Archive for October, 2011

Rock Band Status: October 30, 2011

Oct 31 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

We were playing bridge with friends on Sunday, so I had to get in my guitar practice on Saturday; fortunately, that practice went rather well, so it was a productive weekend. I finished the last two Challenging songs on Hard Pro Guitar; Misery Business was straightforward fun, though I wish I’d done a bit better with chord transitions (dropped D tuning didn’t help), and Humanoid was a bit too metallic and showed that I need to work better at quickly sliding between chords. (And, again, that I don’t like dropped D tunings! I should try actually tuning the guitar that way at some point, to see if that helps me make peace with it.)

After that, I moved up to Nightmare, and made it through four songs there. The first song was Power of Love; I have no idea why it’s rated at that difficulty level. Though the solo did seem to be missing an unusual number of notes, I’m willing to believe that it’s significantly more difficult on Expert? And I ended up in the top 3%, which is unusual for me, so it would seem to be a song that plays to my strengths, whatever those might be. (And I did a better job hitting the chord transitions in that song than in others; it feels really good when that happens.) Oye Mi Amor and Don’t Stand So Close to Me were also quite entertaining, though I don’t have notes on what I found distinctive about them. Which is three songs; I could have sworn I played through four on that tier, but I don’t remember what the fourth was and I don’t feel like turning on the game to find out.

At any rate: six songs is a good total for the weekend; that leaves, I believe, 9 more songs on Nightmare (including one piece of DLC) and 12 on Impossible? So the end is in sight, and it’s not so crazy to think that I might even finish Hard before the end of the calendar year. And it makes me just as happy that there’s not another Rock Band game coming out this year, I’m quite confident playing through songs on Expert will take up a good chunk of next year…

Liesl and I also played through another dozen or so Lego Rock Band songs on Saturday. Mostly unimpressive, though I was surprised how much I enjoyed Ghostbusters and the Jackson 5 song. (I Want You Back, I guess it is.) What we haven’t done for a while is vocals—I had a bit of a cold and she was feeling a bit frazzled this weekend, I hope we’re up for some singing next weekend.

I’ve also been working on the 3-part Ricercar from the Musical Offering some recently. And the rust is starting to shake off: I don’t feel too bad about the first half of it, and Liesl commented that it sounds better to her, too. So nice that my fingers haven’t completely lost their abilities to play fugues, at least at a basic mechanical level; we’ll learn in a couple of weeks how good my ears are at refining the music once I have the notes under control.

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Rock Band Status: October 23, 2011

Oct 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I managed to practice guitar both days this weekend, but neither session was particularly long, so I only made it through four songs: Here I Go Again, Foolin’, Killing Loneliness, and Plush. Which had a lot in common: they were generally power chord heavy, but with something else in the mix (often arpeggiation on chords that were at least somewhat unusual), and with a solo that seemed manageable but that I didn’t put the time in to really learn.

Killing Loneliness pointed out that I don’t like it when songs use a dropped D tuning: I can kind of understand it in songs that are all about barred-E power chords, but that song switched between barred-E and barred-A power chords, and having to change my fingering when going between the two was a real pain. And Plush was quite difficult: I’m not used to C7m chords even when unbarred, and playing them barred meant that I had to quickly and forcefully get down my ring and pinky fingers, which I completely failed at. (And the arpeggiation in that song was quite difficult for me as well.) Definitely useful learning experiences all around.

Liesl and I also went through some songs on Sunday evening on fake guitar/bass. We did a couple of recent pieces of DLC: no surprise that Rock the Casbah was fun, but if you’re looking for Rock Band Network recommendations, we really really liked Crazy Idea by Goliath Down. I’d never heard of that band before, but a great funky sound. We also went through about a quarter of the Lego Rock Band songs: on average, I don’t like it nearly as much as the content on the main games, but there’s enough good stuff there to make it worth the $15-$20 that it costs these days to get and export the game. Swing, Swing made us both wish that game had vocal harmonies, I rather enjoyed Dreaming of You and Accidentally in Love, and I won’t complain about David Bowie or Elton John, so I’m looking forward to the remaining songs.

