Author Archives: Blane Singletary

Don’t Copy That Floppy! Or Cartridge…

The war on illegal software piracy and copying is as old as computer software itself. “Don’t Copy That Floppy” was the big PSA campaign used by the Software Piracy Association (now known as the Software & Information Industry Association) in 1992, when copying a computer game was literally as easy as 1, 2, 3. Today we have DRM, Digital Rights Management, which uses a variety of methods to make sure you’re playing a game or watching a movie you legitimately paid money for, and didn’t just download or torrent from someone. It’s a whole lot harder to get away with piracy today than it was 20 years ago, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even when it seems like a software company is a step ahead, hackers always find a way to break their new encryption technique. And over the years, some of  these techniques have been very creative.

On the home console side, Nintendo was the leader in the fight against software piracy. In around 1994, the illegal copying of Super Nintendo cartridges was on the rise. The standard in the industry at the time was to use a bit of code called a “checksum.” This is a check that happens usually when you turn on the console. (Much like the region check I posted about earlier.) It adds up a block of code in the game’s memory and checks the sum of that code with a defined number of what it should be. If the sums match, the game runs. If they don’t, it means that something has probably been modified, and it stops the game from functioning. But most software pirates had easily figured out how to bypass that check. So Nintendo decided to try something different this time around with a new game they had coming out: EarthBound. On its own, it’s a remarkable RPG, and probably one of my favorite video games of all time. But even more remarkable is the many anti-piracy safeguards that, in some cases, play tricks on the would-be software pirate.

Nintendo’s first line of defense is a few bits of code that, on startup, checks the SRAM of the cartridge, which is the part where your progress is saved. An official, Nintendo-produced cartridge has 8 kilobytes here, but many copied cartridges have more. So, if this check finds the cart has more than 8KB, it displays the screen on the right and doesn’t allow the game to go any further. Should that test pass, the normal checksum check I mentioned earlier will take place, and if it fails that, it’s back to that blue-orange screen again. If it passes both of these checks, the game boots up normally.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. As I mentioned, software pirates are able to get through these initial checks with great ease. So Nintendo’s next line of defense comes up once you load up your saved game file. It runs another modification check,(Not a checksum, though. It just seems to be checking one variable to make sure it’s zero.) and if this test fails, it doesn’t stop the game, but instead it makes WAY more enemies appear! (See image to the left.) It’s a unique effort, to say the least. It makes the game very difficult and ultimately unenjoyable to scare off the software pirate. But hey, some gamers enjoy a challenge, which is where Nintendo’s last line of defense comes in.

When you get about halfway through the game’s final battle, the game performs one last checksum. But this time, if the test fails, it crashes the game. The screen freezes, and all you can do is turn the game off or press reset. But when you turn the game back on, you confront every gamer’s worst nightmare:

It wipes out your saved games! All the game progress you spent months or even years on goes down the drain and you’re forced to start back at square one! It’s a harsh move by Nintendo to stop cartridge copying, but in a way, shows what piracy does to a software company: it makes all their hard work count for nothing, since they won’t get any money from the illegal copies sold. Unfortunately for Nintendo, the software pirates found a way to track down all the anti-piracy checks and disable them. Copies of the game’s ROM (read-only memory) with crippled anti-piracy codes have been discovered around the internet.

The fight continues in the present day as software developers come up with new, seemingly foolproof ways to safeguard their hard work, but at the same time, software pirates will work just as hard to circumvent them. The war on software piracy continues, and most likely will as long as computer software is around.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

The Duty of a Broadcaster

This past Thursday, we had a tornado drill at the Don Morris building, where KACU is housed. I received an email earlier that week explaining what each of the faculty members should do, evacuation routes, etc. But one thing that really got me was that it said that the on-air announcer had to stay behind to relay information, had this been an actual tornado, and at the time of the drill, I was the on-air announcer.

At first I was a little uncomfortable. While everyone else evacuated to safer grounds, I was supposed to stay where I was: in a radio control room surrounded by soundproof windows. I thought, sarcastically, “Wow! I sure feel safe!” But upon further thinking, I began to realize that this was really part of the job.

