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“Sabrina dies at dawn.”

Published June 15, 2012 by jcrosland

Let me pose a question.

Who the hell is Sabrina?

*grumbles, shakes her head*

Now that that’s out of the way…take my hand, dear reader, as we journey back to 1982.

PC video games were a curiosity. Few had color. Fewer still had sound. Text-based adventures and edutainment reigned king (and queen). The Apple II–with its stark monochrome display and noisy disk drive–vied for the gnat-ish attention spans of children all across the country.

Okay, so I’m probably exaggerating, but whatevah. The best stories are those that are embellished. -_-

Anywhoo…

A few days ago, I downloaded an Apple II emulator called “AppleWin.” I suppose the “Win” stands for winning. Haha. Get it?  Winning?

*hears crickets*

Come on! You know that was funny. >_<

So, yeah.

Born in 1990, I never got to experience the awesomeness that was/is 80’s tech. No thanks to the Internet, I found out what I was missing. It’s something about those old machines that make my heart sigh with longing. Black and green/orange displays, the click-clackity of floppy disk drives, those cubic graphics…

*wipes a tear from her eye*

Eager to create some memories of my own, I hastily tracked down some ROMs, lamenting the fact that I’ll never have the luxury to use the actual hardware. Twenty minutes later, Ultima was reared up and ready to go. A push of a button had my eyes greeted by an unfamiliar sight.

I created my character (Vishkali, the dark elf mage) and was transported to some nameless world. Trees (at least, I think those are trees) to the west, grassland to the east, and a castle town not far away. Man, this was awesome! 

Five minutes later, I had been gobbled up by a snake, assaulted by an invisible archer, and mauled by a bear. Fuck, this game was hardcore! 

With a lotta luck and some evasive tactics, I managed to make it to Lord British’s castle.

The next ten minutes were wasted as I tried to figure out which stick figure was me. Yeah, I was having the time of my life.

-_-

Eventually, common sense kicked in and I fled to Google for help.

A long story short, Ultima is at best a curiosity and, at worst, a lesson in patience. The enemies hit hard and fast; your character can easily starve if you’re not careful; and healing is a bitch. Seriously, you have to pay somebody to be healed. It’s America’s health care system, minus the insurance bit.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Ultima is worth playing if you’re interested in the roots of WRPGs. For once, I felt like I was being challenged. Hyperaware of my surroundings and stats, I felt restricted to a given area. I couldn’t venture too far from Lord British’s castle without risking a premature death. At first, I found my limitations to be horrid. The game felt clunky and the pace was snail-slow. I didn’t  know where to go. People were useless.

But then, I found myself enjoying Ultima. I liked the emphasis on imagination. Mountains and forests and lakes–they were all present. But you–the player–had to fill in the details yourself. When I died, I was greeted with the crude image of a skull. Much to my surprise, Vishkali was resurrected and her position reset. Huh. And here I thought that death spelt “Game Over.”

My second foray into the Apple II’s gaming infancy was much more successful.

Transylvania is a game reminiscent of B-horror flicks. Plopped down in the middle of a dark forest, I was left to journey on my own with directions given here and there. Despite the graphical limitations, I felt sufficiently spooked. No, not spooked. Amused, with a touch of weariness, and a heavy dose of confusion.

A dropped note reads “Sabrina dies at dawn.”

Chilling!

“A witch cackles in the distance.”

Frightening!

“There is a menacing werewolf!”

*screams*

The programmers really went out of their way to make the game feel unsettling. Kudos to you, Penguin Software. If there was a plot, then I couldn’t find it. Most of my fun came from a) trying to evade the werewolf, and b) explore Dracula’s grounds. I got as far as the attic in an abandoned house. The pistol was within sight. Then that damned werewolf popped up. >_< Furry bugger ate me for dinner.

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Go Straight!

