Thursday, March 23, 2006

MUSICAL CRITIQUE: Oblivion Title Music

Wow, sorry about all the Oblivion posts, but I’m just so impressed by its technical, artistic, and gameplay genius. And, though it may be really incredibly geeky and nerdy, I just can’t stop listening to the title music of the game…and I don’t even have the game yet! So, as a precursor to the day (tomorrow) when I can finally hear the music in its original setting, here is a little musical critique and analysis. For the UHS folk out there, umm…think of this like Western Civ turned inside-out, flipped over, inverted again, stretched, and fanaticized. Maybe I should hand this in to Doc, huh? Maybe not. Hehe.

(if you want to follow along with the music, here is the link to the title track (Right-Click -> Save as... to download) in its full glory, or you can click play on this embeddable quicktime player I've provided :-) )

When you listen to the theme music of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you are thrust into an epic tale that invokes every single emotion within your body to well up and overflow into each of your limbs. It destroys all of your mental faculties and grasps you with the force of unknowing gravity. This is it. You cannot escape now.

The steady bass drum beats and low percussion sound throughout your bones and they resonate with a passion that rivals that immaculate chivalry of medieval knights (a signal of impending battle). The underlying stringed instruments weave a web of uncertainty that is only accentuated by the precise, staccato hemiolas. The homophony present also adds to the whole ideal of mental incapability and the cerebral pushes aside all emotion as you are left struggling to find where you are within the music. The entrance of rolling crash and ride cymbals from a drum kit (as well as traditional cymbals) at 0:10 crescendo into an oeuvre that throws one of his chair after arriving at the edge of undeniable anticipation.

At 00:17 the horns come in with a bright timbre, similar to a royal fanfare, calling all heroes to embark on this journey. At 00:27, violins take up a primary melody with the bass instruments creating a fugal subject underneath; adding more instruments through the fugue acts as a sort of dumbed-down “Rossini crescendo,” adding only strings to raise the volume as the music progresses. The section opens to the deep voices of the bassoon and horns at 00:42 with the steady accompaniment of drums. The base, gruesome quality is centered on a native blend of erratic rhythm and sound. A vocal chorus adds even more color.

The strings are overshadowed by this, playing at forte only to be covered by the tone color of the brass and winds. The emotion is dark in comparison with the previous heroic strings section. When we think the strings cannot emerge out of this mess of volume and sound, a lone piccolo emerges with a harp and solo vocal soprano accompaniment that produces a light and airy, yet bright color. Evolving into a string melody once again at 1:08, the tone turns into a swelling, yet calm, melody, with natural subsets of gloss. After a monumental rollercoaster ride of theme and variation, the piece ends with an afterthought that, should the player choose to, allows the music to be completed in a way that is bound only by the limits of imagination.

Clearly drawing upon all walks of musical history, award-winning composer Jeremy Soule manipulates the score to be the perfect companion to this massive, enthralling story of a game. From Romanticism to the Baroque, the styles are melded into one minute and fifty seconds of pure, evocable genius. The theatricality, though there, is perfect for the setting, drawing upon creative insights from tales like The Lord of the Rings or other medieval fables, fantasy or historical.

Couple this with the excellent voice acting of Patrick Stewart (Emperor Uriel Septim VII), Sean Bean (The Lost Heir), and Terrence Stamp (Daedric Lord Mehrunes Dagon) among others, and you’ve got yourself the kind of story depth that Oblivion offers.

Apple’s foray into the PMP market – why it may not be the next iPod.

April 1st marks Apple Computer's 30th anniversary, and being the great showman that he is, Steve Jobs is planning something big – something really big. Most have speculated (and in some sneaky ways, confirmed) the existence of Apple’s next big move: unveiling the 6th Generation iPod. No one really knows for sure what kind of breakthrough features this piece of technology will have. It may drop the whole touchwheel and replace it with full touchscreen capabilities, integrate Bluetooth technology to enable wireless headphones, and last but not least, it may be a full-on Portable Media Player (PMP). Being a PMP, the iPod would be transformed into a true video iPod with a four-inch screen.

Treading into the PMP market would make Apple compete in a totally different sector of the market. Currently reigning PMP champs, Archos and Cowon, would have to ramp things up a bit in order for their products to not be overshadowed by the big marketing campaign of the iPod. Making a PMP is not as cheap as, say, making an MP3 player. The prices of current media players range upwards of 400 dollars for a measly twenty gigabytes of storage; the most expensive video player on the market being the abysmal Archos AV4100 going for close to 800 dollars. Apple would need to keep things cheap if they plan to migrate their faithful consumers over to true video playback. The best-selling iteration of the 5G iPod is the 30Gb version, selling for as low as 250 dollars; dwarfing the sales for the 60Gb version aimed towards hardcore music fans and college students with massive media libraries.

