies, and is eventually undone by, a given sin.

In 2010, Mothy decided the time had come to surrender himself to fanservice and release the song based on lust. The hauntingly beautiful male vocaloid Kamui Gakupo was chosen to helm the project and so was born The Madness of Duke Venomania - a sweeping epic tale of a man and his cavalcade of brainwashed and all-too-willing female love slaves.


Because of its subject matter, tawdry lyrics and excellent backbeat, the song went on to become a smash hit in the Vocaloid community and sparked even more (well deserved) acclaim for Mothy. It also sparked a good number of parodies- the most famous of which by Mihail recasts the duke as "Miss Venomania" but alters nothing else of the lyrical content. Like, y'know, the genders of the all-too-willing love slaves.

The resulting song, The Madness of Miss Venomania voiced by the always sultry Megurine Luka, is a tongue-in-cheek comedic Vocaloid lesbian romp as well as a nod to the greatness of Mothy's compositional and creative genius. Because the video features more fan service than a fanboy can shake a stick at, it has also earned a good amount of fame around the net by those with no knowledge of the original song. From the video below, it's not that difficult to see why...


So whether you prefer the Madness of the Duke or the yuri-to-the-extreme Madness of the Miss, there is no denying that the song is damn catchy and worth checking out.

As for myself, I prefer the Megurine Luka version... but then, that's true of most everything.
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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Final Fantasy main theme appears everywhere, even in Hyrule

21 years after it's release, Legend of Zelda fans are quick to name the SNES classic A Link to the Past as one of the best Zelda titles to date.

Perhaps it was because of the great and simple 16-bit gameplay or the fact that it was the console precursor to Ocarina of Time, but no matter what the cause, Zelda fans are protective of A Link to the Past in the way that most of us would be protective of an underdeveloped sibling.

And Zelda fans have every right to be protective- A Link to the Past still has much to offer modern day Zelda fans from tracking down obscure, nearly omitted Easter Eggs to discovering a possible act of musical plagiarism.

Bob Mackey over at 1up suggests just that of Koji Kondo (the musical director for A Link to the Past and a great many other Zelda games) in this week's Chiptuned, stating that the ending theme of A Link to the Past is very similar to the main theme of Final Fantasy IV. The two games were developed contemporaneously for the SNES, with FFIV (and Uematsu's score) being released first, so it is possible there was some cross contamination between the two soundtracks.


For those who don't feel like sitting through the ~2 minute lead in to the above video, the two pieces he's comparing are The ending theme of A Link to the Past and the Final Fantasy Main Theme which has actually been with the franchise since Final Fantasy I (1987)- it was mistakenly attributed to FFIV in the above comparison.

Admittedly, the two pieces sound extremely similar but it is more likely that Koji Kondo made the ending theme of A Link to the Past sound like the main theme of Final Fantasy as an homage to Nobuo Uematsu. In other words, the similarity is more likely an act of professional admiration than anything mindblowing.

Now if you want you really want your mind blown, skip to the 2:00 mark of this Deep Purple song and see if you can place what NES game it makes an appearance in:

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

They don't make games like they used to: Betrayal at Krondor edition

I love the age in which I live. Games today are rich and immersive to the point that they make reality look dull and tawdry by comparison, and often boast musical scores that become beloved in their own right.

Yet I'm old enough to remember a time before incredible graphics; when games relied on excellent, realistic world building, bleeping midi soundtracks, and novel combat mechanics to tell their stories. To this day, I still have yet to find a game better than Betrayal at Krondor...

The game was released in 1993, before the privatization of the internet. The fact that it was on a CD-ROM was kind of a big deal...

Betrayal at Krondor is based on the Magician series of fantasy novels by R.E. Feist, back when he was an excellent fantasy author and not engaged in a shadowy competition with George R.R. Martin to see who between them could kill off the highest number of named characters in a single book.

I was reminded of Krondor recently when I watched a friend enter some forgotten crypt or another in Skyrim. Tense and on the edge of his couch, eyes fixated on his 55" 3D capable TV, he explained that he was hunting the spirit of some long-dead priest in a cave that no one had been to in centuries. As soon as his dovahkiin entered the tunnels of the dungeon, lit torches on the wall greeted the player, and that detail above all others took me out of the moment.

Who the hell lit the torches? Was there a secret society or torchlighters who went to forsaken crypts pro bono to provide ambient lighting for wandering adventurers? Was the priest's ghost eager for guests? Have we been wrong about the true purpose of the Illuminati for all these years? Think about your favorite RPG (I'll think of mine...) and chances are very good that no matter what crypt, dungeon, or cave you blundered into there were torches or glowing rocks conveniently provided for no good reason other than to help you, the player, see where you were going.

