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Hi. I'm Mike. This isn't updated often.

Month: January 2009 (page 2 of 2)

iTunes “DBZ” Placement

Now that the holidays are pretty much over, I’m going to try and get at least a little something up here more often than not. Consider this one of those little things!

iTunes is a very mysterious entity. We have only a vague, outsider understanding of how things are ranked. That’s why it is very important to optimize your shows with keywords in their title and descriptions. This is something I absolutely did consider when starting up the podcast for Daizenshuu EX, but the final decisions definitely aren’t completely working in my favor. That’s not to say things are “bad” or “not working”… let me explain and show you!

When I started the podcast for the site, just like the canned intro says every week, I wanted it to be an extension of the website rather than its own separate entity. Sure, it can stand on its own (so can the website without the podcast), but they tie together and complement each other nicely. That’s why I decided against calling it something like “OMG DRAGONBALL DRAGON BALL DBZ PODCAST”, and simply went with Daizenshuu EX – The Podcast. We have “DBZ” in the description of the show (“DBZ discussions, reviews, and the latest news from…”), but…

Consider when someone comes along and puts those keywords right in their title rather than just the description. There are a couple podcasts to go along with blogs for the upcoming live-action movie, and there’s something called Dragon Ball Z Universe! – The Podcast (which appears to be by a fan of our own website and podcast, but doesn’t really seem to be an actual audio podcast, and more like PDFs delivered via RSS every so often). This was all fine and good, since if you’re searching for “dbz” or “dragon ball” or “dragonball“, anything that came up would be entirely (OK, mostly) relevant.

Now there’s a “podcast” simply called Abridged, which as far as I can tell is completely unrelated to the production any of the actual “Abridged” series out there, and is just some guy or gal collecting episodes and putting them up for download via an RSS feed (thus the “podcast”). This is completely fine; don’t misunderstand me. However, since the “Abridged” phenomenon is getting so huge, even though they don’t have any of TeamFourStar‘s DBZ Abridged episodes up in the feed yet, simply referencing those entities by name seems to be pumping up their “relevance” in searches according to iTunes.

Again, don’t misunderstand me… I have no problem with these “podcasts” (which isn’t an entirely accurate term for some of them) getting attention and an audience. That’s awesome. Far be it from me to tell anyone not to create content and get fans! The problem lies with our own show, being what I consider the most relevant for those general search terms (we cover anything and everything DragonBall, as you know!), getting pushed out of the most-visible locations!

When you do a search for “dbz” in the iTunes store, we used to show up as one of the two podcasts in the mini-section “Podcast” bubble at the top. No longer true!

Now you have to click through to see us.

In a further bout of confusion, we don’t show up at all for a search of “dragonball“, but show up as #43 in the general search for “dragon ball” (and still needing to click-through on the “Podcast” bubble to find us there).

So let it be known that for ultimate visibility, it certainly helps to have a more generic name! That’s OK… in my delusional world, we’re the best at what we do ^_~. And hey, if YOU dig what we do, spread the word! Tell a friend! That’s what shonen is all about… friendship and camaraderie!

The Death of EGM, and More-Or-Less Death of 1UP

I was going to write an entry today linking over to my personal blog where I reviewed the first volume of The Legend of Zelda manga released by Viz, or I was going to talk about how I finally sat down and played a little over an hour of the first Halo last night (and thought it felt a lot like how Half-Life started, which I’ve also started playing)…

But it all seems pretty pointless, now.

I’ve been pretty depressed about the 1UP fiasco since last night. It’s almost like a bunch of my friends just died. It’s that emotionally effective right now. OK, so not quite (let’s not get out of hand), but I don’t know how else to describe it.

If you have absolutely no idea what’s going on (and yet somehow still read this blog, which boggles my mind), the 1UP network has been sold to the Hearst Corporation / UGO Entertainment. Along with this comes the closing of Electronic Gaming Monthly as a magazine, and something like thirty layoffs at 1UP (including the entire audio and video team).

