the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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326/365: Controllers

326/365: Controllers

Released early to get a head start on the holiday weekend, a bunch of us ended up sticking around the office to play vintage games on the Atari Flashback. It's amazing how such simple games can be so captivating, and it's especially interesting to watch my youngest coworkers being completely enthralled with games that were released before they were born.

39 days to go...

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183/365: Halfway There

183/365: Halfway There

I chose to celebrate passing the halfway point of my 365 by busting out Rock Band for a couple hours and trying not to be too self-conscious about shooting while I played. Newsflash: beer helps.

It turns out that it's ridiculously difficult to shoot photos, even with the remote, while playing the guitar controller and singing. There's nothing like botching the whole song while trying to fire off shots only to find that the IR remote never actually triggered a shot. It's enough to make me think about what it would take to wire up a foot pedal to a shutter release cable...

Here I'm rocking out on the chorus of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer", because, whoah, I'm halfway there. Whoah-oh.

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Mass Effect and Doctor Who: Separated at Composition?

After finishing Mass Effect 2 yesterday (thanks, Bioware!), I found myself with the moving "Suicide Mission" music from the game's finale stuck in my head. But in a surprising twist, my brain suddenly shifted it, and before I realized what had happened, it had transformed into Murray Gold's "I Am the Doctor" theme from the recent Doctor Who series.

I've spent the past 30-some hours going back and forth between these two pieces, sometimes aloud and sometimes just thinking through them in my head, mostly just letting them dance in and out of one another and, frankly, starting to go a little crazy with them.

So now I'm trying to excise the madness by passing it on to you. (You're welcome.)

Start by listening to Jack Wall's "Suicide Mission" from ME2, starting around 42 seconds in up to about 2:10:

Okay, got that?

Now listen to the first 48 seconds or so of "I Am the Doctor", before it takes off into the wild, bombastic stuff:

Hopefully your brain just exploded a little bit.

But wait, there's more! There's a whole choral bit in each as well!

Take a listen to "I Am the Doctor" from 2:15 through 2:50:

And then "Suicide Mission" from 3:16 through about 4:15:

There's even a quieter, more subdued choral bit in each, just in a different order; "I Am the Doctor" gets it from about 2:50 through 3:40:

And "Suicide Mission" chills out from about 2:09 until 2:48:

The piece from the series 6 finale, "The Majestic Tale (of a Madman in a Box)", takes the similarity even further by pulling down the tempo and cranking up the brooding epicness:

What do you think? Am I high? On to something? Bit of both? Do you have a favorite piece that feels borrowed from somewhere else? Comment away! (Note: James Horner or Danny Elfman scores need not apply, unless incorporating or being incorporated by another work.)

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97/365: How to Save the Galaxy

97/365: How to Save the Galaxy

Yeah, I know all the cool kids played through Mass Effect 2 ages ago, but I'm on kind of a delayed gaming cycle, so I'm just now experiencing this gem.

I had a good, long binge yesterday as I cleaned up side missions and DLC (Lair of the Shadow Broker was amazing!) in anticipation of starting into the endgame this weekend, so it seemed fitting to memorialize the things I'd interacted with the most during the day: game, controller, and iPad.

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Lego Rock Band = Awesome

If I could have finished Lego Rock Band in a single evening without permanently melting my wrists, I would have. What I expected to treat as a glorified song pack and simply export to my 360's hard drive ended up being one hell of a fun standalone game, worthy of both the Rock Band and Lego names. There's a lot to love in Lego Rock Band--here are a few highlights:

