Archive for March, 2011

Pro Guitar Status, March 27, 2011

Mar 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This weekend, I finished the last three tiers on Easy Pro Guitar. It felt pretty similar to last week: I stuck with my discipline of not looking at my hands, and I fumbled a fair amount, but not as much as I’d feared. Even the hardest tier wasn’t all that hard—not that I came anywhere close to perfect or anything, but getting four stars wasn’t surprising. I’m not sure how much of that is me improving (it’d be interesting to try the tiers in reverse difficulty order!) and how much of that is that, if the game spreads out the notes enough, you’ll be able to hit a decent percentage of them no matter what.

36 songs was enough that my left hand is feeling it; here’s what it looked like after today’s practice.

My hand after playing pro guitar

Most of the darkness is smudging rather than bruises, but I think there’s a little bit of bruising as well. Still, I haven’t yet come particularly close since the first week to having to stop because of my hands: they’re toughening up a bit, and I’m not playing for that long at a stretch.

I’m really glad to be done with Easy: it’s been interesting, but I’m very much looking forward to playing actual chords. And I hope the developers push out a patch soon for the problem with your scores not registering: it’s a little ridiculous that the game thinks that I’ve only completed two of the twelve songs on the hardest tier.

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Pro Keys Status, March 20, 2011: Roundabout!

Mar 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

After last week, I only had one song left to play on Expert Pro Keys, namely Roundabout; today, I finished it.

I finished Roundabout!

It was one of two songs that I hadn’t successfully played on Expert at all before I started this project; and there’s definitely a reason why it’s the last song in the track listing. When I first gave it a try today, I failed out somewhere around the 20% mark, when I hit some fast arpeggios; I then went into training mode and found that, the last time I’d trained on that piece, I’d successfully completed a grand total of one of the fifteen sections. I did better in training mode this time, but still: there’s a lot of hard stuff in that piece.

Still, I do seem to be getting better: after playing them a few times, I could actually manage the arpeggios in question reliably enough that my health bar increased when I was done with them rather than decreased, and I frequently hit a 4x multiplier at some point in the middle of them. I haven’t gone back and checked, but I’m pretty sure that those arpeggios are noticeably slower than the ones in Antibodies; still, they’re plenty fast, and I also get the feeling that my hand is getting better at maintaining an even rhythm in sections like that, meaning that I’m less scared of fast arpeggios than I used to be.

So I was feeling pretty happy with myself: I made it through the first 40% of the piece, and then a nice easy bit hits, where I can build up overdrive. And then, at around 53% into the piece, I hit another section of arpeggios: these ones were a lot harder than the previous ones, and, adding insult to injury, they hadn’t showed up at all in training mode! I’m not sure why they were omitted from training mode: while it is admittedly the case that you could include almost every measure of this piece in training mode, and at 15 sections, training mode was already long enough, it still seems a bit odd to leave out the hardest section of the entire piece.

I was almost ready to give up when that happened: I’d done well so far, but I was hitting my limit. Still, I figured I’d go through the piece a few times on no fail mode, just to see what it was like. And, with a bit of practice, I could make it to the hard spot with full health and full overdrive quite reliably; unfortunately, even full overdrive wasn’t long enough to make it through the hard section. But, when I turned off no-fail mode and then continued when I failed out, I was tantalizingly close to making it through that section!

And, after giving it a few more tries, it was pretty clear how to proceed. That section in question was difficult, but not evenly so: the early parts were merely super hard (as hard or harder than anything else on the disc!) while the latter parts were almost impossible without quite a bit more detailed study (and I’d have to master them without the help of training mode). So my best strategy was to survive as long as possible without overdrive: if I could make it a third of the way into the section in question before turning on overdrive, I’d have a fighting chance of making it through the whole thing with overdrive. The part after the crazy arpeggios ended was no picnic, either, but it was clearly within my capabilities, and I could use training mode to help me there.