It’s no secret that I’ve been an EGM fan since the days of Ed Semrad (I think I missed Steve Harris in the earliest days). I saw Ed go, John Davison come in, John leave, Dan Hsu step up, Hsu leave, and finally we had James Mielke with the last stand (I’m sure I missed someone in there). Fighting game reviews from Sushi-X were always amusing. Trickman used to be relevant before the rise of the internet. The import previews were amazing, in-depth, and under-appreciated. I have the multiple Sheng Long April Fools jokes. They even temporarily “got me” with the Sonic & Tails being in Melee prank. I have plenty of issues of EGM^2. There are far too many memories for me to relate, and far too many boxes piled up with issues dating back to the early 1990s that I love to go through every so often. I’m pretty sure the first issue I got that started my long string of subscribing was #51 from October 1993, but I was able to go back and pick up another great issue from even further back at some type of yard sale around that year or so… issue #29 from December 1991.

Just like a lot of the guys ‘n gals that worked there up until today, I basically grew up on EGM. But now it’s essentially over. Sure, everyone is going to move on to new things and I’ll have absolutely no problem following along with them and their wacky adventures (just like when ZDTV/TechTV dissolved), but that special spark is going to be gone.

I actually found myself overdone with EGM around 2002. I was certainly still into games, but I guess the internet just really killed off any interest I still had in subscribing to and purchasing magazines (and I had quite a few over the years… EGM, GamePro, Nintendo Power, Sega Visions, Ultra Game Players, GameFan, etc.). Some time around 2006, though, after getting interested in doing podcasts on my own in the year prior, I rediscovered what had become 1UP. EGM was a part of it, but it was something much bigger.

Quite honestly, it was the podcasts (namely 1UP Yours and The 1UP Show, but also Retronauts and EGM Live / 1UP FM) and video shows that brought me over to 1UP, and even back to EGM. Many of the faces I knew were gone, but some still remained around in some capacity. When John moved over to What They Play, he still stuck around to do 1UP Yours and a column in the magazine. “Shoe” (not to mention Crispin Boyer) stuck around for quite some time, and a little part of my childhood died when they decided to leave 1UP/EGM in 2007 (even with the start of Sore Thumbs, it wasn’t the same).  All the “newbies” that had no name recognition for me became part of the group (and some of them had been around for plenty of years, without me actually knowing)… Shane Bettenhausen, Garnett Lee, Jeremy Parish, and then the true new-blood (“the kids table”) like Nick Suttner, Phil Kohler, David Ellis, Matt Chandronait, Ryan O’Donnell

I never got into the PC side of things too heavily, so I never listened to GFW Radio, but the guys like Jeff Green and Shawn Elliot also became mainstays for my further readings and guest-appearance enjoyments.

I could just type out every single staff member from 1UP, because they all became “friends” to me the same way that I imagine a lot of my longtime website visitors and podcast listeners across all my sites and shows may see me, but to an even deeper level. This is just an in-my-free-time gig, but for them, this was their job. Through text, audio, and video, we got glimpses into their worlds, their thoughts, their experiences, and everything in between.

This group as a whole is essentially gone, and while they’re all amazing guys ‘n gals that will have no problem landing on their feet (those let go, anyway), it still bites the big one. Seeing it coming for the last month (via Gamasutra) didn’t help matters at all. Sure, Destructoid had a halfway-interesting take on the financial figures which rings true in today’s world, but when you have someone like me that only came back to 1UP and EGM (as a paying subscriber, no less!) because of the podcasts… well, the math isn’t that simple, is it, corporate America?

I already got a text from Bryce earlier today lamenting the loss. I’ll be picking up an additional January issue of EGM to frame up for the wall (yes, Mielke said there will be one last issue to come out, but it sounds like it will be digital-only). Those that I didn’t already have followed on Twitter are all set up so I can follow along with “my buds” in the future.

How about you all? What are you feeling?

Full-Text RSS Feed

I’ve made a couple changes in the coding of the blog, and you should be able to subscribe to the feed and get full-text entries showing up in your RSS reader (like Google Reader) rather than just the summary.

