Archive for November, 2011

Rock Band Status: Finished Hard Pro Guitar

Nov 28 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

As expected, I finished Hard Pro Guitar this week. Which was great! I’ll go into details more on my main blog, but, for the record, the last four songs were: 25 or 6 to 4, whose solo was interesting enough solo practice; Llama, about which I have nothing good to say; Beast and the Harlot, whose main positive feature was that it wasn’t Llama; and Roundabout, which defies description. So, not my favorite group of songs, but really that’s my fault: we’re clearly well past my level of competence even on Hard, especially at the solos. It will be refreshing to go back to the easier songs: even with the switch to Expert, I imagine I’ll find more in those songs that I can play well.

My other musical project has been the Three-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering. Which is now at a state where I’m not making stupid mistakes, but I could stand to improve its musicality. And, frankly, I could use help with that: I am sorely tempted to fly to Paris to beg a lesson from my harpsichord teacher. (Well, maybe I’m sorely tempted to fly to Paris for other reasons. But still!)

I decided to keep the Three-Part Ricercar in my fingers, but to mostly move on to learning the notes for the Six-Part Ricercar. Which has been interesting so far, though clearly I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. But then a funny thing happened today when I went back to the Three-Part Ricercar: my ears did a much better job than they had of parsing out the different voices! So, all of a sudden, improving the musicality of the piece doesn’t seem nearly as out of reach: I like the way it sounded today a lot more than I had, and I’m really looking forward to playing around with different possibilities.

Good times. And my throat is feeling better, maybe we’ll get back to harmonizing next week?

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Ni No Kuni: Finished the First City

Nov 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I increased the volume of my Ni No Kuni playtime this week: I’m trying to treat it as the current game I’m playing rather than as Japanese study, which means that I play it when I have (non-Ascension) gaming time in the middle of the week instead of segregating it to the weekend. I’ve actually been fairly busy with other projects this week, so I still only played it twice, but that’s more than in previous weeks, and the weekend play session was several hours long.

When I stopped last week, I’d just entered the first city, after giving somebody a heart piece: he was lacking in “やる気”, which means something like willpower or motivation. And, when I entered the city, I found other people with the same problem, including the king. (Who was a sort of cat person, as were many but not all people in the town.) Before they would let me talk to the king, I had to do some fetch quests, but eventually I got to talk to him, and had to figure out what was wrong; at somebody’s suggestion (I think it was a sort of wise woman person, but it might have been Shizuku?), I went back to the first world to find the king’s twin in that world, to see if I could get an idea of what was wrong.

There wasn’t much going on in the first world; I assume I’ll eventually drag back another party member from there, but not this time. The king’s twin turned out to be a cat, who liked having its ears groomed; when I went back to the second world, it turns out that the king’s “earpick” had gotten stolen. So I was supposed to go into an underground sewer system to get it back.

Outside the sewer, I ran into a boy who was planning to go in there. I told him he wasn’t up to it, but he showed me his Imagine; after realizing that I was a magic user, he decided to give me his Imagine instead. So I guess acquiring each Imagine is going to be a special event of some sort? When I fought my first battle, I still only had my old Imagine in my party (along with Shizuku and myself), but my old Imagine was vulnerable to a water attack that the first monster had, so the game showed me how to swap party members mid-battle. I think (but I could be wrong) that you’ll always have three people in your party: yourself, one Imagine, and one non-Imagine; I stuck with the other Imagine through this dungeon.

Which was noticeably longer than the first dungeon: more monsters, and the monsters weren’t as much pushovers. So I had to heal several times, use healing items (both for HP and MP, the in-game item description turns out to say what each item gives you even though the Magic Master is silent on that), and use some crystals in the environment that give you a one-time partial refill on one of those. Monsters respawned more frequently than I liked, and I ended up running past them some of the time. There were two very minor puzzles, and one chest that I wasn’t powerful enough to open; the boss didn’t present any particular difficulties.