As a broadcaster and journalist, it’s my duty to relay the important information that others need to know, and to tell the story of what’s happening in what might not always be the safest area. While most broadcasters aren’t directly in harm’s way as often as, say, the armed forces, there are still times when disaster strikes in the blink of an eye, and we need to be there to tell the story, and give the information as it happens accurately and efficiently.

There are some journalists and broadcasters who are in harms way just about as often as our troops, because they travel with our troops. They relay information and stories from the battlefield back home to a country who is concerned about their sons and daughters fighting abroad. Other broadcasters and journalists spend weeks on end in extremely hostile areas such as Libya and Syria, where free speech and press is anything but encouraged. But it’s all part of the job, and some people like Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, two photojournalists killed in their line of duty this week while reporting on the ever-violent situation in Libya, put it all on the line and made the ultimate sacrifice to get the message out, in a land where the media is conspicuously controlled.

Now, as I begin to move more into the professional field and begin to wonder how much more my chosen occupation will ask of me in the near future, I realize that sometimes the situation will call for me to be in the path of the storm. It will ultimately be up to me to have courage to stay calm and tell the story when more people than ever will want to hear it. It will be easy to just run away, but if I don’t tell the story, who will?

Top 5 iPhone Games You Should Be Playing Instead of “Angry Birds”

At the beginning of this year, Angry Birds was knocked off it’s perch at the top spot in the iPhone App Store after months and months ruling the roost. Of course it’s presence (which includes the original Angry Birds and a few of it’s many variations) in the App Store Top 25 lists, smartphones of all shapes and sizes, and now in children’s board games is still extremely strong. I’ve tried it, and I think it’s alright, but certainly not one of the best iOS games out there. Here’s a few of my picks that I think shoot Angry Birds out of the sky!

#5 – Fast Striker – $.99

NG:DEV.TEAM has been credited with keeping now obsolete consoles like the Neo-Geo and the Sega Dreamcast alive years after they were discontinued by their respective companies. “Fast Striker” is their first game on the iPhone and their first foray into mainstream gaming. It’s a port of their Neo-Geo game of the same name, (also available on Dreamcast) which pushed the 20-year old console to it’s limits. Of course, the iPhone has no problem keeping up, and it looks gorgeous! It’s a shoot-em-up in the same vein as “Star Soldier” where the goal is to score as many points as possible. With four game modes, this game has plenty of replay value long after you make it through the game’s 6 challenging stages. Using pre-rendered polygonal models, the game creates a metallic landscape with tons of enemies shooting hundreds of bullets, which all move smoothly on-screen. It’s definitely something that the simple screenshot I posted won’t do justice to. At 99 cents, it’s easy to see this for yourself, and hear the rocking techno-trance soundtrack that’s sure to make people want to look over on your iDevice’s screen. It might take you a few tries to really get the feel for this shooter, but give it a chance you’ll be blasting entire armadas of ships in no time!

#4 – The Texting of the Bread – $1.99

This game is, in a sense, a parody of “The Typing of the Dead,” which itself was a parody of “The House of the Dead,” a series of zombie shooter games by Sega. In this game you must fend off wave after wave of evil zombie-like gingerbread men by typing the words that appear above their heads using the on-screen iPhone keyboard. Sounds easy, and if you’re a fast texter you’ll breeze through the first few levels, but then you start encountering the enemies that take two or three words to kill, followed by the giant gingerbread boss that takes a short paragraph to kill! No one said surviving the gingerbread apocalypse was easy, right? After getting through the story-mode, you can see how long you can last in Survival Mode, where they literally just… keep… coming! This game from ScrewAttack is a must-have for the txt savvy iPhone gamer.

#3 – Bit.Trip: BEAT – $.99 

When this game by Gaijin Games first hit WiiWare, it won tons of indie game awards. A jump to the iPhone, which at the time was a growing platform for indie developers, seemed like a match made in heaven. If you owned an Atari 2600 or played some variation of Pong or Breakout, you’ll feel right at home with this game. Using you paddle, controlled by tilting your device for that nice retro controller touch, you have to hit back the incoming bits. It starts out easy, but gets mind-blowingly challenging towards the end of the game! To help you out, the bits come in time with the music, that you’ll probably find stuck in your head hours after you’ve played this game. (The soundtrack, believe it or not, is also available on iTunes.) Like most games of this sort, it’s easy to learn, difficult to master, and you’ll find yourself trying to beat the scores on the game center leaderboard. You can also co-op with up to three people either locally or online. This game brings back the fun of yesteryear, mixed with a bit of modern flair to make a game you’ll be coming back to a lot!