  • Never fail out of songs. If your audience meter drops into "fail-out" territory you just start losing points from your total, but are given a special recovery mode that gives you a chance to claw your way back into positive territory.
  • The drum pedal is optional. You can turn on a modifier that will let you completely ignore the drum pedal. About time, and definitely a good idea for getting families playing.
  • Super-easy mode. This will probably be a hit for the younger players.
  • Points = Cash. The points you accumulate translate directly into Lego studs, the coin of the realm in all Lego games.
  • Fan loyalty. I didn't lose any fans after turning in a 3-star performance after a long string of 5-star shows; this should make this aspect of the game less frustrating, especially to younger players.
  • Fun venues. The venues are fun and imaginative; my favorites so far are the pirate ship and the haunted mansion, and there are strong implications we'll eventually be playing in space.
  • Cut albums. There are special setlist challenges where you first pick out album art, name the album, and choose songs. Once you've played the set, it's immortalized in your record collection. If you've ever said to yourself "hey, that'd make a great name for a record," your moment has finally arrived.
  • Your characters are used in the cutscenes. This is just plain cool, and a nice payoff for taking the time to customize your minifig band members.
  • Whimsy. The joy and whimsy and sense of humor of the other Lego games produced by Travelers Tales pervade Lego Rock Band, from big sight gags to amusing little details.
  • Famous Lego musicians. David Bowie and Freddie Mercury are freaking awesome as minifigs. Seriously.
  • Songs that are party/spouse-friendly. My wife often bows out of playing Rock Band with me because she doesn't think she knows many of the songs. Last night I kept catching her singing along to things from the couch, so that's a good sign. Okay, so there's still a bunch of songs I'd never heard before, but I'm going to blame that on the fact that I haven't really been listening to the radio since 1995ish.
  • DLC. You've got access to a certain "family-friendly" subset of your existing downloads, and there's a "family-friendly" version of the music store. The identification of what's "family-friendly" seems to fall a bit on the conservative side, but I suspect this will be tuned as time goes on.
  • Customize your "rock den" (aka menu screens). You'll unlock various items throughout the game that you can use to decorate your "rock den"--hang posters on the walls, set a tuba next to your guitar case, customize your lights and jukebox... It's a nice bit of extra detail that feels very Lego.

I have only a couple of minor quibbles:

  • Difficulty ratings have changed again. Finally, proof that "Behind Blue Eyes" is not a measly 2-dot difficulty on guitar. Still, it would be nice if the RB family of games could report the difficulty level consistently.
  • Some pretty hard songs at the beginning of the game. I naïvely jumped right into playing the first song of the game on Expert... Turns out it's rated at 4 dots of difficulty on guitar! Ouch!
  • Repetition of some songs. In a couple places, you'll be presented with a special rock challenge... where you start by playing the song you literally just finished playing. It's not common, but when it happens it's really irritating, especially if you weren't that into the song to begin with.

Anyway. I'm overall very pleased with it and can't wait to play through the rest of the game. After all, I have to find out what Freddie Mercury's doing on that flying saucer!

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On My Way to a Better Mii

Back in the summer of 2007, I was doing an okay job of getting back into a decent exercise habit, motivated largely by the impending arrival of our first child--knowing that once she arrived, I was going to have to massively reprioritize my time. Between the day-to-day parenting existence and my wildly see-sawing work schedule, I pretty much haven't worked out at all in almost two years. The effects are written all over my body, and to my chagrin I have to confront them every day. I could really stand to lose 20 (okay, fine, 25) pounds, if only I could figure out how to get off my lazy ass and get moving.

I thought I might break out of my "need to work out/don't want to work out" spiral with the arrival of Wii Fit in our house. Hooray, I thought, this will give us a fun way to get some physical activity throughout the long, dark Cleveland winter! While that was a nice idea, it quickly fizzled out (for reasons I'll rant about in a moment), and the Fit board mostly gathered dust.

What might actually do the trick for me is the new EA Sports Active, which I bought for Liz as a belated Mother's Day present once I realized that enough hints had been dropped about it. After watching her go through her first workout with it, I figured I would give it a try; I'm now three workouts in and am overall much more optimistic about it than I ever was about Wii Fit.

Wii Fit, Wii Fit... Where to begin? It had such noble intentions, but was a dismal failure in our house. Maybe it was the vast array of tedious mini-games that I got worse at the more I tried them (oh boy, I get to pick between so many things I hate to do!). Maybe it's the mini-game structure, where minor slip-ups terminate the game and cut short your physical activity. Maybe it was the physical discomfort of many of the "exercise" mini-games; really, I am a lot happier doing push-ups when my hands aren't pressed into the pointy, textured surface of the Fit board. Maybe it's the unhealthy obsession with BMI, which is surely not a one-size-fits-all metric of health.

