Archive for July, 2011

Pro Guitar/Keys Status, July 24, 2011

Jul 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I mostly played through Pro Keys stuff: going through the keyboard parts of a bunch of random DLC (of which the highlight was Take On Me) and several Billy Joel songs. I’m playing each of the latter songs a few times (including going through training mode on them), but I’m not treating them nearly as seriously as the on-disc content, so in particular I have quite a lot of room for improvement on The Entertainer. Still, fun stuff, and (unsurprisingly) Piano Man is great.

I also did a bit of Pro Guitar training: going through a few of the most complex Hard lessons again (I got 100% on the hardest barre chord lesson the first time through!), and doing the Expert lesson on seventh chords for the first time. Which I’m glad I did, even though seventh chords aren’t showing up in game for me yet, I expect I’ll try out more of the Expert lessons.

Today, I went through four songs on Pro Guitar. (All Hard Apprentice.) I would have done more, but I’m not feeling so great, and playing guitar requires a fair amount of concentration. Also, one of the ways in which I’m not feeling great is that I wrenched my back earlier this week; the down side of playing guitar is that I need to sit upright, which makes it hard to keep the heating pad against it, but the up side is that it means that I have to sit in a good posture, which is useful!

Fun stuff, generally. I enjoyed playing Whip It, and did a good job on it. Rock Lobster had way too many fast notes for me to do well on it: clearly that’s something I need to work on. It doesn’t help that I’m still very bad at upstrumming; now that my playing of barre chords isn’t a complete disaster, maybe I should spend time out-of-game working on alternating picking?

Fly Like an Eagle was interesting because it had some hammer-ons in it and, unlike last time, they sounded great! Well, at least some of them did, but any progress is welcome. And I enjoyed playing Walking on the Sun with the mute on, but when I unmuted and plugged it in, it sounded awful, I’m pretty sure Hard is leaving out some important notes.

Not as much progress as I would have liked; then again, given how I’m feeling this weekend, I’m glad I managed to practice at all.

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Minecraft: Laying down Track

Jul 24 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last time, I finished digging out the train station behind my house; now, time to lay down track!

Rails are crafted

I decided that I’d build some train platforms out of half-height blocks. I’m still not entirely sure about the layout there—I only have one track now, so it’s hard to envision how the station would look when it becomes full of tracks—but I decided not to worry about that and just place an approximation for where platforms might go.

Putting platforms in place; pretend that there are tracks in the other gaps

After that, I started laying down track, until I reached the location where the train station behind my other house will be.

I might need fences here to guard against animals. It's desert, though, so maybe not?

We've reached the other station!

At this point, it was time to give it a ride!

Traveling along the track

Entering the main station

The only issues were that I was traveling a bit slowly, and that I couldn’t quite hit the switch when stopped at my home station. Miranda helped me fix both of those, so now the track segment is fully functional.

Making the switch accessible

Tweaking the booster track locations

The final view of the station

The next thing to do is to build a (much smaller) train station around the other end of the line. Miranda’s out right now, though, and I’d like her advice; also, I want to put in some guitar practice. So I think I’ll postpone that until a future week; getting close, though!

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Pro Guitar/Keys Status, July 10, 2011

Jul 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Whenever new Rock Band DLC comes out, I give it a listen, and buy it if it looks like fun to play. The problem is that I don’t actually get around to playing it, so I had a bunch stacked up. So on Saturday night, Liesl and I went through that (on regular guitar/bass respectively); not much to report, though I am a bit embarrassed to report that the two songs that I got 100% on were Paparazzi and Tubthumping…

Today, I put in my Pro Guitar practice. I went through some of the harder training sections again: it’s no longer a surprise when I make it through those, but it’s not yet so routine that I’m not learning something. I may dip into the Expert lessons in an upcoming week: I’m sure that many of those are beyond me, but there might be some that are worth trying, and I would like to learn about alternate tunings.

After that I went through three songs. The main takeaway from Good Vibrations is that I can’t strum nearly fast enough: I could mostly keep up with that one, but I got the impression that Expert will be noticeably harder on that song, and it’s only Apprentice level!