In Betrayal at Krondor, players were given no such mollycoddling. When night fell or you entered into a subterranean area, visibility dropped to nil and you tried not to blunder into pit traps or enemy ambushes. Lighting a torch or casting a Candleglow or Stardusk spell allowed you to see normally, and it also helped maintain the illusion that your characters were real people with real limitations.

Speaking of limitations... check out those NSFNET-era graphics!

Ambient lighting mechanics isn't the only reason to hold this game up as a standard to which other games are measured. The storyline was one of the best I've experienced (although it requires a bit of familiarity with Feist's books to make sense) and the combat system was as close to realistic as you could get in a world full of elves and wyverns. After battles, your gear would take damage and depreciate. Swords needed sharpening and armor needed repairing, again helping you remember that you were a playing a normal person who was thrown into an epic adventure.

Loot was also not easy to come by in Krondor. While unlocked treasure chests existed (they were rare and often trapped), the game delighted in making you think. Standard locked chests could be unlocked by specific keys, or jimmied open with a set of lockpicks, but the best treasure was always hidden in wordlocked chests. These treasure chests relied on players solving period-appropriate riddles in order to open them. In the days before GameFAQs, these chests and their Hobbit-esque riddles could pose quite the obstacle.

Because Betrayal at Krondor is close to 20 years old, it is next to impossible to buy these days but it can be downloaded for free (along with DosBox, which you will need to run it). If the above endorsement doesn't sell you on the game's potential, check out the combat system below...


Just look at those... pixelated giant scorpions? I seriously don't remember those being in the game. Age has not been kind to Betrayal at Krondor's graphics, or my memory it would seem...
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Final Fantasy XIV's Primal Garuda fight looks awesome, makes me want to play




Few things in the Final Fantasy series are more iconic than Summoners. While Moogles, Dragoons, Chocobos, and the famous victory fanfare all have their place in the hearts of fans, Summoners are one of the most enduring contributions to the RPG genre that Final Fantasy has made to date.

These whispy back-line mages are given weapons by the developers out of pity and rely instead on summoning powerful avatars/espers/eidolons to smash their randomly encountered foes with devastating magic. Who needs staves, whips, and daggers when you can summon the likes of Odin, Garuda, Leviathan, Bahamut, Ifrit, Hades, and Shiva?

The latest installment of the Final Fantasy franchise, Final Fantasy XIV, does not have a Summoner job class as of yet- but the preview of the primal Garuda's fight show the massively badass potential of the job in this graphically glorious teaser:


Forgetting for the moment that you fight Garuda in The Howling Eye - which sounds an awful lot like whispering eye (thank you, Role Models...) - there's nothing about that video that doesn't look incredible. While Garuda retains much of her appearance from Final Fantasy XI, she's received quite a brilliant graphical update since her instanced fight in FFXI.

Assuming that the developers behind FFXIV decide to implement a Summoner class and don't throw in any ridiculously long summoning animations, I might just have to check this game out when version 2.0 launches in the fall.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New game ennui

The process of picking up a new game is never an easy one.

When I find myself with a free evening and a shelf full of unplayed games in front of me, I will stare at my game library with eyes unfocused as I try to decide which one to play. I know the stories of most of them by rote, and friends have sung the praises of others, but that doesn't change the apprehension I feel when I actually have to choose which one to play.

It's a grand, if typical, irony of ultimate agency: when given freedom to do whatever I want, I often choose to do nothing.

This screen scares me far more than it should.

Perhaps this ennui represents a lingering fear of commitment. A good game
, after all, won't reveal the full details of its story without hours- if not days- of dedicated playing. During this time, there are other games and other social obligations which are, by necessity, neglected. While I've never canceled a date to stay in and play a game, I have cut a few unpromising outings short in order to free up some precious time for a game that has held my interest- and I doubt I'm the only one who would admit to such.

Painfully aware of the hours of commitment that lie ahead, the decision to pick up a game becomes anything but enjoyable. This is doubly ironic as the ostensible purpose of a game is to provide enjoyment (or at least entertainment) and I waste time shilly-shallying over the decision instead of actually playing any of the games.

Each physical game represents thousands of man hours of development... who am I to rush into choosing which one to play? What if I choose wrong?

Justifying the expense of a game, on the other hand, is the easy part of the decision . I can spend $40 - $60 on a game that will keep me entertained for 20-180 hours or I can drive into New York, pay for parking, and maybe afford a single drink at a dive bar for the same cost. Unless that drink comes with hours of free downloadable content*, the cost/benefit of a game versus a cheap night out aren't even close in terms of the entertainment they provide.