More than anything else, though, I think it's Wii Fit's attitude, its saccharine-coated condescension. After inviting you to step on, it emits a gasp of shock and dismay, a cutesy little "oh!" that is silently followed by "my gosh you're uncomfortably heavy." If you play in the evening it'll scold you about your sleep habits. If you don't play for a while, it mockingly chides you for your inattention--or worse, asks other, more regular players if you're still there. And if you do try to get back into the habit after a period of being away, Wii Fit will ask with sneering faux-innocence if maybe you shouldn't "set a goal that's easier to achieve." Fuck you, Wii Fit, I don't need that shit.

EA Sports Active, by stark contrast, is all about blowing sunshine up your ass. It's hard to go more than five seconds without it spouting compliments like "you're showing me great dedication today," "you're grace in motion," and "work it!" I'm trying the 30-day challenge, in which the game crafts workouts of escalating intensity and challenge for me, and during each workout there's already a fixed set of exercises you'll be doing, so there's no wasting time figuring out which mini-game to do next--your virtual trainer is going to give you what it's going to give you, and you'd better learn to like it. (This may also be why the iTunes Genius feature is so appealing to me--I have too many choices in life, so it's nice for something else to make the trivial ones for me.) It's smart about working different parts of your body, so you'll come away from each workout feeling like you've done something. The leg strap for the nunchuck, though not perfect, is a welcome relief from having to just "put the controllers in your pockets" as Wii Fit suggests for many of its exercises. I really like that you can work out with a buddy--an impossibility with Wii Fit. And in the trophy system, EA's done a great job mimicking the Xbox 360's achievements; they're strangely motivating in a way that getting high scores or star ratings on Wii Fit never was.

But EA Sports Active isn't without frustration. The resistance band that comes with the game doesn't offer nearly enough tension for an effective workout, and using a real resistance band (ours have their own rubber handles to grip) means that you'll have a hard time holding on to it and the Wii controllers at the same time. And that effusive praise is quickly replaced with polite but annoying reminders to "slow down and watch how I do it" or concerns that "you don't seem to be doing it right" whenever one of the controllers isn't held exactly right. Tonight it stopped me in mid-curl for two minutes while it lost track of the controllers and kept insisting that I needed to hold the nunchuck perfectly still. Timing in general seems to be a problem--it won't recognize a move until the trainer avatar starts to do it, and then your personal onscreen avatar lags noticeably behind your own motions, never quite exactly matching up with what you're doing. It's like watching yourself on tape delay. These minor timing problems add up too, as the start of your next rep is delayed by your onscreen persona's laggy completion (plus some fudge factor while the game decides if you've actually completed the rep correctly); I got pretty steamed at my virtual trainer when she scolded me for not keeping the correct rhythm, when the game itself was altering that rhythm by taking too long to realize I'd finished a rep. I think most of the blame can be laid on the Wii hardware itself, which for me has always had some severe weakness when it comes to figuring out the controller position and orientation; I think EA Sports Active pushes the envelope a little too far and exposes how imperfect the Wii controls really are. If Microsoft is able to really deliver on the promise of the (admittedly horribly-named, OMG what were they thinking?!) Project Natal, they'll be poised to annihilate the Wii in this space. (Honestly, I'm not sure how much longer I can tolerate that pesky nunchuck cord.)

With only three workouts down, I've got quite a ways to go before I know if this will really get me over my motivation problems and help shrink my "computer science tummy," but so far I'm a lot more optimistic about EA Sports Active than I ever was with Wii Fit. Given my similar lack of blogging motivation over the past 24 months or so, it's probably a good sign that it's prompted over a thousand words here. If only typing burned more calories...

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He Who Rocks and Puts Away Lives to Rock Another Day

The kiddo has had a pretty strong musical interest for a while now, but in the last week or so she's gotten really excited by my Rock Band controllers, which have been hanging out in the corner of the family room, right where they're easy for her to get at if she wanted to. I'm content (thrilled, in fact!) to have her noodling around with my original Rock Band 1 controller (of the woefully busted whammy bar), but I'd like to keep my pair of RB2 controllers in good shape for as long as possible.

So, off we went to Guitar Center to pick up a couple of guitar hooks to hang the controllers on the wall, safely out of reach from curious little hands.