Published April 5, 2012 by jcrosland

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Above: Yuzo Koshiro in the studio, date unknown

Yuzo Koshiro is one of many men responsible for making video game music more than just a sequence of beeps and blips. This article explains his importance to me, a long-time gamer and lover of (good) video game music.

Born in December 12, 1967, Hino, Tokyo, Koshiro is widely regarded as “one of the most influential innovators in chiptune music and video game sound design. He’s produced music in multiple genres, including electronic music (dance, Eurobeat, house, jungle, techno, trance), hip hop, jazz, classical/orchestra, and synth rock” (taken from Wikipedia).

In an article by Nintendo Power, the Japanese musician was quoted as being “arguably the greatest game-music composer of the 16-bit age…[he[ created some of the most memorable game music of the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

Famous titles which include his special brand of “progressive, catchy, techno-style compositions” are Nihon Falcom’s Dragon Slayer and the Ys series, and Sega’s The Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage series. Koshiro’s compositions were “far more advanced than what players were used to…[this] set a “new high watermark for what music in games could sound like.”

Koshiro’s influence extends beyond the video game music industry. Artists such as Ikonika, Frentel, Janet Jackson, and Darkstar have credited the musician with inspiring them to created works of a similar kind. Even electronica and dubstep producers cite Koshiro as having influenced them in some way.

Here is a complete list of Koshiro’s video game music credits in alphabetical order:

Other projects include Merregnon (both volumes)Ten Plants; the Street Fighter Tribute Album (for an M. Bison stage remix), and FM Sound Module Maniax.

And here are a few samples of Koshiro’s work:

The Working Girls

Published April 5, 2012 by jcrosland

When you hear the term “businesswoman,” what comes to mind? Power suits? Shoulder pads? Impeccably dressed women with velvet voices and iron hearts?

This was especially true of women in the late 80s, when the feminist movement gained national prominence. An empowered woman is a liberated woman, free from the conformist and restrictive model of the stay-at-home mother and wife. She demands respect and equality in both the workplace and in society.

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Above: Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (1988). Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Such is the case of 36-year-old comedian Chelsea Handler. Her talk show Chelsea Lately on Comcast’s E! Network has gradually shown a spike in viewership. In June 2011, she surpassed Conan O’Brien’s program in terms of popularity.

There is more to Handler than meets the eye. She is also a businesswoman. According to CNN Money, “In 2009, Handler co-founded Borderline Amazing Productions with Tom Brunelle, the head-writer of Handler’s late-night show. Since then, the company has gone on to produce four shows–Chelsea Lately, After Lately, Big Loud Lisa, and Are You There…Chelsea? on NBC.”

A fifth show is in the works with That ’70s Show creator Marc Brazill, rumored to be a mix-up of Wonder Years and aspects of Handler’s own life. Additionally, the comedian “recently sold a movie to The Weinstein Company, which Borderline Amazing will be producing.”

Celebrity-dom and the business world are commonly entwined. However, what sets Handler apart from her famous peers is that she is both the face and the brain behind Borderline Amazing.

“For the first three years, I was in every morning office…I never missed anything because you want to get that flow going, you want everyone to know at what level you expect things to be turned in. When you’re putting your product out there with your own name on it, you want it to be very Chelsea-specific. You really have to be involved in every aspect, in every credit.”

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Above: Chelsea Handler

Control in the business aspect of celebrity-dom is important. However, Handler notes that “power, obviously, can be a dangerous word. It’s about being really savvy, about making smart decisions, and about making original decisions.”

Handler wields her power in a fair manner, promoting people in her company that would otherwise be overlooked by a different manager. She champions the “underdog” and gives such individuals opportunities that, under different circumstances, would not have been available to them.

Constantly looking forward, Handler is steering Borderline Amazing as the company develops a multiplatform contract deal with Comcast. The comedian is in the process of developing “a more serious, mindful program. I have an opportunity to bring my viewers to the next level; as I’m growing up, I want to take everyone with me.” She owns a publishing imprint, Borderline Amazing/A Chelsea Handler Book.

