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Month: September 2010

Ye Olden “Proud Of Myself” Story

As you can probably tell from the various podcast episodes I have done (including here on vgconvos), while I love topical discussions, I also adore old stories. Anything filled to the brim with reminiscence is right up my alley. I love hearing how people grew up with games, how those games affected their lives, and any little vignettes they care to relay.

This is one of those quick, old stories.

I have spoken before at length about Zelda II and whether or not I actually like the game. I shared how I have never actually beaten the game myself, but a childhood friend has the personal glory of owning a save slot on my cartridge with a completed game (and amazingly enough, my game’s battery still has not croaked):

Rewind to the previous game: the original Legend of Zelda.

Mike C. was always a slightly-better gamer than I was — not significantly so, but enough to impress me just enough without leaving me scornfully jealous. It was definitely fun times. We both played the Hell out of the first game, sitting down for long nights in front of the TV (long after our parents thought we were asleep) and trading the controller back and forth on levels and save slots. Mike C. beat the first quest before I did, and the two of us turned our attention toward the rumored-yet-true second quest.

Anyone who has played the original Zelda knows how completely arbitrary some of its discoveries can be. Burn a random tree here, and you found a cheap store. Bomb a random area of wall here, and you found an old man who steals your money. In the second quest specifically, walk through this random wall that cannot be bombed and shows no signs of passage in any way, and you found a hidden passage. Once you realized that only one “secret” would be present on any single screen, things fell into place a little more…  but it still felt very “random”, even with the amazing feeling of accomplishment.

It is that combination of “randomness” and “accomplishment” that gave me one of my only one-ups on Mike C. with the second quest. We roamed the map for days looking for level six, but could not find it. Level seven was a tree burn, sure, and we found that one ahead of time no problem… but where the Hell was level six…?!

Its original location held no clues, but I was convinced that it would still be around the graveyard in some capacity. We pushed every grave stone. We bombed every wall. Nothing…

… nothing, that is, until one night by myself when I decided to blow the whistle/recorder on each of the six graveyard screens:

Words can not describe how proud I was of my child self, and how devilish it felt to be the one to share the information with my buddy.

Now the 360’s Fridge is Full

(Has it really been five months since the last blog post? Holy crap. Time flies when you’re having fun.)

One of the reasons I wanted to pick up an Xbox 360 was, believe it or not, how great of a service Xbox Live seemed to be. In addition to the integrated friends list and all that standard goodness, the titles available on the platform seemed like a blast. From old arcade classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, to new takes on old games like Uno, to entirely new experiences like Geometry Wars… well, I wanted in.

Microsoft always painted themselves into a corner by having to support the “Arcade” unit of the system which did not come with a hard drive, eventually resorting to packing in some amount of on-board storage to support their own initiatives. It seemed strange to split your consumer base in this day and age, something Sega learned the hard way with the Sega CD and 32X a decade earlier.

A few years have passed since then. We have been updated to a whole new “experience” with a new interface. The restrictions on how big a downloadable game must be have been lifted, and then lifted again... and lifted what seems like several more times since then. Current games like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light now kick around in the 2 GB range. 50 MB seems hilariously quaint by comparison.

What about me, though? I am a gamer. I knew which system model to get back then — I got the standard model with the 20 GB hard drive, of course! I had all sorts of downloadable games I wanted to check out, and the upcoming Guitar Hero III and especially Rock Band were going to need all sorts of space for DLC!

Flash-forward again to 2010. I have 4 MB of space left on my Xbox 360 hard drive.

I have removed as much as humanly possible while still keeping the necessities. No music videos initially installed to the drive. No extra game demos. It is an epic struggle every few weeks when a new Rock Band Network (or even just standard, weekly DLC) song comes out and I need to juggle some space around. Sure, a USB stick is an option for a couple small items… but with the entire original Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band installed to the hard drive, and now not having enough room for Lego Rock Band (never mind installing Rock Band 2 for when 3 comes out next month)… those dongles just are not going to cut it.