So I went with that; after another couple of playthroughs, I could feel myself getting a bit better, and a few more attempts after that, I made it through the hard section. I was nervous / hyped up enough that I didn’t make it all the way through the piece—like I said, it’s no walk in the park even after that section—but at that point it was clear to me that I could make it through, with the appropriate strategic overdrive usage. (This is the only piece that I have to pick my overdrive spots based on survival rather than points!) And, a lunch break and several more attempts later, I finally succeeded.

At which point I declared victory, rather than trying to refine my score further. I like the piece, and I’m actually really hoping that more Yes appears as DLC, but I’d been playing it over and over again for the last several hours: enough is enough.

So now my tour through the on-disc content is done. I’ve actually slipped a few spots since last time: my score only went up a bit (from 10,620,581 points to 10,654,949 points), but other people have improved more than I have. So I guess 30th place was my high-water mark; I’m happy with that.

I'm at rank 33 with 10,654,959 points

I still plan to spend a little more time with Pro Keys: I haven’t put serious effort into the Billy Joel DLC yet, and apparently we’ll be getting more of his songs next week! There’s probably other keyboard DLC worth playing as well, I’ll give it a spin. But clearly I want to focus on Pro Guitar now: getting done with the Pro Keys on-disc content now is very good timing.

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Pro Guitar Status, March 20, 2011

Mar 21 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

An update on the bug I mentioned last week: according to this forum thread, it looks like songs that have different note charts on the Squier and the Mustang aren’t registering your high scores when played with the Squier. (So far I’ve run into the problem with Outer Space and Sister Christian.) Hopefully it will be patched soon, now that Squiers are out in the wild and people are running into it.

I didn’t play at all from Monday through Thursday. I was worried that that might impede my progress in toughening up my fingers, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case: probably if I were playing more, I would be building up calluses more, but I had noticeably calluses and tenderness on Monday, and I still had both on Friday. (Don’t get me wrong, the tenderness wasn’t painful or anything, I was just aware when I pressed on my fingers that I’d been doing something unusual with them.) And the playing that I did this weekend didn’t hurt, so my guess is that the calluses are helping at least a little bit.

Though it’s not like I played much this weekend: I only went through two tiers of songs, Solid and Moderate. (Both still on Easy, I’m sticking for now with my plan of going through them all on Easy before starting any on Medium.) But the Moderate songs in particular were fascinating to play. I’d been consciously avoiding looking at my right hand since I started; and, when I got to The Con, basically the whole song had me shifting on a single string between the fifth, seventh, and twelfth frets. So I thought: this is a perfect opportunity for me to start building up muscle memory by avoiding looking at my left hand.

And it worked great! Yes, I fumbled, but not as much as I feared. The visual feedback that the game provided was super useful: once I got used to looking at the screen, I could tell immediately if I was on the correct fret or not, and I could adjust my hand almost as quickly while looking at the screen as I could while looking at my left hand. This honestly looks to me like a way in which playing the game might actually help you learn certain aspects of playing guitar faster than learning normally would: it’s a great combination of focusing on muscle memory while getting feedback that doesn’t interfere with that learning.

Also, the selection of frets that that particular piece requires was very useful. Moving between the seventh and twelfth fret required a jump, so I had to get used to letting my hand move; while moving between the fifth and seventh fret was best done by putting my first finger on the fifth fret and my third on the seventh, meaning that I had to think about hand positions that would let different fingers work well together.

Also, from a musical point of view, they’re very useful frets to know: the fifth fret is a fourth up from the open string, the seventh is a fifth up, and the twelfth is an octave up. So, once I finished that song, I decided to try to play the remaining songs without looking at my left hand, and of course those same frets came over and over again. I certainly stumbled during the remaining pieces, but not nearly as much as I’d feared; and actually I stumbled almost as much with finding the correct string (both with my left hand and my right hand) as I did searching for the correct fret.