Outer Space was rather interesting: like Yoshimi, it has a lot of chord strumming, with a bit less repetition of individual chords this time but with more variations in the chords themselves. In particular, G chords in the song had you playing the third fret on the B string, which I’m a little less used to but which makes for a pleasant transition coming out of a D chord, since you can leave your ring finger in the same place. Also, in the last of a sequence of G chords, they frequently dropped the bottom string down to an F#, which took a while to get used to but which sounded good once I got it right. (I appreciate the hint of polyphony instead of chords or single notes.) Eventually, I got to where I could get to a 4x multiplier on that song, which I was rather proud of; coming out of that chord success, I went back to try Yoshimi again, and I’m still not very good on that song, though.

The third song I went through was Break on Through (To the Other Side). That’s the first song with Hammer On / Pull Offs; I could play them reliably with the mute on, but when I plugged in the guitar, they were barely audible. So clearly I need to work on my technique there, to make them a lot crisper.

Playing through my DLC backlog reminded me that I had a bunch of Billy Joel DLC that I hadn’t gone through seriously on Pro Keys, so I decided to start chipping away on that instead of continuing with Pro Guitar. Which was a good idea: I’d forgotten how big his first DLC pack was, and I had 18 songs waiting for me!

Of which I made it through a grand total of two. In Captain Jack, I scored over 700,000 points, which wasn’t enough to put me in the top 1%; lots of chords in that song! I made enough mistakes that it looked like it’s possible to make over a million points on that song, which a look at the leaderboard confirms; the leaderboard also shows that I’m in 42nd place, I guess not that many people have played it. The other one I tried was I Go to Extremes, which was rather harder, I spent more than an hour on that song alone and there was still room for improvement at the end.

I don’t think my Pro Keys skills have slipped too much, at least, but I have another 16 Billy Joel songs to go, and there’s some non-Billy Joel DLC with keyboard parts that I should give a try on as well. So I’ll probably be trying to find time for both Pro Guitar and Pro Keys for the next month or two.

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Minecraft: Finished Digging out the Train Station

Jul 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

At the end of last weekend, the final outlines of the train station were taking shape; the remaining tasks were to flesh out the west side (in particular, how the alcove would merge into the station roof lines), and to actually dig out the back (north end) of the station.

I decided to continue another line of windows around the edge of the roof of the alcove, and then put a layer of dirt with a skylight in the middle:

The side of the west alcove roof

Skylight on top of the west alcove

As I went to clean up the lines of the train station roof, though, it became clear that the alcove was a little larger than I thought, so I extended the skylight a bit.

Sunset over west alcove, with inappropriately small skylight

Enlarged skylight

The west side of the station roof

With that in place, it was time to start digging out the back of the train station!

Just beginning to hollow out the top

Looking down from my perch on top

When I came down from my digging that night, a duck had stopped by to check on things

One issue that I had to deal with at this point was that the stairs going up from the back of the fourth floor of my house now didn’t work: they ran straight into the glass roof of the station. For now, I removed the top of the stairs but left the door in place near the top (which, conveniently, was right at the back of the station), and I also made a left turn near that door to start hollowing out a potential viewing area in the top back of the station.

Stairs running into glass

Looking back as I dig down at door and alcove in wall

After that, it was dig, dig, dig.

A bit of the top is cleared out now

Hitting a patch of gravel part way down

Looking east as we dig down

Nighttime view from the bottom of the progress we've made digging

Another view from the door in the wall, much further down now

After I’d gone down further, the window pattern on the west side changed; that meant that I’d hit the top of the alcove, where the windows loop around the alcove instead of continuing to the north. So I started digging it out as well.

The end of the windows shows the alcove location

Starting to dig out the top of the alcove

Sunset through the alcove windows

A wider view, showing how the station is taking shape

As I reached the bottom of the train station, I ran into that cave on the east side; it turned out that its bottom was indeed lower than the station’s floor. I decided to mostly leave the cave in place, but to finish it off a bit and put in stairs.

Looking out through the cave on the east wall

The view into the station from the cave

The finished cave area

And, shortly after that, I was done digging out the station. Which is huge!

A sheep has come to inspect the final stages

The complete station, looking towards the front

The complete station, looking towards the back and west side

There was still that door and hole way up high in the back wall of the station. I ended up removing the door and putting a glassed-in viewing area that I could reach from my house.