Handler finds it important for her power to be acknowledged and taken seriously by major networks. However, she does not ride the coat-tails of her celebrity status. For example, when asked in an interview about Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list, Handler replied, “Being on any list where people are recognizing your impact on your specialty is always great. But I don’t think you can go through life or your career with that sole intent. It’s not like I get some big hard-on from these lists.”

Here are a few of my favorite things…

Published April 3, 2012 by jcrosland

=^.^=

#1 “Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty, Little Ball of Fur…”


I love cats.

Cats are a mainstay of my life. Furry, adorable, and sometimes ferocious, cats bring joy to my heart. Growing up, my first pet was a grey domestic short-hair called Gray (post-mortem). We were like sisters. Wherever I went, she followed. I fondly recall memories of tossing around paper balls while Gray scrambled after them.

Never get in the way of a running cat, least you lose your feet.

After my feline companion passed in 2000, I never thought I could love again (cat-wise). My second foray into the land of whiskers and catnip was a disaster; thy name was Starburst.

Starburst was nothing like Gray. Whereas Gray was affectionate, Starburst was distant. While Gray loved to be rubbed and petted, Starburst preferred to be alone and aloof. After a few months of dealing her, my family decided that Starburst was NOT the cat for us.

Everything changed one cloudy September afternoon in 2011. I had received a text from my mother. In it was enclosed a picture. Upon viewing it, I was instantly torn. My eyes were fixated on the darling calico kitty. What struck me as most strange was her face.

Half-black, half-brown, split straight down the middle.

I hemmed and I hawed. I considered my then-current circumstance. It was my last year at Niagara University. I lived in a dorm hall. Would I have time to properly socialize with and care for a cat?

It turned out that I had all the time in the world. And so I said “yes.”

Life hasn’t been the same since Sybil came into my life.  My mother has dubbed her my “sister.” In many ways is Sybil similar to me. It’s almost frightening how much we–a cat and a human–have in common. Both of us love affection; we live for peace and quiet; we are curious and nosy when it suits us; and we both love to block the furnace vent.

The weekends are brighter, the days are not as long. I can go home with a smile on my face because of one very special kitty. =O.O=

"Cloudbusting," anyone?

#2 Blue Skies Are Coming


There’s something about a blue sky that puts a smile on my face. Maybe it’s the sharp hue that delights the eye. Or perhaps it’s the whispy clouds that dot the oh-so celestial dome like strands of cotton.

*stops gazing long enough to type some more*

And although I learned waaaaaay back in the day that this awe-inspiring sight is the product of chemical reactions (don’t ask me which ones), that knowledge does not deter me from looking up every once in a while and gawk.  When I was a child, I used to think that, if you stared hard enough, you could see angels standing on the clouds. That belief has long-since died (and so has my faith in Christianity), but it made me realize just how awesome the natural world can be. After all, just because I couldn’t see an angel doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Then again, I feel the same way about aliens. But…that’s another story for another day.

 

"What's a floppy disk?"

#3 The Best-Selling PC to Date (Until the iPad 2 Came Along and Ruined Everything)

Okay. So I have a thing for the 80s. The music, the fashion, the television programming–everything about the decade excites me in a way that’s border-line obsessive. Back then, American culture thrived in terms of originality and progress. There was an overwhelming sense of hope and prosperity. The future looked so bright and shiny. Anything seemed possible.

What really strikes me as interesting is 80s electronics. All of the fancy, new-fangled gadgets that we depend on so much today (i.e. cell phone, laptop, and iPod) are derived from technological advances used in the 80s.

Consider the Commodore 64. Known affectionately as “the breadbox” among certain PC communities, the C64 is best-known for its SID chip. The SID chip, or “Sound Interface Device” chip, is responsible for the extensive use of music and sounds in both PC and console video games today. The SID chip gave games like The Last Ninja and Nemesis the Warlock polyphonic flavor and atmosphere that the breadbox’s monochrome-hued and crude sound chip companions could not.