At some point, after hours of perseverating, I put on my Old Navy candy corn patterned dorm pants grown-up pants and grab a game at random in an existential leap of faith that would make Kierkegaard proud, here assuming that he was a fan of jRPGs. I may enjoy the game, or I may not, but I feel an inordinate sense of accomplishment for deciding that I'm going to play it.



*-It totally sounds like I'm expecting a roofie here.
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Monday, April 23, 2012

Burn Your Fat With Me helps you lose weight, see panties

One of the greatest blessings of the modern age is the number of innovative approaches that are geared towards making physical fitness fun. Smartphones and social networking have turned working out into a game, but it's still not a game familiar to many otaku.

Thankfully, the creative freaks at Creative Freaks are looking to change this oversight with their latest app that marries the best parts of a dating sim with the best parts of a fitness game. Enter: Burn Your Fat With Me.

She wants you to strip down, lie on your back... and do some sit-ups.

Available for iOS and Android devices, Burn Your Fat With Me has the player assume the role of an unremarkable and out of shape high school student who winds up in the same class as his childhood friend Mayu Uehara. Mayu strikes up some pleasantries with your character before she comments on how much he's put on since they last saw each other. Rather than crying and waddling his portly ass home to cry and eat some more, your character is cajoled into doing sit-ups with Mayu.

Once Mayu changes into her gym clothes, she holds your character's feet down and encourages him to feel the burn with fully-voiced prompts and reassuring facial expressions. At this point, you- as a player- are to rest the phone on your legs and do some crunches. The game will then measure how many times you bring your upper body forward and keep track of your progress.

Yet sit-ups alone do not a fitness routine make, and the developers are already planning additional modules with two other dating prospects. Yuki, the star of the track team, lends her haughty charms to the upcoming running/jogging portion of the game while the vapid Marika, a member of the school's gymnastics club, will encourage fitness through as-yet unannounced activities. Perhaps anime yoga for otaku?

The game's three alluring ladies: Mayu Uehara, Yuki Hashio, and Marika Kugawa
They all want less of you to love.

In addition to fitness and a trim midsection, Burn Your Fat With Me offers hidden fully-voiced scenes which are unlocked by sticking to a daily training routine. As you do more sit-ups and laps, the girls begin to find you more attractive and the bond between them and your character grows into something more than friendship. Being half dating sim, this sort of thing is mandatory, as are other risqué motivators like obligatory upskirt shots (NSFW-ish)


Burn Your Fat With Me is only available in Japan at the moment, but the developer's website shows that an English version of the app is scheduled for release soon. Said website also boasts some of the best Engrish I've read in awhile, so it's well worth the read- if only for the in-game character bios.

Read more ...

Friday, April 20, 2012

A study in Vocaloid: Musunde Hiraite Rasetsu to Mukuro

I'm ashamed to admit that I don't have more Vocaloid by Hachi. The incredibly talented 21-year-old composer and illustrator is responsible for one of my all-time favorite Vocaloid songs, Musunde Hiraite Rasetsu To Mukuro (Join Up, Open Up, the Rasetsu and the Corpse).

The word "Rasetsu" might be familiar to students of Eastern religion- they were legendary demons in Buddhist mythology who ate the flesh of those being sent to hell. Not exactly the sort of stuff you'd write a song about, let alone one with such a catchy, 1920s Shanghai jazz cabaret feel to it.


I absolutely love that trashy koto! Incidentally, you can find the Mp3 of this song in a myriad of places online.

If you're looking for some idea of what the song is about, it's a bit abstract and nonsensical and the content doesn't quite match up to the lighter feel of the song. In the midst of the capering and clapping are demons, a dying python, a girl being dragged to the doorstep of hell. Taken from the lyrics...

Now, tonight, again, let's party freely,
together with the lesser members from Hell.

A cat, who has lost a leg, is snickering this way:
"The young lady over there, let's play!"
The red string tied to its collar
cannot possibly be used in place of its lost leg.

Ya, ya, ya, ya, I, don't, wanna!

A row of lined-up stupas are singing:
"The young lady over there, let's dance!"
The flowers sneakily blooming underfoot
are grimacing and grumbling.

The carp streamers are showing their bellies,
inside which heaps of skulls are buried.

Hachi is certain a vocaloid talent to familiarize yourself with if you're looking for a good idea of what some of the best composers in Japan are coming up with (Miku and otherwise). As for myself, I think I'm going to go rock out to Musunde Hiraite Rasetsu To Mukuro on loop for the rest of the morning.
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

A love story to restore your faith in humanity...