#2 – Chu Chu Rocket – $2.99 

10 years ago, Sega released Chu Chu Rocket on the Dreamcast as the one of the first console games to feature online multi-player. Since then the servers have closed, but the game received new life when it hit the App Store last Fall. This is a complete port of the Dreamcast game, but with the newly implemented touch screen controls, this game feels like it was made for the iPhone! The goal is simple: you need to direct the ChuChus (mice) from their hole into the rocket, but at the same time you must avoid the evil orange space cats! You do this by placing arrows with a swipe of your finger to direct them around the game’s 500 mazes and challenges. But this game really shines in the multi-player modes. It’s fast-paced, frantic action that you and three others can enjoy, by either local bluetooth or online. Sega designed this to be a party game, so this means the tables can turn at the drop of a cat… err, hat. When you get this game, you’ll be partying like it’s 1999!

#1 – Street Fighter IV – $4.99

Truth be told, this isn’t the best version of Street Fighter IV, but for an iPhone game this is one of the best looking, and one of the case-makers for the iPhone as a serious gaming handheld. As I mentioned in my review of Capcom Arcade, one of the biggest obstacles in the way of iPhone gaming is the fact that it has no buttons, but finally, someone did it right! The onscreen controls work extremely well. As a veteran Street Fighter, I was able to jump right in and hurl a few hadokens at my opponent! For new players, the game is inviting with special move assists, but still has the depth of a Street Fighter game that experienced players should enjoy. The animation is extremely smooth, perhaps not as much as its XBOX360 and PS3 counterparts, but for iPhone standards, this works great. If you’ve wanted to get into the Street Fighter franchise, this is a great place to start.

The iPhone may not have as good a library as a dedicated portable game console such as the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP, but it’s certainly has some titles not to be missed if you own an iDevice. Games in the App Store are designed for intermittent gaming sessions on the go. They’re easy to pick up and play, and are easy to put on hold. Big name game developers like Capcom, Sega, Namco, and a myriad of indie developers are just beginning to get below the surface of what this device is capable of, and many industry journalists such as myself will be keeping an eye on it for years to come.

* all prices accurate as of the time of writing

Winning, and What Comes After

Last week, my fellow Journalism Mass Communications (JMC) colleagues and I attended the annual Texas Intercollegiate Press Association (TIPA) conference in Fort Worth. There we attended seminars on how to improve our craft. We also competed against colleges and universities statewide in on-site and mailed in competitions. As is well known by now, KACU cleaned up, and usually does at this event’s competitions, consistently beating out the even likes of TCU’s prestigious Schieffer School of Journalism. I believe Charlie Sheen put it best when he said, “Winning.”

Now it’s pretty easy to get a big head over this, and many people would. At last year’s awards ceremony in Kerrville, when my name kept getting called for 1st place, I wasn’t sure how I should feel. I’m anything but a conceited or overly proud person, but I had obviously hit a good groove. After I got home, I also began to wonder what I should do as far as my journalistic work from that point forward. It had already seemed like I hit the top… where do I go from here?

Many sports heroes retire when they feel satisfied with their career. But I’ve barely started mine. What’s worse is that you don’t get any judges’ feedback on your entries, so you don’t know where, if anywhere, to improve. There was one mailed in competition that I got 2nd place in: Radio Production, where I entered my weekly radio show, “Eye on Entertainment.” As a result, I changed up its format, and made it a longer, 10-minute show. One of these new format shows won 1st the Gutenberg student competition late last year, so I considered it a success.

Fast forward to last week’s awards ceremony in Fort Worth. I still won awards in each competition I entered, but there weren’t as many 1st’s as last year. “Eye on Entertainment” even got second again in Radio Production. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was still proud of these accomplishments, but the big question in my mind was if I had actually taken a step backward? Was last year a fluke?