I'm not sure if I'm more embarrassed by buying guitar hooks for my fake guitars, or by the fact that we'd worked up an elaborate tale of how I'd recently inherited a (fictional) ukulele collection (to explain my concerns about whether the hook would be narrow enough to hold the guitar head). Sadly, no questions were asked about my purchase, so we never got to try out the story.

So, here you go--photographic evidence that I am, in fact, pretty much a total dork. Enjoy.

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I might be old, but dammit, I ROCK!

Yes, I just completed the solo guitar tour on Rock Band, and even though I was only playing on medium, it feels pretty freaking awesome. My wife (goddess!) sprung for an Xbox 360, and my mother-in-law (what a sweetie) sent me Rock Band, and I've basically been playing three hours a night since the goodies arrived.

We had a bunch of folks over Saturday evening to rock out, and lo, the rock was out in force. A buddy of mine gave me a drum throne to make the experience even better. Liz also scored some great wine to share with us (mmm, vintage Grand Cru Champagne....) and cooked an amazing meal (mmm, beef tenderloin; mmm, Guinness chocolate cake) that all enjoyed. Meanwhile, our daughter (angel!) slept through it all (miracle!).

I'm looking forward to getting folks together again soon (regularly?), but for now, this little rock star needs his beauty sleep.

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I haven't been posting much lately because I've either been too busy to write anything or too not-busy to have anything worth writing about. So here's a quick recap of what I've been up to, in more or less random order.

I'm thinking of moving our blogs to private hosting on WebFaction, partly because I like WordPress, and partly because the sale of LiveJournal to SUP makes me uneasy about paying LJ any more of my money. I've been hacking on a Python program to crawl my journal and re-emit it as a WordPress XML export file, suitable for slurping up into WP with just a few clicks, and it's pretty much done. I just have a few decisions to make (should I keep userpics attached to all my exported entries?) and then I think it'll be time to pull the trigger.

At work, we've wrapped up our first big run of cafeteria-free lunches (58 straight lunches, of which we had a repeat-free streak of 56 lunches before hitting some of our "greatest hits" before the end of the year). Naturally, we're blogging it so that we remember where we've gone.

Claire continues to grow and change. Having just passed the 100-day mark, she can now sit in her Bumbo chair, enjoys standing practice, and is really excited about grabbing her toes. I continue to shoot and post tons of cute photos.

We've been doing weekly videoconferences with my parents instead of phone calls. They get to see Claire, and Claire gets to stare at my screen and be confused. Plus my parents get to be the envy of all other long-distance grandparents that they know, who are in awe of their "technical savvy." So, kudos to iChat for making it stupidly easy.

I am in love with Rock Band and want to marry it. If that's not possible, I'd settle for going over to my friend's place to play it on a regular basis. (Turns out that after a couple beers, I am pretty decent on vocals--scary!)

Egad. I have almost 8 GB of music (over four days' worth!) in my "new and unrated" playlist needing review. When am I going to have time for that?

Last night we watched Paprika, the latest film from anime director Satoshi Kon. I'm utterly blown away by it. The coolest thing I've seen in a long time. It's a little bit Dreamscape, a little bit Ghost in the Shell. Good, good stuff.

Not sure if it's the kid (probably) or what, but I've fallen off the deep end of the Christmas season and am starting to scare Liz with my sunny holiday cheer. Usually I'm pretty down on the consumerism and not too hip to whatever religiosity seeps through the month-long shopping orgy of December, but this year things are different. I'm giggling as I wrap presents for Liz and Claire, and--much to Liz's annoyance--bouncing off the walls waiting for the big day to arrive. Is it Christmas yet? Is it Christmas yet? IS IT CHRISTMAS YET???

Speaking of Christmas, I'm happy that I managed to get the annual card produced and out the door relatively on-time. One of these years, I'm going to have inspiration and time in November so that I can get full-bleed, professional printing done, but I'll take what little victories I can get. I may post the images or a PDF at some point if I get motivated enough. (Here's your opportunity to convince me...)

Finally, if it's at all possible, I'd like to be your personal penguin.

Okay, enough of this foolishness. Time to go be Dad for awhile. Cheers!

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