Two songs left on the four level difficulty, so I should be on to Nightmare next weekend; I hope we find time to do some singing then, too, since we didn’t do that at all this week. Though making it through more Lego Rock Band wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, either.

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Ni No Kuni: Halfway through the Manual

Oct 24 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’ve made it more than halfway through the manual now, 37 pages out of 65. (And a lot of the stuff at the end is credits, so I’m not too worried about that.) The first part of what I read today was talking about the combat system; seems like fairly standard turn-based RPG combat, with some amount of physical positioning based on a 3×3 grid for your party members.

After that, the manual talked about イマージェン, which seems to be a transliteration of “imagine”? These seem to be sorts of monsters that you capture and control; there are 14 broad types of them (or maybe 22, I’m not sure about a distinction there), and you can also raise them to increase their powers. So, basically, it seems to me like there’s some sort of Pokemon system going on here.

I haven’t gone back and reread earlier information in light of this. I don’t think combat is only done using these “imagine” guys, and I do think you can have human party members. But I could easily be wrong (especially about the former); maybe the Imagines are used for your attacks, maybe you can mix them into your party, maybe something else? This will doubtless all become completely clear once I start actually playing the game.

It looks like the book contains lots of information about it: chapter 5 (pp. 145–264) is all about Imagines. I’m not planning to look at that in depth yet, but good to know the information is there if I want to dive into that aspect of the game.

Incidentally, I put unboxing photos on my main blog, if you haven’t seen that already.

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Rock Band Status: October 16, 2011

Oct 16 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

It was a busy weekend, so not as much Rock Band as normal this week. Our friend Jordan came over on Tuesday, so we got him to sing with us; yay three-part harmonies! Not that we actually hit all three parts very often, but we enjoyed the attempt.

The surprising fun song there was Tubthumping: the end of that song has three quite distinct vocal lines, and the separation between those lines made it easier for us to hit all three of them than in songs with with more traditional harmonization. So: yay counterpoint!

I did spend a bit of time yesterday playing Pro Guitar, but I only made it through three songs. Smoke on the Water was, unsurprisingly, quite a bit of fun; easy outside of the solo, too, and the solo seemed learnable if I want to put in the time. I didn’t realize that the notes in the main theme were played on two strings instead of single strings; now, hopefully, I’ll be able to hear stuff like that better. It even sounded pretty good when I was unmuted and plugged into an amp.

I also enjoyed Portions for Foxes, though that song was a little beyond me. Some of the chords were unusual (partly caused by having the bottom string tuned to D, though I don’t think that was all that was going on), and there was more jumping between strings than I’m comfortable with. Definitely good exercise, at any rate.

The third song was Before I Forget; I don’t like playing metal, though the song wasn’t too unpleasant given that constraint.

I spent an unusual amount of time playing piano evenings and over the weekend, too. I’m tentatively thinking that I’ll try to get the Three-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering back into my fingers: I used to be able to play that quite well, and I feel a little embarrassed that there aren’t any fugues that I can currently play to my satisfaction. So I spent a decent amount of time working on the first third of the piece, with pretty good results; of course, the first third is the easy part, so I have a fair amount of work ahead of me. Still, the ability and knowledge is there in my fingers, I just have to shake off quite a bit of rust.

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Rock Band Status: October 10, 2011

Oct 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’d been meaning to go through the Yes DLC pack last week, but I got kind of distracted; I went back to that this week, finishing the remaining four songs on Pro Keys. Owner of a Lonely Heart was pleasant but slight, and its keyboard part was pretty boring; Starship Trooper’s keyboard part was harder and only a little more interesting, but the song itself was pleasantly bizarre enough that I was happy to play it. South Side of the Sky had a more satisfying keyboard part, and did okay on the “pleasantly bizarre” front; Heart of the Sunrise was my least favorite of the four.