After that, I gave the earpick back to the king; that helped, but he was still lacking in motivation, so I had to find another heart piece to give him. That put him back to normal, and he gave me his magic staff; I’d hoped it would let me open the chest in that dungeon, but no dice. I then wandered around town trying to find more people to help; one ghost gave me a bit more of a tutorial in using the Magic Master (including an artifical alphabet it uses in a couple of places), a few more people needed their will restored (and I couldn’t find a heart piece for one of them), and one person only talks to cats, so I’ll have to come back to help that person. I also unlocked the ability to use stores and change people’s weapons.

I think I’ve done everything I can in the city, though there are three loose ends; I’ve been told the next city to head off to, so that’s what I’ll do next week? It continues to be a pleasant enough game, with more of a mixture of different types of things to do than I’m used to in a JRPG. The Ghibli charm has worn off to some extent, however: still nice art (and the king from this city was very reminiscent of The Cat Returns), but it’s been a while since I’ve heard a piece of music that made me sit up and take notice, and the characters and plot aren’t giving me a strong Ghibli vibe. I’m still quite happy to be playing the game, for both aesthetic and didactic reasons, but I’m not quite as excited as I was when I started.

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Rock Band Status: November 20, 2011

Nov 21 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I finished off some lose ends: I did the Expert Vocals hall of fame challenge, as well as a couple of other random challenges. (What a Diva! and the Rock Band 1 one.) The only hard bit in the hall of fame challenge was Good Vibrations, which manages to be both above and below my range, but there were more than enough other songs that fit into my range (though I did shift Rainbow in the Dark up an octave) to make up for that.

My throat was feeling pretty raw from drainage, so instead of singing with Liesl after that, I decided to switch over to Pro Guitar. And I felt like I’d run into a brick wall there, I just couldn’t do anything. Only when I was at dinner did it dawn on me: I’d probably left the difficulty at Expert, so no wonder I couldn’t play the songs!

And, indeed, when I came back the next day, that proved to be the case, and they were all much more tractable on Hard. Free Bird was quite a lot of fun, and could be good practice for scales; Rainbow in the Dark isn’t my type of music at all, but I enjoyed the repeated bit rather more than I expected. Caught in a Mosh is probably my least favorite song on disc—I’d been thinking that Du Hast had that honor, but now I’ve changed my mind. (Though even there I enjoyed the fingering challenges outside the solo.) And Crazy Train was interesting because it took me four tries to get the third star: there’s one repeated sequence with unusual chords where I kept on either missing the fingering or playing the wrong strings.

Satisfying week, and only four songs left to go: I’ll finish that over the long weekend with room to spare. Which means that it’s time to think about what to do once I finish Hard Pro Guitar.

As to making music outside of the game: my plan of record has been to try to practice alternating strumming, 風の丘, and the Three-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering every day. I’ve been doing the alternating strumming rather reliably; it’s amazing how much a difference just putting in a couple of minutes a day makes. I haven’t been working on the Three-Part Ricercar every day, but more than enough to make a difference: in fact, now it’s getting to a state where my fingers generally do a quite good job of getting the notes right, so I need to switch from what to play over to how to play. Not so easy, for the first time in ages I wish I had a teacher to help me with that. Still, I’ll keep on working on it for a while, and then probably switch to something else on the piano.

風の丘, however, is not going so well. I enjoy playing it, but I’m finding it surprisingly hard to memorize; I could probably succeed at that, but I really would need to practice it every day to do so, and I’m not making the time for that. And, upon reflection, I’m happy enough with that decision: I’d rather spend that time focusing on improving my piano playing. Also, as I move up to Expert Pro Guitar, I’ll have many more opportunities to focus on really learning individual songs on the guitar. So: it’s been fun, but time to move on.

