Archive for September, 2011

Rock Band Status, September 25, 2011

Sep 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s VGHVI game was Rock Band 3, with a Billy Joel focus. Four of us were there, and none of us were in the mood to play drums (I would have except for, you know, Billy Joel), so we had to split into two pairs; a real shame that the game doesn’t allow online Guitar + Bass + Keys groupings. I certainly enjoyed playing with Sarah Elmaleh (me on Pro Keys, her on Bass), though! Aside from the pleasure of playing through the music, I had my sights set on achieving score goals by playing through Captain Jack, since it contains a bunch of repetitive chords that it’s easy to get a good multiple on. And achieve score goals we did: we managed to get 1.39 million points, with just the two of us! (Sarah is obviously a quite credible bassist.) Makes me wonder how well we could score on that with a four-person band; I’d have to think 2 million at least, but probably noticeably more.

Eventually, Roger bowed out, and we’d made it through enough Billy Joel, so Jonathan came over to join our band and I switched to vocals. Which was also fun (I’m enjoying singing these days a lot more than I used to); my favorite bit there was that I got 100% for the first time on non-harmony vocals (I do harmonies most of the time), and the song in question was Blondie’s Heart of Glass. Yay for singing in falsetto!

I also spent a fair amount of time this week trying to memorize 風の丘 (from Kiki’s Delivery Service) on the guitar. Which is a lovely song, and I quite enjoy playing it, but it’s like pulling teeth. Enough so that I’ll probably write about it on my main blog, so I won’t go into details here.

On Saturday, Miranda and I went violin shopping: she’s moving up to a full-sized violin. Nice to have an excuse for me to play violin, so she could hear differences between instruments and bows when somebody other than her was playing; I’m a pretty mediocre violinist (though still much better than I am at guitar), but at least I’m good enough to be not completely useless as an example.

On Thursday, I realized that I’d somehow missed playing through three of the Billy Joel songs on Pro Keys; not sure how that happened, but I fixed that lapse on Saturday. Good stuff, as always. And then today I went through three more songs on Hard Pro Guitar; we’re definitely getting to a level where my lack of skills are showing. On two of the three pieces, I only managed two stars on my first playthrough (and this was after spending a good amount of time on training mode); while I got three stars on both eventually, I’m not reliably hitting the chord transitions, especially ones that mix barre and non-barre chords. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lot better at that than I was a few months ago, but there’s clearly room for improvement, and I imagine my progress will slow down further as songs get harder.

Despite my difficulties, those three songs were a lot of fun; I only stopped when I did because we needed to make dinner fairly soon and because each song takes quite a while to go through on training mode and then play it several times. But we had a little bit of time left, so Liesl and I went through five or six songs on Vocal Harmonies. Which was super fun: like I said above, I’m enjoying singing more and more these days, especially when singing with Liesl. My favorite song today was Modern Love, both because I really like it and because I can hit the harmonies pretty solidly on that; the other highlight was trying Expert difficulty and finding that we could actually do fine at that level. In fact, we got gold stars on one of the songs; I think Expert vocals must be easier in this iteration of the game than previous ones, though I’m sure the fact that we were both trying to sing the non-harmony bits helped as well.

Good times; I’m still not sure why I’ve been on a musical binge for most of the last month, but I’m not complaining at all.

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Pro Guitar Status, September 18, 2011

Sep 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I wasn’t feeling nearly as manically musical this weekend as last weekend, so while I did play an unusual amount of piano this week (and started learning a Ghibli song on the guitar), this weekend I mostly focused on writing blog posts about Catherine instead of spending all my time playing Rock Band. (Oh, and I went violin shopping with Miranda and accompanied her on the piano when she practiced today, both of which were fun.) I did put in two and a half or three hours of Pro Guitar practice today, though, going through the last four Solid songs and the first two Moderate ones.

I don’t remember too many details; somehow I got 58th place on the Werewolves of London leaderboards, which makes absolutely no sense given that I didn’t feel that I did a surprisingly good job there. I Can See for Miles was quite a bit of fun to play (and sounded not completely horrible plugged into the amp, even); there was one other song that I rather enjoyed, but I’ve already forgotten which one it was. And I’m a lot better at shifting quickly between barre chords than I used to be: there’s still huge amounts of room for improvement, but there’s also absolutely no question that playing the game is improving my guitar skills substantially.

Almost halfway through the songs on Hard. Though I imagine the second half will take longer than the first! A long journey, and I imagine Expert will raise the stakes quite a bit, but I’m still managing to make progress.

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Rock Band Status, September 11, 2011

Sep 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This weekend was an interesting one: I was going through a manic bit, and it expressed itself by making me feel very musical, in a scattered fashion. After the previous weekend, I’d bought some Billy Joel sheet music, so as soon as everybody else was awake I went through that on the piano. (With occasional singing and whistling.) Then, to work off some energy, I switched over to Rock Band drums; I was pleased to be able to make it through the Warmup songs on Expert, and while Killing Loneliness defeated me on the next tier, it has the rhythm pattern that I need to work on (regular yellow notes with red and pedal alternating, the latter on the off-beats). So I’ll probably return to that one the next time I’m in a drumming mood, it’s definitely good practice. Also, inspired by Kirk’s comment on the Experience Points Podcast, I gave Vaseline a try; a pleasant challenge on Hard but not quite as good for me to focus on as Killing Loneliness, and way too hard for me on Expert.

After that, Liesl and I did some vocal harmonies; and I put in my Pro Guitar practice, going through (I think) another four songs there. Also, that evening, we went through some recent DLC (me on non-pro Guitar, Liesl on Bass); mostly Yes, which I wasn’t thrilled by, though I’m hoping I’ll like it more on Pro Keys.