So without further ado, check out these awesome SID chip tunes:

Nemesis The Warlock

The Last Ninja

Skate or Die

Dominator

 

"Whip it good!"

#4 No, no, no, no…! ARGHHH! Stoopid Medusa Head

Ahh, Castlevania. A true NES-era diamond. And by diamond, I don’t necessarily mean it’s bright and shiny.

Don’t get me wrong. Back in 1987, Castlevania was something special. It was a brilliantly-designed platformer with a saturated 30s horror flick theme, awesome music, pretty graphics, and level after level chock-full of undead baddies.

However, Castlevania is also known (and criticized) for its difficulty. I’m talking about quantum-level hard (kudos to you, Mom). So hard that you’ll scream, rant, foam at the mouth, and call God a slew of ungodly names. I tried playing the game once. After five minutes of getting my butt slaughtered by relentless waves of zombies, ill-timed steps, and sluggish controls, I surrendered. I couldn’t do it.

*scurries back to the realm of Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star*

Here’s a hilarious, highly-informative video explaining the differences between Castlevania I and Castlevania II.

CAUTION: PROFANITY AND JOKES YOU MAY NOT UNDERSTAND

Sequelitis–Castlevania 1 vs. Castlevanina 2

 

bOInG ZoOm dAkoTA!

#5 Mr. sATuRn SaYS hElLo!

This lovable, pink…thing…is the mascot of the SNES cult classic, EarthBound. Found of psychedelic coffee and Dakota (don’t ask), Mr. Saturns reside in the appropriately-named Saturn Valley. They speak in a strange, child-like pattern, complete with a special font used only by them in the game.

Here’s a sample:

Translator needed.

Their hot springs possess rejuvenation powers. And their coffee…well, I’m pretty convinced what Ness and co. drink is laced with LSD. This video suggests likewise:

Soothing, isn’t it? Later on, the Mr. Saturns help the Chosen Four build a Mr. Saturn-shaped time machine to go back into the past, and stop the evil alien Giygas from taking over Earth.

BoTToMS uP!

What Is March Madness? A Summary

Published March 15, 2012 by jcrosland

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What is March Madness? A contagious disease? An exaggerated euphemism for spring cleaning? Well, it’s neither.

According to wikipedia.org, March Madness is:

“The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship is a single-elimination tournamentheld each spring in the United States, featuring 68 college basketball teams, to determine the national championship in the top tier of college basketball. The tournament, organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was created in 1939 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and was the brainchild of Ohio State University coachHarold Olsen.[1] Held mostly in March, it is known informally as March Madness or the Big Dance, and has become one of the most prominent annual sporting events in the United States. The NCAA has credited Bob Walsh of the Seattle Organizing Committee for starting the March Madness celebration in 1984.[2]

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“Tournament teams include champions from 31 Division I conferences (which receive automatic bids) and 37 teams which are award at-large berths. These “at-large” teams are chosen by an NCAA selection committee… The 68 teams are divided into four regions and organized into a single elimination ‘bracket,’ which predetermines when a team wins a fame, [and] which team it will face next.”

The elimination process then narrows down into the “Final Four.” These four remaining teams duke it out in an all-or-nothing competition for the title of national champion.

Since 1968, the tournament has been partially shown on television. Today, widespread coverage by networks such as CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV (under the NCAA March Madness brand) allows for all games to be viewed nationwide. Thanks to the growth in television coverage, the popularity of March Madness has skyrocketed.

At the moment, UCLA holds the record for the most NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championships with 11 national titles. Coming in second is the University of Kentucky, which holds seven national titles. Indiana University and the University of North Carolina tie for third place with five national titles. Duke University comes in fifth with four national titles.