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Ni No Kuni: First Dungeon

Nov 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I went through the first dungeon in Ni No Kuni today. Which started off with a justification for the presence of chests littered around; I can’t remember the details (indeed, I’m not sure I figured out the details), but surprising to see. Monsters turn out to be visible, and somewhat hard to avoid; they weren’t too dense, though, and while battles occur on a separate screen, the transitions into and out of battles were mercifully fast. The battles were also quite short, and quite easy: by the end of the dungeon, I mostly stopped using magic, and that worked out just fine. (My Imagine turns out to be rather good with a sword, incidentally; Shizuku has some sort of special defensive technique, though I only used it on the boss battle.)

It also gave me a tutorial about using consumable items; at the time it gave me that tutorial, however, all my stats were full, so I didn’t actually try out the fluffy bread item. I know it’s some sort of restorative, but I don’t know if it restores HP, MP, or both; and the dungeon was so easy that I didn’t have any reason to use that (or any other) item during it, and while the magic master book talks about items, it doesn’t seem to go into more details than saying it’s a restorative.

I ran across a magic chest at some point that I had to use a new rune to open. For the first time, the game didn’t tell me which rune to use; fortunately, I didn’t have to go too far before running across “アンロック”, which I realized meant “unlock”.

Very short dungeon, despite which I leveled up all the way from level 2 to level 5 during it. And that was before the boss battle; for the boss, they made more of a deal about pointing out weaknesses (turned out to be weak to fire, which is of course my only offensive magic spell), and the boss had an attack where party positioning mattered, since party members who were behind somebody didn’t get hit. I got some sort of special item from the boss battle, I don’t know what’s up with that. And in general there’s clearly a generalized rock-paper-scissors mechanic here—the monsters were all labeled with some sort of type icon, though the game hasn’t yet emphasized that.

After the boss battle, I wandered around the overworld for a bit. I found a few chests, and monsters were thicker on the ground than I liked; eventually, though, I started running away and realized that I didn’t have to fight most of the monsters if I didn’t want to.

Then I went to the closest city (which Shizuku had told me to go to); but the gate was closed, the guards weren’t letting anybody in. I talked to one of them, and something was wrong with him; I forget the details, but there was some mental characteristic (concentration?) that he was lacking in. I was told to talk to the other guard, and then cast a new rune (“heart piece”); something appeared on the screen in my inventory corresponding to the thing that I’d gotten from the tree last week.

So I guess that wasn’t a potion: looking at it more closely, it’s a list of mental characteristics. Then I went back to the original guard, and cast a “heart cure” rune; he went back to normal and opened up the gate. The heart piece disappeared from my inventory, but I see a bunch of different slots there with different mental characteristics, so clearly there’s some sort of mechanic where I’m going to be restoring people to their mental health.

I saved when I entered the city; looking forward to exploring it next week!

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Rock Band Status: November 14, 2011

Nov 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This weekend was a three-day weekend and Liesl and Miranda were out of town, so I expected to spend quite a bit of time playing Rock Band. In fact, I was thinking I might end up finishing Hard Pro Guitar—going through 15 songs in 3 days wouldn’t be particularly difficult if I decided to focus on that—but, as it turns out, that’s not what I was most in the mood for. Instead, I took advantage of the empty house to sing alone, without worrying how much I was butchering the songs.

So I went through the remaining songs (four tiers) on the disc in Expert Vocals. Which was a lot of fun; one side effect of going through the on-disc content instead of cherry-picking songs is that I spent more time in my chest voice than I had been, and that’s okay. And Expert is proving surprisingly easy; I’m not sure how much I’m getting better and how much is due to having no-fail mode turned on, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if the error bars were noticeably wider than in earlier games in the series.

Of course, difficulty in Vocals is such a different thing than for the instruments proper: so much depends instead on how the song matches my range. The Impossible songs really were noticeably more difficult, but I couldn’t see much of a difference between the other tiers. Getting 5 stars was never a surprise, though it didn’t happen most of the time; gold stars were a surprise, and while I did finally manage to get 100% on one of the songs (25 or 6 to 4), I still haven’t managed that a second time.