With this much money floating around, we can still assume that many people will go for the iPod based on its elegance and design. The concept art that have been floating around for the 6G iPod are truly outstanding and next-gen in its aesthetic. However, many people will be looking closely at alternatives. What sets Apple apart from these other companies that I’ve never heard of, like Cowon and Archos? Intuitive functionality, iTunes synchronization, easy interface. All well and good, but the market for the PMP is dominated by a different age-set; not your typical teenager or yuppie jogger.

Archos and Cowon have relied on the uber-geek, the technical literati, the audiophiles, and the flippin’ rich between the ages of 20 and 35 to fund their PMP device production. And don’t forget the battery, the Cowon A2, a relatively small form-factor in the PMP business, punches out a whopping 20 hours of audio playback and 10 hours of video playback. These people who buy this kind of thing aren’t afraid to carry around a ‘brick’ in order that they get the best possible video and audio quality. I highly doubt, judging from their past offerings, Apple will support Divx, Xvid, and WMV9 video, WMA, OGG, FLAC, and what not on their players. They would keep to their strict adherence of .m4a and .m4v format. Thus, it is interesting to watch what is happening over in France with their piece of legislation that might open up the iPod and iTunes finally.

What I think will happen is that Apple will release their video iPod PMP to much critical acclaim…but they will not totally abandon their mp3 roots, and still offer newer and updated versions of their 5G iPod. Of course, the iPod nano will still be on the market, and who knows how small they can get that thing to be. If I turn out to be wrong on all this and Apple creates a visually appealing, super futuristic long-lasting Portable Media Player that can play anything I want coupled with superb audio and video quality, then sign me up; I’ll drop 500 clams for one.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Day of Reckoning has Arrived...Oblivion is here.

Shipping out from Bethesda's factories on the East Coast on the 20th, the 21st (today) will be the day when most people receive their shiny, fresh copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on their doorsteps. At the time of this post, the game has only been getting rave reviews, affirming the game's greatness among casual and hardcore RPG fanatics.

Numerous friends have told me of their good fortune, finding stray copies at their local Target, Walmart, and CompUSA. All the top gaming chains have all since but depleted their stocks. EB Games, Babbages, Gamestop, and Best Buy are turning away downtrodden consumers from their doors, leaving them to fend for themselves. Naturally, being the hot commodity it is, Oblivion has shown up on Ebay with markups ranging from 5 to 30 dollars. Numerous bidders have made one Xbox360 copy go for 80 dollars without shipping costs; and the auction isn't even over with two days to go.

I myself was foolish to not preorder my copy sooner. Online reserves from and other online sites are fresh out. It's a good thing I got the hookup at *a place that will go unnamed in order to protect the identity of the employee* which gurantees me a copy when I return back to San Francisco for Spring Break. Bless his kind, generous heart. I haven't been anticipating a game this much since Half-Life 2, and that's a lot of awesome games to be meandering through since it's release. This will also be the first time I've actually...erm...purchased a game since Half-Life 2 (with the slight exception of the expansion pack for Battlefield 2). This game won't suck, I know it, and I want to support Bethesda in developing more of these types of games; thus they get my money. "Tactically acquiring" this game would be a betrayal to them. And if the game does suck, well, I'll still be left with one crappy, but awfully good-looking game.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Chinese Gold Farmers (i.e. Real Money Traders)

(thanks for the idea Alex H.)

During my senior year at University High School, I took an English elective, taught by teacher extraordinaire Jesse Berrett, called the “Art of Nonfiction.” For our final project, we were able to write about any topic with the only limitation that the piece had to be written in a style comparable to one of the authors we read. I chose David Foster Wallace for his humorous wordplay and very bizarre (yet weirdly open) sentence structure.

Since video games are my passion, I was debating what exactly to write about. Surely a comprehensive history of video gaming would take much more than the allotted 10-15 pages. So I set forth on a journey to narrow down my topics. I had been extensively playing the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft, at the time, so, naturally, I was drawn towards trying to explain to the gaming-uneducated this huge and dynamic world. Not only this, I wanted to try and show how the image of the “gamer” has evolved over the decades. I would explain how role-playing games evolved with this image and how the MMORPG was a culmination of increased social interaction between the once anti-social “gamer” crowd.