I’m really looking forward to playing through the remaining three tiers of music: there’s so much to think about here, in terms of training both my hands and figuring out how to select my hand positions. And I’m looking forward even more to moving on to Medium: I feel like I’m playing blind by not knowing what the underlying chords are. In fact, as much as I’m enjoying thinking about hand positions while playing a note at a time, that work may be almost counterproductive, in that I’m going to have to completely rework it when shifting between chords instead of using multiple fingers on a single string.

I hope I’ll be able to make it through the Easy songs next week, so I’ll be able to move on to Medium the week after that. Who knows how hard the Impossible songs will be, though, even on Easy; if they’re particularly difficult, I may end up overlapping those with the early Medium songs.

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Minecraft: Too Much Mining

Mar 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I hadn’t played Minecraft for a few weeks, what with GDC and family members being sick and wanting to finish off the Pro Keys songs, but I found some time to play some yesterday. I’m still not quite sure what I want to do next: do I want to embark on another construction project, and, if so, what? So I fell back to my current default activity, namely mining. Which I find strangely soothing…

Two diamond blocks

Diamond and iron

Looking back and noticing gold

This loot was almost all from a single lode

I’ll spare you too many pictures of yet another ore block. Though I did find one lode that was pretty amazing: diamond, iron, gold, and redstone all right there in one place.

Another encounter with the waterfall from last time

Water, water everywhere

Trying (and failing) to dig around the water

I accidentally flooded an old corridor in the process

I’m trying to maintain my regular pattern of mine corridors; and I wasn’t quite far enough over to be safe from the water I encountered last time. I ended up mostly just going back into an old corridor to bypass it before continuing to dig.

Looking up into hole left by gravel

Periodically, you run into gravel that falls down as you dig it out, which means that you end up having a much higher ceiling in that part of the corridor than elsewhere. Which looks rather nice, actually.

My second mine corridor

At some point, I got bothered by the fact that I didn’t have a standard length to dig my branch corridors off of. So I decided to just pick a distance and dig them all that far, marking that distance by a corridor that was parallel to my original corridor. The funny thing was that, when I did that, I found that several of my recent branches were within two or three squares of hitting that new corridor exactly! So clearly my brain had developed a notion of how far a mining corridor should be…

View of branch corridor across the lava

This is a view of one of my branch corridors from across the lava pool that my main mine corridor ran into. For whatever reason, mining sets me up with a mindset of “we must make the landscape conform”: I don’t try to actually remove lava and water that I encounter, but I do try to maintain as regular a pattern of corridors as possible given the presence of those liquids.

Loot from that mining session

Here’s my loot from that mining session. A good amount of diamond, but not too exciting otherwise; and, as always, I wish I had more iron.

My bed

Once I felt like I’d mined enough, I went up and started things smelting while I harvested wood and reeds. And I built my first bed! I’ve only used it once, though: while it would come in handy when doing outside work, I still feel like following the rhythms of my world for now.

After that, I needed a break from mining (whether of ore or wood). I remembered that, when poking in the sand near my spawn point, I’d uncovered what seemed like it might be a cave. So I went over to give it more of a look.

Is there a cave under the sand?

Looking into the cave

Inside the cave

The outside view after removing all the gravel

There was a bunch of gravel under the sand; once I dug that away, there was indeed a cave. Which was reasonably tall, but didn’t go very far, so it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped for. Still, it was something, and I think I even got a bit of iron out of it.

After that, I returned to my house. I went to organize my goods in my chests, and realized that they were starting to overflow with junk. So I wanted to find a way to dispose of those extra blocks. And the easiest way to do that was in the lava pool in my mine: so I went down again!

My incinerator

Which sounds kind of silly, except I really like the journey from my house to my mine: it’s a nice familiar path, and it’s surprisingly fast. So I took a bunch of blocks down there and threw them away; while I was at it, I also built a third corridor parallel to my main mining corridor, this time on the right side of the main corridor. So now I have standard distances to travel on both sides when I’m mining.