After one of those vocal bouts, I took a look at the challenges and decided to give a keyboard challenge a try. It was only after I’d bought the necessary DLC that I realized it was for regular Keys instead of Pro Keys; I’d stayed away from that in the past, but I figured I might as well give it a try this time. Fun enough, I can imagine non-pianists might enjoy it rather more than Pro Keys, but I found the song just as easy and quite a bit more interesting when I took a swing at it on Pro Keys.

Despite my Vocals focus, I did put in my Pro Guitar practice, going through seven songs. Just Like Heaven was super fun, including when I played it plugged in; no idea why it was labeled Nightmare. Light My Fire was good barre chord practice with a pleasant solo, I enjoyed it as well but didn’t feel I did as well as I should have. Cold as Ice was the last of the Nightmare songs; in general, I enjoyed that tier rather more than the Challenging songs, which surprises me somewhat.

And then I did the first four Impossible songs. I don’t know why I wasn’t looking forward to playing Crosstown Traffic, but there were some really fun riffs there. Big Country was pleasantly melodic, centering on finding the correct hand location and then noodling around. Bohemian Rhapsody was quite bare, though what’s there was pleasant enough; it seems like there must be a lot more notes on Expert. And my main takeaway from Dead End Friends was that the Impossible songs are relatively melody-heavy, but that I’m not finding that as off-putting as I found solos in easier tiers. (But I’m also not putting in the effort to learn the melodies!)

So: seven down, eight left to go. I’m pretty sure I’ll split the remaining eight over two weekends: they’re hard enough that going through all eight would take quite a lot of time, and I doubt I’ll choose to do that. Certainly I’m making reliable enough progress that I won’t feel like a slacker if I split the remainder over two weeks. And that will leave me with a bit of time to go through the Vocals Hall of Fame challenge, too.

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Ni No Kuni: Made it to the Second World

Nov 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week, I’d gotten to where it looked like the real story was about to kick off (and where the game was about to start looking like an RPG). Which proved to be mostly true, though there was a bit more work to be done in the first world: I had to be given the Magic Master book, wander around a bit, and cast my first rune, a gate to bring me to the second world.

Which, indeed, the game cartridge doesn’t tell you how to draw: you have to look it up in the book. (Though I imagine it’s not hard to find instructions online.) So yeah, the book does serve as a form of copy protection. Once you’ve drawn a rune, though, the game remembers that: so far, I’ve had to draw four runes, namely the gate, a fireball, a healing spell, and an Imagine-related rune, and the middle two are now selectable from within the combat menu without me having to draw anything. So Okami this is not.

Anyways: I made it to the second world, wandered with Shizuku through a forest for a while, and encountered a talking tree. There, I had my first couple of battles: standard turn-based RPG stuff, with a position system so the front row gives and receives more damage. I also got my first Imagine, and I don’t quite understand how those work: I’d assumed that I’d capture them, but when I cast the appropriate rune, the creature kind of teleported out of my heart somehow, and apparently was completely unconnected to the monster I’d just beaten. So now I have one Imagine, and I have no idea how I’ll get more; it also turns out that they fight alongside me in battle like regular party members, I don’t know how that’s going to end up playing out once I have a lot more options. (Judging from the Magic Master, there are 88 different Imagine types, each of which looks like it has three evolved forms; and the manual shows at least two non-Imagine party members to come.)

The tree also gave me some sort of potion; it made a big deal about it, and it’s important enough to have its own slot in the menu, I should figure out what’s going on there. There’s also a place in the menu to look after your Imagines; I went and petted mine, but that’s all I’ve done so far.

After leaving the tree, I went to the edge of the forest until I hit the next save spot; it looks like it was outside a dungeon, and I didn’t feel like doing that today. (It’s been more of a Rock Band-y weekend.) Still, I’m glad that the game is getting underway; and I’m also glad that the language is still not proving to be too much of a barrier.

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VGHVI Minecraft: October 27, 2011

Nov 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

During the October VGHVI Minecraft session, I was still mostly flying around, but other people did a better job of getting back to work. The theme this time seemed to be building stuff in the middle of the sky, though I do have a couple of pictures of a house on the ground that, presumably, Miranda built. (The second picture certainly strongly suggests that!)