...and erode your faith in journalistic fact checking.

The music of the Final Fantasy series holds a special place in the hearts of most geeks which is why the Distant Worlds concert series has continued to fill an increasing number of high-profile venues. For the past five years, the beautiful orchestral arrangements of Distant Worlds have set the bar for what future video game concerts, and geeky wedding proposals, should aspire to.

Don't ask. She's already married.

At the March 31st Distant Worlds concert in Toronto, a long-time fan of the franchise decided to surprise his girlfriend with a wedding proposal. Proposals at Distant Worlds concerts are hardly a new thing, but the video of the proposal (captured by a discrete fan in the audience) is enough to set anyone's heart aflutter. He chose Aerith's Theme as the piece to follow the proposal, and after listening to it- it's easy to see hear why.


The only sad note to come from The Daily Tribune's coverage of the story (the Kotaku version from two weeks ago is better) is the journalist's complete lack of familiarity with the Final Fantasy franchise. After reading the first paragraph, it's pretty clear that the writer has no idea what Final Fantasy actually is... although I suppose one could argue that FFIV, VII and VIII has elements of space fantasy in them:

"Seth Hay has been playing the space fantasy video game Final Fantasy since he was 7 years old. Along with his brothers and cousins, he grew up playing the real time game series and listening to its music. "

Still, as someone who chose Eyes on Me as his wedding processional I can't bring myself to be anything but entranced with this story. Just listening to the audience makes me wish I could propose all over again!

...although, probably not in front of 3,000 people. That could get real awkward, real fast.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Other Me: a documentary about cosplayers, Canadians.

Kickstarter has been a mixed blessing to the geek community. For every staggering, $1 million+ success story (Shadowrun Returns) there are hordes of failed campaigns to fund seasonal cosplay projects or codify the rules for the next Magic: the Gathering style card game.

Yet every so often, between the dizzying highs and depressing lows, a truly creative and humble project hits Kickstarter looking for some coin to help bring it to reality. My Other Me is one such project.

If you've been to a con in the past year, chances are you've run into these people.
...or at least people who look like them.

Helmed by relative newcomer Josh Laner, My Other Me is a documentary about the allure of the cosplay culture to cosplayers. The documentary's narrative follows three cosplayers (from a relative new 14-year-old to the extremely talented Rifa) and attempts to piece together their experiences to provide a coherent picture of why people cosplay.

If this sounds like a refreshingly grounded and managable approach for a small-budget documentary to take, it shouldn't be surprising with Laner behind the camera. Two years ago, he won a good amount of acclaim with Wastings & Pain a documentary on a pair of homeless drug addicts in Vancouver.

Whether or not My Other Me receives the modest funding it needs to make it a reality, there is a distinct need for a balanced and accurate documentary about cosplayers. From what has been posted from My Other Me, I think it's safe to say that the cosplay community could do a lot worse than Laner's take:

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Legend of Zelda musical is... pretty good!


Few things in this world drive my blood pressure up quite the way that musical theatre does. I've seen my share (and yours likely, too) of musicals, but I've never been impressed by actors belting out sung dialog at the most warbly forte fortissimo they're capable of while a pit band trundles along to the uninspired score.

All of this has changed in the past twenty four hours when a friend posted this incredible tongue-in-cheek homage to musicals and Ocarina of Time on my Facebook Page Wall Timeline:


It's catchy in an unabashedly so-good-it's-bad-that-it's-good-again sort of way. The song, written by Canadian comic Mitchell Moffit, is available for a buck on iTunes and Bandcamp, if this is the sort of thing you think you'd like to have on your phone/mp3 player.

While it'd be amazing to see this spin off into subsequent "_____ the Musical" projects, I think it will be best to enjoy this video for a couple of laughs as a standalone and hope that it brings Moffit the recognition that he deserves to go onto new projects. If it goes on past a direct sequel, I can see the novelty wearing off quite quickly once Metroid the Musical hits YouTube.

...actually, I take it back. Metroid the Musical sounds all kinds of awesome. Write and compose, Moffit! Write and compose like the wind!
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Monday, April 16, 2012

World of Warcraft: a playground for the terrorists of tomorrow?


The name Anders Behring Breivik may be unfamiliar to some of this site's normal readership. For clarification, he was the mass-murdering fuckhead who allegedly killed 77 people in Norway last summer in two separate terrorist attacks. His trial began this week, and all manner of information about his personal life is beginning to leak out to the press.