How did that chicken get in here?

When I came up, I was surprised to find that I had a guest. I still have no idea how it got there: I checked, and all the doors were closed. Though the route from the ravine into my house isn’t guarded by a door: did it manage to make it through that? Did I leave a door open briefly earlier without realizing it? Did it glitch into the house? Did it spawn in there? Beats me; for now, though, I’m happy enough to have a chicken living with me, so I’ve left it there.

My current loot stash

Here’s my current loot stash. 257 iron ingots, which would be enough for 672 minecart tracks. And I now have enough diamond for a full set of armor, if I wanted to be ultra-fashionable, with one left over for a record player to boot! (I doubt I’ll do the armor, but I will do the record player.) I should make some bookshelves, too.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Maybe explore above ground, to see if I can find a place for a house that isn’t dug out of a hill?

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Pro Guitar Status, March 13, 2011

Mar 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I spent most of my Rock Band time Sunday playing Pro Keys, but I figured I should put in a little more Pro Guitar time: among other things, my fingers were aching a bit after Saturday’s practice but not actively hurting, so if I’m going to toughen them up, I should keep at it. Maybe I’ll even find time to play some evenings this week; actually, it’s possible a blister is starting to develop on one of them, so I might need to hold off a bit.

I made it through the single-note lessons; pretty straightforward, and nothing else was nearly as painful as the one where I had to slide, though many required multiple attempts. The upstrum one was interesting: I’m not in the habit of upstrumming much on regular Rock Band guitar, but it felt a lot more natural with a pick in my hand. Though the guitar didn’t seem to detect it reliably when I was playing on the highest string, which is unfortunate if it persists. At any rate, I’ll want to work on that when playing.

My hands were pretty lost again today. Both of them felt out of place, and I was constantly moving my head in a triangle between the screen, my right hand, and my left hand. Which is ridiculous, and I really need to learn where various parts of the instrument are: so after a bit I decided to stop looking at my right hand and just guess at where my hand is supposed to be to strum each of the strings. Which worked surprisingly well, so I’ll definitely want to keep that up! Though I am developing a bit of a bad habit of resting my pick against the string while I’m feeling out where the string is: that wouldn’t work if I were playing for real or if I were playing at a normal speed, so I’ll want to break myself of that at some point.

I’m also looking at my left hand more than I’d like. Some of that is inevitable: for now, I’m more or less incapable of making large jumps up or down without looking. (Though I will say, the on-screen feedback is really good, so I might actually be able to correct just by looking at the screen.) I tried to force myself not to look other than that, though, with reasonable success. There are still times where I know that my fingers are in the wrong place but don’t quite know how (generally if my fingers are on a fret and don’t know if I should move my hand up or down), but that should improve soon, I imagine. There are also situations where my ring finger is on one string while my index finger is unintentionally on a different string: I find that somewhat embarrassing, actually, but I’m sure I’ll learn the angle to hold my hand in soon!

I finished the Apprentice songs today, though I ran into a strange bug where the game obstinately refuses to credit me with having finished one of them; I hope that goes away after a reboot! They’re still pretty straightforward. My current plan is to go through them all on Easy before trying any on Medium: certainly I can use a lot more practice in playing individual notes. Though the songs are so stripped down that I sometimes feel that having the context that chords would provide would be useful in understanding the music, so I may start playing through the early songs on Medium while going through the late songs on Easy; who knows. It may also be the case that picking out the notes in the late songs on Easy will be hard enough that I’ll find simple chords to be easier: I haven’t looked ahead to see what the difficulty curve looks like.

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Pro Keys Status, March 13, 2011

Mar 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I finished six more songs today; that brought me up to rank 30.