After mulling this over the past week, I realized that wasn’t the case. Even if I had a perfect year of placing first in every competition I entered, the competition is going to improve for next year, and the challenge is to always continue to improve with them. I already know of ways to continue to improve my craft for next year’s competition, which would be my last year of eligibility for the contest. More importantly, the professional world is a completely different ballgame, and I have steps to take for my work to make the cut in that hostile environment. So, in a way, I don’t have time to get a big head over the results. I have to reformulate my strategy constantly to keep up with this rapidly competitive battlefield.

Is it Ok to Import Video Games?

The prequel to Earthbound, only in Japan!Anyone who’s been in to video games any length of time can easily realize that Japan gets some great video games that never make it to the states. With the growth of the Internet, it’s much easier for American gamers like myself to find out about what we’ve been missing, and it’s also easier to get our hands on them now. There’s no denying there’s a market for imports; eBay and Amazon make trading overseas a breeze, and websites like Play-Asia.com, based in Hong Kong, are specifically designed for western consumers who want goods from the East. But with elaborate region lockout systems built into most home consoles, it can seem like there’s a reason behind keeping games in their country of origin.

The CIC, or lockout chip, from inside the NES console.Time for a quick tech history lesson. In 1985, the Nintendo Entrainment System was the first home console to feature a basic CIC, or lockout chip. Its primary goal was to discourage the flow of unlicensed games, which were blamed on the video game industry crash a few years earlier, but it also had the function of locking out games from other countries. It achieved this with a “lock and key” mechanism. One chip inside the console, the lock, (pictured) would check for a similar chip inside the cartridge, the key. If the cartridge’s chip checked out with the console’s chip, the game would run. Within the cart’s CIC is the region information for whatever game you’re playing and the consoles’s CIC checks for this as well. This means that a U.S. game can only run in a U.S. console, a Japanese game can only run in a Japanese console, and the same goes for other regions. (Similar to today’s DVD region coding.) This effectively keeps games from working outside their country of origin, but why?

The Super Mario Bros. 2 that you probably haven't played...The primary reason for a Japanese game not getting an American release is that either the developer, the publisher, or the localizer doesn’t think that the American audience will be receptive to the game. Even after translation, there can still be large references to Japanese culture that American gamers wouldn’t understand. An obscure Nintendo game known as “Doki Doki Panic” is a good example here. In some cases, a game will get held back if the game is thought to be too hard. This is the case for the original Super Mario Bros. 2, which in Japan was basically a harder version of the first game. (Now, what Nintendo did instead is pretty clever. Since Super Mario Bros. was wildly popular in the states and a sequel was pretty much required, Nintendo took Doki Doki Panic, changed it’s characters to Mario characters, and released it in the states as Super Mario Bros. 2! So when you think about it, SMB2 isn’t really a Mario game… doesn’t that blow your mind?)

Jump Ultimate StarsNow, in these cases, importing seems a-ok. But sometimes a game can’t make it over to the states due to copyright issues. A perfect example of this is the Nintendo DS game, “Jump Ultimate Stars.” This game features characters from many different manga and anime franchises in Japan, such as Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh, One Piece, Naruto, and countless others. In Japan, these franchises are all owned by Shonen Jump, but in the U.S. they are owned by dozens of different companies. It would have taken way too much time and money to get this properly licensed in the states, so it was left as a Japan-only exclusive.

Does this mean it’s illegal for me to own and play this game on my Nintendo DS here in the U.S. of A? (The DS, by the way, has no region lockout.) I think not. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and even before the proliferation of the internet, extremely dedicated gamers would travel to Japan to buy these exclusives, new. The sale is taking place in the country of its origin, the residuals are going to the right people. The transaction is completely identical to a native Japanese person buying the game. In the Internet age, its no different. If I were to go to Play-Asia or buy this from a Japanese vendor on Amazon, the financial transaction is still taking place overseas. (That said, it’s easy to unwillingly buy a pirated copy, which is illegal, but that’s another story.)