After that, Liesl and I grabbed microphones, and sung through those songs; Miranda wandered down at some point and joined us as well. I can imagine Owner of a Lonely Heart being in the vocal rotation fairly often; the other songs were quite a bit on the long side. Miranda dropped out then, but Liesl and I kept on going; we must have sung for about two and a half hours? Our high point was reaching 24th place on the leaderboard for Viva La Resistance: we often rank well on DLC, but that’s the first time we’ve done anything like that on on-disc content. Which, in its own way, is sad, a sign that Rock Band 3 has overshot most of its audience: we did a credible job, but not a perfect one, so I think it must be the case that not many people are doing harmonies. At any rate, if we’re going to rank well on one of the songs, I’m happy for it to be Viva La Resistance, because “Your theocratic neofascist ideology / is only getting in the way of my biology” is my favorite lyric on the disc.

On Sunday, I put in my Pro Guitar practice. I finished the last three Moderate songs: This Bastard’s Life was fun, but the chord transitions were a bit too hard for me (though figuring out what was going on with three-note fragments of chords was interesting), The Killing Moon was useful practice in switching between A and E barre chords on the same fret and had surprisingly fun solos, and Heart of Glass was kind of meh. And then I did the first three Challenging songs, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Something Bigger, Something Brighter, and Lasso; nothing too exciting there, and I didn’t feel like it was a particular step-up in difficulty. I was glad to have finished six songs, though, and my left hand was letting me know that it felt that I’d put in quite enough practice!

I had Monday off from work, and Liesl and Miranda were out in the morning, so I decided to spend the time doing solo vocals. Mainly going through London Calling: I’d gone through that on the different instruments, but while Liesl and I had sung some of the individual songs, I’d never gone through them all at once. And I’m very glad I did that: the lyrics are amazing, the music is very good, and my chest voice needs the practice. After that, I went through fifteen or twenty on-disc songs, checking off several of the goals in the progress. (I’m now in the top 1% for fan count, with 415 million; also a sad sign of how the game has done, because you only have to be in around the top 5000 people to be in the top 1% of that metric.)

Very pleasant week, in particular I’m quite happy to be finding time for both Pro Guitar and to do Vocal Harmonies with Liesl. Not sure that I’ll finish Hard Pro Guitar in 2011, but if not, it shouldn’t take me too far into 2012 before I move up to Expert.

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VGHVI Minecraft: September 29, 2011

Oct 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Our last VGHVI Minecraft session was our first session since the 1.8 release, and in fact the first time I’d played Minecraft since 1.8 came out. And it was really amazing flying around, getting a different perspective on everything that we’d built; the only downside was that the screen capture key sequence involves hitting shift, which meant that I started falling every time I took a picture.

We all started flying above the temple

Looking down at the underwater train tunnel

Looking down at the shipwreck

The roof of the apartment building

Train running along the cliff

A hearth under glass

As you might guess from those last few pictures, it was raining a lot! Flying above, I saw structures I’d never seen before; that last is an example.

While fiddling with the server settings, I realized that I’d never entered the nether: we’d constructed a portal half a year back, but at that point nether didn’t work properly in multiplayer. That had since been fixed, though, so I entered it and flew around a bit.

Entering the nether

A lake of lava

Looking down at the portal

Next, I decided to travel to new areas, in hopes of finding a mine. So I flew east, across the ocean:

Lines in water - a chunk boundary where the algorithm changed?

Light under the ocean

An underwater lavafall

Eventually, I found a mine, and spent quite a while flying around in it.

Lava in the mine

The lighting in 1.8 seems to be noticeably more yellowish

Minecart tracks

Chest behind lava

Looking down into a pit

Flying through a chasm

Added torches to ravine walls

Hello, Mr. Zombie!

Lots of spiderwebs

Hello, Mr. Spider! (Or Ms. Spider, I suppose.)