At the time, 20 GB seemed like plenty of space for a game console that was still primarily disc-based. We all saw the purely-digital-delivery revolution coming down the line, but not enough of us anticipated just how much it would come this same generation.

Needless to say, I am in the market for a new Xbox 360 hard drive. 60 GB (the amount Microsoft eventually began including as “standard”) seems like enough for me… for now, anyway. That should cover the Rock Band installs I need to do, along with plenty of room for demos and XBLA games (looking at you Lara Croft and Limbo). The question is… is it really enough? If I could not anticipate 20 GB not being enough, having all the experience that I now possess, is it incredibly short-sighted to think that 60 GB will carry me to the end? A used 60 GB hard drive runs about $35-40; a used 120 GB runs about $45-50. Should I just spend the extra couple bucks on double the more-than-double the space? Buying “new” is out of the question almost on principle alone, as Microsoft is well-known for entirely gouging with their accessory pricing.

That all being said, let us not forget about our ol’ pal the PS3, either — with all of the mandatory installs, that 40 GB hard drive is typically hovering in the range of only having one or two free gigs. At least that one can be easily replaced

So Hey, We Made An AMV This Year

Those of you who have followed Daizenshuu EX for an extended period of time may be familiar with the sudden drop in productivity sometime around April through June each year. It is during this time that the wife and I turn our attention to working on an Anime Music Video for Otakon’s contest. We have been submitting since about 2001, and have been regular finalists (either individually or collaboratively, depending on the video) since about 2003-2004.

In 2009, we did not make a single AMV. It was the first year we did not do so since 2000 when I got into the game — we did not even make so much as a trailer! My combination of apathy and laziness toward the hobby was rubbing off on Meri as well, and we simply did not get around to making anything that year. Especially after what we were able to create back in 2007, I felt like I had tapped out any imagination I had left. I was pretty damn satisfied.

(Insert generic description about the life-long friends we made from our years in the hobby, still enjoying watching fantastic video output, the amazing creativity people have, yadda yadda yadda…)

We wanted to make something for Otakon 2010, though. It was the only convention we were going to be attending this year, and with so many friends no longer submitting videos (or working on the intro to the contest, instead), our quasi-vested-interest in seeing the overall contest was waning. Also, to be frank… the last few years of Otakon’s contest have been pretty difficult to sit through. I just have not enjoyed them as a whole. I have always said (as both an editor and a coordinator) that if you don’t like the contest, your only course of action as an editor is to put up or shut up — either make a video that you are proud of and submit it, or quit yer whinin’.

So we tried that this year.

The two of us really love songs that tell a story — you look at examples like our Kare Kano video “Fake” from a few years back, and you can see how much we enjoy a song that so perfectly captures the feeling of a series and its characters in mood, sure, but also does so via its lyrics. Is it us (again) just being lazy? Perhaps.

Cage the Elephant’sAin’t No Rest For The Wicked” was getting lots of local radio play earlier this year with their album getting re-released (and apparently used in the opening to Borderlands, unbeknownst to us). The song was bound to hit us. The song has a great story to it. The song has a great attitude to it. It didn’t take much convincing from Meri before I agreed to it.

We agreed that it should be a multi-source video with a well-defined cast of characters: (1) the main character who comes across these “wicked” folks, (2) the whore, (3) the thief, and (4) the preacher. It was painfully obvious to us (as you will read later on) that Spike from Cowboy Bebop would make the perfect main character — Spike always works well with other series, and the old west vibe of the song fits in a little too well with the aesthetic of the show. Wolfwood from Trigun was the second easiest to cast, literally being a preacher with baggage, conflict, greed, and internal torture. The others were a little more difficult. We wanted to stick with shows in a 4:3 format to avoid cropping, so any more recent stuff was pretty out of the question. Choosing a notable character to act as the thief who holds up the main character at gunpoint was a tough one. We ended up going with Alucard from the Hellsing TV series (as opposed to Ultimate in its 16:9 format) since he definitely has a gun at all times, and he seemed like he might work well clashing up with Spike. The whore was the most difficult to cast — we did not want to go with Faye, since the other characters were all from different universes, so who would it be? What notable female characters could work in this context? We eventually settled upon Lust from the first Fullmetal Alchemist due to it also being in 4:3, and her demeanor fitting in well with the rest of the cast.