So, why have a regional lockout chip? Remember, its purpose was to discourage the sale of unlicensed games or the sale of imports outside of their country of origin, which starts to bring up legal issues. By making an imported game not work, people are less likely to sell them, since customers would be outraged and try to get their money back. In my opinion, if you, the consumer, have the means to acquire the game legally, the methods of which to circumvent the region lockout, (if necessary) and the courage to brave the language barrier, you should be able to enjoy some of the great games that never left the land of the rising sun.

Samurai Shodown III. The Sega Saturn version of this game was a Japan exclusive.

Spring Has Broken, and In Some Places More Than Others

Spring has sprung

The grass is ‘riz

I wonder where the flowers is…

~Anonymous

It’s safe to say that once temperatures hit 90 degrees, spring has hit the Big Country, or at least whatever bit of spring we end up with. As any West Texan with a sense of humor (or perhaps cynicism) will tell you, the four seasons of West Texas include Pre-Summer, Summer, Post-Summer, and Christmas. “Pre-Summer,” the season we’re entering into now, is known for its shorter, less intense bursts of summer heat coupled with the few remaining breaths of the strong “Post-Summer” winds.

This time, many Abilenians are welcoming the coming of Pre-Summer due to a longer, harsher “Christmas” weather season than in recent memory. For nearly a week, Abilene was covered in a thick shell of ice in what many have dubbed, “The Snowpocalypse.” But even in the depths of Christmas, West Texas weather never ceases to amaze. Both the week before and after the Snowpocalypse, high temperatures in the lower 80s were recorded, as the ice tried to thaw, then tried to re-freeze, then finally thawed. This strange temperature zig-zag is nothing new to residents of the Big Country, however. Another West Texas anecdote is that if you don’t like the current weather conditions, wait about five minutes. When I mention this oft-quoted saying, many people tell me, “Oh, that happens everywhere!” It’s clear to me that these people have never been to the southeast region of Louisiana.

Before my time in Abilene I used to live in the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette, Louisiana. It’s a small refinery town located about 6 miles east of the crescent city, and just barely 3 feet above sea level. It was the site of the famous “Battle of New Orleans,” where American forces dealt the final blow to the invading British army in the War of 1812. (The war had actually ended a month earlier when the Treaty of Ghent was signed, but that news didn’t make it to them until a month after this battle. Now, aren’t you glad we have Twitter?) Chalmette is also (in)conveniently located by the Gulf of Mexico and near the mouth of the Mississippi River. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the town was all but destroyed by what some eyewitnesses described as a tsunami-like deluge of floodwater. But Chalmatians are tough, and the town is coming back. In five years many of the businesses have reopened, and its streets were home to many Mardi Gras parades this past carnival season.

Natural disasters aside, our location bordering on two bodies of water means one thing weather wise: humidity. We got a lot of rain and when it wasn’t raining it was still incredibly humid. We have much less of a winter than Abilene. The winter before Katrina was the first snow we had in over a decade. There’s even less of a difference between seasons. Also, unlike Abilene’s swinging weather vane, Mother Nature made it clear by 10 AM what the weather was going to be like for the rest of the day. If it was going to be a hot, sticky summer’s day, you felt the sweat pouring down on the back of your neck by mid-morning. If it was going to be a gloomy rainy day, it was all coming down well before lunch. If it was going to be just plain cold… you get the idea. That’s not to say we didn’t have an unpredictable summer rain in the middle of a clear day every once in a while, but it wasn’t nearly as sporadic as pouring rain one hour, sunny sky the next as I’ve personally observed many times in Abilene.

But they say variety is the spice of life, and many people like it just fine when the weather can change at the drop of a hat, while others prefer if they can easily plan their day based on the current midmorning conditions. Northerners may have thought Abilene’s “Snowpocalypse” this past season was nothing special, while many Chalmatians like myself jump at any chance to experience even a slight bit of snow. Each area’s climate is unique and has its upsides and downsides. Some people pack up and move if they don’t like a town’s climate. But speaking as someone who’s lived through contrasting climates, I feel you ultimately learn to enjoy the weather you live in. You bloom where you’re planted, or transplanted as the case may be. I’d be okay moving back to a place like Chalmette one day even knowing first hand what nature can do to you in a place like that. In many cases it’s a number of other factors that keep us in a certain place, such as people we know, or memories we’ve had. In my opinion, the weather is merely the backdrop in front of which our lives take place, and sometimes the set designer can’t make up his mind!