...like the fact that he played World of Warcraft "full-time" for a year.

England's normally even-keeled The Telegraph seized upon that particular bit of information and went a bit nuts with it, stopping just short of insinuating that WoW had something to do with the terrorist's decision to become the worst thing Norway has given the world since Quisling.

Citing Referencing two cases seeming at random, The Telegraph reports:

"A 15 year-old Swedish boy had convulsions after playing (World of Warcraft) for 24 hours straight in 2009, and last year an American mother was sentenced to 25 years in prison after her three year-old daughter died from malnutrition while she played the game for hours on end." (source)

...which are two fairly extreme cases from a player base of well over 10 million at its peak. Being a {Long Time} veteran of a certain MMORPG I'll be the first to admit that the MMO playerbase is not without its fair share of oddballs and quirky, unsavory player archetypes but suggesting that an addiction to an MMORPG could lead to almost unfathomable acts of murder is unabashedly sensationalist and a rather dangerous generalization to base an article around.

Epic(ly awesome) Mount... or terrorist training tool?

My sympathies are extended for those who still happily while their hours away in Azeroth as they will no doubt be tempted to grind teeth and slap foreheads (preferably their own) in response to this bit of bad press.

Still, an opportunity for education can be found here: as more media outlets suggest that Breivik's involvement in WoW is symptomatic of a major character and/or personality flaw, the best thing for WoW players (and addicts!) to do is to show the world that they are perfectly well-adjusted and normal people prone to a healthy amount of geekiness:


...and that's why we in the gaming and geek communities love them.
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Bethesda's parent company files trademark on Skyrim meme

A salvo of trademark applications have been filed to by ZeniMax, the parent company of Bethesda who is in no way related to a budget optical supply company, in order to protect one of the most popular memes to be spawned by Skyrim.

Should the applications be successful- and there's little indication that they will not be- the words "Fus Ro Dah" will be trademarked on everything from backpacks, t-shirts, other video games, instruction manuals, and- of course- the lucrative cosmetic bag market.

While a legally sound strategy, this heavy-handed approach will probably leave Skyrim fans feeling a little like this:



(source)

This shouldn't be surprising, considering how aggressive Bethesda's legal department. Last year they filed a suit against Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson because he wanted to use the words "Scrolls" as the title of a game he was developing. Bethesda's legal department had apparently filed a trademark application for the word "Scrolls" to protect their Elder Scrolls series of games.

Notch responded by challenging Bethesda to a 21st century version of trial-by-combat to decide who should back down from the lawsuit and for his weapon he chose a Quake 3 deathmatch. Bethesda never responded to his challenge, but there's evidence that Skyrim's developers included a Minecraft-inspired easter egg as a sign of friendship toward Notch even as their own legal department was threatening to sue him into Oblivion nothingness.

Interestingly, ZeniMax only seems concerned with trademarking "Fus Ro Dah!" at this point so the other, less popular dragon shouts are still fair game for fan-made Skyrim swag. More interestingly, ZeniMax has yet to file a trademark for the equally well known "I took an arrow in the knee..." proving that even the game's own company is sick of that particular meme.

So while we still have a few days to enjoy common use of Fus Ro Dah! before the legal browbeating begins, let's all take a moment to look back at the video that spawned the meme...


Fus Ro Dah, woman on a coffee table. Fus. Ro. Dah.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Here's your chance to be in a Hatsune Miku video!

That's right, loyal readers, you- yes, you!- can be featured in a Hatsune Miku video (sort of...) And all you need to do is translate Sasakure.UK's latest hit Trash Heap Princess and Apostrophe from Japanese to English. Rise to the challenge and secure your place in the annals of Vocaloid fame!



In order to win the contest, a bilingual fan must provide an English translation of the Japanese lyrics for Trash Heap Princess and Apostrophe (lyrics available here) that capture the fairy tale nature of the song's impressionistic lyrics. Also, the translation should probably be somewhat faithful to the original Japanese. Sounds easy, right?

Should you succeed and win the Grand Prize, your translation will be used in the official music video for the song and you will receive a signed CD and storybook from sasakure.UK (who illustrates and animates his own stuff) along with some other swag and goodies. It's times like this that make me wish I had saved up for Rosetta Stone...

Even if you have no intention of taking part in the contest, the video for Trash Heap Princess and Apostrophe is well worth watching. At once part Aesop Fable, one part Vocaloid pop hit, and one part WALL*E. The Aesop Fable part is rather appropriate considering it comes from the appropriately named (and amazing) The Fantastic Reality of Aesop album...