A house in the rain

The green room

Pat kicked off the aerial construction with a castle that he built on the temple outskirts:

Flying castle under construction in the rain

Castle in the sky

Next, Pat started work on a mandala on another edge of the temple area:

At first, I thought it was a target!

Closer view of the beginning of the mandala

The mandala has another layer now

Miranda got into the “build stuff in the sky” theme at this point, working on a sign saying “The City”.

The City sign takes shape

Adding a backdrop to the city sign

It's double-sided, here's the view from the other direction

Now it lights up at night

The city sign at sunrise

I took that as an invitation to do an Arthur C. Clarke homage, and build a “The Stars” sign. For better or for worse, though, I didn’t light it up, which meant that, when the stars were out, you couldn’t actually see the sign. Hmm.

The stars at night

During the day, no actual stars

As dawn approaches, stars and stars

As Miranda and I were working on those, Pat finished his mandala:

Starting work on a ring around the mandala

The mandala ring is mostly finished

Side view of mandala and moon

The completed mandala!

The mandala at nightfall

It was a little bit of a strange session for me: in the two sessions since 1.8 hit, I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with building projects. I’m not sure how much of that is the disconnect from the ground that flying gives you, how much is creative mode, how much is ennui, and how much is the luck of the draw.

The last Thursday in November is Thanksgiving, so we’re pushing the schedule back a week, and the next VGHVI Minecraft night will be December 1st.

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Ni No Kuni: Started Playing the Game

Nov 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week, I finished the Ni No Kuni DS manual; I’m planning to spend some time going through the book as well, but in the mean time I figured that it was high time for me to start playing the game. Which I did on Saturday!

And my initial reaction on seeing the opening cut scene: wow, there is absolutely no question that Studio Ghibli is involved in this. Their stamp is strongest so far in the cut scenes, but even in the regular game you can see it in the character design.

And you can see Ghibli in the plot: centered on the kids, parents are shoved to the side and need to be rescued. In a particularly bad way this time: the mom is present at the start of the game but has a heart attack or something soon after saving Oliver from drowning, and dies. Oliver will probably be able to save her by defeating the bad guy, but still: really, was that necessary?

And there’s Ghibli in the world building, too: I haven’t yet seen the second world of the game’s title, but the first world has a traditional Ghibli slightly archaic setting, with a whiff of steampunk/machinery focus in it.

As to the language barrier: quite manageable. The cut scenes go by faster than I’m comfortable with, but I can pick up enough to not be completely lost. And when I’m talking to characters outside of cut scenes, I can take all the time I want to look up words. (Which, fortunately, I don’t need to do very often, maybe once per dialogue screen on average?)

The DS’s screen resolution is pretty bad: kanji is legible but could definitely use more pixels, and while there turns out to be barely enough resolution for furigana, those look even less like they’re supposed to. Fortunately, those two inadequate representations cover up each other’s flaws, and there are only so many furigana syllables that I’ll have to get used to, so that’s fine.

The one exception to the language barrier is Shizuku. (The spirit from the second world that is guiding you: he was banished to the first world and turned into a stuffed animal, which Oliver re-animates after crying on him for three days in a row.) Shizuku was rather a surprise: I’d expected Shizuku to be female and gentle (in retrospect, confusing the name with Shizuka), but in fact he’s male and pleasantly gruff. (And perhaps a bit egotistical, unless I’m misunderstanding the implication of his using -sama to refer to himself?)

And his speech patterns are quite unusual: he speaks with an accent, and I’m fairly sure that there are word forms that are from a non-Tokyo dialect as well. I can usually figure out what he’s saying, but not always. If I knew Japanese better, I imagine I could identify what region (or time period?) the dialect is from; as is, it’s half a curiosity, half an annoyance.