We had friends over on Sunday, so I didn’t play any Rock Band that day; I did find time to bang out some Ghibli music on the piano, though. On which note, later that week the song 風の丘 got stuck in my head via the excellent Brasta Ghibli album; it wasn’t in my piano book, but I found a quite nice guitar version, so I’m trying to learn that now.

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VGHVI Shenmue II

Sep 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s VGHVI game was Shenmue II. Which I hadn’t replayed since I finished it almost six years ago; Roger never played either it or the original.

It was very interesting listening to Roger run into the warts in the game; there was a lot of stuff that didn’t bother me but that bothered him, from bad (default) movement controls (I’d completely forgotten the Dreamcast didn’t have a right thumbstick) to strange game mechanics (wandering around trying to talk to people to trigger the next event) to quicktime events to a hard-to-control job minigame. I wondered (and still wonder) how different it would have been if we’d played the original Shenmue instead, because my (perhaps flawed) memory is that that game did a better job of ramping you up; but it’s very interesting to reread my notes and see me complaining about the start of Shenmue II despite my having played (and loved!) the previous game.

That was Roger’s experience; mine was rather more positive. Things I noticed:

  • I love the lighting and coloring in the game. It uses sunlight in an unabashed way that I’m not used to in video games, and the coloring is bright without quite slipping into garishness.
  • I love the game’s embrace of mundanity: lots of unhelpful people to talk to, lots of stores that don’t serve a game purpose, the fact that you have to get a job, the fact that you have to buy maps (shades of Majora’s Mask…), the divorcing of martial arts training from the traditional RPG combat grind.
  • The controls are odd, but get quite a bit better once you realize you can reassign the thumbstick to movement; even so, there are some interesting quirks, like the ability to follow people, the “look around in a room you’re standing in” controls.
  • Ryo is rather a jerk to Joy, isn’t he?
  • Appropriate that a game set in Hong Kong is so devoted to commerce.

But, most of all: it felt like coming home. I haven’t touched the game in six years, but every street was familiar, every face was familiar. Yet another sign that I should fix my Dreamcast: several games that I should replay, and Shenmue is top of the list.

Well, Shenmue or Jet Grind Radio

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Ascension: Drawing Cards

Sep 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’m still playing Ascension a fair amount, and still trying to figure it out. I went through a big “trash your cards” binge, and in general that’s clearly a good idea. I had a game recently, though, where I managed to get a bunch of cards that let you draw more cards: after five or so rounds, I had two cards that let you draw two cards, one that lets you draw three cards, and as the game went on I got a few more that let you draw a single card. (And I also got a card that lets you draw two cards and banish one.)

In fact, such a high percentage of cards in my hand let me draw other cards to replace them after playing them that, as the game went on, I ended up going through all of my hand (or almost all, maybe all but two cards in my hand was a little more realistic) in most of the rounds in the second half of the game.

And, as you might expect, I steamrollered my computer opponent—I could buy or (usually) kill whatever I wanted every round, so I ended up with high value card after high value card. If I’m remembering correctly, the final score was 104 to 52, which is a ridiculous total and a ridiculous margin of victory.

Clearly I can’t count on such luck at the start of the game; but at least now I realize the potential when the possibility appears. And it’s yet another reminder of the value of dense hands. In fact, I’m thinking now that I should experiment more with not buying cards even when I have the opportunity to do so: yes, I’ll lose a few victory points in the short term by doing that, but the density benefits could easily outweigh that.

What I don’t have any feel for at all is how to balance profit versus capabilities. In general, I lean towards purchasing power rather than killing power, but ultimately killing monsters is the easiest way to rack up victory points, and they have the advantage that they don’t clog up your hand. Something to work on…

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Pro Guitar / Billy Joel Status, September 5, 2011

Sep 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last weekend I was pretty busy, so no Rock Band. This week, though was different: it was a three-day weekend with no plans outside the house, so I got in some playing every day!

On Saturday, I tried out a few more of the Expert Pro Guitar training lessons. Without a lot of success in general, though I think the alternating strumming ones should be doable and will be useful practice for me. And I went through three songs; I don’t remember the details, but I did enjoy the Doors one. (Not one of the on-disc songs, it was part of the free launch DLC.)

On Sunday, I decided to work through more of the Billy Joel DLC on Pro Keys. And that was super fun: I don’t think that Pro Keys stands up to Pro Guitar in general, but playing through Billy Joel can be pretty amazing. I’m not sure how many songs I went through on Sunday—maybe six or seven?—but I was very glad to have taken a guitar break and gone through those. Liesl started singing along, and that sounded like fun, so we ended up going through some of them on vocals once I was done practicing the keyboards; it turns out that his vocal range even matches mine pretty well! (Though I didn’t get to sing in falsetto as much as I prefer…)

I had two Billy Joel songs left after Sunday, so I went through those two today. And they were both quite something in their own way: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant has a couple of sections that are pretty ridiculous, but the song as a whole was a good deal of fun. (At least when I was getting the timing right on the off-beat chords—that song would be rather different with two hands, one of which was actually playing on the beat…) And She’s Always a Woman was one arpeggiated chord after another, which turned into quite an experience: the structure is there, just a bit harder to see because of the arpeggios than it would otherwise be, and revealing that structure in my playing felt great.

So I am now a complete Billy Joel convert. I’ll stop by a local music store on the way home from work tomorrow to see if I can pick up some sheet music, because I’d like to go through that on a real piano. And the singing was fun, too: I should spend more time doing that than I have been over the last year. Maybe Liesl and I will go through the harmonies for the on-disc Rock Band 3 content?

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