Of course, if the above does inspire you to take part in the contest... then fire up your Google translate and good luck!
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are otaku all that different from sports fans?


While sifting through the news to come out of Anime Boston and PAX East, I stumbled across an opinion piece on Boston.com arguing that Anime fans and Boston sports fans aren't so different after all. After reading through the contributor's points, I found myself agreeing: both enjoy dressing up to show support of their favorite team/character, both spend an inordinate amount of money on relevant team/series swag, both avoid end-of-season disappointment by turning to the rallying cry of "there's always next season!", and both enjoy a strong sense of community.

A casual reader might dismiss the opinion piece as being overly general. You can apply the above listed traits to nearly any group of enthusiasts- but the point of the article was to bring understanding of the otaku culture to the non-otaku in the Boston area.

Like most cities that host major conventions, the local Boston businesses enjoy a healthy boost from the convention goers, but despite this economic boom there sometimes exists a marked air of antipathy between locals and convention attendees. In my experience, this is fairly limited and localized. Most locals goers treat otaku (cosplayed or otherwise) with a sense of bemusement and idle curiosity. Pictures are taken, awkward smiles are exchanged, and sometimes a few polite questions are asked. It's sort of like acting in a renaissance festival, except you (probably) yell "Huzzah!" less frequently.

Sometimes, however, exceptions to this détente surface and an uglier side of the relationship is revealed. During lunch at a food court near Otakon this past summer, I overheard a father tell his toddler son that they were going somewhere else "...to get away from these fucking freaks". A charming moment of fatherly love that the child will recall fondly, for sure, since the "fucking freaks" in question were nothing more than a group of well-behaved, bubbly teenage girls in Pokemon cosplay enjoying lunch. Not exactly the sort of thing you need to lock your child away from, that.

Yet even in this, the author of the opinion piece is onto something. For the cantankerous, miserable, and malcontent crowds of people enjoying themselves- be they comprised of drunken Sox fans or pink-haired otaku- are something to be treated with open derision regardless of whether they're yelling "ICE COLD WA-TER" or upending cars and lighting them on fire*. Perhaps otaku and sports fans aren't so different after all



*- To my knowledge, this august tradition of sports fans has never happened at an anime con. Yet.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Morgan Spurlock takes on Comic-Con, geek documentaries

Documentaries about geeks and obsessive gamers are always a mixed bag. While most remain relatively objective, the filmmakers behind these projects often pull sensationalist threads and stories from the hours of complied footage in order to piece together a coherent narrative.

On one hand, they can be forgiven for their choices. They have to make a compelling story out of the project, after all, and the subjects of their films volunteer what information they choose to. On the other, these documentaries often become character studies in offensive stereotype caricatures as shut-ins and maladepts revel unchecked in their ability to escape the crushing banality of the mundane world.

Consider....
  • Second Skin - a documentary which examines the lives of hardcore MMO players, focusing on the deadbeat who loses his job and gains 50 pounds and the couple that meets on Everquest and decide to marry.
  • Darkon - An epic tale of conflict centered around Marlyand-based Darkon LARP group. Plucky, stay-at-home dad Skip Lipman who was driven from his father's gaming company by an ambitious brother dreams of grandeur and wars against the most dominant personality in the LARP group... who goes on to become a priggishly successful VP of Sales. A no-luck-at-love Starbucks Barista and Iraqi War veteran make cameo appearances.
  • Monter Camp - Focuses on the near-implosion of the plucky N.E.R.O LARP group based in Seattle. The man in charge of the group announces his plans to step down and obsessive gamers with (assumedly) no other creative outlets in their lives lament the impending end of their fantasy realm.
While all of these documentaries are enjoyable, informative, and absolutely well worth watching, they all paint (at times) a rather unfair and sensationalist picture of the average gamer. For every Skip Lipman and crying kid in goblin make-up, there are normal, well-adjusted gamers with lives, families, careers, and mental stability enjoying these self-same hobbies.

Which is why I'm holding out hope for famed outsider director Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame)'s entrant into the realm of geek documentaries. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope combines Spurlock's talents with powerhouse producers Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, and Harry Knowles to deliver an objective opus on geekdom based in and around Comic-Con 2010.
The narrative follows many plot threads (including an aspiring artist looking to break into the comic book industry and a nervous geek trying to find the courage to propose to his girlfriend... in Kevin Smith's panel) which promise to deliver a tender, insider's look at geekdom. Whether or not the finished product gives geeks a more sane face than previous documentaries have, it is clear that Spurlock is trying to capture the human element in fandom and that alone makes Comic-Con Episode IV worth checking out.