The feed URL that should should be using (and is now linked throughout) is: http://www.vegettoex.com/blog/feed/

By the way… if you read this blog and haven’t responded over on this entry letting me know you’re here, absolutely do so! I’d love to know who’s checking this thing out. Thanks so much!

“The Legend of Zelda” Manga Review

I decided to start up a new category of postings over here on WTF EX. It makes sense to review things on blogs, so that is exactly what I will do! I can’t promise just how often I’ll actually review anything, but since this struck my fancy, I’ll just go for it.

As you may or may not know, I’m a somewhat big fan of The Legend of Zelda. In fact, two of the series’ games make up my top three games of all time. I have a strange history with the series after 1998, though. I found myself really wanting to enjoy Ocarina of Time, but simply losing interest (and quite frankly, becoming horribly bored with the game) after getting about halfway through. I tried playing another three times since then, and each time I got through less of the game before it bored me to tears. I started Wind Waker and got to the second dungeon before my now-classic “randomly dropped the game” syndrome kicked in. I didn’t play Twilight Princess at all, and instead watched Meri play through the entire thing. See, she’s the 3D fan for the series, while I champion the 2D games. It all works out in the end.

Regardless of this fact, I still adore the story and implementation of Ocarina of Time in nearly every way, even if I never got through the game. To know that there was a manga series about it certainly raised a nerdy interest in me, and when I heard that Viz would be bringing it state-side, I was all over that.

I think it’s really important to take a quick look at the ways in which I’ve viewed Link as a character, though. With the exception of Zelda II‘s wonderful, “I FOUND A MIRROR UNDER THE TABLE“, Link has essentially been mute from his debut onward (with the additional exception of fighting noises from the N64 era onward). This, however, is only in gameplay. There have been other areas in which Link has fleshed himself out a little bit, and I wanted to look at some American and Japanese examples that form my idea on just who exactly Link is before diving into the manga review.

With the games themselves out of the way (and ignoring anything and everything on the CD-i), there’s no getting around the Super Mario Bros. Super Show‘s special Friday inclusion of the Zelda cartoon. Link suddenly became a snarky horn dog, far removed from the emotionless splash of pixels we had all become used to playing. The iconic, “Well excuuuuuuuuse ME, Princess!” ended up defining Link as a character for many fans for many years, probably up until around the time that more games came out to help wash away the memories (don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the show!). It seemed like an all-too-obvious American, 1980s/1990s take on the character, and is certainly the most distinct of any incarnation.

Let’s jump over to Japan, though.

The first Zelda manga I ever picked up was actually a gift for Meri sometime shortly after 2000; it was one of the 4-koma comic series. For those unfamiliar, think of your typical American comic strip in a newspaper. The panels are the same size, run consecutively/chronologically, and tell a short (usually humorous) story. Series like Azumanga Daioh also were released in the 4-koma style. In this particular manga, there are a whole bunch of these very short (funny!) strips throughout the issue. Picking up bombs, finding hidden places… all the usual scenarios you would expect to play in a Zelda game are represented. While I cannot fluently read any of the text, the artwork is enough to get the hilarity across.

At Otakon 2007, one of the Japanese bookstores was unloading cheap copies of Akira Himekawa‘s manga, so I picked up two random volumes. These would be the versions that Viz would eventually bring out to the US about a year later. I didn’t do much other than flip through them, but I could tell that Link was at least talking with other characters and going about with his adventures almost exactly as we saw (and played) in the respective video games.

This takes us up to the American release of the manga, and the actual “review” of it (geeze, it seemed like it took a long time to get here!). With all of these “versions” of Link in mind, it was tough to jump into this and figure out how to accept him as a character. Add to that the fact that Viz brought it out under the “Viz Kids” label, and as a guy in his mid/late-20s, you start really wondering how or why you should read it at all.

Yes, there will be “spoilers” in this review (both for the original story from the game, as well as new plot points added to this manga).