I'm at rank 30 with 10,620,581 points

An improvement of 548,496 points over last week, or 91,416 per song: smaller improvements than I’d been making last week, but still enough for a boost of 8 ranks. Hopefully I’ll make it into the 20s next week, though that isn’t guaranteed, given that I only have one song left and that other people are improving as well; even if I do, I don’t expect to stay there for very long, but hopefully I’ve got a good enough cushion over 100th place (or even 50th place) to stay pretty high up on the leaderboard for a while.

As one might expect, the songs are definitely getting harder. I was surprised at how easy Bohemian Rhapsody was this time, but the songs after that (e.g. Llama) were tricky, and I occasionally even failed out. Also, my leaderboard scores weren’t as high as I’m used to (I think I only made it into the 30s once today): I get the impression that there are several people who have put a good effort into these songs but who haven’t bothered to go through the easier ones. The songs are generally still fun: Bohemian Rhapsody is remarkable in its own way, and I quite enjoyed playing Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.

My big accomplishment this week, though, was that I finally made it through Antibodies on Expert without no-fail turned on! I wasn’t too optimistic when I first tried it: I failed out at around 15%, and training mode didn’t help much. But then I went through the whole song on with no-fail turned on, and that got the rhythm into my fingers. (It helps a lot that the second half of the song is pretty easy: there are two quite tricky bits at the start, but once you make it past those, it’s almost all smooth sailing, while still having a rhythm that helps you when replaying the first part.) So after a couple of no-fail runs, the second of which was rather good, I turned failure back on; and I did fail a few times, but eventually I made it all the way through the song.

I still don’t like the song, and it’s the one that I’m by far the worst at: I’m not even in the top 1% of players. I’m pretty sure that, if all I cared about was my rank on the leaderboard, my best strategy would be to try to go for 100% on Medium but (despite this series of posts) I’m not so focused on my score as that: I want to play the pieces well, and playing on Medium is incompatible with that. (Hmm, actually, looking through the leaderboard, maybe Medium wouldn’t be good enough to bump up my score much. And my rank is 268th place, which isn’t a complete embarrassment, at least.)

Anyways, that means that I have one song left! That last song is Roundabout, and I expect it to take a fair amount of work to go through: it’s a lot more musical than Antibodies, but my memory (bolstered by looking at the sheet music) is that there are some fast repeated arpeggios that will take some amount of luck for me to hit well, and the less repetitive bits are quite a bit trickier than in any other song on the disc. Still, it’s only one song, and a song that I won’t resent while playing it over and over again, so I expect that I’ll finish it next week.

And then I’ll be done! At least with the on-disc content: there’s DLC that I could play. I’ll certainly try to learn the Billy Joel pack better than I have so far: my first impression of that one was that it was fun but hard enough that I dipped down to Hard on a few of the songs. I have some Doors DLC lying around; I’ll give those more of a try, and if I like them I guess I’ll download the rest of the Doors DLC. And Modern Love is super fun, I’ll give that a few more tries. After that, I’ll give a scan for other keyboard DLC that could be interesting; anybody have any recommendations? In general, though, I expect I’ll be putting in most of my Rock Band time working on Pro Guitar.

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City of Wonder

Mar 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Playdom’s other big city builder was City of Wonder. It was built on a modified version of the Social City engine, so you’ll see the same isometric view and the same sort of charming animations as in that game. And I played it quite a bit last year, and rather enjoyed it.

Its main difference is that it throws in Civilization-style elements: a tech tree and light combat. I liked the former, and didn’t care much for the latter, but fortunately the combat was entirely optional, so it didn’t end up affecting how I played the game. The tech tree did mean, however, that I couldn’t grow my city in the same way that I did in Social City: the buildings from the different eras had a noticeably different art style, so it didn’t make sense to either intermingle them or to keep the very oldest buildings in the center of the city. What I ended up doing was playing for a while, then doing a huge reorganization where I moved the oldest buildings out to the fringe: this meant that the ages represented a rural-to-urban transition from the fringe to the core of my city, which I rather liked!