...once it lands on Netflix. It's currently in limited (limited) release nationwide.
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Monday, April 9, 2012

It's the end of an era (Mayan Edition)

If you have the misfortune of spending your weekdays in a profession that lends itself to having chatty coworkers, you've no doubt had an encounter with coffee-breathed History Channel scholar who swears the world will end on December 21st- the last date on the fabled Mayan calendar. This Mayan calamity has served as the inspiration for countless alarmist TV specials and box office diasterpieces. It's also complete bunkum.

To correct the global misconception of what will happen on December 21st, a coeterie of pre-eminent Mayan intellectuals have taken time from rubbing their fingers over their collective temples in frustration to host The International Mayan Telesummit. This completely free web-based virtual event (with talks translated into English and Spanish) will aim to debunk the end of the world paranoia surrounding the Mayan calendar's abrupt cessation on 12/21/2012 while educating attendees in the significance of the date to actual, y'know, Mayans.

The International Mayan Telesummit will include daily keynote talks by Mayan anthropologists, scientists, and spiritual leaders interested in capturing the Mayan perspective on what the shift of calendar ages on 12/21 holds for the Mayan people. Pity that John Cusack wasn't asked to attend...

If this sounds like something you'd like to watch, you can register (for free) here. Alternatively, you can copy the link and this post, send it to your chatty coworker, and hope that it buys you a few moments of precious silence so you can resume your normal workday slacking productivity.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

A Look Back On Easter Eggs

Easter is a time beloved by Peeps diorama enthusiasts and loathed by poultry farmers across the United States. It is also a convenient time to reflect upon the august tradition of Easter Eggs in video games.

The hidden gems, once the only creative outlet afforded to bored (and/or horny) programmers, have taken many forms throughout the years from secret passwords, to codes entered during title screens, hidden bathroom scenes, codes for gratuitous violence, references to The Simpsons, unlockable characters from other games, and- rarely- legitimate, floating easter eggs.

But all of these easter eggs are easily found (all with the exception of the NARPAS SWORD password from Metroid...) and cannot hold a candle to the grand-daddy of all Easter Eggs: The Chris Houlihan Room from A Link to the Past.

In 1990, Nintendo Power held a contest with the grand prize being a cameo in a future NES game. The contest, vaguely worded as it was, took place at the beginning of the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit games and the winner never appeared in an NES game as promised. Instead, the winner (Chris Houlihan) had his name added into a secret room in one of the most successful Super Nintendo games of all time A Link to the Past... except that the debugging team for said game did everything in their (Nintendo) power to eliminate the room- which they perceived as a glitch- from the game.

The debugging team eventually lost to the programmers (who continued to put the room back in when the debuggers took it out), but only just. Entrance to the Chris Houlihan Room was so difficult to figure out, that it wasn't until the proliferation of the internet back in 2002 that the existence of the room became widely known.

Thus it is that Chris Houlihan's contest prize remained hidden for almost eleven years, making it one of the most subtle- and mean! Who the hell takes a contest prize away from a kid?- Easter Eggs of all time.


Here's to you, Chris Houlihan. I'll keep your top secret room between us (and my readers)
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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hatsune Miku And The Case For The Authentic


What does hipster-hated pop tart Lana Del Rey have in common with digital diva Hatsune Miku? More than you'd think, according to modern day composer, programmer and all around awesome commentator Mike Rugnetta who recently took to the PBS Ideal Channel to argue that Miku is a more authentic pop star than Lana Del Rey is.

The (short) piece can be watched in its entirety below. It's an interesting argument and not a bad viewpoint, although I chafe a bit at his overly correct pronunciation of Mi-ku Hat-su-ne...


One of the biggest complaints leveled against Vocaloid by outsiders is that it is inherently soulless or altogether lacking the human element of traditional music. And it is, 100% of the way, but if you stop to think about it- that's part of the appeal.

Taken a bit deeper, Miku and the Vocaloid movement are a delicious post-modern phenomenon. As Rugnetta notes in his video, pop stars rely on an image that is an over-produced simulacra of human being marketed to sell products (music). Vocaloid relies on a disembodied voice, with an unapologetically ersatz virtual persona attached to it, and allows composers, artists, and animators who'd be lucky to receive any exposure without it to reach an audience across the world in a variety of media.

In essence, the Vocaloid movement is sort of a grand irony: it takes the worst part of the modern music industry (fake pop stars) and uses it to encourage the best (collaborative creativity) while making no pretenses to the contrary.

And that's why it's awesome.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Prada's Latest Models: The Cast Of Final Fantasy XIII-2?