I see you brought some friends with you

Bedrock and lava

A lit cave in the distance

The contents of one of the chests

After this, Patrick showed us a project that he’d been working on for the last couple months. The pictures don’t do it justice: you fall down through a long passage and are left in a huge, dark cavern with glowstone torches. He was going for a sort of Japanese teahouse effect.

Teahouse entrance behind train tracks

Inside the teahouse

Looking up at the teahouse roof

After that, I flew around a bit more, looking again at our older structures:

Mega-tree and acropolis at night

Mega-tree from above

Skull mountain and amphitheater

Then I flew to another new area, experimenting with taking pictures through the haze. (If you fly up high enough, the haze becomes overwhelming, it turns out.)

Sunrise through the haze

Sunrise over green ridge

Mountain in the haze

Protuberance on the mountain

Looking down from way up

Strange shapes in the ocean

Miranda decided to build a house in the nether, so I ended up visiting it:

The portal in the normal world

Entrance to the nether house

The architect is flying around

The upstairs room

The library

Another library picture

The music room

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Ni No Kuni: Starting the Manual

Oct 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

When Level 5 announced that the PS3 version of 二ノ国 (Ni No Kuni) was going to be released in the US, they conspicuously avoided mentioning the DS version. Which I have lusted after ever since it was released (Ghibli! That book!), so I figure: if I’m going to play it, I may have to play the Japanese version. And there’s a decent chance that my Japanese is now good enough to do that, and in fact that playing through the game would be actively helpful for my learning, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The game arrived on Friday; I’ll eventually put unboxing photos on my main blog. (It turns out that the book is even more gorgeous than I expected: really, it’s almost worth it even if you can’t read any Japanese.) But I’m planning to put a diary of my experiences playing through it on this blog, in case anybody else is curious about the game. I’ll tag them all with “ni no kuni“, so you can avoid my endless Rock Band puffery should you prefer.

Rather than actually start the game this week, though, I started reading through the manual. (The regular manual of a sort that comes with any DS game, not the special book.) Partly because, well, that’s the sort of person that I am, but also partly so I could get a feel for the difficulty of the game, maybe get introduced to some of the vocabulary that I’ll need? I made it through 17 pages of the manual this weekend, which I’m actually rather proud of; though, given that the manual is 65 pages long, I would seem to have at least two weeks of manual reading ahead of me. (Nothing but the best, most vibrant blog content for you, my readers, I assure you! Though I may actually start playing the game before I finish the manual.)

It turns out that the manual is written at a level that I can deal with pretty well. There were a fair number of words that I didn’t know, but it also wasn’t a surprise for me to make it through a sentence without having to look up any words, and several of the new words were repeated multiple times. They put furigana readings over all of the kanji, so that helped when I had to look up words; though I’ve memorized enough kanji that almost all of the individual characters were familiar even in compounds that I didn’t know, so I wouldn’t have been completely at sea without the furigana. (Just as well, I assume the screen resolution won’t allow furigana in the game? Though for all I know the game will largely avoid kanji as well.)

The manual starts out by introducing the story. You play a boy named Oliver, living in a city called Hotroit. His mother died recently; and he was visited by a fairy named Shizuku who comes from 二の国. (Which means “second country”, the first country being the normal world where Hotroit is located.) That country is beset by a dark wizard named Jabo, and apparently Oliver can save the country from Jabo, and Oliver’s mother will be restored to life. So: not the best plot in the world; then again, I could describe Spirited Away in a not-too dissimilar fashion, and that’s an amazing movie, so I will remain optimistic.

You apparently will have sidekicks Maru and Gyro; Maru likes to sing, I think Gyro is a thief, but I could be wrong. (And Oliver likes machinery and cars? That makes sense with his Hotroit origins, which is labeled as “The Motor City” in one of the pictures.) There are also pictures of the rulers of some of the kingdoms in 二の国.

After that, it transitions into “how to use your DS” stuff: put the cartridge in the slot, select the appropriate place in the start menu, etc. And an introduction to all the buttons, including their use in menus, in fields, and in battles. Looks like we’ll have standard cities / dungeons / overworlds, there’s a “bag menu” referred to several times that seems like your general inventory screen, and also a separate menu for magic? And I’ll be drawing runes on the lower screen at various times, I guess. Seems like pretty standard RPG stuff; I should learn more about those menus and about the combat system next week.