Since this particular manga tells the story of Ocarina of Time, I found myself assuming the role of that Link in my head, and I did so pretty easily. I knew where the story was going and how it was going to get there, but also knew that some plot points may be different.

It was a little tough to get used to a character that was so verbose, especially since Ocarina of Time (the video game this manga is based on) really solidified the “mute” Link. He clearly has “conversations” in the game, but you only ever get the OTHER characters’ side of it. Instead, the manga presents us with a character not afraid to show emotion both with his body and his voice, and even has plenty of internal monologue moments. It makes sense, and most likely wouldn’t work too well as a manga without these traits (though I’m sure plenty of doujinshi have explored this).

The story had enough nods to exact scenes from the video game to satisfy that itch, but also presented enough new plot points and character development to make me want to read it rather than just go play the game for myself, instead.

Things directly from the game that I liked included Saria waiting for Link by the bridge on the outskirts of the forest, carrying Princess Ruto around for a while inside Jabu-Jabu, and shooting an arrow into the painting to fight against the ghost/spirit version of Ganondorf.

Some of the new elements are what really help the story shine, though. The Stalfos that gets personified as something more than just a random, nameless bad-guy (it meets and battles Link both in the past and future) was a nice touch. One of the most heart-breaking parts of the manga was Link’s little dragon friend that was corrupted into an evil beast, which Link was forced to behead and kill in order to save the Gorons.

Even with a couple of these more “intense” story moments, they are not enough to bring the entire package to anything more than standard kids fare (and at times, maybe a little too childish). The Zelda franchise wouldn’t attempt to show its slightly darker side until Twilight Princess (though I’d argue that the Nightmares in Link’s Awakening did it first), so while it does make sense to have this particular manga be so heavy on the children focus, it might partially alienate the fans that have grown up with the series looking to jump into the manga. Sure, the manga is eight years old at this point, but I don’t see myself having too different an opinion on these elements eight years ago, either.

At the same time, what else should I expect? Nothing, really. I expected a children’s manga, and that is exactly what I got. Perhaps I was hoping for a couple extra bits here and there that might be more “adult” in tone, but it was not meant to be. That being said, I don’t mean to diminish what is actually presented and done well, which is the vast majority of what I’ve read.

I found the artwork a little busy and confusing at times (I had the same thoughts recited back to me by Meri, so I know I’m not alone). The logical flow didn’t always seem so logical, and the fading of edges and spreads could be misleading. The art seems to be very shoujo in style with trends of shounen story development (and with “Akira Himekawa” actually being a pen name for “A. Honda” and “S. Nagano” [both women], and the Zelda series also having a strong female fanbase, this makes a lot of sense).

One thing that made my inner-nerd rise up in protest (both figuratively and literally, in that I couldn’t resist pointing it out to Meri) was the note on one of the in-between-chapter pages showcasing Link on top of Epona which says, “It’s unusual for him to hold his sword in his left hand.” Sorry, ladies! Link has exclusively been left-handed throughout his entire history, and wouldn’t be shown holding a sword in his right hand until the Wii version of Twilight Princess at least six years after this manga’s publication! Sure, it’s just a minor thing, but if they were going to make such an obvious note of it, that note should not be so glaringly incorrect!

One important “defect” with this particular Viz version of the release is the misalignment and binding of some of the pages (mostly toward the middle and later on in the volume). It seems to have been placed too far into the middle of the book, rendering the ends of some sentences completely unreadable. Hopefully this is fixed in future printings (this particular version I own is the first printing from October 2008).

While I have only gotten around to reading the first volume of the Ocarina of Time series (of two total), I look forward to grabbing the second volume and all subsequent releases (hopefully Majora’s Mask, etc.). Volumes one and two are available now from Viz under the “Viz Kids” label for $7.99 a pop. It’s a nice way for me to quickly re-experience games that I enjoy in theory, but can just never fully get into when I sit down to play.