Now, some pictures of the various bits:

The oldest stone-age huts, along with some farms and mines

The stone age culture buildings, along with farms

Here are some of the oldest buildings. You can see the dirt road, transitioning to gravel. I also put most of my production buildings out here.

Bronze age, moving into the classical age

Now the buildings and roads are getting decidedly less primitive.

Embassy row

You have embassies representing your friends who also play the game; like most people, I clustered those together, because otherwise they’d look out of place. Eventually this got out of hand for people who really liked the game, so they provided a way to combine multiple friends’ embassies into a single building, but I never did that.

The main square, with classical and enlightened age buildings

This was going to be the center part of town, though I never played much into the modern age, so my buildings ended up mostly ending here. Note that the streets are versatile enough that you can construct a nice plaza out of street tiles if you want: I did so, trying to ring it with some of the more impressive buildings I had.

The aqueduct and the magic corner

I built an aqueduct into town, though I didn’t end up doing as much with it as I liked. (Though it did provide a good location for my Colossus, if nothing else.) Also, you can see above that my buildings from the “Age of Alchemy”: one way in which the game tried to expand was by offering a couple of technology trees that you could only get by premium currency. I did the first of those, but not the second. More recently, they’ve added a sea colony, which I’ll show below.

Pyramids in the desert

You can build various wonders in the game; one of them, the Pyramids, I had a hard time fitting into my decor, until I realized that I could surround it with dirt roads that looked enough like sand to be a plausible match. (And then it proved to be a suitable location for an oil rig, too.) The “sand” still functioned as roads, however, which rather amused me when I had a parade (complete with sousaphone) marching through the desert at some point in the game. (That’s why there’s a cow wandering through the desert in this picture.)

The whole city

Here’s how it looks when you put it all together.

My sea colony

And here’s the sea colony that’s recently been introduced. I haven’t done much with it, but I rather like the idea of having separate land and water tiles with their own distinct sets of buildings (or ships or octopi) that you can place on them. And you can convert land tiles into water or vice-versa, so it doesn’t have to stay as blocky as the default, I’ve just been lazy so far.

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Starting Pro Guitar

Mar 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I was planning to hold off on Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar until I was done with my Pro Keys playthrough. But then the guitar arrived, so of course I had to take it out of the box, tune it up, and do the ceremonial picking out of Alice’s Restaurant. And then the MIDI adapter arrived, and I read a few reports from people saying how much their left hand hurts when they’re starting out on Pro Guitar; that suggests that, when I do dive into it, I won’t be able to spend hours at a stretch on it. And, conveniently, it’s your left hand that hurts, while when playing Pro Keys, I only use my right hand. So I can work on them both at once! (Well, not literally both at once. But both in the same afternoon.)

Some background: I have played guitar a bit in the past. Specifically, I spent the summer after my sophomore year at college at a math research program, and I brought along a guitar. I learned a few chords, and two or three songs (the only one of which that has stuck being the aforementioned Alice’s Restaurant), but I didn’t get at all good at the instrument, and I haven’t picked it up much in the intervening two decades. There are even basic mechanics that I didn’t learn back then: e.g. I used my fingers instead of a pick, and I was really awful at barre chords. So, while I’m not coming at this completely from scratch, I’m coming at it from a quite different position than I was with Pro Keys. (And I’m fairly sure that Pro Guitar is quite a bit more realistic than Pro Keys, too, so it will be harder in that way as well!)

Anyways, I fired it up late this morning. (And I was pleased that the game noticed that I’d plugged in a real guitar for the first time, and offered to send me over to the appropriate tutorial!) I went through the first lesson, and started the second one; my hand started to hurt pretty badly when I was doing the part that involved sliding up and down the neck while holding down a string, though, so I stopped. (I might want to adjust the neck of the guitar so I don’t have to press down quite as far.) As the game suggested, I also played The Hardest Button to Button on Easy—thinking back, this may actually literally be the first time I’ve ever played something in Rock Band on Easy (I know I did some of the songs on Easy way back on the original Guitar Hero, but since then I think I’ve always started on Medium even when learning a new instrument), but yeah, that’s the right difficulty level for me right now.