Looking out from the viewing area

The viewing area's window from beneath

Here’s a tour of the completed outside, going counter-clockwise from the west alcove. I like how the house and train station work together.

The entrance to the train station alcove; you can also see the balconies on the house

The west side of the station

The south side of the station

The east side of the station

The east side of the house, and some of the station

The arch at the north side of the house

The main entrance to the house

The next step, I suppose is to lay tracks! And then I’ll build a (much much smaller!) train station at the other end of the tracks, and connect that to my second house.

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VGHVI Minecraft: June 30, 2011

Jul 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

My favorite part of last week’s VGHVI Minecraft session was that we (Pat, mostly) finally finished the underwater tunnel! It goes to a fairly large snowy island in the middle of the sea; maybe we’ll push on beyond that to greener climates?

The ocean tunnel through the snow

These bumps were originally intended to prevent water from flooding the tunnel if we accidentally broke a wall

The tunnel has reached land

Chicken-proofing the tracks through the tunnel

A strange stone bridge leading off of the island where the tunnel lands

Eric decided to build a fortress next to last month’s Skull Mountain project:

Looking down from the top of the fortress

A side view of the fortress, looking towards Skull Mountain

A better view of the skull

Looking up from inside the fortress

The walls of the fortress are tall!

Speaking of tall things, Jonathan used his TNT to produce a truly stunning pit under one of the corners of the train track loops:

Looking down from the middle of the pit

Looking up from that same location

Looking up from the bottom. (Though he blasted more after this)

I died right after taking this photo

Finally, Miranda (with help from Pat and, I believe, Jonathan) built an apartment building near the temple.

Starting work on the apartments

The bottom floor is mostly complete

Working on the upper floors

The entrance to the building

Inside one of the apartments

The view out of one of the windows

Ovens, a workbench, and a garbage disposal

The door to Jonathan's apartment

My apartment door

Pat's apartment door

Inside Pat's apartment

A lamp in Pat's apartment

And I returned to the cave from our first session in this world (from which I sadly don’t have any pictures). And it turns out that our tree farm has finally grown its first tree! (Still not much of a farm, though…)

A tree grows underground

Lava and bedrock

Finally, I got a request for an updated world picture, so here it is. (I used Tectonicus to create it.)

The (almost) full world map

The parts where we've built stuff

The area around the temple

The underwater tunnel

As always, we do this on the last Thursday of every month, please follow the VGHVI blog and come join us!

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Minecraft: Expanding the Train Station

Jul 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’ve been slacking on my Minecraft blogging: not only do I owe you last week’s post (which this is), I owe a VGHVI post! My apologies, I’ll try to get caught up this weekend.

When I last mined, I was hollowing out a train station from my home mountain. I really liked the way the windows looked and its height and width; but it was far too stumpy. So I knew I needed to expand it, at least doubling but hopefully coming close to tripling its length. (And even that wouldn’t be correct proportions for a real train station, but at least it wouldn’t look ridiculous.)

I’d set the front of the train station (the south end) based on where the mountain started turning into sand; the back (the north end) was partly determined by a tower in the middle of the mountain, and partly by the shape of the mountain. In particular, the mountain got quite narrow on the east side, and bulged out in the west, and I didn’t want to completely homogenize that. Also, I wanted to leave room for my house in front, so I couldn’t go too far north.

After walking back and forth over and around the mountain, I decided that I could go a reasonable amount further north. I didn’t want to go so far as to bump into a window on the east side of my house (the glass enclosure from this post), and I also didn’t want to encroach on the rooftop garden (from that same post), but I could comfortably go further than the tower. And on the east side, I figured I’d just build walls past the side of the mountain; that actually makes my life easier because it creates space that I don’t have to dig out. On the west side, however, I wanted to leave the bump in place, so I decided to break the symmetry and turn that into an alcove.

Even that wasn’t going to make the station long enough, however. So I decided to extend forward (south) into the sand part of the mountain. Which was convenient, actually: I use a lot of windows in my train station, and if I’m going to enlarge it, then I’ll need a source of sand to smelt into more glass. So it was convenient to have an excuse to dig into the sand in the front.

With that plan in mind, I started firming out the details. First, I started building up the wall on the east side.