My Podcasting Setup

My buddy Kevin has asked me a couple things about my podcasting equipment lately, so I decided it would be helpful to a few people if I just put it all out there. In the end though, I don’t know how “helpful” it will be, since anyone with more experience than me will see my utter incompetence with audio! I have next to no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve somehow managed to create shows that sound at least halfway listenable. You’ve already read about my “podcasting empire”, so feel free to check out any of the shows to get an idea for how it all sounds (keeping in mind that we record Lo-Fidelity over at Jeff’s on his computer, though it’s all my equipment + his own microphone).

So back in mid 2005, I decided I was going to jump on this “podcast” bandwagon with Daizenshuu EX. I was looking for something “new” to try out, and I always liked doing things bigger & better with that site. For our first episode, I’m pretty sure I used a very cheap (~$10) headset I had lying around (which has since broken itself into a million pieces because it was so cheap). After that, I moved on to what most people seem to do when they have no idea: RadioShack!

Before getting into that, I should at least mention the way I record things. With Daizenshuu EX, we try to have Julian on as much as possible (which can be difficult when he’s over in Japan, but we do our damndest). I have found that for me, the best way to record him on my computers has always been to have CPU #1 output Skype to CPU #2, which records Julian on his own audio track. You may hear Dave & Joel do a “1, 2, 3, *clap*” during their recordings; turns out we do a very similar thing. This lets me line up the claps on both audio tracks so I can edit them together in sync with one another. I actually do the clapping myself which gets recorded on both tracks. I know, I know… I just said that Julian gets recorded on his own track. Let me explain.

My main computer is a Windows XP machine (started out using our Shuttle, but have since moved on to our big XPS; this doesn’t really matter, though). All of the recording stuffage from our local side goes into the “line in” port on the computer. Here are my audio properties while recording:

You’ll note that the “Line-In” port is muted on the local side. This is a bit misleading. What it is actually doing is preventing any audio coming in over that port from being output from the line-out port. In a nutshell, it comes in (and gets recorded), but doesn’t go out. This allows me to:

(1) Run Skype on CPU #1
(2) Record myself on CPU #1
(3) Only have Skype’s audio running over the line-out port to CPU #2

Is this a great way to do things? Probably not. Are there better ways? Probably. It works for me, though. It allows me to have separate audio tracks for each of us, which means I can process the audio differently for each of us (there is more “clean-up” that needs to be done on Julian’s than on our own, mostly just due to it being over Skype).

Right now I am outputting to a computer running Ubuntu, which itself records into Audacity, the same as on my Windows XP machine. In this particular case, the OS on CPU #2 is completely irrelevant… it just needs to record whatever I want to send to it.

You might still be asking how I line up my own claps on both audio tracks if I don’t record myself on CPU #2. Easy. I temporarily “un-mute” that line-in on CPU #2, so I’m recorded on both tracks. Once I clap, I just turn it off and it’s back to Julian by himself being recorded on CPU #2.

So let’s get back to equipment. After abandoning crappy headsets for an episode (or two; I don’t remember), I was off to RadioShack. I ended up getting their more basic equipment, which worked perfectly fine for a while. In fact, it still works, but we’ve since eclipsed the sound quality by miles.

I started out with the RadioShack 4 Channel Stereo Sound Mixer ($30). It’s an incredibly basic little mixer that has four 1/4-inch inputs with their own individual volume controls, two sets of RCA inputs, and one set of RCA outputs. I have never really used those inputs, but the output goes from the RCA-to-1/8-inch (standard headset) adapter, which would be plugged into the line-in on CPU #1. For mics, I bought a bunch of their cheapest unidirectional dynamic microphones (~$20-30; similar item). Since everyone was recording into their own mics, unidirectional seemed the way to go (recording from just one, head-on direction). I eventually purchased their cheap omnidirectional microphone ($30), but never did much with it.

That stuff worked for us for… well… I don’t even remember. Quite a long period of time. Maybe two years…? With a combination of tweaking levels and working with other software (things like Levelator), I was able to get it sounding halfway decent. There was a huge room for improvement, though, and once I realized we were actually serious about this, I decided to upgrade equipment.