I went through all the Warmup songs on Easy. Mostly went pretty well, I even managed to hit 100% on one of them on my first try, but it’s also clearly just the start of a long learning curve. It will be a while before I can even reliably play an arbitrary string without looking down at my right hand—that’s one way in which playing with a pick feels really different to me from playing with my fingers. And my left hand has quite a bit more room to get lost in! (Actually, my left hand was doing better than I feared it would, given the range of frets that you have to hit. But it’s still doing quite badly.) The whole experience has given me renewed appreciation for all those piano and harpsichord lessons I took: I can’t really imagine what it would be like to try Pro Keys on Hard or Expert without your hand just knowing what a 1-3-5 chord or a 1-4-6 chord feels like.

Just a start, and I hope I’ll have more time this weekend to work on it. Also, one pleasant side effect of starting a new instrument in the game: there are a lot of really easy goals to pass, giving a nice boost to your fan count!

malvasia bianca 309,152,512; Academy of Dr X 307,761,072

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Pro Keys Status, March 6, 2011

Mar 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have to play Rock Band this weekend, what with GDC having just ended, but it actually ended up being a really nice way to relax; so I played it a lot, going through all nine Nightmare songs and the first two Impossible songs. (It didn’t hurt that I have a Squier sitting against the wall motivating me to finish up Pro Keys.) And I’m happy to say that I’ve accomplished all of my goals, with seven songs to spare!

I'm at rank 38 with 10,072,085 points

That’s an improvement of 1,253,740 over last week, or 113,976 points per song. If I can keep that up for the remaining seven songs, I’ll end up with 10,869,917 points, which (if others’ scores don’t change) would leave me in 23rd place; who knows if that will happen (I’ve never successfully played two of the remaining songs—Antibodies and Roundabout—on Expert), but I’d be surprised if I didn’t end up somewhere in the twenties.

Playing through the Nightmare songs has been super interesting: that label is quite inappropriate! The songs are getting musically more complex rather than just throwing fast repetitive notes at me; as a result, I dipped into training mode on pretty much every song this level, but I ended up doing better on these songs than on the Challenging songs. There was only one song where I didn’t manage five stars (Fly Like an Eagle—that noodling around at the end, which practice mode labels “Trippy Part” (as opposed to three earlier sections that are labeled “Spacey Part”), is hard!), and even there, I did well enough that I’m in 31st place on the song leaderboard. (So you could make a case that the star cuttofs are calibrated wrong; but it didn’t feel like a five-star performance to me, which is corroborated by my only hitting 88% of the notes.) And I even managed gold stars on two of the songs, and on 20th Century Boy I hit 8th place on the leaderboard, which I believe is my highest rank yet. (I see that I’m already down to 9th place, though. I didn’t get gold stars on that song; again, possible calibration failure, but I only got 91% of the solo, so it didn’t feel like a gold star performance, I think people just aren’t putting in the time to learn the solo.)

In fact, there were several songs where I felt like I could hit 100%: not that it was likely that I’d do so, but that there wasn’t any group of notes in the song that I felt that I shouldn’t be able to hit most of the time. Even so, it was quite a surprise when I managed to actually do that on Cold as Ice!

I got 100% on Cold as Ice!