Mountain where I need to extend the east wall

Building out the east wall

There's a cave under the east wall, it turns out

The space between the new east wall and the old side of the mountain

The view of the east wall from the house

That forced me to fix exactly how far back I was going to go. Next, I worked on the front (the south part) of the train station, figuring out how far forward to go. I found a reasonable distance, extended my window lines, and started digging it out.

Looking down while digging out the front of the station

I continue to be a sucker for sunsets

Done digging out the front of the station

At this point, I’d finished digging out the front of the station, but I needed to figure out exactly what the front would look like, because I’d left a gaping hole:

I need some windows here

It took a little experimentation, but I ended up with a layout I was happy with. (It’s asymmetric because the front of the mountain is asymmetric.)

My first pass at a window layout

This layout is much more elegant

The view of the windows from inside

Next, I had to tackle the west side of the station. Here’s the view looking west before I started working on it, with the extension I wanted to preserve some of in the foreground.

The original view to the west

Eventually, I decided to wrap the lowermost windows in the station around an alcove on the west; the ground on the northwest part is rather lower, so I added an extra set of windows there.

Starting work on the west alcove

The alcove is taking shape

The north side of the alcove, with two sets of windows

With that, the outline of the station was mostly clear, though I had to work out the details of how the alcove on the west side would transition into the roof. Also, I have a lot of hollowing to do: I’d finished hollowing out the front, but there was quite a lot of digging remaining in the back. And I need to figure out what to do about the stairs coming up the west side of the mountain from the third floor and fourth floor of the house. But still, the end is in sight!

The view of the front of the station from where the tracks will be

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Pro Guitar Status, July 3, 2011

Jul 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I only got in one Rock Band session this week, but it was a good one. I repeated the hardest of the barre chord lessons and all of the scale lessons, this time trying to use hopos on the chromatic scale one, and they went well. And I managed to make it through the remaining of the Hard lessons, on arpeggiation within chords, which was another fun one. (I’m sure I could have made it through it earlier, I was just tired when I’d tried it before. Though my increased fluency in shifting between chords certainly helped.)

After that, I went back into the songs, continuing through the Warmup songs. Which I was expecting to have to spend a fair amount of time on, but so far that hasn’t materialized: quite to my surprise, I made it through the remaining nine Warmup songs! I’m sure the time I’ve spent on barre chord lessons helped, as did the fact that many of the Warmup songs don’t actually use barre chords (preferring instead power chords or single notes), but for whatever reason, I went through each song at most twice with the mute on and once plugged into the amp (except for one or two songs using an alternate tuning, which I haven’t yet tried to figure out), and felt satisfied enough to move on at the end of that.

I’d been thinking that I’d want to spend a lot of time going through the Hard lessons over and over again. And while I’m still planning to return to them, it’s also looking like the difficulty curve even on Hard might be shallow enough that I can improve my barre chord skills by spending most of my time playing through actual songs. That would be pleasant if it remains true (which may well not be the case!): the lessons are well done, but playing through real songs is more fun.

I still sound pretty bad on the real songs, though. Some of that is because there is (copious!) room for improvement in my skills, but some is that playing a stripped down version of an easy song doesn’t sound that great. We’ll see how that changes when the songs get harder, maybe I’ll get inspired to put in more time on individual songs then.

And there was one song that was a total outlier, namely Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. When I got to it in the menu, I noted that Dan Bruno‘s score was over 600,000 points, which is extremely high for any song, let alone a warmup song! What turns out to be going on there is that it’s full of chords, and you have to play them pretty quickly; the chords are all easy ones to play (though you shift between five or six different ones, three-chord music it isn’t), but there’s a lot of notes to play (if you’re Dan) or to miss a fair portion of (if you’re me).

It’s also the first song where I haven’t been able to do the training sections accurately. They’re long, they both have multiple chord changes and individual chords that are repeated a lot, and that adds up to something that I am so far unable to hit 100% on. (Or, I seem to recall, get particularly close to.) It’s also a song where I’m feeling more dubious than normal about the strum detection and the string mute; the flip side is that it’s a song that’s relatively rewarding to try to play well plugged in, I think. I’m not currently planning to return to it to try to get better, but that would be worth considering.

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