What would the point of the video actually be, though…? One morning en route the train station, I had the brilliant idea: Spike would kill them all…!

That proved a little more difficult than I thought. I remembered Fullmetal Alchemist entirely wrong, and we therefore had no footage to show Lust being killed. Alucard can’t die. Huh. All right, then. Our goal as creative editors is to tell the story we want to tell, though, and we ultimately (to quote Tim Gunn) had to just make it work. We are already making something “new” by combining the video and audio, so to take things out of context and tell that brand-new story really is the whole point!

We decided early on that we did not want to do a whole lot of compositing, and instead (to keep things simple for our lazy selves, and also as a partial challenge) wanted to be clever with our editing. No overboard effects. Keep it clean. Sophisticated. Appropriate for the music.

In the end, we only had one composite shot (someone else’s hand being turned into Alucard’s glove pointed at Spike), with the rest handled through creative editing and cuts.

OK… so there is actually another composite shot later in the video, too… for whatever reason, I don’t classify that in my mind the same way. I guess ‘cuz it’s on a TV.

The most difficult section to edit was the first chorus — it was also the last section we edited. The second and third verses feature a very distinct style of editing, which transitions into more traditional cuts for their respective choruses. The first verse+chorus combo of the video had none of this. There was no consistency! What could we do?! The problem was that the bass introduced in the second verse is not present in the first section of the song, which is what the masks and swipes were being timed to later in the video.

To be honest, we ran out of time and imagination before the Otakon deadline. Neither of us were happy with anything we tried. We had to show Spike somehow brushing her off and ultimately shooting her, but how could we do that with nothing interesting happening in the music yet? We ultimately went with a pretty awful split-screen (top and bottom) showing scenes of each character. Just cuts on a beat. No fades. No swipes. Nothing. It was ugly. It was not something I was proud of, but there was no more time before the contest submission deadline.

Something we had never done before was further edit a video after submitting it to a contest. Done is done, right? I was not about to let this one slide, though. It took us a month (and the impending Anime Weekend Atlanta Exposition AMV Contest deadline) to get it done, but we did. We wanted to do something that would set up the style of edits that would happen in the second and third sections of the video, so a similar style of masks and motion came into play. That bass still didn’t exist earlier in the song, so the timing was based off the lyrics, instead. There are still some split-screens at the end of the segment, but things at least have a flow to them, now. The execution style and initial editing was all Meri, while the timing and direction was all me. Good teamwork!

There you go. We made an AMV this year. Short and sweet, clocking in at just under three minutes. Is it my favorite video that we have ever worked on? Not by a long shot. Forcing these characters into this story certainly worked, but not as “perfect” as I would have hoped. I do think it is a fun video, which is pretty interesting considering that it is so clearly a “Drama/Serious” video underneath it all. What do you think? The attendees at Otakon seemed to like it, as we actually won first place for the first time ever in their contest. Huh.

(Yes, we will be putting up a downloadable version in the near-future. Just haven’t gotten around to it yet.)

I was tossing this out on Twitter one day, but I thought it would be fun to collect a bunch of links here to go along with this post. We never bothered to look to see if anyone else had made an AMV with this song (of course they would have), but it is fun to take a look afterward and see what is out there. Would they use any of the sources we used? Hilariously enough, all four of our sources have been used to make individual videos to the song!

There are a ton of other ones out there, too. Take a gander through YouTube. Funny stuff.

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