Chuck Norris: 71 and Still (Roundhouse) Kicking!

Chuck Norris!Actor, martial artist, and honorary Texas Ranger Chuck Norris’ turned 71 yesterday. (Of course, Chuck Norris doesn’t have birthdays. It’s merely the number of times he’s pushed the Earth around the sun.) His larger than life image has propelled him to new heights of popularity even though he hasn’t starred in many movies in recent years. His last notable role was a reprisal of his most well known character: Cordell Walker in the made for TV movie Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial By Fire in 2005. It was around that time, that the well known Chuck Norris facts, the crux of his current popularity, began to pop up all over the Internet.

Believe it or not, the facts began as merely an offshoot of the “Vin Diesel Fact Generator.” More and more people began swapping Diesel’s name out for Norris, and a phenomenon was born. Chuck Norris himself wasn’t doing much in the public light, but according to the meme laden Internet he was pulling off superhuman, sometimes blatantly impossible feats. These began to spill into popular culture, to the point were Chuck himself was very aware of them. He never found them offensive, and even found some of them to be funny!

Chuck Norris' Martial Arts Style: Chun Kuk DoBut not even this new superhuman image can shake his foundation of being a humble man. Long before the scripts of his many feature films were written, Chuck Norris was a star in the martial arts world. He won many championships, and even created his own martial arts style, Chun Kuk Do, Korean for “The Universal Way. The art itself is similar to Tang Soo Do, but contains bits and pieces of the many martial art styles he’s learned over time, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At its heart, like the heart of many other styles, is a code of honor. This code contains 10 rules to live by on and off the mat, which reflect Chuck’s personal moral codes. The one that stands out to me in particular is the fifth rule: “If I have nothing good to say about a person, I will say nothing.” Being able to hold your tongue when your enemies verbally smite you is a superhuman feat in and of itself.

Chuck Norris hasn’t personally announced any big plans to return to the silver screen or the martial arts scene, though Sylvester Stallone has announced interest in working with Norris in a planned sequel to The Expendables, currently slated for 2012. But even if we never see Norris again in the public limelight, he will certainly be remembered, not just as an action star or a martial arts star, but as a person; a person who treated himself as an ordinary man while the rest of the world saw him as an extraordinary man.

Chuck Norris once shot down a German fighter jet by pointing his finger and yelling,

To Beard, Or Not To Beard?

William Fitzsimmons

William Fitzsimmons performs at Abilene’s Paramount theatre for a one night only concert tonight. This concert has been heavily promoted at KACU and around the community with posters bearing Fitzsimmons’ beard-clad face. Yesterday, I found someone looking deeply at one of the promotional posters right outside the station, wondering who he was. I explained to her a bit about him, and she commented on his long, bushy beard. I’ll admit, it draws my attention as well.

I remember thinking the same thing when Iron & Wine was coming to town. Not only is Iron & Wine normally considered to reside within the same musical genre with William Fitzsimmons, but  Sam Beam (Iron & Wine’s real name) has quite a beard to be reckoned with as well. Are beards the “in” look with indie folk rock musicians at the moment? Or is it perhaps a source of power?

As Samson’s hair gave him super-strength in the oft quoted Bible story, does a long, prominent beard give one the ability to achieve that laid-back vocal sound that’s all the rage in indie folk music? Their voices are quieter, the polar opposite of scream-o, like the acoustic instruments they frequently use in their songs. They are quieter, yet still very audible, and this works greatly to their advantage on the iTunes and MySpace stage, where these artists garner much acclaim.

Of course attributing beards directly to skill is a more than a little far-fetched. But no doubt it plays into their hands in a different way: their songwriting. Both Iron & Wine and William Fitzsimmons are renowned for their deep songwriting. Now, I’m no facial hair expert, but beards generally show age, and with age is wisdom and experience. Perhaps this makes their songwriting a little more plausible and believable. It gives off the message that they know what they’re singing about because they’ve been there and done that.