When it comes to marketing collaborations, Final Fantasy characters turn up in the strangest places. From promotional soft drinks to pre-paid phone cards and even Maxim photoshoots, they've spread themselves far and wide in an attempt to bring the Final Fantasy brand to new creative horizons while parting fans of the franchise from their money.

Which is probably why this upcoming Prada photoshoot featuring characters from Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2 is only partially surprising...

Lightning Farron is modeling high-end menswear. Your argument is invalid.

Square Enix's Visual Works studio has confirmed that characters from Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel will serve as models for Prada's Spring and Summer 2012 collection in the UK-based fashion magazine Arena Homme+ Play. Despite Lightning's incompatible gender, I think she pulls off the $800 bowling shirt look quite well.

Sadly, like most high-end fashion these days, the photoshoot itself is far more interesting than the clothing that it models. Loose-fitting polos and tapered chinos aren't exactly the creative force driving fashion these days, but then what do I know? Arena Homme+ didn't ask me to model Prada for them and I'm a real person!

The 12-page marketing tie-in is featured in the April 12 issue and will feature Lightning, Snow, Noel, Hope, and Sazh Katzroy strutting their pixels for Prada. While most of the collection is fairly tedious, there's no denying that Sazh knows how to rock a suit!

Here's to hoping the chocobo chick makes it to the final print.
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Chinese Vocaloid Designs Unveiled

It turns out that you miss a lot when travelling to the land of hobbits and kiwis. While the people and scenery of New Zealand are without equal, the much-maligned Kiwi broadband forces you to be (blissfully) disconnected from the world of the internet. In the process of said disconnection, I completely missed this gem regarding the upcoming China Vocaloid Project. Namely, that the contest to choose the design for the first Vocaloid had five winning entries...

Each one loves the state more than the last!

From left to right, winning Vocaloid designs are: Mo Qingxian, Yuezheng Ling, Luo Tianyi (grand prize winner), Zhiyu Moke, and Yuezheng Longya. Longya and Ling are siblings, Moke is a 14-year-old with an IQ of 168, and Tianyi is an angel sent to earth to spread music to the world and deeply admires the Vocaloids of the past. How I wish I made that last part up.

Outside of the expected Chinese propaganda and the toeing of the PRC's party line in their backstories, the five winning Vocaloid designs have stirred up a good bit of controversy for copying the derivative "Miku formula" (the same criticism met the Korean Vocaloid SeeU earlier this year). In the visual sense, Luo Tianyi is perhaps the least guilty of this so it follows that her design would be selected as the overall contest winner. Also, the cool Sephiroth wing she's got going on probably didn't hurt her chances any...

Whether Luo Tianyi's design, name, and ancestor-worshipping angel-of-music backstory will survive to become the face of the first Chinese Vocaloid remains to be seen, but I don't think Hatsune Miku's status as the world's most popular Vocaloid is in any danger of being challenged.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Game Of Thrones Replica Weapons? Game On!

Gamer geeks throughout the world no doubt have mixed feelings about the runaway success of HBO's amazing Game of Thrones series. On one hand, it's pretty nifty to have a non-Lord of the Rings fantasy series be accepted- and loved- by the mainstream masses. Yet conversely, the most ardent of dice-chucking fantasy novels fans can't help but feel a degree of hipster-ian angst over the world expressing their love for a story that was once theirs and theirs alone.

So, what are these disaffected geeks to do? They can either cope with the hand that fate HBO, and George R.R. Martin have collectively dealt them and enjoy the show as it airs with the rest of the world, or they can arm themselves with a $700.00 replica of Eddard Stark's Ice for the upcoming war. Winter is coming.

When you have King Robert Baratheon's warhammer, all the world's problems start to look like things you can smash with King Robert Baratheon's warhammer...
(source: Valyrian Steel)

Forged by the amazing artisans at Valyrian Steel Workshop these gorgeous replicas were approved by series author George R.R. Martin himself who offered a good amount of creative input into their designs. Begun five years before the filming of Game of Thrones, these are not replicas of the weapons that the characters use on the HBO series- they're gorgeous weapons created from the mythos of The Song of Ice and Fire books and look a good deal closer to the descriptions of the weapons in the books than the weapons on the series do making them a refined geek's weapon of choice.

Replicas start at $170 (for Arya Stark's Needle which looks far less rapier-y than it does on the show) and climb to the aforementioned $700 for the damascus steel edition of Ice. Personally, I'm taken with King Robert's warhammer... perhaps because of the incredible demonstration video of its Rhaegar-smashing ability...



Ours is the fury, pumpkin. Ours is the fury.
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