How well do you know your March Madness facts? Here is some trivia (courtesy of wikipedia.org):

No team as a #16 seed has ever defeated a #1 seed since the field was expanded to 64 teams, though on four occasions, a #16 seed has come within a single basket of winning:

#1 seeds and the Final Four

Rank #1 vs. other ranks

All four #1 seeds making it to the Final Four

Has happened only once, in 2008, when Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, and Memphis all won their regionals. (Memphis’s season was later vacated by the NCAA due to use of anineligible player, Derrick Rose)

Two #1 seeds making it to the championship game

Has happened six times:

  • 1982 North Carolina defeated Georgetown
  • 1993 North Carolina defeated Michigan
  • 1999 Connecticut defeated Duke
  • 2005 North Carolina defeated Illinois
  • 2007 Florida defeated Ohio State
  • 2008 Kansas defeated Memphis

Teams #1 in national polls

The following teams entered the tournament ranked #1 in at least one of the AP, UPI, or USA Today polls and won the tournament:[31]

  • 1949: Kentucky (AP)
  • 1951: Kentucky (AP/UPI)
  • 1953: Indiana (AP/UPI)
  • 1955: San Francisco (AP/UPI)
  • 1956: San Francisco (AP/UPI)
  • 1957: North Carolina (AP/UPI)
  • 1964: UCLA (AP/UPI)
  • 1967: UCLA (AP/UPI)
  • 1969: UCLA (AP/UPI)
  • 1971: UCLA (AP/UPI)
  • 1972: UCLA (AP/UPI)
  • 1973: UCLA (AP/UPI)
  • 1974: NC State (AP/UPI)
  • 1975: UCLA (AP)
  • 1976: Indiana (AP/UPI)
  • 1978: Kentucky (AP/UPI)
  • 1982: North Carolina (AP/UPI)
  • 1992: Duke (AP/UPI)
  • 1994: Arkansas (USA Today)
  • 1995: UCLA (AP/USA Today)
  • 2001: Duke (AP/USA Today)

On Vomit and Irish Jigs

Published February 21, 2012 by jcrosland

Vomit.

Flash mob Irish jigs.

V-day rose ambush (and no, the “v” does not stand for victory).

These are a few of the many topics discussed by Buffalo.com guest speaker Sarah Jean (sp?). A multi-media journalist, Jean manages content on both the one site and another site, IrishCentral.com. The former is geared toward a Buffalo-lovin’ audience, highlighting events and stories from the city. She describes it as the “wacky little brother” of The Buffalo News. Which is true, given the nature of the website. Odd colorful monsters adorn the site’s banner.

The latter site showcases all things Irish dance, including its cultural background, current/upcoming events, and news snippets.

Jean then discussed the importance of voice. When writing for the Web, s/he should always consider his or her audience. After all, what may be appropriate for one group of readers may agitate another. The content must match the author’s intentions. It would be disastrous to post something that either a) doesn’t get his or her message across clearly, or b) conveys the exact opposite of what the author intended. Consider the controversial racial slur regarding Jeremy Lin (a “chink in the armor”).

I thought that there was little distinct between the voices Jean uses for Buffalo.com and IrishCentral.com. Sassy vs. friendly, bubbly vs. supportive. In a way, Jean’s little compare/contrast was more confusing than it meant to be. However, one must remember that she self-admittedly completed the presentation mere hours before it was to be held.

And speaking of presentations…

Jean did a superb job despite time limitations. It came across as relatively professional, though a bit stark at times in terms of presentation. However, the content within said-presentation made up for the lack of flashy PowerPoint graphics (because I, like, totally LOVE creative Power Points). She showed the class several examples of the power of social media, from the Jean-ology timeline to a gross-out eating competition video posted on Facebook (because it was deemed too “edgy” for Buffalo.com proper).

It never crossed my mind that one could post content on multiple social media formats. I mean, uploading videos to his or her blog seems commonplace. Using Facebook or YouTube as a means to post “questionable” or “bonus” content simply didn’t occur to me.

*hears the light bulb go DING!*