But what about fellow indie folk musician Sufjan Stevens? He’s gone through varying degrees of facial hair over the years, but his beard, even in its heyday, was certainly never of the same caliber as Fitzsimmons’ or Beam’s. Yet he still pulls off that quieter vocal sound that these other two artists can do. His songwriting style is also similar, drawing on personal experience. But does his lesser beard discredit his songwriting? Most people would probably disagree with that statement, but most would agree that it does give him a much younger look, despite only being about a year younger than Sam Beam. While age may show experience, youth shows energy, and many of Sufjan’s songs are a tad peppier compared to the other two artists in this article.

It all comes down to the questions of appearance that have stayed with popular entertainment for eons. Even in music, an audio-only medium, appearance can be the key to success or failure. Even with the age of album covers declining, the live concert is still at large, and there’s no denying that the human face is the missing link between their voice and our ears. It’s up to the artist to decide their own appearance. Do you go with heavy amounts of makeup or none at all? Should you use your own face or construct an elaborate mask? Do you grow and maintain a long beard, go clean-shaven, or keep a 5 o’ clock shadow when you perform? There’s pros and cons to each aspect of appearance, each of which are important to constructing that all important image that we as music consumers use to link the artist with their music.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to blare some ZZ Top on my stereo.

The Return of the Coin-Op?

In my last post a few weeks back, I talked about “Daytona USA,” the highest grossing arcade game of all time, and how it ushered in the golden age of the American arcade. Sadly, that age is long gone, and many video game developers are moving their mainstay arcade franchises away to become home console exclusives. I showed how most view the American arcade industry as an obsolete sinking ship. But shortly after my article was posted, I happened to find out how one famed developer is attempting to revive the industry… in your pocket.

Welcome to the Capcom Arcade!Capcom, the Japanese company who brought us such arcade classics as Street Fighter, Ghosts n’ Goblins, and Commando is attempting to revive the industry’s glory days on the iPhone with Capcom Arcade. The concept of a “classics collection” is anything but new, but Capcom is putting a new-old fashioned twist on the formula, effectively re-creating the arcade experience for a new generation of gamers.

The app is free. (What arcade would charge an admission fee?) But as you enter this pocket-sized arcade for the first time, you are greeted by an attendant who shows you around and gives you three “free tickets,” which you can use to play any of the games. After you use these up, you have the opportunity to purchase “tokens” to continue playing. 99 cents gets you 10 tokens, and each game is 1 token to start, 1 token to continue. If you grew up in the golden age of the arcade, this is when you begin to feel that you’ve stepped back in time!
Hadoken!

Remember when you got knocked out by M. Bison in Street Fighter II and you ran to the nearest change machine/mother to get another chance at him before the continue timer ran out? That experience is relived here! (But made much easier, as you only have to tap the screen to purchase more tokens!)

With Capcom Arcade, Capcom is following the rapidly emerging trend of “freemium” gaming; where the game can be played for free, but you can play it more or enhance your game by slipping in a little cash. (i.e. Mafia Wars, Farmville, etc.) Again, this app is free, and you get three free credits each day you login, but to play beyond that, you’ll need to slip in some cash buy tokens. You can also give yourself an edge by buying power-ups, such as extra lives, health, or more powerful moves. The game also allows you to “buy” the arcade machine, meaning you can play it as much as you want without the use of tokens from then on. (At $3 per machine, this is a steal, as vintage arcade cabinets usually go for thousands of dollars!)

Many classic iPhone game adaptations suffer from the fact that those games were made to use joysticks and buttons, which are the two things the iPhone does not have! For the most part, Capcom pulled of their screen overlay controls well. Veterans of the original games might have experience slight learning curve, but give it a chance and you’ll be throwing hadokens in no time! Capcom also adapted their virtual arcade to the Web 2.0 world. After finishing a game, it will ask you if you’d like to post your score on Twitter or Facebook for bragging rights! You can even go head-to-head with another Bluetooth enabled iDevice, to see who’s still got it after all this time.