Despite that, though, I still haven’t gotten the Pro Keys Streak 500: that looks impossible! Hmm, this forum post suggests trying Antibodies on medium, maybe I’ll be able to manage that? I might go back and work on some of the remaining Pro Keys goals once I’ve gone through all the songs: five-starring all the songs on Expert seems like it’s just out of reach without heroic effort, but hopefully I’ll be able to five-star them all on Hard? (Heck, who knows if I’ll be able to three-star them all on Expert without turning on no fail…)

I doubt I’ll be done next week: even though I have only seven songs left, I just don’t see myself finishing both Antibodies and Roundabout next week. So probably two weeks left, potentially three weeks. (I may end up going out and buying sheet music for Roundabout, so I can practice it on the piano, albeit in a significantly different form.) My MIDI adapter should show up this week, so I’ll definitely want to jump into Pro Guitar soon; I may actually end up interleaving the two, because my fingers definitely need more toughening up before they’ll be able to handle long stretches of play on the Squier. (Just playing Alice’s Restaurant for a bit last night was enough to get my fingers aching.) Fortunately, that only affects my left hand, while I only use my right hand for keys, so switching between the two shouldn’t be a problem.

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Social City

Mar 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I didn’t blog about Social City so much (Playdom discouraged blogging about our games), but I played it a lot in early 2010, both alone and with Miranda. (We had a tradition where I would earn in-game coins during the week and then over the weekend we’d figure out where to place items in our city.) As the city evolved, we’d have to figure out where to place new buildings in such a way that it didn’t destroy the character of the existing city, and led to a city that we could imagine we’d want to live in.

Here’s a tour of our city.

The starter area of the city

The game starts you off with a factory, a few houses, and a nascent town square; this is what that starter area eventually turned into.

Our main residential area

We expanded those houses into a residential area. We tried to avoid putting single-family houses right next to factories, but they’re not too far away, with a little bit of buffering provided by larger buildings.

The industrial part of town

We put all the factories together: smog central. Other industrial buildings went there as well, e.g. the radio tower and the water tank.

The town square

The town square is the heart of the city. I really liked it when they released the brick road: I thought it worked well as an accent around the square. The early government buildings and parks went here.

The main shopping district

We wanted to find a place for every non-premium building somewhere in town. In my mind, I divided retail buildings into upscale and downscale, and put the more upscale ones over here, next to the town square on the opposite side from the factories.

Second shopping district

The other retail buildings went south of the town square, near where the factories were located; aside from expressing elitism and class structure, this also was done for the pragmatic reason that they were generally more enclosed: you can put a movie theatre or a megamart next to a factory without ruining the experience.

Government and other imposing buildings

As we leveled up, we unlocked more impressive government buildings; these we put in an area southwest of the town square, along with similarly constructed buildings such as large banks.

School and dirt road

On the edge of the residential area we put the school; also, to represent the transition from town, we added a dirt road leading to a wooded area.

Large animal row

From the beginning, large animals were available as gifts. I would have been happy to have not placed these in the city at all—I wouldn’t want to live in a city with giant animal statues!—but Miranda overruled me. So, as a compromise, we put them in a row, forming a border between the factory district and a recreation area.

Recreation area

Here’s the recreation area: it’s also next to the residential district, on the other side from the schools. Lots of parks, lots of sports fields, one of only two places in town where I broke down and put parking lots.

A river and rocky trees

When the game was launched, it didn’t have water, so people ended up using blue flowers to represent rivers. So we placed that as a border on the southeast side of town, near the recreation area; on the far side of the river, we put trees and rock outcroppings.

Japanese district

Once they’d fleshed out standard building types, the game team started releasing various themed gift sets. The first one of those (and the only one that I placed in my main city) was the Japanese theme, and I really liked it: nice architecture, I like the cherry blossoms lining the paths.

The entire city

And here’s what it looks like when you put it all together!

The static pictures above don’t really do the game justice: a lot of its charm comes from its animations. (Both for individual buildings and for vehicles and pedestrians roaming the streams.) Here’s a tour through some of them; my apologies for the bad cropping, I’ll find a better way to do screencasts if I start to make a habit of them. (Anybody have screencast software for the Mac that they recommend?)

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