In a brainstorming session in class, we presented our ideas and fellow peers would comment on the topic and make suggestions of their own. One of the people in my class, a seventeen-year old entrepreneur named Ben Casnocha (Founder of Comcate, Inc. Some of the stuff that he has done is truly remarkable), suggested that I focus on how these worlds work…from an economic standpoint. How does this world sustain itself? Explain how auctions are created, item acquisition, crafting, and professions. People need to make money in this game, so how does that mimic the real world? Indeed, a college professor paid for his students to play MMORPGs and to let them report back to him what they found out on how to manipulate the economy in this certain game.

My classmate then touched on the whole business of “Chinese gold farming” or “real money trading,” which is a severe problem in Asia these days. These farmers are not all Chinese as the nomenclature suggests. They can be Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc., it’s just a popular generalization that lumps all Asians into this one group; in and of itself a discriminating effect. Kids drop out of school to get paid to play these MMORPGs. However, they don’t play for fun. All of their game time has to be allotted towards one goal: make as much money as possible so that they can sell the gold to rich American gamers on auction sites like Ebay or gold-trading sites like IGE.

Employers provide the PCs, shelter, and wage for these gold farmers. Albeit, the wages they get are paltry; around 50 cents/hour. The living conditions provided are to be described as inhumane at best. And these people play games for more than 12 hours straight, putting hygiene and sanity on call as they traverse the colorful lands of Azeroth, Vana’diel, Dereth, *insert whatever game world here*. People have died playing these games. You usually don’t hear about them either. What you do hear, however, are stories about idiotic people playing at internet cafes 24/7 because they want to. These people are just like you and me who get so addicted to these games and play until acute respiratory distress or renal failure seizes them. They aren’t paid to play these games on a rigorous, monitored schedule.

Yet no one makes a big fuss over these “Chinese gold farmers.” Racism? Yeah, that’s part of it. Ignorance? Definitely. Don’t tell me to get off my high horse and say, “Well if that’s how it’s gonna be, then leave them to their doing. They made their own choice to get into the line of employment, it should be their lookout.” That would be like telling me to leave the genocide in Sudan alone, acknowledging of course the lesser impact of this. Mostly, people don’t think twice about this because they think that these gold farmers are just like them, sitting “in front of their PCs, with Mountain Dew cans riddled around their room” to quote a friend. has a very well-written article about this phenomenon titled "From sweatshops to stateside corporations, some people are profiting off of MMO gold."

This isn’t any different from the sweatshop crisis happening in other parts (and in the same part) of the world. Ge Jin, a PhD student from UCSD, is making a video documentary of the gold farming phenomenon. I really hope that this project of his can help educate people (like me) more about this growing problem. You can see the breaking blog post over at Terra Nova "Disembodiment, Hypermobility, and Labor."

An interesting comment Ge made:

When I entered a gold farm for the first time (Tietou's gaming workshop in the preview), I was shocked by the positive spirit there, the farmers are passionate about what they do, and there is indeed a camaraderie between them ... I do see suffering and exploitation too, but in that place suffering is mixed with play and exploitation is embodied in a gang-like brotherhood and hierarchy. When I talked with the farmers, they rarely complained about their working condition, they only complained about their life in the game world.

Although they have to work/play for 12 hours a day, they take pride in what they achieve and they seem eager to escape into a virtual reality richer, brighter, and more exciting than their impoverished real world lives.

Here is a preview of his upcoming documentary courtesy of YouTube:

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's freakin' snowing (redux) San Francisco?

This pic was sent to me by my brother back in San Francisco. Yes, that's right, that white stuff is snow. "But wait," you ask, "SAN FRANCISCO has snow?" Indeed, it is truly perplexing. Apparently, it hasn't snowed in San Francisco in quite a while...thirty years to be exact; the snow that fell thirty years ago was also very miniscule.

The pic was taken in front of my house, near the base of our massive palm tree. Kind of a poignant image, no? I mean, there you have a palm tree, embodying the essence of hot tropical weather, and at it's base you got snow, the white flurry goodness synonymous with a much colder climate.