I’m a little more than an hour into the game, though much of the time has been spent looking things up in dictionaries: I imagine it would be more like half an hour if I were playing at a normal rate. And I haven’t gotten to where I make any actual gameplay choices. (Incidentally, I was thrown for a loop in the conversation with Shizuku: you’re given choices a few times, but I’m fairly sure that, in all instances, both your choices are different ways of saying the same thing!) Though it will start looking a lot more like an RPG soon, I think: I just got introduced to an RPG-ish menu, and both Oliver and Shizuku showed up on a character screen with hit point and magic point bars.

An auspicious first session of the game, I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of it. In fact, I’m looking forward to that enough that I imagine I’ll start playing mid-week, like I normally do with games, instead of reserving it for my weekend Japanese study times.

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Rock Band Status: November 6, 2011

Nov 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, Liesl and I sung together. (For the first time in several weeks; I’d missed that!) We mostly tried to go through songs that we hadn’t yet sung, and we were going in order of band name, which meant that we did a lot of Billy Joel and most of London Calling. The former was surprisingly fun on harmonies; the latter was rather frustrating, partly because only 15 of the 19 tracks had harmonies and mostly because the harmonies just aren’t that good. (Actually, the melodies aren’t that good even when singing alone: I really like the vocals in the album, but that’s mostly due to the lyrics.) Lost in the Supermarket is still awesome, though.

And today I went through six more songs on Hard Pro Guitar. No One Knows had nice riffs and a pleasantly short solo; the tuning was completely different when I tried plugging it in, though, not sure what’s going on there. Jerry Was a Race Car Driver really wasn’t my style of music, but I kind of enjoyed playing it anyways. Been Caught Stealing had some interesting chord transitions, though I wouldn’t want all songs to be like that. In the Meantime mostly served to show that I really need to improve my technique on barre chords: I just can’t transition as fluently between different ones as I’d like. China Grove, on the other hand, showed that I can at least transition between power chords, and have fun doing so. And Radar Love was rather fun, which is surprising given its melodic/solo focus.

So: only 3 songs left on Nightmare, and then, I believe, 12 left on Impossible? Next weekend is a three-day weekend, and Liesl and Miranda will be out of town; it’s not inconceivable that I’ll finish Hard Pro Guitar next weekend, though my guess is that I won’t quite put in enough time to manage that. (Alternatively, I may use the extra time to put in more solo vocals practice.)

I’ve also been reasonably diligent with my out-of-game practice. I’m trying to put in a couple of minutes a day of alternating strumming practice; doesn’t feel like much, but it really is having an effect. And I’m continuing to shake the rust off of the 3-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering: still fumbling notes at times, but I’m hoping it won’t be too much longer before I can start focusing on the music.

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Ni No Kuni: Finished the Manual

Nov 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s Ni No Kuni excitement: I finished the manual! The regular DS manual, as opposed to the “Magic Master” book; though, as it turns out, the first part of the manual that I read this weekend was explaining how to use that book. It went through each of the sections of the book: one on drawing runes, one on crafting items, one on equipment, one on consumables, one on Imagines, one on legends and stories, and one about the various lands in the game. They also pointed out some of the secrets lurking in the book, places where there are extra notes written in an alternate alphabet.

After that, I skimmed the rest of the manual: there was a bit about what to do if you’ve lost your Magic Master, descriptions of the various options for network play, and capsule biographies of various people who worked on the game, from both Ghibli and Level 5. None of which seemed interesting enough for me to want to spend time reading it right now; though I did note that Joe Hisaishi was included in the capsule biographies, so I’m now actively looking forward to the music in the game.

This means that I don’t have much of an excuse to avoid playing the game now! So I’ll definitely start next weekend; though I may also read through some of the Magic Master in parallel. The latter is clearly largely a reference book rather than something designed to be read cover-to-cover; but there are some narrative bits (e.g. the “legends and stories” chapter), and I also want to be comfortable using it as a reference book as necessary. So I imagine that I’ll spend time working on both fronts over the next few weeks, but clearly I should stop messing around and start actually playing.

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