To this day, though, I still use their desktop microphone stands ($11) and gooseneck microphone extensions ($8). I also have their standard “Heavy Duty Microphone Stand with Cast-Iron Base” ($28), which is mostly used for playing Rock Band, though we also toss Jeff’s mic into it (since his mic doesn’t use a shock-mount like the MXL 990s). Definitely time to upgrade to some boom stands, though. Anyway…

When it was time to upgrade equipment, I figured that since I didn’t actually know the technical ins-and-outs of audio, I should get some quality material, but not go completely overboard. After doing a bit of research, I ended up with the Behringer Eurorack UB802 ($60) for a mixer, and the MXL 990 condenser microphone ($50-70). I am able to get a really nice sound out of these, which is leagues ahead of anything I was able to get out of RadioShack equipment.

That only covers me, though. What about Meri? What about other local guests? Well, I suppose I could have gotten the next step up with the Behringer mixers with additional XLR inputs for mics (I actually did get the 1202 for work earlier this year, which is great), but we have been able to manage. I tend to end up with Jeff’s microphone here a lot, so if it’s here, I toss it over to Meri (or I have another MXL 990 sitting around, which also works). For the record, Jeff has a Shure 8900 dynamic microphone ($50).

More than two of us? That’s a problem, since the 802 only has the two XLR inputs, and I can’t get enough volume/gain out of the old RadioShack mics by plugging them directly into the 802. I need to pre-amp them with… gasp… the old RadioShack mixer.

Yep. For right now, if I have three or more people locally recording, I use a combination of the Behringer and RadioShack mixers. The RadioShack mics go into the RadioShack mixer like always (and up to a volume of about three or four), which then gets output as a whole over to the “Tape In” on the Behringer mixer. That can allow me up to six people locally recording with their own microphones, though this is not an ideal situation. Any more than one extra mic starts to really contribute to extra noise, which is a real pain to deal with cleaning.

So that basically takes us up to today and how we record shows. I do all of my recording into Audacity, and use a combination of its own noise removal filter and Levelator to balance out shows. I actually piece together segments with their bumper music over in Adobe Premiere, since I like the easy drag-and-drop of the timeline more than trying to do it in Audacity.

My typical Daizenshuu EX workflow looks something like this:

(1) Turn off cell phones, test levels, make sure everything’s recording on its proper audio track, etc.
(2) Record actual episode
(3) Export the two individual audio tracks from each computer
(4) Toss each audio track into Levelator
(5) Bring the levelated audio back into a new Audacity project
(6) Run noise removal on each individual audio track
(7) Drag both processed audio tracks into another new Audacity project
(8) Line up the claps from each audio track
(9) Edit episode
(10) Export, encode, etc.

There’s still so much for me to learn and things I specifically want to learn about, but it’s pretty daunting. I’d love to upgrade to a bigger mixer at some point. I would also love to learn about things like noise gates and compressors (I’ve had my eyes on the DBX 266XL Compressor Gate for a while; ~$120). I’ve heard Rym note a few times that for podcasting purposes, dynamic mics are better than condenser mics, so I’d like to investigate that a little more (I do think that my mic picks up more than it should and then messes with the balance a little bit; I also can’t wait to move and not have things like our current loud refrigerator always being picked up). I’d also like to move toward non-analog input. I’ve played with the Behringer U-CONTROL UCA200 USB Adapter (UCA-202; $30 sold separately) that came with the 1202 mixer, and it does help cut out a tiny bit of noise. Unfortunately, the USB interface seems to take over and negate what I’m used to doing with the muting input going to CPU #2, which totally throws off any Skype recording I would need to do.

So that’s basically it! If anyone’s interested, I’d be more than happy to further explain how I do things, but I have to follow that up by saying that I literally have no idea what I’m doing and continue to be learning as I go along. I’d love additional suggestions and clarifications from people if you have anything to offer!

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