While the American arcade is doomed to slowly fade away, becoming only stories we’ll tell our grandchildren in the distant future, it’s good to know that it’s not just the consumers who miss it. In the few months that Capcom Arcade has been available in the App Store, they’ve continued to support it, with more classic games added monthly. Time will tell if other classic arcade game developers such as Namco, Sega, or even Nintendo join the club with a similar, arcade-like system. But for now, if you want to relive the golden age of the American arcade, there’s an app for that!

When was the last time you fought a giant, armor-clad goblin in your boxer-briefs?



The Daytona 500 and the Golden Age of the American Arcade

The Daytona 500, the race that some call the “Super Bowl of Nascar,” is set to rev up next Sunday, February 20th. When most people hear the word Daytona, they instantly picture a family of rednecks huddling around a television, eagerly awaiting the next big crash. When I hear about this iconic race, however, I picture something much different. I spent a good chunk of my childhood in arcades, and one image that has been burned into my brain is the sit-down arcade cabinet of Daytona USA.
Daytona USA Arcade Cabinet

Surely you’ve seen this in your local arcade or Chuck E. Cheese’s at one time or another. While it may not seem as such today, this game was revolutionary for its time. Released in 1993, it was the first game to run on Sega’s Model 2 arcade board. It wasn’t the first arcade game to use polygonal 3D graphics, but it was the first to map textures on those polygons, which created a “hyper-realistic” environment. The game was also able to keep this environment running at a smooth, consistent 60 frames per second. Throw in a catchy soundtrack with multiplayer capabilities and you have the perfect recipe for a game that players and arcade owners alike enjoyed, making this one of the highest grossing arcade machines of all time.

Sega set the bar high for this game, keeping their competitors, namely Namco’s Ridge Racer, on their toes, but perhaps they set the bar too high. Consumers wanted this kind of power in their homes, and Sega’s then-current home console, the 16-bit Sega Genesis, didn’t have anywhere near enough horsepower to run this monster. Even when Sega released a home version of this title on it’s next console, the 32-bit Sega Saturn, it suffered losses. Gone was the smooth 60 fps, settling instead for a slower, choppier, 20 fps. The Saturn version also suffered “clipping,” where the scenery would pop in as the player approached it, instead of being able to see it from a distance.

But perhaps these shortcomings could be seen in a different light. People kept going to the arcades to play the superior version of the game. With increased revenue, arcades stayed open, and in turn continued to support game developers like Sega and its competitors. They kept pushing the envelope with each new, quality release, and the “Golden Age” of the American arcade saw many more memorable releases, not just in racing games, but in other genres as well.

Today, it’s a different story. The American arcade industry has been suffering, even well before the great recession. Independent arcades are closing around the country, and only arcades attached to restaurants or other family fun establishments can survive, such as Chuck E. Cheese’s and Dave & Buster’s. With less revenue, most video game developers don’t see much reason to continue producing games for the arcade. For example, SNK Playmore’s Metal Slug 7 was released only for the Nintendo DS, and is the first game in the series not to see an arcade release. With fewer games to choose from, the last remaining arcades are also starting to look similar, with the same few games seen in every shop.

The rise of the home console is the primary reason analysts point to for cause of the demise of the American arcade. In today’s world of photo-realistic HD graphics, arcade and home versions of games are nearly indistinguishable, creating little reason for consumers to leave their homes to throw quarters into games they could play freely in their living rooms. But even more puzzling is the fact that the Japanese arcade industry is continuing to thrive. Cities like Tokyo are filled with large buildings packed to the brim with the latest in audiovisual technology, creating an innovative wonderland for the player.

Sadly, no one has a viable solution to revive the American arcade industry. As hordes of new gamers are attracted home to motion controls on the Wii, Kinect, or Playstation Move, those of us who grew up in the arcades can only reminisce on its former glory. The one silver lining is that some video game developers have not forgotten this now, niche market. Last year, Sega remade Daytona USA under the guise of Sega Racing Classic (due to the fact that they no longer hold the license to use the Daytona name/logo) with 16:9 widescreen monitors running at 720p (or DVD quality) resolution. While this former juggernaut can no longer hold the industry up as it once did in the golden age, it now holds a new purpose: to show a new, younger audience what the arcade experience used to be like, as well as giving arcade veterans a chance to go a few more laps around memory lane.
Daytona USA Screenshot