On the other hand, here in Maine, we have been having no snow, and temperatures are steadily climbing into the 40s. And thus signaling the end of winter. Let us all reminisce by visiting the original "It's freakin' snowing!" post from way way way back in November, eh?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tribute to the Intarweb - 2003-2006

Nihonrobot from put together an impressive montage of gifs, stills, movies, flashes, etc. that have been indubitably some of the most influential stuff among the geek elite. Coupled with some extreme j-pop style music (if you want to know the name of the song, it is Revolution Deathsquad by Dragonforce), you won't be able to look away for the full eight minutes. Absolutely mind blowing! I pay tribute to the internet. So should you!

If you see something in here that you haven't seen before, you are not worthy to call yourself a computer geek. I speak "da truthz."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Natalie Portman: Rapper? A Darn Good One.

QUICKTIME Version: Courtesy Milk and Cookies

WINDOWS MEDIA Version: Courtesy I-Am-Bored

omg...haha Natalie Portman is actually a pretty good rapper. My favorite parts:

- a little girl in an Amidala costume asks for her autograph on a piece of paper, Natalie grabs the paper and throws it in the air

- Natalie claims she can drink all night (then proceeds to smash a bottle on her head)

- Natalie says "i'll sit down right on your face and take a sh*t"

She looks like she's having fun throughout the whole skit, which is a really big plus to her.

(EDIT 03/06/2006 5:20EST: NBC's lawyers told YouTube to remove the Portman vid from their site. Thus, I had to resort to desperate measures to bring you this classic piece of humor. My apologies to those who do not have the Quicktime plugin. It should be easy to acquire.)

(EDIT 03/06/2006 5:30EST: Ok, this is just dumb. After I found that the embeddable flash video from YouTube was inaccessible by people, I went to a different site and sneakily stole the page source code for an embeddable Quicktime version of the movie. Apparently though, this site does not want 'linking' content from their site. Now I am forced to send you to that site to view it, instead of viewing it from the cozy confines of this blog. GAH! I was able to find an embeddable version after a while of looking, but realized it was in Windows Media as to not discriminate against Mac users (who make up about 10 percent of my reader base), I shall give everyone the option to choose what format they would like to view the vid in. That is, until NBC gets ahold of these renegade sites and forces them to take off the content.)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mary Jane's Batcave

Lol, I guess this is how they roll down in Tennessee. Super elaborate growing scheme that must have cost millions of dollars to put into motion.

"This grow was underneath a house in a cave. The entrance was through a secret hydraulic door in the garage that led to a concrete ramp that went about 50 yards into the ground. Inside the cave was living quarters and a secret escape hatch that led you through a tunnel that exited via another hydraulic door that opened up a rock on the outside. It was very elaborate. The set up allowed them to harvest every 60 days which resulted in multi-million dollar sales. One of the guys busted was living in a house on the water in Florida and had a nice yacht.

One of the agents here in Nashville worked on this for 5 years before the warrant was finally served in December."

These super wily drug dealers...thinking life is like the movies. Pshaw. More pics when you click the link!

I'm the Juggernaut, B!TCH!!!

(don't hurt me alex)

Not safe for work/school! Do NOT watch if easily offended by profanity or lewd commends.

I laughed much too long watching this. And if you do watch this, make sure your sound is up so you can actually hear what's being said.

The Ocarina

I was talking to my friend today who was ranting and raving on how he would do anything at that moment to be able to play Zelda: Ocarina of Time again. This brought back very fond memories. I loved playing OOT so much that I actually bought a real, working, exact replica of Link's blue ocarina back in 1999. Apparently, the place where I purchased my ocarina still exists.

Yet, it was disappointing when I looked at the Zelda ocarinas they are now selling. They seem to be highly glossed over and polished, unlike the one that I bought. The one I bought had a very rustic aesthetic to it. The ones they now sell look very "mass produced." Mine was made of rough clay (not glossed or shiny), the holes in the ocarina were imperfectly cut, and the clay was not molded evenly, leaving slight dents and dimples on the surface. To me, this was really awesome. It was like this ocarina that I was playing came straight out of Link's pocket.

In fact, I did play the Ocarina, managing to learn pretty much all of the songs from Ocarina of Time (such as Saria's Song, Song of Time, Zelda's Lullaby). It was quite fun, and now I wonder where I put the darn thing...

Nice day to Kayak...UNTIL...

...THIS happens. Wow. I just feel so sorry for that guy on the kayak. His day started out like, "Hey Jim, can't wait to go kayaking with you and friend today. It's going to be a blast." Then they get to the dock area, "Wow, the sun is shining and the water is as flat as glass. This is going to be the best day ever!!!"

Then...a freakin' WHALE jumps ON YOU.

Take note of the japanese guy taking the video, he seems frantic as heck.