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Rock Band Status: October 2, 2011

Oct 02 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I spent a decent amount of time in the middle of the week playing through music outside of Rock Band. On the guitar, I continue to try to learn 風の丘, and that continues to be like pulling teeth. But I am doing a slightly better idea at seeing the chords in the piece; I’m also using it as an excuse to learn how to play an E minor scale on the guitar, though that’s not well enough ingrained to have any effect on my playing of the piece yet. And I’ve been playing piano some, mostly the first five parts of Pictures at an Exhibition. Which, it turns out, Miranda rather likes; I’m toying with the idea of trying to learn more of the piece, not sure which way that will go yet.

On Saturday, I decided to go through some of the Yes DLC on Rock Band. I got side-tracked, though, because when I sorted the keyboard songs by artist, the first artist was A-Ha, and I decided to go through Take On Me first. Which turned out to be super fun, albeit slightly frustrating: catchy tune to play on keys, and there’s no individual note in it that I should miss, so why can’t I get five stars on it? I don’t know, and I tried over and over again, but failed; grr, except I had enough fun in the process that I didn’t really mind.

After doing that for most of an hour, I decided to switch over to vocals; also super fun, and it turns out that the top note in the song (which shows up several times) is also the top note in my vocal range. Which, honestly, made me glad nobody else was in the house at the time—to hit it, I really had to belt out the note, and while I was in tune, my timbre was less than wonderful. Still, a nice exercise in stretching my range, I should return to the song and practice it some more. In fact, it turns out that the bottom notes in the song are either right at or right below the bottom of my vocal range, so it’s great for stretching in both directions!

After that, I did move over to Yes, going through I’ve Seen All Good People. Which was also extremely entertaining, on both keys and singing. I did rather better on the keys that time, not making nearly as many stupid mistakes; Liesl was home by then, so we did harmonies when it came time to sing, and I managed to hit harmonies beneath the lead several times, which I’m normally pretty bad at. Not sure if I’m getting better or if the increased separation between the vocal parts helped; I won’t complain either way.

Today was a guitar day. I’d had Modern Love running through my head constantly since last week, so I decided to make it my inaugural Pro Guitar upgrade purchase. And I’m happy with that decision: simple chords coming slowly enough to make the transitions fairly straightforward, but there’s definitely something satisfying in playing a fun piece that I should be able to do well on and actually doing well.

After that, I went back to the on-disc content, going through Viva La Resistance, The Look, Walk of Life, and One-Armed Scissor. All of which but the last I like quite a bit, and even the last one was interesting from a didactic point of view. As were several of the earlier ones: e.g. the repeated notes in Viva La Resistance were a useful thing for me to work on. (Great song that, too.) I played through all but the last of those songs (including Modern Love) plugged into the amp, and they actually all sounded pretty credible: nobody is going to confuse me with a serious rock guitarist yet (not by a long shot!), but at least I didn’t feel that I had to apologize to everybody in earshot for any of those four songs, as happens sometimes.

(The one weird thing about playing unmuted: I’m surprisingly bad at tuning guitars. You’d think that, given that I had a part-time job tuning harpsichords while I was in high school, that I’d be better at that? For whatever reason, though, I have a somewhat hard time hearing the beats when testing a plucked guitar string against the sound of a piano; maybe I’d do better if I plugged the guitar into the amp and skipped the piano?)

Very pleasant week musically; and I strongly suspect that this week’s earworm will be Take On Me, which I’m okay with. (Though I don’t like it as much as Modern Love; hmm, maybe I’ll try to convince my brain to obsess over Viva La Resistance instead?) I should be able to finish the Moderate songs this week; I still have at least a couple of months of Hard Pro Guitar ahead of me, but the end is visible in the hazy distance?

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